College Basketball Preseason Top 25: #19 Virginia

Joe Harris is a big reason why the Cavs have high expectations this season. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Joe Harris is a big reason why the Cavs have high expectations this season. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

19. Virginia Cavaliers

Everything is aligned for a big season in Charlottesville. For the first time since the Pete Gillen era, the Wahoos have legitimate hope to make noise on a national level, and it’s all because of their famous-named coach with a knack for coaching defense. Tony Bennett has been at Viriginia just four years, but his tough, hard-nosed, defense-first philosophy has completely rejuvenated this program. Even in this year’s gladiatorial ACC, which could be the best the conference has ever been, the Cavs have a chance for a special year. Besides Bennett, the big reason for the high hopes is 6-6 senior guard Joe Harris, who was first team All-ACC last year. Harris (16.3 ppg, 4 rpg) got national attention last year when he exploded for 36 points against Duke. Like Mike Scott in 2012, Harris could carry the Cavaliers to the NCAAs on his own.

He won’t have to, though, considering all of the talent Virginia is bringing in. South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill (6-8, 230 lbs)  is expected to add some beef on the interior, as is 6-11 sophomore center Mike Tobey, who coaches say will be much improved. On the perimeter, 6-6 small forward Justin Anderson is a terrific three-point shooter and an even better shot blocker. (Who knew that combination even existed in one player?) Anderson averaged 19 points per game in three NIT games last season and came on strong down the stretch. He also led the Cavaliers with 42 blocks last season. If that weren’t enough, Virginia brought in top recruit London Perrantes at the point and returns Malcolm Brogdon, who is back after an injury last season.

BOTTOM LINE: This could be Tony Bennett’s breakout hit in Charlottesville. At Washington State, Bennett was able to grit and gut the Cougars to a remarkable Sweet 16 appearance, and turned mediocre Pac-10 players into pros. At Virginia, Bennett actually has top-flight talent. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the ACC. Even with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame joining the conference, UVA has enough talent and coaching acumen to challenge for the conference title.

Click here to see our Entire Top 25.


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