Coach Dave Leitao’s team plays an exhibition game Sunday.
As the Virginia men’s basketball team gears up for its first public test of the season in less than 72 hours, it won’t be the Hoos’ first taste of competition this fall. No, the Cavaliers first whet their plates against West Virginia in a recent scrimmage. As one might expect from a scrimmage, there was some good and some bad with the experience.
“So far we’ve made a lot of improvements since the first day. We came in here well prepared already from the summer and everything we experienced together,” Mamadi Diane said. “Even though we’ve been doing a good job getting better, the scrimmage kind of gave us an idea of where we’re at right now and where we need to go.”
“It was a scrimmage. Parts of it, we played well. Parts, we didn’t play well,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “I wouldn’t think less than two weeks in to practice you’d have a whole lot to judge” in terms of sweeping conclusions.
Long-term evaluations aside, the early season match-up against Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers is something that Leitao believes will benefit his team. The scrimmage, Leitao said, grew out of the coaches’ “mutual respect” for each other after some challenging Conference USA battles. WVU represents the highest profile scrimmage of Leitao’s UVa tenure.
“I thought it was important, the style that they play, that we got a look at that. Smashmouth, in your face, they chuck cutters, they’re very physical, they deny wings, pressure the ball. I thought because we don’t see that every day that it would be good,” Leitao said. “Kind of as I thought, there were instances where we handled it decently. We came out of the gates quick, but overall we didn’t really attack it the way we needed to. But, as I said, I kind of factored that in and I knew that it probably was going to happen, which is obviously a better wake-up call than I could have given them in terms of how we have to prepare physically and mentally. From that standpoint, I thought we got a lot out of it. It gives us a lot of things to improve on and specific things we have to talk about.”
One thing you can safely assume that Leitao has talked about both before and after the scrimmage? Defense. From the time he arrived in Charlottesville, Leitao has harped on the importance of every possession on that end of the floor. After last season’s debacle in the San Juan Shootout, improved defense was given the credit for the post-tournament turn-around.
So it comes as no surprise that Leitao and Sean Singletary already have started to focus on the team’s defense before even playing an exhibition game.
“We’ve got to continue to develop our chemistry, particularly on the defensive end. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a team where at this time of year you’re ever happy or satisfied with that,” Leitao said. “So we’re not where I want to be, not nearly where I want to be, defensively.”
“We’re beginning to find out our identity, but you won’t really find out until a few games in to the season. First and foremost, we know we’re going to be a defensive team and we’re going to rebound,” Singletary said. “We have a lot of offensive firepower and we’re going to take that as far as we can go with it.”
The Cavaliers’ next chance to assess progress on defense and elsewhere is this weekend. Virginia hosts Carson-Newman in an exhibition contest at 3 p.m. on Sunday in the John Paul Jones Arena. While it remains to be seen who will play, the full roster likely will not be available. Solomon Tat , for example, is still rehabbing after sports hernia surgery and he has not returned to practice. Also nursing injuries and not fully practicing earlier this week when the media was allowed to attend: Mike Scott, Sam Zeglinski , Mustapha Farrakhan , Calvin Baker, and Ryan Pettinella.
One player who is expected to play is ready to go.
“I’m really excited. This is something I’ve been waiting for since I was young, just working out all the time and just wanting to play in the ACC so bad,” freshman guard Jeff Jones said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for. We’ve got a game Sunday and I can’t wait.”