For Virginia, the non-conference portion of the schedule was a mixed bag.
There were impressive wins over teams from the Big Ten (Wisconsin) and SEC (Tennessee), but three disappointing, borderline embarrassing losses to the CAA (George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion).
Sunday night at 8 p.m., UVa will find out how it stacks up where it matters most when it opens the ACC season at home against North Carolina.
Virginia point guard Jontel Evans is expecting to make his return to the lineup. The senior captain, who has missed the last four games with a foot injury stemming from surgery he had in October, made it through practices on Thursday and Friday unscathed, according to UVa’s website.
Virginia (10-3) is coming off a solid home win over Wofford in which it put a nightmarish Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic performance in its rearview.
North Carolina (10-3) just had one of its more impressive wins of the season. The Tar Heels, missing junior swingman Reggie Bullock (concussion), beat then-No. 20 UNLV at the Dean Dome
“They’re young,” Bennett said. “In some stretches, like us, they probably haven’t played as well as they wanted. But they really looked good against a good UNLV team without one of their best players.”
UNC, which lost Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller to the NBA ranks, is led by Norfolk native James Michael McAdoo, a 6-foot-9 forward who is averaging 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.
“He comes from a wonderful family and is an excellent player, very talented,” said Bennett, who recruited McAdoo when he first arrived in Charlottesville. “I think Carolina had their hooks into him for a long time, as Virginia did certainly, before I got here and [then] we tried out best.
“He’s a very athletic power forward that can hurt you in a lot of ways and will be a key.”
Tar Heel guard P.J. Hairston is averaging 12.4 points, while backcourt mates Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald average 9.4 and 9.1, respectively.
“Typical of a lot of North Carolina teams, they have a lot of weapons,” Bennett said. “They can score inside, they can get up and down and have some guys who can probably shoot it better this year than they have in the past...they really can stretch the floor with their shooting and with the pace they play.”
Virginia junior Akil Mitchell, who has had a breakout season in averaging 13.2 points and 9.2 rebounds, knows rebounding will be a major key.
“They’re going to be an aggressive team and it will fall on my shoulders, Darion [Atkins’] shoulders and the rest of the guys to keep guys off the glass and to go and get boards ourselves.
“Against ODU, I felt like I didn’t do a great job of that. I felt like I bounced back a little [against Wofford]. We just have to carry that momentum into Carolina and keep it rolling.”
Last season, Virginia lost by 18 to UNC at the Dean Dome, then suffered a three-point loss two weeks later to the Tar Heels at home.
“At Carolina, they kind of beat us down,” said Virginia junior Joe Harris, who broke a bone in his hand in that game, “and then at home we lost a close one that we thought we should have won.
“A few of the guys from their team are back, just like ours. It’s the start of conference play, a big game for both of us just to start off ACC.”
Bullock is expected to play today...Virginia is No. 1 in the ACC in scoring defense, surrendering 50.7 points per game. UNC is No. 1 in scoring offense, averaging 83.6 points per game...Harris ranks second in the ACC in 3-point percentage (46.7)...Mitchell is fourth in rebounding (9.2)...Virginia’s five freshmen are collectively averaging 23.5 points, the most any group of UVa first-years has averaged since 2003-04...Virginia’s last win over UNC came in Bennett’s first year at the helm — a 75-60 victory at the Dean Dome in January of 2010.