Tommy Keeler Jr.: Cavs in good position

Tommy Keeler Jr.

The University of Virginia men’s basketball team had a great season last year, and indications are that this season will be even better.

The Cavaliers are still undefeated, something they weren’t at this time last year, and they shouldn’t have any more big tests for the remainder of the month.

Virginia is doing exactly what I thought it would, and doing exactly the way everyone expected — with defense.

It would have been easy for the Cavaliers to have come out of the gates a little slow, or get a little cocky after last year’s successes. It’s clear coach Tony Bennett has kept them motivated and focused.

The Cavaliers have already beaten then-ranked No. 21 Maryland, 76-65, and in-state rival VCU, 74-57. Both of those wins have come in the last week, and were the only real tests early in the season. I’d say the Cavaliers and their fans have a lot to be excited about.

Not surprisingly, the Cavaliers rank second in points allowed per game, yielding just 47.4 a contest. They are also 21st in defensive rebounding with 28.7 per game and 41st in offensive rebounding (40.2 per game).

Those numbers are close to what they were last season, when the Cavs had one of the best defenses in the country. I felt like what could be different for them this season would be the offense.

Statistically, the numbers look somewhat similar to last year on offense. Virginia is ranked 173rd in the country in points per game at 68.7. However, that number is skewed by a 45-26 victory over Rutgers.

The Cavaliers have scored over 70 points in five of their nine wins. They haven’t reached 80 points, but have scored 79 a few times.

Junior guard Justin Anderson leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.8 points per game. Junior forward Anthony Gill is averaging 13.0 points per game, while junior guard Malcolm Brogdon has 12.6 per contest. I think that’s pretty good balance for the Cavaliers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one more player reach double figures this season.

I think the offense will only get better as the season goes on, and certainly it will get tougher and tougher for them to keep playing the defense they’ve been playing when they get to ACC play.

Much like last year the Cavaliers are playing good team ball, sharing the ball and working together. It’s not the most exciting brand of basketball to watch, but it is effective.

The bottom line is picking up wins, and the Cavaliers are certainly doing that. They are 9-0 and ranked No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 6 in the AP Poll.

The Cavaliers are off to a great start, but they still have to navigate a very tough ACC schedule. Virginia plays at No. 20 Miami on Jan. 3 in the Cavaliers’ next big test. They also have games against No. 25 Notre Dame, No. 2 Duke, No. 21 North Carolina and No. 4 Louisville.

Virginia is lucky with the schedule, in that of all the current Top 25 teams the Cavaliers only play Louisville twice.

I don’t think the Cavaliers will win the ACC regular season and tournament titles again this year, but they will certainly be contenders. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see them win either one of the titles, but I don’t think anyone will sweep the titles this season (yes, not even my beloved Duke Blue Devils).

Playing in the ACC certainly will help the Cavaliers be prepared for the NCAA Tournament, and anything can happen in March. The Cavaliers made a nice run last year in March, and I think they are poised to make it even a little further this season. After another mediocre football season, the remainder of the basketball season should at least provide U.Va. fans something to get excited about.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com