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Virginia begins season of high expectations against JMU

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Posted: Friday, November 8, 2013 6:00 am | Updated: 4:04 pm, Mon Nov 11, 2013.

Virginia’s 2012-13 season ended with an NIT loss, while James Madison’s came to a close after an NCAA Tournament defeat.

This season, nobody is expecting the teams to repeat those outcomes.

For the first time since 2001-02, UVa is ranked in the Top 25 and anything less than an NCAA Tournament appearance will not go over well with Cavalier fans.

JMU is missing its best player and isn’t considered a good bet to get to the NIT, let alone back to the Big Dance.

Tonight, the in-state foes meet for the first time since 2003 as the 2013-14 season gets underway at John Paul Jones Arena.

“When you play season openers, there’s challenges there because you don’t have film,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose 24th-ranked team is a 19.5-point favorite over the Dukes. “We’re a different team, they’re a different team. You really try to the best of your abilities to just be as good as you can be, but knowing there are some uncertainties.

“I know they’ve done some different things in the past and that presents some problems if you’re not ready for it.”

This season, Bennett has more talent and depth than ever. How he chooses to utilize it will be an interesting storyline.

Bennett said his starting lineup could vary from game to game.

“You could start a number of different combinations,” Bennett said. “It’s not like, ‘Well, for sure, these guys are clearly better than the other four or five guys.’”

Tonight, Bennett is expected to go with the lineup that he used in the team’s closed-door scrimmages. Sources say the unit featured Malcolm Brogdon at point guard, Joe Harris and Justin Anderson on the wings and Akil Mitchell and Anthony Gill down low.

The biggest questions will be how Bennett allocates minutes between guards Teven Jones, London Perrantes and Devon Hall, and how many players he uses in his rotation.

“Nine or 10 is what I’ll say,” Bennett said. “Right now, if we stay healthy, and it depends on how the game’s being called — guys will have to be ready — but nine or 10 will be the number I’m thinking about, just looking at it.”

With an early-season test with No. 14 VCU looming on Tuesday, Bennett doesn’t have much time to tinker.

Last season, non-conference losses to George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion came back to haunt Virginia in March.

JMU, which suspended sophomore guard Andre Nation for the first 15 games of the season for "a violation of athletic department policy," was picked to finish seventh in the nine-team Colonial Athletic Association.

“I would never look by anyone,” Bennett said. “It’s the season opener, you’re playing a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year, they’re well-coached. They play different ways.

“Every game counts. You just have to be ready for it. I don’t think we have too many games on our [schedule] where it’s like, ‘We don’t need to show up and play.’”

Virginia players seem to be following Bennett’s lead.

“Looking back at last year, sometimes we got ahead of ourselves and we dropped games to teams I think we should have [beat] — Delaware and ODU,” said sophomore Justin Anderson. “We didn’t get up for those games like we should have.

“Right now, our goal is to beat JMU. Big picture, win the ACC championship, the NCAA championship, but outside of that, one game at a time.”

Virginia sophomore Evan Nolte says nobody expects to be back in the NIT.

“I think the expectations for us, just to start out, is to make the [NCAA] Tournament — that’s just like the base level,” Nolte said. “We just have such good chemistry this year. I think we’ll do some great things.

“Obviously, the expectations are higher than last year.”

Dunks

Malcolm Brogdon has switched from uniform No. 22 to 15 this season, while Justin Anderson has gone from 23 to No. 1...Virginia has never lost to JMU. The Cavaliers lead the all-time series, 8-0. UVa won the most recent meeting in 2003, defeating the Dukes, 90-83, at University Hall...JMU is led by sixth-year senior Andrey Semenov, a 6-foot-7 forward from Russia who ranks fifth on the school’s all-time 3-point accuracy list (40.3 percent). Semenov is a Blue Ridge School product who helped lead the Barons to a state semifinals as a senior.

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