Tony Bennett wasn't kidding when he warned that his Virginia men's basketball team would have a new look this season.
Bennett's Cavaliers open the 2012-13 season at George Mason on Friday. On Thursday, Bennett told reporters he expects to have three freshmen open the season in the starting lineup -- center Mike Tobey, forward Justin Anderson, and point guard Taylor Barnette.
Returning starters Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, both entering their junior seasons, will round out the starting five, Bennett said. The Cavaliers will enter the season without guards Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon, who are both recovering from foot surgeries.
Bennett said the decision to start the three freshmen was based partially out of necessity. But he also admitted that the first-year players showed potential during the Cavaliers' closed preseason scrimmages.
"You see some things that you like, then there are some areas where you say we've got to get better in this part of the game," Bennett said. "So there's nothing like being on the road in your first one, in that kind of setting, to gauge where you're at. And with the youth, I think they'll get better as they get in these experiences."
Bennett said he expects to get minutes from sophomores Paul Jesperson and Darion Atkins, as well as from a fourth freshman, forward Evan Nolte.
For the first-year Cavaliers, their first taste of college basketball will come against a George Mason team that won 24 games last season -- including a 15-1 record at home.
"They're a scrappy team," Bennett said. "They can get the game going fast; they can put pressure on you. It's their home opener against us. They're a very good home team, which you've got to be ready to play in that setting. And again, this is about getting us as ready as we can be, and hopefully playing good basketball."
The Patriots won't have three senior starters from last year's team, including CAA player of the year Ryan Pearson. But Bennett also lost three seniors from last year's 22-win team that reached the NCAA Tournament, including All-ACC forward Mike Scott.
And Bennett knows his rookies will be tested.
"You can't hide. And that's what college basketball is all about," Bennett said. "There's so much parity in college basketball. There are so many good teams. And I think the ability to have to be ready -- and I don't know if there's any easy ones to ease you into the season. But certainly in this situation, you're going to find out real quick where you're at, and we'll go from there."