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Bennett Ball Week 2: Cavaliers aren't pretty, but they're gritty

“It’s not always gonna be pretty, but it has to be gritty.”

That’s what Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said when describing his team’s play and identity through the first two games of the season.

It’s an accurate description.

Through two contests, the Cavaliers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) look anything but pretty. They’ve shot 8-of-50 from the 3-point line, but they’re playing exceptional defense through two contests. Virginia held both Syracuse and James Madison to 34 points in dominant defensive performances.

This Virginia team’s identity is slowly taking shape, and it looks like a defensive juggernaut with the need for offensive improvement, especially when it comes to shooting jumpers. While casual basketball fans may avert their eyes from the low-scoring games, UVa fans love them some Pack Line defense.

Through two games, UVa opponents can barely drive into the paint, and they’re settling for contested 3-point attempts.

The first two games are vintage Bennett Ball, and the ‘Hoos enter the AP Top 10 this week after winning their first two games.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ newest mascot would be proud of Virginia’s first two performances, and that’s not because they were pretty.

Hoos in the NBA

Former Virginia players continue to impact the NBA. Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris lead the way as the program’s top active NBA players. Kyle Guy recently began his G-League season, and De’Andre Hunter remains a member of the Atlanta Hawks’ rotation.

Malcolm Brogdon – Brogdon remains hot for the Indiana Pacers. Through 10 games, Brogdon is averaging 20.8 points, 8.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. He’s been arguably the best player on the floor for the Pacers all year, and he’s finding ways to score and involve his teammates. It’s still early in the year, but Brogdon looks like a legitimate All-Star candidate.

Joe Harris – Through nine games, Harris is shooting 50% on 3-point shots, which would be the highest mark of his career if the season ended today. With 73 games left in the Nets’ season, it’s premature to assume he’ll shoot 50% from beyond the arc all season, but he did shoot 47% from downtown last year. He’s averaging 13.7 points per contest, and he’s playing over 30 minutes per game. He’s not Kyrie Irving, but Harris remains an important piece of the Nets’ plan.

Mike Scott – Scott’s 76ers are 6-3 to start the season, and he’s one of the better shooters coming off the team’s bench. He averages seven points and 17.6 minutes per game. His offensive rating of 118 illustrates his value, as that would be the highest mark of his career if the season ended today. He’s a good scorer and he adds a dangerous weapon off the bench for a team with championship aspirations.

Devon Hall – Hall is on a two-way contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he’s yet to see the floor for the Thunder or the Oklahoma City Blue, which is the Thunder’s G-League squad.

De’Andre Hunter – Atlanta has struggled through nine games, going 3-6. Hunter has also experienced some growing pains in his rookie season. Hunter averages 8.9 points per game, but he’s shooting just 28.6% from the 3-point line. Nine games is a small sample size, and it’s likely the shots will start to fall more consistently for the first-year pro.

Kyle Guy – Guy’s professional career is underway. As a two-way player, he’s starting his career in the G-League with the Stockton Kings. Through two games, Guy is averaging 23.5 points per game. He hasn’t been shy about shooting, as he’s put up 44 shots through two contests.

Ty Jerome – Still battling an ankle injury, Jerome has yet to make his NBA debut for the Phoenix Suns. He’ll play at some point, but the Suns won’t rush him back from the injury.

ACC roundup

ACC basketball teams must have watched Coastal Division football in the months leading up to the season, because recent results left me scratching my head.

Pittsburgh opened the season with a home win over Florida State. The Panthers then proceeded to lose to Nicholls State, which went 14-17 last year. Florida State rebounded with a 63-51 win over a Florida team that was ranked in the AP Top 10. College basketball is unpredictable, but those results are puzzling. It’s shaping up to be a wild year in the ACC.

At the top of the conference, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia are all 2-0 to open the season. Duke beat Kansas to pick up a major nonconference win on opening night, while Louisville, UNC and Virginia all have ACC wins under their belt.

