Lots of interesting news around Wahoo Nation today: --Assane Sene needs to eat!
--Jeff Jones has announced his transfer destination: Rider. I wish Jones all the luck in the world.
--Sammy Zeglinski is recovering from hip surgery.
With only five scholarship players returning, Tony Bennett's 2010-11 squad is going to be interesting to watch. It may not always be fun, but the development of the group will be interesting to UVa partisans. In Tony We Trust.
Disappointing loss for the men's basketball team tonight against Stanford in the semi-finals of something called the Cancun Challenge. Some random thoughts: --It was good to get to see the team on television again. First game I've watched since last week's South Florida debacle. Despite some disappointing play, it's clear that Virginia is a different team than we saw earlier in the season.
--Down the stretch, I saw no urgency out of the Hoos. I hoped to see Sylven Landesberg get that look in his eyes, and take the team on his back. Didn't happen. There was just no urgency to win this game.
--Jeff Jones was great on the offensive end, scoring 17 points on 5-9 shooting. That's the JJ I've been waiting to see.
--Jeff Jones was terrible on the defensive end. Also terrible: Calvin Baker and Assane Sene. Just brutal. I can't believe Coach Bennett will tolerate that kind of effort much longer.
--Shot selection was much improved over last week. That was the single point that I was most encouraged about. Unfortunately, they just missed some open looks. Combine that with poor free throw shooting (14-24), and that was the difference in the game.
--Mu Farrakhan didn't play in the first half. No idea why, but it was a clear benching by Bennett, because he played (though not very well) most of the second half.
--Mike Scott had 7 points and 9 boards, and would've had more if not for foul trouble. He's really the only offensive option Virginia has in the low post, and he's a talented option at that. It's an absolute must that Scott stay out of foul trouble if Virginia hopes to be competitive.
--In the end, I'm still seeing progress out of the team. I'm very happy with where Bennett has them right now. He just doesn't have the horses to run his system. Yet.
--A final note: the game was on CBS College Sports Network, and it was, without a doubt, the worst television basketball broadcast I've ever seen.
Production values were awful. They couldn't get the score correct for the first five minutes of the game. When they showed the starting lineups, they showed pictures of five random guys instead of the Virginia starters.
Worst of all, however, the play-by-play guy (I think his name was Thad Anderson) was the single worst sports announcer I've ever seen. Geez, this guy was brutal. He got everything wrong, and clearly had not prepared for the game at all.
I think it was actually this guy:
The differences between the football and basketball program were stark yesterday. The football team lost yet again, this time to Clemson. They did, however, give us all something to cheer about...briefly:
For one half of Virginia's contest against Clemson, the Cavalier offense did everything that Al Groh is not necessarily known for: trick plays, unconventional formations, and overall outside-the-box thinking. Jameel Sewell, Mikell Simpson, and Vic Hall all took snaps under center. A very un-Groh-like, nothing-to-lose risk gave Virginia an improbable touchdown going into halftime and the team ranked 106th nationally in scoring offense and 118th in total offense had 21 points and 233 total yards.
Unfortunately, the defense stunk all day long. Then, after a few very interesting possessions where Virginia went away from the absurdly pathetic playcalling that has marked Al Groh's tenure, the offense went back to the same old nonsense in the second half. As a result, it was three plays and out on almost every possession, it seemed, and Virginia meekly succumbed to their 8th loss of the season.
The basketball team, on the other hand, gave us a lot to be optimistic about yesterday in a 76-55 win over Oral Roberts. Mike Scott and Mustapha Farrakhan had good games, and Assane Sene played fairly effectively in his first game since returning from suspension.
The defense has been getting better every single game, which is refreshing (after some very poor defensive teams we've been forced to endure over the last decade). It's going to take even more time for Coach Bennett to install his offense, but the Hoos are improving every game on that end of the floor as well.
Wins over Rider and Oral Roberts are not ordinarily reasons for enthusiasm. Most good programs take these wins for granted. We can't think like that yet. How the Hoos are winning these games can't be taken for granted, given the state of the program.
I don't know where the program will end up, but there's no question that Bennett has started in the right direction.
Okay, I've had time to reflect on the first game in the Tony Bennett era of Virginia basketball. The game itself was ugly; Virginia beat Longwood by the score of 85-72. Much has been made on the message boards about Virginia's inability to close out a poor Longwood team, and about Tony Bennett's post-game disappointment. To address the first, I urge Virginia fans to be cautious. Yes, the Hoos looked very ragged at times. Yes, they had trouble finishing off Longwood. Let us not forget, however, that Virginia was playing without Assane Sene, Calvin Baker, and Jamil Tucker. At least two of these guys are going to be contributors to this team. Virginia was clearly undermanned.
As for Bennett's comments:
"To give up that many points, that was discouraging," Bennett said. "The guys did finish, but there's no secret that we got a lot of work to do. It's going to be a long journey that way."
He's right. This team has a long way to go. Defensive lapses like we saw on Friday night will bury the team when they get into the heat of the ACC schedule.
There were many encouraging signs, however. First among those was the fact that, even against Longwood, 85 points is a lot of scoring. The quotes from the players continually stress the fact that Bennett's offense isn't a walk-it-up system, and they all talk about the "freedom" they have in that system. Players like Farrakhan made the not-so-subtle point that no one felt like they had any freedom to just play under Dave Leitao.
(For the record, I liked Leitao, and I thought he was fired too soon. But I'm very happy with his replacement, at this point.)
