After a nearly two-week break for exams, the Virginia Cavaliers are ready to return to the hard court this Saturday against UNC-Wilmington. The break, standard for Virginia but a week longer than head coach Tony Bennett is used to from Washington State, has presented him a challenge in keeping the team continuity, particularly after having had so many games in a relatively short period of time. So are the Hoos ready?
No word yet on whether Mike Scott, the team's top rebounder and second leading scorer, will definitely be returning to action, after a high ankle sprain that had already caused him to miss the Auburn game. Coach Bennett is fortunate for the two weeks off, but it's still a day-to-day situation with him.
"As they say, therapy amuses, time heals," Bennett said. "He’s progressing — I know that. That’s positive. We were hoping he would be a little further along, but we’re not going to rush it, that’s for sure."
Less uncertain, though equally disappointing, is Jamil Tucker's situation. As you recall, Tucker took a personal leave of absence at the beginning of this season. While he is officially back and practicing with the team, it is doubtful that he will see any playing time this Saturday. When asked if he would be ready to return, Bennett replied, "We’re waiting on a couple of things, but as of right now, probably not."
UVA currently boasts a 40.3% three-point shooting percentage, ranked 35th in the country and first in the ACC, and allows only 10.6 turnovers per game, ranked 10th in the country and first in the ACC. Sammy Zeglinski is ranked 21st in the country in three-point shooting percentage.
The team faces a UNC Wilmington squad ranked 11th in the country for three-point defense and 34th in the country for shot blocking. The Hoos will need to look out for John Fields, who averages 2.9 blocked shots per game and is 17th in the country in this category. Wilmington comes off an 80-69 loss at home to Wake Forest and is currently 4-6 overall. However, they were able to pull off an 80-69 victory over Penn State, a feat the Cavaliers were unable to accomplish earlier this year (66-69). Nine of Wilmington's players are averaging over 5.0 points per game, as opposed to Virginia's five.
Virginia will look to reigning ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesberg for help, as he has scored in double figures in all eight of Virginia’s games this season, including three games with 20 or more points. Landesberg, who leads the Cavs with 16.9 points per game, understands the growing pains in a young team in a new system under a new head coach.
"It's been tough," said Landesberg. "We've got a few inconsistent areas, but it's just something you've got to deal with. Things happen during the season and you've got to be able to play through them. …We're still learning."
With Mike Scott likely out of Saturday's rotation, Assane Sene will need to step it up no doubt. The 7-foot big man has not yet reached the potential that Wahoo Nation demands of him. In his 20-minute jaunt (a season high) against Auburn, he finished with only two points, three rebounds and three blocks.
"He’s continuing to come," Bennett said. "He had the suspension and then the sprained ankle, so that cost him."
The Cavs will also be looking to freshman Jontel Evans for a boost. While averaging only 1.3 points per game, Evans's greatest impact is on the defensive end.
"He has the ability to lock on to the ball," Bennett said. "He got into the lane a few times (against Auburn). With a first-year guy, I just want him to keep giving us lifts and, when called upon, be ready." How great is it that Bennett just called him a "first-year guy"?
"You look at your personnel and you adjust," Bennett said. "With Mike Scott being out, that changes how it goes with different personnel at times. We've played four perimeter guys on the floor. We've had different lineups, and certainly the competition is going to keep stepping up. … We'll continue to add some things and take out some things."
Virginia is set to tip off against UNC Wilmington Saturday, December 19 at 7:00 p.m. The game is on regardless of inclement weather, and will be televised by CSN.