As the return of college basketball quickly approaches, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team is preparing for what could be one of the most challenging and unique seasons in the history of the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cavaliers, just like every other team, have been attempting to navigate through an odd preseason full of new protocols and adjustments, and trying to get ready for the regular season with many aspects still unknown.
In an online question and answer video for a “meet the team” multi-part series, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett discussed this year’s players and some of the challenges they will be facing.
“It’s a challenging time with basketball because it is indoors, there are smaller numbers, officials travel often and we play three or more games a week sometimes,” Bennett said. “So you have some obstacles that remain to be seen.”
Bennett also mentioned that if a player tests positive or is identified to have possibly been exposed through contact tracing, they could miss three or four contests depending on the week because of the frequency of games, and that, unlike college football, there are no open dates for teams to reschedule.
Another difficult aspect Bennett touched on is the mental strain players might experience during the season since they are essentially completely separated from anyone not involved with the team, including friends and family.
Despite the aforementioned challenges associated with this season, the technically reigning national champions are looking to take back the top spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) after finishing fourth last year in what was an up-and-down season.
Virginia welcomes back key players Kihei Clark, Jeff Haus and Tomas Woldetensae from the 2019 team that finished with a 15-5 conference record and 23-7 overall. After sitting out all of last season because of the NCAA rules, Marquette transfer Sam Hauser is expected to play an important role on the wing this season.
“I think this year I’m excited about, at times, the ability to open up the floor with some shooting and hopefully make things easier [for the offense],” Bennett said. “I don’t know if it’s always true, but there is a saying that shooting covers over a multitude of sins.”
Bennett also admitted that he is not sure as of now how this year’s team will fare defensively. Under Bennett’s 11 seasons as head coach, the Cavaliers have become known for playing lockdown, stifling defense, which he admitted won the team some games in 2019.
The Virginia Star reached out to the UVA athletics department for comment, but did not hear back before press time.
In the Associated Press‘ preseason poll released Monday, Virginia is ranked as the #4 team in the country. Fellow ACC schools Duke (9), North Carolina (16) and Florida State (21) also made the top-25 rankings.
College basketball would have normally begun sometime last week, but this year the season was pushed back to November 25th, when the majority of colleges and universities will have already concluded the fall semester and most non-athlete students will be at home.
As of Monday, the Cavaliers only have four non-conference games on its schedule. The team will begin its season on the 25th playing Saint Peter’s University up in Connecticut, before playing Florida two days later.
Virginia then hosts Michigan State as part of the heralded ACC-Big 10 challenge. Finally, the Cavaliers end its non-conference schedule against Villanova at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 19th.
In terms of its conference schedule, nobody, not even Bennett, knows what that will look like yet because the ACC has not released it.
During a recent appearance on the ESPN radio show Packer and Durham, ACC commissioner John Swofford said the league was very close to announcing the schedule, but not quite there yet.
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