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Teel Time: Virginia coach Tony Bennett concedes talent gap but nothing else

Leftovers from Wednesday’s

ACC

basketball media gathering. Simply stir, nuke and enjoy.

* I wasn't at

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Virginia
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coach

Tony Bennett

's table when he said this, but VirginiaSports.com's

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Jeff White
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was.

"For being in our third year, I think we've made the right kind of steps," Bennett said. "We have the right pieces in place. The league always changes. There's great talent in our league. We'll never probably be on equal or better footing than some teams in our league, but that's OK. It's so much about having enough talent and pulling it all together and playing collectively, and that will always be the way we'll have a chance to go beyond.

"I think our players understand that, and I understand that, because if you just get in talent for talent, guy for guy, it probably isn't going to happen. But it's a team game. It's one of the purest team games. That's why I'm coaching it and why I played it."

That, my friends, is someone who gets it. Indeed, the Cavaliers will rarely, if ever, match Duke and

North Carolina

's raw talent. But that doesn't mean Virginia can't compete. All it takes is ingenuity, teamwork and a sage coach.

Sounds like Virginia has the latter.

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* Media voted North Carolina forward

John Henson

the ACC’s defensive player of the year last season, but Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said he wasn’t even the team’s best defender.

According to Ol’ Roy, center

Tyler Zeller

graded out best defensively in more games than any Tar Heel.

“John changes the game more abruptly,” Williams said. “(But) Z is in the right place all the time. John might be in the wrong place, but he still has the ability to block the shot.”

Henson is 6-foot-11 and has extraordinarily long arms. Moreover, he’s quick off his feet, witness his league-best 118 blocked shots last season.

* The ACC staged its 2001 and 2009 basketball tournaments at the Georgia Dome, but when the event returns to Atlanta in March, the venue will be the adjacent and much more compact Philips Arena, home to the

Atlanta Hawks

.

“The feedback we were continually having from our fans throughout the league was the preference for a traditional-sized arena,” commissioner John Swofford said.

* Swofford on why the ACC likely will expand the conference schedule from 16 to 18 games whenever

Syracuse

and

Pittsburgh

arrive: “One of the things as a conference that you want to do as you get bigger in any sport is to play each other as much as is reasonable and possible.”

Hear, hear. Otherwise, it’s not a conference.

* Swofford touted the credentials of the ACC’s first-year coaches:

Miami

’s Jim Larranaga,

North Carolina State

’s Mark Gottfried,

Georgia Tech

’s Brian Gregory and

Maryland

’s

Mark Turgeon

.

That foursome has a combined 19

NCAA tournament

appearances. Larranaga five at

George Mason

, including the 2006 Final Four; Gottfried two at Murray State and five at

Alabama

, including the 2004 Elite Eight with the Crimson Tide; Turgeon one at Wichita State and four at Texas A&M, and Gregory two at Dayton.

Their NCAA tournament records are above-average as well. Gregory is 1-2, Larranaga and Turgeon 5-5, Gottfried 5-7.

“I think it’s going to be fun to watch as they bring a freshness and enthusiasm to our league that is welcome,” Swofford said.

* For the second consecutive year, Duke will lean heavily on a freshman. Last season it was

Kyrie Irving

, this season

Austin Rivers

.

But coach

Mike Krzyzewski

is more enthused with veteran big men Mason and Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.

“I think it’s their time,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m excited about our older guys much more than our younger guys because they’ve put in the time.”

Miles Plumlee is a senior,

Mason Plumlee

and Kelly juniors. All are at least 6-10, but none has averaged in double-figures.

“Can they compete (nationally)?” Krzyzewski said. “We believe they can. … Our (big) guys are going  to be (scorers), which they haven’t been because we were so strong on the perimeter.”

Kelly believes Rivers, whose father, Doc, coaches the

Boston Celtics

, is ready for a leading role.

“We certainly see it in his scoring ability,” Kelly said, “his ability to get by defenders. He’s certainly going to have a transition period, too. He’s figuring out how to defend and when to shoot and when to pass.”

* Virginia point guard Jontel Evans’ minor knee sprain has forced freshman wing Malcolm Brogdon into some quarterbacking duties during practice.

“He’s definitely comfortable with the ball,” senior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “He should be fine at the point. Everybody in our system needs to be able to handle the ball.”

Bennett said Evans twisted his left knee during a non-contact drill and should return to practice soon.

“I was a little concerned it was going to be worse,” Bennett said.

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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