By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the ACC released its 2009-10 men’s basketball schedule, UVa’s non-conference slate impressed few observers.
Barely a week into the season, that portion of the Cavaliers’ schedule looks more challenging.
One of Virginia’s out-of-league opponents, Rider, opened the season with an 88-74 win at No. 18 Mississippi State.
Another, Oral Roberts, won at Stanford on Wednesday night.
Rider, of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, is in town for a Thursday night game at John Paul Jones Arena. The Wahoos (1-1) host the Broncs (2-0) at 7 o’clock.
Oral Roberts (2-1), of the Summit League, plays here Saturday at 2 p.m. (Virginia, coincidentally, will face Stanford in the Cancun Challenge on Tuesday night in Mexico.)
UVa’s first-year coach will worry about Oral Roberts later. For now, Tony Bennett’s focus is on the Broncs, who followed their upset of Mississippi State with a victory over Lehigh.
“They made it look easy against their first two opponents,” Bennett said.
Rider, which has four players averaging in double figures, went 10 of 16 from 3-point range in Starkville, Miss.
The Broncs “are an experienced team, and they shoot the ball extremely well,” Bennett said. “That’s certainly a challenge. That’s a team that’s very dangerous.
“You’re going to have to be ready to go. They have good guards. They’re crafty.”
Rider closed the 2008-09 season by losing to Liberty in the CollegeInsider.com tournament. Liberty’s head coach then was Ritchie McKay, now one of Bennett’s assistants.
“There’s some familiarity” with the Broncs, Bennett said. “I remember when they came on the schedule, [McKay] said, ‘This is a team that knows how to play, a very dangerous team.’ I think they showed that when they played at Mississippi State.
Virginia opened the season with a win over Longwood at JPJ. The Rider game will be the Wahoos’ third without post players Assane Sene and Jamil Tucker. It will also mark the end of Sene’s three-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
The 6-9 Tucker, who’s out indefinitely on a personal leave of absence, operates most comfortably on the perimeter. Sene works close to the basket, and the 7-0 sophomore was sorely missed Monday night, when a much taller South Florida team beat UVa 66-49 in Tampa.
Even if he hadn’t been suspended, though, Sene would have missed the Longwood and USF games. He sprained an ankle ahead of the opener and didn’t return to practice until Tuesday.
Sene should be available Saturday for Oral Roberts’ visit. He can’t return soon enough for a team that heads into the Rider game with only two scholarship post players: 6-8 junior Mike Scott and 6-9 senior Jerome Meyinsse.
“He brings an interior presence,” Bennett said of Sene, the team’s best shot-blocker. “He’s a high-energy guy, certainly, and brings some size that we’re certainly in need of.”
Against USF, Virginia started Scott and four guards: 6-4 juniors Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan, 6-6 sophomore Sylven Landesberg and 6-0 sophomore Sammy Zeglinski.
Foul trouble limited Scott to 16 minutes against the Bulls. Playing Scott and Meyinsse together — a more traditional lineup — is an option Bennett will consider Thursday night.
“I think we have to be flexible with that, I really do,” Bennett said. “Again, when Assane comes back, that’ll be a little more of a natural situation.”