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A UVa Preview From The

We wrote the guys at the Sabre (a UVa
website) the other day and asked if they'd like to exchange previews of the
upcoming Duke-Uva game in Charlottesville. Chris McAulay sent us his take; ours
is posted on
their site.
  If any other sites would be interested in
doing this, we'd be happy to do it again. It's a neat way to integrate the ACC
world online.


On the eve of the Virginia vs. Duke game, The Sabre 
has exchanged team reviews with Julian King of the Duke Basketball report.

Virginia opens the ACC season Wednesday still searching for consistency on offense, defense, and from the free throw line, as without it, they risk peril in the face of what Willie Dersch calls “an oncoming train–” (also known as ACC competition). At 9-3, Virginia won the games they were expected to win, but had poor showings in their losses at Minnesota and at St. John’s. Head Coach Pete Gillen is hoping that his team has progressed enough to be ready for Duke’s visit to Charlottesville on Wednesday.

The possibility exists that Virginia is indeed improved, as in the last five victories (Dartmouth, Belmont, Richmond, Hampton, Loyola) there have been some encouraging statistics for the team and their fans. Either Chris Williams or Adam Hall has been the leading scorer in each game (neither scoring below 18 points) and Travis Watson has controlled the glass for the Cavs. Still, there’s this nagging notion that Williams has yet to get comfortable playing the 3 (instead of the 4), and that when Travis Watson gets in foul trouble or is tired (surely he’s not superman) Virginia has no replacement for his tenacious presence on the inside.

Adding salt to the figurative wound is the fact that the ACC’s best free throw shooting team last year (led by Donald Hand) now can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn from the charity stripe. Rumor has it that the UVa Pep Band can’t seem to find their big red brick they use behind the basket to distract opponents and that Hand is the chief suspect. For Virginia to win, they’ll have to do better than 65% from the line, and that goes for the entire league slate, not just Duke.

Thus far Virginia has not always been able to establish the up-tempo style that is conducive to sloppy play by their opponents, and frequently the Cavs are unable to keep teams from scoring easy points at the end of their full court press. One reason for this may be the huge increase in players from last year, and a longer than anticipated adjustment period for both the coaches and the players. To be successful from here on out, they’ll have to be able to create turnovers when they press their opponents, shoot well (especially from their starters), and play unselfishly on both ends of the court.

Here’s a look at Virginia’s players from most minutes played to least (UVa’s rotation is the game within the game. Just try to guess who’ll be the next player off the bench…):

Chris Williams – The ACC rookie of the year is beginning to assert himself the way everyone expected him to. But averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds a game is not as productive as hoped, and the position change to 3 may be the culprit. With a more confident Hall by his side, Williams need to increase his inside presence to take pressure off of Watson and also straighten out his outside shot (21.4% from 3 point range).

Donald Hand – Last year’s leading scorer still has his slippery quick first step, but until recently had been struggling to find his role as well as a pass first – shoot second mentality. When he works to get the others involved, Virginia is a different team than when he forces shots. Hand’s free throw shooting has dropped quite a bit to its current 72% (which hurts), but his effort and leadership are still very evident.

Travis Watson – The freshman is as good as advertised. His menacing scowl and relentlessness on the glass have been two of the few consistencies with this team. A competent low post threat offensively, he should get the ball more to keep defenses honest and to open up the outside. Check your teeth at the door.

Adam Hall – More confident and less moody than last year, Hall is an electrifying wing player. A productive rebounder in the 2-guard slot, his 1:2 assist to turnover ratio is not good. Hall’s defense is very strong and extremely active, but he might find himself watching league games from the bench due to his 45% success (for lack of a better word) rate at the free throw line.

Majestic Mapp – Settling in to his role as Hand’s backup, Mapp has shown a better than expected stroke from behind the 3 point arc (40%), but as he gets closer to the hoop, his shooting percentage falls to 37%. With 29 assists to 25 turnovers, Mapp can be too carefree with the rock, but to his credit, he’s always looking pass first and runs the offense with reasonable efficiency. Mapp also likes to hang out with Hall at the end of close games (on the bench), due to his 47% free throw shooting.

Roger Mason – This freshman hasn’t quite found his shooting touch (41.5% overall, an astounding 7.7% from bonus land), but he moves well on the court and is becoming a very sound defender. Athletic and surprisingly strong, Mason is fundamentally sound and has great potential.

Willie Dersch – Gillen vowed to use his experienced players more following the Loyola win (98-67), which means continued increased time for Dersch, the only Cavalier senior. While his shooting can at times be unreliable, Dersch has 22 assists to only 9 turnovers and is a consistently levelheaded performer.

Keith Friel – The sharpshooter (a transfer from Notre Dame) has been hot lately, hitting 42% of all of his shots, most of which come from behind the arc. When he’s in the game, the offense works to get him an open look, but the team pays for his accurate shooting with decreased performance on defense. He’s not yet an ACC defender, though his effort is there. Perhaps the biggest question is whether or not he’ll be wearing the one long sleeve – one short sleeve t-shirt underneath his jersey. We hope the answer is no, unless it affects his shooting, of course.

Stephane Dondon – The most mysterious player entering this season has struggled to find his groove, and he looks alternately angry and frustrated while on the court. Averaging just over 10 minutes a game, and with a reputation as a good shooter (especially from outside), Dondon has only taken a total of 22 shots this season (only making 7 for 31.8%). His struggles may be related to playing power forward in an offense crowded with talented wing players.

Colin Ducharme – There was a great deal of talk about a new and improved “Duker,” but so far, he has not seen much action. Slimmer than last season, Ducharme might see more minutes than he has recently once ACC play begins. Then again, he might not.

Chezley Watson – A preseason injury set Watson back a bit, and competition is fierce in Virginia’s backcourt. Strong defensively, Watson hasn’t made much of an impact this season.

Josh Hare – Described as “a ravenous, wild boar” by Gillen, many people believe Hare deserves more minutes. An all out hustler, Hare always seems to make things happen. When he does shoot, he’s successful nearly 60% of the time.

Jason Rogers – Athletic and lanky, Rogers did not receive increased minutes during the less challenging portion of UVa’s schedule, which makes one wonder what’s in store for the rest of the season. A good shot blocker and active defender, Rogers is statistically the team’s best shooter: he’s 9 of 12 from the field and 2 for 2 from the free throw line.

With the minutes being spread around like butter, this team can be unpredictable. Nevertheless, the increased talent should certainly pay off in the league (compared to last season) – as long as everyone is on the same page. The next step in the progression of the team should be greater intensity on defense, which should yield greater returns when pressuring opponents. When they have possession, the Cavs should see a great deal of zone defense, which means they’ll have to knock down open jumpers (see: Keith Friel) and be able to at the least work the ball inside to Watson during their half court set.

Efficiency on both sides of the ball is the key, which means Virginia must not squander any opportunities presented on offense and defense. For Duke, they’ll need to keep Virginia from finding success on the break in the dimly lit arena known as “The Clam” (we know, our lighting sucks). Further, if they can keep Virginia in their half court offense, Duke can then reasonably expect that freshman guard Jason Williams will have plenty of gas in the tank to drive the overhauled yet currently humming Blue Devil car. Duke currently has more big game experience, and this should help in the ACC – against Virginia, this should help the Blue Devils establish their preferred game tempo.