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Carlos on Virginia

When Pete Gillen came
to Virginia with a resume that included taking Xavier to the Sweet 16
and Providence to the Elite 8, he carried the reputation as one of
the game’s hottest coaches. He also carried the reputation as
being one of the funniest interviews in college basketball and having
the most active sweat glands this side of Gary Williams. Now, after
5 seasons in Charlottesville and just one post-season victory –
an NIT win at that – Gillen is thought of as a funny guy who
sweats a lot. It’s like having Chris Farley coaching your
team. Gillen is still a quality coach, but his results with the Hoos
have yet to come anywhere close to the expectations surrounding the
program when he arrived.

This season the
Cavaliers have jumped out to a 10-2 record that on the surface would
seem to provide some hope for the season. But Virginia fans are
uncomfortably accustomed to watching the team build up gaudy records
against a weak early season schedule, only to see the team crumble
when the regular season lights come on. Each of Gillen’s five
seasons with Virginia has been marked by some losing streak once the
ACC season began. This year, the Hoos only out of conference
opponents of note have been Minnesota, Iowa State, and Providence.
None of those teams has a Sagarin rating above 50, with the exception
of Providence who hammered the Hoos by 15 in University Hall. That
loss was the second out of the last four games for the Cavs, leaving
their fans wondering if the second-half swoon has started early.


In a season filled with
plenty of challenges for Gillen, the largest may be trying to find a
way to replace Travis Watson. For the last 4 years, the undersized
Watson manned the pivot for the Cavaliers and in each of those
seasons he led the team in rebounding. The void left by his
departure was widened by the preseason suspension of Jason Clark, a
6-8 junior who started half the Cavs’ games last season.

Clark has only
practiced for one week after rejoining the team after being suspended
for academic issues and Gillen has expressed concerns about his
conditioning. He should see some minutes on Sunday as a reserve, but
it’s doubtful he will be as effective as he was last season
when he was a defensive force in the frontcourt. Clark is a much
better on the defensive end where he uses his 7-foot wingspan to
block shots. He can be overly aggressive, particularly when trying
to defend a player on the wing. On the offensive end he is limited
in range and has little face-up game.

On the other end of the
spectrum is another junior, the 6-9 Elton Brown who would be an
All-American and lottery pick if he played Duke enough times in a
season. In the three games against the Devils last year Brown posted
15, 18 and 19 points. Most of those points came from Brown using his
bulk to get position on the baseline and then converting on a soft,
fade away jumper from 10-12 feet. He’s leading the team in
scoring and rebounding after losing enough weight to stay on the
court longer. Despite that weight loss, Brown can still be a
liability on defense, especially if the game is played at a fast

With Clark suspended,
the Cavs have been using a small lineup with Derrick Byars and Devin
Smith at the forward spots. The 6-5 / 239 lbs. Smith is a junior and
is the more physical of the two and will typically draw the opposing
power forward. Like Clark, Smith has long arms that allow him to
play taller than his listed height. That’s fortunate for Smith
as he has struggled from the perimeter this year and has had to make
up for it with a mid-range game. Playing as a 6-5 power forward,
Smith has averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds, but much of that output
has come against unheralded mid-major teams that tend to play smaller
lineups. On of the big question marks for the Cavs as they head into
the ACC season is how effective Smith can be playing an inside
position against bigger players with similar talent.

Byars is a 6-7
sophomore who is more comfortable on the perimeter. He’s a
good shooter from outside, but will also put the ball on the floor
and slash to the hoop. Unfortunately for the Hoos, he’ll also
turn the ball over a lot when he’s trying to drive to the

In addition to Clark
off the bench, Gillen can also go to Donte Minter and Jason Cain, two
members of a five man freshman class brought in by Gillen. At 6-8
and 244 lbs., Minter is similar in build to the departed Watson.
Unlike Watson who came in and started as a freshman, Minter will see
most of his minutes off the bench this season. Gillen doesn’t
like to play Minter and Brown at the same time as the team becomes
too slow when both are on the floor. Minter won’t overwhelm
anyone with his athleticism, instead using his size and positioning
to score and rebound in the pivot. Cain doesn’t see a great
deal of playing time, but if the Virginia frontcourt sees foul
trouble he may see some minutes. At 6-9 but just 205 lbs. Cain lacks
the strength to compete inside in the ACC.


