With his defense choking out the life of opposing offenses as expected, and his frontcourt providing more production on both ends of the floor than anticipated,
Now, if he can just get his injured starting point guard back on the floor and avoid a holiday season exodus of players like he had last season, Bennett should continue to have plenty to be pleased about heading into 2013.
Bennett said Tuesday guard Jontel Evans, a Bethel High graduate, could conceivably return before U.Va.'s opener in
"He didn't re-break it or anything," said Bennett, whose team has won seven consecutive games after starting 1-2, and plays
"In his case, he was going along pretty well … but just irritated it a little bit where the bone is still healing. But I guess it just shows that it isn't quite fully healed. That's why he'll get X-rayed kind of before every week when finals are done and see where it's at, and possibly could play soon, but we want to be as smart as possible based on his symptoms."
U.Va. (8-2) defeated
Evans (1.5 points and 2.8 assists per game) sat out of the Mississippi Valley State game. If he can't go against Morgan State, redshirt freshman Teven Jones (4.1 points and 2.4 assists per game) and true freshman Taylor Barnette (2.6 points per game) will continue to handle point-guard duties.
"I'm hopeful for all of them as the competition continues to increase to have the ability to be solid-first," said Bennett regarding his point guards. "You don't have to hit home runs. You've just got to do the little things, almost the unnoticeable things. That's what keeps you on the floor, especially early on, and then you kind of earn your rights to play longer and do some more things."
As Evans works his way back on the floor after playing in just four of U.Va.'s first 10 games, Bennett is looking to keep the remaining nucleus of his team healthy. Guard Joe Harris (14.8 points per game) and forwards Akil Mitchell (13.4 points per game) and Darion Atkins (8.4 points per game) have been the offensive leaders, but in keeping with Bennett's defense-first style, U.Va. has made its mark again on the defensive end. Opponents are scoring an ACC-low 50 points per game.
Bennett doesn't anticipate the kind of departures that surprised him and his coaching staff last year in the days leading up to Christmas, when sophomore guard K.T. Harrell and redshirt freshman forward James Johnson both decided to transfer. They were the third and fourth players, respectively, from Bennett's six-player 2010 recruiting class to decide to transfer.
"I think you're always surprised if something happens, maybe you're not shocked anymore (by transfers)," Bennett said.
"You always try to communicate with your guys, encourage them, work with them. There's also the fact that sometimes guys that are going to stay are going to stay and they're going to battle through stuff. Guys that are going to go are probably going to go regardless of what you do."
In addition to keeping opponents off the scoreboard, U.Va. leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense (34.1). It's also second in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (27.8), third in rebounding margin (plus 3.3 per game) and — despite Evans' absence — third in assist-to-turnover margin (1.3 assists for every turnover). U.Va. has held half of its opponents thus far to 45 points or fewer.
Bennett has credited much of his team's fast defensive start to the play of Atkins and Mitchell, who provide athleticism and mobility in the post on the defensive end. Atkins leads the team and is fourth in the ACC in blocks with 18, while Mitchell is tied for second on the team with 10 steals.