CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The Virginia contingent arrived at ACC Operation Basketball as the NCAA's reigning champion in men's basketball - and the league's third NCAA champ in the past five seasons.
But when the conference's preseason poll comes out later this week, the Cavaliers won't be the pick to win a third straight regular season title. Not with the top three scorers from last year's title team -- Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome -- all in NBA camps now.
Tony Bennett has a lot of new faces in practice this fall. But that's a trade-off the Cavaliers' head coach is willing to make.
“I think we’d all take, ‘Hey, you can win a national championship and lose those three guys. Will you take that?’ And maybe be newer and have to start over in some ways," Bennett said. "I think we’d all agree and take that, and that’s where we are right now.”
Bennett's preseason roster has a half-dozen new players -- transfers Sam Hauser and Tomas Woldetensae, plus freshmen Casey Morsell, Justin McKoy, Kadin Shedrick and Chase Coleman.
“There is a bit of a newness and a rebuild to it. But that brings some new excitement," Bennett said. "And there will be some growing pains. I know that. We’ve already experienced that in practice. And I’ve been on these guys pretty hard and pushing them.”
“They’re definitely a lot harder on us this year. Coach has had some fiery moments in practices. A lot of the coaches have," UVA senior forward Braxton Key said with a smile. "But it’s good. It helps us, and if we need to be yelled at a little bit more, whatever it is to get us going, it helps.”
Key believes those tough practices have helped the Wahoos refocus after last year's NCAA title run. Bennett says it's also been about making sure his team is as prepared as possible for UVA's November 6 opener at Syracuse.
“I don’t quite know what to expect, but I’m going in pursuing the best we can be and seeing where that takes us, and not putting any expectations. Just like I didn’t last year," Bennett said. "I know what I wanted to do, and I know the potential we had. This year I’m not as certain, and that’s just being fair and real. I don’t know what our potential is this year.”
Key(19.8 mpg) is one of just three players back who averaged at least 19 minutes per game for UVA last year. Forward Mamadi Diakite (21.8) and guard Kihei Clark (26.8) are the others. Forward Jay Huff is also back, after playing 9.4 minutes per game last season.
That's one reason why the word 'rebuilding' was being thrown around a bit on Tuesday. But the 'Hoos who were in Charlotte said they welcome that kind of scrutiny going into the season.
“I like that," Diakite said, flashing a wide grin. "All I can say is that I like that. It’s kind of like UMBC, when we lost. You know how we came with that anger? I think it’s generating that a little bit.”
“A lot of people are writing us off because it’s a rebuilding year. I’m not here to hear that," said Key. ".People don’t really care what the media says. We just know what everyone else is saying. So we just are focused on what we can control.
"But we know we’re a lot better than what people are saying, and it’s a rebuilding year, and everyone is looking for next year to be the team. So we’re using it as fuel for sure.”