By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Because of their ties to the Bowl Championship Series in football, they’re known as the “BCS conferences” — the ACC, the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-10 and the Big East.
In men’s basketball, UVa is 0-4 against teams from those leagues, having lost to South Florida (Big East), Stanford (Pac-10), Penn State (Big Ten) and Auburn (SEC).
The Cavaliers’ next opponent is a member of Conference USA, but Tony Bennett’s team should take no comfort from that fact. Alabama-Birmingham, which visits John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday night, is probably the best team UVa (6-4) has faced this season.
The Blazers, ranked No. 24 in The Associated Press poll, have won 10 games in a row. They’ve beaten such teams as Cincinnati, Butler, South Alabama and, to Bennett’s dismay, Wisconsin-Green Bay, his alma mater.
“That speaks for itself,” Bennett said of UAB’s 11-1 record. “I think it’ll be a very good test, just as we’re heading into conference play.”
This is the first of Virginia’s three remaining non-conference games. The Wahoos host Texas-Pan American on Tuesday night, then open ACC play Jan. 9 at N.C. State.
Virginia’s game with UNC Wilmington, originally scheduled for Dec. 19, was postponed because of treacherous travel conditions. It was rescheduled for Jan. 18 at JPJ.
Bennett praised the Seahawks and said, only partly in jest, “I think I’m glad we get to play them. I guess I’ll answer that after we get done playing them. Hopefully Mike will be healthy, and that maybe can be an advantage for us.”
Junior forward Mike Scott, the Cavaliers’ top post player, has missed the past three games with a high-ankle sprain, but he’s expected to be available against UAB.
UVa has beaten Longwood, Rider, Oral Roberts, Cleveland State, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Hampton. Not a national power in the group. If the ‘Hoos are to accomplish anything this season, they’ll need to pass tougher tests, and a win over UAB would be a milestone for Bennett’s club.
“With a team that is ranked and has beaten some real solid teams, for us to have success against them would be a nice sign for us, especially as we’re heading into conference play,” Bennett said.
TEAM PLAYER: Senior center Jerome Meyinsse, who started six of UVa’s first eight games, has played a total of 23 minutes in the past two, in part because 7-0 sophomore Assane Sene is progressing steadily.
“But [Meyinsse has] provided great leadership,” Bennett said, “and the thing that’s good about Rome is: Whatever his role is, he embraces it. He’s got a lot going for him. That’s the kind of kid whose off-the-court stuff is terrific, his grades, what he’s involved with. And he’s a good man to have as part of your team. I like it that he wants to play, but he’s just hungry to help this team get better, and he’s embraced that.”
BRUIN REUNION: Virginia’s first-year point guard, Jontel Evans, is a graduate of Bethel High in Hampton. So is Mike London, UVa’s new football coach.
Evans was delighted to see Virginia hire London away from the University of Richmond.
“That’s lovely,” said Evans, who was a star tailback at Bethel, too. “He offered me to play football at Richmond. I talked to him during my recruitment last year, so I already know he’s a nice guy. I know that 7-5-7 athletes are psyched about him coming in and taking over as football coach.”
Evans, who played only one minute against Penn State on Nov. 30, has averaged 19.3 minutes in Virginia’s three games since that loss.
“He has an ability to get to the lane, and he can turn his defense into offense probably quicker than anybody [else] on our team,” Bennett said. “Whether he gets a long rebound or creates a turnover, he’ll get that ball down the floor very quickly. and that’s nice to see.
“I like what he’s doing, I like what he’s bringing.”
Like junior forward Will Sherrill, Evans “understands who he is,” Bennett said. “He’s had some first-year freshman jitters or mistakes in games, but he seems to bounce back and, again, understands what helps us and what his role is.”
UNSUNG HERO: Scott’s return may mean a move back to the bench for Sherrill, who has started the past three games. But the 6-9 walk-on from New York City figures to remain in UVa’s rotation.
Sherrill’s “value — and I remind him of that in front of the team — is that he does the little things well,” Bennett said. “He’s unselfish, he helps on defense, he keeps balls alive on the offensive glass, he’s got the X-factor in terms of diving for loose balls. He’s relentless that way, and a good teammate.
“And I think that’s such an important aspect of a team to have, hopefully a whole team full, those glue guys or X-factor guys, whatever you want to call them, that are willing to do what it takes.”
RELOADING, NOT REBUILDING: From a team that went 22-12 in 2008-09, UAB coach Mike Davis lost seven players who accounted for nearly 90 percent of the team’s scoring and rebounding. So what’s behind the Blazers’ blazing start?
“We worked hard this summer,” Davis said Monday night. “I didn’t go out recruiting but two days, because I really wanted to prepare this year. I knew we would have good talent, but I knew we had eight new guys.
“Any time you have eight new guys, it takes a while for them to gel together. And so I wanted to make sure that I had everything in place and organized for them, so we really did a great job of having all our preseason practices and everything just organized to the T, where we didn’t waste any time. We knew we could be better than last year, but it was a matter of just trying to gel those guys together, those eight new guys.”
UAB’s leading scorer and rebounder is 6-6, 210-pound junior Elijah Millsap, a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette. Millsap’s brother Paul plays for the NBA’s Utah Jazz.