The University of Virginia Men's Basketball team is off to a hot start, playing tonight for a chance to go 10-0 for the first time since 'Independent Women Part I' by Destiny's Child was number one on the charts (2000, for those that aren't up on their Destiny's Child Trivia).
Virginia comes into tonight's contest with Cleveland State ranked No.2 in ESPN's BPI rankings, No.3 in the KenPom.com ratings, No. 5 in the Coaches Poll, No. 6 in the AP Top 25, and No.1 in our hearts.
With the long, long, long exam break, Virginia fans have had a chance to reflect on the first portion of the season, so we here at Streaking the Lawn discussed what has impressed us the most so far this season, and which win was the most impressive.
Here's our discussion:
Paul "Tiki" Guttman: The team's depth has impressed me the most. It hasn't surprised me, but it is impressive. Foul trouble? No problem. Injuries? No problem. We've got guys like Shayok and Wilkins to step up.
You wanna press us? OK, we'll bring in another ball handler. You wanna go big? OK, we'll bring in another big man.
The Hoos can match up with anybody, they can survive bad refs, pressure defense, and injuries. That depth is going to be big when we get into conference play. Other teams that don't go as deep are going to struggle to hang with us late in games.
The most impressive win is obviously the VCU win. Going into a tough place to play with a packed crowd, and coming off the lost last year at home. And basically blowing them out of the water. Really impressed me. And on my birthday too!
We knew this team was going to be very good at defense again. But without Joe Harris's shooting, the offense was a concern; would we be too one-dimensional and interior-focused? Thankfully, Justin Anderson knew that with a little offseason work, he could double his three-point shooting percentage from 29% to 59%, while throwing down dunk after dunk in the process. THAT's impressive. Anderson's improvement (along with Gill's consistency...oh and preseason first-team All-ACC member Malcolm Brogdon) is what's making this offense VERY good.
I'm going to say the Maryland win is our most impressive. VCU was probably the harder game, as UMD was shorthanded, but we were really taken out of our element in College Park by the barrage of fouls. It changed how we could play and put most of the team in foul trouble. The Hoos of the past would not have been able to hold on, but this team just gritted out the second half, and still won easily by double-digits.
There are so many options here, but I'm going to go with poise. In both of the last two wins, there were times that were ripe for an ultimate collapse. No one would have really blamed them, either. Instead, they hunkered down. Against Maryland, they led start to finish, combating whistle-happy referees, injuries, flying projectiles, and a fan base that makes dinner with Hannibal Lecter seem like a fun night out. At VCU, they absorbed three Graham body-blows before delivering a precise 15-0 knockout.
I know I thought this team was going to be good, but damn. I am not going to get too crazy like, "WE'RE GOING UNDEFEATED", but I would not have predicted getting through the GW, MD, and VCU games unscathed. Every time someone struggles, there's someone to step up. Shayok's minutes against Maryland were absolutely clutch. Nolte's play against VCU, and staying with it despite shooting the basketball worse than Jay Cutler plays quarterback (side note...that Evan was still green lit 100% to take those shots says a lot about Tony Bennett as a coach).
Anthony Gill has been so consistent and so underrated so far this season. He has plugged along, leading the team in rebounding in five of the team's nine games, while also averaging 13 points per game (good for second on the team). He leads the team in shooting percentage at 65.6% (ok, technically Caid Kirven is shooting 100% on 1-1, but you know what I mean) and is making 76.7% from the free throw line, good for second just behind Anderson's 80%. He's scored in double digits in all but two games, and scored at least 11 in the last five.
I think the biggest win was Maryland. Even though the Hoos trailed against VCU, I think the control Virginia held throughout the game despite all the things going against them was just incomparable. Both games were fantastic wins, and will help this team down the road. The more I think about each (and watch them again on ESPN3), the more impressive they become.
