The Virginia basketball program is coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years, and its highest win total since the 1994-95 season.
Tony Bennett, entering his fourth season as head coach of the Cavaliers, admits his new team won't bear a strong resemblance to last year's team, particularly offensively. But the goals remain the same.
"We just want to play good basketball," Bennett said Wednesday at Virginia's annual media day. "Certainly we'd love a chance to finish well in the conference and try to get into postseason play. I think that's always the goal for us."
"We'll be a different team, but still build on what we did last year," Bennett said. "We'll look different but there's opportunities for success."
"Last year we had Mike Scott. That was our go-to guy," said senior point guard Jontel Evans, referring to the Cavaliers' All-ACC forward who is now a rookie with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.
"But this year I feel like it's more balanced. We have a lot more weapons, and a lot more depth than we did last year," Evans said. "We kind of struggled due to injuries and people transferring. But this year it's a tight group, and we all have one goal and that's to win."
The Cavaliers will have to win without Evans, at least to start the season. After starting all 32 games last year, Evans is currently sidelined after having surgery on a stress fracture in his right foot last week.
Evans said Wednesday that he's about a week ahead of schedule in his recovery from the surgery. Evans hopes to be back for Virginia's second game of the season, at home against Fairfield on November 12.
"I'd rather it be six weeks than six months," Evans said. "They found the injury, caught it early. I just have to, when I get back on the court, bust my tail to get in shape like the rest of my teammates."
Evans expects to miss the Cavaliers' opener at George Mason on November 9.
"I don't think I would play during the George Mason game," he said. "Hopefully the second game of the year is when I'm aiming for. But you never know with these injuries."
Sophomore point guard Malcolm Brogdon is also still out with a foot injury. He had surgery on a broken bone in his left foot back in March, and still hasn't been cleared to resume playing basketball.
"This is probably one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced, on or off the court. And it being on the court, which is basketball, what I love, is extremely frustrating," Brogdon said. "But I've got a good family and a good team to support me, and I'm making it through."
With his top two players at the position on the bench, Bennett expects the Cavaliers to use a committee at the point guard spot. He mentioned a pair of first-year players, Taylor Barnette and redshirt freshman Teven Jones, as possibilities, along with junior forward Joe Harris.
Bennett also talked about how he hoped this year's team would be more balanced offensively, with multiple scoring threats on the floor at any given time.
"If we can become that way, I think it becomes a harder team to defend," he said. "If you have more options then you're not just focusing on one guy. But we need to get, certainly, our guys healthy. When Malcolm and Jontel are back that will make us very different, and I think effective."
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