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Countdown to tip-off: The rotation

Note: Each day leading up to the Nov. 13 opener against Longwood, Cavaliers Journal will explore a different topic about the 2009-10 Virginia men’s basketball team.

Twelve different players started games for Virginia last season. Ten players averaged more than 10 minutes per game. The Cavaliers could not settle on a lineup nor a rotation throughout its worst season in decades.

Almost every key player from the 2008-09 team returns this season, while also adding freshmen Tristan Spurlock and Jontel Evans to the mix. That means Coach Tony Bennett will have a difficult time determining which players take certain roles – and which players are relegated to the bench.

“There is some parity on this team, and that makes it challenging,” Bennett said. “You say who’s going to step up, and that’s revealed over time. But it is a challenge when you feel there’s not a lot of separation.”

Bennett said he usually plays a rotation of eight or nine players. Some years, he’s seen his teams use as few as seven. Other years, his teams have used as many as 10.

“Each season, each team you look at, there’s a different challenge,” Bennett said. “If there’s quality depth, you use it. If you don’t feel there is, then I think you tighten the rotation.”

He said after Thursday’s practice that he’s starting to develop an idea of which players can be used in different ways, especially after last weekend’s scrimmage against Marquette. But there is still one week before the season opener against Longwood, and Bennett will likely continue learning his players through the season’s first month.

One of the issues is Virginia has a handful of players who have never taken defined roles. Outside of Sylven Landesberg, the Cavaliers lack a single player who consistently produced last season. Bennett envisions power forward Mike Scott taking a major step this season and indications are that shooting guard Jeff Jones has started to separate himself as a scorer, but the rotation remains unsettled.

Bennett said every player received a clean slate. He acknowledged that past performances were earned for a reason, but he’s provided each player on the roster a chance, and will continue to do so – even if it takes longer than he hopes.

“Usually by the last of the game of the year, I’m pretty set,” Bennett joked. “It’s more challenging either when you’re new or there’s a lot of parity, so it’s determined by who’s on your team. …You do want to establish some continuity when you can. But when there’s competition, that’s a good thing. Guys have to earn their spots, and it has to be awarded by practice and by performances in games.”

By Zach Berman  |  November 5, 2009; 10:32 PM ET
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Next: Poll: Who wins the Virginia-Miami game?

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