NC State | Wake
Forest | Carolina
Virginia is in many respects in as good a position as any team in the
conference. They do lose Donald Hand, but he was an erratic point guard, and
while he was never overly selfish, sometimes his impulses backfired.
Nonetheless, it is a key position for the 'Hoos. Majestic Mapp was
slated to take that spot, but some reports say his recovery from a knee injury
which forced him out last season is not going as well as his coaches had
hoped. UVa has a deep group of guards - Roger Mason, Adam Hall, Jermaine
Harper, and freshman Keith Jenifer, but with the possible exception of Jenifer
and maybe Harper, none of them are really point guards. This is really a
key for Virginia and one which could take a maturing team and really set it
back, and that would be too bad, because Virginia is on the verge of a
breakout season. Pete Gillen was quoted on Sabre.com's board as saying
"Majestic Mapp is still recovering from surgery on his right knee that was performed in August of 2000. He had an arthroscopic
operation to remove scar tissue in April of 2001 and had another arthroscopic procedure in August of 2001. At this time, we're hoping
he'll be ready for practice on October 13."
Overall, Pete Gillen has completely overhauled Virginia's image and gone from
a fairly stade and boring, though usually tough-minded team, to one which is
highly athletic and most entertaining.
Adam Hall and Chris Williams have long since established themselves, and
Travis Watson is one of the best big men in the country and from all accounts
had a sensational performance at Pete Newell's Big Man Camp this summer.
Last year he got worn down, but this season he'll have Elton Brown, who is about
the same size, to back him up.
This is a team which will run, and shoot, and press, and as Duke learned in
Charlottesville, they can play with anyone when all cylinders are clicking.
Of course, Maryland proved the opposite to be true as well, when they beat
UVa senseless near the end of the season in a memorable blistering. But
that kind of thing is typical of a young team, which Virginia still was in many
respects last season, certainly in terms of the type of experience the team
So what are Virginia's problems? Well, point guard obviously, and despite a
remarkably tough Travis Watson, a lack of size is an issue, though Elton Brown
will help. That is not so critical when Virginia is running, but it is
quite critical when they can't, and the half-court game, particularly if point
guard is a problem, could be a deadly flaw (just as a diversion, try to imagine last year's UVa team with either Jason
Williams, Chris Duhon, Steve Blake, or any other higher level point guard.
It's a radically different proposition)
Teams which play at a slower pace, like Wake under the former Hamlet of the
ACC, Dave Odom (Hamlet because he was constantly indecisive about where his team
should go), could give Wake fits, and tournament games, past the Sweet 16
anyway, are rarely played at a breakneck pace. It's a conservative game at
that point, and the key issue is to not make mistakes. So far, under
Gillen, though they have been in many respects magnificent, they have lost on
the road and not done well in post-season for this very reason. That could
change this year, assuming they can sort out the point, because otherwise,
they should be tested and
tough. Hall and Williams give them an athletic punch that's really
excellent, and Watson is a power under the basket.
So really, for the 'Hoos, it comes down to size, point guard, and half-court
execution. Greatness is very possibly within their grasp.
Schedule wise, UVa plays Wagner (watch out!), ETSU, Howard, Michigan State in
the ACC/Big 10/1 Challenge, Virginia Tech as always, a sloppily coached Auburn,
Charleston Southern, Georgetown, Rutgers, Grambling, VMI, Missouri - not
exactly Murderers Row, though in the RPI, Michigan State, Georgetown, Auburn,
and Missouri will count. Tech is never an easy game because of the
intensity of the rivalry. It's much like Clemson-South Carolina.