It’s difficult to evaluate senior center Assane Sene’s start to Virginia’s 2011-12 campaign, much less try to predict what his start might portend for the rest of his season.
On the one hand, through 15 games Sene is averaging more points (5.1) and is shooting a higher percentage from the field (48.2 percent) than he did through the first 15 games of last season (2.7 ppg; 39.4 percent).
Then again, he is averaging 4.6 more minutes per game, so perhaps such increases should be expected. Sene has tallied the exact same number of rebounds (56) through 15 games as he did through this point last season.
The primary issue for Sene is that – similar to the rest of his team – expectations have been raised, particularly after he finished last season with such a strong kick. Sene averaged 7.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in the final 16 games last year. The Cavaliers depended on him to provide them with an inside presence, and Sene consistently delivered. He was dependable – in several tangible ways.
But Sene was performing in an expanded role primarily because of the absence of forward Mike Scott, who sat out the final 19 games of the 2010-11 season with an ankle injury.
Scott has since returned to the lineup, and he is producing at a superb level. Seemingly as a consequence, Sene’s production has, at the very least, stagnated. He has not recorded more than five points in a game in Virginia’s last seven contests. He has not recorded more than five rebounds in a game all season.
To be fair, Sene recently has been dealing with a thumb injury that may have hampered his play. For a few games, Sene played with his injured thumb taped. During Virginia’s 52-51 win Saturday over Miami, he did not. Coach Tony Bennett said Monday he thinks Sene’s thumb is “coming along.”
When asked about Sene’s production, Bennett also noted that there have been fewer missed shots and, thus, fewer opportunities for rebounds. And that’s true. Not only is Virginia shooting a better percentage through 15 games this season (46.5 percent) than it was through 15 games last season (43.1 percent), the Cavaliers also have attempted 54 fewer shots.
“I think Assane would tell you he’s missed some opportunities, whether it’s his thumb injury or he’s been a little out of sync,” Bennett said. “Early in the year I thought he had some nice post moves and was finishing a little better. These last few games . . . he hasn’t played up to his potential, I think, on the offensive end.”
Bennett would like for Sene to collect a few more “opportunistic baskets,” ones that come off offensive rebounds. So far, Sene is averaging 1.3 offensive rebounds per game, which is slightly less than he was at this point last year (1.4).
In Bennett’s view, though, Sene’s value to the team cannot be defined solely by his statistical production. Sene’s effort, his desire to please his coaches and supplement his teammates’ efforts in whatever way is needed never has been in question.
“He’s such a great teammate, role player, a guy that does a lot of those little things defensively, for sure, whether it’s helping, showing on screens, blocking shots, getting rebounds, just doing all those little things,” Bennett said. “And even offensively kind of the same token. Our last game [against Miami] I know he was frustrated. He had a couple of uncharacteristic breakdowns that he usually doesn’t have, and I know he prides himself in those areas.
“He’s very valuable to us, to be able to do kind of the fixer, the mister fix-it or however you want to say it. He’s plugging gaps. He’s rotating and communicating on that defensive end, so he’s very important to us. . . . He’s had games for us where he’s maybe not showed up in the stat column, but he’s done all those things that make your team defense better and also getting guys open on the offensive end.”
But at this point in Sene’s career, it would be beneficial to the team – and, frankly, expected – that a player with Sene’s experience be able to aid the Cavaliers in more concrete ways, as well. With Sene, points may come in sporadic bursts. But he should be able to rebound in bulk more consistently.
If Virginia is to carry through on its promising 14-1 start, the Cavaliers may need Sene to turn in a second half of the season similar to the one he registered last year. Even with Scott healthy and in the lineup. Even with his teammates making a higher percentage of their shots.
“My hope,” Bennett said, “is that we’ll find some of those opportunities for him as the season progresses.”