When Tony Bennett became the head basketball coach at the University of Virginia, people wondered whether or not his physical style of play would translate to success in the ACC.
Four years later, Bennett appears to have the Cavaliers on track to becoming one of the best teams in the conference.
The 2012-13 season got off to a rocky start for UVA. The Cavaliers lost their opening game of the season to George Mason, struggled to a victory over Fairfield and suffered a loss to Delaware. At 1-2, it didn't look like a positive sign of things to come for Tony Bennett and his team.
However, Virginia began the year without a point guard. Due to injuries to Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon and a suspension of Teven Jones, the Cavaliers struggled to initiate any sort of offense—something they don't excel at even with a full complement of players.
But after a difficult start, things appear to have turned around for the University of Virginia.
Tony Bennett has five freshmen averaging over 12 minutes per game and becoming more comfortable with Bennett's unique style of tempo. Joe Harris has become one of the best players in the ACC that no one is talking about. Also, Jontel Evans and Akil Mitchell finally appear to be healthy for the first time this season.
The Cavaliers defeated North Carolina in their ACC opener this past Sunday night, and the rest of the league should take notice. This looks to be a down year for the Tar Heels, but UVA is a team that can make anyone look bad.
Virginia currently leads the league in defense, allowing just 50.8 points per game. Their ability to slow a game down and force the opposition to be patient gives them an opportunity to keep any game close.
In what many are considering a down year for the ACC, this could be a season with Virginia near the top of the conference standings. They, likely, do not have the talent to compete for the conference championship, but finishing in the top three is not out of the question.
The Cavaliers are currently 11-3, with their next five games coming against Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, Boston College and Virginia Tech. The 'Hoos have won 10 of their last 11, and have built some great momentum to begin ACC play.
If they can win the next five games, they will be 6-0 in conference. They could earn a spot in the Top 25, setting up showdown against N.C. State on January 29. That game could be a huge statement as to whether or not the Cavaliers are a contender or pretender.
Tony Bennett has Virginia going in the right direction. Now, we'll see if he can guide them to the top of the ACC.
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