I Told You So -- UVa edition

I don't know very much about sports, but this is one prediction that I nailed. Back on November 8, here's what I tweeted:

Today, Virginia earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since...the Sampson years. They put together the best record (28-6) of any Cavalier squad since...the Sampson years. After winning the regular season ACC title, Virginia won the ACC Tournament for the first time since...well, since 1976, which was even before Sampson enrolled at the University.

This has been such a fun team to watch. They play the best defense in the country, and they have a disciplined, efficient, and unselfish offense. Now I have to decide whether to head down to Raleigh next weekend to watch the Hoos, or if I want to take the chance that Virginia will make it to the second weekend of the tournament. If that happens, maybe I can figure out a way to make it up to New York and Madison Square Garden for the Sweet Sixteen.

Better yet, this is only the beginning of some great things for the Virginia program. Tony Bennett has built something special. Hope the University opens up the checkbook and makes Bennett "coach for life."

Virginia basketball vs. Miami -- 2012.01.07

I thought I'd post some photos I snapped at Saturday's Virginia - Miami game at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville (click on the individual picture to embiggen):

Still recruiting?

Tony Bennett is still looking around, possibly seeking to add another player to the 2010-11 recruiting class. Bennett already has about thirty new kids in that class, so what's another one? I'd be pretty surprised if Bennett actually signed someone else. There are six kids coming in as first-years this fall, and I can't imagine they'll want 7 kids in the same class. To add another, it would have to be a player that the staff just couldn't pass up, and there aren't many of those guys still available.

Hoos in the NBA

While watching the Dallas-San Antonio NBA playoff series, I keep having the same thought, and it came back to me while writing the post below about Sylven Landesberg. We need more former Virginia players in the NBA.

Roger Mason, Jr., is really the only former Hoo in the NBA right now, though Mason's Spurs are playing against a team coached by Rick Carlisle. Marc Iavaroni is still kicking around as an assistant coach. I am convinced that Sean Singletary will have a good NBA career...eventually.

Anyone else I'm missing? That's a pretty thin roster of Hoos who are kicking around the league, only one of whom is a current player. If Singletary and Landesberg make NBA rosters next year, that'll be three, and that's a start. After seeing how much Tony Bennett's NBA career seems to have helped him in recruiting, I can't help but think having former Virginia basketball players playing in the world's best basketball league would help in the recruiting process, as well.

Unfortunately, no one on the current roster appears to be a likely bet to make a future NBA roster. I have high hopes for the incoming recruits, but it's too soon to tell.

At least our list of NBA players is more accomplished than this one.

Q & A time

Sylven Landesberg has been answering questions here. I know a lot of UVa fans are down on Sylven after the way his UVa career ended, but there's a lot of interesting stuff in here. Including this:

What would you tell high school basketball players if they asked you if UVa was a good place to play basketball?

i would tell them its a great school nd great experience

and this...

besides your teammates, what will you miss most about UVA?

hmmm... gus burgers lol

One more:

Should i be mad at Coach Bennett for you leaving?

no not at all coach is a great guy

Sylven made a dumb mistake by skipping that class, and Coach Bennett had little choice in his response...but we need to remember that Landesberg is still a kid. He planned on going pro after the season anyway, and I hope he has a ton of success. I hope Hoos will give him the benefit of the doubt.

On Billy Baron

I don't know if Billy Baron will end up being a star or not. He wasn't very highly recruited, frankly, but he does appear to be exactly the type of player that will thrive in Tony Bennett's system. He also appears to be the type of player that UVa fans will enjoy: a hard-nosed kid who plays hard and, perhaps more importantly (given what we've seen over the last decade), who plays smart. There have been times since the New Gillenium began that I would've given my kingdom for a few players who didn't take bad shots and make bad decisions. I'm so tired of that, but I'm very optimistic that Bennett is going to change that.

At any rate, what brought on this rambling post was this Daily Progress profile of Billy Baron. Check it out.

Wahoo Basketball Roundup

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.

