Wednesday, April 8, 2009

best and worst case scenarios

So naturally, everyone wants to know what sort of results we're going to get from our basketball team now that we've had our requisite dose of drama, wailing and gnashing of teeth, black helicopters, and plagues of locusts that generally accompany a coaching search. Tony Bennett's Job 1 is to keep the signed recruits signed, and unfortunately the timing is lousy because just as an entire fanbase was all set to hold their collective breath once again over this, we hit a recruiting dead period. This started about two hours after Bennett's home visit with Tristan Spurlock and lasts until Friday. Pfeh. We want news dammit.

Well, here's some about both Evans and Spurlock. Evans sounds solid. Really. He wants a meeting with Coach Bennett - which he'll no doubt get very soon - and unless Bennett walks into the house and wipes his muddy feet on the dog or something, Evans will report his satisfaction with the meeting and all will be well.

The news is actually also pretty positive on the Spurlock front. This very weekend, Spurlock will be in Charlottesville. (Sabre $) He's never taken his official visit, see, and this is great stuff because the wining and dining you're allowed to do on an official visit is really tremendous. Spurlock is talking a lot of the talk you'd expect - 50/50, wants to spend more time with the players, meet the new assistant coaches, etc. etc., but I get the impression Landesberg and Zeglinski will hogtie him to a locker and leave him there til practice starts if that's what it takes to make sure he stays a Cavalier. The players will put on the hard sell and Spurlock will find it hard to say no. Not to say he for surely sure won't back out in the end, but official visits have a way of impressing people.

Until then, though, we're in pure wait mode, interrupted only by yet another heart attack of a lacrosse game and some baseball. So I thought I'd try and paint a picture of what to maybe expect both this year and beyond. Reasonable assumptions are made. First, the worst-case scenario that I could realistically see happening:

- Bennett is able to convince Evans, but not Spurlock, to come to UVA next year. Worse, a player or two expected to be a significant contributor next year - maybe it's top defender Assane Sene, maybe it's a presumed scoring option like Jeff Jones or Jamil Tucker - decides to transfer. Because of this, the team's depth is totally shot, a JUCO or two is brought in, and Bennett is forced to play a grind-it-out style similar to his Washington State teams. The team's record improves, but only by one or two games. Sylven Landesberg is once again the only truly dependable scorer on the team, and with that likely to be the case in '10-'11 as well, he decides he's done all he can at UVA and departs for the NBA draft. Highly-rated recruits that Bennett tries to land are repeatedly reminded by opposing coaches that Bennett hasn't changed his stripes at all from his WSU days, and that his teams are doomed to score in the 50's and 60's every game. The proof is in the '09-'10 pudding. Bennett can't overcome the negative recruiting or his lack of ties in the mid-Atlantic and gives up on the blue chips for the most part. He focuses on recruiting the overlooked "system" players, with the occasional Klay Thompson type coming aboard. With two or three years of the system in place, Bennett's X's and O's are good enough to scrape enough ACC wins to make us a fairly regularly NIT participant, but we never go the NCAAs.

Yikes. That was depressing, and the worst part is I started to really believe it as I typed. You can really see that coming to fruition. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way. There is an alternate future:

- Spurlock is thrilled by his official visit and stays on board. Recruiting for 2010 continues to remain up in the air, but a blistering start to the 2009-'10 season begins to convince some of the recruits UVA already has ties with that Bennett knows how to unleash a star player on unsuspecting opponents. We enter the ACC season unranked but with a good record that sports no losses to teams that shouldn't beat us. Landesberg leads the charge and gets the support he never could get in '08-'09 from his teammates on the offensive end. A decent, approximately .500 showing in the ACC coupled with a win or two in the conference tournament keeps us on the bubble all year. Selection Sunday for once is interesting and we're rewarded for our patience with a double-digit 10 or 11 seed against an upsettable opponent in the NCAAs. Bennett proves not only able to use the team's success as an effective recruiting tool for high-schoolers, but for his own team as well, as Sylven Landesberg hearkens back to the memorable night when Sean Singletary's number was retired and resists the call of the NBA to become a four-year starter. Within two or three years of Bennett's hiring, Virginia is a regular in top-25 rankings, and shows up in bracketology circles as a 3-to-5 seed with legitimate Sweet Sixteen expectations.

Much better, isn't it? And again, the best part is that I actually started to believe that, too. Either way is possible; in fact, either way seems likely. Somewhere in the middle ground is our fate, but I really think these are plausible enough that you don't have to assume the truth will be some kind of compromise between them. Anything on the outside of these paths, consider either a miracle or really rotten luck. I tried to think of some literary reference to illustrate the crossroads we're at here, but I blanked, so no clever metaphor for you - we'll just have to wait. The first real step on the journey comes when we find out what Tristan Spurlock wants to do. I hate to sound like the whims and decisions of just one 18-year-old kid are going to set in motion the wheels that take us either across the Styx or to Valhalla, but honestly, without overblowing the importance of it, it's important. Very. Spurlock's decision will have a real, actual effect on the quality of our season next year. The quality of our season next year will have a real, actual effect on the kind of player we can recruit in the future. And so on. This is barring any freak unfortunate crap like someone blowing out a knee in a pickup game over the summer. If the basketball program is going to get better, though, it starts this very weekend.

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