Sylven Landesberg scored 23 points while pulling down 6 rebounds. Mustapha Farrakhan tied a career high with 17 points. Mike Scott had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Perhaps the most surprising, and encouraging, development was the emergence of freshman Jontel Evans, making his debut in a Virginia uniform. Evans was fairly lightly-recruited out of high school, and Tristan Spurlock was expected to be the gem of this incoming class. That still may be the case; we won't draw any grand, sweeping conclusions based on one game.
However, Spurlock played only 3 minutes, while Evans played half the game and made an impact immediately:
"The way (Longwood was) trapping and pressing, and his pressure on the ball helped us," said Bennett, who wasn't satisfied with his team's defensive effort after Longwood shot 55 percent from the floor in the second half and outscored U.Va. 45-36. "I thought he gave us a nice lift in the first half. He got a (steal). He was very quick and got to the lane. For a first day under the lights — for our whole team, but really for him — I thought he did a nice job."
The game wasn't televised, so I can't confirm it, but the people who were there say Evans if fast. It's starting to look like Evans' skill set is exactly what Bennett wants in a player:
"I never expected that many minutes coming in as a freshman, but I got them," Evans said. "Coach called my name and he depended on me to do what I do — that's play defense, not turn the ball over and create for other people."
Ball-hawking defense will take Evans a long way under Coach Bennett. If he can protect the ball -- and Evans had a couple of lapses in the second half -- he will play.
All in all, I was happy with the opening night victory. This team has a long way to go, sure, but I'm satisfied that they are progressing in the right direction. Bennett has to play the cards he's been dealt; we can't expect him to turn all those cards into aces overnight.
The Tony Bennett era of UVa basketball begins tonight, and I think we all have high hopes that it will end better than the "New Gillenium." Tonight, the Hoos will open against Longwood at JPJ Arena. Gametime is 7 pm. Not surprisingly, there is no television coverage of this titanic struggle, but Dave Koehn and Cory Alexander will call the game on the Virginia Sports Network.
Virginia is more short-handed than usual tonight, though I hope it won't come back to haunt the good guys. Calvin Baker is out after having arthroscopic knee surgery. Assane Sene has been suspended. Jamil Tucker is, well, not here.
Fortunately, Sylven Landesberg is here, and I know I'm not the only one who is anxious to see how Landesberg performs in the new system. He's a talented guy; I'm not particularly concerned.
I've never been more excited for a Virginia-Longwood game. That's kinda sad.
In the interest of trying to forget about football entirely, let's talk hoops for a minute. I have a big stack of Virginia basketball links that I've been meaning to post (and I want to stay positive, so no discussion of the Assane Sene suspension), but I went out of town this weekend and am just now getting around to it. Before the link roundup, however, a note about my expectations for the 2009-2010 men's basketball squad. The Good Ol Blog is running a poll, asking for predictions on the number of ACC wins Tony Bennett's squad will reach this year. I voted for 7, which seems to be a popular selection.
Seven wins would be a great result in Coach Bennett's first season. The team is predicted to finish next to last, which I think is absurdly pessimistic. We don't have top-four talent on this roster, but there's enough there for Bennett to fashion a competitive squad. I think the Hoos are going to finish in the bottom half of the conference, but they will have at least one big ACC upset, and they will be blown out of very few games.
More than that, I think they will be fun to watch (something we can't say about the football team, unfortunately). They are going to scrap and claw and fight to the end of every game. It's their coach's disposition (ask his Washington State players), and I really believe his players are going to buy into it.
I'm very high on Tony Bennett, if you haven't noticed. (Take that with a grain of salt, however; I was high on Pete Gillen and Al Groh, too).
Anyway, on to the links:
--The poll above was prompted by Dear Old UVa's interview with John Gasaway, of the ever-popular Basketball Prospectus (here is part one of the interview, and here is part two). Gasaway predicts that Virginia will go 8-8 in the ACC. That, my friends, would be a spectacular success, as far as I'm concerned.
--The Daily Press had a couple of outstanding articles on Coach Bennett this weekend, and they are both worth a read. This one focuses on the fact that rebuilding is in Coach's blood, and this one is a collection of items about Bennett that didn't make it into the main story. There is a ton of great stuff in there for UVa hoops junkies. Like me.
--Looking back at one of our favorite Hoos ever, JR Reynolds (some great video at that link). Although it's looking increasingly unlikely, I'm still hopeful that JR will get a shot at the NBA sometime.
--Shifting over to women's basketball for a moment, Monica Wright's name is on the finalists list for the Senior CLASS award. That won't be the last time we hear "Monica Wright" and "award" in the same sentence.
We all knew that the news out of the basketball program couldn't remain all roses forever:
Virginia sophomore center Assane Sene has been suspended for the first three games of the 2009-10 regular season by men’s head basketball coach Tony Bennett for conduct detrimental to the team. Sene will also not play in the Cavaliers’ closed scrimmage with St. John’s on Sunday, Nov. 8.
“We have expectations for the individuals in our program that Assane has not met,” Bennett said. “He will not play in our closed scrimmage with St. John’s on Sunday and in the first three games of the regular season, but will practice with the team. My hope is Assane will learn from this situation as we move forward.”
We can only speculate as to Sene's offense. On the one hand, I'm definitely glad that Coach Bennett has high standards, and he expects his players to live up to them. On the other hand, Sene needs the game experience more than anyone not named Tristan Spurlock.
Ugh. My fingers are crossed that Sene has learned his lesson and this is the last we hear of such nonsense.