Virginia Basketball Preview: #78
Overall Rank: #78
Conference Rank: #10 Atlantic Coast Conference
2008-09: 10-18, 4-12
2008-09 postseason: none
Coach: Tony Bennett (First year at Virginia, 69-33 overall)
Things changed very quickly for former head coach Dave Leitao. Not long ago he was leading the Cavaliers to an Atlantic Coast Conference title, but after a dismal 10-18 season he is gone. On a team that struggled to find its identity in the post Sean Singletary era, it was not much of a surprise. Luckily for UVA, they picked up a great coach in Tony Bennett who will bring in his slow-it-down defensive orientated style of play to the ACC.
Key Losses: G Mamadi Diane, C Tunji Soroye
The Cavs only lose two contributors. Wing Mamadi Diane started a dozen games and center Tunji Soroye never really recovered from his injury problems and played in just 18 contests. Thus, the need for newcomers who will make an impact is not of the utmost importance. Still, small forward Tristan Spurlock will push some players for minutes off the bench and point guard Jontel Evans could be the point guard of the future.
Sylven Landesberg, Calvin Baker and Sammy Zeglinski started a majority of the games on the perimeter. Landesberg had a superb freshman campaign, leading the team with 16.6 points per game and adding 6.0 rebbounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 steals. If he can start hitting the outside shot with a little more consistency, Landesberg will be a star in the ACC. Baker is not much of a shooter either, but he can create for his teammates and has a nice mid-range game. Zeglinski is the shooter of the group, although he only connected on 31.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
It is forward Jamil Tucker who was the most consistent outside shooter last year. He only started four games in 2008-2009 and could very well be used off the bench again this season, but he can play either forward spot and that versatility will make him a valuable asset to this team. Fellow forward Mike Scott is a capable shooter from mid-range, but he does most of his damage in the paint. After averaging 10.2 points and a team high 7.4 rebounds, Scott is ready to emerge as a leader of the unit. At 6-8 and 233 pounds, Scott can play the five spot, but he is better suited to play the power forward position. That leaves Assane Sene as the probable starting center. Sene only averaged 17.3 minutes per game as a freshman, but he showed plenty of promise, especially on the defensive end where he blocked 1.6 shots per game.
Who to Watch:
If Baker, Zeglinksi and Landesberg are all starting, Coach Bennett will need to get some production from the bench on the perimeter. With the lack of depth up front, it is quite likely that those three will be starting and that leaves Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan to give the starters on the perimeter a break. Jones, who averaged 6.5 points per game last year, is a good shooter who is suddenly an experienced junior. Farrakhan was not given much of an opportunity to show his stuff as a sophomore, but he is a good athlete who can shoot the ball or get to the basket.
There is too much talent on this team to be as bad as they were last year. With just about everybody returning, except for the coach, it is realistic to expect a vast improvement. If the players can pick up Coach Bennett’s style quickly, Virginia could be a surprise team in the ACC. But it will take a little more time before the staff gets their players in the system and the Cavs start making the NCAA Tournament consistently.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Calvin Baker, Senior, Guard, 8.4 points per game
Sammy Zeglinski, Sophomore, Guard, 7.8 points per game
Sylven Landesberg, Sophomore, Guard, 16.6 points per game
Mike Scott, Junior, Forward, 10.2 points per game
Assane Sene, Sophomore, Center, 2.5 points per game