Thursday, February 25, 2010
But baseball is another matter entirely. The ACC is also a power baseball conference - one of the best in the country. Baseball America places six ACC teams in its preseason top 25, and Rivals projects seven conference teams in its field of 64, with honorable mention of sorts to an eighth. This will be a three-part preview; part 1 today, parts 2 and 3 sometime next week. We're still playing basketball, after all, and football news never stops. (Like this ray of sunshine.)
As always, alphabetically. Today: BC, Clemson, Duke, and FSU.
Last season: Made ACC tournament, lost in NCAA tournament regionals
Record: 34-26 (13-15 - 8th in ACC)
Return: 65% of ACC starts, 70% of total innings pitched
Names to know: 3B Mickey Wiswall, CF Robbie Anston, SP Pat Dean
The Eagles are a team you just have to tip your hat to. Alas, college baseball is inherently biased against northern teams thanks to the weather and the season's start date. Boston College, as with many teams in snowy climes, won't even play a home game until more than a month into the season.
So to make the NCAA tournament as a northern team playing in a southern conference is pretty remarkable. Still not the most remarkable thing they did, though: that would be going toe-to-toe with eventual runner-up (and this year's preseason favorite) Texas for a thoroughly unbelievable 25 innings, before giving up a third run, losing 3-2, and setting an NCAA record in the process.
BC returns a pretty solid percentage of their key players. They should have two of the three weekend starter spots well settled, but the third may be up for grabs thanks to John Leonard's hideous stats (7.09 ERA and .341 opponent's BA) in 12 starts, 8 of which were ACC games. But they'll have to answer questions about some of the most important spots on the field, starting behind the plate where all-world catcher Tony Sanchez departed as a junior after being selected fourth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sanchez was one-third of a trio of sluggers BC depended on for offense. The Eagles need a new closer as well, with Mike Belfiore also off to the pros. Belfiore dueled Texas's Austin Wood for almost 10 innings in that epic game, and aside from being the closer, was also the starting first baseman and provided another third of BC's slugging punch.
The final third remains in Chestnut Hill and could be one of the top players in the league this year. Mickey Wiswall started every game for the Eagles as their regular third baseman, though at least one pub pegs him as a first baseman this year, and a damn good one. He'll be a big hitter, but BC has to find some extra base hits from someone besides him as well.
Most of the rest of the starters are back, too. BC doesn't actually have a lot of holes to fill, just a couple of really big ones. How well they do that will determine if they can make a repeat visit to the NCAA tournament.
Last season: Made ACC tournament, lost in NCAA super-regional
Record: 44-22 (19-11 - 3rd in ACC)
Return: 77% of ACC starts, 46% of total innings pitched
Names to know: OF Kyle Parker, OF Jeff Schaus, P Scott Weismann
The story for Clemson is all the bats they have coming back and all the pitching they have to replace. The Tigers were hit especially hard by the MLB draft. Fortunately for them, there is talent waiting to step up, and it's led by sophomore Scott Weismann. His sparkling performance as a freshman, mostly in relief, should open the door for him to step up to one of the weekend starter slots alongside last year's workhorse and wins leader Casey Harman.
Still, the pitching staff on the whole is an extremely inexperienced bunch, and Clemson will probably need to look to their bats to bail them out of a few games. These, they have plenty of. Seven of eight non-pitcher starters in the field return, and the one hole in the lineup (1B) is expected to be filled by super-recruit Richie Shaffer. Ben Paulsen's shoes will be tough to fill but the plethora of returning bats should be more than able to do the job by committee.
Clemson comes into the season a top-15 team, and there's no reason to think they'll fail to live up to that billing. They'll contend for the ACC championship and expect to host a regional - anything less would be a disappointment. Last year we got to skip them on the ACC schedule, but no such luck this year - it's Wake Forest that goes off the schedule, and that's a terrible tradeoff.
Last season: made ACC tournament
Record: 34-22 (15-15 - 7th in ACC)
Return: 63% of ACC starts, 64% of total innings pitched
Names to know: OF Will Piwnica-Worms, LF Jeremy Gould
For whatever reason I feel like Tobacco Road ought to be a baseball hotbed. Maybe it's Bull Durham, or because we always hold the ACC championships down there. It's not. Duke scraped into the ACC tournament (it certainly helped that they didn't have to face FSU) and even did manage to beat Clemson once there. That seems to be their ceiling anymore.
This year's schedule isn't as kind: instead of ACC runner-up Florida State, they skip bottom-feeding Maryland. And the prevailing opinion is that VT has passed them up. It's probably a sound opinion. Duke's returning a reasonable amount of its talent from last year, but the guy they'll miss is Andrew Wolcott, undeniably the staff ace last year. It was Wolcott who beat Clemson in the ACC's, but he was the only one who started more than two games and finished with an ERA better than 4.80. It was all the way down at 2.77, phenomenal for the college game. But he's gone, and the returning pitchers were serviceable at best, and at worst, thoroughly awful.
Duke has some bats that should help keep them at least on the fringes of contention throughout the season, Piwnica-Worms and Gould leading the way. But the one guy who could really put a charge into a ball is also gone: Nate Freiman accounted for 20 of Duke's 53 homers. There's a little bit of pop in all the remaining bats, but mostly these guys are contact hitters who aren't gonna put on a fireworks display. Bottom line here is that Duke shouldn't really be expected to make a return appearance in the ACC tournament - it'll take a pitching miracle.
