Interesting road test: UVA basketball opens at JMU

uva basketballUVA basketball coach Tony Bennett likes to test his team early. Last year it was scheduling VCU at home in early November. Two years ago, it was a road game at George Mason. The Cavaliers lost both games, but arguably grew as a result of the early adversity. Bennett has scheduled some early adversity for his 2014-2015 squad, opening the season on the road at James Madison on Nov. 14.

The Dukes, on paper, are no VCU or George Mason, but as an in-state rival that has a recent NCAA Tournament appearance on its resume, they’re not going to be a push-over, either.

“There is so much parity in college basketball. You play on the road, you play in a setting that I’m sure there will be a lot of excitement on opening night for us, for them. Certainly Coach [Matt] Brady, a well‑coached team and all that stuff there, they’ll be ready,” Bennett said.

It will be an early lesson for the Cavs that a team that is in the preseason Top 10, coming off an ACC regular-season and tournament championship and run to the Sweet 16, will get an opponent’s best shot.

“I think the most important thing was to not pay attention to expectations,” said junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, a first-team All-ACC selection in 2013-2014. “People expected us to win that first Coastal Carolina game. We were a #1 seed, and they were in the teens. They came in, and we quickly understood in that first half that every team was going to give us their best shot, regardless of rankings, we’re all starting at 0-0, and that’s how we’re going to go about it this season. We have to realize that regardless of our rankings this year, or what type of pedestal people put us on, we have to go out there and perform every night.”

Junior center Mike Tobey remembers that George Mason game on the road to open the 2012-2013 season. That game was his first college game, and it didn’t go well, with the ‘Hoos falling behind big early, rallying to make it a game and then falling, 63-59.

“We definitely do not want the same outcome, especially with the team we have this year, with our experience. We definitely shouldn’t let anything like that happen again,” Tobey said.

Classmate Evan Nolte also got his first taste of college basketball that night in Fairfax. His takeaway from that night: “You need to come together the most when you’re on the road, and whoever you’re playing, it’s a tough environment,” Nolte said.

“It’s a good time in the first game to come out of the gates hot, and especially since it’s away, just try to stay poised,” Nolte said.

Poise is key in road games, at JMU, at Duke or UNC, anywhere. Basketball is a game of runs, and fans get louder when the home team is making a run. It’s almost inevitable that JMU will go on some run in the Convocation Center that will get the home crowd hyped. The early lesson for the Cavs will come from how they respond.

“It’s really all geared toward finding out about our team,” Bennett said. “You don’t want to get to the conference and find out I don’t know what we’re made of. You want to put yourself in the spots where you have to play on the road, you have to play different quality opponents, different style of opponents so you really have a good gauge of where you’re at and try to be as ready as you can for conference play.”

– Column by Chris Graham

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