Top 64 Countdown: No. 39 Virginia

Head coach: Dave Leitao
Last season: 21-11, 11-5 in ACC
Postseason: Earned at-large bid to NCAA Tournament. Lost to Tennessee 77-74 in second round.
2007-08 breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

Backcourt

The Cavaliers went from staring at a rebuilding year to a team with real hopes of getting back into the NCAA Tournament when senior point guard Sean Singletary pulled out of the NBA Draft. Singletary, who has a chance to be just the third player in school history to be named first-team All-ACC three times (joining Bryant Stith and Ralph Sampson), scored in double figures in 31 of 32 games last season. He led the team in scoring (19.0 ppg), assists (4.7 apg) and steals (1.2 spg) and was second in rebounding (4.6 rpg).

The Cavs will ask for even more production out of their star in 2007-08. The departure of shooting guard J.R. Reynolds, who poured in 18.4 ppg last season, creates a big scoring void.

Replacing Reynolds will be a collective effort, but it starts with junior Mamadi Diane. The veteran wing has shown signs of emerging as a major scoring threat, scoring a career-high 26 points in a win over Maryland and 22 more against Gonzaga last season. Finding some consistency has been a problem though. He finished with five or fewer points in six of the last 10 games.

Sophomore Solomon Tat, who averaged 8.3 minutes a game last season, is expected to become a bigger part of the rotation. Freshman Jeff Jones, a 6-4 wing with a smooth shooting stroke, will provide some help offensively as well. Freshman point guard Sam Zeglinski will see a little action backing up Singletary.

Virginia Cavaliers

For Virginia to be successful, Sean Singletary must have a banner campaign.

Probable Starting Five
G Sean Singletary (19.0 ppg)
G Mamadi Diane (9.6 ppg)
F Adrian Joseph (7.2 ppg)
F Will Harris (3.6 ppg)
C Tunji Soroye (2.1 ppg)
Top Reserves
F Jamil Tucker (3.4 ppg)
G Solomon Tat (2.0 ppg)
F Laurynas Mikalauskas (3.7 ppg)
F Mike Scott (three-star)
G Jeff Jones (four-star)

Frontcourt

The loss of underrated big man Jason Cain, who led the team in rebounding the last two seasons, creates a bevy of questions along the front line. A savvy player who had a good feel for positioning his body around the basket, the 6-10 Cain kept the perimeter-oriented Cavaliers from getting dominated on the glass.

Much of that job will now fall to senior center Tunji Soroye (6-11, 245 pounds). The native Nigerian isn't a threat to score. He'll be asked to focus on rebounding and defense.

Senior swingman Adrian Joseph is an offensive-minded player. An inside-outside scoring threat, Joseph was one of the ACC's top sixth men last season. He'll probably slide into the startling lineup.

The other starting spot probably will come down to sophomore forwards Will Harris and Jamil Tucker. Both are athletic and versatile. Same goes for freshman forward Mike Scott, who has the opportunity to earn significant playing time. Junior Laurynas Mikalauskas and senior Ryan Pettinella, who have both seen action in backup roles, are more back-to-the-basket types. They give third-year coach Dave Leitao several options.

Offense

The Cavs installed a new, more modern offense last season which featured four players on the perimeter and one in the post. The results were solid. The Cavaliers averaged 77 points a game, ranking fourth in the ACC.

Of course, that came with Reynolds and his dangerous shooting touch. The Cavs won't be as potent, but don't expect a drastic drop-off. The ball will be in the reliable hands of Singletary more than ever now, and it will be the second year in the system for most of the players.

Defense

While the Cavs were known last season for the scoring punch that Reynolds and Singletary provided, defense may have been their best asset. Opponents shot just 40.8 percent from the field. Only Maryland (38.9 percent) was better in the ACC.

It's reasonable to expect similar results. Reynolds was an average defender at best. Singletary's on-the-ball pressure is the key to the man-to-man defense Leitao favors.

Outlook with postseason forecast
Leitao may want to consider borrowing a green jersey from the football team and placing it on Singletary in practice. If Singletary doesn't stay healthy, the Cavaliers don't have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Few players, if any, will mean more to their teams in 2007-08. Singletary may not need a player of Reynolds' caliber to carry the Cavaliers to the Big Dance, but he will need help. Diane and Joseph must handle bigger roles on offense, and a handful of frontcourt players will need to raise their level of play.

Shoes to Fill

G J.R. Reynolds. This four-year starter kept defenses from focusing too much on Singletary. Replacing his offensive firepower will be a challenge all season long.

Must Step Up

G Mamadi Diane. Nobody expects Diane to match Reynolds' production, but he has to become a consistent scoring threat if the Cavs are going to contend in the ACC again.

Impact Newcomer

F Mike Scott. Freshman Jeff Jones is ranked higher (No. 76 compared to No. 109 in the class of 2007). But with so much uncertainty in the frontcourt, Scott has a chance to play more minutes and possibly a major role. Spending last year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., prepared him for just that..

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 64. Coming tomorrow: No. 38.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com .


 

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