The losses kept coming for Virginia after last season.
Seven players left the program following a 68-67 loss to 13th-seeded Furman in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Three were expected as Kihei Clark, Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas had exhausted their eligibility, but the rest were not. Guard Armaan Franklin made himself available for the NBA draft, and prized freshman Isaac Traudt, who redshirted, ended up transferring along with big men Francisco Caffaro and Kadin Shedrick.
The retooled Cavaliers are unranked to start the season for the first time since 2017-18 and have more newcomers than holdovers.
Guard Reece Beekman almost made it eight departures, but after testing the NBA waters, the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year is back, along with guards Isaac McKneely and Ryan Dunn, who both played extensively last season, highly regarded Leon Bond III, who redshirted, and Taine Murray.
Newcomers include Jake Groves, a 6-foot-9 graduate transfer forward from Oklahoma, point guard Dante Harris, a junior transfer from Georgetown, shooting guard Andrew Rohde, a sophomore transfer from St. Thomas (Minn.), and five freshmen. It presents coach Tony Bennett and his staff with a tall order to bring the team together and teach the finer points of the Cavaliers’ signature Pack-Line defense.
The experience brought by the transfers figures to help significantly.
Beekman often took a back seat to Clark when both were on the floor, but has improved every year. He’s a fierce defender and averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 assists per game. It’s his team now, especially with McKneely more suited to shooting guard and Dunn likely to see time as an off-guard and forward as the Cavaliers look for more size.
A trio of players will be needed to contribute right away, perhaps as starters.
Groves started 34 games for Oklahoma over the past two seasons, averaging 6.8 points last year and hitting 38% from 3 with nine games in double figures.
Harris is a speedy on-ball defender much like Clark was at Virginia, His shooting is a work in progress, but he drives and kicks well and, as a sophomore, averaged 11.9 points with 118 assists (4.0) and 44 steals.
Rohde averaged 17.1 points and 3.7 assists and was the top freshman in the Summit League and a first team All-Summit League selection last season.
Besides McKneely, who hit 51 3s on 39% shooting, the rest of the returning Cavaliers made only 34 3s and none shot better than Beekman’s 35%. Groves and Rohde, especially, will be asked to help make it hard for teams to key on those two.
The primary one to watch figures to be Blake Buchanan, who led his team to the Idaho state championship last season, averaging 15.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and three assists. Priority one for him: learning Pack-Line particulars.
Virginia plays Florida in its second game, Wisconsin and then SMU or West Virginia in Fort Myers, Florida, on Nov. 20 and 22. Next is Texas A&M in the new ACC/SEC Challenge and Syracuse in the ACC opener, both at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers play at Memphis on Dec. 19 and have an ACC slate that has them at home against No. 13 Miami and No. 19 North Carolina and at No. 2 Duke.