Hoos fans knew the start to the Men’s Basketball season was going to be rocky. No Bub. No Brogdon. No Teven. Four 1st years. Put all those together and it should not come as a big surprise that Virginia is 2-2 heading into the Consolation “Bracket” of the NIT on Monday and Tuesday. But as most look at the upcoming games against Lamar and North Texas as a negative, we see it as an opportunity for this young team to gel.
First things first, please stop talking about the RPI hit the Cavs will take playing 2 more mid-majors at home. Yes, it would be nice to see how this team would fare against Kansas State and either Pitt or Michigan, but here is the deal. First, RPI only really factors in to whether or not a team gets into the NCAA Tournament and, to a much lesser extent, the NIT. Unless the Hoos really go on a tear in the ACC, the Big Tourney is probably out of our reach. If the Hoos can get to 18 or 19 wins with 8 or 9 in the ACC, they will make the NIT, unless Fester joins our coaching staff. Secondly, if the later is the case, Virginia will need wins, not good matchups, and games against 0-3 Lamar and 2-2 North Texas are what the Hoos need now. Lastly, the next two games at home are the confidence boost that Virginia needs heading into a tough road trip to Wisconsin, where…ahem…scoring will be at a premium.
So what can we gather so far this season. Above all else, having a point guard matters. In the first 3 games, our true point guards only played 17 of the 120 minutes, and 14 of those were by senior walk-on Doug Browman. Against Seattle, rookie Teven Jones logged 25 minutes and really facilitated the offense and helped the Hoos handle the constant full court press from the Redhawks. Now that doesn’t seem imposing, but this is a Seattle U team that beat Virginia 2 years ago in Charlottesville in a “rebuilding” year and took the Hoos to the wire in Seattle last season, needing Scott to put up 33 points to comeback for a 83-77 victory. The experience will be invaluable for Teven Jones while Jontel is on the mend, as he will be the lone 1 with experience when point guards Devon Hall and London Perrantes join the team next year.
Secondly, how about the play of Akil Mitchell this season? We knew that someone was going to have to pick up the slack inside this year, but he is averaging 13 ppg and 11 rpg, a solid double-double early on this season. Unlike Mike Scott, he is making his opportunities and shots inside the paint, utilizing the power forward slot. Again, something the Hoos have not done in a very, very long time. Harris is plugging right away, leading the team in scoring at 15.3 ppg, even when having to run the point the fist 3 games. He is also starting to warm up behind the arc, connecting on 8 for 18 (44.4%) from deep.
How are the 1st years doing? About what you would expect: up and down. If you would have to handicap the freshmen this season, Evan Nolte would be leading the way. Even though he is 6-8, he has mainly been plugged in at the 3…and draining them as well. Nolte is 3rd on the team in scoring (7.5 ppg), but is shooting 43% from long range. Tobey had his coming out party against Seattle yesterday with 17 points and 7-8 from the charity stripe while only playing 15 minutes. He hasn’t been needed to log in a massive amount of minutes as UVa’s opponents have been smaller in stature, but he should be well seasoned when the ACC slate comes around. Justin Anderson was the highest rated player to come to the Hoos since Mapp and Watson, but has shown that he needs a lot of court time to get adjusted. Sure, he had 3 highlight reel dunks on Saturday, but has been really inconsistent outside of that. But you can tell that he is a high flyer and will be very, very good for Virginia is a short time. And lastly, got to mention that Bennett is giving Taylor Barnette plenty of playing time at the point and 2 guard and he is starting to come around, including 2 for 3 from the 3-point line against Seattle.
Overall, is not a stellar start, but it is not completely unexpected. Virginia has shown that they have the pieces to be a very, very good team, balancing offense with Bennett’s defense. It will again come down to the point guard spot, getting players back from injuries, and cutting down on the turnovers which encompasses inbound passes and full court press turnovers. Outside of Wisconsin and a home visit by Tennessee, there is nobody left on the NC schedule that is very daunting. Finishing no worse than 9-4 by the time we get to UNC on January 6th, we should be okay.