Wednesday, August 26, 2009

this schedule has ncaa tournament written all over it

OK, yes, obviously: realize that pretty much every word of this post stems from the rather unwarranted, perhaps Pollyanna-esque optimism that's so hard to fend off when it's five months since the last bumbling half-effort resulted in a defeat that would be humiliating if it hadn't already gone down the exact same eight times before. That's enough time to forget reality and focus once again on "potential," i.e., how well the team can play rather than how well they do play.

That said, here goes.

As you may know, the basketball schedule is out. There's so much to like about it. When the coaching search was going on, I opined in a lot of capital letters that this season ought to be NCAA Tournament or bust. I reasoned there's enough talent on this team to get to the NIT, which I expected Dave Leitao to be able to do. If you're going to fire a coach that's been just four years on the job and just two years removed from a regular-season ACC title, you'd better be looking for immediate improvement. How do you improve on the NIT? The answer is obvious. And I think this schedule is the near-perfect path to help us get there. It's just what we needed.

First, the nonconference portion. It's missing something that's been there in years past - namely, a halfway decent opponent. This year, there's just Stanford and maybe Kentucky, and Oral Roberts for a little mid-major danger. (And ORU took a major, major graduation hit.) It's a cupcakey joyride.

The upside, of course, is, we should breeze through it and hoard wins like cats in a crazy old lady's house. There are but two road games, two neutral-site games, and nine home games. We got a great draw in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and we get that game at home. There's a five-game homestand in December stretching into January that bring some of the most putrid teams in all the land to Charlottesville for the slaughter. We could have a minimum of 10 or 11 wins piled up by the beginning of the ACC gauntlet.

Now for the conference part of the schedule. Always since the expansion, you double up with five opponents and the other six, you play just once. We double up with NC State, Maryland, Wake, VT, and Miami. Duke, we play just once. UNC, just once. If that's not favorable I don't know what is. NC State is freefalling. VT lost Vassallo and isn't going to be good. Maryland is absurdly unpredictable. Wake loses their top two scorers, Teague and Johnson, and isn't going to repeat their 11-5 performance. Miami lost eight seniors and is all set to plummet to the cellar.

So the nonconference schedule is a cakewalk and the conference schedule is as close as it gets in the ACC. Are there eight or nine wins to be found in ACC play? Absolutely. Especially if Tony Bennett really is the X's and O's mastermind of repute, and hey, he turned Washington State into a four seed, so I'm inclined to believe he is.

Now, most fans (as well as bracketologists) are disappointed to see a parade of the NJITs, Texas-Pan Ams, and Longwoods of the world, and no Syracuse, Xavier, Arizona, etc. that's been there in the past. 9 times out of 10, I agree. Not this year. Not when we need to be seen winning games. Tony Bennett needs to establish himself as a major threat right away in order to maintain needed recruiting momentum, and that's not going to happen when Xavier is blowing us out by 40. Strength of schedule of course plays a huge role in tournament selection and we'll be woefully lacking in that category. Don't care. We need momentum and we need wins more than we need a fancy number in the strength of schedule column. And if the wins are there in ACC play like I think they are, it'll all take care of itself.

Obviously, this is all moot if the talent is really as bad as it looked last year. I say it's not. These aren't two-star, low-rent hacks. There's work to be done, clearly. Jeff Jones seems to have forgotten how to shoot. Jamil Tucker seems to have forgotten how to do everything but shoot. Assane Sene needs to learn how to do something beyond just be really tall and block shots - consistent rebounding would be a good start. Sammy Zeglinski needs to reverse the bass-ackwards developmental curve he was on last year, in which he looked like a junior at the beginning and a true freshman at the end. So it's obviously incumbent on the coaching staff to get these guys playing basketball and not just playin' ball. But the talent is there. These guys were all pretty highly recruited. Sylven Landesberg is still Sylven Landesberg, and the incoming freshmen are more talented than the outgoing seniors. There's plenty to work with here.

So yeah, look at me funny. But don't say you weren't warned when late February rolls around and we're living the hectic life of a bubble team: watching the other bubble results around the nation, fretting about whether our nonconference wins are strong enough, comparing our resume to random other teams in random other conferences, and insisting as always that the ACC is too obviously the world's best conference and ACC bubble teams should get automatic preference over lesser leagues like the SEC and A-10. I think the selection show will hold a lot of interest for us.

Time for some linkage. This one is about a week old but stuff just kept getting in the way so I couldn't find the right excuse to slide it in. It's still perfectly relevant, anyway: The ACCSJ tackles four questions surrounding UVA football, three of which have been asked every day since January or so.

Rivals ranks the top 15 b-ball recruiting classes for 2010. We're 11th. And just fifth in the ACC, which goes to show you: tough crowd. We should get a really nice bump, too, if we can snag Trae Golden and/or James Johnson. I like to see the ACC so well represented, though: 6 teams in the top 15. The Big Ten has four - impressive as well. Where is your god now, Big East? Failing to put more than one team in the top 15 is not how you challenge the ACC for hoops supremacy.

Brian of MGoBlog fame tackles the ACC quarterback carnage in a TSB post. Ugly, and that probably doesn't even cover the half of it; even though quarterbacks are dropping like flies all over the conference, Maryland is still stuck with Chris Turner.

The indispensible Jeff White reports that Robert Randolph has won the placekicking job. Comes as little surprise since he was the first off the bench when Reyering was hurt-slash-ineffective last year, but that's one of the training camp battles wrapped up. Also of note: Groh is being his usual cantankerous self when discussing Mikell Simpson and the protective boot he's wearing.

Hey look - another hurricane headed my way. The last one missed, but it was by and large predicted to. This one, uh, is not. So once again, if all of a sudden I don't seem to be posting anything, blame a hurricane with a really lame name.


Stormy said...

Yeah, we'll need to win all those OOC games to sniff the bubble. The Committee has been hammering that you need to play and win good OOC games, that you do something with the part of your schedule you control. Losses to any of the names (Stanford, Kentucky) OOC and we're done. Unless we win 11 or 12 ACC games. But do you really see that happening?

Brendan said...

11 or 12 ACC games? No. Eight or nine? Yes. Maybe. If we can beat Stanford and not have any stupid screw-ups in the non-conference schedule, that's a very bubbly schedule right there. Probably the sort that will have Lunardi and friends huffing and puffing about how power conference teams shouldn't get a nod over the little mid-majors just because of their conference.