Don’t Forget About Virginia in the ACC

6 Sep

The ACC has seen a few changes in the off-season with the additions of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the league adding to an already deep basketball league that is steeped in tradition.  Heading into 2013-14 the league blue-bloods Duke and North Carolina should be top contenders in the league while the trio of newcomers should all have little trouble getting acclimated to their new surroundings.

If there is a dark horse to challenge the upper echelons of the ACC the choice might be the Virginia Cavaliers.  Coach Tony Bennett is entering his fifth season at the helm of the Cavaliers.   Virginia returns their top five scorers as well as the lone returning member of the First Team All-ACC in senior guard Joe Harris.  Joining Harris is fellow senior and arguably Virginia’s breakout player of the 2012-13 season, senior forward Akil Mitchell.

Since Bennett’s arrival in Charlottesville five years ago the Cavs have done nothing but improve.  Winning just 10 games the season before naming Bennett the head man Virginia has increased its win total every year since, culminating in a trip to the NIT Quarterfinals last season.  The biggest staple in Bennett coached teams is their defense and this Virginia team is no different.  Last season the Cavs finished 16th in the country in field goal percentage defense holding teams to 38.8% shooting while also holding teams to just  55.6 points per game, ranking them 5th in the country.

Mitchell says the marriage between Bennett and Virginia has worked so well because, “The type of player coach Bennett recruits, the type of system that he runs, the high character guys that he looks for are adapted to winning games.”

So why is Virginia primed to take the next step to the upper echelons of the ACC? With wins last season over Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, N.C. State and #3 Duke and their top five scorers all returning to school, the Cavs are battle tested, experienced and young enough to handle the league’s best.

Another reason Virginia is a prime candidate to breakthrough to the tops of the conference is because of those five returning scorers.  Tony Bennett has a full house to rely on with a trio of sophomores in Justin Anderson, Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey backing the senior duo of Harris and Mitchell.  Add to the mix redshirt sophomore Anthony Gill who is eligible after sitting out a year after transferring from South Carolina and the Hoos have the ingredients to challenge in the ACC.

Speaking of Gill both Bennett and the team are expecting the SEC transfer to be a big addition to crew in Charlottesville this season. * Bennett said about Gill, “At practice last year we would say ‘Boy, I wish we had Anthony this year,’ But it’ll be good to have him in the years to come.”

Mitchell adds about Gill, “He was my high school teammate. He brings a lot of physicality, his versatility and his ability to cause mismatches with other big men, his quickness, his strength and he will also bring a little extra experience that we need at a multitude of different positions.”

After averaging just 4 points and 4.4 rebounds a game his sophomore season, he became a fixture in the Cavaliers’ starting line up late in January of his second year and hasn’t looked back.  Now one of the senior leaders on the team Mitchell came into his own last season averaging 13 points and nearly nine rebounds per game good enough for third in the conference.  He also registered 12 double doubles including 19 points and 12 rebounds in the upset win over Duke, while also holding Mason Plumlee to just 10 points and seven rebounds.

That was last year, what does Mitchell think about the upcoming year and the new-look ACC?

After last year’s run to the NIT Quarterfinals Mitchell says this year he is, “looking forward to being successful, playing with these guys, they are my brothers.  I can’t wait to win with them and put this thing together like I had the plan of doing four years ago.”

In order to achieve that goal, Mitchell and his brothers will have to face some challenges including some new ACC foes.  The prospect of playing Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse is one he looks forward to.  “They’re great teams, they’re also completely different.  Coming from the Big East it’s a completely different league, it’s more physical.  It’s a different style of basketball.  They bring a little versatility to the league, something we haven’t seen in the ACC schedule.”

Before they get to face those new foes the Cavaliers must get through non-conference play, a part of the schedule Mitchell has high hopes for. “We’re gonna try and win every last one of the games. Our biggest goal should be to be undefeated come conference play.”

If Virginia hopes to return to the NCAA Tournament Mitchell thinks the team needs to improve on, “learning how to finish games, we left a few games on the table last year. There were some games we probably could have edged out had we been more discipline, done the right thing here or there.  We have to be more discipline and more willing to scrap at the end to pull those tough games out.”

The ACC may have the usual top teams and some formidable new challengers but Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers are looking to throw their hat in the ring full of ACC contenders.


NOTE: * Tony Bennett quote courtesy of Sporting News College Basketball preview


One Response to “Don’t Forget About Virginia in the ACC”


  1. It Is the Quiet Ones You Have to Watch: Colorado | collegehoopshaven - September 23, 2013

    […] much like I wrote about Virginia earlier this month, there is a team that is flying under the radar that deserves some attention when talking about the […]

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