February 6, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE For the first time in five years, Virginia basketball has become relevant again.
The Cavaliers' road history is too spotty to think that they can win the ACC's regular-season title, but more than halfway through their conference schedule, they found themselves in a first-place tie with Boston College.
Virginia had a schedule put together for a successful inaugural campaign in its first year at the John Paul Jones Arena. After a bump in the road a Puerto Rican pothole, you might call it the Cavaliers are in the desirable position of controlling their own destiny.
An 81-70 victory over Miami gave Virginia a 12-1 record at home, with the lone loss on a last-second shot against Stanford. If all the Cavaliers could do was win their remaining ACC home games against Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech that would put them at 10-6 in the conference.
No ACC team has failed to make the NCAA Tournament with a 10-6 conference mark.
It must be noted that the ACC had never used an unbalanced schedule until three years ago. Opponents that Virginia will play twice this season include the teams picked 10th (Wake Forest), 11th (Miami) and 12th (N.C. State) in the preseason poll.
That was one of the reasons Virginia had a relatively low RPI after the Miami win put it at 15-6 overall and 7-2 in the ACC.
The above-mentioned scenario that would get the Cavaliers to 10-6 in the conference did not include any more road wins, although Virginia had demonstrated some newfound road respectability even before it won at N.C. State and Clemson in the space of five days. On earlier road trips, Virginia had held second-half leads at North Carolina and Boston College.
In fact, for 36 minutes, a Jan. 28 visit to Clemson might have been the least impressive road performance for the Cavaliers, who proceeded to put together a game-ending 15-0 run to nip the Tigers 64-63. You won't find many incidences of a team coming from as far back in as short a period of time, especially on the road.
Few teams have had an answer for Virginia's veteran backcourt of senior J.R. Reynolds and junior Sean Singletary. Singletary was a first-team All-ACC choice as a sophomore and could make the team again this year, but nobody in the ACC has played better than Reynolds over the past month.
In a four-game span leading up to the Miami game, Reynolds had averaged 28 points, including a 40-point game against Wake Forest and a 29-point game against N.C. State in which he scored 22 in the last 10:57.
Reynolds scored 18 straight points for Virginia in its second-half comeback against State, and he had 13 straight points for the Cavaliers down the stretch against Duke, even though he was on the sidelines for a minute with cramps that had him clutching his calves in agony.
After returning to the game, Reynolds converted both ends of three consecutive one-and-ones. At that point, he had made 37 of 39 free throws during a five-game UVa winning streak that grew to six after the Miami win.
It almost seems incomprehensible now that UVa could have gone to Puerto Rico and lost to Appalachian State and Utah in the San Juan Shootout. But it makes perfect sense when you realize that Reynolds and Singletary got in immediate foul trouble against Appalachian, and Singletary was 8-for-36 from the field in three games.
Singletary, whose workouts had been monitored after offseason hip surgery, said it was merely a case of needing to get back in the gym and working on his shot. He followed the Puerto Rico trip by scoring 33 and 37 points in back-to-back games against American and Gonzaga.
As for Reynolds, he has had a history of improving over the course of the season.
"I was on him earlier in the year for not playing the way he's playing now in a lot of different aspects," Leitao said after the Miami win. "My assistants kept telling me that this is exactly what happened to him last year.
"He got off to a slower start and really kicked it in gear and maintained that throughout the year. Basically, the same thing has happened this year. Our two guards are playing as well as any two guards in America can play."
The Cavaliers should enjoy it while they can, because Reynolds will be gone next year and less accomplished guards than Singletary have left college for the NBA before the end of their eligibility. For Singletary's part, he recently said the chances of him returning to UVa in 2007-08 are "100 percent."
Another Virginia senior whose contributions cannot be discounted is 6-10 post man Jason Cain. Against Duke, Cain had eight of his 10 rebounds in the second half and was able to slow down Josh McRoberts for 39 minutes before fouling out in overtime. Cain followed that with an eight-point, nine-rebound effort against Miami.
In most games, Virginia has been able to find a third scorer to complement Reynolds and Singletary. Most of the time, it has been sophomore wing Mamadi Diane, whose 14 points against Miami gave him three consecutive double-figure scoring games for the first time in his college career.
Forward Adrian Joseph's scoring average has dropped from 9.4, third on the team when he was a sophomore in 2005-06, to 7.1 this season. But he was instrumental in the Clemson comeback, with two three-pointers and a total of eight points during the 15-0 run. Compared to Diane, there is not as much variance in Joseph's contributions from home to the road.
On the road is where the Cavaliers will be for games against Maryland and Virginia Tech, before their last remaining regular-season non-conference game, Feb. 13 against Longwood.
GROH'S ASSISTANTS IN DEMAND?
Once he has collected all the signatures for an impressive recruiting class, Virginia football coach Al Groh can start working on keeping his coaching staff in place not that he hasn't already been doing that.
The committee selecting a head coach for Old Dominion's new football program, which will compete at the Division I-AA level, is known to be interested in the Cavaliers' defensive coordinator, Mike London. He is from the Hampton area, where ODU is located.
London might have been the best thing the Cavaliers had going for them during the 2006 season, when their defensive yield was their lowest since the 1970s. A former UVa recruiting coordinator, before a one-year stint with the NFL's Houston Texans, London also was a big help on that front this season.
Indications are that ODU is thinking of a starting salary of $150,000, which would not be commensurate with what the ACC's top coordinators are making. UVa would be well served to price London out of the Monarchs' market, too.
UVa fans also need to keep an eye on valued receivers coach John Garrett, who had an NFL background even before his brother Jason was named the offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.