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.

Everything is right with the world

It's raining and dreary outside my window this morning, but all is still right with the world. Virginia is undefeated, and sitting in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. UNC lost last night. Duke lost last night.

Heck, even Georgetown went into hostile territory and defeated #11-ranked Pittsburgh, who was previously unbeaten in Big East play. (I'm sorry to confess to divided loyalties; I'm a UVa grad -- CLAS 1996 -- but I'm also a graduate of Georgetown Law. Gotta root for the Hoyas, too.)

Anyway, everything just seems a little brighter today, doesn't it? It's good to be a Hoo.

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.

A win's a win, right?

A win's a win, I guess, but this one shouldn't have been this close:

Sylven Landesberg hit a 15-footer with 2.2 seconds left Monday night, lifting Virginia to a 69-67 victory against North Carolina-Wilmington.

Virginia (12-4) won its eighth straight, its longest winning streak since the start of the 2003-04 season, but had to make a late comeback to do it.

Wilmington (6-12) trailed before a 21-4 run gave it a 61-58 lead with 3:58 to play. The visitors were ahead 64-60 with 2:57 left before Virginia rescued itself with a 9-3 run.

Jerome Meyinsse had a career-high 14 points, and Mike Scott added 12.

Okay, let's take the win (that's 12, two more than last year's team had!) and get back to ACC play. Next up: Wake Forest, in Winston-Salem. I'm thinking about going to that game. Stay tuned.

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.

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.

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.

Nice win!

Wow, nice win for the Hoos over 24th-ranked UAB. That's right, the guys beat a ranked team. No, it isn't Kansas, but I'll take it. I listened to the first half of the game in the car via XM Radio; sounds like I picked the wrong half:

The biggest win of the young Tony Bennett era came just the way the first-year coach likes it. Defensively. Well, for a half at least. The Virginia men's basketball team used a solid second-half defensive effort to rally past 24th-ranked UAB on Wednesday night, 72-63, the first win over a ranked team in Bennett's short tenure.

Sylven Landesberg had 19 points and 6 rebounds, while Mike Scott made his return to the court with 10 points and 7 boards. Mustapha Farrakhan scored ten, but drew special praise from Coach Bennett for his work on the defensive end, especially against UAB's Elijah Millsap in the second half.

I keep saying it: this team keeps improving. I don't know how many they'll win this year, but they're going to be fun to watch, methinks.

Finally!

The Hoos hit the court again tonight, finally, against UAB. For as long as I can remember, I've hated December in college basketball because, after a furious start, things die down during exams/end of the semester. That was exacerbated this year by the cancellation of the UNC-Wilmington game (rescheduled for January 18, by the way).

Unfortunately, it appears that the game will not be televised.

Unexpected improvement

I mentioned below that the Hoos are showing improvement on the basketball court under Coach Bennett, but Dear Old UVa has found an unexpected area of improvement. I know some (most?) people are down on the basketball program, and maybe I'm just looking through orange and blue colored glasses, but I maintain that there are many reasons for optimism. Just be patient.

Hoos showing improvement

Virginia beat up on Hampton, led by Sylven Landesberg's first career double-double. Yeah, it was just Hampton, but I'm pretty happy that the team is improving steadily. Check out the quotes from Coach Bennett in the article linked above. I continue to maintain there is reason for optimism, although there may be some real low points in the upcoming ACC season.

Next up: UAB on Wednesday.

I'm back...but Jamil Tucker isn't

Today is the sixth day that I have been without electricity in the wake of the recent snowstorm that blanketed Virginia (and elsewhere). No power means no computer and no television, so I've been way out of the loop. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I still have the BlackBerry, and even though it's difficult to post from this thing, I need to get back on the horse...especially since there's some big news from the Men's Basketball program:

Virginia men’s head basketball coach Tony Bennett has dismissed Jamil Tucker from the team for academic reasons.

“We expect our student-athletes to perform to certain standards academically and Jamil has not met those standards,” Bennett said. “We wish him well and will provide assistance where we can, but he is no longer a member of our team.”

So that's that. Tucker never seemed to be a good fit for the Bennett system, in the best of circumstances, but it appears that academics is the reason for the announcement. We also wish Jamil the best, wherever he ends up.

In the meantime, UVa hits the court again tonight to take on Hampton.