What’s going on in Charlottesville?

The bloom was already off the Tony Bennett rose before the news that another underclassman was leaving the Virginia basketball program. Last year it was freshman Tristan Spurlock, sophomore Sylven Landesberg and junior Jeff Jones. This year it’s Billy Baron, who unlike last year’s departees doesn’t have the distinction of having been a holdover from the Dave Leitao era.

Baron, a 6-3 shooting guard, was a prized recruit who scored 19 points in his collegiate debut in November, a win over William and Mary in which Baron went 5-for-6 from three-point range. He scored 14 his next game out in a win over USC-Upstate, and then proceeded to play his way onto the bench before announcing on Feb. 3 that he was transferring to Rhode Island, where his father, Jim, is the head coach.

The move puzzled Virginia basketball observers as much as Baron’s diminished minutes. Baron registered DNP’s in five of his last nine games at UVa., and in his last appearance, a 68-42 blowout home loss to Maryland on Jan. 27, Baron played eight minutes and was 0-for-1 from the field with a turnover.

So Bennett is now down another potential team leader – a source close to the program told the Washington Post that Baron was being looked at as a leader down the line for the heralded six-recruit freshman class – in addition to being just 13-21 since a 14-6 start to his first season that ended with the Cavs dropping 10 of their last 11.

The 2010-2011 ‘Hoos swooned sooner – rolling out to an 8-3 start that included wins at Minnesota and Virginia Tech and dropping eight of their last 12 with a narrow win over Norfolk State and bad losses at home to Seattle and Iowa State and an ACC nadir last weekend at previously-winless-in-the-ACC Wake Forest.

At some point soon, Bennett is going to have to figure out a way to get a winning team together – that wants to stay together.

Column by Chris Graham. More UVa. sports at VaSportsOnline.com.


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