By Jeff White
TAMPA, Fla. — At UVa’s shootaround Monday afternoon, the team’s greatest shortcoming was obvious.
At one end of the court in South Florida’s Sun Dome were the Cavaliers’ perimeter players. At the other end were Virginia’s post players, two of whom — Solomon Tat and Tristan Spurlock — don’t actually qualify as such.
Tat, a 6-5 senior, is a swingman. Spurlock is a 6-8 freshman whose natural position is small forward. The only scholarship post players available for UVa (1-0) against USF (1-0) on Monday night will be 6-8 junior Mike Scott and 6-9 senior Jerome Meyinsse.
“We’re limited on the interior,” Tony Bennett said in a major understatement a few hours before his first road game as Virginia’s coach.
With 7-0 sophomore Assane Sene on suspension and 6-9 senior Jamil Tucker on a leave of absence, Bennett started four guards — 6-0 Sammy Zeglinski, 6-4 Jeff Jones, 6-4 Mustapha Farrakhan and 6-6 Sylven Landesberg — alongside Scott in the opener against Longwood.
Look for the same lineup Monday night against the Bulls, whose starters include 6-11 Jarrid Famous and 6-10 Augustus Gilchrist. The game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
“You play the hand that’s been dealt you,” Bennett said. “At times that can be a positive. I think a key when you’re playing a four-guard lineup that you always have to look at is, first, they have to guard you, so it causes some matchup issues that way. But we have to have something in place for them trying to exploit our post defense, and we’ve worked hard at that.
“And then we’re going to have to gang-rebound, as we say. Our guards are going to have to check their guys and come back and help.”
In an 85-72 win Friday night at John Paul Jones Arena, UVa outrebounded Longwood 36-21. The Bulls are a Big East team, though, and they’re considerably taller than the Lancers. USF opened with a win at SMU on Friday.
That same night in Charlottesville, Spurlock played only three minutes. His role is likely to grow, however, with Tucker out.
Spurlock is not a natural power forward, but the Wahoos “don’t have another option,” Bennett said. “And I know he didn’t play a whole lot in that first one, and this is his first year, and there’ll be some adjusting. But just for some size and some depth there with the situation we’re in, we have to use him.”
These teams met last year in Charlottesville, where the ‘Hoos prevailed 77-75 after USF missed two shots at the end. The game-winning points came from Landesberg, who took a pass from guard Calvin Baker and hit a layup with 13.9 seconds left.
Even after watching the Cavaliers’ preseason scrimmages against Marquette and St. John’s, Bennett wasn’t sure how his team would play in the opener. Likewise, he admits he’s curious about how the ‘Hoos will respond to their first road test.
“Absolutely,” Bennett said. “We’re playing against a Big East opponent that has some size, and they’ve come off a nice win on the road themselves.”
In the scrimmages and then the opener, Bennett said, there “have been a couple of patterns that have developed, so you certainly try to address those.
“It’s those lapses that we’ve had in all three of those outings that have cost us. Sometimes it’s been a defensive breakdown, or sometimes we’ve either turned it over or tried to get it back too soon. That’s part of a learning process about when to be aggressive, when to be real sound and use your offense a bit to slow it down a little bit, and then defensively not have as many breakdowns.
“We’re just trying to eliminate the breakdowns. That’s a challenge. I want us to try to take some pride in our team defense. As I’ve said, it’s got to hurt a little bit when teams get an easy basket on you, and I don’t think we’re there yet. But we’ll keep pushing in that regard.”