Last season: Lost in ACC championship game; lost in NCAA super-regionals
Record: 45-18 (19-9 - 1st in ACC)
Return: 77% of ACC starts; 82% of total innings pitched
Names to know: SP Sean Gilmartin, SP Brian Busch, CF Tyler Holt, SS Stephen Cardullo
There are two threats to UVA repeating as ACC champions and these guys, the heavy favorite last year, are one of them. Returning everyone who started an ACC game on the mound has a lot to do with it. In fact, FSU really has only to find a new starting first and second baseman, but the guys they tried out in this past weekend's Georgia State series looked like they fit right into that heavy-hitting lineup. And last year's starting 1B, Jack Posey, was an extremely light hitter; freshman Jayce Boyd appears to be the front-runner and he can't be any worse at the plate.
That lineup is a beastie, too. They like to lead it off with CF Tyler Holt, who batted a whopping .401 last year and got on base at a .520 clip. Holt was one of two players to start every game for the Seminoles, and oh by the way, made just one error all season long. And when you have guy that gets on base more often than not, and guys behind him to drive him in, it's a formula for a lot of runs. FSU scored way more of them than anyone in the league - more than nine per game. Four players in double digits in the home run department, and only one of them departed. (Scary to think he could have come back, too, but he was an 8th-round pick and decided to take off.)
The starting pitchers are pretty butch, too; the regular weekend rotation of Gilmartin, Busch, and McGee combined for a 3.81 ERA, outstanding in college. If there's a weakness in the Seminole roster, it's the bullpen. It's not bad, but simply pedestrian. They're hittable by a good lineup, and they're searching for a closer this year.
Bullpens are frustrating, though, because all they do is keep good teams from being great. FSU is already a damn good team and a lock to earn a high seed, if not the #1 seed, in the ACC tournament. It's hardly fair, in fact: the one team they skip is Georgia Tech, only the other top ten-ranked team in the ACC. They're our season-opening series, in fact: just three short weekends away. It'll be a bellwether series for both teams, and oh-by-the-way we're on the road for it.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Anyway, I'm sort of assuming you read last week's preview of the women's championships, in which some of the terminology is explained in case you didn't know, introductions are offered to this whole swimming idea, that sort of thing. Or that you already know some stuff about swimming. So we'll jump right into the pysch sheet, which as with last week I scored out. (Keeping in mind the caveats about the unreliability of the psych sheet as a predictive mechanism.) According to said psych sheet, we come out ahead, but......
Virginia - 664
FSU - 657
UNC - 575
Md. - 322
GT - 279
VT - 215
Clem. - 206
NCSt. - 164
Duke - 131
BC - 90
.....not by much, as you see. That is as close to a dead heat as you'll see, and UNC is in striking distance of a win as well if a few things go their way. Like winning a relay in which they were seeded second, as happened just an hour ago.
This kind of seeding makes for a really exciting meet. How do you go about winning when everything is so close? If you're following the meet, what should you watch for besides just the places of the good guy swimmers?
- Win the relays. You get 40 points for doing so and 34 for coming in second. The difference between first and second is the same as the difference between second and fifth. Relays are double the point value of the individual events. One of the absolute most important things you can do in a close meet is win a relay you were seeded second in. It's a 12-point swing.
- Do not, under any circumstances, finish ninth in a prelim event, especially if you're seeded higher. No matter what happens short of a DQ, the A heat will score the big points (anywhere from 20 to 11) and the B heat will score the small ones. Even if you, Mr. B-heat swimmer, swim a faster finals time than someone in the A heat, you can't score more points than they do. If you're seeded ninth, get eighth. If you're seeded eighth, for God's sake hang on to it. Nothing drives coaches to the funny farm more efficiently than a pile of ninth-places in prelims.
- Look for help. As long as you're not directly competing against their swimmers for place, the non-contenders are your friends. Example: in the 200 fly, Maryland has the top two seeds, UNC the next three, and FSU the one after that. Our best swimmer in that event is seeded eighth. Yes, he will be looking to swim his ass off not to fall to ninth, but the other dynamic is, do we mind terribly if Maryland takes 1-2 in that event? Not at all - they're no threat to actually win the meet, and a Maryland 1-2 keeps points out of our competitors' hands.
Another example, from the FSU perspective. They'll win the 200 back; their swimmer Andy Hodgson has a five-second seeding advantage over everyone. After that, it's the margin of less than eight-tenths of a second that separates 2nd through 7th, a hodgepodge in which we have two swimmers. FSU has one too, but will it bother them much if the Clemson and Maryland swimmers place highly? Nope, not with the 20 points for first already locked up. A top swimmer on a noncontender having an out-of-his-mind day can really shuffle the standings at the top.
Like I said last week, this is where the swim coaches make the big bucks. You can peruse, if you like, the results of the dual meet against Florida State; I guarantee you this is how Mark Bernardino has been spending his time lately. We won (and we beat UNC as well), but is that a harbinger? Not always. Dual meets are different. You swim multiple relay teams, for example. We took 1-2-3 in the 500 free back then, and FSU's Ian Rowe swam a 4:34; he's now seeded #1 in the event with a time that's ten seconds better. It's encouraging to have beaten them in the dual meet, but too many dynamics in play to let it be something to dwell on.
