Following a break for semester exams and hot chocolate, Tony Bennett's Dribbling Road Show resumes Virginia's lengthiest homestand in 12 years.
The Cavaliers' first game in 10 days comes Friday night at John Paul Jones Arena against an Oregon team that flew across country for one game and will jet home afterward.
Such an arrangement doesn't help the Ducks' carbon footprint, but the game does speak to the jigsaw puzzle that is college basketball scheduling.
Virginia scrambled to assemble some kind of home presence, because its early schedule was so road heavy: California, Maui, the ACC- Big Ten Challenge game at Minnesota, the conference opener at Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers (6-3) wanted to schedule home-and-home series against programs from marquee leagues with the condition that the first game be at Charlottesville. Hence, upcoming home games against Oregon, Iowa State and LSU — teams with which Virginia has no real relationship, other than the fact that they needed non-conference games, as well, and were willing to travel first.
"By being able to schedule some teams that play in major conferences, I think it's a quality game to certainly come and watch," Bennett said. "They're all quality in our opinion, because we fight with everybody we play. But certainly when you're playing the Oregons and those kind of schools, hopefully it will draw some more interest from some of the spectators."
The result is the Cavaliers' longest homestand since the 1998-99 season. Virginia plays eight consecutive home games, from Dec. 7 to its ACC opener against North Carolina on Jan. 8. The Cavs don't hit the road again until a Jan. 15 game at Duke.
The long homestand helps a young team acclimate to hoops and academics. U.Va. wraps up fall semester exams, and Bennett said that several players have finals Friday afternoon, just hours before tipoff.
"In practice, you try to keep pushing," Bennett said. "Certainly get some game situations, because you haven't played in a while. I think Oregon's had a couple of games since we've played, so they'll be a little more match-ready, from that standpoint."
Indeed, Oregon finished exams last week, which also permitted this game at this time. Coach Dana Altman said that the Ducks (7-3) couldn't have traveled such a distance if school were in session. They're playing their first game outside the state of Oregon.
The Ducks won a pair of home games since their exam break, while Virginia has sought improvement solely through its makeshift practice schedule.
"We've been using different slots of time just to fit around their test times and trying to make the most of it, and gauge it with quality in practice," Bennett said. "Nothing changes. You look at how sound are they being, are they understanding how we have to play. Trying to work on some skill work and individual work."
In Oregon, the Cavaliers face an opponent that's also attempting a culture change. Bennett is in the second year of installing a defense-first system that often results in a temperate pace. Altman, a quality strategist who had a lengthy run at Creighton, is in his first season in Eugene, implementing full-court defensive pressure that aims to goose tempo and increase opponents' discomfort.
Like Bennett, Altman is familiar with the growing pains that can accompany a new regime. Bennett saw three players leave the program after his first season, which depleted the roster and resulted in the present six-man freshman class.
Altman had four players transfer or turn professional before his first practice. A couple of late recruits leave the Ducks with only 10 scholarship players. It's not ideal for a team that wants to press and play up-tempo, but Altman said he's been pleased with the effort and how well the remaining players have acclimated to his system.
Oregon also is undersized — its tallest regulars are 6-foot-7 — so the full-court pressure and go-go pace can offset that deficiency.
Virginia was sped up and flummoxed in a 106-63 loss to Oregon's Pac-10 brother, Washington, in Maui. Bennett said that the Ducks will show what the Cavs learned from that game.
Bennett and Altman impart similar messages to their players: Don't worry about wins and losses; work to improve every day; the primary expectation is to compete.
It's a message that comes from coaches with successful systems and who have long-term contracts and lengthy honeymoon phases.
They can schedule a little more ambitiously and take more chances, without immediate repercussions for their records.
"Continue to try to play a challenging schedule," Bennett said, "to play these kinds of teams, bring in quality name, quality opponent to John Paul Jones, and obviously we'll go there, and continue to test ourselves for preparation for the conference season."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times