The Cavs’ Todd
Billet is one of the best off-guards in the league. Billet is
hitting on 38% of this three-point attempts and plays a heady,
controlled game. The bad news for the Hoos is that Billet isn’t
the team’s off-guard, he’s their point guard. The 6-0
senior inherited the duties last year when mercurial starter Keith
Jenifer was released from his scholarship when he finally went fully
insane after being was arrested for assault.

With Jenifer gone
midway through the season, Gillen was left with little choice but to
shift Billet away from the off-guard spot where he was having a
productive year. Billet has been competent at the point guard spot
since assuming the duties, but the responsibilities of the position
have clearly resulted in a reduction in his point production and have
also highlighted his defensive liabilities.

Another member of the
freshman class, the 6-6 Gary Forbes, starts at the off-guard for
Virginia. Forbes’ size allows him to rebound well and also
lead the team in blocked shots, a rarity for a guard. He’s a
decent shooter on the outside, but doesn’t take too many

The Hoos have plenty of
depth at the point guard position where senior Majestic Mapp is
battling freshman TJ Bannister for minutes. The 6-2 Mapp has gone
through enough knee surgeries since arriving at Virginia (the total
is five) that he’s become the ACC equivalent of the Black
Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Come back here
and take what's coming to you. I'll bite your legs off!”

Mapp’s career at
Virginia is a sad story as the player who was a McDonald’s
All-American is not close to the player he was when he signed with
the Hoos. He was never a great shooter, but with all his injuries
his defense has slipped. Bannister can also have trouble on the
defensive end, but that’s mainly because he’s listed at
an optimistic 5-10. He does a good job distributing the ball and
using his quickness to get into the lane.

The other player
figuring prominently in the Virginia backcourt is freshman JR
Reynolds. The 6-3 guard is a strong defender who draws favorable
comparisons with former Virginia star Roger Mason.


Virginia is likely to
look to pound the ball inside to Brown early in the hopes of getting
Shelden Williams in foul trouble. Brown himself has had foul
difficulties in the past but has managed to avoid them for the most
part this season. Williams on the other hand has been limited in the
first half of several games this season by picking up early fouls.
Keeping Williams on the floor is important so that Duke can avoid the
size mismatches they will have on the wings if Deng has to move to
the power forward slot.

In order for the
Cavaliers to get the ball into Brown though, they must first get the
ball into their offense, which is where they may have difficulty.
Billet is steady and dependable, which are great qualities in an
accountant, but are orange alert euphemisms in a point guard. The
Blue Devils may not force a great number of turnovers out of Billet,
but they should be able to take the ball out of his hands and make
Virginia’s secondary ball handlers try to contend with their
pressure defense.

When Duke has the ball
the matchup to watch will be Forbes defending JJ Redick. The Duke
sophomore torched the Hoos for 34 points in the first matchup in
Durham last year and followed that up with games of 15 and 12 points
later in the season. In Forbes, Redick will be facing the type of
rangy, quick defender that gave him trouble last year. He’ll
also be facing a freshman who is prone to leaving his feet on defense
and who hasn’t had to face anyone who runs off as many screens
as Redick. The other factor in that matchup is the notoriously
shooter hostile U-Haul arena which is lit about as well as a spider

Duke has a number of
matchups they can exploit against this Cavalier team. Like Redick,
Shelden Williams has also enjoyed a huge game against the Hoos.
Virginia has struggled on the boards, getting outrebounded by their
opponents with a schedule that lacks any team with a dominating
interior. The Hoos have lost 2 of their last 4 and have to be
looking to see if they are on the brink of another struggling ACC
season. If the Blue Devils can maintain their poise Sunday
afternoon they should be able to pick up an important ACC road