Let me start off by saying that I am a UVA alum and fan who grew up bleeding orange -- my Dad went to Syracuse and I grew up in downstate New York listening to every 'Cuse game on the radio before Boeheim was coach and before the creation of the Big East. I have great memories of those teams, from, the Cohen Headd backcourt to the human pencil (Orr) and human eraser (Bouie).
I went to UVA from 1984 to 1988 and have been a committed fan since despite the team being mostly in the tank since 1996.
This Virginia team is the best since the 1995 team that beat the 5th ranked Kansas Jayhawks on the way to the elite 8.
First, a few notes about some other ACC teams:
Duke lacks depth, hasn't won on the road and I think will be an easier win at the Carrier Dome than forecasted.
UNC is lost an awful.
Pitt has played a weak schedule and has lost their 6th man for the year.
Florida State can't shoot.
The rest of the league lacks the talent to run with the Orange.
Then there's Virginia.
Start with the best freshman point guard in the country not named Ennis. London Perrantes is the epitome of control, with a great handle, superior court vision and a calmness that has meant he never lets the opponent rush his play, which fits in perfectly with the UVA offense, which thrives on patience producing high percentage shots. In 6 ACC games he has 29 assists and 7 turnovers. His scoring has been less consistent but his overall numbers are skewed by a slow start when he wen 2-19 to start the season. He actually has a good shot and can get in the lane.
His backcourt mate, Malcolm Brogdon, is a redshirt sophomore, sitting out last year with an injury after a promising freshman year. He is a very well-rounded player who has been stellar in ACC play, averaging 13 points, 5 boards, 2 steals, 2 assists and shooting 17-19 from the free throw line. At 6' 5" with a wide body, he can shoot the three, drive to the hole and post up smaller guards. By the way, you need to consider that stat line in the context of UVA playing a slow tempo game with relatively few possessions. If UVA played a typical tempo, you could add 15-20% to those stats.
Then there's the two most talented players on the team, both swingmen, Joe Harris and Justin Anderson. After a cool start, Harris has been coming on strong -- he single-handedly beat Duke last year, scoring 36. He has NBA range on his 3-pointer with a quick release and enough height to shoot over a lot of players. He can also drive to the rim and either pull up or take it to the hole, along with the vision to make a good pass. As for Anderson, he has great hops, an NBA body, an improving shot and great tenacity at both ends of the floor. As a freshman last year he was our best player down the stretch.
Which brings us to the frontcourt. Akil Mitchell is an agile and wiry strong 6'8" who is a superior rebounder and defender, with the strength to battle inside or defend on the perimeter. The senior got off to a slow start this season but has averaged more than 9 boards in ACC play. He is deceivingly quick inside, and was a big scorer last year, but this year, with the team having more weapons, he has scored less.
Mike Tobey is a 6'11" sophomore center with good hands and who can shoot inside with either hand. When he is on his game he is hard to stop inside, but his play has been inconsistent and he has had trouble against stronger big men.
Anthony Gill is a 6'8" forward and redshirt sophomore who is a very efficient scorer, shooting 63% from the field and getting to the free throw line with a combination of agility and strength in the paint. Early on he was weak on the defensive end but has since improved.
Those 7 form our core. To that we add Evan Nolte, a 6'7" 3-point specialist, Darion Atkins, a 6'8" physical specimen with great athleticism but somewhat inconsistent play this year, and Teven Jones, a backup point who really only gets in to spell Perrantes and Brogdon.
The sum can be more than the parts. UVA plays what's called a pack line defence. The goal is to always contest the outside shot while clogging the middle and forcing any drivers into the teeth of the defence. Since there are a lot of moving parts, execution is critical, and since UVA has a freshman and 4 sophomores, including two who redshirted last year, it's been a work-in-progress. The same could be said of their offence; UVA isn't used to having this many weapons and it has taken time to adjust.
That adjustment explains a great deal about Virginia's record. In November and December, the team played like a bubble team, beating bad teams but struggling against good ones, ultimately losing to four of the five tougher match-ups they faced. But in January the defence and offence have really stepped up. UVA has won five ACC games by double digits and none were really any contest. Only a few bad bounces at Cameron stood in the way of a 6-0 start.
By the time UVA plays Syracuse their young players will have another 10 games under their belts. And they will be playing in Charlottesville, where Virginia has won 12 in a row at home against ACC teams.
Syracuse is clearly a national title contender and it won't be easy for any team in the ACC to knock them off. But trust me, your biggest challenge will come March 2 at Virginia.