This year’s incoming class ranks 23rd nationally by 247Sports—Bennett’s best since 2016, when Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter joined the Hoos. That trio made up the spine that carried Virginia to a championship, and all were selected in June’s NBA draft. Hunter, taken fourth by the Atlanta Hawks, became Virginia’s highest pick since Ralph Sampson went first in 1983, and the first lottery pick in school history.
Winning a national title is difficult, and it’s even harder to do it twice. Still, thanks to Tony Bennett’s vaunted scheme, Virginia’s place among college basketball’s elite seems secure. The Hoos’ championship cemented their blue blood status. Now, Virginia has to build on it.
Despite the losses of Guy, Jerome, and Hunter, the Hoos should be well equipped to compete for an ACC title this season, and by extension, the national championship. Four of this decade’s national champions have come from the ACC, and a fifth, Louisville, now calls the conference home (the Cardinals won in 2013 in their final season as a Big East member). Each of those other squads—Louisville, Duke, and North Carolina—enters this season in the AP’s preseason top 10 and has at least one player with the potential to finish the year as an All-American. Virginia has more than enough talent to hang tough, though. Senior Mamadi Diakite, who hit the buzzer-beater to force overtime against Purdue in the Elite Eight, and sophomore Kihei Clark, who threw the pass that made the shot possible, both return, as do junior Jay Huff and senior Braxton Key. All four are likely starters, and Diakite and Clark are the most likely options to replace the scoring lost from last season’s team.