ACC All Access: Return of Mike Tobey is a positive development for Virginia's Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins

Mike Tobey still looked like he was moving in slow motion at times as he ran up and down the John Paul Jones Arena court Sunday in Virginia’s 82-54 win against Georgia Tech.

It didn’t matter. Just the fact he was on the floor in the first place provided a serious boost for U.Va.’s outlook.

“I get a break every once in a while,” said U.Va. forward Akil Mitchell regarding what the 6-foot-11 Tobey’s return means for him. “I can afford a foul here and there. I don’t have to guard a 7-footer every night. He does so much more than that. He’s getting buckets. He’s scoring. When he’s locked in, he’s doing well on the defensive end, too. He’s a huge addition.”

Tobey, a freshman forward, missed five games while struggling with mononucleosis. In his return, he played 15 minutes off the bench, chipping in with seven points and four rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. He was 3 of 7 shooting from the floor, including a 3-pointer with 2:06 remaining that pushed U.Va.’s lead to 80-52 and brought the Cavaliers’ faithful to their feet.

Tobey will need more time to get back into the kind of shape that made him such a weapon off the bench from Dec. 30 through Jan. 29, when he averaged 9.3 points and four rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game.

Yet, his presence provides U.Va. with some much needed frontcourt depth, especially heading into Thursday’s important home game against No. 3 Duke (24-3 overall, 11-3 ACC). All big bodies capable of keeping 6-10 senior forward Mason Plumlee from crushing U.Va. in the low post will be welcomed by the Cavaliers, who was 73rd in Ratings Percentage Index projections as of early Monday evening.

U.Va. (19-8, 9-5 ACC) are 6-2 against teams rated among the RPI top 80, but the Cavaliers also have six losses against teams rated 140th or worse in the RPI. A win against Duke, which is No. 1 in the RPI, would obviously go a long way toward making U.Va. a more attractive at-large candidate for the NCAA tournament selection committee.

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Tobey’s reintroduction to U.Va.’s rotation for the first time since Feb. 3, when he played nine slow minutes in U.Va.’s 66-60 loss at Georgia Tech, is a positive development for both Mitchell and injured forward Darion Atkins.

U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said Atkins, who didn’t play Sunday against Georgia Tech, is still struggling to shake the lingering effects of a stress reaction in his right shin. He hasn’t played more than 11 minutes in a game since Jan. 12 at Clemson, and he has sat out six of U.Va.’s last 11 games.

With Tobey back, Bennett said Atkins can be brought along slower so he has a better chance to get healthy and stay healthy without having to play minutes for U.Va. out of necessity. As for Tobey, who is averaging 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game this season, Bennett thought he saw flashes of the player Sunday that provided a fearless offensive spark for U.Va. prior to his illness.

“He wasn’t bashful when he got his hands on the ball,” Bennett said. “Mike’s got a scoring mentality. It was good. I can hear my dad’s words in my ear saying ‘Get some lead in your pencil’ whenever I shoot and I leave it on the front of the rim. I think (Tobey) looked a little leg-weary, and needed a little more energy. I thought those were good minutes for him, good action. There’s a pace and a timing when you’re in a game that’s a little different than practice, and he’s only had two practices (before returning Sunday).”

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