Charlottesville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 24th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers open up their highly anticipated 2013-14 season as they welcome the James Madison Dukes to John Paul Jones Arena on Friday.
After posting 23 wins last year and advancing to the quarterfinals of the NIT, the Virginia faithful have complete trust that Tony Bennett can lead the Cavaliers to even loftier heights this season. With the kind of defense that Bennett employs in Charlottesville (fifth nationally last year at just 55.6 ppg allowed), and a bona fide ACC Player of the Year candidate in star guard Joe Harris, Virginia is among the preseason Top 25 for the first time since the 2001-02 campaign.
The Dukes are also coming off a strong season in the Colonial Athletic Association, as they managed to post a 21-15 record, winning the CAA Tournament for the first time since 1994 and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Losing four starters from that squad however, leaves Matt Brady with plenty of work ahead of him.
The Cavaliers have dominated this series, winning all eight previous matchups, including a 90-80 win in the last meeting in 2003.
James Madison was able to ride its veteran core all the way to the Big Dance, but Brady is now tasked with rebuilding. Sixth-year senior forward Andrey Semanov (10.0 ppg, 1.1 spg) is still a nice piece to build around, as he returns from an injury that cut his 2012-13 campaign short. All-CAA Rookie guard Andre Nation (9.3 ppg, 1.3 bpg) will also be in the mix, but he is currently suspended until after the calendar year comes to a close. Sophomore Ron Curry (5.7 ppg) will move into the point guard role after playing off the ball as a freshman. Fellow sophomore guard Charles Cooke (5.8 ppg) will also see a more expanded role after showing glimpses of strong play in last year's postseason.
The defensive effort is always there for Virginia. The key this season will be improving on the offensive end. With the 6-6 Harris leading the way, things may just work out for the Cavs. Harris was among the league leaders in scoring last season at 16.3 ppg, fueled by a healthy .430 from behind the arc. Sophomore wingman Justin Anderson (6-6, 225) is a versatile playmaker at both ends of the floor with star potential. Bennett has an embarrassment of riches at the point guard position, despite the loss of last year's starter Jontel Evans. The possible replacements include sophomores Malcolm Brogdon (6-5, 212) and Teven Jones (6-0, 181) and freshman Devon Hall (6-5, 210). Senior forward Akil Mitchell (13.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) was perhaps the most improved player in the ACC a season ago, and will anchor the play in the frontcourt. Youngsters Mike Tobey (6-11, 245) and South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill (6-8, 231) give Virginia a deep front line.