Monday, November 9, 2009

guess what? it's hoops season!

And that is a blessing and a half. Our season doesn't actually open up til Friday, but in symbolic celebration, I'm once again eschewing the usual weekend review, which is typically very football-heavy, in favor of a leetle something I've been tossing around in my head for a while. (Though I did update the recruiting board so you could look at it with Khalek Shepherd included.)

Anyway, you might be asking yourself - well, no, you're probably not, so I'll ask for you: how come I haven't done any season previews of any teams like I do for football and did last year? To tell you the truth, last year about two weeks ago I slapped myself on the head, having fully intended to do a full set of previews and not having started. So I got cranking and didn't finish for quite a while. And when I got to the end, the season had already started and I found that these things were a lot easier to write when I had the benefit of a few nonconference games to work from. So that's the plan this year. Our last game before the break for finals is December 7; right around there is when the season preview series will kick off. This plan is almost certain to fail miserably given that all the trappings of a football coaching search will probably occupying all our thoughts, but that's life. And this post will serve as our own season preview, though the rest of them won't follow this format.

This format being, I'll go through the roster, roughly in numerical order, and offer up my thoughts on best-case and worst-case scenarios for each player. Oh, and it'll be a two-part series. Without further ado, then:

#0 - Doug Browman
#10 - Tom Jonke
#11 - Thomas Kody
#22 - Will Sherrill

Best-case scenario: Garbage time in a few blowout wins.

Worst-case scenario: Garbage time in a few blowout losses.

Walk-ons, yo. And I don't remember ever having more than three, but such is the way of the Bennett, apparently. Sherrill is the only one with experience on the team, although Jonke is an old team manager and apparently Bennett decided to reward him with a uniform. Which is kinda cool, actually. Now, the real worst-case scenario - no offense to walk-on types - is that we have to actually rely on them for non-garbage minutes. You know you're in serious rebuilding mode when that happens.

#1 - Jontel Evans

Best-case scenario: Is every bit the feisty on-ball defender of his reputation. Backup point guard, but the kind whose minutes don't fluctuate wildly up and down because so do his turnover numbers. Not lighting up the score sheet, but dependable.

Worst-case scenario: Is every bit the freshman that he is. Gets benched midseason for entire games because his decision-making is driving Bennett to distraction.

Evans is going to be one of the absolute most critically important guys on the team this year. No exaggeration. This team will be at its most effective if Baker and Landesberg don't have to pick up all kinds of minutes at the 1 because we don't have a decent backup point guard. Quality play - or not - from Evans is going to be one of the biggest factors making up the difference between scratching and clawing for the CBI or - in my wildest fantasies - having Selection Day matter. We don't need Evans to score in double digits all the time, and he won't whether or not he's getting significant minutes. We just need him to play nasty defense and put the ball in the right person's hands at the right time on offense.

#2 - Mustapha Farrakhan

Best-case scenario: Reliable three-point shooter off the bench.

Worst-case scenario: Carbon copy of last year.

Mu is one of those guys who no offense but if he's in the starting lineup too frequently, we're in trouble. He had a couple really spectacular games last year. In just 12 minutes against Virginia Poly in January, he bombed home 17 points and shot 4-of-5 from three-land. Very nicely done. That's the kind of thing that earns you major minutes the next game, which he got against UNC (led the team with 27, actually) and proceeded to hoist up 15 shots, only four of which found their way through. Eww. Story of the season for Farrakhan. He had a few other really good games, but too many of them ended up with lines like 1-for-5 or 0-for-7 and spawned a chicken-or-the-egg debate about whether his ridiculously inconsistent shooting was the result of his ridiculously inconsistent spot in the rotation, or vice versa.

He actually was second on the team in 3PT%, however, behind the maddening Jamil Tucker. If he can kind of harness those same numbers and improve his two-point shooting (it can't be too hard to improve on .347 - that's awful) and play with some consistency, he'll be extremely useful as a guy who can rotate in, knock down a shot or two, and generally ensure that the offense doesn't go off a cliff when the starters go out. I have confidence that Bennett's rotations will be less magic-8-ball-inspired than Leitao's were last year ("Should Mustapha play tonight?" "Outlook not so good.") and we'll find out if consistent minutes = consistent shooting, or if Farrakhan shoots his way right out of the rotation entirely.

#4 - Calvin Baker

Best-case scenario: Quality veteran leadership from the two, and a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. Learns when to take the shot and when not to.

Worst-case scenario: Pressed into point-guard duty and continues to play the position as a CAA-level player.

