By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Guards London Perrantes and Teven Jones were out with minor injuries, which meant the UVa men’s basketball team did not have a full complement of players Sunday morning at John Paul Jones Arena. Even so, the Cavaliers’ intrasquad scrimmage allowed head coach Tony Bennett and his assistants to get a better read on the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We’ve got work to do,” Bennett said Tuesday morning. “It was interesting. We put some different combinations together, and there was a lopsided affair in the middle.”
In that segment of the scrimmage, a team that included freshman Devon Hall, sophomores Evan Nolte, Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill, plus walk-on guards Maleek Frazier and Rob Vozenilek, whipped a group that included seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, junior Darion Atkins and sophomores Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon.
“We put a little more experience together, and I thought the younger guys took it to the older guys,” Bennett said, “although when I say that, the younger guys are mostly sophomores.”
The 6-11 Tobey and the 6-8 Gill, who sat out last season after transferring to UVa from South Carolina, are “two of our better offensive interior players, and they got loose a little bit and caused some problems,” Bennett said.
The result was “a surprising outcome that, as a coach, provides a lot of good information and teachable moments, whether you want to call it ammunition or good material to maybe get the attention of your team, and that’s important,” Bennett said. “There’s certainly some good things that happened, but quite honestly, there was a level of inconsistency in crucial areas that needs to be improved and addressed to become the kind of team we want to become.”
The intrasquad scrimmage, for which UVa brought in an officiating crew, was valuable in other ways.
“A lot of times when you practice you do things in shorter segments, and it looks good,” Bennett said, “but then when you open it up a little more and go up-down, up-down, for longer stretches, that’s when some of the [bad] habits that are there or the lack of consistency starts showing up. And that’s where you get real good information, because in practice you’re usually doing a few possessions, then you stop, you talk, you kind of refocus. But in a game you don’t really have that option.”
Virginia’s season-opener is Nov. 8 against JMU at John Paul Jones Arena. Before then, the Cavaliers will play two closed scrimmages: Saturday against Georgetown at JPJ, and Nov. 2 at Marquette.
“A lot will be revealed as we continue forward,” Bennett said. “We’ll be able to gauge where are we going, are we getting better, what areas do we need to improve on?”
The Wahoos’ second game is Nov. 12 against nationally ranked VCU at JPJ. How much the scrimmages with Georgetown and Marquette will help Virginia prepare for VCU’s vaunted full-court pressure is unclear, Bennett said, “but I think playing against good, physical, athletic teams — and both those teams will present that — prepares you for what you’re going to see coming into the season.”
Perrantes, a freshman who injured his shoulder early this month, ran through some drills Monday with strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis at JPJ.
“He’s moving closer to joining us,” Bennett said, “which will be good for us and for him, so it was good to see him out there.”
STIFF CHALLENGE: UVa’s conference schedule includes games with ACC newcomers Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. The Cavaliers’ non-conference opponents include VCU, Davidson, Wisconsin, Northern Iowa, Norfolk State and Tennessee.
“I think it’s strong,” Bennett said at UVa’s media day this month. “We’re away from home more. Last year’s [schedule] was strong if we could have been fortunate enough to get to Madison Square Garden, which we’ve talked about, and that’s been well-documented.”
Had the Cavaliers defeated Delaware last November in the NIT Season Tip-Off at JPJ, they would advanced to New York City to play Kansas State and then Pitt or Michigan. Those games would have improved the Cavaliers’ RPI significantly and increased their chances of earning an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament. Instead, UVa stayed home to face Lamar and North Texas.
“You don’t know how good teams are going to be, so it’s hard to do it,” Bennett said, “but we’ve tried to be purposeful in how we’ve scheduled, where we play them, challenging ourselves to get ready, because the conference itself, with the additions, [is at] another level.
“It’s a little daunting, but I think it’s what you need to find out where you’re at early and to prepare you for the rigors of ACC play, which obviously is stepped up.”
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: In 2012-13, when he made the All-ACC third team, the 6-8 Mitchell averaged 13.1 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds. He played about 30 minutes a game, in part because Tobey (mononucleosis) and Atkins (stress reaction in leg) had health problems that limited their availability at times.
With Tobey, Atkins, Gill and the 6-8 Nolte joining him in the frontcourt, Mitchell knows he could be a better player this season and still see his averages drop from 2012-13.
