Scott German | Storm clouds on the horizon for Leitao
Sixteen first-half points for UVa in Saturday’s horrendous 73-62 home loss to Florida State. And it took a late fury to reach that dubious total. If you listened to Virginia coach Dave Leitao’s press conference, the reason for the struggle is obvious, plain and simple – this team is young, very young. A roster that includes four freshmen and four sophomores.
“There is that magical word of youth,” Leitao said. “It’s sometimes easy for the naked eye to see the disadvantages of being young, but sometimes it’s not so easy to spot. There are many underlying factors as well that’s not so easy to see,” remarked the suddenly embattled Leitao.
I say suddenly because for the most part Leitao has been by my personal observation at least been given an extended honeymoon as the head man of Virginia hoops. However, that seemed to all change Saturday afternoon in John Paul Jones Arena. First there was several times throughout the contest when a cascade of boos echoed around the arena. I guess that’s what a 1-for-19 shooting effort can get you. Then after the game in the media room more than one member of the press suggested that after the horrendous UVa. effort head coach Dave Leitao was officially “on the clock.”
Leitao often refereed to his team’s youth during his postgame press conference. “Part of being a young team is the mindset factor, a player may know what he needs to do to get better, but he just hasn’t had enough time to make the adjustments,” said Leitao. “What do I have to do?, How can I play better? Sometimes young players know the right questions, but can’t figure out the way to answer them,” continued Leitao.
OK, I will admit that this Virginia team is young and inexperienced; however, that rationale was challenged Saturday by FSU. The Seminoles have six first-year players and a a transfer. That youth factor Leitao mentioned (numerous times) hasn’t seemed to be much of a problem in Tallahassee as the Florida State improved to 16-4 on the season, while Virginia dropped to 7-9. I think the biggest difference between FSU and UVa. is that the Seminoles bring both youth and leadership to the floor while the Cavaliers are still searching for a leader and appear lost on the court. When Virginia began to struggle Saturday (moments after the opening tipoff), not one single player played with any determination or poise. Not one player to calm the storm. Same story in the Maryland and Xavier games.
While it’s evident there are a number of young players on this team like Sylven Landesburg and Sammy Zeglinski who just have not been through the rigors enough to develop a swagger or play with moxie, there are players that have. Upperclassmen Jamil Tucker, Calvin Baker, Jeff Jones and a host of others are simply not providing the leadership this teams so desperately needs.
Virginia has now started the last two seasons 1-4 in the ACC. Last year the Cavaliers were at 1-9 before a late-season rally produced wins in four of their last six conference games. The presence of Sean Singletary was credited for that turnaround. Without some kind of calming influence, the team is headed for an even more dismal conference performance this year.
The fact that Leitao belabored the youth factor in his press conference indicates to me a coach who suddenly has seen the storm clouds gathering. And rightfully so. This is not what the Wahoo Nation envisioned when Leitao took the reigns of a basketball program that called the John Paul Jones Arena, possibly the finest on-campus basketball venue in the nation, its new home. Or could this sparkling new arena be turning into what I over heard one disgruntled Cavalier fan say as he was leaving his luxury suite. “This is not a basketball arena where concerts are also held, this is a concert arena that they play basketball in occasionally,”
So if Leitao does see the storm coming, he at least brought out the umbrella.
– Column by Scott German