RALEIGH, N.C. — Newcomers Syracuse and Pittsburgh have wasted no time making themselves at home in the upscale, gated community known as ACC basketball. Indeed, the Orange and Panthers have raided the fridge, commandeered the remote and propped their feet on the coffee table.
At least one longtime conference resident appears determined to fight back.
The Cavaliers joined Syracuse and Pitt atop the early ACC standings at 3-0 Saturday night with a 76-45 rout of North Carolina State.
Virginia's most lopsided road win in this series, which dates to 1913, was built on a nearly flawless first half in which the Cavaliers led by as many as 25 points, committed only three turnovers and nearly doubled the Wolfpack on the glass (16-9).
You need not search long for Virginia's last 3-0 ACC start. It was 2010, Tony Bennett's first season as the Cavaliers' coach.
That team swooned soon thereafter, finishing 5-11 in the league. This bunch will not. Too much talent. Too much depth.
In fact, this is the first Virginia team to win each of its first three ACC games by double-digit margins.
“I like what I'm seeing in this stretch,” the ever-understated Bennett said.
Virginia's start was stunningly and ruthlessly efficient.
In bolting to a 30-9 lead, the Cavaliers scored on 15 of their first 17 possessions. They did not commit a turnover until 13-plus minutes had transpired, when officials whistled Anthony Gill for a questionable charge.
The first-half tour de force included a 15-0 binge, Joe Harris 3-pointer with the shot clock about to expire, and an Akil Mitchell windmill dunk in transition off a Ralston Turner turnover.
So balanced was Virginia that five players — Mitchell, Harris, Mike Tobey, Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes — outscored T.J. Warren in the first half. The ACC's leading scorer, Warren managed only four points on 1-of-5 shooting in the period.
The Cavaliers' offense wasn't nearly as impressive during the second half – how could it have been? – but much to Bennett's approval, their defense was.
“We were pretty locked in defensively,” he said.
Virginia defended best against the Wolfpack's best, limiting Warren and Anthony Barber to a combined seven points on 2-of-15 shooting. Credit Harris, Brogdon, Justin Anderson and Perrantes for those efforts.
A freshman point guard from Hampton High, Barber started for the 12th time in 16 games. Despite a concussion that sidelined him for a portion of preseason practice, he's emerged as State's assist leader and No. 2 scorer at 11.7 points per game.
As since his Hampton days, the overriding question about Barber is his shooting range. On a squad that doesn't shoot well from beyond the 3-point arc, he fits in seamlessly, shooting 29.6 percent from deep.
Barber and Perrantes presented an interesting contrast in rookie guards.
While Virginia dabbled in recruiting Barber from within its borders, it aggressively pursued Perrantes out of southern California. And while both have acquitted themselves well, there the similarities end.
Perrantes is more fluid and less apt to shoot — he averages about four shots per game. Barber is quicker and more assertive offensively, averaging 10 shots per game.
Like most of his teammates, Perrantes flourished Saturday, with eight points, five assists, two steals and nary a turnover.
Thanks in large measure to a 35-point shellacking at Tennessee last month, Virginia (12-4 overall) is not among this week's top 25, media or coaches. In fact, the Cavaliers did not receive a single vote from any of the combined 97 pollsters.
But Virginia is well-positioned to reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in the last three years. Released Friday, the selection committee's first Rating Percentage Index of the season has Virginia at No. 31, fifth among ACC teams, behind Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Florida State and Duke, and 35 spots ahead of N.C. State (11-5, 1-2).
As encouraging for the Cavaliers: The NCAA ranks their non-conference schedule 33rd, second only among ACC teams to Boston College at No. 10.
Nonconference schedule strength is a key metric for the tournament selection committee, and last season was the primary reason for Virginia's exclusion. The Cavaliers' non-league schedule strength last year was 300th among 347 Division I teams.
Virginia continues a two-game Tobacco Road swing and attempts to go 4-0 in the ACC for the first time since 1995 when it plays at Duke on Monday. Coincidentally, the fourth victory in that 4-0 start came at Duke.
The Cavaliers haven't won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since. This might well be the time.
Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.