A sneak peak preview of all 31 Arizona opponents continues with an inside look at the Virginia Cavaliers.
School: University of Virginia Cavaliers
Location: Charlottesville, VA
Conference: Atlantic Coast
Last Season: 21-11 overall, 11-5 ACC (t-1st)
Last Meeting: 2006, Arizona lost 93-90 @ Virginia
Next Meeting: McKale Center, November 17, 2007
Head coach Dave Leitao has done an incredible job at Virginia in his first two seasons. Prior to his arrival, the Cavaliers had played in five of the last six postseason NIT's. Last season, his squad of undersized athletes excelled in and out of conference thanks to the talented backcourt duo of J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary. Reynolds is gone to graduation but Singletary is back for what should be a stellar senior campaign. Singletary has been named to the All-ACC team two years running and is the leading candidate at point guard for a third straight honor. Joining him in recognition was Leitao who was named the 2006-07 ACC Coach of the Year.
In addition to losing Reynolds, Virginia also lost post player Jason Cain who led the team with 6.3 rebounds per game last season. Under Leitao, Virginia has compensated for their lack of size with an unparalleled intensity on the defensive end. The fact that Reynolds and Cain were two of the team's best defenders is an obvious concern.
The Cavaliers will again be a predominately perimeter-oriented team on offense and will utilize a combination of Singletary's slashing ability with a host of sharp shooters that should give opponents fits when they're making shots. One player who will pose defensive match up problems for opponents is 6-7 forward Adrian Joseph. Joseph filled the sixth man role last season, providing firepower from long range (42 3PTS made). His quickness and athleticism also enabled him to defend lengthy guards at the two-spot, as well as quick small forwards. Singletary and Joseph will get help from 6-5 junior Mamadi Diane. The small forward saw action in every game last season (9.6 ppg) and could see more time at shooting guard this year.
Three exciting freshman join the team this year, headlined by Monsignor Bonney High School star Jeff Jones. Jones was ranked the No. 17 shooting guard in the nation by most recruiting sites, averaging 22.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Jones is expected to be in the rotation this season. Fellow freshman Mustapha Farrakahn and Sammy Zeglinksi are also expected to play, although sparingly. The 6-4 Farrakahn will provide depth at shooting guard while 6-0 Zeglinski is a stereotypical point guard who now has the opportunity to learn from the best in the business for one full season. Actually, the education process may have begun sooner for Zeglinski who attended the same high school (William Penn Charter School) as Singletary.
Will Harris and Jamil Tucker will battle for the low post vacancy left by Cain. Neither player is taller than 6-8 but both possess the skills that will enable them to float out to the perimeter and score from outside. Again, this will make the Cavaliers very difficult to defend at times. According to Leitao, the most promising low post player for Virginia might be incoming freshman Mike Scott. He too is extremely athletic, can shoot from the inside and is also a very capable ball handler. More importantly, though, Scott is a very physical player who will use his 6-8 frame to create space down low. Overall, Virginia is thin inside the paint. They have players who can bang such as Laurynas Mikalauskas, Tunji Soroye and Ryan Pettinella, but all lack game experience. The hope is these players see enough action in non-conference games to prepare them to succeed by the time they open ACC play at Duke on Jan. 13.
Overall, the Cavaliers will be hard-pressed to match last season's success. Their non-conference schedule on paper does not appear to be overly difficult but home games against Vermont, Drexel, Penn, Syracuse and Hampton are not as easy as people may think. Fortunately, their only road games are a neutral-site contest against Howard in Philadelphia (Philly Classic), at Arizona, and at Xavier. Leitao says that although this team lacks experience they have greater depth at all positions as opposed to last year and that should help in rotating players in and out of the game. This will allow them to focus their attention and energy on the defensive end, which is a Leitao-team trademark. When you consider that Singletary could arguably be the best point guard in the nation and that Leitao is one heckuvah coach, it won't be surprising if this team still finds a way to turn some heads this season.
WHEN THEY FACE ARIZONA
Chance of winning: 35%
Two things factor into this game and both could pose problems for Arizona. One, McKale is an incredibly friendly arena to shoot in. This could help Virginia's outside shooters find their comfort zone if the Wildcats are doing a poor job in rotating their help defense and closing out on shooters. Two, despite Arizona's talented backcourt, Jerryd Bayless and Nic Wise are both inexperienced at playing the point at the D-I level. This is not to say that neither will be able to raise their games against Singletary but for now, the odds are against them this early in the season. The X-factor in the point guard match up could be the defensive play of Arizona senior Daniel Dillon off the bench.
In last year's game Singletary only shot 5-14 from the field. However, he was extremely disruptive in his ability to breakdown Wildcat defenders and get to the rim almost at will, converting 13 of 14 free throws. The presence of a healthy Kirk Walters in the middle may make Singletary think twice this time around, but how many minutes Walters will be able to log remains in doubt. On offense, the Wildcats have a clear advantage with the experienced and healthy Jawann McClellan poised for a strong senior season and the tough defensive match up Chase Budinger will present when the Wildcats have the ball. Add to the mix the scoring abilities of both Bayless and Wise at the point, and the inside athleticism of Jordan Hill and the emerging duo of Fendi Onobun and Mohamed Tangara, and the Wildcats should be able to put enough points on the scoreboard to win.
Early Prediction: UA 79 VIRGINIA 66