Hoos Hammer Heels

There's probably only one way Tony Bennett and the Hoos could've erased much of the lingering pain from Thursday's collapse against Tech: by going on the road and beating North Carolina. Mission accomplished. Virginia went down to Chapel Hill and demolished a UNC squad that, frankly, looked like they didn't care for much of the game. I love the intro to the AP story:

Sylven Landesberg scored 29 points and Virginia ran off 18 unanswered points early in the second half to beat struggling North Carolina 75-60 on Sunday night.

Sammy Zeglinski added 19 points for the Cavaliers (13-6, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who regrouped from consecutive losses to earn another impressive victory under first-year coach Tony Bennett. Virginia had lost 63 of 68 meetings in Chapel Hill, but blew the game open by holding the Tar Heels without a field goal for nearly 8 minutes in front of a stunned Smith Center crowd.

Wow. I'm still stunned, myself.

Landesberg was incredible tonight, one of the best performances I've seen from the young guy. The defense, however, was simply spectacular. The Hoos held UNC to 36% from the field, and they got a stop every time they needed one. Jerome Meyinsse blocked 3 shots, and all were important. You can't help but be happy for Jerome. He's having a great senior season.

Up next: NC State comes to Charlottesville. With a win, Virginia would improve to 5-2 in the ACC, and that's almost unimaginable. Heck, if they hadn't given away the Tech game, they'd be 5-1 now and in control of the conference.

Oh well, I'm not going to complain. It's a night to celebrate. Way to go, Hoos.

The offense

Over at Dear Old U.Va., Ben takes a very interesting look at Virginia's offense, and asks if they are headed in the wrong direction. I agree with his general observation that sample sizes are too small to draw any grand conclusions. The problem Tony Bennett's squad is facing is that they really don't have very many legitimate ACC weapons in the offensive fold. Sylven Landesberg is a stud, and Mike Scott is a good low-post threat, and several others complement those two...but it's tough to win in this conference without more serious threats.

That said, the team is efficient, they handle the ball well and take good shots. That goes a long way. Just ask Bob Knight, whose teams relied on just those offensive principles for years.

Can't wait for the Hokies tomorrow!

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.

A quick peek at the ACC standings

Check out the ACC men's basketball standings here. Lots of interesting stuff, and we might as well enjoy it while we can. Of course, Virginia is in first place, the only undefeated team in the conference. There are some other interesting items in that chart, as well. Take a look at each team's record against teams ranked in the Top 25. Every team other than Miami has played at least one game against ranked teams. Of the 11 remaining teams, only one is undefeated in those games. Yep, you guessed it: Virginia, at 3-0. North Carolina has lost four games against ranked teams.

Next, take a look at the "STRK" column. How beautiful is it to see Virginia with a 9-game winning streak, and UNC with a 4-game losing streak?

Also, as mentioned in a post below, not only is UVa the only undefeated team in the ACC, but every other team besided Maryland has at least two losses. It's unreal. What's next? Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria?

As badly as this season started, no one could have expected to see Virginia in this position at this point. You can go back through the archives here and see that I've been very consistent in saying that the team was improving markedly with each game and that I was excited about the direction Tony Bennett was taking this team...but no way could I have predicted this much success once ACC play started.

Okay, now it's time for the inevitable "Don't get too excited" statement. It's good advice, really. A team is never as good as it looks on it's best day, and it's never as bad as it looks on it's worst day. Virginia will likely not remain in first place throughout the season. However, anything that happens after this point is just icing on the cake. Tony Bennett has taken a cast of misfits, has-beens, and never-wases (plus Sylven Landesberg and Mike Scott), and turned them into a competitive outfit. It's so much fun to watch.

Whatever happens for the rest of this season, this team is going to be remembered fondly. They play very hard, and they are all making every effort to play the style Coach Bennett likes...and it's clear that style is going to work. Sit back and enjoy, Virginia fans. The next decade could be a lot of fun.

Team of the Week

Written before yesterday's near-catastrophe, clearly, but nice to see that ESPN's Andy Katz has named Virginia the national "team of the week" for last week:

There's no way I thought UVa would nab this honor in mid-January.

I knew coach Tony Bennett could take a collection of players, mold them into his style and maximize the talent. But he's clearly exceeding the expectations for this squad.

Virginia was projected to finish with NC State at the bottom of the ACC. Three games into conference play, the Cavaliers are the only undefeated team in the league and looking as confident as any other squad in the conference.

