Virginia is a perfect example of parity

January, 14, 2010
The national picture is shaping up like this:

Tier 1 is Texas, Kentucky and Kansas. Tier 2 likely includes Villanova, Syracuse, Michigan State, Duke, Purdue and possibly a few others at your discretion. Tier 3 includes a list that continues for roughly 30 spots or more.

And guess which team is in the last collection? Virginia.

Yes, the Cavs; a team that, along with NC State, was picked to finish at the bottom of the ACC.

At 2-0, Virginia is the only undefeated team remaining in the conference after beating Georgia Tech at home Wednesday night. "We've got work to do," said coach Tony Bennett -- in his first season in Charlottesville after a successful run at Washington State -- on Thursday. "We're just two games in. We can't get too high, and we can't get too low. We're just plugging along."

But wait a minute.

Bennett has never been one to promote himself or his squad. Take a look at Virginia as a test case for how much parity there is in the game this season. It's going to be difficult for the selection committee in March.

Virginia beat Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech beat Duke. Virginia beat NC State on the road. NC State won at Florida State. Virginia beat UAB. UAB beat Butler and Cincinnati at home. Virginia beat Oral Roberts. ORU beat New Mexico and Missouri at home. Virginia beat Rider, which won at Mississippi State.

"Isn't this the trend in college basketball?" Bennett asked. "Parity has crept in, and there are a handful of teams that are really good and for the rest there is a fine line. There is a small margin for error. We were down 10 to NC State. We were fortunate against Georgia Tech."

Of course you're going to pick apart their losses (at South Florida convincingly; in Cancun to Stanford by five, which prevented the Cavs from getting a power-rating shot at Kentucky; by three to Penn State; and at the buzzer to awful Auburn on the road.)

But that's the point.

All these teams have warts and decent wins. Why not toss Virginia into the mix and see how the Cavs do from this point forward? "I do know this group is coachable, and they have some ACC games under their belt," Bennett said. "Having a little bit of success helps."

Bennett didn't walk into a barren landscape at Virginia. He has Sylven Landesberg, one of the top scorers in the ACC at 17.4 points a game. Landesberg scored 22 points, was 9-of-9 at the free throw line and had five assists with six boards against the Yellow Jackets. But the Cavs are getting some balance, too, with Mike Scott contributing 12 points, guard Sammy Zeglinski making a pair of 3s and Mustapha Farrakhan contributing 15 off the bench in the victory.

What has changed quickly is how much the Cavaliers players trust Bennett now. The trust and comfort level the Washington State players had with Bennett was easy to build, since he recruited them.

But these were Dave Leitao's players. They had to be reconditioned to love defense, to deal with the same tired drills every day and to enjoy playing defense before they could accept more freedom offensively. "There were certain things that I won't budge on," Bennett said. "But it's not new anymore. They know me. I know them."

Virginia assistant Ritchie McKay said he has never been around a coach as consistent as Bennett. But he said it did take some time for the players to get used to the drills. "The Bennetts know defensive basketball and taking care of the basketball," McKay said. "We're more transition-oriented here. Tony deserves a lot of the credit for us being 10-4."

McKay said the low expectations have actually worked for UVA. The players aren't feeling the pressure. But now they are seeing the repetitions of drills paying off after they weren't thrilled to do another close-out or driving-line drill. "After we beat UAB and now Georgia Tech, there are smiles abounding," McKay said. "We're having fun. You can tell Tony is doing a great job. We're not going to win them all, but we're not going to beat ourselves [they had only seven turnovers in the win over Georgia Tech]."

Don't expect the Cavs to win at Clemson or North Carolina. But every other game on the schedule is open for debate. The Cavs could be in play in all of them, or they could lose the rest of their ACC games. It's that balanced and that open. If you look at other teams around the country, they are in similar predicaments. In March, there will be a number of teams around the nation wondering just how much better the teams selected above them were when they had similar wins and possibly just as many comparable losses.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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