Saturday, February 7, 2009


By Ben Gibson - T.A.H. Guest Columnist

The waters of ACC basketball can be rather choppy.

Just ask Duke and Wake Forest, two teams that met a thunderstorm this week, when they were expecting sunny skies. Their ships took a hit, but it's nothing like the young S.S. Virginia.

The Cavalier ship hit an iceberg long ago - somewhere between Xavier's offensive fireworks and Virginia's offensive ineptitude (3-22) at home against Florida State.

Coach, Dave Leitao, has not stormed the sidelines as we have become accustomed to.
His fierce anger has been replaced by a listless stare as he staggers around the bench wondering what has happened to his team.

Much like a captain who must go down with the ship, he can't help, but feel frustrated at the lack of passion and energy that used to fill John Paul Jones Arena when names like Reynolds, Singletary and even Cain were around.

As inconsistent as many of the players on the team have been, Virginia has consistently brought us some of the following facts game in and out:

A. Virginia will not be able to score points in the half court.

The Cavaliers motionless motion offense cannot seem to break down a high school defense let alone an ACC team. Most players stand while Virginia chucks up long threes, most in an impatient display where ball movement is something that never escapes the three-point arc.

B. Virginia will turn the ball over and give opponents easy points.

What good is a home court advantage if you give team's fast break points to build confidence?

It is hard enough to beat UNC, as it is, why spot them 13-points from the start.

C. Virginia will do all right defensively one-on-one but cannot rotate over.

Want to score against Virginia?

Pass the ball.

Virginia will take too many risks, leading them out of position and leading to fouls.
Worse yet for the Cavaliers, they cannot seem to communicate and missed assignments lead to dunks and wide enough lanes for the Titanic to come through.

Last night, Virginia followed a similar fate by trailing well over 20-points in the first half and shooting 5-25 at one point!

Then, Captain, Leitao decided to write a new script.

In the second half, Leitao used the following starting line-up:

1. Calvin Baker (The most experienced point guard option)

2. Jeff Jones (A highly-rated recruit who had disappeared on the bench)

3. Sylven Landesberg (Virginia's best player by far)

4. Solomon Tat (Completely forgotten)

5. Assane Sene (Virginia's only shot blocker)

That had to be quite the surprise for the three starters who did not get the nod in the second half.

Even more surprising, Leitao did not make a substitution until the final two minutes of the game - and even then it was because Tat fouled out.

So, what exactly is Leitao doing putting a 6'5" swing man who has 10 DNP's at the power forward slot?

"I wasn't really interested in playing anybody who wasn't going to play the game the right way," Leitao said.


If Leitao was sending a message, I think it was clear the players got it.

Whether it is the rapidly regressing Sammy Zeglinski, the defensively-challenged Jamil Tucker or the hot and cold Mike Scott, all three men have exemplified the frustration Virginia fans have over their team that seems "stuck in neutral".

Well, with plenty of games still to go, Leitao sternly has kicked the clutch into high gear.

When Leitao first got here, he had seven scholarship players. It was a difficult challenge, but one with a simple solution.

The solution is far more difficult when your team is loaded with potential but strongly lacking in production.

Leitao knows any given night he may have three or four players who could go off.

Then the challenge becomes finding them. This means giving everyone playing time because everyone needs it and no one has earned it.

The lack of consistency in minutes has led to inconsistency in play.

So Leitao has finally decided to stop following the same old script and handpick the players to build his team around.

I think I speak for everyone when I say ... it's about time!
Will Virginia struggle?

Of course, but we're used to that. We want to see five guys play with confidence and work through their mistakes.

Leitao's vote of confidence may actually rally the troops.

Guys like Jones and Tat are rhythm players that may actually get the time to get into a rhythm. While guys like Scott and Zeglinski will be hungry to earn back Leitao's trust.

However, that will only happen if the captain sticks to his guns.

The old game plan has failed sir; it's time for something new and no better time than now with a team that is going nowhere.
Virginia may have the answer to breaking the familiar frustrating script.

Still, the question remains, has this team seen the light or is it simply rearranging the deck chairs?

(Photos from AP Photo by Nick Wass, Sara D. Davis, Andrew Shurtleff and Erik Lesser, and Reuters.)

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