No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Read scouting reports on every team in the top 20 here, and find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.
Austin Nichols’s first experience with coach Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers came in the 2014 NCAA tournament, when the 6' 9″ forward was a freshman at Memphis. Over the course of the Tigers’ 78–60 loss, Nichols battled the smothering post traps typical of their Pack-Line defense. “People are everywhere,” Nichols says now. “If you’re gonna make a move, you’ve gotta do it quick.”
Nichols made his own move, transferring to Charlottesville in 2015. After a year of learning his role in Bennett’s demanding, communication-heavy system (“I’ve played in some good defenses, but not as complex or as good as the Pack-Line,” Nichols says), the former All-AAC first-teamer joins the frontline as a smooth, capable scorer working to sharpen his midrange jumper (37.5% in ’14–15). “He’s very skilled and complete offensively—right hand, left hand,” says Bennett. “Just knows how to play the game.”
The work of Nichols in the defensive post, where he blocked 12.5% of two-point attempts as a sophomore (eighth best in the country, according to kenpom.com), will be crucial. He’ll also need to help fill the sizable rebounding void left by the graduation of Anthony Gill (18.2% defensive rebound rate) and Mike Tobey (23.2%). Having become enamored with Virginia’s success and playing style, Nichols is hoping to prevent any drop-off. “I just wanted to come here and fit in,” he says. The Cavaliers are hoping he can do it quickly.
X-factor: Redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite
Described by coach Tony Bennett as a “lively jumper,” 6' 9″, 214-pound redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite, who is from Conakry, Guinea, has packed on 19 pounds of muscle and will be a valuable rim protector.
Coach’s Take: Tony Bennett
“Each year [London Perrantes] has gotten a little more aggressive. It’s not like he’s like, ‘O.K., now it’s my turn to shoot every time.’ You can’t force people into something that they’re not. I just want incremental improvements. Sometimes we’ll have other guys bring up the ball, let him work a little more off the ball because we do want him to look more. But I never want to take him out of his game and his personality because that’s greatest strength—his feel for the game. Yes, we’ll need him to make shots and be assertive, but if it’s a little incremental improvement, I’ll take that. For me to say, ‘You’re gonna become someone different’—we obviously want him to do a little more, but not outside the realm of his comfort level.”
Projected Depth Chart
Projected ACC Standings
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