Tuesday, November 10, 2009

hoops preview part deux

Yesterday, obviously, was part one. If you missed it, we're going player by player and trying to figure out what to expect from them. We'll do that, and then a rough sketch of what I expect from this season. And we left off with:

#15 - Sylven Landesberg

Best-case scenario: Develops jump shot. Scores points at a rapid clip and doesn't drop off much as ACC season wears on. Decides Tony Bennett is building something special and stays to see it through.

Worst-case scenario: Doesn't develop jump shot. Defenses figure him out the way they did last year. Scoring is still wicked high anyway, NBA scouts drool and convince him to make the leap.

If Allen Iverson is the Answer and Paul Pierce is the Truth, Sylven Landesberg is the Reason. As in, the Reason last year didn't suck as bad as it could have, and the Reason this year should be better. The Reason people are excited about basketball, and the Reason butts are going to be in the seats. You chalk Syl up for 15 points every night, minimum, and then everything above that is why he's that good. Better yet, nobody will ever accuse him of being a ballhog.

But there are nitpicks, as always. He could stand to turn the ball over less. Could be a little bit better three-point shooter. Could be a bit better conditioned - but you gotta cut him some slack for being a freshman in that respect. If Landesberg doesn't improve on any of this stuff, he'll still be a dynamic player, one of the very best in the ACC. After all, he scores, rebounds, scores, dishes, scores, and rebounds. If he does improve? He'll make all his teammates better too. And he's got the work ethic and motivation to make you confident he'll start off great and get better. If he decides to be a four-year player at UVA, he'll join Sampson, Singletary, and the rest in the rafters. Respect the Reason.

#23 - Jeff Jones

Best-case scenario: Shoots well.

Worst-case scenario: Shoots poorly.

This will sound unfairly harsh. But one of the reasons we've been so bad lately is because the guy we recruited for the role of top gun from outside has been shooting the ball so badly. Shooting percentage last year: .345. Worst on the team unless you count Solomon Tat, who took 15 shots all year. Three-point percentage: .290. Jones was the star recruit of the '07 class and we beat a lot of ACC schools for his services. But it hasn't come together.

However. Good things have been said about his performances in preseason work. And shooting in college isn't any different than shooting in high school, at least, not in the way, say, defense is, or learning new schemes. It's one of those things that's 90% technical and the other half is mental. Jones was a deadeye shooter in high school, and hell, Tony Bennett was known for his shooting in his playing days and still thinks he can beat anyone. So it's not something you forget how to do. Jones was another victim of Leitao's magic-8-ball rotations last year, and like Farrakhan, we should be able to find out whether a more settled role for Jones means better shooting. It's a make-or-break year for him, and he'll be judged almost completely on his jump shots.

#24 - Tristan Spurlock

Best-case scenario: Plays his way into the starting lineup. 20-25 minutes a night. ACC Freshman of the Year candidate.

Worst-case scenario: Plays his way further down the bench. 8-12 minutes a night, and fewer as the season goes on. Just a plain ol' freshman.

Whew. One of the first things Tony Bennett did to endear him to the fans was to convince Spurlock to stay on board after the coaching change. Let's face it. This rebuilding project would have been a million times harder if an entire recruiting class had disappeared into the vapor, and everyone knew it. Spurlock is crucial. He's the bridge into the Tony Bennett era. (Evans, too.)

Spurlock should be seen as essentially the replacement for Mamadi Diane. And I hate to say this because we all liked Diane, but that is one of the three reasons I guarantee we'll be better than 11th. No friggin' way Spurlock is as unproductive as Diane post-injury. That injury ruined a perfectly good player. Take out Diane's six points a game and replace it with eight from Spurlock, but with the potential for more and the talent to push his way into the starting lineup. Spurlock's not going to go all Sylven Landesberg on us and explode onto the scene that way, but that was an exceedingly rare thing to see. What we really want is for him to prove himself indispensible, force his way into the starting lineup, and become the second or third scoring option. And of course, play defense. That'll be counted as living up to his recruiting rankings, and it'll be a good thing for this season but a fantastic thing for the future.

