February 20, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE In the aftermath of Virginia's 73-70 victory over Florida State, nobody bothered to ask coach Dave Leitao what it felt like to be tied for the ACC lead.
For six years, the Cavaliers have been waiting to return to the NCAA Tournament, and an ACC regular-season title has never been a consideration, at least not when UVa was made a preseason pick for eighth place.
In hindsight, that prediction was a little misguided, particularly for a team that went 7-9 in the ACC in 2005-06 and returned its top six scorers. However, nobody could have seen Virginia going 9-3 in its first 12 ACC games.
At the start of the season, you would have thought that nine conference wins would have been enough to get the Cavaliers into the NCAA field, given a non-conference schedule that included Arizona, Gonzaga and Purdue. But then UVa lost to Appalachian State and Utah in the San Juan Shootout, victims Arizona and Gonzaga did not live up to expectations, and the Cavs' power rating plummeted.
Still, no ACC team has failed to make the NCAA field at 10-6. If Virginia does nothing more than protect its new home court at John Paul Jones Arena, where the Cavaliers are 14-1, that should be plenty.
Starting Wednesday, when Virginia traveled to Miami, the Cavaliers finished up with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at home, then visited Wake Forest for Kyle Visser's and Mike Drum's senior day.
The Cavaliers could lose any of those games, particularly against a Virginia Tech team that demolished UVa in Blacksburg 84-57, but it's hard to see them losing four straight when they haven't lost two in a row since early January.
Besides, the Cavaliers' veteran backcourt of senior J.R. Reynolds and junior Sean Singletary has been locked in for six weeks. Usually, Virginia has been able to find a third double-figure scorer, which happened to be 6-7 junior Adrian Joseph against Florida State.
Joseph had gone scoreless in two of Virginia's previous five games, including an 0-for-6 outing at Virginia Tech, but he made five of seven three-pointers against FSU and finished with 17 points in 23 minutes off the bench.
Unfortunately for Leitao, the Cavaliers never know what they're going to get from Joseph or Mamadi Diane, a 6-5 sophomore who starts and averages in double figures. Diane, who seemingly has confidence issues, was 1-for-5 against Virginia Tech and 1-for-8 against FSU.
Virginia has been using four post players, of whom the most reliable is 6-10 senior Jason Cain. Tunji Soroye, a 6-11 junior, has been getting more time in recent weeks but was only 1-for-6 from the free throw line against FSU. Ryan Pettinella, a transfer from Pennsylvania, is 8-for-33 from the line for the season, and that keeps him off the floor at the end of close games.
So, the Cavaliers are flawed, but Leitao wouldn't trade Reynolds and Singletary for any backcourt in America. Reynolds always has been in the shadows, going back to the days when J.J. Redick had the spotlight in their hometown of Roanoke, Va., but Leitao said Reynolds "needs to be in the conversation" for ACC player of the year.
Likewise, through 12 conference games, Leitao needed to be in the conversation for ACC coach of the year. Of all the overachieving teams that have challenged for the ACC lead, most notably Boston College and Virginia Tech, Virginia was the one that was picked the lowest in the preseason.
The victory over FSU gave Virginia nine conference victories for only the sixth time in the past 24 years. Only once during that span has UVa won more than nine ACC games, when it went 12-4 in 1994-95. But the less the Cavaliers dwell on it, the better.
GARRETT, LONDON MAKE DECISIONS
What would the offseason be without some turnover on Virginia's football staff, but the Cavaliers had to know that they might lose receivers coach John Garrett to the Dallas Cowboys.
Garrett, who was at Virginia for three years, is the younger brother of new Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who actually was hired before head coach Wade Phillips. Even before he had the opportunity to work for his brother, Garrett had an NFL background that always made a return to the pro ranks a possibility.
He bumped up against a ceiling in Charlottesville, where the offensive coordinator's position came open following the 2005 season but was filled by Mike Groh, son of head coach Al Groh. There have been murmurs of tension between Mike Groh and Garrett, although Garrett's personality could be described only as upbeat, not confrontational.
There was plenty of second-guessing when Groh promoted his son to coordinator, and that did not go away when the Cavaliers were 113th out of 119 teams in total offense. Virginia fans were left to wonder if Garrett would have taken the Cowboys tight ends job if he had been the Cavaliers' coordinator.
The Cavs were 17th in total defense, which was why there was so much rejoicing Feb. 8, when defensive coordinator Mike London announced that he would be remaining at Virginia. Many people believe that London could have had the head coaching job at Old Dominion, which will be reinstating football at the Division I-AA level in 2009.
Virginia didn't have to break the bank to keep London, but it needed to offer him some security in the event that the Groh regime does not recover from a 5-7 season in 2006. Obviously, London's contract has been extended past 2007, and he may have been given assurances that he could remain as the defensive coordinator under a new coach.
There has been considerable debate in UVa circles as to whether Groh would keep his job at 6-6. In all likelihood, he would, but the Cavaliers did not roll over his contract this year. He'll need at least seven wins to get a rollover after next season.