Virginia moved into the top 25 today after a win over then-No. 15 Kentucky and a strong showing against then-No. 19 Indiana in the Maui Invitational last week, but Coach Pete Gillen said the Cavaliers still have plenty of work to do.
"We got some answers, but we still have a lot of different questions about our players," Gillen said. "We're still trying to find ourselves. We're nowhere near where we have to be to play in a great league like the ACC or where we want to be. I think we have potential to be very good, but we're not there yet."
No. 22 Virginia (3-1) features four double-digit scorers, but Gillen is still trying to settle a rotation that features four newcomers and three returning sophomores in addition to senior all-American candidate Travis Watson.
Gillen's task -- figuring out who can do what -- has been complicated by several players' inconsistencies. Sophomore small forward Devin Smith, for instance, had 16 points in Virginia's 86-72 win against Chaminade last Monday and scored 15 in the 75-61 win over the Wildcats. But the junior college transfer, still rounding into form after September knee surgery, made only 1 of 9 shots and scored two points as the Cavaliers lost to the Hoosiers in Wednesday's tournament final, 70-63.
"His knee got a little sore and he didn't have as much explosion as far as strength in the knee for the last game against Indiana," Gillen said. "But I thought he did a great job. He did more than we expected at this stage, coming off the surgery."
Sophomore point guard Keith Jenifer had perhaps the best game of his college career against Kentucky. In 32 minutes, he had six assists and no turnovers while scoring a career-high 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting. For the season, he has 3.4 assists for every turnover. Yet he is shooting 29 percent overall, thanks to a combined 2 for 18 in Virginia's other three games.
"When your point guard plays well, you play well," Gillen said. "Against Kentucky, he played tremendous and helped us upset the Wildcats. Other games, he's been up and down."
Smith, Jenifer and their teammates will get another opportunity to measure themselves when they travel to No. 21 Michigan State (2-2) on Wednesday night. The Cavaliers have not played three consecutive ranked teams away from home in 16 years and haven't ever played three consecutive ranked teams from outside the ACC.
Virginia hosted the Spartans last season for the first time since 1949, but five minutes into the second half the game was canceled. Condensation formed on the court from the ice underneath, making it too slippery to play. The teams will try again at MSU's Breslin Center, where the Spartans are 79-7 against nonconference teams.
"Playing up there in East Lansing will be a very, very big hurdle for us, because they're almost invincible up there," Gillen said. "It's very comparable to [Duke's] Cameron Indoor Stadium."
Like Gillen, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo sees plenty of room for improvement after four games. After the Spartans lost to Villanova and Oklahoma State in their last two games at the Great Alaska Shootout this weekend, Izzo said the team's defense and ballhandling have to improve. Michigan State averages 17.8 assists and 16.8 turnovers per game.
Cavaliers Note: Gillen said he does not know when the team will reinstate sophomore guard Jermaine Harper, who was suspended indefinitely after being charged with driving under the influence on Nov. 12.
"We would like to have him back, but it's up to Jermaine," Gillen said. "We're going to follow up to see if he's doing what he's supposed to be doing in class, off the court . . . before we determine whether we'll invite him back."
Harper is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 27.