The Virginia men's basketball team looks to build on its three-game winning streak tonight at John Paul Jones Arena when the squad takes the court against No. 14 Michigan as part of the 13th annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
Last week against Green Bay, Virginia coach Tony Bennett's alma mater, the Cavaliers (5-1) won 68-42, shooting a stellar 51.1 percent from the field and never allowing the Phoenix to come within 10 points. The contest marked Bennett's first time coaching against his former school, where he remains the all-time leading scorer.
Senior forward Mike Scott recorded 15 points and 10 rebounds and sophomore guard KT Harrell came off the bench for the first time this season to add a season-high 14 points.
"It's just the ability to play and be ready when you're called upon," Bennett said. "[Harrell] did a good job coming off [the bench]. A lot of our guys have been out of sync offensively the past few games. It's nice to have a little bit of a scoring punch like KT coming off the bench."
Bennett did not indicate whether Harrell will continue to come off the bench or be reinserted into the starting lineup during the Cavaliers' matchup against the Wolverines (5-1), but he still expects the sophomore to be a significant contributor in any role for the team.
"We've got five guys ... to play those three perimeter spots, and they're all going to have their opportunities," Bennett said. "Sometimes it's going to be KT, sometimes it's going to be someone else. I'll let them compete and put the right guys out there, but they're all going to play."
Although Virginia and Michigan boast identical records, the Cavaliers have not played a ranked team this season, while the Wolverines defeated No. 8 Memphis and dropped a close contest with No. 6 Duke in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational last week. After succumbing to the Blue Devils, Michigan went on to defeat UCLA and place third in the prestigious tournament.
"They've been one of the top 25 teams in the country," junior guard Jontel Evans said. "They've been playing some great ball. We watched them in Maui. We're just looking forward to the challenge."
Last year, the Cavaliers kicked off the Big Ten-ACC Challenge with an upset win on the road against then-No. 13 Minnesota, although the Big Ten came back to win the challenge by a 6-5 margin - its second consecutive victory in the series. Virginia boasts a 6-5 record in the series since its inception, while Michigan is 4-6.
The Cavaliers are 1-2 all-time against the Wolverines, and the two squads have not faced each other since the 1989 NCAA Tournament, which Michigan went on to win after easily dispatching Virginia 102-65 in the Elite Eight.
For tonight's game, Bennett will be keeping close tabs on senior guard Sammy Zeglinski, whose nagging ankle injury sidelined him for Virginia's first two games. In limited playing time, Zeglinski is averaging only 5 points and 0.8 assists per game this season.
"I don't know the status of Sammy and that's really discouraging," Bennett said. "Down in the Virgin Islands he played, but he was laboring. He was 75 percent maybe, but he struggled to move. I still don't think he's 100 percent though. Then the injury happened. Hopefully we'll find out soon, but I know the X-rays were negative, so that's good."
Zeglinski's presence keeps the Cavaliers steady on defense. He averages 1.8 steals per game and contributes heavily to Virginia's stifling defense which has allowed a mere 45.3 points per game.
If Zeglinski is unable to play, the Cavaliers may have difficulty containing Michigan's sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who leads the Wolverines with 17.2 points per game and shoots a remarkable 49.3 percent from the field. Hardaway Jr. is the son of legendary NBA point guard Tim Hardaway.
"You have to be so good defensively," Bennett said. "Certainly we need to be healthy and we'll need to play at a high level, but our system is geared to play good teams and we're going to give everything we've got"