On paper, and through two games on the court, those four teams seem like the most likely teams to contend for an ACC regular-season title.

Boston College, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech also are 2-0 with 1-0 ACC records. Syracuse (0-1), which lost to Virginia in the season opener, is the only ACC team yet to win a game.

By the numbers

Offensively, the Cavaliers’ stats look ugly through the first two games of the year. Defensively, Virginia is rolling. Let’s take a closer look at Virginia’s top statistics from the first two games of the season.

» Virginia held Syracuse to its fewest points since a 1945 game against Sampson Navy.

» Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff and Braxton Key have outscored Virginia’s opponents 74-68.

» Despite poor 3-point shooting from the team, Diakite, Huff and Key have combined to shoot 34-of-56 (60.7%) from the field.

» Virginia has as many games (two) shooting under 20% from the 3-point line as it did all of last season. The Cavaliers are 4-of-25 from 3-point range in each game this season

» Virginia has shot under 20% from the 3-point line 17 times since the start of the 2014-15 season. The Cavaliers are still 11-6 in those games despite the poor shooting

» Kihei Clark’s 13 assists match the total number of assists from Virginia opponents

Virginia men’s basketball game against UNC moved to Dec. 8

The ACC announced Tuesday that the Virginia men’s basketball team’s home game against North Carolina will be played on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 4 p.m.

The game was originally scheduled for Dec. 7, but the option to flex the game to Dec. 8 was left open should the UVa football team qualify for the ACC title game.

Per a Virginia press release, previously issued tickets for the game will keep their Dec. 7 date, and fans will be allowed into the arena with those tickets. There is no additional action needed.

With the Cavaliers’ football team still in the thick of the ACC Coastal Division race, the ACC made the decision to move the game to Dec. 8. A win over Virginia Tech in the season finale clinches Virginia’s spot in the conference championship game, although there are still scenarios where the Cavaliers lose to the Hokies and win the Coastal.

The ACC football championship takes place Saturday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.

Virginia’s basketball game with the Tar Heels on Dec. 8 will be televised by the ACC Network.

Meet the Virginia men's basketball team's freshmen

Tony Bennett develops players about as well as any coach in the country. Virginia’s head coach takes redshirt freshmen and turns them into professional caliber players during their few years in Charlottesville.

While this year’s team relies heavily on upperclassmen like Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff, who have developed under Bennett, a few freshmen find themselves in critical roles for this UVa team. Casey Morsell played 52 minutes in the team’s first two contests, and he’s an important asset in the backcourt.

Morsell appears to be in line for the most playing time of any UVa freshman, but two of the remaining four freshmen have played this season, and redshirt freshman Francisco Caffaro should play when returning from injury. Kadin Shedrick is expected to redshirt this season.

Upperclassmen will carry the team this year, but the current freshmen will soon become the future of the program.

Casey Morsell, guard

A highly touted recruit, Morsell doesn’t look like a freshmen. He’s built like an upperclassman, and he plays perimeter defense like a veteran. He’s quick, scrappy and disciplined. He’s quickly picked up the Pack Line defense, and he doesn’t skip a beat on the defensive end.

Offensively, Morsell is still developing. He’s 1-of-15 shooting through two games, and he’s 1-of-11 on 3-point shots. He went 0-of-9 from the floor in the win over James Madison.

His shot appears fundamentally sound, he just hasn’t looked completely confident on the offensive end as the shots keep missing through two games.

“Casey, he’s looked better in the scrimmages,” Bennett said after the JMU win. “A little bit deer in the headlights, which is normal for first-years in these spots.”

With the ACC opener and the home opener out of the way, it’s likely Morsell will start settling into the college game, and the shots will eventually drop. In the meantime, he’ll likely continue playing stellar defense on the perimeter.

