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Virginia basketball: Cavaliers’ early challenges include injuries, youth
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The Virginia men’s basketball team will play VCU this month, a matchup thousands of fans in the state would love to see. They won’t get the chance.
The teams will play under an NCAA provision that allows a closed-door scrimmage in place of traditional preseason games. The session will operate more like a workout than a game, with coaches able to stop things for teaching and set up different scenarios.
Afterward, no stats or other information can be shared by participants.
That may work in the favor of the Cavaliers, who conducted their annual media day on Wednesday before practice.
Head coach Tony Bennett gave a grim report as it relates to his point guards.
Both are currently injured. Senior Jontel Evans suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, while sophomore Malcolm Brogdon had surgery in March for a broken bone in his left foot.
Evans said his goal is to return for the second game of the season, which is U.Va.’s first in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Brogdon said the original estimate on his recovery was 6-7 months after surgery, which is about now, but he hasn’t been cleared by doctors to jump. He’s been able to participate in activities with the team, though, and hasn’t ruled out a return near the start of the season.
With neither option available, Bennett said he’d run the position by committee, with freshmen Taylor Barnette and Tevin Jones having to jump into the fray immediately. Joe Harris, who will start at shooting guard, also could slide over occasionally.
The season could hinge on how quickly Barnette, Jones and the team’s five other freshmen are able to mesh.
“The makings of a nice team are all there, for sure,” Bennett said. “It’s just, can it come together in the absence of a lot of upperclassmen? Can we overcome that? That will be the challenge.”
Bennett has one advantage in the form of a summer trip to Europe. In addition to the exhibition games played there, the Wahoos were granted extra practice time before leaving.
As for the scrimmages, it’s something the coach has done every year since arriving. The Cavaliers will host VCU at John Paul Jones Arena, and travel to Baylor for their other preseason slot. That also will be a closed-door scrimmage.
Freshman Evan Nolte, a forward, said he’s looking forward to watching the team jell together in the season’s first weeks.
“I guess you could look at it as a disadvantage for any team to have quite a few freshmen,” he said. “But I think it’s great we’re all coming here willing to learn and willing to work as hard as anyone else.”
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