We definitely have the talent to take home the championship. Last year we had nearly a 200-point cushion - this year, that's not there. Bernardino figures it might very well come down to the very last relay. Personal experience tells me it's very, very hard to find an event in the whole wide world of sports more exciting than winning the final relay to bring home a championship. So buckle up, and hey - take some time and follow it live. ACC championships are worth it.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Starting with the biggest accomplishment of the week.....
Huzzah! Like I told you last week, it's ACC championship time. UVA got conference championship #2 on the year - one of only two schools to earn two so far by the way - and did so once again in dominating fashion. The women's swim team added nearly 30 points to their total from last year and finished with 877.5. The results are here; I will summarize for you.
1st place events:
200 medley relay
800 free relay
200 free relay
400 medley relay
200 breast (tie)
400 free relay
1st place swimmers (individual only):
Amanda Faulkner (200 IM)
Lauren Perdue (50 free, 200 free, 100 free)
Lauren Smart (100 fly)
Mei Christensen (100 back, 200 back)
Christine Olson (200 breast)
Liz Shaw (200 fly)
NCAA 'A' cuts:
200 medley relay (Christensen/McDonnell/Smart/Davis)
200 free (Perdue)
100 back (Christensen, Smart)
200 back (Christensen)
200 breast (Olson)
NCAA 'B' cuts:
800 free relay (Narum/Flynn/Harris/Perdue)
500 free (Bachrouche, Harris, Narum, Myers)
200 IM (Faulkner, Crippen, Shaw, McDonnell)
50 free (Perdue, Christensen, Flynn, Davis)
200 free relay (Christensen/Flynn/Perdue/Davis)
400 IM (Crippen, Olson, Bachrouche, Faulkner, Myers)
100 fly (Smart, Shaw), 200 free (Flynn, Harris, Narum, Moores)
100 breast (Olson, McDonnell, Freeman)
100 back (Cavalier (note - yes this is her name and that's awesome), Stewart)
400 medley relay (Christensen/McDonnell/Smart/Perdue)
1650 free (Narum, Bachrouche, Myers, Harris)
200 back (Smart, Stewart)
100 free (Perdue, Davis, Flynn, Moores)
200 breast (McDonnell, Faulkner, Freeman)
200 fly (Shaw, Crippen)
400 free relay (Christensen, Flynn, Moores, Perdue)
200 medley relay (1:37.33)
200 free relay (1:29.25 - meet record only)
200 free (1:43.86)
400 medley relay (3:32.97 - meet record only)
200 breast (2:09.94)
Miscellaneous domination notes: 4 of top 5 and 1-2-3 in 200 IM, and only one is a senior ... 4 of top 6 in 400 IM ... first place in all five relays and 9 of 13 individual events ... five records set and the final relay came within 0:00.02 of setting another one
Perhaps more records would have been toppled if we hadn't set so damn many last year. Oh well.
By the way, the difference between A cuts and B cuts isn't quite as gaping as it might sound. They're actually fairly unnecessary; the NCAA has a maximum number of swimmers they'll invite to their championship for each event. To oversimplify it, they invite all the A cuts and then go one-by-one and invite B cuts til they hit the max. Why not just have one cut time? I don't know. I liked it better in high school where if you swam a state cut time, you got to go to the state meet - period. (Not that I was ever in danger of making it.)
Anyway, as you can see, we're pretty well set to make a splash (HA!) at nationals, which will be nice for Director's Cup purposes. We won't win (not all those swimmers above are going to score points), but the girls finished 12th last year and maybe a top ten finish is on the horizon.
By the way, Lauren Perdue's name shows up a lot, as you might notice. That's because she's really, really good. And she's a freshman. There are some phenomenal swimmers up there, like Christensen, but Perdue is unbelievable. How good? Like, maybe Olympic good. You can use this to convert these yards times (used here) to meters (used in the Olympics.) Right now, that time is just off the pace that would have put her in the 200 freestyle semifinals in Beijing. You have to be elite as all hell to get onto the US national team, and she's not quite there yet. Give it a couple years. You just might see her in London.
But all these ACC teams have some incredible swimmers. I mean, we did let the other teams win four of those individual events, after all. The difference here is we have incredible swimmers in every event two, three, four deep. That's where the meet really is won. In no event did UVA place fewer than two swimmers in the A heat (top 8) and in just under than half of the events, UVA was in four of the eight A lanes, piling up the points. The B heats were similarly stacked with Cavaliers. (Sometimes literally. Tell me this young lady wasn't destined for Virginia.)
Bottom line: congrats to the ladies for kicking ass at the ACC's, and on Wednesday, get ready for the men to do it all over again.
Ah, now for the crash back to earth. Let me keep this short and sweet: Until the hoops team re-learns how to shoot the ball, we will go nowhere and there won't be any point in analyzing why. Turnovers, defense, rebounding, size, grueling travel, matchups, none of it matters at this point. We're losing because we can't shoot. It's 2009 all over again. Sylven and Mike Scott can't be effective, because the moment the ball goes inside, whether on a drive or pass, four defenders collapse on it because they don't respect the shooters. Bad offense begets bad defense, just like last year, and the result is ugly.
It does tend to debunk two myths about Dave Leitao's coaching style that were taken as gospel last year:
- The team was shooting poorly because they couldn't get into a rhythm thanks to Dave's incessantly inconsistent substitutions and rotations. No, they couldn't shoot because they can't shoot. A few more games of this will give us a very definitive answer to that particular chicken-or-the-egg question.
