CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — For the third time in five years, Virginia will open the season with a true road game, a rarity for top-10 teams over the recent years.
The Cavaliers are fortified as one of the top programs in the country under head coach Tony Bennett and travel to UNC Greensboro Friday night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Virginia is coming off a 2015-16 campaign that ended one win shy of the Elite Eight and a 30-win season, which would have been their second in as many years. While the Cavaliers graduated four seniors from last year's squad including ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, they return plenty of talent, which earned them their No. 8 preseason ranking.
Bennett, who is entering his eighth season at the helm in Charlottesville, will once again look to be one of the best defenses in the country while also improving on the offensive side of the ball. Virginia allowed just 63 points per game last season which ranked 16th in the country, but also put up an average of 76 points per game on offense.
“There are a lot of unknowns this season and that will be challenging,” Bennett said. “(London Perrantes') supporting cast isn't as proven as it has been and we are going to find out fairly soon how the other guys can step up.”
Perrantes, a senior point guard, is coming off of a junior campaign in which he averaged 11.0 points and 4.4 assists per game. The Cavaliers will be without two key pieces to open the season, as highly touted forward Austin Nichols, who transferred from Memphis, will miss Friday's game due to a violation of team rules. Redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite will also miss Friday night's game as he will have to sit out due to an ongoing investigation into his amateur status by the NCAA.
Virginia will look for early contributions from freshmen guard Kyle Guy, who was Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana last year, and forwards Jay Huff and De'Andre Hunter who may need to fill the void missed from Nichols and Diakite against the Spartans.
“I think we have the best freshman class in the country, it's as simple as that,” Guy said. “We have so much skill here. Everyone is phenomenal.”
The Spartans won 15 games last season and made an appearance in the CBI tournament where they advanced to the second round before losing to Ohio in the quarterfinals. UNC Greensboro was picked to finish fifth in the Southern Conference's preseason poll but will face their stiffest test of their 2016-17 season when they host the Cavaliers.
The Spartans lose three of their top four scorers from last year's team. Center R.J. White averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game last season.
UNC Greensboro will likely bring a defensive mindset to the game as well as they are coming off of a season where they gave up just 68 points per game – easily ranking them in the top 40 in the country. White will need to continue to be a force on the glass against the Cavaliers where he may have the advantage against a diminished Virginia frontcourt.