Sabre Roundtable: Basketball’s Break

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Virginia fans can read or watch more from the roundtable panelists. Make sure to check out WCAV and The Cavalier Daily today!

The Virginia basketball team returns to action this week with games against Hampton and Elon. With a 7-2 record in hand, how have the Hoos looked so far this season? How has Sean Singletary played as a senior? What about Adrian Joseph ? WCAV TV’s Dave Strumpf and J.W. Stehle, The Cavalier Daily’s Sean Bielawski, and Sabre user 007 Hoo take on a Sabre Roundtable.

Currently taking a break for exams, the Virginia basketball team has a 7-2 record so far this season. How would you characterize the performance so far? Which win was the most impressive? Which loss was the least impressive?

WCAV Dave: While the 7-2 record is pretty much where I expected Virginia to be at this point in the season, the recent play is a cause for concern. The Cavaliers are failing to show much growth or maturity as each game goes by. Maybe the lack of cohesion could be credited to the team’s health, which has been plagued by illness and injury. Still, to have a 7-2 record without your only true center in Tunji Soroye is impressive.

Given how early the Arizona win occurred in the season, that road victory impressed me more than any of the road wins last year. It was one of the Cavs’ most complete games of the season, and at the time seemed to have answered many questions (where scoring would come from and how the Cavs would hold up defensively against athletic teams). However, that UVa team that played in Tucson hasn’t appeared in three of the last four games.

I thought the Seton Hall loss was tough to watch because it was clear that the Pirates were the more aggressive team on the court. The Cavaliers were the more talented team, but struggled to find rhythm offensively and stop Seton Hall defensively.

I think these early struggles will benefit the Cavaliers in the long term. Look what happened to the football team after Wyoming.

WCAV J.W.: I think the team, and of course Coach Leitao would agree, is talented enough that they should be unbeaten right now. Their youth is showing at times, but 7-2 at this point of the season really doesn’t matter. The month of January will be a telling tale for this program as it hits its much more talented ACC schedule. I thought the Arizona victory was the most impressive. Winning on the road in a hostile atmosphere is always something be proud of. There were many obstacles thrown at the Hoos during that game and they overcame them. Arizona being ranked #17 at the time adds a cherry on the top. The worst loss was at the Palestra in Philly. Seton Hall is a good team, they also are 7-2 this season, but the Pirates were not 14 points better as the 74-60 score showed. The Cavs did not come to play that evening.

Cavalier Daily Sean: The performance so far this year has been about what was expected. Virginia came into this season expecting to be a perimeter-oriented team led by a veteran point guard, and that is what has come to be. The win at Arizona came as a bit of a shock, but when Virginia shoots the ball the way they did in Tucson, it is a tough team to beat. Perhaps the most impressive part of the victory was the way the younger players responded in such a hostile environment. Jeff Jones set the tone early with his 3-point shooting and Jamil Tucker came off the bench with very quality minutes. With that win over Arizona and Syracuse’s early season struggles, Virginia’s second loss at the John Paul Jones Arena came as a surprise. With over a week to prepare for the team’s showcase non-conference game at home, Virginia looked ill-prepared with suspect shot selection and crucial defensive lapses down the stretch.

007 Hoo: At 7-2, the team is a little behind my expectations in wins for the exam break. I expected the team to be 8-1 or 9-0 with either a respectable loss at Arizona or one unexpected lapse against another team. Fortunately, the team had a great win in Tucson, but the two surprising losses to Seton Hall and Syracuse will put pressure on the team to avoid other losses before ACC play. In the modern NCAA, a collection of 10 losses before Selection Sunday puts a team in jeopardy of playing in the NIT. Because of the Syracuse loss, UVa really needs a win at Xavier to avoid bubble conversation in February and March. The team can still get into the NCAA Tournament with three out-of-conference losses, but beating Xavier will make our winter a lot more comfortable.

