Balanced Virginia making noise near top of the ACC

By Jon Rothstein | CBS Sports

Tony Bennett and Virginia are just a half-game behind Syracuse in the ACC. (USATSI)
Tony Bennett and Virginia are just a half-game behind Syracuse in the ACC. (USATSI)

Pitt and Syracuse have distinguished themselves as the two best teams in the ACC.

The imports from the old Big East have taken a perch atop the league standings with Duke on their heels as the conference's mainstay.

But while that trio is getting the majority of bold print in terms of the ACC's early storylines, Virginia has quietly achieved some momentum of its own.

Since losing by 35 at Tennessee on 12/30, Tony Bennett's team has won six of its last seven games, with the only loss coming in narrow fashion against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Virginia is now 15-5 overall and 6-1 in the ACC heading into Tuesday night's game at Notre Dame.

Was the blowout against the Volunteers a turning point?

Not entirely.

"The other games we lost up to that point were close and that game wasn't," Bennett said on Monday. "We got manhandled in that game. It forced us to get back to doing the things that made us competitive at the start of the season. We needed to get back to being as vigilant defensively as we can. There was no magic formula. We just needed to get locked in."

And that's exactly what's happened.

The Cavaliers have an all-ACC guard in Joe Harris surrounded by a cast of capable players that all know their roles.

This isn't a team of future first-round picks, but it's a solid college squad filled of players who possess high IQ's and a strong understanding of what needs to be done on each possession.

Virginia has seven different players averaging over 4.5 points per game, but no one averaging more than Harris' 11.6.

"It's been a group effort," Bennett said. "We've got good depth and good balance."

And they also finally have a pure point guard.

Freshman floor general London Perrantes has been a huge part of this team's early success. The first-year point guard has 74 assists and just 25 turnovers so far this season and has allowed sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon to slide off the ball and flourish (11.4 points per game).

"He understands the system," Bennett said of Perrantes. "He lets guys do their thing. He's a natural."

The Cavaliers have a legitimate post presence in 6-11 sophomore Mike Tobey and senior power forward Akil Mitchell has also blossomed along with reserves Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson.

"Akil has played really good basketball during this stretch," Bennett said of Mitchell, who is averaging 6.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. "He brings all the intangibles. Every team needs a glue guy and he's ours. Anthony (Gill) and Justin (Anderson) could be starters and they've given us a lift. As a team we're doing a better job of playing right and not beating ourselves. I think as the season progresses the teams that are harder to play are the ones that don't beat themselves. We're becoming harder to beat."

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