December 16, 2002 CHARLOTTESVILLE In theory, Virginia's early basketball schedule will give the Cavaliers a lofty power rating, but that wasn't exactly reassuring as UVa entered the final phase of its pre-conference schedule.
A 3-2 overall record, counting a victory over non-Division I Chaminade, put the Cavaliers in position where they couldn't afford out-of-conference losses to opponents like Rutgers. The Cavaliers, who came off a 13-day exam break for a Tuesday game with East Tennessee State, faced a second tuneup on Thursday night against Gardner-Webb before visiting Rutgers on Saturday.
UVa had ample trouble with Rutgers last year in Charlottesville, where the Scarlet Knights led by nine points in the second half before falling 76-68. It's unlikely the Cavaliers will receive a warm reception in East Brunswick, N.J., for two years the collegiate home of Todd Billet before his transfer to UVa in the spring of 2001.
Virginia coach Pete Gillen said the ink was barely dry on the UVa-Rutgers contract when Billet asked for his release from Rutgers and then subsequently headed south. Billet was the leading scorer for a 2000-01 Rutgers team that one year earlier lost forward Dahntay Jones to another ACC program, Duke.
While his former supporters might be dogging him, Billet might be the least of Virginia's problems. He scored 28 points in an 82-75 loss at Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, where he had 26 points in the second half, including six three-pointers.
The Cavaliers also got 24 points from sophomore Devin Smith, a junior college transfer who made four three-pointers, and Gillen appears correct in his assessment that UVa might be more dangerous from three-point range than it was last year with Roger Mason Jr. A third newcomer, Derrick Byars, converted all three of his three-point attempts in a 70-63 loss to Indiana in the championship game of the Maui Invitational.
Lingering Concern: Point Guard
On the other hand, there was no resolution to Virginia's biggest problem, point guard. UVa fans often complained about Donald Hand, a senior on the Cavaliers' 2000-01 NCAA Tournament team, but they haven't had a reliable point guard since Hand left.
It was supposed to be Majestic Mapp, who played nearly 19 minutes per game in 1999-2000 as a freshman. When Mapp suffered a knee injury in a pick-up game that summer, some viewed reconstructive surgery as a blessing in disguise, because it would give Mapp three full seasons as a starter.
Instead, Mapp has had no full seasons as a starter. After sitting out the 2000-01 season, he experienced a setback in his rehabilitation and missed the 2001-02 season, causing Gillen to play Mason and then-freshman Keith Jenifer at point guard.
Although Mason subsequently elected to pass up his senior year, it looked as if the Cavaliers had three quality point guards in Mapp, Billet and Jenifer. After a second knee reconstruction, every indication was that Mapp was ahead of schedule.
Once more, there was a setback, sending Mapp to famed Birmingham, Ala., orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who had operated on Mason's shoulder. Andrews determined that Mapp had no structural damage and cleared him to return to practice. As a result, Mapp has been practicing on a limited basis and dressing for the games, but he has not played.
I think he's getting stronger, Gillen said in a Dec. 13 teleconference. His spirits are up. I don't want to put any timetable on it, but I think the time will come during the season when he'll be able to play five, eight, 10 minutes.
Whether Mapp is close to his former form is another matter, although his maturity and composure would be an improvement on Jenifer, who had a 27-8 assist-turnover ratio but is prone to bad decisions and offers little scoring threat.
Our guard play has got to get better, Gillen said. I'd give it a C grade. We haven't been real consistent, game to game or half to half. Keith's our starter, but we need him to score more than two points in 31 minutes (Jenifer's output at Michigan State).
Jenifer has the quickness to penetrate, but he often gets caught in the lane with no way out. The alternative is Billet, who had 246 assists in two seasons at Rutgers but is most effective when running off screens and hunting shots.
Post Players Show Inconsistencies
If the Cavaliers' early guard play merited a C, the post play wasn't much better. It was remarkable that Virginia was able to get within seven points of Michigan State, because the Cavs once trailed 59-41, thanks in large part to the foul problems of senior Travis Watson.
Watson immediately picked up three fouls at Michigan State and, while Gillen maintains that Watson does not receive the respect he deserves, it would be wrong to describe Watson's fouls at Michigan State as ticky-tack, which was Gillen's description. Watson is the one player the Cavaliers must have in the game as much as possible.
He's got to know how valuable he is, Gillen said in a less emotional moment. He's got to play smarter. He can't climb over guys' backs. I'd like to see him use better judgment.
The same goes for Elton Brown, a 6-9, 270-pound sophomore capable of scoring 20 points one night and going scoreless the next. Gillen said Brown must become more diverse in his offensive moves because he's not a guy who can jump over the backboard.
An alternative is Brown's classmate, 6-8, 234-pound Jason Clark, a dependable rebounder and defender whose absence of playing time was noted by the media. Gillen offered some insight into that situation when he said Clark had missed vital practice time because of his inattention to some academic issues.
A month into the season, Gillen also was trying to reintegrate sophomore guard Jermaine Harper into the rotation. Harper had been suspended indefinitely by Gillen after his November arrest for driving under the influence and, in his case also, there were some academic matters to be resolved.
Harper offers no solution to the problem at point guard, but he is a streak shooter whose quickness will give Gillen the opportunity to employ the presses that haven't always suited his personnel to date.