UVA Basketball Media Day: Cavs not shying away from weight of expectations

bennett-uva media dayUVA basketball is getting used to high expectations. That comes with putting up back-to-back ACC regular-season championships and 30-win seasons.

But coach Tony Bennett, talking with reporters at the program’s media day on Wednesday, made it clear that his focus is on a different set of expectations.

“As far as expectations, my expectation of them is to become who we have to become. That does not change. Of course we have aspirations to be as good as we can, whatever that means. Is that better than last year, not as good? It’s the same thing I think I said to you last year at this time,” Bennett said.

Emphasizing that the 2015-2016 ‘Hoos will “not be a clone of last year,” Bennett does have to account for the losses of Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins to the NBA. He talked Wednesday about the joy of being able to watch Anderson, now with the Dallas Mavericks, go against UVA alum Joe Harris, in his second season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a preseason game earlier this week.

More important to the here and now is who stayed on. Senior guard Malcolm Brogdon could have tested the NBA waters himself, but the two-time first-team All-ACC selection opted to return as a graduate student to try to get the Cavs a little further into March.

Bennett said Brogdon has been a key presence in the program, from getting his teammates to step up their intensity in the weight room to the practice court, where the coach said Brogdon’s teams almost always win in pickup games and scrimmages.

Brogdon acknowledged that he has made it a point with himself to be more aggressive on the court this season.

“This year, I’ll have to be a little more aggressive, but also still find that balance of when to score and when to pull it and keep running the offense until we get a better shot,” said Brogdon, who averaged a team-leading 14.0 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting from the field in 2014-2015.

Senior forward Anthony Gill said a focus for the team since its early exit from the 2015 NCAA Tournament, in a 60-54 loss to Michigan State in the third round of the Big Dance, has been setting that kind of aggressive tone from the opening tip.

“In every single game, we let the team jump out on us, and we had to fight our way back,” Gill said of the team’s struggles in the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament last March. “It can’t be like that this year. We have to be ready from the beginning, and that’s what Coach Bennett has been preaching to us all summer.”

One rules change will force aggressiveness out of everybody. The new 30-second shot clock gives teams five less seconds to get a shot up. Teams like Virginia that prefer a more deliberate pace might seem to be in line to have a harder time with the new rule, though the Cavs, who ranked 24th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, think they will be more than OK.

“The game will play a little faster because of that 30-second shot clock,” Bennett said. “But if you can steal some transition buckets, if you can get a turnover, push, sometimes if guards can get rebounds, go, you just have to feel the game. Some teams will let you run. Good defensive teams shouldn’t, and they won’t let you run, so then you’ve got to be good in the half-court.”

“We have to be a little more aggressive. I think it’s that simple,” Brogdon said. “We need to be more aggressive getting the ball inside, playing more inside-out, but also the guards have to touch the paint more.”

There is no question that the shot-clock change will make the vaunted Virginia Pack-Line defense, which ranked first in the nation in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, that much more effective.

“It was hard for teams to play against the Pack-Line for 35 seconds. Five seconds less is going to be a lot harder. I think our defense will be even better this year,” Brogdon said.

Bennett may prefer to play coy with the notion of expectations going into the season, but junior point guard London Perrantes wasn’t afraid to set high goals for the upcoming season.

“We’ve got a tournament in South Carolina. The ACC regular season, the ACC Tournament. The national championship. We’ve got four championships to win this season. Those are our goals. We take it one game at a time, but we’ve got four championships that we want to win,” Perrantes said.

– Story by Chris Graham

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