Virginia Cavaliers Basketball, 1st Quarter Grade: A+

Didn’t I just say in the Duke piece I didn’t give pluses? Well, it took all of one team to change my stance on that! I’ll let you guys tell me if you can figure out where my loyalties truly lie. But just so you know, they are usually diametrically opposite UVA. This is why this is so difficult to say: I love Tony Bennett! I am insanely jealous of what is going on in Charlottesville.

It may be difficult for me to say, but it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to understand why I love Tony Bennett. His teams are teams. They don’t rely on any one player to win games. They do everything well, even if it is a bit drab in terms of style. But you know who supposedly won with style? Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams, who Bennett and company dispatched this past Saturday, 74-57 in front of a hostile Richmond crowd that has been exhibiting  a little arrogance of it’s own. So much for Havoc, we’ll go with Passive Strangulation instead for flavor of the month. Not only did UVA assert it’s dominance over a quality opponent, but they were able to avenge last year’s narrow loss to VCU, captured here:

Of the impact players on it’s ACC Championship squad, UVA lost only Joe Harris, who is now playing in Cleveland with Lebron, and Akil Mitchell. The Cavs had a promising outlook coming into the season, with Justin Anderson and 1st team All-ACC selection Malcolm Brogdon having acquired enough experience during last year’s Sweet Sixteen run (lost to Michigan State) to assume the reins as the team’s go-to pair. And with London Perrantes, Mike Tobey, and Anthony Gill back in familiar roles, the team’s core revved up easily to start 2014.

UVA won 30 games last year, and made it’s deepest run in the tournament since 1995, when Harold Deane, Curtis Staples, and Junior Burrough got to the Elite Eight and challenged prior year’s champion Arkansas, who would go on to lose the NCAA final to an O’Bannon led UCLA outfit.  In Bennett’s sixth year, he has a chance to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1984, when the remnants of those Ralph Sampson squads made their final stand.  But enough with the platitudes, let’s take a look at the first quarter shall we? After these Ralph Sampson facts of course…

Note: First quarter only deals with the regular season schedule. We’ll call the postseason overtime when we arrive there this Spring.

Why A+?

Wins at VCU (RPI 19), at MD (RPI 83) and vs GW (RPI 90) are all viewed as money wins, and I certainly can’t argue with the first two. In terms of road environments, VCU and UMD provide two of the more engaged opposing crowds, particularly for this early in the season. I’ve watched a great deal of college hoops this season (you have no idea, the NBA and I have filed for separation) and I’ve seen plenty of empty seats thus far. Not as much of an issue in those two games.

Not only that but they’ve done it with their own recipe. Take care of the ball, contest every shot, don’t allow defensive rebounds. The cool thing about UVA is that they can play you at any tempo, although they are better at extending possessions and shortening the game. I’m really interested to see them play Duke’s youngsters, because the UVA pace might have them crying by halftime. UVA has optimized their first quarter, allowing only five of their nine opponents more than 42 points. Those are high school level outputs on offense for the opposition.ll

How Can They Improve Their RPI Before Conference Play?

Currently ranked 29th, UVA has games against Harvard (25) and Davidson (26). So even the schedule is turning up UVA. I’m not sure that Bennett had any idea when he scheduled them that they would be so highly-regarded by the computers at this stage, but he’s not turning it down. Those will count for a while as RPI Top 50 wins, though we can’t be sure by the end of the year if they’ll still rate as such, as the RPI is nebulous.  This team should be 12-0 entering conference play, as long as they remain true to their patient nature.

Here’s an example of the poise UVA players demonstrate. Please watch as Malcolm Brogdon suffers a reporter’s fumbling questions with the utmost patience. His inflection is very similar to that of one POTUS, Barack Obama. Am I the only one that hears it?

What Does UVA Do Well?

  • It starts with defense. They have the 4th stingiest D in the country, allowing 32.1% FG %.  The scoring D as a result is embarrassing for opposing squads. They have the second best scoring D at 47.4 ppg (trailing only Kentucky).
  • They rank first in the country in rebounding margin, and they do so with their top rebounder Mike Tobey only averaging 7.1 per game. This means that rebounding is a team effort. And with rangy guards there to scoop up the loose balls after the frontcourt boxes out, everyone tallies a few a game.
  • Scoring Margin as a result is 10th in the country. Joining ACC brethren Duke, Louisville, and Notre Dame in the top 10.
  • Turnovers are not a concern with Perrantes turning in an assist-turnover ratio that would be good for the lead in other conferences at 3.2 to 1. The team as a whole is 17th in the country in limiting turnovers.
  • They are also disciplined on D, ranking 7th nationally in fouls allowed; though this might be worth Bennett taking a look at. Fouls can help sometimes. Imagine if UVA used more fouls, they’d probably trim a couple of layups off their opposition’s totals.
  • They rank 15th in blocks, with the perimeter guys augmenting the big men’s totals. Darion Atkins leading the team at 1.38 per game doesn’t get you to 15th overall by himself.

Where Can UVA Improve?

  • More guys need to earn FTs. At present, Gill accounts for close to 30% of the FT attempts by himself.  Justin Anderson in particular could maybe use more of an attack mentality. He is reminiscent of a smaller Josh Smith (NBA’s Detroit Pistons). A very athletic player who opts to shoot 3s or dunk with little in between game. Since Anderson can put it on the floor and get to the iron to dunk, he should look for more layup opportunities. Same with Brogdon, though his pullup is a weapon, and he’s definitely more of a pure shooter than Anderson. Being 146th as a team in FT attempts is indicative of a fairly passive offensive nature.
  • Perrantes needs to demonstrate he can knock down a shot. Unselfish to a fault, I wouldn’t waste much effort defending him until he proves he can average more than four ppg.

Really in looking at the stats overall, there isn’t much there yet to point at and say they could be discernibly improved by doing X, Y, or Z.  But those two spots would be what stand out.


Why shouldn’t this team take the next step? It’s a logical progression. There were some minor injuries vs MD, but nothing that looks like it could derail a special season. That said, hopefully none of the guys are fragile because a beating awaits them in the ACC paint. They should have a one-seed in their sights as of right now, and they should be brimming with confidence.

The Week Ahead

UVA is also off for exams through the 18th. Plenty of time for those injuries to heal up. They actually only play three times between now and the ACC opener in Miami on January 3rd. It sure would be nice if they had a bowl game to focus on.  Alas.

Please stay tuned as I run down each of the ACC teams first quarter marks as we rev up our coverage on Inside The ACC. Please air any grievances below in the comments! You might be just in time for feats of strength!

Have a great week all, and check back in as I am going to be posting these until I am exhausted (at least a few a day until complete).  Follow me on Twitter (@insidetheacc)



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