Matt Trogdon: This team has definitely exceeded expectations so far, which has been difficult to do given how excited we fans were coming into the season. But for the purpose of making sure this roundtable doesn't read like a love poem, I'll throw in a few things that concern me. I'm concerned by Mike Tobey and London Perrantes as defenders. Tobey's missed rotations against VCU let the Rams get back into the game with three-straight three pointers. London is having a little trouble, in my opinion, sticking with quicker guards. I'm also still hoping to see a little more out of Devon Hall. The JMU ad VCU games were his best, in my opinion. I'd like to see him work himself more prominently into the rotation. If he can assert himself as a dependable lead guard, that would free up Malcolm and Justin more during those instances when London isn't in the game.
Drew Goodman: His name is Justin Anderson. For the past two years, Anderson looked brilliant at times, but struggled with consistency, and playing under control. If the first nine games are any indication, it appears that he has solved both of those problems. His shot selection, his handle, and his overall feel for the game has improved tremendously, and the numbers don't lie. Part of this has been growing up, but most of it has to do with Justin realizing that the team needs another reliable scoring option on the wing. For the past two years, Justin was hell-bent on making a highlight reel play on every possession, which was admirable, but not exactly reasonable. It's clear that the coaching staff has made his new role clear, and that he has answered the call. Obviously there will be off nights (see Rutgers) but if Anderson keeps shooting the ball from beyond the arc like this, the Hoos are going to be very difficult to beat.
Brian Leung: I think as Anthony Gill goes, so too goes the team this year, and so far, he's been the most impressive for me. We knew that Anderson's athleticism would be on display during these out of conference games, and we kind of knew that Brogdon would be proficient with ball movement and make his presence known no matter which side of the ball he's on, but I think Gill was a little bit of a question mark coming into the season. Yes, he had a great 2013-2014 with respect shooting and offensive prowess, but as we all know by now, a Tony Bennett player is judged by his ability to defend. Gill has really developed a heck of a post game that even Mike Tobey could take lessons from. He's not only filled Akil Mitchell's shoes, but at times, it looks like his feet might even be bigger. (I think I'm losing the metaphor here.)
Easy answer would be Justin Anderson or Anthony Gill. Both of those guys are impressive. But I'm going to go with something a little less specific: Our consistency. I don't mean that we have been perfect the entire time. Even the vaunted Kentucky (gag) isn't consistently perfect. And the overall lapses against La Salle and the offensive lapses against Rutgers show that plainly.
But it just doesn't seem to matter which of the guys from the rotation are on the floor, we're playing solid ball. And we are playing solid ball in almost every single game for most of the game. A much higher percentage of the time than in years past. As Tiki alluded to, we've got talented guys who have bought into the system at a number of positions even if they're not the starter. Going big, small, fast, slow, shooting threes, making dunks, making defensive stops in set pieces, making defensive stops in transition... it doesn't seem to matter - this team has pieces that can do it all. Some are older (Justin, Gill, Brogdon, etc). Some are younger (Hall vs VCU, Shayok repeatedly). Some have amazing hair (Wilkins). The pieces fit, and its a puzzle that other teams - even the best in the land - are going to have a hard time figuring out.
The freshmen have been the most impressive part of this early season run. Each of them can do consistently things that past freshmen have only been able to do in spots. I'm so excited to see what the next couple years of development under CTB & Co. will do.
Most impressive win is definitely VCU. I really didn't think we played that well...and we still won by almost 20. This team, like last year's, reminds me a lot of the Duke teams of the early 2000s: you could stay with them for a half, sometimes even 35 minutes, but eventually they'd go on a 15 or 20 point run and slam the door behind them. Hopefully that stylistic similarity results in the same kinds of hardware making their way to JPJ.
Tim Mulholland: Oh. Oops. Forgot the most impressive win part of the question.
The most impressive win is definitely VCU. Maryland would be a close second. Both were road games in tough environments against teams that were definitely hyped up to play them. If Maryland hadn't had the injuries and the outcome had stayed the same, I might have said that game instead. But the ease with which the team adjusted (with some hiccups of course) to a different and tough style of defense, while also getting into their own flow offensively and even playing with an injury and down a player... yeah. The VCU game was impressive.
No matter how you slice it, this team is making moves. Get out to JPJ tonight to welcome the Hoos back home after their Brooklyn to College Park to Richmond road trip!