Mike Scott embodied the growing pains, and inconsistency, Virginia experienced in coach Tony Bennett's first season.
The 6-foot-8 forward was excellent some games and all but invisible in others.
"It's always mental with me," Scott said. "It's the whole mentality of the game. If I'm not scoring, try to bring something else to the table. Last year, I was just thinking about trying to score, instead of passing the ball, playing defense, getting boards."
Scott's numbers were decent — 12 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, 50.5-percent field goal shooting — but his statistical averages were grossly misleading because of dramatic swings from game to game.
Consider that he had nine games of at least 15 points and 11 games of at least nine rebounds. But he also goose-egged consecutive games late in the season against Miami and Duke.
In the final regular season game against Maryland, he had two points and one rebound in 15 minutes. Three days earlier, against Boston College, he had a solid 13 points and nine rebounds.
"I was taking myself out of the game," Scott said. "I think I've gotten more mature. I just look at it a better way."
As one of three seniors and the leading returning scorer, Scott has had to assume a greater leadership role for a team with seven freshmen.
"I talk to the whole team," Scott said, "but basically our returners know what we're supposed to do. But freshmen, they've never been in this situation before, so I'm definitely talking to them, getting to know them and making sure they're getting better and learning. I feel like I have to."
Cavaliers at a glance
Coach: Tony Bennett (15-16 in one year at Virginia; 84-49 in four years overall).
Last year: 15-16, 5-11 ACC, lost to Duke in quarterfinals of ACC tournament.
The opener: Nov. 12 vs. William and Mary, 7 p.m.
Five games to watch: Dec. 5 at Virginia Tech, 6 p.m.; Dec. 17 vs. Oregon, 8 p.m.; Jan. 8 vs. North Carolina, noon; Feb. 16 vs. Duke, 7 p.m.; Feb. 19 vs. Virginia Tech, 1 p.m.
1. What's the team's strength? Forward Mike Scott (12 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is the top returning scorer and appears capable of correcting last season's wildly inconsistent stretches. Backcourt depth with Sammy Zeglinski (8.9 ppg) – provided he recovers fully from knee surgery – Mustapha Farrakhan (6.5 ppg) and Jontel Evans (2.4 ppg), as well as a couple of the freshmen. A diverse freshman class gives Bennett some lineup flexibility.
2. What's the team's weakness? Inexperience and lack of established scorers. Six freshmen and only six returners from the ACC's lowest-scoring team mean growing pains at both ends of the floor. The Cavaliers aren't equipped to play the kind of defense Bennett demands, nor be as efficient on offense as he requires.
3. What's the team's outlook for the ACC? If not the cellar, certainly somewhere near the bottom. Duke is the overwhelming favorite, and Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina and N.C. State figure to challenge. After that, a combination of new coaches and personnel turnover mean the last six places are up for grabs.
4. What's the best-case scenario? Zeglinski recovers fully and quickly. The team makes enough perimeter shots so that opponents cannot collapse on Scott. Three or four of the freshmen contribute significantly. They avoid the pitfalls that contributed to last year's nine-game losing streak at the end of the season. If all that happens, the Cavs finish closer to the middle than the bottom.
5. What's more likely? A struggle. The Cavs finish closer to the bottom than the middle. Without go-to scorers, they must rely on their defense and pace to keep games close, and only half of the players have a year in Bennett's system. Two or three of the freshmen provide consistent, quality minutes. Though there are only a few elite teams, there are no gimmes on the conference schedule.
Virginia strives for more consistency in Tony Bennett's second year
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