I watched the Arizona game in a bar with the sound turned off, but I think I got the gist of it. As UVa sports fans, we expect our teams to struggle on the road. For the past two seasons, we have watched Mamadi Diane look tighter than a banjo on the road. In Tucson, though, Diane combined with Jeff Jones and Jamil Tucker to put on a shooting exhibition. Sean Singletary struggled shooting jump shots in that game, but the performance of the rest of the team gave me hope that this team might not need Sean Singletary to be at his best every night.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. The Syracuse game exposed a couple of key weaknesses this team will need to work out if it is to succeed in the ACC. The first and most obvious is that if Singletary cannot play or cannot play well, the team will struggle. When Singletary was recovering from an illness against Arizona and battling his jump shot, he still scored 11 points at the free throw line on perfect shooting, in a three-point win. With Singletary too sick to even shoot free throws, the team lost by two against Syracuse. If Singletary gets hurt (pause to knock on wood), or into foul trouble, the team is going to look bad because it is not ready to win without him. The other major concern coming out of the Syracuse game is the team’s reluctance to attack a zone. That is the type of problem that long layoffs can address, though.

Overall, I still think that this is a very good basketball team that should contend for a Thursday bye at the ACC Tournament and a six seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. The loss to Syracuse just narrowed the margin for error.

Sean Singletary

Sean Singletary is averaging more points and more assists this season than his career averages, but he is also turning the ball over more. Is this a case of “take the good with the bad” or do you think Singletary is trying to do too much?

WCAV Dave: First off, it is important to note that for parts of the early season Sean wasn’t 100%. He struggled with the flu over the first couple weeks of the year, and claimed that in the game against Syracuse, he was “seeing three rims” when shooting the ball.

That said, I do believe Singletary is trying to do too much. He is forcing more awkwardly athletic shots than last year, and is having trouble with ball control. It appears as though Singletary isn’t as “comfortable” as he was last year, when he had Jason Cain and J.R. Reynolds on the floor. Those were two guys that Sean could pass to with confidence, and both were capable of knowing what to do with the ball. Especially in the case of J.R., it’s tough losing the second half of one of the best guard duos in the country last year.

WCAV J.W.: I don’t look into this too much. It can be a concern, but Sean has been battling a nagging cold over the past few weeks and now he is finally healthy. He’s going to only get stronger and more productive as the season goes on. Sean doesn’t have to try to do too much. He’s got a talented group around him that’s fully capable of getting the job done. When this team is healthy and playing at its best, remember back to when you read this the first time. I’m telling you, this team is going to be at its best when it counts in February and March.

Cavalier Daily Sean: It seems as if this is a case of “take the good with the bad.” Singletary is a fearless player who has almost single-handedly turned this program around in the last four years. At the beginning of the year, I thought Singletary may get a little more conservative with his shot selection and take better care of the ball. However, that is just not the type of player he is. He is going at full speed all the time and has the green light from Coach Leitao. Still, Singletary will have to make better decisions with the ball for Virginia to be as successful as they want to be, especially in conference play.

007 Hoo: I tend to agree with Dave Leitao on the topic of Sean Singletary . I do not worry about Singletary at all.

If Singletary finishes this season the way he has finished his previous three, No. 44 will join the short list of retired numbers on the banner hanging from the JPJ rafters, and Singletary will be one of the best three men’s basketball players in the history of the University. Only two other UVa players have been on the first-team All-ACC three times. The first two are the best player in school history and the school’s leading all-time scorer. Singletary has made the first-team in an age when there are 12 ACC teams, with 60 starters in the league competing for those All-ACC spots. Singletary’s presence in orange and blue has saved this program from oblivion (the previous UVa first-team All-ACC was Bryant Stith in ’92!), and his decision to return for his fourth-year will be worth at least six total wins this year, and the difference between a borderline NIT team and a probable NCAA participant.

I feel lucky to get to watch him play for our University. My only advice for Sean Singletary is to stay away from sick people.

Adrian Joseph

Adrian Joseph has become a rebounding machine as a senior while playing a lot of minutes at the power forward slot. When Mike Scott and Will Harris get fully healthy and Tunji Soroye returns, do you think he’ll continue to rack up rebounding stats? If so, will it still be as a power forward or do you see more small forward minutes in his future? If not, will the team possibly be better balanced despite lower rebound numbers from him?

