CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are so many nice things being said about the Virginia men’s basketball team that the Cavaliers could be mistaken for the preseason favorites in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Looks like Virginia will have to earn the accolades again, but that’s to be expected.
“I think with that confidence instilled in us, we will be able to have a successful season this year,” redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon said.
Virginia is the defending regular-season and tournament champion in the ACC. For that, the Cavaliers were selected to finish fourth in the conference preseason media poll.
The top spot in the poll went to Duke, followed by North Carolina and conference newcomer Louisville. After Virginia, the next three spots went to Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame in the 15-team field.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett’s team will have to prove itself all over again.
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Brogdon said. “I think it’s something that this program has as of late thrived on, being an underdog and being underestimated. And I think we have a chip on our shoulder.”
Talent-filled recruiting classes for Duke and North Carolina tend to garner a lot of attention in the ACC. Louisville’s arrival adds another Hall of Fame coach.
But Virginia’s 2013-14 accomplishments haven’t been forgotten even as the new season approaches.
“They’re not exactly heralded, but they can beat any team on any given night,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of Virginia.
Virginia relies on a stingy defense and a pace of play that sometimes leads to somewhat low-scoring games.
Staying a little bit out of the spotlight tends to work well for the Cavaliers.
“You just don’t lose sight of the big picture,” senior forward Darion Atkins said. “I don’t think we necessarily get caught up in the hype. We’re just a basic group of hungry guys, humble guys.”
Still, it could be different for the Cavaliers, who’ll carry a new label as defending champions.
“We’re ready to come out and show everyone that we can build off of last year and that we can go deeper in the tournament (than a Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State),” Atkins said.
Brogdon said the ACC championships from last season provide evidence that Bennett’s style and techniques can supply big payoffs. The Cavaliers are willing to follow the script.
“I think as long as we have guys that are receptive to advice and receptive to leadership and how this program is run, we’re going to be successful this year,” Brogdon said.
Virginia Tech creates buzz
New Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams might fall into a bit of a familiar role with his new team.
Much like his time with Marquette, he’s working with a team that might be under the radar. With the Hokies, who were in last place last season, he has real underdogs.
“I know you guys think they (stink), but I like them,” Williams said of his team.
The arrival of Williams has spiced the Virginia Tech program with all sorts of energy.
He also has proved to be entertaining leading up to the season.
“In some ways, I’m weird,” Williams said. “But I believe in the weirdness.”
The Hokies are latching on to their new coach.
“We’ve been excited since he got in,” junior guard Adam Smith said. “If you shadow him, you just learn a lot. He rarely sleeps. He’s really big on work ethic and hard work.”
While improvement is vital for the program to start thriving again, there’s another aspect that has been embraced with Williams.
“Right when Coach Buzz got here, the first thing he did, it wasn’t about basketball or nothing like that,” forward Will Johnston said. “It was all about family. For us, that’s what we’ve built our base on. We’re just a really tight-knit group.”
Tar Heels deal with tarnished reputation
Before the season, the ACC has been swamped with questions about off-field topics, mostly those involving the academic scandal at North Carolina.
With last week’s report about sham classes putting a black eye on the athletic department and casting questions regarding the basketball team, it has been a
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