Cavaliers Ready to Enter Season with Depth, Expectations

At Wednesday's media day for the Virginia men's basketball team, Darion Atkins was asked what he thought the squad might be missing entering the 2013-14 season.

His answer was simple: "Nothing."

"I feel like we have all the pieces of the puzzle. And I feel like we just have to connect them the right way," the junior forward explained. "And I feel like we're going to, I have a great feeling about this team this season. I feel like we're going to make a run deep into the postseason."

Atkins isn't the only person with that kind of confidence in the Cavaliers this year. UVa is widely expected to finish in the upper echelon of the new-look ACC in Tony Bennett's fifth season as coach.

"We've had some practices to remind us that we do have a ways to go. But there's certainly excitement," said Bennett, whose team opens the season at home against James Madison on November 8. "I mean, to have more depth and more experience, we're looking forward to the challenges in front of us."

"I think if there's not expectations or pressure, then you're not in the right environment," said redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon. "I think pressure breeds success. Success or failure. And that's what we have to do. I think we have to be a successful team this year. We have to compete every day in practice. We have to work hard."

Virginia's win total has increased in each of Bennett's first four seasons in Charlottesville. Last year the Cavaliers finished 23-12, including 11 wins in the ACC, and made a run to the NIT quarterfinals.

The top five scorers from last year's team return this season, led by senior guard Joe Harris, who was a first-team All-ACC selection after averaging a team-high 16.3 points-per-game. Harris and fellow senior Akil Mitchell, was was voted third team All-ACC after averaging 13.1 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds, both started all 35 games for UVa last year.

Sophomore Justin Anderson outscored both of those guys in the NIT, averaging 19 points in the Cavaliers' three postseason games. Fellow sophomores Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte, and Teven Jones -- each of whom appeared in at least 30 games -- are also back.

The Cavaliers also added to that nucleus with transfer Anthony Gill -- who is now eligible after arriving from South Carolina last fall -- and point guard recruits Devon Hall and London Perrantes. Plus, Atkins is healthy again, after his strong start to last season was wrecked by a shin injury; and Brogdon is back after redshirting last season while recovering from foot surgery.

"We've got competitive guys. We've got talented players," Bennett said. "There's going to be a war for playing time."

"I think it's the most competitive, the most competition I've seen in my three years of being here," said Brogdon. "We have a lot of talent this year, and a lot of guys competing for the same spots. And limited minutes. So I think people are competing hard. And every day is a fun day in practice, because guys go at each other."

"I think we've got a group that wants to be good, collectively. And that's still how we have to do it. We don't have enough individual talents just to line them up and say we're going to dominate people. But we have to do it collectively."

Harris had to shoulder the load for the Cavaliers offensively for much of last season, leading the team in scoring 19 times, and putting up 20-plus points in nine games -- including his 36-point performance in UVa's upset of Duke last March at John Paul Jones Arena.

But Harris admitted on Wednesday that he faded following that Duke win, and his stat sheet agrees. He never scored more than 15 points in the Cavaliers' final seven games.

But Harris said Wednesday that given the added depth on this year's team, he expects to have fewer big-scoring nights this season -- because he won't need to.

"When we start playing, I think you'll see guys on any given night being able to go off, and have a big game. And I think that's just because we have so much talent on the team," he explained. "Guys aren't going to care who's scoring, and doing this and doing that. I think our mindset has been very good."

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