- The team's confidence was shot because Dave was screaming at them all the time. No, it was shot because they were losing. A lot. Tony doesn't scream, at least not during games, and don't tell me there's a small part of you that sorta wishes he would, just a little.
Little closer than it should have been, but the lacrosse team earned Dom Starsia his 200th win at UVA. First college coach ever to rack up 200 wins at one D-I school and 100 more at another.
Part of the reason it was so close is that the Drexel goalie did really well for himself. Last year in our game he earned himself CAA rookie of the week honors for his performance, and statistically he was even better this year: 17 saves against 11 goals. A save percentage over .600 is pretty dern good.
On the one hand, it was nice to see more people besides just Steele Stanwick lighting up the scoreboard. We knew he'd be good, but six other Hoos besides him scored a goal, including hotshot freshman Connor English. (English is from, let's see, Manhasset, NY - I just bet that's on Long Island (checking: aaaaaand, yup) - and damn if Connor English doesn't sound exactly like a kid from Long Island who's really damn good at lacrosse. Between him and Steele Stanwick I think we're all set.)
I'm not sure yet where the faceoffs are going to come from, though. I hope we turn out better than the very average showing we had this weekend. Chad Gaudet was a one-year wonder for us, and he was very good, but his replacements (Benincasa and Ince, mostly) need to prove themselves all over again in his place.
Still: #1 ain't bad. (Even if it's a "tepid" #1.)
Think this says it all, no?
We're similarly gracing the front pages of the baseball coverage on Rivals and ESPN. (Lax made the same ESPN page as well as the NCAA's.) Wahoo indeed. That's what happens when you're #1. Not just "power rankings," either; Baseball America and Rivals are generally accepted as legit actual rankings. UVA is #1. Just say it. It feels good.
The bats did their thing in Greenville, taking two of three on the road to start the season. That's good enough when the opponent is ranked #11. And I'll tell you what, I'm not even worked up over the disastrous 8th inning on Sunday in which ECU scored 7 and threatened to actually win a game in which they had been facing a 13-4 deficit. A lot of that was thanks to O'Connor's decision to start up the Dan Grovatt and Corey Hunt experiments as relief pitchers. We may not see a lot of that going forward, given the results. Nor am I concerned about Saturday, when the bats fell silent. They came back alive on Sunday, hitting .441 for the day, and Kevin Brandt (ECU's Saturday pitcher), I suspect he's going to be making a name for himself before all's said and done this year. Sunday was a hitting party and everyone was invited. All nine starters in the lineup gathered at least one hit, seven of them got at least two, and Keith Werman managed to be hit by a pitch. Werman has been found to actually be smaller than the strike zone itself, so this is pretty remarkable.
Actually, the only thing that worries me is that Cody Winiarski's debut was a little less than stellar, and Neal Davis had to be brought in to get the last out of the fourth. Yes, ECU has some hotshot bats, but so does most of our ACC competition. Consider the third starter spot still up for grabs, with Will Roberts being another candidate.
All in all, a weekend that true blue 'Hoos should bask in. Never mind the basketball team, Bennett knows what he's doing and they'll come around sure enough. Enjoy the dynasties we have going: one that's reloading, one that's ongoing, one being born in front of your eyes.
Friday, February 19, 2010
The main thing to take away here is that this ECU series will be as good a sneak peek at the regular ACC lineup as you'll get for the next couple weeks, until we actually get to the Florida State series to begin the conference season. Not a single unfamiliar face started this first game, although juco transfer Kenny Swab did pinch hit for Danny Hultzen late.
Speaking of Hultzen, it's nice to know he's picking up where he left off last year. OK, the first inning could have gone a little smoother, but in the five innings after that, ECU managed only two hits. The Pirates are no joke of a lineup to deal with, either. They really only had two big losses from a lineup that was 15th in the country in batting average and 23rd in runs per game, as well as being one of only 14 to hit more than 100 home runs last year. So holding ECU's Trent Whitehead and Austin Homan, for example, to 0-for-3, is just what you like to see, as they hit .376 and .354 last season, respectively.
Another guy who doesn't appear to be rusty from the offseason is Steven Proscia, who drove in four of the team's six runs. Good to see him out there hitting home runs - not that the offense is going to be lacking hitters, but Proscia's going to be counted on to slug a little bit too.
Tomorrow we'll send Robert Morey to the mound, who along with Hultzen is already pretty much penned into the weekend rotation. After that, the audition begins on Sunday when juco transfer Cody Winiarski gets first crack at the third weekend spot. Couldn't ask for a better audition. This ECU series is a much better way to start the year than just easing into it with a few tomato cans. ECU counters with a pair of guys who are graduating from all-around utility pitcher to full-fledged starters: Kevin Brandt on Saturday and Brad Mincey on Sunday. Both are tough, but Brandt especially so. Last season he was named to a few freshman all-American squads and had one specially nice gem of a game when he shut out North Carolina for eight and a third innings. Mincey's luck against UNC wasn't as hot - in ECU's elimination game in the NCAAs, Mincey managed to allow three runs in a measly third of an inning.
Oh, and here's your human-interest tidbit of the day: in summer league baseball last year, not only were Mincey and UVA's own Will Roberts teammates with the Newport Gulls, but they were both called upon to start championship-clinching games. When Newport failed to close out the NECBL championship over Vermont in Roberts's start (through no fault of his own, by the way: Roberts pitched six shutout innings) Mincey got the opportunity in the rubber match of the best-of-three and the Gulls sealed the deal.
