The Grateful Dead lyrics, “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been” sum up the Virginia basketball team’s 2012-13 season perfectly.
In playing a school-record 35 games, the Cavaliers took their fans for quite the ride.
There were electrifying wins against Wisconsin and Duke, mortifying losses to Delaware and Old Dominion, and just about every other kind of result in between.
In the end, Virginia (23-12) tied for fourth in the ACC, failed to make the NCAA Tournament and lost at home to Iowa in the quarterfinals of the NIT on Wednesday night.
It wasn’t bad for a team that was picked to finish seventh in the conference following the graduation of star Mike Scott, but it clearly left Virginia fans — who have experienced just three NCAA Tournaments in the last 16 years — thirsting for more.
The good news is that Virginia finally has the talent to compete with the league’s blue bloods.
This season, junior Joe Harris made the All-ACC First team, while junior Akil Mitchell was a third-team selection.
Freshmen Justin Anderson and Mike Tobey showed tremendous promise.
Throw in the return of a healthy Malcolm Brogdon, the addition of South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill, plus two highly regarded point guard recruits in Devon Hall and London Perrantes and the future seems bright.
The bad news is that Virginia, for the first time in the Tony Bennett era, will have to deal with high expectations. UVa will likely be picked within the top four of the ACC next season.
Another failure to make the Big Dance will not sit well with Wahoo Nation.
Here are my final grades for the 2012-13 Virginia basketball team (in alphabetical order):
Analysis: Had one of the strangest seasons of any player on the roster. Before his mysterious shin injury, Atkins was having a great year. The sophomore appeared to have grown by leaps and bounds since his freshman year. Atkins was a menace on defense with his shot blocking. He was active on the boards and even showed us flashes of a nice offensive back-to-the-basket game. When Virginia scored that huge upset win at Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in November, Badgers coach Bo Ryan singled out Atkins’ play as one of the chief reasons his team was beaten. However, Atkins injured his shin in late December and became just a shell of the player we had previously seen. Atkins, according to Virginia, should be able to fully recover from the injury now that he has time to rest it. Next year, though, Atkins could find himself in a battle for playing time with the likes of Gill and Evan Nolte.
Analysis: Has there been a more electrifying player to wear a Virginia uniform this century? Probably not. In the first half of the season, Anderson — who was much ballyhooed coming out of high school — looked a little lost on both ends of the court. But man, did he ever get the hang of this college thing. Anderson’s performance on Wednesday night seemed like something out of a video game. Five 3-pointers, five blocks...are you kidding? Anderson’s ability to recover on defense and swat shots is uncanny. The way he chases down opposing players on the break is LeBron-like. If Anderson is draining jumpers next season like he did against Iowa, the only thing Virginia fans will have to worry about is him leaving school early for the NBA. One of the most un-hyped things about Anderson is his passing — he had nearly a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season.
Analysis: The fact that Barnette started Virginia’s first two games of the season at point guard speaks to what a strange season it truly was. Once Barnette was shifted back to more of his natural shooting guard position, he showed some nice signs. While his shot is definitely unorthodox, it looks like he can knock it down at a pretty decent rate. The freshman was 19 of 44 (43 percent) from behind the arc. He scored a career-high 13 points in the second-round NIT win over St. John’s and also showed some other facets of his game that we hadn’t seen. The major question will be how Barnette fits into next season’s crowded backcourt rotation. With the return of Teven Jones, Brogdon and Jesperson, plus the addition of Hall and Perrantes, there will be only so many minutes to go around.
Analysis: How good would Virginia have been if Brogdon had been able to play this season? Unfortunately, the sophomore wasn’t fully recovered from foot surgery and needed to redshirt. At last check, Brogdon was practicing with the team, but still not participating in all full-court drills as Virginia continues to be, understandably, ultra-cautious. If Brogdon is good to go in 2013-14, he’ll give Virginia another scoring option and will also provide a tough and aggressive presence that the Cavaliers were sometimes lacking. With the graduation of Jontel Evans, Brogdon could play point guard in a large and imposing lineup, which would allow Bennett to get his five best players on the court.
Analysis: The senior was the feel-good story of the season after Bennett elected to reward the longtime walk-on with a scholarship for the second semester, but he only played in four of the team’s final 10 games.
Analysis: We’ll never know how good Evans’ senior season could have been. He was just never the same following his foot injury in October. As a junior, he had made tremendous strides in his game. But this season, he regressed to sophomore-year form. Evans made the ACC All-Defensive Team, but that was on reputation more than anything else. The 5-foot-11 guard wasn’t nearly as disruptive on the defensive end as he had been in past seasons. Offensively, Evans took just two 3-pointers all season. At the end of the day, that really hurt Virginia’s ability to space the floor and put more pressure on leading scorer Joe Harris to knock down shots. Surprisingly, Evans was able to improve his assist-to-turnover ratio. After posting a 1.6 last season, he was 2.0 this season.
