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Gober Previews UVa!

For Coach Pete Gillen, whose large head curiously resembles a pumpkin, it was most unfortunate that he had to endure his make-or-break final season as Coach of the Virginia Cavaliers (-3.1 ppg, -1.0 bpg, -2.0 rpg, -3.4 apg, 42.9% fg, 33% 3-fg, 6.5 3-fg made/g, 68.9% ft, -48 ft attempts, -29 blocks, -1.0 b/g, +13 steals, +0.5 s/g, +0.4 to/g, 0.9 a/t, opponents: 44.8% fg, 37.7% 3-fg, 7.7 3-fg made/g, 1.1 a/t) during 2004-2005, when the ACC was stocked with exceptional talent and far tougher than it will be in 2005-2006. If only perspiring Pete had the option of stretching one of his beloved just-after-opening-tipoff time-outs from early January through the middle of April, he possibly could have survived this coming season following the ACC talent drain to the NBA and elsewhere.

The question of how Coach Gillen would have fared this coming season with the players now on UVA’s roster is moot though, since Coach Dave Leitao (pronounced Lay-Toe) has replaced Pete Gillen as Coach of the Cavaliers.

With rumors swirling about Coach Gillen’s imminent demise, the Hoos had only moderate success in recruiting ACC-caliber talent during the past few seasons.

Making the debut of Coach Dave Leitao even tougher is the circumstance that the Cavaliers lost several players who were significant contributors after last season. Among the departed seniors, the biggest loss was 6-5 WF Devin Smith (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 44.8% fg, 35.4% 3-fg, 75.6% ft). Though limited by a bad back, Smith was an outstanding shooter and scorer from outside and a surprisingly effective rebounder inside.

Despite having a reputation as an under-achiever, 6-9 PF Elton Brown (12.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 47.8% fg, 14.3% 3-fg, 54.3% ft) will also be missed by the Cavaliers. Brown provided bulk in the frontcourt and was the best rebounder for Virginia. With his inability to hit free throws, perhaps Brown would have been a better fit at Clemson, where the team average of 60.1% on free throws would have been within Brown’s reach as a marksman.

Another loss from the 2004-2005 roster is 6-8 PF Jason Clark (6.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 61.7% fg, 61.9% ft), who provided UVA with tough defense and rebounding for part of last season before his career ended prematurely as the result of academic deficiencies.

Despite these significant player losses, there is enough talent in place at UVA though for the Cavaliers to compete for a place in the middle of the lower-tier of the talent-depleted ACC. Also, the infusion of energy that comes with having a tough new coach arrive might spur Virginia to move even closer to the middle of the pack in the ACC standings.

Clearly, the strength of UVA is at the guard and wing positions. The combination of 6-0 soph PG Sean Singletary (10.5 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.6 a/t, 38.5% fg, 32.1% 3-fg, 77.5% ft, All-ACC Freshman Team) and 6-2 junior 2G JR Reynolds (10.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.1 a/t, 36.3% fg, 34.7% 3-fg, 82.1% ft, 2nd Team All-ACC Tournament) gives the Wahoos a solid starting backcourt. With 6-6 junior WF Gary Forbes (9.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 46.6% fg, 29.9% 3-fg, 58.5% ft), the Cavaliers could compete fairly well with the rest of the ACC in a three-on-three, six-foot-six-and-under tournament.

The key player for the Cavaliers is Singletary, who was the top vote-getter for the All-ACC Freshman Team who will be playing in the ACC in 2005-2006. Singletary might be even better than his freshman accomplishments suggest, since he completed successful arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder during the off-season. Along with an ankle injury, the shoulder injury hampered Singletary’s play during his freshman season.

Regardless, Singletary has shown already that he can score and handle the ball especially well. With the departure of so many quality point guards (Felton- UNC, Paul-WF, Jack-GT, Gilchrist-MD, Ewing-DU), Singletary may be the best PG remaining in the ACC. Reynolds has shown that he is a solid ACC player, even if he is less likely than Singletary to achieve All-ACC honors in 2005-2006.

Though his scoring has been inconsistent at times for UVA, Reynolds can be expected to contribute more in that area with the departures of Smith and Brown.

Providing excellent ball-handling, but absolutely no offense as the backup to Singletary is 5-10 junior PG TJ Bannister (4.3 ppg, 3.7 apg, 1 spg, 1.7 a/t, 29% fg, 18.8% 3-fg, 81.9% ft). At times, Bannister will pair with Singletary in the backcourt to give the Hoos exceptional ball-handling and passing, with Singletary taking on an increased scoring role.

The primary support for Forbes at WF will come from 6-7 soph WF Adrian Joseph (4.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 39.8% fg, 34.1% 3-fg, 69.2% ft), who showed some promise during his freshman season despite missing several games due to a leg injury.

Depth at guard for UVA will be provided by 6-5 freshman 2G Mamadi Diane (Prep Stars # 153), who can also substitute for Forbes at WF. Diane is reputed to be an exceptional outside shooter.

In order for Virginia to compete successfully for a spot near the middle of the ACC standings, the Hoos must find frontcourt players who at least can excel at some aspect of big man play. One solid prospect who showed potential up front during his freshman season before having an unproductive sophomore season in 2004-2005 is 6-8 junior PF Donte Minter (1.3 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 44.4% fg, 77.8% ft). Minter must recover fully from the knee injury that prevented him from being in playing shape last season in order to show what he can do.

