Wednesday, March 10, 2010

crystal ball into the future: BC and beyond

For this post, I consulted the magic 8-ball to find out what the offseason and beyond might look like for Tony Bennett and his squad. "O Magic 8-Ball, will we see any good news at all between now and the tip-off of '10-'11?" Damn thing must be broken, because the only response I ever got back was, "Reply Hazy, Try Again Later."

That ol' thing has been quite the Debbie Downer these days anyway. Will we win the BC game tomorrow? "Outlook Not So Good." Will Sylven Landesberg be sticking around for next year? "My Sources Say No." What about Tristan Spurlock? "Better Not Tell You Now."

The problem with tournaments, now, is that every team but one goes home unhappy. The season will end with a loss, so what's really at stake here is whether the season will end on a one-game losing streak or a ten-gamer. Gee, how uplifting. But I'll tell you right now, a win tomorrow would change the outlook for next season considerably. I doubt it would change much as far as roster makeup goes, and the players that return will be the same ones that played in the tournament game whether it was a win or a loss. But it's all a matter of perspective, see. If we lose, that specter of a ten-game losing streak to end the season will hang over the team all summer long. If we win, the party line will go something like this: "We won that game without Sylven Landesberg and that's how the team will look next season too, but just wait until we add all those talented freshmen to the roster." Which is a decidely rosier outlook.

So how to get that win? It'll be tough. Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because we came close against Maryland without Sylven, we can do the same or better against Boston College, a worse team. There's no doubt in my mind Maryland had game-planned for a week to stop Sylven Landesberg, and that plan had to go right out the window at game time. Maryland had to wing it, which can be a recipe for disaster in the other guy's arena. If there's some real Ewing Theory action going on, I'll believe it when I see it.

Honestly, and harshly, the loss of Calvin Baker for the game likely won't have any effect on our prospects. Here's the weird thing about the BC game from last week: There was actually an effective inside game on offense. This is weird because BC is a bigger team from 1 to 5. I witnessed Sammy Zeglinski try to guard BC's 6'8" forward Joe Trapani, it was comical. Sammy looked like a midget. And yet Mike Scott had 13 points and Jerome Meyinsse had a perfect shooting night on his way to 12, and even Assane Sene's hands looked functional instead of like they were grafted on the wrong arms as usual. The first half was the standard-issue abortion on offense that we've gotten sadly used to, but the second half was actually a competitive basketball game.

And Baker? Didn't get into the game. If I had to guess I'd say that the size disparity had at least a role in that decision, but the point is, Bennett's already game-planned once for BC without Baker, so doing it again isn't going to be a big deal. And where game planning is concerned, we do have one edge. Even though it'll be no surprise to BC that Landesberg is out, it's still something different they have to plan for, whereas on the other hand, we've already seen what they got and it's not changing. Now it's time for the X's and O's wizard to prove his mettle. That's what Bennett was hailed for when he got here. If there was ever a time this season to pull some defensive adjustments out of a hat, it's now. Get that done, and with a little luck maybe the lid will come off the rim for the shooters too, and a win is reachable. It'd be a shame to waste Meyinsse's channeling of the spirit of Jason Rogers and not let it be worth just one simple win.

And it's a win that would be worth its weight in gold on the recruiting trail. How do you spin a ten-game losing streak to recruits? Answer: however you want, but they're still going to Maryland. Tony was able to use the promise of a bright new day last year, and did a marvelous job, but the shine will be gone. Get the win and it's a lot easier to brush the whole season off as a series of unfortunate events.

Whatever happens on the recruiting trail isn't going to do anything for anyone for a while, though. We don't even know who'll be left on this roster come August, let alone a year from August. Let's start with who won't be. Obviously, we lose the seniors - Baker, Meyinsse, and Tat. From a talent perspective, this is no loss, but from the hard work and hustle standpoint, it leaves a big, big leadership gap. Tat is the guy the coaches - both Bennett and Leitao - have put in when they want to make a point to the rest of the team that they're not hustling hard enough, and Meyinsse, besides being Tat's equal in the hard work department, is probably smarter than you and a big character guy to boot.

Then there's Landesberg, and you can go ahead and plan for next season without him. Bennett can talk all he likes about the door being open for his return, but to paraphrase another illustrious basketball coach, Sylven Landesberg is not walking through that door. When a phrase like this shows up on the school's own offical site....

Landesberg, who is unlikely to return to UVa, stopped by JPJ and talked with his teammates Tuesday morning.
....then you know it's over. Period. Jeff White doesn't need sources inside the program, he is the source inside the program, and there's no way something like that gets up there without it being beyond true. So now you know where Billy Baron's scholarship is coming from.

But that wouldn't be the half of it if you go with everything you read. The list of players who at some point or another has been speculated (often baselessly) as being ready to transfer the moment the season is over is long and distinguished. Spurlock, obviously. Jontel Evans. Mike Scott? Jeff Jones? Assane Sene? All names that have been tossed around by people ranging from the media to message board schlocks. I'll be the first to say I don't have a friggin' clue, although this is at least encouraging on the Spurlock front.

Neither do I know which freshman is going to come in and have the biggest impact. But I do know somebody will. There's practically no choice in the matter. Even if everyone but Landesberg stays, that's only seven members of the rotation left, plus Spurlock. We'll probably have the ACC Freshman of the Year by default; who else has such a big class coming in and so much room for them? If I had to guess, I'd say the complete and utter lack of big-man offense outside of Scott opens up the biggest opportunity for James Johnson and Will Regan. Seems obvious, eh? Don't forget to pack your post game, boys.

So: predictions out of the crystal ball? Well, you just got one easy one: freshmen are going to be huge on this team next year. And that alone fogs up the whole picture. You never know with freshmen. You just never do. Here's another one: The keepers of the faith need to bar the door, because it's going to get worse before it gets better. I don't see us winning tomorrow. And then comes the offseason and a lot of bad news with it. At some point, Landesberg will make the announcement he's gone. Somebody else might also. Recruiting targets will go elsewhere. And then the season will start, and it's pretty hard to see an improvement when your top player departs. There are reasons to think that this season was in fact much better than it looked, and I'll get to them separately. And maybe when I sit down and really hash out the competition and we get a better bead on things, it'll start looking better than it does at the tail end of a huge losing streak. And let's not forget either: Tony Bennett was hired to put a long-term, sustainable stamp on this program, not for instant gratification. That's the most important thing to remember. But for now, the bottom line up front is this: It's hard to see the prospects for next season being any better than they were when Dave Leitao was still the coach.

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