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Virginia Cavaliers setting sights on national title after disappointing ending to last season


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Malcolm Brogdon expects his final year at Virginia to be nothing like his first.

That 2011-12 team, he said, was hoping to win more than half its games. This one eyes a national championship.

The Cavaliers developed the same goals during last season when they spent much of the campaign ranked No. 2 in the country. They finished with a 30-4 record, but lost to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"We want to make a run in March," the second-team All-American guard from a year ago said. "It's not good enough to be ACC regular (season) champions. We want to win a national championship and that's what the goal is."

The Cavaliers have plenty of firepower back from last season, when they won their second consecutive regular season title in the Atlantic Coast Conference and became the first team other than Duke or North Carolina to do it.

They also won their second straight national scoring defense title, holding teams to 51.1 points per game.

Expectations for more can be burdensome, but forward Anthony Gill thinks experience will help the Cavaliers.

"We just have to be humble about it," he said.

Virginia lost two starters off last season's team in guard Justin Anderson, their best 3-point shooter and a defensive stopper, and forward Darion Atkins, whose back-end defense and rebounding helped make everything work.

The Cavaliers don't have a proven go-to scorer, so to replace them they will look increasingly to Brogdon (14 ppg), Gill (11.6) and 7-footer Mike Tobey (6.9) to lead what figures to be a very balanced scoring attack.

Some players also acknowledge harboring a sense of unfinished business. Virginia was in the top 10 all last season, and was No. 2 for much of the year, but lost to Michigan State after winning just one NCAA tournament game.

"I think we all still have that bad taste in our mouth," Tobey said.

Bennett has changed the culture and expectations for the Cavaliers, point guard London Perrantes said, and the results make it easier to get eager newcomers to understand that there's a way to play the Virginia way.

"It's not too much to get people to buy in, and when we all buy in, we're deadly," Perrantes said.

Here are some other things to watch with the Cavaliers this season:

THIRTY-SECOND CLOCK: The Cavaliers figure to feel the change to a 30-second shot clock more on the offensive end than on defense, where they have excelled in recent years. Speeding up the attack, and getting some easy baskets in transition would minimize the shot clock's impact on a deliberate offensive attack.

DEFENSIVE STOPPER: Darion Atkins (Knicks) and Justin Anderson (Mavericks) have both moved on to the NBA, leaving the Cavaliers without their two most noticeable defenders. Improving their outside defense and getting Tobey or Gill or Isaiah Wilkins to effective defend the painted area — and rebound — is key.

TOBEY FACTOR: Mike Tobey has been an enigma since he arrived at Virginia, at times dazzling with his scoring and rebounding ability, at others disappearing from the action. Bennett says he's seen a sense of urgency from the 7-footer as he heads into his final season, and a sustained Tobey presence makes them a likely title contender. "There's nothing like being in your last year," Bennett said of Tobey. "I'm excited for what I've seen."

SHOOTING: Bennett's teams have often relied on the ability of players to get, and make, open 3-point shots, and this team doesn't have someone with a proven history of lighting it up from deep. Say Bennett: "If we think we can live and die by the three, we're not made up like that." But Justin Anderson was a sub-30 percent 3-pointer shooter before making nearly half last season, and if someone can make a similar jump this season, so will the Cavaliers' prospects.

SCHEDULE: Bennett amped up the non-conference schedule this year with games against George Washington, Ohio State, Villanova, West Virginia and California before ACC play begins. The goal is to worry less about rankings and be more prepared for the challenges and focus a team needs to be successful in the postseason.

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