I did it a couple of years ago, and it was fun and seemed well-received, so I'm bringing it back. Here's how it works:
At regular intervals during basketball season, I will unveil the power rankings for all of the players on the basketball team. This is essentially a relative measure of how they've been playing in recent games, coupled with an in-order listing of each player's value to the team moving forward with the season. (I'm only including players that are receiving regular minutes in the games, so Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon aren't on the rankings, even though I think both will be wildly valuable to the program when they are able to play next season. These power rankings are reserved for players seeing minutes RIGHT NOW.) On with it...
#1 Joe Harris
There should have been no doubt or confusion over who would be ranked #1 on this list. In fact, I think it'd be a major coup if any other player took over the top spot this season -- or next. Joey Buckets has emerged as exactly the kind of player we all hoped he'd become; he has arrived as a hard-working, unassuming, unselfish, quasi-superstar, and he's the perfect example of what kind of top-notch player Bennettball can produce given enough time for a skilled kid to percolate within the system. Harris is averaging 30 minutes per game, 16.5 points, 4 boards, 2 assists, and is shooting 46% from three to go along with some rock-solid packline defense. He's playing with perfect rhythm, is keeping his teammates involved, and is setting the tone for patience and control within a system that demands patience and control. He's a finesse player who has grown comfortable playing with toughness. There is sex in his violence. He keeps this up, and he'll push for a spot on the All-ACC First Team while leading UVA back to the Big Dance. (Karl, this one is for you: I think Joe Harris has a little bit of Bird to his game.)
#2 Akil Mitchell
I'll admit some level of bias when it comes to the Big Fundamental (I just love this guy), but can there be any dispute over the impact he's making on games right now? Forget the way-better-than-expected 12.6 ppg or the surprising 78% free throw shooting, it's Fun's rebounding and defense that is making the biggest difference. He's an indisposable big on a team that lacks depth at the power positions. Mitchell is close to averaging a freaking double-double... in under 30 minutes per game. BIG FUN!
#3 Darion Atkins
Not so fast, Mike Tobey. There's another big on this team, and he's balling hard so far in this young season. Atkins was a man amongst boys in the win at Wisconsin, with 14 & 7 in 35 minutes of action. Darion is averaging nearly 2 blocks per game, and is meshing incredibly well with Big Fundamental in the post -- these two guys, working together, are owning the paint. I think coming into this season, many hoopheads knew we'd need a couple of guys to really step up if we were going to be a relevant team in the wake of Mike Scott's departure, and Darion Atkins is one of those guys who is really stepping up.
I could have gone with any of the freshmen or Paul Jesperson at the #4 spot, but it's been Nolte who has offered the most scoring punch and clicked the best with the rest of the starters so far this season. He's long and offers a gorgeous stroke from outside, like we knew he would. What's been surprising is Nolte's solid defense and natural instincts within the blocker/mover offensive flow.
#5 Teven Jones
Not much was expected of the kid, and he has exceeded expectations about a hundred times over. He's like a young Jontel Evans, but with more confidence and an actual shooting stroke. This might not make sense to anyone other than me... both Evans and Jones were football players in high school, but while Evans played halfback and safety, Jones was a wide receiver all the way. You can kind of tell that on the basketball court. He plays basketball like a wideout. Teven Jones is quick, and seems more skilled and brash than Bub ever did at this stage in his career. More swagger, but it's a good swagger. I was once really worried about our point guard position. No longer.
#6 Jontel Evans
He's working his way back from that foot injury, and had a pretty good game against Green Bay, but this ranking is based more on projection than on actual performance to this point in the season. We already know what Bub brings to the table, and once he's back to 100% and all of the rust is kicked off, he'll be a difference-maker with his defense and ability to take the ball to the hole. He's not there yet, but he's getting there. Meanwhile, I am hoping that his free throws are a bit better than they used to be -- that'll be important, as we figure to be involved in a lot of close games this season.
#7 Paul Jesperson
He's a sniper who is slowly re-gaining confidence in his shot. I've been pleasantly surprised by what he's brought to the table in terms of being a "glue guy" in the backcourt and on the wing, but he needs to cede some of his 26 minutes per game to the more-talented Justin Anderson.
#8 Justin Anderson
I'm just being honest here. He hasn't played particularly well so far this season. Low percentages and mistakes have been more noticeable than big plays and an impact presence as a pure athlete. He'll find a role and grow into it... or he won't. We know Tony Bennett won't give him more time if his D isn't reliable, and so far Anderson's been getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar far too often. I just want to see some dunks, damn it all.
#9 Mike Tobey
I promise you I'm not a Tobey hater, I just think he looks more raw than refined, and with Fun and Darion playing so well (with Nolte doing work in the "stretch 4" role on occasion), Tobes just hasn't been needed. He still has great upside, but he needs physical development and more practice and experience in the Bennett systems.
#10 Taylor Barnette
He looks like a walk-on with a slightly better shot than a walk-on should possess. I don't want to sound like a prick, but I worry that this might have been a wasted scholarship. In any case, he's well outside the tight 8-man rotation Bennett prefers, and might not be listed on these power rankings the next time they are released.
Overall, I think the team looks pretty good. Good perimeter shooting, but an ability to generate points from the paint. Solid packline D, despite the youth. Harris is taking over. The freshmen are legit. Mitchell is much-improved. Atkins is offering up a nice x-factor in the paint. Jones has been a mini-revelation. Add it all up, and I think we can challenge for a Tournament bid. That win @ Wisconsin was huge. Back it up with a win against Tennessee tomorrow night, and look out --- we'd be .500 ball in the ACC away from dancing.