If you haven't already made your way over there, the most recent SBN ACC blog is Streaking The Lawn. Brian is passionate about Virginia athletics, informed and highly entertaining. His twitter is also a must-follow for ACC fans. So we met up with Brian to discuss the Wake-Virginia game at the Joel today. Thanks again to Brian and make sure you check out his site.
We talk Tony Bennett, 'Hoos expectations, Assane Sene, their incoming recruits and the future of Virginia basketball after the jump...
1.) How have the 'Hoos dealt with the loss of Mike Scott?
It’s a huge loss for us, obviously. He was – and still is – the leading scorer and rebounder and the senior leadership that this freshmen-laden team needed. That said, Virginia is a lot more competitive than one would expect given the loss. Maryland notwithstanding, the team was extremely competitive, leading for 75% or more of the time during the Duke and Carolina games. The BC loss was a 3-point one that was even closer than the final score would suggest, so I think this young team has handled it relatively well.
2.) Have the Cavaliers played to your expectations? Have they exceeded them? What is the overall impression this far into the season?
Bennett’s Bunch has exceeded most people’s expectations this year, I think. Except for Sammy Zeglinski, because of his hip and knee injuries, everyone has improved from last year. Heading into the season, everyone had all but written this Virginia squad off – no chance of tournament play, no chance of an ACC run, barely a chance of any ACC wins. Virginia has shown that they can ball with the best of ‘em (which apparently excludes Washington, Seattle, and Maryland, among others) and that there’s plenty of fight left. Look, it’s a young team. We don’t have our top player. For the most part, fans are expecting this team to play for next year. The good news is that our players are still playing for this year. That’s how you keep exceeding expectations. And it’s working.
3.) Are Virginia fans happy with the job Bennett has done up to this point?
Virginia fans are thrilled. The numbers might not show it, but the defense has vastly improved from last year and even more so from the year before. Players look excited and energized to get out on the court. Fans are filling the arena. Bennett has done everything right, from recruiting, to developing, to coaching. There are a few questions that are looming about with his in-game coaching, and sometimes a failure to make the necessary halftime adjustments, but the fact that Bennett has been compared to “a young Coach K” by both media and fans says wonders about this guy.
4.) How is the recruiting situation? What players should we expect to see on the floor in 2011 and who should Wake fans be keeping an eye on?
Keep an eye on Joe Harris this year. He’s probably stood out more than any other freshman due to his ability to hit the three ball. Also keep an eye out on Akil Mitchell, whose flashy ways can either get him in trouble or sink in the miracle ball for Virginia. Both of these freshmen will be the future of the program. As for next year, right now we’re redshirting James Johnson, a four-star power forward ranked in the top 100 by both ESPNU and Scout.com. The Cavs have another four-star recruit coming in next year, shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon, joining an already overflowing team of guards. Bennett has done an outstanding job recruiting highly ranked players from all over the country. Mark my words: Virginia will be a big factor in the ACC in the 2011-2012 season.
5.) What are the keys to beating Wake Forest?
Show up? That seems to be a formula that’s working for everyone else. Seriously though, I have very little concern that our defense should be able to keep Wake under control. They real key to beating Wake Forest is just for Virginia to find the shooter’s touch. I don’t want the Hoos to be using this game like a practice, but it would be a great opportunity to build some confidence in our inside guys to try to hit some easier buckets. Virginia has a tendency to live and die by the three-ball (more of than not, the latter), and eventually, we’re going to need to learn to get some midrange jumpers. Virginia will also need to be sure to take care of the ball and not let transition points go to waste.
6.) Obviously Wake is not playing well. Is this a possible trap or letdown game for Virginia? Or are they coming into Winston-Salem ready to give maximum effort and come away with a W?
Maximum effort. Always, with this team. Virginia desperately needs to start getting some Ws – a loss to Wake would kill any hope anyone might still have of a postseason appearance (sorry guys). I personally am petrified of this game and the possibility of being the first ACC team to fall to the Deacs. Virginia has a tendency to play to the level of its opponents – and oftentimes lower – see, for example, Seattle. 100% focus is needed here.
7.) An unheralded player usually goes for a career game against the Deacs (Ryan Kelly, Cliff Tucker, etc.). Who will it be?
Assane Sene is on the verge of greatness. He’s caught a lot of flak for the past two years and the beginning part of this one, and he looks like a completely different creature out there now. Last time out, Sene had 15 rebounds, but not enough points. The time before, he had double-figure scoring, but not enough rebounds. I think it’s time for this big man to get his first career double-double.
8.) Prediction time. How do you see the game playing out? What's your final score?
It’s not going to be easy. Virginia will find a way to make this game look bad. Final score: Virginia 72, Wake Forest 68. Crisis averted.