Team Basketball Makes Hoos Worth Watching

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Virginia teammates celebrate late in the victory against Georgia Tech.

I know it’s only two games into ACC play. I know it’s only about three months into Tony Bennett’s first season at Virginia. But I think it’s time for Cavalier fans to support this year’s team. After all, the Hoos are playing sound team basketball and winning games doing it – six straight after Wednesday night’s 82-75 win against Georgia Tech – and they’re 2-0 in the ACC for the first time since 1994-95 when they started 4-0.

“It’s early. I’ve said it all along, don’t get too up, don’t get too down. It’s just two games into the conference. I’m just glad we came off a nice win at N.C. State, protected home court, and executed,” Bennett said. “As far as being 2-0, it sure beats 1-1 or 0-2 so we’ll take it.”

Sorry Coach. Too late. I’m excited. It’s not just about being 2-0, though. It’s how this group has started playing as a team, both offensively and defensively.

Take the GT win for example. The Hoos posted 17 assists on 27 field goals. They only committed 7 turnovers despite facing fullcourt pressure periodically throughout the game. Four players scored in double figures and six scored at least eight points. Four different players had six rebounds.

The story was similar at N.C. State on Saturday. The Cavaliers had 11 assists on 23 field goals and committed just 10 turnovers. Five players scored at least six points and four players had at least five rebounds. Ditto for the home win against UAB. 15 assists on 25 field goals. Six players with at least eight points. Three players with at least five rebounds.

Each game, it’s been different players in those slots too. Wednesday night, Jerome Meyinsse slipped into the starting line-up and produced 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists in 20 minutes. Mustapha Farrakhan checked in with 15 points, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, and 3 steals. Jeff Jones added 9 points, 1 assist, and 1 steal off the bench as well.

Against NCSU, Sammy Zeglinski poured in 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists while Mike Scott added 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. Against UAB, Calvin Baker had 8 points and 6 assists while Jontel Evans added 9 points, 3 assists, and 1 steal; Will Sherrill pulled down 5 rebounds.

And, of course, there’s Sylven Landesberg , who has been showing off a more complete game during the Cavaliers’ current streak. He had 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists against the Yellow Jackets, 23 points and 5 rebounds against the Wolfpack, and 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists against the Blazers.

Landesberg said the team is really starting to come together and buying into what the coaching staff wants and what roles each of them can play in that picture.

“I started noticing that when we beat UAB,” Landesberg said. “That game, I think everybody started gelling a little more and I think we started realizing what the goal is and what everybody is supposed to do on the team, what everybody is being asked to do for Coach and for each other. I think it’s been carrying over to the ACC. At N.C. State, I thought we played very well and tonight we had a good game. We’ve got to just keep playing like this.”

In other words, these Cavaliers appear to be getting it. They seem to understand team basketball can trump more-talented opposition. They seem to understand that defense can help you win games if you make the other team earn their points. They seem to understand how sharing the basketball makes scoring much easier for everyone.

Then on top of that, these Hoos have an edge to them. They battle for position underneath against the likes of Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors from GT. They scrap for offensive rebounds at key moments – see Meyinsse and Landesberg pulling down two critical O-Boards in the final four minutes before Zeglinski hit a 3-pointer on the same possession for example. They dive for loose balls even if they’re a 7-footer like Assane Sene plowing into the first row on Wednesday night.

Night in and night out, it’s becoming a scrappy, all-out team effort. That’s fun to watch. Plus, it’s paying off in wins to boot.

So yes, I’m taking bandwagon reservations. Get on board as soon as possible.

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