#32 - Mike Scott

Best-case scenario: Continues to boost his rebounding, and figures out how to be more assertive on offense. Primary post scoring option. Double-double machine.

Worst-case scenario: Stagnates.

It's weird about Scott. Clearly, he was the team's second-best player last year after Landesberg, and his stats are very pleasing to the eye. He was the team's leader in double-doubles, the leading rebounder, and leading shooter by percentage at a very nice .544. Plus, he can shoot free throws, which makes him dangerous as a big man. And yet there's this feeling he can be so much better. This comes from actually watching him. He's a natural rebounder and collects them through sheer force of will, a skill that has a way of occasionally disappearing. He's got a number of good moves on offense, which he occasionally refuses to use. There's always a sense of something left out. If Scott starts using the same force of will with the ball in his hands in the post, good things will happen. He'll have more offensive rebounds, simply by virtue of tipping in misses. He'll have a lot more points, because he's good at putting the ball in the basket when he wants to and he shoots free throws well. Scott can and should be our second scoring option, but the danger is that he might not know it.

#45 - Solomon Tat

Best-case scenario: Can be called on for a few good minutes and hold down the fort for a bit while we work off some foul trouble, or worse, injury trouble. In other words, '07-'08.

Worst-case scenario: As with last year, team exasperates coach so much that he is inserted into the starting lineup because nobody else is really deserving of the "starter" label. In other words, '08-'09.

Tat doesn't do anything especially well, though he's a respectable defender. The good news is that he's not usually a disaster in any aspect either. That might be damning with faint praise, but the harsh truth is that if Tat is in the regular rotation, we are in major trouble. In '07-'08, Tat shot the ball well in his limited time and did basically what I think the best-case is: get a little pre-garbage time in blowouts, came in every so often when we hit some really bad foul trouble, and looked respectable against the other team's bench. Last year? He hit four shots. All year long. This is probably because Leitao kept starting him and throwing him out there against the best the ACC had to offer. Largely, I think, to prove a point to the rest of the team. This was batshit insane. Tat works very hard and is a reasonably good defender (it's why Leitao saw fit to start him) but doesn't have ACC-caliber skills (it's why Leitao sat him at the first opportunity.) If played sparingly and against the right opposing players, Tat will be a contributor. This will happen, because Tony Bennett isn't batshit insane.

#55 - Jerome Meyinsse

Best-case scenario: Decent second-unit big-man.

Worst-case scenario: Gets eaten up by ACC second-line centers.

Fun fact: Meyinsse's middle name means "God-given" in French. That has nothing to do with basketball, but I like it. Anyway, Meyinsse, in an ideal world, would be exclusively a forward, and we would have a second seven-footer (or nearly so) to play center in John Brandenburg. We don't, so Meyinsse is going to have to be a center. And most definitely not on the first unit, except for in these first couple games while Sene works off his suspension and Scott gets his foot healthy. (Major uh-oh.) This is not going to go well, but fortunately it's not ACC play yet. Because Meyinsse just isn't a center.

That being the case, he isn't going to be asked to be much of a scoring option. He'll be judged on how well he can defend other guys who aren't really centers and the occasional majorly gumpy white kid with seven-foot height and no foot speed. However, he also might be the brainiest guy on the team and should pick up the ins and outs of Bennett's pack-line defense as well as anyone. He's also got a positive A/T ratio, an extreme rarity in a big man. Bottom line: Meyinsse is a little-thing guy, not a stat sheet guy.


I said it before and I'll say it again. The media predicted we'd finish 11th again. I guarantee - guarantee - we will improve on that. Three reasons:

1. Leitao was considered a sub-average X's and O's coach. Bennett is considered an X's and O's ninja. We should see a major, major improvement in in-game coaching.