WCAV Dave: Adrian Joseph has taken the role of the Cavaliers’ captain very well and, while he might not be the most vocal guy, he is leading by example, especially by the way he’s been attacking and crashing the boards. Because of his strong jump-shooting ability, I wouldn’t be surprised if he moves back to small forward once the bigger guys get healthy. It sure has been tough to get a read on this team with plenty of the “big guys” injured. But once they do come back, we will see a more balanced squad. AJ’s numbers on the boards will no doubt go down, but Virginia’s team rebounding numbers should remain the same.

WCAV J.W.: Adrian has always been a solid rebounder for this team. For some reason, a lefty with some height always has a knack for getting the ball. When a lefty rebounds next to a righty sometimes, it throws the defender off a bit. I do look for his rebounds to go down when his taller comrades get into the line-up on a consistent basis. All this does is force him to get more involved on offense by getting up and down the floor quicker and show off the sweet stroke from behind the arc.

Cavalier Daily Sean: Adrian Joseph will not be able to keep with his 8.9 rebound per game average once conference play comes around. Once Soroye returns, he will swallow up some of the rebounds seeing as he rebounds better than either Ryan Pettinella or Lars Mikalauskas, and Will Harris and Mike Scott will also get more rebounds once they get 100%. This ultimately will help the team be better balanced and allow Joseph to get out in transition, which will create more open looks for him from 3.

007 Hoo: Joseph’s rebounding statistics will only depend on his playing time. He has developed both the understanding of positioning and the tenacity that it takes to be a good rebounder.

However, Joseph’s minutes will have to dip a little as Scott develops and when Soroye returns. In a “four-out” offense like Leitao likes to run, there is very little difference on offense between a power forward and a small forward. They are basically both wing shooters without ball-handling responsibility. However, there is a difference on defense. Leitao likes to play a lot of man-to-man, and that will expose Joseph at the power forward spot against bigger teams. Can you imagine Joseph trying to guard Tyler Hansbrough, Brandon Costner , J.J. Hickson, Bambale Osby, Jeff Allen , or any other big guy in the ACC who might be the second biggest guy on the floor for his team at any given moment? You don’t have to imagine. Think about Syracuse’s last possession, when Donte Green muscled Joseph into the lane and shot right over him.

I expect that Joseph will get fewer minutes as the second-biggest guy on the floor, and we will see a bit more of a stronger shooting power forward (Scott, Tucker, Harris) combining with a non-shooting big guy (Mikalauskas, Pettinella, Soroye). Joseph will be sharing more minutes as the non-handling guard, and I do not see Diane’s minutes falling significantly.

I am not worried about losing rebounding with Joseph sliding over a position, or losing some minutes, though. This is a very good team-rebounding squad, and somebody else will be sealing his man off on the weak side if Joseph isn’t there.

True or false: UVa is a “live by the 3, die by the 3” basketball team? Why is that your answer? Is your answer good or bad for this team?

WCAV Dave: UVa is “live by the three”: True. UVa is “die by the three”: False. Too many times this season, UVa has been looking to the 3-point shot as the first option, without even looking to penetrate the ball inside. They have failed to make passes into the post, and sometimes seem intimidated to drive the lane. They need to make a better effort to get looks inside of 12 feet from the basket. Even if they can establish opportunities of high-percentage shots without making them, I think it will open up the offensive end of the floor much more.

Fortunately, the Cavaliers can shoot the long ball very well, and I don’t think that “living by the three” will lead to their demise. In the past two seasons, I haven’t seen a Virginia loss where the main reason was: “they shot the ball too much from long range.”

WCAV J.W.: They are, true. Not always the best policy, but this team has to live by it. You have to play with your strength and this team can light it up from the Rotunda if need be. If they hit 8 or less from downtown, it’s an off night. It’s not a bad thing to a team that likes the 3-ball. As long as they continue to hit ’em, I’m all for it.

Cavalier Daily Sean: This is definitely true. On the season, Virginia is shooting 42% from behind the arc. In Virginia’s first loss against Seton Hall, it connected on 25% of its threes and against Syracuse, only 34%. There is such a negative connotation with a “live by the 3, die by the 3” team, but when you can knock it down the way Virginia can, there are many more nights a team lives vs. dies. Virginia really does not have any choice. The Cavs do not have a reliable post player who can consistently play with his back to the basket and the roster is littered with players capable of knocking down the 3-point shot. Virginia cannot physically match up down low with most of the teams in the ACC, and this approach gives them the best chance to win every night.