Otherwise, 6-10 PF Jason “Pornstar Mustache” Cain (2.6 ppg, 3 rpg, 48.9% fg, 28.9% 3-fg, 59.1% ft) is the best returning big man for UVA.

Other frontcourt prospects include 6-11 soph C Tunji Soroye (0.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 40% fg, 57.1% ft), 6-8 freshman PF Laurynas Mikalauskas (Prep Stars # 145), and 6-9 freshman PF Sam Warren (Prep Stars # 177).

Mikalauskas and Warren will have an immediate opportunity to get playing time, and Soroye provides an intriguing prospect at C with his height and quickness. Though the Hoos may find a mix of players in the frontcourt that works, Coach Leitao may
also choose to go with a smaller lineup of his more talented players.

As a coach on the way out, Pete Gillen was unsuccessful in recruiting talent to replace the three players who were seniors at UVA last season. The remaining talent at UVA available to Coach Dave Leitao is all concentrated in the backcourt, where the Hoos have a top quality PG and a solid 2G in Singletary and Reynolds. The only other proven ACC-caliber player returning for the Cavaliers is WF Gary Forbes.

If the ACC were as strong in 2005-2006 as it was last season, Virginia might not win more than a game or two. With the exception of Duke, however, every ACC team may be weaker than it was last season, and Wake, UNC, Georgia Tech and Clemson could be considerably weaker.

Unfortunately for the Hoos, Virginia also could be much weaker this season as a result of its player losses. Given that UVA finished tied with FSU for last place in the 2004-2005 ACC standings, there is no direction for the Cavaliers to go but up under the leadership of the first African-American Head Coach at the University of Virginia in any sport.

Like Coach Leonard Hamilton at FSU, Coach Dave Leitao won an NCAA Championship as an
assistant coach at the expense of Duke. Coach Hamilton won as an assistant with Kentucky in 1978, and Coach Leitao won with UConn as Associate Head Coach in 1999.

With 14 years of experience as an Assistant or Associate Coach at UConn for Coach Jim Calhoun, and
several more years as Calhoun’s Assistant Coach as Leitao’s alma mater, Northeastern University, Leitao should know the way to get the Virginia basketball program back on track to compete with the ACC elite basketball schools.

Coach Leitao also had 3 seasons as the Head Coach at DePaul immediately prior to coming to UVA to practice what he learned from Hall of Fame Coach Calhoun.

Of course, Coach Hamilton has found that it is not an easy task to compete with elite basketball schools when you are the coach at a football, baseball and hot co-eds school. Coach Purnell at Clemson and Coach Greenberg at Virginia Tech are outstanding coaches, but they too have to compete with football for fan interest at their schools.

Though Miami Coach Frank Haith arguably has shown already that he is a superior recruiter like Coach Hamilton, Coach Haith has the same issue of coaching at a football first school where the pigskin Miami Hurricanes garner most of the minimal sports fan interest that can be generated at a school located in extreme south Florida.

At Virginia, the 15,000-seat John Paul Jones Arena is scheduled for completion in June 2006. If Coach Leitao can parlay the new facility and opportunities for playing time into recruiting success, the Hoos have the opportunity to move above the football schools toward the upper-tier of the ACC after a few years of building a team to fill the new Arena.

As for the 2005-2006 season, a factor that will significantly affect the accuracy of any predictions is that predictions based upon ranking the ACC teams from best to worst do not account for the unbalanced ACC schedules. Certain teams have significantly easier home-and-away schedules than others. For example, Clemson, FSU, Boston College, Maryland and Virginia have what appear to be the easiest slates of home-and-away games, while Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State and UNC have the toughest home-and-away schedules.

As far as home-game-only match-ups go, Clemson has what appears to be the toughest schedule, followed by Virginia, Maryland and Virginia Tech. NC State or Wake Forest may have the easiest home-game-only schedule, followed by Miami, Duke, BC and GA Tech.

As for away-game-only match-ups, FSU appears to have the toughest schedule, followed by Virginia and Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech and Wake might have the easiest schedules along with Maryland, UNC and BC.

Overall, the dubious award of having the toughest unbalanced ACC schedule for 2005-2006 appears to go to Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami by a slight margin over North Carolina, NC State, Virginia Tech and Virginia. Boston College, Duke, Clemson, Florida State and Maryland have what may be the easiest schedules.

Probably Boston College, but arguably Maryland, wins the true honor of having the easiest unbalanced ACC schedule. Considering the advantages and disadvantages of the unbalanced schedules, Maryland might catch Wake for 4th place in the ACC standings, but Duke and BC will be difficult to catch.

Interestingly, FSU, Clemson, and to a lesser extent UVA and VA Tech, have distinct scheduling advantages over GA Tech, Miami and UNC, making the pack of ACC team ranked from 6th to 12th even tighter than would be the case with a home-and-away scheduling format that allowed each ACC team to play each other team once at home and once on the road.

Finishing at or near the top of that 7-team pack of ACC teams predicted to compete for places from 6th to 12th in the ACC standings will be critical in determining which ACC teams make it to the Big Dance in March 2006.