Today will mark my fifth trip to Charlottesville in the past seven days, so you’d think I might have learned something.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the biggest mystery surrounding the Cavaliers is the status of sophomore men’s basketball player Malcolm Brogdon.
Brogdon didn’t play in Virginia’s first three games and hasn’t been practicing, so there is a growing sense that he will not play this season.
Brogdon, a 6-foot-5 perimeter player, last played Feb. 21 at Virginia Tech and underwent surgery March 7 on his left foot.
Starting point guard Jontel Evans also had foot surgery. His operation took place Oct. 2 and he was able to play Tuesday night, when he logged three minutes off the bench in a 59-53 loss to Delaware.
Coach Tony Bennett said after the game that doctors had cleared Evans, who had been in streetclothes the previous night, for no more than 10 minutes.
Clearly, Brodgon had a more complicated procedure than Evans, who had suffered a stress fracture. Bennett told me earlier this week that he feels doctors eventually will clear Brogdon to play this season.
But, will it be worth it?
Bennett has some precedent on his side. In 2010-2011, Mike Scott suffered an ankle injury that would require surgery and he was shut down for the rest of the year. The Cavaliers finished 16-15 that season, but after Scott appealed successfully for a hardship year, he led UVa to a 22-10 record and an NCAA berth in 2011-2012.
Brogdon’s case is a little different. Who knows where his state of mind would be in 2015-2016, which would be his fifth year? A lot could happen between now and then, but if he couldn’t be ready by the start of ACC play Jan. 6, what sense would it make to play him this year?
It didn’t help that the Cavaliers began the season Nov. 9, their earliest start ever. It was only four days earlier than last season’s Nov. 13 start against South Carolina State, but until the past 14-15 years, the college basketball season routinely started the last week of November.
IT WOULD BE premature to make much of Evans’ outing against Delaware, when he was charged with two quick turnovers. As he gets closer to full strength, his ability to pressure the ball defensive and get in the lane offensively will make the Cavaliers a better team.
However, if Brogdon can’t play, it will hinder a flawed Virginia team, with only junior guard Joe Harris currently able to create his own shot. And you can bet there will be defenders draped all over him.
Brogdon demonstrated a willingess to attack the basket last season, but he was not a finished product and it might be wishful thinking that he would turn the Cavaliers into an offensive juggernaut.
Junior forward Akil Mitchell has scored in double figures in each of Virginia’s three games and has improved every year, but the absence of offensive firepower in the sophomore class is glaring.
I was reminded earlier today of the coast-to-coast blockbuster reporting of Charlottesville Daily Progress brethren Jerry “Hootie” Ratcliffe and Whitelaw “Whitey” Reid in their “Six Shooters” series on UVa’s 2012 recruiting class.
Gone from that class before Christmas of their sophomore years were Billy Baron, Will Regan, KT Harrell and James Johnson. Harrell received ample early playing time and Baron showed early flashes, but I’m not sure how much they would be helping the Cavaliers now.
That was followed by a two-man class of Darion Atkins and Paul Jesperson. Jesperson was supposed to be redshirted last year, a plan that went awry following the mid-year transfers. Jesperson played 220 minutes over 21 games but not with great confidence.
Jesperson was 1-of-4 from the field and missed all of his 3-point efforts against Delaware, when he finished with two points, five rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes.
He appears to be a diligent defender, but UVa’s biggest need right now is at the offensive end.
A stat that jumped out at me Monday night came when Jesperson went to the free-throw line, where his first attempt came in the 234th minute of his college career.
IF BROGDON DOESN’T doesn’t play this year, Cavalier hopes will be pinned on the four scholarship freshmen who arrived this fall – center Mike Tobey, forward Evan Nolte, wing Justin Anderson and guard Taylor Barnette.
To this point, that foursome has combined for 242 of a possible 600 minutes. However, after they had played 89 minutes as a group in each of the first two games, that number dropped to 64 against Delaware.
Tobey and Barnette, both of whom started the opener at George Mason, played five minutes apiece against Delaware. It’s way too early to think Bennett has lost faith in them but it speaks to the challenge he faces in finding a unit that works.
I’m told that the Cavaliers feel Tobey will be an offensive threat in time, but he’s appeared somewhat overwhelmed to date (five rebounds in 39 minutes over three games).
Nolte was 1-for-8 night against Delaware, but has been the most offensively versatile freshman to date and has six steals over the past two games.