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Scouting Virginia

In his first season at the helm of the Virginia men's basketball team, Tony Bennett has found a way to get players he didn't recruit to buy into his system and, therefore, implement said system rather effectively. The Cavaliers (14-7) are 5-3 in conference play, which is much better than how many observers thought they would fair at the beginning of the season. Virginia was picked in the preseason media poll to finish 11th in the ACC; right now, the Cavaliers sit in a tie for fourth place with Virginia Tech.

Bennett puts a great deal of emphasis on the defensive end of the court, and the somewhat unique pack-line defense he employs has been part of the reason for his team's success this season. We'll go into greater detail later this morning on what exactly constitutes a pack-line defense and what the Terrapins can expect to see from the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

As for Virginia's offense, sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg (6 feet 6, 207 pounds) once again leads the way, though unlike last year, Landesberg has developed into more than just a scorer. In conference play, Landesberg is averaging 20.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. He is shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three-point range.

One thing that hasn't changed from last season is Landesberg's willingness to drive into the lane and his ability to draw trips to the free throw line. He is shooting 83.1 percent (103 for 124) from the charity stripe this season. In ACC play, Landesberg is shooting 89.8 percent from the free throw line, which is tops in the conference.

The Cavaliers run a patient offense that relies on ball movement, intricate screens and guards who can finish around the basket. They don't aim to score a whole lot of points -- which is good, because they don't. They expect their defense to be stingy enough to make up the difference.

Sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski (6 feet, 182 pounds) is averaging 8.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in conference play. He owns a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio and is shooting 33.3 percent. Zeglinski stands as Virginia's primary long-range shot-taker, and he is shooting 36.4 percent from three-point range in ACC play.

"He's got a confidence about him," Bennett said Monday on the ACC coaches' teleconference. "I think he believes he can make a big shot, and he's not afraid to shoot it. He has sort of that toughness and that confidence that he can, you know, put a dagger in as we say. But he's very team-oriented. He'll do whatever you ask of him, and I like his toughness that way."

Freshman guard Jontel Evans (5-11, 185 pounds) fills out the other back-court spot in the starting lineup. Evans might be averaging just 2.1 points per game and shooting just 27.6 percent in conference play, but he is Virginia's top on-the-ball defender, and on a Tony Bennett squad, that carries a lot of weight.

Junior forward Mike Scott (6-8, 239 pounds) and senior forward Jerome Meyinsse (6-9, 233 pounds) start in the front court for the Cavaliers. Scott is averaging 12.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 47.2 percent in conference play. Inconsistency has plagued Scott a bit, but when he's playing well, he's a handful to deal with.

As for Meyinsse, he is averaging 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 65.6 percent from the field in ACC play. The Cavaliers aren't a big shot-blocking unit, but Meyinsse has been good for one block per game during the conference slate.

The Cavaliers play three guards off the bench, led by junior Mustapha Farrakhan (6-4, 175 pounds), who is averaging 7.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in conference play.

Senior Calvin Baker (6-2, 190 pounds) is seeing more minutes of late. He sat out Virginia's game at Wake Forest two weeks ago because of what Bennett called a "coach's decision." Several reports indicated Baker was disappointed with the playing time he had been receiving. Regardless, he is averaging 2.7 points and 1.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 31.6 percent in conference play.

As a result of Baker logging more minutes, junior guard Jeff Jones (6-4, 190 pounds) has seen his playing time decline. Jones has played a combined 11 minutes in the past three games after logging at least 10 minutes in every game prior to that stretch. In ACC play, Jones is averaging 6.0 points per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the field.

"With Calvin coming back, a little surer ball-handling and experienced guy, I've given Calvin some more minutes," Bennett said. "And with Jeff, he's kind of been on the short end of the minutes. Tried to get him in there and get a look and read the situation and just felt like, you know, I just went with [Farrakhan], not that they both couldn't play, but it's hard because there's not enough minutes to play consistently that many perimeter guys, so I try to make good decisions.

"Again, always look at practice, and Jeff hasn't gotten the opportunity, not so much that when he's been out there he's scewed up or struggled, but I just, I've kind of tried to go with what I feel has given us the best chance at that time regarding match-ups defensively, or even offensively with ball-handling, to help us out."

Junior forward Will Sherrill (6-9, 217 pounds) and sophomore center Assane Sene (7 feet, 234 pounds) serve as Virginia's front-court depth. Sherrill is averaging 2.6 points and 3.4 rebounds, while Sene is averaging 0.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in conference play.

