Thursday September 8th, 2016

Using our off-season Power Rankings as a guide, SI.com is asking three questions for each top-10 team in the country. After looking at No. 10 Xavier and No. 9 Arizona, here is No. 8 Virginia.

Who shoulders the scoring load?

When All-America guard Malcolm Brogdon took 30.1% of Virginia’s shots while on the floor last season, it was the highest rate by any Cavaliers starter since Mike Scott’s 31.2% in 2011–12. Classmates Anthony Gill (23.8%) and Mike Tobey (25.7%) were the only other Cavs with rates above 19%. Thus with that trio’s graduation comes the need to replace 45.1% of the scoring from the most efficient offense (No. 9 nationally) of coach Tony Bennett’s seven seasons in Charlottesville.

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While point guard London Perrantes has gradually become a more willing shooter during his career, it’s unlikely he suddenly becomes a true go-to scorer. More likely the burden will be shared by increases not only from Perrantes but also returnees like Marial Shayok (a 40.4% shooter over two seasons in a limited role) and perhaps Bennett’s most highly touted recruiting class yet. And there is one player on the roster who has experience as a fairly high-volume scoring option on the collegiate level, the Cavalier that Hoos fans are most eager to see. Which brings us to. . .

Will Austin Nichols live up to expectations?

Bennett’s tenure has been fairly light on incoming transfers, with the notable exception of Gill, who averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in one season at South Carolina before leaving for Virginia. And now Gill’s replacement will be another: Austin Nichols, a 6' 9" junior who led Memphis in scoring in 2014–15 (and not that guy from The Walking Dead and Ray Donovan).

The Tigers did not let Nichols go easily—Nichols’s family hired a lawyer to pressure the school into removing conditions, including a ban on transferring to Virginia, placed upon his release—after the former five-star recruit averaged 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds as a sophomore. An excellent shot-blocker (his 12.5% block rate ranked eighth nationally that season) and strong defender, Nichols has been a quality if not remarkably efficient scorer. According to Synergy Sports, he graded out as only average on cuts, spot-up opportunities, and put-backs, all of which were major strengths of Gill’s. (In fact, 43.7% of Gill’s points from the field came on cuts, at 1.495 points per possession.) If Nichols is going to be counted on to keep the offense afloat, the Cavaliers will have to hope that a year’s development and the move to a new offensive system will help hasten an improvement.

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Who cleans the boards?

Nichols should help ease the loss of Tobey and Gill as defenders in general, but their shoes will be hardest to fill as rebounders. At Memphis, Nichols was a capable defensive rebounder (15.7%) if not quite as prolific as Tobey (23.2%) and Gill (18.2%), but the biggest difference is on the offensive end. There, Nichols grabbed just 7.9% of boards compared to Tobey’s 13.2% and Gill’s 10.6%. Isaiah Wilkins, 6' 7", is the Cavs’ best rebounder among returnees on each end, but Bennett will need others to step up and some new faces—like 6' 9" redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite and 6' 10" incoming freshman Jay Huff—to assert themselves early.

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