007 Hoo: For now, UVa is definitely a “Live by the 3, Die by the 3” team. I would love for the team to develop a way to attack the interior with feeds to the big guys or with active cutting for short jumpers. However, even if that happens, I expect the team to maintain its identity as a 3-point shooting team. I expect the team to live by the 3 a lot more than it dies by it, though.

This is a good 3-point shooting team. Forget the fact that the Hoos are knocking down an impressive 42% behind the line. The important fact for any defense to think about is that UVa will have four legitimate 3-point shooters on the floor at almost all moments of a game. If the offense moves actively, and moves the ball quickly, it is very hard for a defense to keep its eyes on that many shooters.

Hopefully, the coaching staff will get the team comfortable exploiting the interior holes and gaps that will develop in any defense that has to watch that many 3-point threats. An offense does not need a legitimate post offensive presence to threaten the interior of the defense. The development of a cutting and flashing offense to complement the 3-point shooting is a key to making this good team a nationally significant team by March.

Dave Leitao’s focus often begins and ends with defense. Has anyone jumped out to you a la Jason Cain as a difference-maker on that end of the floor so far this season? If so, who?

WCAV Dave: I have yet to see a player emerge as a defensive force this season, primarily because the Cavaliers have yet to play a stretch of consecutive games where the opponents require constant and relentless defensive attention. In Tuscon, we saw Mamadi Diane contain Chase Budinger very well, but Diane’s defensive presence since has been inconsistent. Calvin Baker continues to impress at the guard position, and has earned his increasing amount of minutes. I’m excited to see how the Virginia defense changes once Soroye returns to the starting five.

WCAV J.W.: Without a doubt, it’s Mike Scott. In his 8 games he has 50 boards, (good enough for second on the team) 31 of which have come on the defensive side of the ball. He also gets down and dirty in the paint, he’s great at stripping the ball and has 8 of those this season, which ranks him second on the team in that category as well. When Solomon Tat and Will Harris get back to 100%, watch for the Cavs defense to stiffen up, which of course is going to open up that run and gun offense with tons of three balls.

Cavalier Daily Sean: Mike Scott has really made a name for himself in the first part of this young season. Still not 100%, he is averaging more than 6 rebounds in just more than 14 minutes per game. Even without his work on the glass, Scott has impressed defensively in the post. At first glance, it does not look as if Scott is a battler down low, but don’t let his appearance fool you. He has more than held his own so far this season, and his leaping ability makes him tough to shoot over. It will be interesting to see how Coach Leitao utilizes him over the remainder of the season.

007 Hoo: A lot of people will probably think about Mamadi Diane and his game against Chase Budinger and label Diane a defensive difference maker. Diane has become a fine defensive player. He does not stand out above the rest of the team, though, as a Cornell Parker-type of stopper. That’s good though, because it reflects the solid team defense the Hoos play.

Through nine games last year, opponents averaged 72.1 points per game. Through nine games this year, opponents are averaging 65.9 points per game. So far this year, there have not been any Puerto Rico-style sustained defensive lapses. The worst defensive game of the year so far was a 15-point win against Penn. Even in a very rough game against Syracuse, UVa only surrendered 70 points. That Syracuse team has been around 100 in several games this year, including wins and losses.

Several guys on the team, including Diane, have the builds to be great defensive players. Quickness of feet and hands helps to make great defensive players, but length can make up for a lack of quickness, and can make quick players special on defense. The reason that length is so important on defense is that defensive players always have an advantage of geometry. Since an offense is basically working a semi-circle around a basket, if the defender has inside position, he has to cover a shorter lateral distance to cut off an angle of penetration from an offensive player (shorter radius = shorter arc on the same angle – get it?). A longer player cuts off even more of an offensive player’s angle to the hoop without having to be as quick. Longer players are also tougher to shoot over and pass around. Diane is one of many long players on the roster. Jones, Joseph, Tucker, Scott, Zeglinski, Farrakhan, and Soroye are lanky guys, too. Mikalauskas and Pettinella are not particularly long, so Soroye’s return will help a very good team defense get even better for the ACC season.

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