As a team, the Cavaliers are shooting 44.7 percent from the field, 38.8 percent from three-point range and 74.5 percent from the free throw line.

In ACC play, Virginia is averaging 14.0 assists per game, which ranks second in the conference behind only Maryland (16.4 apg). The Cavaliers own a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play, which leads the ACC (Maryland is ranked second).

By Steve Yanda  |  February 9, 2010; 8:13 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Next: A closer look at Virginia's pack-line defense


Gary Williams owns Roy Williams (my offense is fast or slow breaks or drive and dump or I got nuthin') and consistently beats his teams w/ less hyped talent. Gotta love it. I think UMD matches up well vs. UVA. Terps need to stay in the now and focus 100% on winning this game.

Posted by: Realness1 | February 9, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

These teams play pretty similar games. They start and pretty much play three guards, they are really committed to defense and their best offense comes from running their half-court sets.

Maryland is a better shooting and scoring team and we will need to be patient against Virginia's interesting and effective pack-line defense.

One thing I noticed in the UNC game is that Jordan Williams had some work to do in improving how he handles the ball when they get it to him in the low post. He tended to rush things especially when he went to the dribble, losing the ball on more than one occasion. His ability to correct this against UVA could be a big help, especially if we aren't shooting as well from outside.

Our experience, depth and transition scoring ability should be major factors in our favor.

Posted by: petecard | February 9, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm really concerned about the defense on Landesburg. I hope Vasquez does not get the assignment, because he is not equipped to defend the quicker and equally tall guard. My hope is that Gary will give Mosley the assignment and give Bowie the guard off the bench. Vasquez does not need to be picking up unnecessary fouls trying to stay with a player he has shown in the past that he cannot guard. If we are able to shut down Virginia's star, they offense will have severe difficulties as it did in the overtime period against Wake.

Offensively, the Terps need to stick to the gameplan, and work inside out. Jordan needs to get touches inside, and the guards needs to consistantly drive the balls, especially when the Cavs show zone.

Posted by: Russtinator | February 9, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Pete, just offered a truce to Poop. Willing to do the same for you. Though with you it's a little different, since I usually instigate. So...I'll stop quoting your anti-Gary, anti-Vasquez attacks if you just admit you were wrong about wanting Gary to be booted from the school. Deal? (I'm being serious)

The good feelings from being 6-2...ah

Posted by: Barno1 | February 8, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Garo1, It is possible, at the bottom of the well of despair in 2007 or early 2008 that I called for GW to be fired. But I don't think so. I have said several times that his/your contract should not have been extended. He would still be coaching if that hadn't happened. The issue was always recruiting and a relative lack of talent compared to the elite programs. This year, with our seniors and a really wonderful and improving freshman, Marcus Williams, we are in a position to win the ACC and at least get to a regional. It's fun again, for now. I'm trying to enjoy this. Hope we all do.

Posted by: petecard | February 9, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I am very interested in seeing how MD's flex offense fares against the pack-line defense. GW, as we all agree, is a good coach and MD's players execute their offense very well. I think that JW can have a huge game. The flex offense has promise because it does not rely on dribble penetration (Villanova would have difficulty with this defense because their entire offense is predicated on dribble penetration by lightning quick guards), but rather on ball movement.

My concern is that GV gets frustrated being guarded by someone equal in height and tries to do too much. GV will not be able to dribble penetrate against this defense. However, I think the flex will afford lots of low post scoring opportunities for JW.

Posted by: larry31 | February 9, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Marcus Williams? C'mon Pete!!!

Posted by: larry31 | February 9, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Game is cancelled. Blah. Probably will be pushed to Monday, which means we'll have three games in five days.

Posted by: TerpTicker | February 9, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Looking at each team individually, I think UVA has the better backcourt and Maryland has the better froncourt. Both teams will be coming off tough rivalry games on the road so, the offensive energy will be low.

UMD needs to make sure Vasquez plays smart and doesn't try to get into a scoring contest he can't win against Landesberg. They also need to contain Zeglinski and and Farrakhan. When those two are scoring big, UVA usually wins.

Defensively, UVA needs to keep the Terps out of the lane and make them take jumpshots. Other than Hayes, UMD doesn't have a consistent outside shooter.

In the end, I think UVA's defense will win them what will be, a tough offensive game for both teams.

Posted by: chvsr | February 9, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Obviously it's Jordan Williams... I've got to stop the multi-tasking!

Posted by: petecard | February 9, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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