When Mike Scott graduated after last season and went on to play in the NBA, it left the Virginia program with two key questions: 1) Who was going to replace all of his scoring and 2) Who was going to replace his rebounding?
One glance at the All-ACC teams that were announced on Monday tells you that UVa was able to come up with good answers.
Junior guard Joe Harris was voted to the first team, while junior forward Akil Mitchell was a third-team selection. It marked the first time that Virginia has had two All-ACC members since Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds in 2007.
In addition, senior guard Jontel Evans was named to the All-Defensive Team for the second straight season.
“It’s not about the individual awards, but it’s nice to see Akil get noticed, and certainly Joe,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, during his radio show on Monday night. “I was kind of curious [about Harris] because it’s hard to get on a first team in a league like this.
“For him to be acknowledged by all the media and Jontel again for his second year – that’s just positive stuff. I know those guys will be appreciative but take it in stride.”
Last season, Scott, who averaged 18.0 points and 8.3 rebounds, accounted for nearly 30 percent of Virginia’s offense.
This season, Harris and Mitchell have more than made up for his loss. Harris is averaging 17.0 points and 4.1 rebounds, while Mitchell is averaging 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Harris is the only player in the ACC ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage and field-goal percentage. The Chelan, Wash. native scored 20 or more points nine times, despite being the subject of every opposing team’s game plan.
“He added a couple more dimensions to his game from last year with his mid-range [game],” Bennett said, “and a little bit more play off the dribble. And he physically improved in the weight room.”
Harris garnered a lot of media support for the All-ACC First team after his 36-point outing in the Feb. 28 win over a then-No. 3 Duke. If he hadn’t fizzled in the last three games of the season, he may have had a chance at Player of the Year, which will be announced today, along with Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.
Joining Harris on the All-ACC First Team was Miami’s Shane Larkin, Duke’s Mason Plumlee, Virginia Tech’s Erick Green and North Carolina State’s Richard Howell.
Mitchell, meanwhile, has 11 double-doubles, one more than Scott had last season. He more than tripled his scoring average, doubled his rebounding average and shot 54 percent from the field, fifth-best in the league.
Mitchell has also been a major upgrade from Scott on the defensive end. While he was snubbed from the All-Defensive Team, Mitchell has been the most valuable player for an outfit that is giving up the fourth-fewest points per game in the country. The Charlotte native has guarded the opposition’s best front-court player in every game – from Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren to Howell and Plumlee.
With injuries to big men Darion Atkins and Mike Tobey, the 6-foot-8 Mitchell – who leads Virginia with 37 steals – often had to guard bigger players, such as Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Miami’s Reggie Johnson.
“The fact that Akil has almost averaged a double-double and done what he’s done is impressive,” said Bennett, whose team plays the N.C. State-Virginia Tech winner in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday .
Evans missed nine of Virginia’s 13 games this season with a foot injury, but still managed to make the All-Defensive squad.
Bennett said Evans has lived up to everything he had heard during the recruiting process four years ago.
“So many people said he is one of the best on-ball defenders you’ll coach,” Bennett said, “and that’s so important to our system. I said, ‘What a way to get ourselves started with a player like that.’”