The conventional wisdom was that Mike Scott was Virginia basketball. He attempted over 31% of Virginia's shots when he was on the floor, which was more than every ACC player not named Terrell-Gimme-the-rock-Stoglin. Every time he touched the ball he got double teamed, but that was fine, because he scored anyway. He didn't turn the ball over. He didn't commit fouls. He got to the line 80 times more than the next closest Cavalier.
He was a dominant force in the ACC, and now he's gone. Luckily, before he left, he gave me the material for one of the most widely read stories to appear on Run the Floor.
Entering the season, it was logical to think that Virginia would take a step back. They finished the season ranked No. 33 at Ken Pomeroy's site, and began this year ranked No. 64. And things were rough right out of the gate. They kicked off the year with a loss to George Mason when they had a four point lead with under five to play. After a close win over Fairfield, Virginia was put away late by Delaware, a team which has since gone 1-6. At that point Virginia had dropped to No. 79 in the Pomeroy's, and it appeared that the Mike Scott hangover was in full effect.
And then Virginia won seven straight.
They blew out Seattle, Lamar, and North Texas. Then they were a big underdog in the ACC-Big Ten matchup with Wisconsin (they won 60-54). After what is likely going to be a high quality win come Selection Sunday, they beat Wisconsin Green Bay, Tennessee (holding them to 38 points), and rolled Mississippi Valley State.
Currently, they're 34th in the Pomeroy's which is one spot below where they finished last season.
So what happened? How are they doing this?
Defense has always been Tony Bennett's calling card, and this year is no different. His team is currently 10th in defensive efficiency (finished No. 6 last year) and isn't doing anything different. It's the same pack-line principles he's used for years. And though he lost two senior starters from last year's team, this team is deeper and more athletic. There's no reason to expect a drop in defense.
It was the offense everyone was concered about. Because, frankly, Mike Scott was the offense. He just was.
Now, instead of one ridiculously high volume player (Mike Scott), Virginia has two high-ish volume players (Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell).
Harris has proved that he can play essentially the same roll as last year, become higher volume, and still be efficient. He's taking slightly fewer 3s (40% compared to 47%) but he's upped his shooting % on 3s from 38% to 44%. He's also generating more assists. Everything else is roughly the same.
Akil Mitchell, though, is the big surprise. He played a little over half the team's minutes last year, and only scored in double figures three times. Now he's scored in double figures in all but one game, and has four double-doubles. His rebounding %s have dramatically increased (from 17.9% to 25.3% on the defensive end, and 7.9% to 13.7% on the offensive end), his turnover rate is down, and he's drawing 5.3 fouls per 40, which is essentially twice his rate from last year. So it's not just an increase in minutes that has Mitchell's stats up. He's doing better at everything.
Now they have three games in which they'll be double-digit favorites before they kick off ACC play. And if things continue as they've been going, then Tony Bennett will have them back in the dance.
So maybe conventional wisdom was wrong. It's wasn't Mike Scott that was Virginia basketball, it's Tony Bennett.