While it doesn’t figure to be a permanent arrangement, Virginia’s starting lineup for its opening men’s basketball game at George Mason could be a first.
Coach Tony Bennett on Thursday afternoon divulged a probable starting lineup that would include three freshmen – center Mike Tobey, forward Justin Anderson and guard Taylor Barnette.
Memory often fails me after 40 years of watching these UVa teams play, but I’m having a hard time coming up with another instance when the Cavaliers had three freshmen in their opening-day lineup.
I don’t doubt that Virginia has started three freshmen in a random game at some point. Injuries could account for that, as they have this week, but I can’t remember that being the case in an opener.
And, before the game is more than 10 minutes old, I could foresee a fourth freshman, Evan Nolte, entering the game.
Tobey, Anderson and Barnette will be joined in the starting lineup by juniors Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. Tobey will be at center, Mitchell at power forward, Anderson at small forward, Harris at big guard and Barnette at point guard.
There had been some talk of Harris bringing the ball up, but apparently Bennett had enough confidence in Barnette to start him at the point..
As opposed to Tobey, Anderson and Nolte, all of whom appeared on somebody’s list of the top 100 prospects in the country, Barnette was a lesser-known recruit who was headed to Central Florida at this time a year ago.
Central Florida later became the object of an NCAA probe and Barnette was able to gain a release from his letter-of-intent. Virginia, to which his basketball-playing sister had transferred one year earlier, was a likely landing place.
BENNETT MADE IT sound Thursday as if senior point guard Jontel Evans, who comes in with 70 career starts, could be available for the Cavaliers’ home opener Monday night against Fairfield.
Evans underwent surgery Oct. 2 for a broken foot, at which time he was expected to be sidelined for six weeks. Five weeks was Tuesday.
Sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, mostly a wing but expected to back up Evans this year, underwent foot surgery March 7.
Evans return will be “kind of a game-to-game thing,” Bennett said in a teleconference. “I’d like to tell you that he maybe he could get some time in here this Friday but that wouldn’t be quite accurate.
“I don’t think that would be a shock to anybody so we’ll just sort of re-evaluate where he’s at in the process. I don’t exactly know when. I know Monday and Tuesday are coming up quick [in the preseason NIT].
“Malcolm is not near that.”
A third point-guard candidate, redshirt freshman Teven Jones, has been suspended for the opening game after violating team rules.
“We’re not going to play six [or] seven guys,” Bennett said. “Everybody will get their chances. It will be a little different experience, being freshmen, in this setting on the road. Certainly, I’m sure it will be a hostile environment.
“I’m kind of eagerly waiting to see what happens and knowing they’ll grow from it. Throw ‘em in the deep end and see if we can swim or not. We’ll find out.”
AS OPPOSED TO George Mason, which played host to Division II Bowie State for a scrimmage the Patriots won 76-72, Virginia had closed exhibitions with VCU and Baylor.
That followed a five-game European tour this summer.
“There were stretches of good things [in the exhibitions],” Bennett said. “We were encouraged and we were alarmed at some things, like ‘boy, we’ve got to shore those things up.’
“And that’s why those things are so valuable. You go against that kind of competition to expose yourself to where you’re at and then you go to work to the best of your abilities.”
George Mason is coming off a 24-9 season under first-year head coach Paul Hewitt in which the Patriots posted a 15-1 home mark. After dropping a 68-48 decision at John Paul Jones Arena in December, George Mason won 17 of its next 20 games.
GMU is looking to replace leading scorer and rebounder Ryan Pearson, the 2012 Colonial Athletic Association player of the year, as well as second-leading scorer Mike Morrison. Eric Copes, a 6-8, 244-pounder, is one of two George Mason veterans who will start the season on a three-game suspension.