Virginia saw one of its most eagerly awaited seasons in recent memory get off to a quick start this week, as the Hoos took down South Carolina State 75-38 and Winthrop 69-48. We'll have a more detailed preview of the basketball season coming up soon, but for now here are quick capsules on the first two games of the season as well as some very early thoughts on new players and how the rotation seems to be managed.
Virginia vs. South Carolina State:
The Hoos domination in this game was a fitting start to a season filled with promise. The 37 point margin of victory was the highest in the Tony Bennett era, and allowing just 38 points also set a new mark. In front of a small but excited crowd, UVA got off to a slow start offensively but stifled a poor Bulldog squad. Coming out of halftime, the shooters found their groove, with the highpoint of the evening being KT Harrell's three consecutive 3-point field goals. Though Mike Scott had some difficulty finding his shot, he was a factor all night through his 15 rebounds and constant occupation of defenders, which set up outside shooters to do their thing. The most poignant note of an otherwise non-notable game was the Cavalier's ability to dominate an inferior opponent, something that has not been a staple of the team in recent years.
Virginia vs. Winthrop
Despite the 21 point margin of victory, this one was close for way too long. Obviously Winthrop doesn't come close to the competition this team will be seeing in a couple weeks, but they aren't a terrible team. They were active on defense, switching back and forth from zone to man, and had numerous nice takes that seemed to find their ways into the basket. UVA shot 16% from behind the arc at halftime, as they led by just 3 at the break, and actually trailed with 10:30 to play. The Hoos picked up their intensity on defense, allowing just 4 points in the last 10 minutes, and drilled shots like they should have been doing all night. Mike Scott finished with 18 points, and Jontel Evans had a great second half, finishing with a career high 17 points. By going 19 of 19 from the charity stripe, Virginia set an all-time program record for most perfect free throws.
Early Season Observations:
- Malcolm Brogdon is off to a great start. He saw significant time, a combined 52 minutes, and was surprisingly comfortable for an 18-year old playing his first college games. While his chemistry with the older players wasn't quite there, he made good decisions, quick passes, and displayed outside range as well as some really nice finishes at the hoop. Coach Bennett's emphasis is defense, and Brogdon played hard and had a keen sense of what his roles were. Though Sammy Zeglinski's return could take a bit of his playing time, Brogdon appears to be in the rotation to stay; he plays the 2 well and looked good at point also, which could be important down the road.
- James Johnson still appears to be a bundle of as-of-yet untapped potential. It was great to see him on the floor, but he still seems slow to react on offense and out of position on defense, which led to some quick fouls. He will learn and improve, but I still don't see him getting substantial time this year, as Akil Mitchell seems to be a step ahead as the third big man. It's disappointing to hear that Darion Atikins was suspended for three games for violating team rules; this is not the first time something like this has happened, and I am sure he has learned whatever lesson needed to be learned. The news that Paul Jesperson will be redshirted is unsurprising. Though it's a bummer that we don't get to see him out there this year, we have lots of talented wings in front of him, and the extra year to develop could be huge down the road.
- After 2 games, it seems the rotation will break down as follows:
Big Men: Assane Sene / Mike Scott seeing the majority of time, with Scott having the ability to shift to the 5, and Mitchell first off the bench, followed by some appearances by Johnson.
Wings: Joe Harris / KT Harrell starting with Brogdon spelling the two.
Point guard: A battle between Evans and Sammy. These two are almost opposite players, with Evans the superior defender and Zeglinski the better shooter. At this point, my guess is that Jontel will start, with the two splitting time about evenly. There will probably be rare times when both are on the floor, but I don't see that as our strongest lineup.
-Some of our in-game events and promotions need to be overhauled, a topic I'll have much to chime in about this year. If you aren't familiar with "Ball Blaster," it is set up as follows: cheerleaders walk around shooting or throwing orange balls into the crowd, while fans dive for them and I cringe (the finder of a mysterious blue ball wins a mysterious prize). The trivia contest, in which a man won gift cards for his entire section seemed cool...until they announced the "gift cards" were simply 20 dollars off a purchase of 100 dollars or more at Crutchfield. How silly! "Silly" also describes the less-than-thrilling animated car race. I am, however, glad that the extravagant fire-shooters are no longer a part of our pregame entrance. The trivia contest, in which I named Virginia's all-time assist leader and won a sweet UVA backpack, should be allowed to stay.
- The upcoming tournament in the US Virgin Islands will be important in ensuring a respectable out of conference schedule. Specifically, we need to stay in the winner's bracket and take on teams like Marquette rather than falling to TCU and being relegated to the RPI-killing Norfolk States of the world.