Friday, January 13, 2006

T.J., Back for Good?

The Florida State game had some positives for the Virginia Cavaliers. The biggest was the return to action of junior PG T.J. Bannister. Bannister had played limited minutes against the Arizona Wildcats and then the Georgia Tech in the ACC opener but had been out ever since. Head coach Dave Leitao explained that his absence had been an issue of conditioning, getting Bannister back in 'game shape'. Does this mean that Bannister is ready to contribute to one beleaguered team?

T.J. Bannister has had a very solid career at Virginia. Against some of the best ACC point guards, Bannister held his own in terms of a great assist/turnover ratio. He showed leadership skills. What he has never been is a prolific scorer. Bannister played in all 31 games of his freshman year and all 29 of his sophomore campaign. His first year he averaged 3.6 ppg and 3.0 apg. With another year came more playing time. His numbers went up but just barely, 4.3 ppg and 3.7 apg (not even a full point either way). In three games Bannister has two points, seven assists and 3 turnovers. It's important to keep in mind for Virginia fans that these numbers SHOULD improve as he gets more action with such a thin bench, but at the same time, don't expect anything vastly above the level he was before the injury.

Obviously Bannister is an improvement but it's important to know in what ways. Bannister will a solid guard who can help count down on turnovers in an offense where ball control is key. He will help give Singletary a need rest. Through 13 games, Singletary averages over 33 minutes a game, the most on the team. Bannister may not be nearly the offensive force Singletary is, but he can hold down the ship to charge the batteries of Virginia's biggest shining star. The problem will be Bannister cannot help the offense where it needs help the most, points. His size, his confidence and his body are not where it needs to be and it showed no better than the end of this Florida State match up. With the clock ticking, it appeared evident that Bannister wanted anyone but him to take the last shot. With Singletary covered, T.J. needed to step up but he didn't. Instead Diane threw up a bad shot and Virginia ended up losing. Bannister needs more than health or playing time, to believe that he can be the player he once was. Not only that, he needs to reach and surpass that level if Virginia is to truly benefit from his return. Bannister's lack of playing time could hurt the defense as well, but hopefully Leitao has worked the young man and he will get into the scheme better than the worst case scenario (after all it's Friday the 13th).

Bannister may be back, but which Bannister and for how long? That would be good to know.


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