Where's Calvin Baker?

Just a couple of weeks ago, we were discussing the fact that Calvin Baker seemed to find a role in the program, and had been named one of the team's captains. Now, not so much. Jontel Baker has really taken off, and now this:

Following Virginia’s 69-57 loss at Wake Forest on Saturday, the normally talkative Tony Bennett suddenly turned laconic when asked to elaborate on guard Calvin Baker’s status. Baker, a senior co-captain, didn’t make the trip to Winston-Salem.

“Coach’s decision” was all Bennett would say.

On Sunday, sources confirmed to the Daily Progress that Baker’s situation is related to his displeasure with his reduced role on the team. The sources said Baker’s future status is in flux.

I can understand Baker's frustration, but I'm not going to question the way Bennett has handled this team or the rotation. Bennett is doing an exceptional job, from my vantage point.

It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Hoos open ACC play with nice win

The Cavalier men's basketball team played perhaps their most complete game of the season this afternoon in Raleigh, NC. It couldn't have happened at a better time: the opener of the ACC season. With a victory over NC State, the Hoos are now 1-0 and in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sylven Landesberg had 23 points to lead the Hoos. Mike Scott had 14 points and 7 rebounds, and Sammy Zeglinski scored 10 and pulled down 8 boards.

The most encouraging aspect of the game was that Virginia really took care of the ball, much more so than we've seen out of the team all year. Zeglinski had only 1 turnover in 36 minutes of play; Calvin Baker had three assists and no turnovers. Yep, you read that right: Calvin Baker. The kid is playing under control, and he's been a big asset to the team.

Virginia was down by ten points midway through the second half, but they clamped down on defense (we haven't seen that often) and they looked determined to come back. Too frequently this season, this team has looked defeated when they got behind late in games. Today, no heads were drooped, and no one on the roster quit.

I've been saying it all season: Tony Bennett has this team pointed in the right direction. It's taken some time, but today we all saw some real evidence of the progress Virginia has made thus far.

Nice ACC debut for Coach Bennett, on the road no less. Now he needs to forget about it. In the ACC, there's always another tough game around the corner. For Bennett, that means a contest against Georgia Tech, who beat the Evil Empire today.

I hope to see JPJ full and rocking for that game on Wednesday night.

Random musings on the Stanford game

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:

Reflections on the basketball opener

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 Begins

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.

Calvin Baker has surgery

Bad news for the men's basketball team: Calvin Baker had arthroscopic surgery today to remove a loose piece of cartilage in his right knee. He'll be out 2-3 weeks. It could be worse, certainly, but Virginia is going to be thin this year, anyway. Losing a senior for any amount of time can't help the development of this team as they try to learn a new system.