Last offseason, Virginia watched three primary rotation players transfer out of the program alongside a graduating all-ACC senior, and it felt like UVA would be starting over. But through our numerical analysis, we saw the sky wasn't falling. In fact, turnover was happening all around the ACC, and Virginia actually ranked 3rd in terms of percentage of ACC minutes returning from the previous season's squad. The relative experience and continuity paid great dividends as Virginia nearly ran the table during the regular season.
So this year, we had no transfers, so everything's golden, right? Well, let's take a look and see if the production we lost with Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Nigel Johnson is par for the course within the conference.
To do the math, I compiled the total statistics for all 15 ACC squads from last year (hat-tip to Sports-Reference.com). To normalize the results, I used only statistics from the regular season conference slate, so stats aren't being skewed by one program's cupcake November schedule, or another team's deep and difficult postseason run.
I'm going to look at what ACC teams are bringing back for a small variety of statistical categories, and see 1) how UVA stacks up to the conference at large, and 2) what other teams stand out.
(**Note for mobile users, you may need to turn your phones sideways to get the tables to display correctly.**)
Wow, what a difference a year makes. Last year, everyone had turnover. No team returned more than 66% of its minutes played. This year, SIX TEAMS have more continuity than that. Virginia's bringing back about the same as the year prior (62% this year, 61% last year), but that's merely average this year, not a relative strength. We bring back three starters and five of our top 8 minutes-getters, so there's ample experience in the starting roster, but we'll see a similar level of year-to-year stability from most of our opponents, if not more, meaning a steeper hill to climb in the quest to repeat.
On the whole, it's a much more experienced ACC we're going to see this year. At the top of the list is a Syracuse squad that brings back its entire squad aside from reserve swing-forward Matthew Moyer. They still have some offensive questions to answer from last year, but experience won't be a problem. Right behind them is Boston College, whose roster stability may give Eagles fans some cause for optimism, but none of those returning players are Jerome Robinson. Bringing up the rear are two Tobacco Road squads with very different outlooks. At Wake Forest, coach Manning saw a mass exodus of players, losing 6 of his 8 most experienced guys, and facing a long season as they start a fresh youth movement. But speaking of youth movements, dead last is Duke, who sent their entire starting five to the pros, and only return a handful of role players to pair with their latest five-star freshman haul. Despite the massive turnover, the Blue Devils are expected to be just fine.
This is where Virginia is in a stronger position. Losing Devon Hall, who averaged 12 ppg in ACC play last year, hurts, but neither Isaiah Wilkins nor Nigel Johnson emerged as a major scoring presence (5 and 3 ppg, respectively). Instead the scoring load was largely shouldered by Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De'Andre Hunter, who all averaged 11-12 ppg apiece....
I'll avoid talking about Syracuse in each of these segments (return your entire roster? Of course you return all of your points, rebounds, assists, and blocks too). Instead, let's look at Virginia Tech at #2. There's a very good reason they're getting a lot of discussion as a Top 25 team this year. Justin Bibb's 12 ppg was a loss off last year's squad, but otherwise they bring back every major contributor from an 11-7 team, and that doesn't even account for the re-addition of sniper forward Ty Outlaw (missed last year to injury, but scored 7 ppg the prior season). They'll be potent scoring the ball yet again this year. Duke and Wake bring up the rear here (a common theme), but barely beating them out is Georgia Tech, who lost their three top scorers in Josh Okogie, Ben Lammers, and Tadric Jackson, and bring back only a cast of supporting players.
This is an area where we miss not just Isaiah Wilkins' presence on the glass, but Devon Hall's as well. Devon was one of the better-rebounding guards in the ACC, 4.6 a game. De'Andre Hunter is stepping into Devon's role, bringing his 4.4 rpg with him, and projects to even be an upgrade (his OR% of 9.8% was second best on the team), but Mamadi Diakite is going to need to step up his game replacing Wilkins' production. Defensively, their rebounding percentages were similar (19.0% vs 17.6%, Zay vs Mamadi), but Wilkins was dangerous offensively too (OR% of 8.3%), whereas Mamadi's was a disappointing 3.9%. UVA's best returning rebounder is 6th man Hunter, followed by starting 5 Jack Salt, who only grabbed 3.9 rebounds a game, though posted solid percentages on offense (11.3%, 7th in the ACC).
Around the rest of the league, Syracuse, BC, and VT top the list, but all three were average-at-best rebounding squads last year, and probably won't be much better this year. The winner here looks to be #4 UNC, who was the ACC's best offensive and T-4th best defensive rebounding team by percentage last year, and bring back their entire front court. Hurting is Notre Dame, who'd been a pleasant surprise on the glass last year (Brey's 4-out lineups usually struggle rebounding), but the loss of breakout senior Martinas Geben and his 9.4 rebounds a night bring the Irish back to relative square 1 in this arena.
Virginia is right in the middle of the pack here, losing a little less than half of its assist production, primarily with the graduation of guards Hall (3.5 apg) and Johnson (1.3 apg). Ty Jerome brings back an impressive 4.4 apg, but no other proven distributors are on the roster. Kyle Guy and rookie Kihei Clark will need to prove themselves as floor generals when Jerome sits.
