1. How much do you want to punch Frank Beamer in the face?
Safe to say I think most UVa fans are glad to see Ol' Uncle Frank meander on out of Blacksburg. That said, it's no surprise that in Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech has hired a coach who will maintain the standards of sportsmanship, both on and off the field, that have been a near constant under Beamer. Read the foregoing however you choose to interpret it.
2. How much has Tony Bennett elevated the program?
I think Drake said it best: Started from the bottom, now we here. Virginia stank when Bennett arrived. The team had been worn down by Dave Leitao's temperament: yanking guys out of the lineup for seemingly minor errors made them timid, and none of them seemed like they wanted to play for him anymore. Bennett has more of a quiet insistence on doing things The Right Way, and as that Way has shown results it's been easier for guys to buy in. And as that Way also produces NBA talent (Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Darion Atkins is right on the verge), it attracts more talent, like the top-ranked recruiting class coming in next year.
3. How does this year's team stack up to last year's, in the wake of Justin Anderson going to the NBA?
Anderson was the superstar last year and there may not be quite the same transcendent talent on this year's squad. But the 2015 team has more stars, even if none is as individually brilliant as Anderson was. Malcolm Brogdon is a natural leader (and a trained one: he has a Master's from UVa's school of leadership and public policy) with talent to match. Anthony Gill is one of the most efficient offensive weapons in the country. London Perrantes is a pass-first point guard who can also work off the ball to drain threes. And on and on it goes.
4. Cal and Virginia are two of the top public schools in the nation. Sell us on why Charlottesville is better than Berkeley?
I've only ever done one very hasty trip through Berkeley en route to San Francisco, whereas I'm a Charlottesvillian born and bred. But my impression is that the two cities have very similar strengths but with fundamentally different cultures underneath. Wine? Yea, we both got it. Beautiful natural surroundings? Yup, that too. A fun, artsy, eclectic scene? I'll admit Berkeley may have the edge there. Charlottesville has the overwhelming edge on history, though. All of the progress and change for which Charlottesville has been the catalyst is inextricably linked (and in no small part caused) by its ties to Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, etc. Charlottesville and the University have been forces that appeal to Virginia's better angels, and they've been able to do so because those angels were given a voice by the figures from the city's past.
5. Given the success of the past two seasons (ACC regular season and tournament titles), what are the expectation of this season?
Third verse, same as the first two. Duke and Carolina are the blue bloods of the league and get more of the off-season hype with McDonald's All-Americans and potential lottery picks. For Virginia, the strength of the team is the system. Bennett gets the right guys to fit, and when they come together they make for a pretty unstoppable unit. The early season stumble to GW was a wakeup call, much the way a blowout loss to Tennessee (coach by Cuonzo Martin) in 2013 sparked the run to the 2014 ACC Tournament title. The team was hitting on all cylinders against Villanova and looks ready to go for ACC matchups come January.
6. Darion Atkins, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, has also graduated. How much does the team misses his presence?
It's a big void to fill. Having Atkins in the middle gave the perimeter players a bit more license to get aggressive on ballhandlers and contest outside shots; they knew solid help was behind them if they got beat. No one player has fully stepped into that role yet, but Isaiah Wilkins has shown the most potential. Like Atkins, and like Akil Mitchell before, Wilkins is a big, strong, athletic four. Against Villanova's smaller lineup, Wilkins played some significant minutes and registered enough blocks and rebounds that he may stay in (or at least near) the starting five.
7. For the small number of Cal fans visiting Charlottesville on this Tuesday night, what are some recommendations for things to see and places to eat at?
Thank god you didn't ask for just one. You definitely have to hit the Downtown Mall. The old Main Street has been bricked over into a pedestrian zone, and there are a pluperfect million restaurants and bars down there. Mono Loco is great for southwest/Latin food, while Whiskey Jar is your best bet for great new takes on Southern classics. If you have time to get out of town and take in the scenery (during our very unseasonably warm December), hit some wineries and breweries. If you head out Route 20 toward Scottsville, you can swing by First Colony Winery on your way to James River Brewery, both highly recommended from my point of view.