By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In men’s basketball, UVa (3-1 ACC, 12-5 overall) starts a freshman, two sophomores, a junior and a senior. Virginia Tech (2-2, 15-3) starts four juniors and a sophomore.
As well as these rivals have played in 2009-10, each figures to be a bigger factor in the conference next season, particularly given the personnel losses many of their counterparts will suffer.
Duke’s rotation includes seniors Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Greg Zoubek, and Kyle Singler may leave early for the NBA. Maryland’s top players include seniors Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne.
At Wake Forest, Ishmael Smith, L.D. Williams and Chas McFarland are seniors, and Al-Farouq Aminu projects as a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA this year. Florida State’s 7-1 center, sophomore Solomon Alabi, also be a lock for the first round.
Georgia Tech will have to replace senior Zach Peacock and could lose Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal as well, and Clemson’s Trevor Booker and David Potter are seniors.
In Chapel Hill, Roy Williams’ seniors include Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard, and Ed Davis could be a two-and-done player.
So the future looks promising for this state’s ACC teams. Their focus this week, though, is on their Thursday night clash in Charlottesville.
At 7 p.m., the Cavaliers host the Hokies at John Paul Jones Arena.
“Every [ACC] game will be a fight,” said UVa’s lone senior starter, center Jerome Meyinsse. “That will be a fight as well. We’ve got to learn from this game, where the breakdowns were, and get ready for Thursday.”
Meyinsse made those remarks in Winston-Salem, N.C., about 20 minutes after UVa suffered its first ACC loss. Wake Forest built a 24-point second-half lead and coasted to a 69-57 win.
“My big thing is not to be destroyed by it, but to learn from it,” said Tony Bennett, Virginia’s first-year coach. “It’s the same if you have a big win.
“There were some valuable teaching points in that game that exposed us, and we have to be willing to really work at those and have the right kind of mindset. It certainly makes you realize that when you’re not playing at a high level, that can happen in this league. So I think it’s certainly a great learning opportunity, and I hope they’re revved up and ready to go and want to get better and play quality basketball on Thursday.”
Bennett’s record in rivalry games is good. In three seasons as Washington State’s head coach, he went 5-2 against Washington.
He pointed out Monday that his coach on the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets was Allan Bristow, a former Virginia Tech great. Bennett’s teammates in Charlotte included Dell Curry, another legendary Hokie.
BAKER BACK: He was conspicuous by his absence Saturday in Winston-Salem — and at practice last week — but guard Calvin Baker was on the court with his teammates Monday at JPJ.
“He’s back, and we’re moving forward,” Bennett said after the morning practice.
Baker, a team captain, recently lost his starting job to freshman Jontel Evans. The fifth-year senior from Newport News didn’t handle the demotion well, and he wasn’t allowed to practice last week. Nor did Baker travel with the team to Wake.
“Coach’s decision,” Bennett said after the game.
Baker has started six games for the Wahoos this season. He’s averaging only 3.8 points but has an outstanding assist-to-turnover ratio (3.4).
As a junior, he started 22 games and averaged 8.4 points.
Baker began his college career at William and Mary, then transferred to UVa after the 2005-06 season. He came to Virginia as a walk-on but later was awarded a scholarship.
NEW CHALLENGE: UVa struggled against Wake senior Ishmael Smith, who finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocked shots and only 2 turnovers.
The Cavaliers will face another of the ACC’s premier guards when Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney comes to town. A junior from Baltimore, Delaney leads the Hokies in scoring and assists and is second in steals. He’s hit 37.4 percent of his 3-pointers.
“We didn’t do a real good job on Ish,” Bennett said Monday. “He played really well and had his way with us in a number of different phases in the game. And certainly with Delaney, that’s a guy who can score the basketball, very talented, and they use him in a lot of different ways.
“And so, with players like that, you just gotta do your best to make them earn the baskets, and that’s what was disappointing against Wake Forest for us. While [the Demon Deacons] did a nice job, we didn’t make them earn a lot of the baskets they had. Some of them were big-time plays, and some of them were just breakdowns on our part.”
VIEW FROM THE OTHER BENCH: On the ACC coaches’ teleconference Monday, Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg noted the rivalry’s importance to students, alumni and fans at both schools.
“But it becomes a bigger game because it’s a league game and both teams are having some semblance of success,” Greenberg said. “Both teams are fighting to stay alive and be relevant within the league. Obviously it’s an in-state rivalry, but it’s also a league rivalry right now.
“It’s something that obviously your kids are aware of, but it’s not like we’re an hour away from each other and they’re seeing each other all the time.
“We understand how big a game it is, because they need to win their home games, and we need to try to find a way to break serve on the road.”
UVa is 10-1 at John Paul Jones Arena this season. Tech hosts Virginia at Cassell Coliseum on Feb. 13.
SCORER’S MENTALITY: Bennett inherited an appreciation for suffocating defense from his father, Dick, for whom he played at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
The younger Bennett laughed Monday when asked how his father would have evaluated his defense.
“You know what? I was really good on the ball — I was — when I played,” Bennett said. “I could keep people in front of me. Off the ball, I would probably stand up and rest a little bit, so I feel hypocritical when I’m all over my guys.
“I always told [Dick Bennett], ‘If you expect me to go get 20 on the other end, I need to get a breath here.’ That just doesn’t fly now when a player tries to express that to me. So I guess I was the pot calling the kettle black.”
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: UVa trailed by 19 at the break Saturday, in part because Sylven Landesberg spent on the final 12:28 of the half on the bench.
Landesberg, the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, picked up his second foul at the 12:28 mark, and Bennett wanted to make sure the sophomore swingman didn’t get called for a third personal before halftime.
“Offensively, he’s such a threat, and people are stacking up [to stop Landesberg], you worry sometimes about an offensive foul as much as a defensive foul,” Bennett said Monday.
With Landesberg on the bench, the ‘Hoos did fine at first, slicing their deficit from nine points to four.
“And then it got out of hand,” said Bennett, who kept Landesberg on the bench as the Deacons seized control.
“Probably, in looking at that, I think if I had to do it again, I might have slid him back in there,” Bennett said. “You learn from that. But my philosophy is usually if you can keep him on the bench and keep the game intact, I would leave him on the bench and save those three fouls for the second half.”
OFF THE MARK: Against Cleveland State in the Cancun Challenge, forward Will Sherrill made 7 of 9 shots from the floor, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, all career highs.
Against Wake, the 6-9 junior matched his career highs in two of those categories but fell well short in the other two. He was 2 for 9 from the floor and 1 for 5 from long range.
Sherrill wasn’t the only Cavalier to misfire Saturday — his teammates were a combined 4 for 16 from beyond the arc — and Bennett wasn’t displeased with his shot selection.
“I think you just gotta make sure you’re getting good looks, and take them,” Bennett said. “Now, if he had missed a few and he took a one-pass shot with a hand in the face, that’s different. But these were usually where the ball was rotated or he really stepped into some good looks.”
Sherrill entered the game shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
“You just try to get a few extra reps in practice, work on your technique and be confident when you shoot it,” Bennett said. “When you start becoming hesitant or rushing it, that’s when problems set in.