Note: We thought we'd get you prepared for tonight's ACC/Big Ten Challenge game between the University of Virginia and the Golden Gophers by asking UVA blogger Rob Mahini of the The Good Ol' Blog a handful of questions about the Cavaliers. We answered questions for The Good Ol' Blog as well and will link to those when they are published. This takes the place of the daily links post for the day. Many thanks, Rob!
1) This is the fourth year (I think) that Dave Leitao has had the reigns of the UVA program. Are Cavs fans pleased with what he has done? What are his perceived strengths and weaknesses? Has he met expectations since his hire?
For some fans, they are still patient given that Leitao's first few years were still heavily influenced by the Pete Gillen era of poor defense and undeveloped talent. Of course, Gillen also gave Leitao Sean Singletary, J.R. Reynolds, and Jason Cain -- so it wasn't all bad. But, there's a sense that, once Singletary was alone last year, the cupboard was pretty bare in the supporting roles.
However, there's some grumbling now. This is his fourth year, and it's likely to be his third subpar season. Having a rebuilding year is one thing, but losing to Liberty is quite another. We all knew that this one would be a tough one given the youth on the team, so next season will be the critical season for Dave.
2) The Cavs were 5-11 last year in the ACC and an uninspiring 17-16 overall. The team lost senior leader Sean Singleton to graduation. So, what are the expectations for the 2008-09 Cavaliers?
The Cavs were picked to finish dead last in the ACC, and they are living up to that prediction so far with close wins and a loss against the tune-up part of the schedule. If Virginia makes it to the NIT, it would be a major miracle. So, we're just hoping for some positive player development and some signs of progress for next season. The near-upset of Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in the last game may have been the first positive signs yet this season.
3) What should Minnesota fans expect from UVA in terms of style of play? Does Leitao push the ball? Does he play pressure defense? Zones?
On offense, Virginia has recently been a Singletary-or-bust team. This year, the team is trying to use more of its parts. When the offense is doing well, the squad will move the ball more effectively using point guard Sam Zeglinski, feeding the post and getting open shots off set plays. Sounds pretty basic, but that's where the Hoos are right about now: just trying to nail down the basics. And, of course, a heavy dose of true freshman guard Sylvan Landesberg, who has quickly become Virginia's key offensive threat.
On defense, which is ironically Leitao's calling card, Virginia has struggled the past couple years. He likes to emphasize aggressive and physical play in the interior and on the wings, and he will likely rely on inside shot blocking from the towering senior Tunji Soroye and true freshman Assane Sene. You'll see some zones from time-to-time, but expect a standard man defense for most of the game. Or, you'll see Virginia stand around confused while the Gopher's shoot lights out.
4) Freshman Sylven Landesberg seems to really be leading UVA. He's playing 32 minutes per game and averaging 20 points. Impressive for a freshman. Can you tell us about his game?
Sylven is definitely the future, and has all the offensive tools to be the next big star for the Hoos. He a smooth, gliding player that can also abruptly pull-up with a very quick shot and drill a perimeter shot if the defender isn't on top of him. He also very good at driving and scoring as well, with a knack to find the hoop in traffic. And as he draws attention, he's able to find his teammates as well. So, he's a tough guy to guard, since he's capable of hurting a defense in multiple ways.
5) If you were an opposing coach, how would you attack UVA? Would you pound the ball inside? Would you apply defensive pressure and try and create turnovers? What are opponents doing when they have success against the Cavs?
The match-up zone gave Virginia problems with feeding the post and getting open looks in the early season games, so I'd bet that any coach will be looking at this defensive alignment against the Hoos. On defense, the Hoos have struggled with switching up to protect the perimeter against high-octane teams. The interior is adequately guarded with the big guys, so more success will come to teams that can burn the Hoos from the outside. And given that this is a young team, any defensive pressure could certainly lead to some untimely turnovers.
6) Finally, UVA just lost to Liberty. We offer our apologies. How did that happen?
Liberty stymied Virginia's offense with a troublesome zone, and destroyed the Hoos' defense with pinpoint perimeter shooting. As Leitao said after that game, Virginia was "flirting with disaster" in all of its previous games, though, so it was just a matter of time before one of these teams broke through and nailed the Hoos with an embarrassing loss.