Five teams in the ACC have winning records, and the jockeying for position heats up Saturday night as Virginia heads to N.C. State. The winner will lock down fourth place in the league standings.
The Cavaliers enter with confidence after defeating Boston College on Thursday night. More than just the victory, they drew up a game plan for life without center Assane Sene, who will miss the next four weeks with an ankle injury.
"We're still trying to mesh, and hopefully we're going to have better chemistry while getting used to being without Assane," U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said after Thursday's game.
Sophomore Akil Mitchell has been starting in place of Sene, but freshman Darion Atkins impressed in 12 minutes of time on the floor against the Eagles.
"I think Darion and Akil showed [improvement]," Bennett said. "Darion is just active. I think that's his greatest strength. He has to continue to learn to keep pursuing and be continuous."
Together they'll try to fill the void, even if that's something they can't do completely — owing both to inexperience and a 4-inch height difference.
Because of that gap, guards Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris will be called on to help inside and to take some of the pressure off star forward Mike Scott on the glass.
Without Sene, defenses are using all their energy keeping Scott away from rebounds.
"We all have to come together and rebound now," Brogdon said. "No one person is going to fill that void."
Brogdon, a freshman, had seven rebounds to lead the team on Thursday.
Consistent play will be key Saturday night against the Wolfpack, whose entire starting five is averaging double-digit points. After a blowout loss to North Carolina on Thursday, first-year coach Mark Gottfried said that his team didn't have the patience needed to produce shots against a stingy Tar Heels defense.
Perhaps nobody in the ACC plays better defense than Virginia, though with the number of eligible players shrinking, it remains to be seen whether the grind of ACC play will wear down the Cavs.
"At this stage of the game, we have eight guys," Bennett said. "We're going to have to ride them as best as possible. We'll be as smart as we can, but they'll have to play a lot."
Mitchell and Atkins provide perhaps the best relief for that, as they received minimal playing time as Scott and Sene sailed early in the season.
Now the youngsters have been thrown straight into the fire of ACC play, and in their third game since Sene's injury, find themselves in a key road test.
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