Virginia returns tonight against Longwood after a two-week break for final exams. The Lancers provide the Cavaliers (3-3) a good opportunity to break a three-game losing streak, but pay attention to whether Virginia appears rusty. Coach Dave Leitao said the team practiced as much as allowed, but players were often missing because of exams.
“It's always a difficult time from a basketball standpoint -- particularly at this university,” Leitao said. “There are days that you don’t get as much out of practice as you would like and there are other days that you might experiment with different things because you’re not in game preparation mode as much. So it’s been a challenge, but no more than any other team and any other year."
Even if he did not admit it, Leitao’s challenge is likely more difficult this year. If the first six games proved anything, it’s that Virginia appears to be facing a season-long battle with spouts of inconsistency. The top two scorers – Sylven Landesberg and Sammy Zeglinski – are freshmen. Two players expected to carry the scoring load – Mamadi Diane and Jeff Jones – are averaging a combined 11.7 points. And the best interior player – Mike Scott – appears like an All-ACC candidate one game and a bench player during the next game.
“If you have 10-point scorer,” Leitao said, “you'd hope he can be consistent with that every game instead of scoring 20 one game and zero the next.”
Another issue Virginia has faced is playing smaller teams, which has not allowed Leitao to play a traditional lineup. Longwood will present a small lineup tonight, and Scott will likely receive most of his minutes as the biggest player on the court instead of his normal power forward spot.
After Longwood, the Cavaliers take on Auburn and Hampton before opening the ACC against Georgia Tech on Dec. 28. Expectations are low this season, but momentum can be critical for a young team. Virginia needs to effectively navigate through the next two weeks. If it carries a losing record into the ACC, interest will quickly wane even during a rebuilding year.
December 17, 2008; 12:12 PM ET
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