Virginia Basketball Has Fallen But Can They Get Up?
Another seemingly 80-month break for Virginia basketball players to take their exams is nearing an end.
However, there are more than a few Cavalier fans who probably could go even longer without seeing the growing pains of their young squad.
To be honest, watching UVA basketball this season has been like watching a comedy of errors. The problems from last year are not gone, they are worse.
There is some hope for the future but that future is incredibly young and still very raw.
The Cavaliers are 3-3 so far this season but could easily be 0-6 as their first three wins all came down to the final minute.
So, without further ado, I give you the December report for Virginia basketball.
Hi, My name is Sylven Landesburg and I am Virginia's only chance at surprising people in the ACC this year.
Landesburg, the high school McDonald's All-American, was expected to be a big contributor but I think everyone is surprised just how good this kid is as a true freshman.
The New Yorker broke the school record for most points scored in a freshman debut with 28 points against the VMI Keydets. He followed it up with two more 20-point performances.
Even more impressive for Virginia was ability to come through in the clutch. Landesburg willed his team to its first three victories of the season by making key shots and free throws in the final minute.
That clutch play earned Landesburg the ACC Rookie of the Week crown for the first two weeks of the season, the first player to do that since Chris Bosh of Georgia Tech.
On the road, however, Landesburg has struggled mightily from the field. That is something most Virginia fans have become accustomed to but I give him credit.
Landesburg could have wilted away and sulked on the bench (*cough* Mamadi Diane) but instead he was able to draw contact, get to the line and still contribute.
Landesburg looks a great deal like Bryant Stith in the early stages of his collegiate career. He is by far Leitao's best recruit but he will need time to develop and patience does not seem to be on the minds of most Virginia fans.
Sammy Zeglinski also appears to be a bright spot for the Cavaliers.
With last year's medical redshirt, he too is a freshman and expected to run the offense. His assist to turnover ratio is not wonderful but his awareness is amazing.
He is a pure point guard, more so than Singletary who was more of an Allen Iverson figure. Zeglinski can run an offense and make good decisions.
I am also amazed by the amount of energy and hustle he exudes on the court. He plays the defense that Dave Leitao has preached about since he got here.
More importantly, when Zeglinski is in the game the Virginia offense is an offense. When he is out, the Cavaliers are downright horrible.
He too has had some big moments, single-handedly keeping the Cavaliers in the Liberty game but he has turned the ball over too much and he does have a lot of learning to do.
Zeglinski will have a tough time when he goes up against some of the premiere ACC guards (McClinton anyone?) but he has tremendous potential with Landesburg.
These are the reasons to watch Virginia basketball right now and the reason the Cavaliers will ascend the ACC standings...just not this year.
I have always tried to defend Baker. I think he is a good scorer and last year he had some big plays against North Carolina and he hit the game-winner on the road against Georgia Tech.
That kind of a dagger and his ability to hit free throws in big moments gave me hope he could carry on Singletary's legacy.
After all, playing alongside him for two years had to have something rub off right?
Baker is a solid player when he is under control and yet, for reasons unknown to humankind, he sometimes acts like an over-caffeinated turnover machine.
Baker can jack up terrible shots, particularly when the Cavaliers are amidst a run. He has a tendency to dribble up the middle of the lane and then get completely surrounded and be lost on an island.
Leitao has done a good job of keeping his composure with this young squad but he has got to tell Baker if he keeps jacking up contested three pointers he cannot be in the game.
I do not question Baker's heart, I think it is more that he wants it too much. He forces plays, he forces bad decisions and he forces Dave Leitao to make a true freshman run the team over his most experienced option.
Baker's ball handling must improve and yet, nothing seems to indicate that such a thing will happen.
The defense has been less than inspiring as well.
For a coach who preaches defense, Virginia has been far from intimidating on the defensive end since the graduation of J.R. Reynolds and Jason Cain.
Last year, Leitao had the excuse of injuries. The loss of Tunji Soroye and injuries to Lars Mikalauskas and Ryan Pettinella throughout the year resulted in an incredibly soft interior defense which allowed ACC teams to score almost at will in the paint.
It was the reason Virginia lost so many close games early in the ACC season because teams were able to just bang inside late in the game.
Virginia finished last in blocks in the ACC last season and this year has not seen much improvement.
Soroye, the team's best shot blocker has been non-existent. Despite given an extra year of eligibility, Leitao seems content that the senior center spend his fifth year on the bench due to his lack of an offensive game.
Mike Scott is the best post option offensively but his size does not match up well with some of the bigger front-courts in the ACC.
Jamil Tucker is a good shooter but his lack of defensive awareness has affected his playing time his entire career.
Long story short, different year, same result.
Virginia has 15 blocks on the year, compared to 33 for their opponents.
The Cavaliers have had trouble boxing out on rebounds and their help defense shows a lack of communication at critical stretches.
Virginia simply does not have the offensive weapons to outscore opponents, a solid defense would allow them to at least steal a few ACC games but the Cavaliers are clearly not where they need to be for that to happen.
Is this really the same guy who had 25 points in his JPJ-debut against Arizona?
The senior swingman who was expected to become the heir apparent to Singletary's team has been in a slump that has lasted as long as January of this year.
The team captain's season has been so bad, just take a look at the numbers.
In six games, Diane is shooting 15-51 from the floor and 0-14 from behind the arc.
This is from a guy who has made 118 three-pointers in his career and started 69 games.
Diane is scoring less than six points per game and looks completely dejected by his poor offensive performance.
Diane has done relatively well defensively but this has been his problem at Virginia. For stretches of time he simply disappears.
The feast and famine of Diane is something Virginia can ill afford this season if they want to avoid a truly disheartening season.
Hopefully this break will help Diane find his offensive stride because he clearly has the talent to contribute. Until that time, Virginia will continue to struggle.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Virginia fans knew this was going to be a rough season and clearly they were right.
The Cavaliers are 3-3, including an embarrassing home loss to Liberty and an ugly performance on the road to Minnesota.
Virginia gave Syracuse a scare at the Orange Dome but it seems clear the Orange were tired after a long stretch and were overlooking the Cavaliers.
They woke up and the Cavaliers folded.
The problems are numerous for Virginia but the potential is also there.
The key will be developing the younger players and creating a balanced offense that is not too reliant on the three-pointer.
I think the most Wahoo Nation could hope for this season would be an invite to the NIT, something that could actually do a lot of good for this extremely young team.
Time will tell if the Cavaliers can start fixing some of the problems that ail them and they get their first crack at it on Wednesday against the Longwood Lancers.
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