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ACC Preview #5 - Virginia

Here's a microcosm of last season for Virginia: the 'Hoos went into the
season very happy after having wrapped up Pete Gillen for a decade. By the
time it was over, a lot of Virginia fans were wishing they hadn't.

Virginia had perhaps the most disappointing ACC season - we were going to say
since Duke '95, but we forgot about UNC's season last year - but anyway it was a
terrible letdown. That in and of itself is remarkable, because Virginia
had totally collapsed when Gillen came to town, and the expectations now are
quite high.

Last season's problems came down to defense, outside shooting, and, most
likely, maturity. This extended to Gillen, who made a few comments along
the line of "we can only do so much, and then the players have to get the
job done." That's like a general saying "we had great plans but
our soldiers didn't execute them properly." It's the general's job to
see to it that things are done correctly, and that's Gillen's responsibility as
well. He had some handicaps - not having Majestic Mapp again for one - but
nonetheless, it was his job, and he's being paid quite well to do it. He
shouldn't have passed the buck.

This season will be interesting, and one hopes the returning Cavaliers will
not be so cavalier about their success. Certainly they have some elements
to build on.

They can start with Travis Watson. One of our favorite ACC players, Watson is
sort of a poor man's Buck Williams. He's not as athletic as Williams was, but as
a 6-7-ish post player, he really gets the job done. He's an excellent
rebounder, a good position defender, and a solid presence for Virginia.
Keith Jenifer had enough flashes last season to convince us that he's a real
player, and Rutgers transfer Todd Billett will help in the backcourt as

It's hard to count on much from Majestic Mapp after he has missed two
consecutive seasons, but one can hope for the best. Sophomores Jermaine Harper
and JUCO transfer Devin Smith round out the backcourt for UVa.

To move back up front, UVa has Elton Brown, who we weren't overly impressed
with last season. He's big, but he was also slow and could probably use to lose
some weight if he hasn't. Jason Clark is a kid who was solid defensively
and definitely has potential. Jason Rogers is a senior and hasn't showed much so
far. Nick Vander Laan is a 6-10 transfer from Cal.

UVa lost Roger Mason to the draft of course, and he might have made a big
difference this year.

Class-wise at least according to the official site, UVa returns two seniors,
has three juniors, who among them have one total season of playing time for the
school, five sophomores including one JUCO transfer, and only one
freshman. That's a very strange roster. It makes it really difficult
to predict how they'll do, too. Billet has a good reputation, but he'll
have to do step up a level from the Big East (sorry, it's true).

If they can get solid production out of Jenifer and Billett, and maybe one
whole season out of Mapp, the backcourt should be reasonable. If they can
finally move Travis Watson to power forward and run either Vander Laan or Brown
at center, they'll just have to figure out the other spot up front. Clark?
Smith? Byars?

Hoo knows! There seems to be a consensus that Virginia was disgusted
enough by last year to really commit to improvement and to team.
Nonetheless, they have to incorporate a junior class that has basically never
played, and which will likely push some of the sophomore class back, and they
have a lot of questions to answer. We like Pete Gillen a lot, not least of
all because he was willing to wear the DBR hat for a gag photo ("What, you
weren't satisfied with beating our brains out, I gotta wear the hat, too?"
he said right before putting it on. Trivia note: out of everyone who has gone
along with that gag, Pete Gillen, by far, has the biggest head. We had to undo
the strap in the back completely).

There is some talent on the team, but we aren't familiar enough with everyone
to make sense of what this team could become. We hope it will be a classic
Pete Gillen team - running, gunning, having fun - but will it overcome last
year's defensive woes and mental breakdowns? Let's hope so. Virginia
was on the verge of a big breakthrough last year and got a major breakdown
instead. If it happens again, it's going to be a tough year for Gillen,
and a lot less fun for the conference.