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Better “d” Required In Acc Competition

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  January 5, 2004 CHARLOTTESVILLE — No matter what happened to this point, Virginia's fate was going to depend on what happened during the ACC portion of its schedule. To get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons and the second time in Pete Gillen's six-year tenure in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers basically need to win most of their ACC home games — starting Jan. 11 against Duke — and steal a couple of conference games on the road. Gillen's critics were out in full force after an 84-69 home loss to Providence, but a victory over the Friars would not have meant much if UVa had proceeded to bomb in the ACC portion of its schedule. Earlier in the week, Virginia suffered an 86-69 road loss to an N.C. State team that had struggled to that point. On the other hand, a team picked fourth in the preseason (N.C. State) should expect to win at home against an eighth-place preseason choice (Virginia), unless the eighth-place team hopes to rise above its lowly station At 8-0, Virginia had reason to believe it was better than an eighth-place team, but the Cavaliers did not have a great frame of reference. None of their first eight opponents was ranked among the top 100 in the Sagarin rankings that appeared in USA Today on Jan. 2. UVa's best victory of the season came three days after the N.C. State debacle, when the Cavaliers rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final six-plus minutes and defeated previously unbeaten Iowa State 85-74. UVa managed to prevail on a night when the Cyclones shot 55.2 percent from the field and out-rebounded UVa 40-23. Virginia won that game because Iowa State had 23 turnovers and the Cavaliers five. It was more of the same against Providence. The Friars had 24 turnovers, only this time the Cavaliers had 20 turnovers, a season high. Providence shot 58.2 percent from the field, perpetuating a trend that started when N.C. State shot 50.8 percent from the field. None of Virginia's first eight opponents shot 50 percent against the Cavaliers and only one, James Madison, shot as high as 40 percent. For two years, Gillen has talked about defense, but it's the same old story — only worse. In recent games, the Achilles heel has been three-point defense, which means teams are getting 50 percent more value for the three-pointers than they used to get for easy inside shots. N.C. State, last in the ACC in three-point percentage at the time, was 11-of-27 against the Cavaliers. Iowa State converted seven of 14 long-range attempts, and Providence made nine of 21. Friars guard Donnie McGrath, who had been shooting 35.3 percent (18-for-51) from behind the arc, hit five of nine three-pointers against Virginia. There has been a glaring three-point disparity in the UVa program, and no one can explain why. No ACC tandem had as many three-point field goals last year as Virginia's Todd Billet (94) and Devin Smith (64), but Billet entered the Providence game shooting 35.7 percent on three-pointers (down from an ACC-high 41.8 in 2002-03) and Smith was shooting 18.8 percent on threes. Through 11 games, Smith converted just six of 34 three-pointers, and that included three of five against Iowa State, when he scored a season-high 25 points. Gillen continues to make reference to Smith's lack of practice time, stemming from a herniated disk that was diagnosed in the preseason, but Smith had knee problems last year, too. That didn't prevent him from shooting 38.6 percent on threes, good for eighth in the ACC. The truth is, Smith seems much more agile this year, as evidenced by his four dunks against Loyola-Marymount. Fortunately, Smith is much more versatile than originally believed and can contribute in many areas. He had 10 rebounds against Minnesota and five steals against Iowa State, but eventually the Cavaliers are going to need his shooting. Clark, Minter, Cain Must Improve With five players scoring in double figures, however, offense is not Virginia's biggest problem. Defense is a problem. So is rebounding. Gillen has chosen to play with one post player, 6-9, 245-pound junior Elton Brown, and he is neither an intimidating defender nor a reliable rebounder. Brown, who told reporters during the preseason that he would be able to grab 10-12 rebounds per game with “no problem,” averaged nearly 11 rebounds over a four-game period (VMI, JMU, Loyola Marymount, Coastal Carolina). When the opposition got tougher, he had five rebounds against N.C. State, six against Iowa State and six against Providence. Virginia has the option of playing Brown with 6-7, 244-pound freshman Donte Minter, but in a combined 25 minutes against Iowa State and Providence, Minter did not have a single rebound. Another freshman, 6-10 Jason Cain, had a productive eight minutes against the Friars (six points and two rebounds) and may have made a case for increased playing time. The frontcourt defense and rebounding could improve with the return of Jason Clark, a 6-8, 234-pound junior who learned on the morning of the Providence game that his eligibility had been restored. Clark missed the first semester for undisclosed reasons, since determined to be academic in nature, but reporters still wonder why six games elapsed before his case came to a resolution. It will be interesting to see how Clark fits into what has been a 10-man rotation, because Gillen has not been a master of substitution. Many people feel he did his best coaching job at Virginia in his first year, 1998-99, when he took a team with six able-bodied scholarship players to a 14-16 record. Clark played more than 15 minutes per game last year, when he started 15 of 31 contests, but if he were to average 15 minutes per game this year, it's uncertain whose minutes he would take. More than likely, Clark's minutes will go way down, unless he can improve on the 2.5 rebounds per game he averaged last year. Clark received a team award as the Cavaliers' best defensive player on the 2002-03 team, after being named the most promising prospect in 2001-02. People always have marveled at his athleticism, but you wouldn't have to be a great defensive player to be the best UVa defender. Like his teammates, Clark has considerable room for improvement.