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UVa. basketball: Back to reality

Choke points at point, center put Cavs’ NCAA run on the ropes

Column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

All season long I’ve been saying the same thing about the Virginia basketball team that for a good run had everybody thinking, improbably, that the Cavs were headed back to the NCAA Tournament in Tony Bennett’s first year in Charlottesville.

How are they doing it?

Seems like opposing coaches are starting to figure out that this year’s UVa. group, at least, has not one, but two, choke points – at one and five.

“They’re leaving Jontel Evans all alone out there,” broadcaster Dan Bonner observed in the first half of Virginia’s 61-55 loss at Virginia Tech Saturday night, observing astutely that opponents aren’t all that concerned about the freshman starting point guard on the perimeter, nor should they be.

Evans is shooting 43.1 percent from the field, 18.2 percent (2-for-11) from three-point range and 50 percent (5-for-10) from the free-throw line in 2009-2010, horrific numbers across the board for a guard in the Bennett motion offense, which is designed first and foremost to get players open looks from the mid-range and from three.

The guy that Evans replaced at the one spot, senior Calvin Baker, isn’t much more of an option, shooting 24.1 percent from three and 62.5 percent from the line and an alarming 33.8 percent from the field. And tellingly, it was Baker who took a key jumper with the game tied at 51 with just over a minute to go.

Bennett stood up for Baker postgame. “Calvin’s look was good,” the coach said. And he’s right, the look was good. He was also right after the loss to point out what will spell ultimate gloom and doom to the Cavs’ Big Dance hopes.

“We had Mike (Scott) and Sylven (Landesberg) give us two scorers, but that third scorer is important. I look down at their stat sheet and see three guys in double figures,” said Bennett, whose third leading scorer was senior forward-center Jerome Meyinsse with all of six points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field in 31 minutes.

There’s your other choke point – not so much the lack of a third scorer as the lack of a big man to take the heat off junior Mike Scott. And no, a rotation of Meyinsse (5.1 points per game in 20.3 minutes per game in 2009-2010), Will Sherrill (3.6 ppg, 17.3 mpg) and Assane Sene (1.8 ppg, 12.9 mpg) isn’t going to take heat off anybody, except opposing defenses, which can choke down on Scott and cheat off the screens that the Bennett motion offense uses to free up jumpshooters.

Back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest have put the Cavs’s Tourney chances in serious jeopardy, and with three of their next four on the road – at Maryland Monday night, at home against Florida State on Wednesday, at Clemson next Saturday, at Miami on Feb. 23, before returning home to play ACC top dog Duke on Sunday night, Feb. 28 – it’s probably time to start admiring how close Bennett had this team to the NCAAs with glaring holes at two key spots.

And hey, if he can figure out a way to reconceal the choke points and get his team off the schneid, he’ll have earned the Boy Genius talk that has been making the rounds of ‘Hoo Nation the past few weeks.


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