Take 5: Keys To Success In 2008

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Sean Singletary is now in the NBA.

I feel like I was cheated.

Having spent the majority of last season abroad, I missed Sean Singletary ’s farewell tour. I wish I had been here to see Singletary finish off his career leading the Cavs to the National Championship – what’s that? The CBI? Hmm. Oh well, with a new season on the horizon, I’ll follow the Cavaliers into the post-Singletary era.

In complete honesty, this Take 5 column contains speculation because with this team there are more questions than answers at this point. Coach Dave Leitao’s squad is at best talented but vastly inexperienced. As such, Virginia was voted 12th in the preseason ACC poll. But as Leitao has said on multiple occasions, they have been wrong three out of three years and it’s really anybody’s guess where Virginia will land this year. With so many unknowable variables, it’s hard to predict whether this team will be a contender or will offer up another mediocre campaign complete with a trip to the CBI. Or worse.

To offer some perspective on all the variables that could contribute to some unexpected success, I’ve come up with five things that must happen if Virginia expects to win some games and climb higher than 12th in the ACC standings this season

Young players must develop faster. Playing behind Singletary early last season and out with an injury later, Sam Zeglinski didn’t get much face time. Zeglinski, however, could be essential to this team’s success. Needing an on-court leader – and preferably a true point guard – desperately, Leitao will look to the youngster to be his quarterback. According to Leitao, he is more of a natural ball distributor than Singletary but must find his court rhythm. Having a point guard who can run the team and move the ball around might be the Cavaliers’ ticket to offensive success. With three or four players capable of putting up 5 to 10 points per game, ball distribution is key. Another player who must find his rhythm on the court is Jeff Jones , who Leitao needs to be an offensive force on this team. Jones’ 4.8 ppg will no doubt increase this season as he will get more looks at the basket. Beginning in the CBI, Jones showed flashes of his ability to strike from the perimeter, a shot which Virginia needs him to make more consistently in this offense.

Jerome Meyinsse

Strong Inside Presence. For the first time in recent memory, Virginia should be competitive on the interior, which should be a huge advantage. With three big guys on the roster, Tunji Soroye (6’11”) and newcomers Assane Sene (7’) and John Brandenburg (6’ 11”), Virginia should feel a strong boost to its inside play, points, rebounds, and post defense that were inconsistent last year after Jason Cain’s departure. I wouldn’t expect any of these guys to be Shaq-like contributors, especially in their first year. But Zeglinski could be setting up his guys for some easy shots around the basket. It has been a long time since Virginia has won the height battle in the ACC, but we should start to see some good battles as Sene and Brandenburg get comfortable. Also expect the size to help the rebounding game, as the team lost its top rebounder from last season in Adrian Joseph , who spent far too much time playing power forward with last season’s consistency problems in the paint.

Health. As has been written over and over about this team, it is young. And these two are practicing again on a limited basis: a bulk of the minimal experience this team has is currently injured. Calvin Baker and Jamil Tucker start the season on the shelf which eliminates two of the team’s biggest scoring threats left over from last season, so try this instead … And one thing young teams need is court time together. Even veteran teams can’t gel and grow if they can’t play together on a regular basis. Take a look at how injuries affected last year’s team for proof. If Leitao’s team looks to have any success in 2008, they’ll have to have some help from the trainers. If players like Baker and Tucker miss significant time, it could be an uphill battle for Virginia in 2008 without significant, and I mean darn near heroic performances, from the new guys.

Maaaamadiiiii Di-annneee! The return of the every announcer’s favorite player to the line-up will no doubt spark the Cavaliers, especially in the early going as the young players get comfortable. If the senior can regain his court presence and gain leadership confidence quickly enough to make an impact. Leitao has commented in the preseason that Diane’s stamina doesn’t appear to have suffered from his offseason foot surgery. I don’t expect Diane, even if he is healthy, to put up much more than his 11.8 ppg last season, though. But he could be a key player anyway. The returning leading scorer from last season, Diane’s performance in 2008 will have a great impact on the team’s success. Known as a quiet player, Leitao needs Diane to bring a strong court presence into the locker room and Diane looked like he was taking on a more vocal role in practice earlier this fall.

Translation of Success. One of the biggest benefits for Leitao when he was hired was his ability to start compiling more depth and talent on the roster. With only two players left from Pete Gillen’s efforts (Soroye and Diane), it is finally time to see what Leitao’s recruits can do in bigger roles with Singletary and J.R. Reynolds now playing pro ball. There is no question that guys like Landesburg succeeded on high school and AAU courts. The question is if they can find that same success within Virginia’s operation and quickly. Ideally, Landesburg will be able to supplement the offense with strong production off the bench and maybe even challenge for a starting role. Landesburg, a McDonald’s All-American, might have the most star power of anyone on this team. The 6’6” talent looks to be the next face of the program if he can harness his scoring ability to fit into Leitao’s offensive scheme.

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