James Madison-Virginia Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 07, 2013
Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn't ready to acknowledge that the Cavaliers have their deepest team and highest expectations in several years. He wants his players to earn whatever accolades they get. Virginia seems more than capable of doing just that. The 24th-ranked Cavaliers get started Friday night against James Madison in Charlottesville. Virginia lost point guard and team captain Jontel Evans to graduation. Guards Paul Jesperson, who started 33 of 35 games, and reserve Taylor Barnette transferred. But the Cavaliers added plenty of talent to fill the holes. Malcolm Brogdon, who missed all of last season following foot surgery, is finally healthy and figures to get significant playing time at the point, bringing more scoring than Evans' 4.2 average. And Virginia has a transfer of its own, 6-foot-8 Anthony Gill from South Carolina, who will bring an enforcer's mentality to the frontcourt. ''He is one of the more aggressive or physical forwards we have in terms of drawing fouls,'' Bennett said. ''Even in practice there are not a lot of fouls called at this stage ... he has an ability to draw contact and pick up fouls. I think he will get to the free-throw line and he is a very good offensive rebounder, has good moves, so he brings that ruggedness that is a threat when he has the ball.'' Brogdon figures to blend in easily, especially if he has Bennett's Pak-Line defense down and sees appreciable time at the point. He's mature beyond his years, and can score, something Evans had trouble with a year ago. Gill's presence figures to help fellow frontcourt players Akil Mitchell, a very good rebounder, and Mike Tobey, who said he learned while playing for the U.S. Under 19 team this summer that what sets the great players apart is relentless intensity. Then there are the returnees who contributed. Joe Harris is back after leading Virginia in scoring at 16.3 points per game last season, and so are the other top five scorers: Mitchell (13.1), Justin Anderson (7.6), Tobey (6.8) and Evan Nolte (5.7). The last three were freshmen a year ago, and should be stronger and more refined as sophomores. With Brogdon and Gill both expected to add scoring punch as well, the number of scoring options should allow Harris not to draw as much attention, or wear down late in the year as he did last season. ''This is the most depth and talent since I've been here,'' Harris said. The Cavaliers also feel like they have something to prove after not getting an NCAA tournament berth despite a 21-11 record. Bennett loves the 3-point shot, and he really loves the open 3-point shot taken in rhythm. Harris and Virginia struggled to find those at times last season because Harris drew so much attention, but an offensive frontcourt should allow for far more passes from inside out for open 3s. In Teven Jones and freshmen Devon Hall and London Perrantes, the Cavaliers have a wealth of depth at point guard behind Brogdon, so much so that one of them could redshirt. A year ago, they started the season with no point guards, and early losses to teams from the Colonial Athletic Association contributed to them finding themselves in the NIT, and not the NCAAs. James Madison, which hasn't played Virginia since a 90-80 loss in 2003, made the NCAA tournament last year after winning its first CAA tournament since 1994. The 16th-seeded Dukes beat Liberty in a first-round game for their first tournament win since 1993 before being cut down by top-seeded Indiana in the second round. Despite coming off a memorable year, James Madison must replace its top three scorers from last season and is picked to finish seventh in the nine-team CAA. Guard Andre Nation is the top returning scorer after averaging 9.3 points while starting 27 games as a freshman last season, but he is suspended for the first 15 games because of a violation of athletic department policy.
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