Perrantes, Virginia look to make another run at Final Four
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) The ending still stings for Virginia point guard London Perrantes, and it may not ever stop.
Last season, the top-seeded Cavaliers, bidding for their first berth in the Final Four in 31 years, led 10th-seeded Syracuse by 15 points with less than 10 minutes left in a regional final before coming unglued as the Orange surged to a stunning 68-62 victory.
''Every time I think about that game, I get a little knot inside my stomach, but that's just what comes with the game,'' Perrantes said. ''Maybe when we start playing again I'll let it go, but I think that game will be stuck with me forever.''
Thankfully for Perrantes and the Cavaliers, the new season brings the potential for another chance.
Virginia lost more than half its scoring with the graduations of Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte, but will be bolstered by the additions of transfer forward Austin Nichols, the offseason improvements of a number of role players and one of the nation's most heralded classes of incoming freshmen.
Nichols, who averaged 13.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 blocks two years ago at Memphis, faces the highest expectations early on, especially as the freshmen learn the rigors of coach Tony Bennett's Pack-Line defense.
''He has offensive, left-hand, right-hand skills and abilities,'' Bennett, entering his eighth season, said of Nichols. ''The redshirt year has improved his body. ... We've had good success with that with other players and I think his ability to score around the lane, off the lane a little bit is going to be needed for us.''
Some other things to look for from Virginia in the 2016-17 season:
LONDON CALLING: Perrantes (11 ppg) is the leading returning scorer, and fans have often called on him to shoot more, especially since he made 48.8 percent from 3-point range last season. But Bennett says one of Perrantes' best strengths is his understanding of his own game, so his ability to set up other players is equally critical.
ALL ABOUT THE D: Freshmen Kyle Guy (23.5 ppg), Ty Jerome (24.7), De'Andre Hunter (23.5) and Jay Huff (16.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg) all showed they can score in high school, but to get on the floor for the Cavaliers, they have to be able to master the concepts of the Pack-Line. That can be especially challenging for players who haven't been exposed to such intense play at the other end. The Cavaliers will need some of them when ACC play begins.
LEADERSHIP: Brogdon was a powerful force, by example and by word when necessary, from the minute he arrived at Virginia. Bennett listed Perrantes, Mariel Shayok, Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall among the leadership team on this year's roster, and it will be critical they do as the younger players experience the ebbs and flows of a season.
ROLE CHANGES: Hall, Wilkins, Shayok, Darius Thompson and even Jarred Reuter have all shown glimpses of be able to score, and with only about 30 ppg returning, the load all can't fall to Perrantes. Bennett said every returning player has improved, and while he's generally most interested in their ability to help stop other teams from scoring, their ability to augment what Perrantes and Nichols contribute on offense will be important, too.
EXPECTATIONS: Bennett's program may be at the point where past success produces artificially high expectations at the start of a new season, particularly when the team is so young, and that may be the case this year.
''You sometimes take things for granted, just little things like how you've got to break some stuff down and simplicity with execution,'' he said. ''We talked about it even with our veteran teams but there is a learning curve and the ability to say all right, you strip away a lot of the stuff they're not ready for and get to the basics.''
Online: The AP's college basketball page: http://collegebasketball.ap.org
Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr