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Last season’s top scorer and rebounder return for the Cavaliers, who will seek a third straight 20-win season.
The Associated Press | File February
Joe Harris (12) and Justin Anderson (23) are two of Virginia’s top returning players for next season.]]
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Coach Tony Bennett has led the Wahoos to 45 wins in the past two seasons.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE —After winning 22 and 23 games in back-to-back seasons, Virginia men’s basketball has moved the bar to a new height as Tony Bennett prepares for his fifth season as head coach.
Anything short of a third straight 20-win season probably would be viewed as a disappointment, but it would be the first time for the Cavaliers to accomplish that feat in more than 20 years.
“Of course, next year I hope we’re better,” said Bennett, interviewed in his John Paul Jones Arena office. “Does that mean we win more games [or] get into the NCAA tournament? It doesn’t, but there’s an expectation that we should improve.”
Three losses in four games before the NCAA selections probably cost Virginia a second straight bid, although the Cavaliers could not have been viewed as a likely NCAA participant when they were picked seventh in the ACC before the season.
Gone was leading 2012-13 scorer and rebounder Mike Scott, a first-team All-ACC selection, but “graduation” losses this year aren’t nearly as significant.
“We’re at a good spot,” said Bennett, who welcomes back leading scorer Joe Harris and leading rebounder Akil Mitchell for their senior seasons.
What’s more, UVa expects to have the services of Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, two players who sat out the season and join what has become a seven-member sophomore class.
Gill, a transfer from South Carolina, was ineligible. Brogdon, who had played 28 games and averaged more than 22 minutes in 2011-12, experienced complications after foot surgery and was redshirted.
“When you take [Brogdon] out of the equation, one of our deficiencies was our inability to make plays off the bounce, especially late in the shot block or late in games,” Bennett said.
Brogdon (6-5, 210) was seen as a potential starter at one of the wing spots as well as a player who could spell senior Jontel Evans at the point. That situation got worse before it got better as Evans suffered a broken foot in practice and was in and out of the lineup till mid-January.
Outside of walk-on Doug Browman, Evans was UVa’s only scholarship senior, but the Cavaliers later lost 6-6 Paul Jesperson, who decided to transfer after starting 33 of 35 games.
Jesperson had to know that his role was unlikely to increase and probably would decline, as the Cavaliers attempted to find a spot for Gill, a 6-8, 229-pounder who averaged 7.6 points and 4.9 rebounds as a freshman at South Carolina, where he started 26 games.
“He’s probably the most physical player we have in our program in terms of drawing fouls and engaging contact,” Bennett said, “but when he had a bad practice, we didn’t pay any attention to it. We just noticed all the good stuff.
“Now that he’s playing, you look at him a little more critically, but he did some things in practice that other guys couldn’t do as far as manufacturing his shot and the physicality that he brought.
“The same went for Malcolm in short stretches.”
In an effort to integrate his five freshmen, Bennett scheduled a European trip for last August. By the time the season ended in April, the players had been practicing or playing for nine months.
“Our older guys looked like they were tired and they carried a big load,” Bennett said. “I don’t know if you look at the European trip [as a drain] but, if not for that experience, maybe we wouldn’t have been in the [20-win] spot we were.
“The funny thing is, you look at how our young guys played at the end of the year and you could make the case that they were just catching their stride.”
That was particularly true of high-flying 6-6 freshman Justin Anderson, who scored a season-high 24 points in a season-ending loss to Iowa in the National Invitation Tournament. Anderson had the rare combination of five 3-pointers and five blocked shots in that game.
“He plays with great courage,” Bennett said. “He wasn’t afraid out there in the big moments. As he improves his decision-making and soundness, he’ll just get better and better. I was also excited to see the improvement in [6-11] Mike [Tobey].He had a lapse with mono, but he finished pretty strong, too.”
Virginia tied for fourth in the ACC for the second straight year, but analysts blamed a weak nonconference schedule for the Cavaliers being passed over for an NCAA tournament at-large bid.
“I think we got a little bit of a bum rap about our nonconference strength of schedule,” said Bennett, noting that two victories in the NIT Season Tip-Off would have sent UVa to New York, where potential opponents included Michigan, Kansas State and Pittsburgh.
“We took a gamble. I thought we’d have a fuller roster at that time. We didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to play in the NIT. We were injured and we weren’t able to beat a good Delaware team. That cost us a lot. I’ll think long and hard about playing in one of those tournaments that you have to win to get to New York or whatever, but that’s really the only one.”
Nonconference opposition next year will come from the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Tennessee on the road, Wisconsin-Green Bay on the road, VCU at home and a Corpus Christi Challenge field that includes Texas A&M, SMU and Missouri State.
In addition, ACC newcomers Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will be on the 2013-14 slate.
It appears unlikely that Bennett will take another player with the scholarship vacated when Jesperson became the fifth UVa player to transfer since December 2011, nor are any other defections anticipated
“If your program falls apart because one player leaves or one coach leaves, then you haven’t built it the right way,” said Bennett, whose original staff remains intact. “It will never be easy, and we’ve got a long way to go but I just think there’s more completeness now.”
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