So the moral of the story, as if you couldn't tell by the ranking numbers next to ECU's name, is that they're very, very good, which might just make this the most important series of the entire regular season. Yeah, you heard right. I don't want to hear any more lamebrained idiocy from the selection committee trying to justify why we got shipped to the absolute worst regional they could think of. If we can win the series against ECU here (on the road no less) and if ECU's as good as advertised, which I don't doubt, then there won't be any of this BS about weak nonconference schedules. (It would be nice also if the Coastal Carolina game doesn't get rained out this time around.) We've already avoided a sweep, which yes, my paranoid mind was worried could cause another #2 seed in a California regional somewhere. Now to unleash the bats and show everyone why that top-five ranking is justified.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I look at this two ways: one, I clearly jinxed the team to hell and back with that post that highlighted the team's offensive improvement; and two, they couldn't have done a better job proving that post correct. Other than the Maryland game (which was still as bad a meltdown on offense as the other four games in this losing streak) nothing has really changed on defense. Honestly. It's as solid (or not solid, whichever you think) as it's ever been this year. But the offense took a dump on the floor and rolled around in it. It's that bad. I could recite a litany of numbers to this effect, but I think the one that really matters is 15-for-81: that's the three-point shooting in these four losses. 18.5%, if you want to know. You'll never win basketball games like that.
What's going on, then?
- As you might have guessed from that statistic, Sammy Zeglinski is just completely ice-cold. Nothing he shoots goes in these days.
- Sylven can't go anywhere on the court without being hounded by two defenders. Obviously nobody is scared of anyone else ever hitting a bucket, and with good reason. Try to set a screen for Sylven and not only does your own defender switch over to him and cut off his lane, but Sylven's guy just drops underneath the screen and finishes the double team. He's also showing a pretty clear reluctance to try anything left-handed, and the defenders are giving it away knowing he won't take it.
- Florida State played pretty good defense, but even when they weren't, the team forgot all their junior-high fundamentals. They pump-faked open shots and then took the shot once the defender had arrived to contest. They drove the lane without any forethought whatsoever. They grabbed offensive rebounds and did the infuriating one-dribble before taking the shot back up. They got careless with the ball and lost the handle on it. They forgot about the shot clock entirely. They passed to phantom teammates. That game was 2009 redux: terrible offense leading to easy buckets for the opposition and making the defense look worse than it actually was.
- We have defensive players and we have offensive players, and the problem is the defensive players can't all be on the court at the same time and the same holds true for the offensive guys. I think Tony Bennett sees this and is awfully limited in his substitutions as a result. There are only three players who are about equally useful on both offense and defense: Scott, Sherill, and Farrakhan - and the latter is such a streaky shooter that he's really a stretch. The rest have gaping holes in their game on one end or the other. Ever see, for example, Sene and Meyinsse on the floor at the same time? Rarely, because you can't pass to either one of them in the post. Try putting Jones and Zeglinski both in the game at once and the perimeter defense is going to collapse miserably. Even Landesberg gets beat more often than he should. Jontel has no jumper and Baker has no handle, and you won't see them share a backcourt much, if ever. So rather than totally give up one end or the other of the court, Bennett pairs an offensive player with a defensive one and the result is predictable - sometimes it works, sometimes it don't. This is actually just fine as long as the offensive players are playing effective offense, but that hasn't happened lately.
There are lots of things we could try here and there to fix this mess and right the ship. Finding the open man when Sylven gets doubled off the screen would be a great start. Not letting Calvin Baker play the point would be another. Four out of five dentists agree, though: hitting your jump shots® is the most effective treatment for Shitty Offense Syndrome. It's amazing how many problems would fix themselves when the jump shots are falling and the defense has to care about that. It sounds overly simplistic, doesn't it? Sometimes that's the way things are.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, no, I'm not going to use the three-games-in-five-days excuse. Was it a factor? Maybe it was. Me, I hope it wasn't, otherwise we can forget about ever winning an ACC tournament.
Remember, now, I made no predictions for this season other than to guarantee an improvement over the 4-12, 11th-place showing from last year. This has been done, so theoretically everything else is gravy, but it sure would suck to end the season on a nine-game losing streak. Make that improvement feel like no improvement at all. There are two games left on the schedule against teams worse off than we are in the ACC standings, and both are on the road but not in the scariest gyms in the world. Winning these games, which happen to be against Miami and Boston College, would do wonders. Two lousy games, that's all we need. That would be good enough for the NIT, which has proven itself happy to take a 7-9 ACC team and doesn't concern itself much with resumes and strength-of-schedule wins and all that jazz that the big tournament cares about.
Programming note: I am so sowwy for not having anything for you to read yesterday; it was supposed to be the first day of my ACC baseball preview, but circumstances conspired against me. So that gets pushed back to next week, because tomorrow the baseball team kicks off the season with a big series against East Carolina, and I want to do something to actually acknowledge that that exists.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Anyway, in the doing awesome things department, the women had a little catching up to do to the men this decade; the men's team won eight straight ACC titles until a slight hiccup in 2007, and then won two more in '08 and '09. It's only been recently that the ladies returned to their rightful place atop the ACC, and the men have a few more championships to their name, but back they are, and ready to go for a third straight year of simultaneous championships. Coach Mark Bernardino has built himself a true dynasty, and ought to be considered among UVA's greatest coaches in any sport.