Elsewhere in the league, obviously this is reflective of the lead guards a team is bringing back. NC State is this season's extreme example of this, as the Wolfpack lost the majority of its played minutes (only returning 43%), but those returning minutes include an outstanding pair of guards in Markell Johnson (8.1 apg) and Braxton Beverly (3.7 apg), lending hope to State fans that they can effectively orchestrate the integration of 8 new players. North Carolina, despite a respectable amount of experience returning (67% of minutes, 6th in the ACC), sits 10th in returning assists and will be looking to fill a hole in their backcourt with the graduation of Joel Berry, relying on incoming freshmen to step into the PG spot. Pittsburgh similarly needs to find a new point guard; while new coach Capel was able to stem a lot of offseason defections, Marcus Carr took his 4.3 apg to Minnesota, forcing Capel to rely on a grad transfer who only averaged 1.6 apg as a junior, which could make the transition year uglier than it already was going to be.
Despite losing weak-side shot blocking expert Isaiah Wilkins (1.8 blocks a game), Virginia sits respectably just shy of average in the ACC in this arena, bringing back 50% of the blocks from a team that sat in the top third of the ACC last year, thanks to the skying Mamadi Diakite (0.4 bpg) and the underrated Jack Salt (0.8 bpg, with a block % of 5.3% scoring 11th best in the ACC).
Where Pitt is suffering in the backcourt, they've at least got some rim protection coming back in the presence of swat machine Terrell Brown (1.9 bpg) plus solid help-defense shot blockers in wings Kham Davis and Kene Chukwuku, who combined for a block a game as well. NC State is losing their entire front court, and with it all of their block production, with Omer Yurtseven's 2.1 bpg off to Georgetown and the graduated senior duo of Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu also taking a combined block a game with them.
2-Point Shooting Percentage Returning
Virginia was an average 2-point-shooting team last year, making only 48% of its two pointers in ACC play, 9th in the league. Virginia lost Devon Hall who only shot 44% on 2's, Nigel Johnson's 41%, and Isaiah Wilkins who shot 47%, leaving us with a slight uptick in paint scoring efficiency. Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite each shot well over 50% from 2 (62 and 56, respectively), and Ty Jerome (49%) and De'Andre Hunter (51%) were solid. Only Kyle Guy's 40% drag down the returning average.
Virginia Tech was very good last year at scoring at the rim out of their spread sets, best in the ACC at over 54%, and they return that skillset in droves. Expect them to continue to be dangerous attacking downhill this year led by the likes of Justin Robinson (52%), Chris Clarke (57%), and Ahmed Hill (57%). Notre Dame, however, brings little proven prowess back scoring at the rim with the loss of workhorse center Martinas Geben (57%). Returning guards Temple Gibbs (39%), DJ Harvey (29%), and Rex Pfleuger (32%) all struggle at the rim, and it threatens to dampen the Irish's offensive prospects yet again this year.
3-Point Shooting Percentage Returning
Virginia was the ACC's top 3-point shooting team a year ago, knocking down nearly 39% of its triples in conference games. The returners hit that same mark, 39%, led by Ty Jerome's 41% and De'Andre Hunter's 47%. Kyle Guy had a rough go of it in ACC play (34%) but we know the potential he brings. The distance shooting should continue to be strong this year, even without Devon Hall's 43% mark.
Miami, for everything they lost in Ja'Quan Newton, Bruce Brown, and Lonnie Walker, at least can feel okay about their shooting. Neither of those three were that impressive behind the arc (27, 25, and 36% respectively), and while the returners may be less dynamic, the Canes are at least buoyed by the solid shooting from Dejan Vasiljevic (40%), Sam Waardenburg (46%), and Anthony Lawrence (41%). Syracuse and Florida State, two teams bringing back experienced rosters, still have a lot of questions to answer with shooting. Cuse returners shot only 34% last year, and transfer Elijah Hughes shot only 25% at ECU, so it could continue to be a limiting factor for their upside. Florida State's top returning shooter is wing Phil Cofer (37%), but other guards disappointed (MJ Walker at 30%, Terrance Mann at 28%), meaning FSU needs transfer David Nichols (47% at Albany) to stay hot to open up their offense.
A year ago, Virginia was one of the more veteran rosters in the league when we ran these numbers, even with four departures at the time. This year, outside of a few programs, there's much less turnover in the ACC as a whole this year. Teams are bringing back veteran, experienced, cohesive rosters, and the UVA defense won't be preying on as many teams that lack chemistry, or attacking defenses populated by newbies. It speaks to a tougher league this year. Syracuse, BC, Virginia Tech, and FSU all look to benefit from the roster stability, having minimal holes to fill from fair seasons last year, all believing this can be a year they take big steps forward. Conversely, the heavy roster turnover at places like Wake Forest, NC State, Georgia Tech, and Louisville portend rough seasons ahead; their fan bases should lower expectations accordingly. But overall, this looks to be a stronger conference this season, and could make for a brutal January and February for all parties involved.