The Dukes of JMU come to Charlottesville for Virginia's season opener tomorrow. Last season, JMU surprised in the CAA conference tournament, grabbing an NCAA tournament bid. James Madison went on to defeat LIU in the play-in game before losing to Indiana by 19.
While the Dukes aren't the weakest squad on UVA's schedule, they finished last season ranked 172 by Kenpom and graduated three impact starters. The team must maintain 100% focus on the task at hand....but Wahoo fans are largely looking at this game as an important tune-up before the team's showdown with VCU next week, and an exciting time to meet the 2013-2014 NCAA Champions. Here are some things to watch for:
(1) Point Guard Personnel
It's been well-chronicled that Virginia has some question marks at the point guard position. The most likely starter at the 1 is Malcolm Brogdon, who is fresh off a redshirt season. He is far from a true point, specifically from a ball handling perspective, but has been working hard this offseason to get up to speed at the position. At the end of the day, Coach Bennett wants to get Brogdon in the lineup because he wants to get his best 5 players on to the court. This is the best spot to fit Brogdon in.
However, Brogdon's getting the start is not official, and it will be interesting to see how the remainder of the minutes get divied up. Teven Jones is the most notable candidate for significant point guard playing time, as he spent last season spelling Jontel Evans. However, first years London Perrantes and Devon Hall could be in the mix too.
Overall, the starting lineup I expect is: Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson, Joe Harris, Anthony Gill, and Akil Mitchell.
(2) The First Years
One of the coolest parts of the beginning of basketball season is seeing the team's first-year class, whom we've heard rumblings about for years, followed recruiting visits, and seen in Youtube videos, finally take the court in orange and blue. London Perrantes and Devon Hall will both make their UVA debuts tomorrow tomorrow.
That said, it's tough to take much away from two 18 year-olds' first minutes of college basketball. But it will be instructive to see what Coach Bennett does with them, usage-wise. Tony will probably spend some of the early season tinkering with line-ups to see what works, but he'll want to get a smaller rotation that he's comfortable with quickly before the VCU matchup.
Obviously he's not a first year, but we're excited to see what USC transfer Anthony Gill can show in his first game as a Hoo.
We all know that the Tony Bennett likes to slow down the tempo. Some attribute it to the team's smothering (but non-pressure) defense. Last season, the team's defensive possessions were 307th fastest in the nation. But this is only half of the story; the Hoos play just as slow on the offensive side of the ball (314th).
With the most talented UVA squad in years taking the court, it makes sense to let the Hoos get out and run to some extent. First of all, limiting possessions increases variance, which benefits the team that "should" lose (i.e. not us). Secondly, the team now has the athleticism to do it.
We'll look for whether this game ends with possessions closer to 60, like last year's average (61.0), or whether it'll be closer to the NCAA average (~66). Obviously, this is just one data point, but we should at least get a feel for that style Coach Bennett will be going for.
(4) Thomas Rogers watch
Thomas Rogers earned a scholarship for his senior season, after spending the preceding years as a walk-on. Rogers has yet to score for the Hoos, and it's not because of a lack of trying. Despite sinking shot after shot during warmups, and getting a steady diet of passes fed to him by his eager teammates, the fan favorite has yet to bury one (0-15 on FGs in his career, including 0-11 on three-pointers, with a pair of missed free throws).
Will tomorrow be the night when it finally changes? Whitey Reid started a pool, and doesn't think it'll happen until UVA's 12/23 matchup with Liberty. But I'll guess he drains a three against JMU. What say you?