Justin McKoy, forward

McKoy scored his first collegiate points in the win over JMU, finishing the night with four points on 2-of-4 shooting. The North Carolina product brings decent size to the frontcourt — he’s 6-foot-8 — and he brings toughness to the defensive end. He’s also a solid rebounder.

While most players live for game days, McKoy relishes going up against players like Diakite, Huff and Braxton Key during practice.

“I love practice,” McKoy said at Virginia’s media day. “It feels like it flies by. We’ll go for like two hours, and I’m like, “Already?’ It’s fun.”

Bennett notices McKoy’s effort in practice.

“Real good motor, continuous,” Bennett said at Virginia media day. “He’s aggressive. He just plays really hard and works.”

McKoy said Diakite teaches him frequently, taking him aside after practice to explain different elements of the system to help McKoy improve his game.

Chase Coleman, guard

Coleman, a walk-on from Norfolk, likely won’t see a ton of action in his first season, but he’s a quick guard who plays defense well and offers quickness and versatility on the offensive end. Despite not receiving major minutes out of the backcourt and walking on to join the program, Coleman says he’s found his highly recruited teammates to be incredibly accepting of him and appreciative of his role and commitment to the team.

“Everyone treats me like I’m a player, like I’m an athlete and like I matter,” Coleman said.

The freshman guard admitted he isn’t as muscular as players like Kihei Clark or Morsell, but he uses his basketball IQ to break free from the athletic perimeter defenders during practice.

Coleman watches Rajon Rondo of the Los Angeles Lakers to learn crafty passing moves, and he aims to be a defensive pest like Patrick Beverley of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Coleman’s bio on UVa’s website says the point guard wants to coach college basketball one day. Learning from Bennett puts Coleman well on his way toward that goal.

Kadin Shedrick, forward

At 6-11 and 214 pounds, Shedrick is raw. He’s an elite athlete who averaged a double-double his senior year of high school in North Carolina. He features a wingspan of about 7-foot-5. There’s a base to work with, but Shedrick still needs time to develop.

“He’s rangy, he’s mobile, shot blocker,” Bennett said. “Pretty good motor on him, he’s just got to get stronger … he’s just scratching the surface.”

Shedrick is expected to redshirt this season before taking on a larger role later in his career. He’s a player who shot up recruiting boards after developing tremendously during his final two years of high school. He’s hoping to make a similar leap in the coming years at Virginia.

Francisco Caffaro, forward

Currently injured, Caffaro adds a second 7-footer to the roster to go with Huff. Caffaro draws comparisons to former UVa forward Jack Salt from his teammates and coaches. He enjoys physical play, and he serves as a valuable frontcourt reserve. Once he returns to the lineup, he can spell Diakite and Huff and act as a physical enforcer on the floor.

The Argentinian is the only freshman not from the United States. He’s played for Argentina in five different FIBA tournaments, and he scored 22 points against Team USA at the FIBA under 18 Americas Championship.

He adds rebounding ability to the bench, as he’s rebounded well in his FIBA tournament action thanks to his size and strength. He makes Virginia’s frontcourt stronger and deeper when he’s available to play.

The road ahead

Virginia’s next game comes against an interesting Columbia team. The Lions (0-2) nearly beat Wake Forest the last time out, losing 65-63 on a last-second shot from the Demon Deacons. They also lost their season opener 65-63, falling to Lafayette.

Mike Smith is the team’s top offensive threat. He averages 22.5 points per game, and he’s the only Columbia player averaging double figures.

After Columbia, UVa faces by far the toughest mid-major team on its schedule when Vermont comes to town next Tuesday. The Catamounts opened the season with a pair of road wins, and Anthony Lamb offers an elite scoring threat at the small forward position. He only played 19 minutes in a 66-63 win over Bucknell due to foul trouble, but he still managed to score 20 points.

Vermont plays in the America East, and it made the NCAA Tournament last season. The Catamounts were tied with Florida State at halftime before falling by seven points.

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