Coming off its first home loss in two years, there’s serious concern around Virginia about who among the Cavaliers can generate offense. The situation may leave Virginia coach Tony Bennett with little choice but to do what he has rarely done and turn loose a talented freshman.
For the most part, first year talent has been allowed time to ease its way into featured roles under Bennett. Even NBA players such as Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson were only really thrust into starring roles as juniors.
But Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers may not have that luxury.
Through eight games, Virginia has one player averaging double figures, senior London Perrantes putting up exactly 10 points per game. The Cavs don’t have much to worry about with Perrantes, even after a poor shooting day in Saturday’s loss to West Virginia. The point guard is prone to distributing the ball in blowout wins, but has shown an ability to put up bigger scoring numbers when needed.
But even as Virginia continues to thrive defensively, it’s clear the Cavaliers need more than one reliable scorer. Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson are athletic wing players both capable of going off at times, but also susceptible to prolonged slumps and ill-timed mistakes.
With Memphis transfer Austin Nichols dismissed from the team after one game, the former McDonald’s All-American Guy is probably the most talented Cavalier remaining and perhaps the player with the highest ceiling Bennett has recruited to Virginia.
The 6-3 sharpshooter came into Charlottesville at about 160 pounds and will need to continue to work on gaining muscle likely for as long as he’s in college. But few players in college basketball have as smooth a stroke or quick a release as the Indianapolis product.
At first glance, Guy’s average of 7.5 points per game might not signal budding superstar, but he’s done it in just about 15 minutes per game. According to ESPN, Guy has a Player Efficiency Rating of 30.44, which rates best for Virginia and seventh in the ACC.
The circumstances seem to be calling not only for Guy to play more minutes, but to also become a focal point for an offense that has very little front court presence and lately has struggled to put up points.
It would be a bit of a departure from the norm for Bennett. Current Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris averaged double figures as a freshman at Virginia, but that was in the early days of Bennett’s tenure.
Since then the Cavaliers have put together a program that most years has not lacked for veteran depth. While many of his ACC rivals have relied on one-and-done recruits, Bennett has been able to force his freshmen to earn their playing time and at the same time keep the pressure off his younger players.
But Guy represents a transition to the kind of higher-rated recruits that can be expected to produce right away.
Without his typical roster, Bennett can’t be afraid to rely on his freshmen. An expanded role for Guy seems inevitable, but perhaps he shouldn’t be alone. Redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite is averaging about six points in 15 minutes per game, good enough to put him in the Top 15 of the ACC’s efficiency rankings.
Like Guy, the 6-9 Diakite needs to gain some weight, but he’s already the Cavs best shot blocker and his ability to knock down jumpers around the 3-point arc might help open things up in the paint.
The senior Perrantes is going to remain the unquestioned leader of the Cavaliers, but if they are going to once again be in the hunt for an ACC title it’s just about time for the youth movement to begin.