Tomorrow, the womens' championship gets underway for four days of a swimming extravanganza, hosted by UNC, and the men follow next week, same time same place. How dominant are the UVA squads? Take a look for yourself on the psych sheet.
(For the non-initiated, the psych sheet lists all the seed times for all events, which are a swimmer's best time over the course of the season in each event they swam in. You have to swim an event at least once in the season to be allowed to swim it in the finals. Why is it called a psych sheet? Because you're supposed to psych yourself up by looking at how close you are to moving up in the seedings. What if you're the top seed? I never had to deal with that issue, I don't know.)
Anyway, that's the women's psych sheet - the men's isn't posted yet. So this post will deal with this week's women's meet. To summarize, UVA is seeded first in all five relays and a UVA swimmer is seeded first in 9 of 13 individual events. Some of these top seeds belong to backstroker extraordinaire Mei Christensen, whose unbelievable performance last year led to, among other honors, a nomination on this blog for Cavalier of the Year. She got votes, too. Christensen is a senior and already set to represent UVA at the NCAA championships. But lest you think our domination is graduating, three of the top seeds belong to freshman sprinter Lauren Perdue, a good bet to knock down a few ACC records maybe even as soon as this year.
But the most dominant event we'll have is the 800-yard freestyle relay, where we are seeded almost eight seconds ahead of the second-place team. Eight seconds is a bloody eternity in swimming. That's two seconds per swimmer, and to put that in perspective, two seconds in the 200-yard freestyle (the distance each swimmer will have to go in that relay) is the difference between being seeded 17th and out of the finals (top 16 score points) and being seeded fifth. Two seconds in that event is worth a full 14 points. This is the event to really pay attention to as you peruse the scoresheet. Last year our girls had a seed time of 7:15.81 and swam a 7:05.72 to smash the ACC record. This year the seed time is 7:12.80.
So what teams do we have to be concerned about? Who's a threat to knock UVA off the first-place stand where we belong? I took the liberty of scoring out the psych sheet - a highly unscientific exercise for reasons which I'll get into in a minute - and these are the results (Wake Forest doesn't compete, by the way):
Virginia - 914
UNC - 529
FSU - 457
VT - 306
Md. - 303
Clemson - 228
NC State - 191
Duke - 164
GT - 147
Miami - 116
BC - 60
Poor BC. You get 12 points for coming in last in a relay, so if you've been paying close attention, you'll realize they earned their points only by virtue of finishing last in all the relays.
That's what the scoreboard would look like if everyone on the psych sheet swam exactly their seed times in every event they're listed for. This won't happen, obviously, for quite a number of reasons:
- I excluded the diving; the psych sheet is horribly unreliable as not even all the teams are seeded with scores. There are three diving events - add points as you feel appropriate. UVA doesn't have a real strong diving contingent, but it doesn't matter.
- You can only bring so many swimmers to the meet and they can only swim in a limited number of events. The psych sheet seeds swimmers in events they won't be swimming in. As just one example, Liz Shaw is seeded and earning megapoints in both the 400-yard IM and 100-yard butterfly; it's highly unlikely she'll do both as they're back-to-back events. This is where coaches make their money, by the way - if you could just chuck all your swimmers in all their events, where would the strategy be? These limits prevent a team like, ohhhh say, Virginia, from crowding out all the other teams from the finals and blowing you away with sheer numbers.
- Obviously, not everyone is gonna swim these times. Swimmers at the championship meet tend to outperform their seed times - the interesting part is always by how much? And then there will be disqualifications. The psych sheet is highly unreliable as a predictor of actual scores, but it's also quick and easy. Here is something a little more scientific and probably more accurate.
But, though it doesn't get the scores quite right, it's probably going to be pretty close to the end results anyway. Because when it comes down to it, faster swimmers are faster swimmers. Swimming doesn't lend itself to upsets very much. Your top swimmer might DQ, and that would suck because you don't get those points, but that's not the same thing as throwing an interception on the game-winning drive. It's perfectly plausible that Will Sherrill would go off for 18 points and 6 rebounds after scoring 15 over a two-year career, but a lower-end swimmer isn't suddenly going to shave 30 seconds off her 500-yard freestyle time, and even if she did, it doesn't make her teammates do it too. When you dominate, you dominate. So unless Bernardino has turned into a complete and total lunkhead and forgotten how to fill out a lineup card (he hasn't) or the team wakes up tomorrow with a sudden and debilitating case of the 120-hour flu, Saturday will bring our second ACC championship of the '09-'10 season.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Hometown: Katy, TX
ESPN: 77, #22 TE
Rivals: 5.5, three stars
Scout: three stars, #28 TE
Guess Mike London hasn't made a complete and total break from the Al Groh years after all: we're still recruiting big honking tight ends. This one's six-foot-six, or, as they go on the UVA roster, "about average."
Actually, Zach Swanson sort of fell into Virginia's lap. For a very long time, he was a Stanford commit, which changed when Stanford basically decommitted him by telling him he'd have to greyshirt. (This is generally how coaches go about shedding unwanted recruits. Stanford picked up a higher-rated tight end in November - you wonder if that had anything to do with anything.) Once he was on the outs at Stanford, Swanson naturally found himself scrambling a bit, and fired off his contact info to a bunch of schools, UVA included.
So here he is, and good thing, too, because we're way too thin at tight end to be using a whole lot of two-tight end sets, if we ever want to. This isn't just picking off some other school's sloppy seconds, either. Swanson continued to get offers long after his Stanford commitment. It helps that he played at Katy, one of the top programs in the top division in the top state for high school football. You're kinda visible there. Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Cal all came knocking as late as two months after Swanson's verbal to Stanford.