Virginia isn't just squeezing out wins, either. This past week Virginia beat Georgia Tech after the Yellow Jackets had beaten Duke. Georgia Tech then went on the road and beat North Carolina. Clearly, the Yellow Jackets are one of the most talented teams in the ACC. So taking out Georgia Tech, keeping the Yellow Jackets off the free-throw line (3-of-11) and playing an unselfish game was no fluke.

Virginia is getting balanced scoring from Sylven Landesberg, Mike Scott, Sammy Zeglinski and Mustapha Farrakhan. But it's the defense down the stretch that is winning games.

In the win over Miami, Virginia blitzed the Hurricanes with a 33-21 halftime lead and never looked back.

That means the Cavaliers have won three games against teams that were ranked in the AP poll at one point (UAB, Georgia Tech and Miami).

Virginia is still fragile. The Cavs could easily lose to anyone remaining on their schedule. But if the home court continues to be a staple for them, then it's not unrealistic to think they can win at least six more ACC games. If they do, the Cavs would be 9-7 in conference play and right there to get an NCAA berth. That in itself was unthinkable two months ago, a credit to Bennett and to the players who believed in him like the ones who did at Washington State. The Bennett hire was questioned, only because he came from out of the region. It was never an issue about his coaching.

I really anxious to see how UVa plays this weekend against Wake. It'll be an interesting litmus test of where this team stands right now.

The Tony Bennett Effect

So I'm watching the ESPNU broadcast of Virginia's win over Miami, and they posted the most amazing stat. Want the clearest example you can imagine of the effect Tony Bennett has had on this program: Check out the following statistics: --Turnovers. Last year, UVa ranked 242nd in the nation in number of turnovers. This year: 3rd in the nation.

--Assist/Turnover Ratio. Last year: 245th. This year: 15th.

--3-Point FG%. Last year: 242nd. This year: 7th.

--Points Allowed. Last year: 294th. This year: 23rd.

Those numbers are simply astounding. Mind-blowing.

This team has already accomplished more than anyone could have hoped, and I won't be disappointed no matter what happens the rest of the way. At this point, however, I must say it:

Tony Bennett is a miracle worker.

Are you kidding me?

What is going on? Virginia stands atop the ACC at 3-0, the only undefeated team in the conference after a 75-57 dismantling of Miami tonight. The reason why: defense. No one familiar with Tony Bennett is surprised that his team has improved defensively with each game.

Unfortunately, I'm out of town and didn't get to see tonight's game. It is on the DVR, though; can't wait to get home and watch it tomorrow. It has been a while since UVa hoops was must-see TV.

I like it.

Break up the Hoos!

Six straight wins? Two wins, no losses in ACC competition? What's going on with Tony Bennett's Cavs? I'm speechless:

Sylven Landesberg scored 22 points and Virginia used a 16-4 run late in the second half to surge past Georgia Tech (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) 82-75 on Wednesday night.

Virginia (10-4, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its sixth straight game, its longest winning streak since it won seven in a row in the 2006-07 season, and opened ACC play 2-0 for the first time since 1994-95, when the Cavaliers won their first four conference games.

That's right; this is the first time the Hoos started 2-0 in the ACC since I was a third year. That blows my mind. If you will recall, that was a pretty good season (Elite Eight).

Wow. Just...wow. Tony Bennett for President.

Will Sherrill profile

Nice profile of Will Sherrill in the Washington Post yesterday:

Considering Will Sherrill's background, the Virginia junior forward would appear better suited for the White House than an ACC front court. He grew up in New York's Upper East Side, boarded in high school at the renowned Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts and is pursuing double majors in history and economics at U-Va.

He was the sports editor of his high school newspaper, serves as a student-athlete mentor at Virginia and spent his summer interning with a hedge-fund firm. And after two seasons as the player cheering at the end of the Cavaliers' bench, the walk-on has improbably carved a niche within first-year Coach Tony Bennett's rotation.

Read the entire piece; it's good stuff.

If you had told me before the season that a walk-on would be starting in the ACC opener, I would not have been optimistic. Sherrill plays hard, though, and he does the little things. He helps the team, and that's all you can ask.