The college basketball season officially kicked off with our first important prime-time game and the first of what will surely be many upsets. The Sunday night matchup on Fox Sports Net was a huge winner last year almost on a weekly basis in terms of hosting terrific matchups and some real thrillers, and the first edition of the 2006-2007 season was no exception. The Virginia crowd created an outstanding atmosphere in the first game in their brand new and absolutely spectacular looking arena, and the players on both ends stepped up for what turned out to be a dramatic matchup played at a cut-throat pace, ending 93-90 in favor of the Cavaliers.
For Virginia, the star of the game was their dynamic point guard Sean Singletary
. He was absolutely electric at times, beating everyone else down the floor at a hundred miles an hour, shredding apart Arizonas lazy transition defense, and finishing with utmost creativity around the basket, to the tune of 25 points. His perimeter shot still isnt as consistent as youd like it to be, finishing 5-14 from the field, but he did hit a couple of deep 3s on his way to shooting 2-5 from behind the arc on the night. He got into the paint whenever he pleased and looked spectacular at times hanging in the air and using his terrific body control to finish or draw contact, getting to the free throw line 14 times and converting on 13 of them. Singletary was quite flashy with the ball in his hands, a little too much at times even, but he finished the night with 6 assists compared to just one lone turnover. He looked much steadier when his partner in crime J.R. Reynolds
was on the floor to help with the ball-handling. Singletary lived up to his billing as one of the best lead guards in America and then some, and will carve out a spot for himself as a terrific backup NBA point guard with a few more performances like this.
Role players Mamadi Diane (25 points) and Jason Cain (13 points, 12 rebounds) both had a big impact on the game, and their emergence as legit options next to Singletary and Reynolds could ultimately be what propels Virginia into the NCAA Tournament. Diane was absolutely on fire shooting 5-6 from behind the arc while Cain looked as fundamentally sound and tough as youll find finishing around the hoop. Last year Virginias offense was all too content standing around watching their two star guards create their own shot from the perimeter and heave up off-balance shots, but tonight that was usually not the case. If Singletary and Reynolds have players who can step up and knock down shots as well as finish off their drives to the basket theyll be in great shape as far as both the NCAA Tournament and NBA draft goes.
Reynolds came off the bench tonight after not having practiced for the past four days. He was poked in the eye in a Wednesday practice and started the game off with goggles before deciding that he was not comfortable with them. His eye looked like it was in terrible shape and it definitely seemed like he should not have been playing with the way he looked. In spite of that, you have to admire the toughness and heart he showed with the way he drove down the paint fearlessly with no regard for his own personal safety. He was clearly not himself, but still managed to impress with his explosiveness, tough defense and by dishing off a couple of beautiful passes. He finished the game with 10 points and 2 assists in just 21 minutes. We can only imagine how well look once he has the services of both of his eyes at his disposal.
For Arizona, lottery prospects Marcus Williams
and Chase Budinger
showed their upside in combining for 35 points between them. Williams looked as smooth as ever, slashing to the basket and finishing creatively, pulling up off the dribble and doing a great job crashing the glass. He looked a bit out of sorts at times when his guards were settling for bad looks early in the shot-clock, and ended up fouling out with a few minutes to go. Freshman Chase Budinger
got off to a very quick start, hitting a couple of spot-up jumpers and using his athleticism around the hoop. We did not see much of a dribble-drive game from Budinger, and he was certainly the odd man out in terms of constantly looking for his teammates and delivering some terrific assists. He deferred to his older teammates a bit too much in the 2nd half, but you could certainly see why he was such a highly touted prospect coming in.
Despite the contributions from their extremely talented forwards, the best player on the floor for the Wildcats tonight was their senior and captain Ivan Radenovic
. Scoring 24 points on only 8 field goal attempts, Radenovic showed off his entire package of offensive skills. Whether it was knocking down 3-pointers, grabbing offensive rebounds, using his quickness with his back to the basket, or making terrific passes to open shooters spotting up on the wing, Radenovic kept making big play after big play for his team. He set terrific screens, showed nice leadership skills, and generally played extremely hard. His future is anything but set at this point due to his lack of sheer explosiveness, but hes making a great case for himself to get drafted as a super-solid role player somewhere in the 2nd round. If he doesnt make it in the NBA on his first go around, hes going to land himself a long-term seven figure contract with one of the top teams in Europe when its all said and done.
On the negative side for Arizona, we find their anemic point guard Mustafa Shakur
. Shakur teased us at the Orlando pre-draft camp with his athleticism and upside, but looked tonight like he was making the same exact mistakes as a senior as he did as a freshman. Defensively he was abused by Sean Singletary
repeatedly, and offensively he could not organize Arizonas half-court offense effectively beyond a couple of simple drive and dish plays. His shot looks as ugly as ever, but he kept settling for it regardless. He finished the night with no field goals, six assists compared to four turnovers, and five fouls. Lute Olsen will need much more from his senior point guard as the year goes on.