2. Nearly everyone in the ACC loses at least one major scoring component. We do not. We lose Tunji Soroye - big-man depth, but no scoring - and Mamadi Diane, who is replaced by Tristan Spurlock. Spurlock will be a big improvement over '08-'09 Diane.

3. We have the easy, Duke-only-once, UNC-only-once schedule this year.

I fully expect us to make some kind of postseason tournament this year. Even if it's just the CBI or whatever that other one is. If we play to our capability, we can be an NIT team. If we play out of our minds, I don't think it's a major stretch to say we could be a bubble team come February. This would be exciting, but probably unlikely. As I said, I guarantee we'll improve on that 11th place finish - the fun part will be finding out how much.

I think three players will be the big keys to all this. Obviously everyone has to contribute, but the biggest three are these:

- Jontel Evans.
- Jeff Jones.
- Mike Scott.

Evans, because if he can be a dependable second point guard, we can rotate that position between him and Sammy almost exclusively and use our other players where they'll be at their most effective. Jones, because we could not shoot last year and had absolutely no outside threat whatsoever. Changing that will be huge. Scott, because we're a major donut team (no middle) and he's the only chance we have to get any scoring from inside.

OK. So on the principle of perfect honesty, that paragraph was written pre-trivia night at O'Brien's, and this and all following paragraphs are written post-trivia night. Which is to say, post-beer. I promise I will reread this and if any of this stuff makes no sense, I'll fix it. Meantime, I remind you I am not actual media, I am a blogger, and I get to write when I want, how I want. And if that means holding my thoughts on the schedule until after I'm done getting shitty and answering trivia questions, so be it.

Anyway, our schedule. As I mentioned, we have the easy conference schedule this year. It's the same one we had in 2007, which sent us to the NCAA tournament as a fourth seed and the ACC tournament tied for #1 in the regular season. So that is a big plus. Duke and UNC will crush our souls, but only once. The non-conference schedule is....interesting. There are, for starters, an inordinate number of crappy independent teams, all of whom we should beat handily. The rest of it looks like a bunch of teams we also should beat handily, but beware. Remember: Liberty. We have, for example, Oral Roberts. It's teams like that, or Rider maybe, that could end up as trap games. We'd be a nice feather in their cap - they don't care about the difference between a bad ACC team and a good one, they just want to beat one.

Bottom line is that trying to get to the Dance on a schedule like this is nigh-impossible. It's light on big-timers. But that's not the goal, that'd be gravy. But just plain ol' wins? That's what this schedule is for. That's why I say, I expect to be in a postseason tournament. Look, if you can manage a .500 record as an ACC team, you're getting invited somewhere. We can make .500 with this schedule, easy. There might be some losses in there - Auburn, last year, turned out not to be the SEC whipping boy they were when we scheduled 'em. But there's enough NJITs to roll over for us. I don't know how much of this schedule is Littlepage's idea and how much is Tony Bennett's, but it's just the medicine for a rebuilding squad like ours that isn't too sure how good they are.

So, to reiterate and summarize: Postseason play should be in the cards. An ACC finish better than 11th is a guarantee. Both father and son Bennett are trying to downplay this team's potential so as not to set everyone up for disappointment, and in some ways they're honestly telling the cold hard truth and in some ways they're just doing a little PA and managing expectations. Don't be fooled. I believe this team has potential, has talent, and has coaching. I thought that Dave Leitao could take it to the NIT. I still think that's realistic. Acknowledge the realities, but do not let your expectations slip. This team has question marks, but it has answers too. They'll surprise some folks. They'll never score as few as 45 points, Gottlieb, you idiot. (Douche.) And they will play in a postseason tournament, after the ACC one. Expect that. And enjoy the ride, as they find out just how far past that they can go.

1 comment:

HoosFootball said...

Bennett is considered an X's and O's ninja.

This is good stuff.