Analysis: The big question heading into the season was whether the junior would be able to pick up the scoring load from the departed Scott. Through the first 28 games of the season, the answer was a resounding yes. Harris scored over 20 points on nine occasions, including an out-of-his mind 36-point outing in an upset of third-ranked Duke. However, Harris faded really badly down the stretch. The Chelan, Wash., native didn’t score more than 15 points in his final seven games. During that stretch, Harris shot only 33 percent from the field, a steep decline from his previous six games when he had shot a whopping 61 percent. In Wednesday’s postgame press conference, Harris refused to make any excuses for his shooting. Bennett said he believed Harris was simply worn down. Harris should get more help next year. At the end of the day, though, he was an All-ACC First Team Selection. Virginia hasn’t had too many of those.
Analysis: After a somewhat disappointing freshman season, this was supposed to be the year when the former Wisconsin High School Player of the Year stepped up to the plate. Let’s just say that Jesperson is still in the batter’s box, continuing to take a lot of pitches. Aggressiveness and confidence continue to be the sophomore’s bugaboo. Jesperson started 33 of 35 games and averaged 4.7 points and 2.2 rebounds. Jesperson shot 36 percent from the field, including 37 percent from 3. He cracked double figures in points just twice. Next season will truly be a make-or-break one for Jesperson, who’s going to have to fend off a number of players if he hopes to stay in Bennett’s rotation.
Analysis: Talk about a topsy-turvy season. Jones was suspended for the first three games for a team rules violation, then came back as the starting point guard and helped lead Virginia to a 8-1 record, only to be relegated to the bench after Jontel Evans returned from his foot injury. Jones definitely showed flashes of having what it takes to be Virginia’s point guard of the future, but he also had lapses — many on the defensive end — which made Bennett uncomfortable with having him on the court for extended periods. With Hall and Perrantes set to join the program, the point guard position will be the most intriguing position battle to follow throughout the offseason.
Analysis: Where would Virginia have been without Mitchell this season? The junior developed more than anybody could have hoped and made fans forget about Mike Scott. Mitchell finished with 12 double-doubles, 2 more than Scott notched last season. Defensively, Mitchell was in charge of guarding every good frontcourt player that Virginia faced — and those players were usually taller than him. The fact that Mitchell didn’t make the All-ACC Defensive Team was a major oversight, though he was, very justly, named to the All-ACC Third Team. The onus on Mitchell in the offseason will be to improve his jumper. Doing so would make him much tougher to defend and take more of the aforementioned pressure off Harris.
Analysis: Nolte was, arguably, Virginia’s best freshman through the first three months of the season. He was hitting 3s at an impressive clip, with several coming in crunch time of big games. Nolte had a career-high 18 points, including five 3-pointers, in the win at Virginia Tech. But in early February, Nolte suddenly hit that wall that a lot of first-year players tend to. Nolte didn’t score in double figures in his last 16 games. He was scoreless in four of his last six contests, including Wednesday’s loss to Iowa. Nolte, like Harris, looked like he got a little worn down — perhaps the result of banging down low with bigger players. With the addition of Gill and a healthy Atkins next season, Nolte may be able to play more of a finesse game, which he might be better suited for.
Analysis: He is one of the main reasons to be excited about the future of Virginia basketball. The youngest player on the team improved with every game he played. If Tobey hadn’t missed five games with mononucleosis, there’s no telling the kind of numbers he would have put up. In Virginia’s win over N.C. State in January, Tobey had an impressive 13-point, seven rebound outing that had fans at John Paul Jones Arena chanting his name. Strength and conditioning will be a key for the 6-foot-11 center this offseason. Tobey averaged just 13.6 minutes, never playing more than 27 minutes in any game.
Analysis: The Virginia coach was dealt a really strange hand with all the injuries. Evans, his starting point guard, missed most of November and December. Brogdon, a projected starter, wound up redshirting. Atkins, a starting forward, came up lame in late December and was never the same. Tobey missed a good chunk of February with mononucleosis. In spite of all that, Bennett helped Virginia exceed most people’s expectations. The fourth-year coach led UVa to within an eyelash of the NCAA Tournament. The disappointing aspect of the season was Virginia losing to teams that it had no business losing to. Too many times, the Cavaliers played down to their level of competition. That can’t happen next season if they want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.