The first year after Baker's transfer from William & Mary, he was sort of a pleasant surprise. The second year, last year, the flaws in his game seemed more apparent, along with the reason he wasn't an ACC player in the first place. But the basic fact is, we pretty much know what we're getting with Baker. About eight points a game, three assists, and a couple rebounds. His stats didn't really change from year to year. What changed was his percentages. He seemingly forgot how to shoot and his shooting percentages, both from two and from three, plummeted. What really changed was his position. Forced to play a lot of point guard after Sean Singletary graduated, Baker didn't really prove himself the man for that job, hoisting up some majorly ill-advised shots at times and passing up good ones.

Calvin's one of the team's undisputed leaders and generally one of the more fundamentally sound players, and he's going to get his minutes. But we will have a much better team - and Baker will be a much better player - if he is manning the two on the second unit rather than the one. We'll need his scoring and leadership, but we can live without his point-guard decision-making.

#5 - Assane Sene

Best-case scenario: Big-time rebounder, scary shot-blocker, provider of a little bit of timely big-man offense. Also, fouls less.

Worst-case scenario: Can't overcome whatever academic and/or disciplinary problems led to his suspension and stays in the doghouse all season. Transfers.

We have, like, kiddie-pool depth in the frontcourt, so the news that Sene would be suspended for the first three games of the season was not happy time. We really could have used John Brandenburg this year - Sene is now the only guy we have that's legitimately a big man and a center. No, Meyinsse is not a center, he's a 4 pressed into 5 duty. Along with Evans, Sene will be critical to our success. With Sene, we have a center. Without him, we have a lineup that's charitably described as "small-ball." The last thing we need is him in the doghouse, and the second-to-last thing we need is him in constant foul trouble like he was last year. When he's not on the bench with too many fouls, he's an offense-altering shot blocker and a pretty good rebounder, and in the latter department he should only improve. But he is also one of the biggest enigmas, and outside of the two freshmen, I don't think anyone knows where his development is leading him right now. With as few options as we have in the frontcourt, the answer to that question is program-altering.

#12 - Jamil Tucker

Best-case scenario: Figures out the non-shooting aspects of the game enough to provide steady rotation minutes and become an indispensable scorer.

Worst-case scenario: Doesn't bother. Gets benched.

Jamil Tucker is maddening. Other than Landesberg, he was the only guy last season who consistently, game in and game out, could fill up the bucket. He was the top three-point shooter last year and one of only three on the team to top a .400 shooting percentage - a very respectable .442, actually. But his defense makes you go RRRGH and for a guy his size, he shows very little interest in rebounding. When people say they want to see improved fundamentals from this team, Tucker is the guy they're thinking of most. Neither Bennett nor Leitao suffer non-defense-playing fools gladly, which is why an offensively starved team last year kept one of its most offensively productive players on the bench so much. Bennett will do the same if Tucker refuses to defend. We will be very much improved on offense this year if Tucker earns himself a lot of meaningful minutes, because his ability to score isn't in question. But Bennett's not going to let Tucker slough off the other end of the floor, and guys like Baker and Spurlock will absorb his minutes. Tucker's probably too good on offense to shut entirely out of the rotation, but don't let yourself be surprised if Bennett does it anyway should Tucker continue ignoring everything about basketball but scoring.

#13 - Sammy Zeglinski

Best-case scenario: Puts the starting point guard job on lockdown. Is first-half Sammy from last year.

Worst-case scenario: Puts starting point guard job up for grabs. Is second-half Sammy from last year.

Last year, this team looked fairly respectable early, in part because Sammy was proving himself a very pleasant surprise. He didn't look like a freshman who'd just missed almost a full year because of an ankle injury. He ran the point smoothly, and shot the ball well. In two moral-victory losses in hostile arenas, he really gave everyone hope that we'd be respectable going forward. Something traumatic and scary must have happened during final exams, though, because after that break, his shot was gone, and a month or so later, so was his starting gig (though he still saw significant minutes off the bench.) He had his moments; the win over Clemson was a gem as far as Z was concerned - 6-for-6 from the field, 15 points, 6 assists, it was brilliant. Mostly, though, Sammy was a freshman point guard and it showed during the ACC half of the season.

Myself, I think we'll see improvement this season. Now that Sammy's got a full season of bringing the ball up the court against ACC competition, my guess is we'll see a lot more of Good Sammy this year. Bad Sammy won't disappear, but as Tony Bennett works his magic and Z's conditioning improves, his development curve will go the other way this year, which is to say, the way it's supposed to. He'll be the default starter at the point this year, and we're going to have to get ready to live or die by his play because, basically, he's what we got.

That's Part 1. Part 2: tomorrow. Oh look, I stopped just before I got to the number one honcho. That's what they call a cliffhanger, isn't it? Actually, we just basically happen to be halfway through the roster if you count all those walk-ons as one player. But still. Tune in tomorrow to see what I think of Sylven Landesberg (hot tip: he's pretty good) and also, our prize recruit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I guess Tucker leaving would fall under worst case scenario.