Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite will return to the defending national champion Cavaliers after initially declaring for the 2019 NBA draft:
Mamadi Diakite @_mdiakite
I am excited to annonce that after testing the waters and getting great exposure and encouraging feedback, I have decided to return to the University of Virginia for my senior year. I can’t wait to join my coaches and teammates and get to work as we try to win another one. 🏆
The 6'9" Diakite averaged 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 21.8 minutes per game during his junior season. The 22-year-old made 55.0 percent of his shots, none more important than when he forced overtime in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament against Purdue:
UVA will have some new faces alongside Diakite in the lineup, as Ty Jerome, De'Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy are making the leap to the NBA.
Still, the Cavaliers should be ranked highly heading into the 2019-20 season with Diakite returning. Rob Dauster of NBC Sports and Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com put the Cavaliers at eighth overall, and Jeff Borzello of ESPN.com ranks the Hoos 14th.
Diakite's presence will certainly help. He was an anchor on UVA's Pack Line defense, which ranked fifth in the nation in efficiency, per KenPom.com. Diakite blocked 1.7 shots per game and saved his best work for the NCAA tournament when he swatted 16 shots in his final five games, including seven in the Final Four.
Even with Diakite back, however, UVA has an uphill climb in the ACC, let alone the nation. Duke, North Carolina and Louisville added fantastic recruiting classes that rank top 11 in Division I, per 247Sports. Of note, No. 4 class of 2019 recruit Cole Anthony is headed to UNC, and No. 6 Vernon Carey and No. 11 Matthew Hurt are going to Duke.
Still, UVA should be able to compete with the conference's best. The Cavaliers have one of the game's best coaches in Tony Bennett and also return talent around Diakite led by Kihei Clark and Braxton Key. The Hoos also have the No. 27 class, led by 4-star shooting guard Casey Morsell and 4-star center Kadin Shedrick.