Zack Bartee is the sports editor of the Daily Cavalier, the independent student newspaper of University of Virginia.
Excitement abounds in Charlottesville as the No. 3 Virginia men’s basketball team is in the midst
of its best season since 1981.
After becoming just the second team ever to win 16 Atlantic Coast Conference regular season games, the top-seeded Cavaliers avenged a January loss to Duke by defeating the Blue Devils, 72-63, in the ACC Tournament title game. The victory marked Virginia’s first conference championship since 1976 and earned the program its first NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed in program history.
Led by first-team All-ACC senior guard Joe Harris and third-team All-ACC senior forward Akil Mitchell, the team entered the season ranked No. 24 and facing high expectations. However, the Cavaliers lost four games during non-conference play, falling at home to then-No. 14 VCU and then-No. 8 Wisconsin before losing on the road against Green Bay.
After a 35-point embarrassment at the hands of Tennessee, Harris visited head coach Tony Bennett’s house on New Year’s Eve in an attempt to salvage his senior season. The conversation between Bennett and Harris prompted a complete retooling and simplification of the offense, with players beginning to settle into their roles and thrive under a more team-based approach centered on high-percentage looks in the paint.
Virginia went on to win 16 of its next 18 regular season games, with 13 of those wins coming by
double digits. Sophomore redshirt guard Malcolm Brogdon has adopted the mantle of leading scorer for the Cavaliers, averaging 14.8 points per game during conference play. Brogdon can also handle the ball and rebound, averaging 3.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds per ACC contest. He is a threat to drive or shoot, making 41.5 percent of his 3-point attempts and 88.8 percent of his free throw attempts.
Harris, ranks second all-time at Virginia with 257 three-point baskets, and is one of the team’s best defenders at the guard position.
The pack line defense is a significant reason why Virginia’s defense is the most efficient in the ACC and the eighth-most efficient in the country, allowing just 91.1 points per 100 possessions, while also holding 12 opponents under 50 points.
Finally, sophomore guard and ACC Sixth Man of the Year Justin Anderson and sophomore center Mike Tobey round out Virginia’s primary rotation. Tobey, standing at seven-feet tall, is the team’s leader in blocks as well as an adept offensive rebounder, tied with Mitchell for the team lead at 69. Anderson often provides a spark off the bench at critical junctures in the game.
The biggest issue plaguing the Cavaliers is at the free throw stripe, as the team shoots a dismal
66.3 percent. While Virginia has made a reputation of grinding out tight games, the team’s free throw shooting remains a liability going forward in the NCAA Tournament.