By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When University of Virginia men’s basketball coaches survey the court, they usually see fifth-year seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill and junior London Perrantes, who among them have started 236 college games. It’s not uncommon for senior Mike Tobey to be out there, too, and he’s started 46 games as a Cavalier.
To say the veterans are a comforting sight for the UVA staff would be an understatement.
“Those guys have all played in big games,” associate head coach Ron Sanchez said Sunday.
“They’ve played in big settings. They’ve been in hostile environments. I know that’s what it will be [Monday], but I’m hoping they can calm the storm if it ever does get to that point and guide us to another victory.”
Monday night will find the fifth-ranked Wahoos in an arena, Cassell Coliseum, where the home fans’ disdain for them is palpable. That’s fine with Brogdon, a 6-5 guard who with 1,352 career points ranks 25th all-time at Virginia. He loves the challenge of competing in a hostile atmosphere.
“It gets me up,” Brogdon said before the `Hoos departed for Blacksburg. “It gets me going.”
At 9 o’clock, in a game ESPN2 will televise, fifth-ranked UVA (12-1 overall, 1-0 ACC) takes on Virginia Tech (9-5, 1-0) at 9,847-seat Cassell Coliseum.
The Cavaliers have won five straight games in Blacksburg and seven in a row in the series. A victory Monday night would assure Brogdon and his classmates of leaving UVA with a perfect record against the Hokies at Cassell Coliseum, a feat of no small significance.
“It’s always a fierce competition,” Brogdon said. “They’re a great rival for us. But at the end of the day, I’m not worried about the record in the past. We’ve just got to go there and get it done tomorrow night.”
Both teams are coming off victories, and each is dealing with a quick turnaround. Virginia Tech ended a two-game losing streak Saturday afternoon with a 73-68 overtime win over NC State at Cassell Coliseum. That evening, UVA defeated Notre Dame 77-66 before a sellout crowd at John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia’s offense is operating with historic efficiency. The Cavaliers are shooting 50.5 percent from the floor, including 41.1 percent from 3-point range, and averaging 75.7 points per game, the most in Tony Bennett‘s seven seasons as their head coach.
Against the Fighting Irish, the `Hoos hit 57.1 percent of their field-goal attempts. In Blacksburg, UVA will face a team that’s holding opponents to 40-percent accuracy from the floor.
The Hokies are “a good defensive basketball team, and I think whenever you are willing to play defense, you give yourself an opportunity to win a game,” Sanchez said. “And I think they are committed to being really good defensively, and I think that’s a part of their identity that will challenge us.”
In 2014-15, the Hokies’ first season under former Marquette head coach Buzz Williams, they finished 11-22 overall and 2-16 in the ACC. In Williams’ second season at Tech, his team has significantly more firepower.
“I think that they’ve really upgraded their talent,” Bennett said.
The Hokies’ top two scorers — 6-1 guard Seth Allen (14.6 ppg) and 6-7 forward Zach LeDay (14.2) — sat out last season after transferring in from Maryland and South Florida, respectively.
Tech does look “fundamentally different,” Sanchez said, “but definitely more talented. Obviously the guys who sat out last season, Seth Allen and LeDay, those two guys are very, very good basketball players. Whenever you can add physical talent and skill to your roster, your team is going to be much improved.”
In its past two visits to Blacksburg, Virginia needed late comebacks to stave off upset bids.
In 2013-14, swingman Justin Anderson scored all nine of his points in the final 3:30 to help Virginia rally for a 57-53 victory. Last season, the Hokies led by seven points with six minutes remaining, but the `Hoos battled back to capture a 50-47 victory.
Virginia, which is seeking its third straight ACC regular-season title, could do without more late-game drama Monday night.
“We need to come out and impose our will from the very beginning,” Brogdon said, “get stops and execute on offense.”
That’s exactly how the Notre Dame game unfolded for the Cavaliers, who led for the final 34 minutes and 25 seconds.
“That’s something we’ve been working on as a team,” Gill said, “really trying to get out on teams and be aggressive from the start.”
Brogdon said: “We just came out focused. I think we’ve got a new energy about us entering ACC play. We’re excited to play. It’s not like we weren’t [during the non-conference portion of the schedule], but we’re very excited to play, and we want to do a lot of the same that we did last season, and even better.”
Of UVA’s players, only Devon Hall (Virginia Beach) and Jeff Jones (Charlottesville) are from this state. Even so, Sanchez said, the Cavaliers have an appreciation for the rivalry between these ACC schools. It helps, of course, that assistant coach Jason Williford and strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis are former UVA players who grew up in the Richmond area.
“But again, we’re not trying to make it more than what it is,” Sanchez said. “It’s just another game, but they know they’ve got a challenge ahead of them tomorrow.”
Bennett said: “We just want to go and play quality basketball.”