CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Optimism has started to grow for Tony Bennett and Virginia in recent months among national media, ESPN's Jay Bilas included.

"If they start the year the way they ended last year," Bilas said Tuesday on a availability with media, "That's not just an NCAA Tournament team, it's a team that can really beat people when they get there."

The Cavaliers return their top-six in minutes played and scoring from last season's NIT Quarterfinal team. Down the stretch of the regular season, Virginia won six of their last nine, including resume building games at Duke and a sweep of Miami, both of which made it to the Elite 8 at least.

While not as stout as past iterations, Bilas said Tony Bennett's defense was good again, but what led to multiple blowouts against preseason No. 1 North Carolina was the Cavalier inability to make shots.

"They couldn't make shots consistently," Bilas said, "That's a hard way to play. When you can't put the ball in the basket consistently, it really puts a ton of pressure on your defense to get stop after stop after stop. I think they probably, admittedly, had to play even a little bit slower last year than they did in years past to manage games and manage playing time."

With six tried and tested players in the ACC returning, plus a highly-touted freshman class, Bilas also like the depth the Cavaliers have this season, which will lead to veterans having to play nearly 40 minutes a game like Kihei Clark, who finished second in the conference in minutes played last season.

Bilas also sees sophomore guard Reece Beekman making a huge step up in play after finishing second in ACC Defensive Player of the Year voting, while leading the conference in both assists and steals.

"I think Reece Beekman has a chance to take another leap if he can continue to improve his shooting," Bilas said, "He's an All-ACC-caliber guard, one of the best defenders in the country and a great decision-maker. I think Virginia is going to be very, very good."

UVA is not the only veteran team returning though, with the likes of UNC, who have four of five starters back from their trip to the NCAA title game, and others returning experience. Bilas feels the amount of returning talent will lead to a very competitive ACC.

"I haven't done the research on this, but I cannot believe there is an older league in the country than the ACC is," Bilas said, "It seems like every roster you look at, you're looking at nothing but juniors and seniors and fifth-year players and grad transfers and all that stuff.

"Hell, Notre Dame's starting lineup is collecting Social Security already. I think Brey played with half of them in high school. It's an older league. I think that's going to make the league pretty tough nationally."

Virginia opens the season at home on Nov. 7 against North Carolina Central at 9 p.m.