“If the team’s better, I’m better, and I can’t complain about that at all,” Mitchell said last week at ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C.
Having more frontcourt options can only help the `Hoos, Mitchell said. “A lot of teams kind of keyed in on me and made sure I was kept off the glass last year. With A.G. and Tobey and those guys helping me hit the glass, we’re going to be able to do a lot better.”
That Mitchell takes pride in his prowess on the boards is clear.
“If [Tobey] steals any of my rebounds, we’re going to get after it,” Mitchell said, laughing. “I told him, `If I’ve got one and you come and grab it, I’m kicking your butt in the locker room.’ ”
Ultimately, Mitchell said, rebounding comes down to the “relentless pursuit of the ball,” and he expects that to be one of the Cavaliers’ strengths this season.
“I think we’ve got more veteran guys, we’ve got more physicality,” Mitchell said. “A.G. brings that physicality, Malcolm brings that physicality, and with Joe and I an extra year [older], all the things that we’ve been doing with Coach Curtis, our strength coach, in the offseason, we’re just a more physical team naturally, and I think it’ll bode well.”
WISE BEYOND HIS YEARS: Brogdon, the Cavaliers’ sixth man for the most of the 2011-12 season, sat out 2012-13 while recovering from an operation on his left foot. Healthy again, the 6-5, 217-pound redshirt sophomore contributes in a myriad of ways.
“He’s a really smart player,” Harris said in Charlotte. “He knows when he’s playing which guys get the ball, which guys are hot. Even if it’s just an open-gym setting, he’s always thinking and doing what he can in order to win. It’s great for the rest of the team, though, because it instills some competitive stuff. Even if it’s just an open-gym setting, that needs to be there. To have someone like Malcolm that’s out there playing and trying to win every game is nothing but good for the rest of us.”
As a freshman, Brogdon averaged 6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists in about 22 minutes per game. His game has evolved since then.
“He’s always had a strong voice, he’s always been a good leader,” Harris said. “He’s a really articulate kid and he’s really smart, but I think from a basketball standpoint he’s really improved his ballhandling. When he was hurt, he was always working on his ballhandling. You’d look over and guys would joke about how you need to send so and so to the Malcolm Brogdon School of Ballhandling, because he’s improved so much since the time that he got here.”
Even better for UVa: Brogdon, who already carries himself like a senior, has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“The way he plays, he plays like he’s a veteran, like he’s been in the program a long time, which he has, but he’s going to be a sophomore on the court,” Harris said. “It’s huge for the future of the program to have someone like Malcolm that’s going to be there for the next couple of years.”
UVa’s head coach sees some rust on the Brogdon’s game, not surprisingly, “but also you see some good things,” Bennett said. “I forgot how strong [Brogdon is]. He’s powerful, and when London’s been out, you can call him the power point guard. I think he just has to kind of get a feel for the timing and learn when to be aggressive and when to let it come [at point guard].
“But I’m so happy to see him out there, because I know how hard he worked in his rehab [from] a pretty significant injury. To see him holding up and playing very hard has been encouraging.”
TIGHTENING UP: The NCAA wants to increase freedom of movement in Division I men’s basketball, and officials have been instructed to do a better job of enforcing rules on hand-checking by defenders.
“There’s gonna be foul trouble,” Bennett said in Charlotte.
The NCAA also wants to see fewer charges called, and the rulebook now will favor the offensive player. Under the new rule, a defensive player may not move into the path of an offensive player once he has begun his upward motion with the ball to attempt a shot or a pass.
ACC associate commissioner Karl Hicks visited UVa recently and “showed us the videos and presented the rule changes,” Bennett said.
UVa brought in an officiating crew for an early practice, and Bennett didn’t notice much difference in that session. “But you’re going to see a lot more free throws,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot more guys getting blocking called. What it means in layman’s terms is, if it’s close, they’re going to give it a block call. The [defender is] really going to have to be there outside the lane and set [to get a charge call].
“I think you’ll see a lot less charges called. The hand-check remains to be seen … I don’t think the rule has changed. It’s just going to be emphasized now. You put two hands on [the player with the ball], automatic foul. You ride a guy with an armbar, automatic foul.
“So they’ll enforce it early [in the season]. Will there be consistency? Late in the game will those things be called? Those are all things every year when the rules changes come, you look and say, `All right, how is this going to play out?’ ”