It's generally agreed by the scouting services that Swanson's strength is blocking, and that his weakness is speed and elusiveness. Whatever, he's a frigging tight end, he's not gonna run any fly patterns against cornerbacks. Swanson's blocking is good enough that he was moved to tackle for the state championship game. Katy is a team that runs the football - like, on 70 percent of their plays - and they did it extremely well thanks in part to Swanson's blocking. They're the kind of team that runs up 490 yards on offense with 426 of them on the ground, which is nice but that link is there more so you can see a picture of Swanson trucking some poor fool who made the mistake of trying to tackle him.
Swanson has as good a chance as anyone in this recruiting class to jump straight onto the field from Day 1. The main thing that might hold him back is his size, as 225 pounds is pretty slim for a college tight end. But if he can even add just 10 pounds or so by September, and proves to be as adept a blocker as the scouts say, he'll probably get playing time. He's just the kind of player we'll need if Bill Lazor's promise of a physical, powerhouse rushing game is to come to fruition. Plus, we have all of three scholarship tight ends on the roster, and none of them are so good as to automatically preclude any competition. Joe Torchia's blocking is not real brilliant and Colter Phillips did not at all distinguish himself last year. Swanson's coming into a terrific situation from a playing-time standpoint, and I expect him to be one of Mike London's most solid building blocks for the next couple years as he tries to get this program on its feet again.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Honestly, if you're a Virginia basketball fan, and you probably are, could you ask for anything better? Three games to determine our tournament fate, and two of them in hostile gyms against the two biggest rivals we've got. That is a worthy challenge. Tomorrow, a revenge game against Virginia Tech. Monday, equally-despised Maryland in snowbound DC. And Wednesday, back to the friendly confines for the enigmatic Florida State. Because our tournament hopes rest so heavily on this three-game stretch, it's only fitting they all get lumped into one big-ass preview.
A sweep of either variety will seal our fate. Losing all three will set us back to 5-6, and if you think 10-6 is good enough for the tournament, then you'd better hope we can get past Duke, because 9-7 will not do the trick. Winning all three, if I might be allowed to hope against hope we can pull off that stunt, would get us to 8-3, with extraordinarily winnable (albeit road) games against Miami and BC remaining, as well as an already-beaten Maryland at home. Barring a collapse of stupid proportions, we'd be a very, very good bet to get in.
Much more likely is some kind of combination, and, no, 1-2 ain't gonna cut it any better than 0-3 would. Your best hope is a 2-1 split of some kind, landing us at 7-4 with work to do but the finish line clearly in sight.
Joe Lunardi fans will note that it's fitting we start this run off with VT, because check out who the first two teams out of his latest bracket are. As close as these two teams are in the tournament race, if we're going to go 2-1 in this three-game stretch, this is definitely not the game to lose. If we don't make the tournament, the first VT game will be the #1 cause of woulda-coulda-shoulda-itis among loyal Hoos. I still have a hard time believing we're actually a worse team than Tech is, but you wouldn't know it by the way we closed out the halves. The other flaw in that theory is that VT is riding a pretty nice hot streak. Not only did they get their kicks in on UNC like everyone else, they also dispatched NC State and Clemson with prejudice - the latter with a huge assist from the referees. How often does a team score more points from the free-throw line than the field and still win? Anyway, bitching about Karl Hess aside, this is still the most winnable game of the three.
Maryland is next, and it would have already happened if Maryland was interested in following ACC protocol. (Both teams and two of three refs in town? Game on, even if the arena is a ghost town because the city is buried under another blizzard. I wonder who in our administration signed off on a postponement?) Maryland is a fast-paced team with a high-powered offense, and one of the few teams in the league that has someone who can match Sylven Landesberg bucket for bucket. You might want to rip Greivis Vasquez's throat inside out every time you watch him play, but you can't deny he's one of the top all-around players in the conference, and worse, he's got a highly competent supporting cast.
Hate to say it, but Maryland is one of the best teams in the conference. Their low turnover numbers are even more impressive given the number of possessions they generate, they have a lot of players that can beat you, they don't foul much, and their ACC resume is impressive.
In order to beat Maryland on the road, it'll be necessary to slow the game down even more than usual. The Twerps can score from all over the court and with a lot of different players, and they're deadeye shots from the free-throw line, so "snail's pace" doesn't even begin to describe how we want to play the game. If the Hoos win, it might well be the lowest scoring game all season, because we're certainly not winning a shootout. A win here would be a clear upset. To put it in a little perspective, KenPom says our chances of beating Duke at home are better than winning Monday at Maryland.
As for Florida State, argh big men. This is decidedly a frontcourt-oriented team, with bigs Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton doing the job of putting points on the board. We have no answer for Alabi and he will crush us, because he's seven damn feet tall, and he and Singleton make the best shot-blocking tandem in the conference. The UNC formula is going to be the key here: deny that entry pass like your life depends on it. This may actually be easier than it seems. FSU is a turnover-prone team, and not just because the bigs handle the ball so much. Their guards don't take good care of the ball either, and they also won't scare anyone with their three-point skills. The outcome of the game likely boils down to one very simple equation: the more their guards have the ball and the less their bigs do, the better our chances of a win. And the opposite is the case on the other end. When the other team has shot-blockers, it's obviously more effective if you can just shoot over them from the outside instead of trying to go at them head on.
This coming week in order from easiest to hardest, you've got VT, TFSU, and Maryland. And there's a big gap between the Hokies and Noles. That means that VT is the biggest part of this big week. Lose on Saturday and a tournament-killing 0-3 run will be staring us in the face. Win in a hostile gym and it just might (in my ever-sunny outlook) be the catalyst for an exciting run.
- Added OTs Grant Jones and Evan Mulrooney to yellow. Neither have offers yet but Jones is from Liberty Christian, from which we just picked up Mike Rocco, and I bet at least he gets one before the summer.
- Added DT David Dean to blue, who just got his offer this week and "likes Virginia for real."
- Added WR Curt Evans to yellow.
- Added WRs Quinta Funderburke and Lafonte Thourogood to red. The big SEC honchos are after Funderburke, so you can probably forget it, but there he is anyway.
- Moved TE Eric Ebron to red.
View the board here.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
School: Liberty Christian
ESPN: 74, #104 QB
Rivals: 5.3, two stars
Scout: two stars, #109 QB
Rocco was the fourth and final quarterback to commit after Mike London's QB offer cannon found all its targets. The combination of a coaching change at Louisville and an offer from the place Rocco probably wanted to hear from all along did the trick, and Rocco added himself to the class just before Signing Day.
Of the four, Rocco is one of the least likely to change positions. He did also play safety in high school, but....no, he's a quarterback. Very much a pocket-passing type, too. Getting him the class gave us both quarterbacks from the VISAA championship game, in which Rocco played fairly well but couldn't quite bring home the win.
Of course, if he was a little inaccurate, it's not entirely his fault - no doubt the broken arm he suffered in the preseason made him a little rusty, no? And he wasn't quite healed from it even by the championship game, which he played in a cast. No doubt also that the broken arm shut down Rocco's recruitment pretty much entirely - it happened a month after he'd committed to Louisville. Rocco's ratings are consistently low and his offers are nearly nonexistent (before ours, just the Louisville one and a Penn State greyshirt. OK, and the one from Liberty but duh he was gonna get that, his uncle's the coach.) But I'm willing to blame the injury. When a quarterback can't play quarterback for most of the season, teams stop bothering and so do the ratings gurus.
So Rocco comes in as a bit of an enigma. I sound like a broken record here, but like the other three QB's not named Strauss, he's not enrolled early and therefore is a few steps behind in the wide-open job competition. This means a pretty-much guaranteed redshirt. Beyond that, I have no prognostications at all. Rocco's best bet to ever get on the field probably involves Verica winning and holding onto the starting job the whole season, because he's already behind Ross Metheny and Strauss by virtue of not being in spring practice - if they also add some game experience to their resume, it'll make the curve that much tougher for everyone else.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Bill Lazor
Yes, it's just like "laser." Headline writers throughout the entire Commonwealth creamed their pants when they heard he was hired. But Lazor, by virtue of his inexperience and the high-profile job he now holds, is the biggest question mark of the bunch.
First, the positives. During his NFL career, he's worked for some of the best coaches the NFL has to offer. No, not Bill Parcells. But his bosses have included Dan Reeves, Mike Holmgren, and Joe Gibbs, all of whom gave their stamp of approval to the hire. London didn't know Lazor before a month or so ago, but while on the OC hunt, London came across some of these folks and they were all like, "you totally gotta hire this guy," so he did. Lazor, interestingly, has never been fired from any position he's held. When he left the University of Buffalo, it was by his own doing to pursue an NFL career, and though he worked for three separate teams in seven years, his departures were always because of a change at head coach.
He has, on his resume, exactly two years of offensive coordinator experience, which at least is more than Mike Groh had....but still. Those years were largely disastrous, but can't be held against him - Buffalo was in their third and fourth years of I-A membership and wasn't exactly even a competitive team in I-AA. They were horribly ill-equipped for the jump and Bear Bryant couldn't have led that team to three wins. Lazor therefore doesn't have to learn a whole lot about the day-to-day duties, but he is essentially starting fresh here without much, if any, past experience to draw meaningful lessons from. I expect Lazor will be a pretty good quarterbacks coach and a big asset to a very inexperienced squad, but his performance as OC is totally up in the air.
The pro-style offense Lazor will run should be a plus in the short-term, as it won't require much adjustment. It's what the players are used to, even despite the dabblings in the spread last year. It'll make the learning curve a lot shallower.
Wide receivers: Shawn Moore
I may be the only Virginia fan not doing cartwheels about this. Moore quarterbacked some of the most successful UVA teams in history, so he's at least one of the top three most recognizable program alums out there. On the recruiting trail it will be a boost - people know who he is, and when he talks about how awesome UVA is, it'll be instantly obvious he means it 100%.
But between the sidelines, Moore is just another coach, and unfortunately one with zero coaching experience above high school - and we have thrust him into an important offensive assistant position, important especially given that I don't think we got particularly good instruction in this realm from Latrell Scott last year. Moore is tasked with fixing one of the most underachieving position groups on the team, and his bio includes all of one sentence about his coaching experience.
Wide receivers coach is at least the proper position for Moore, if he's going to be somewhere. This may sound counterintuitive, but the best quarterbacks often make lousy coaches. There's a reason the best NFL quarterbacks tend to go into broadcasting instead of coaching. It came naturally to them, so they don't always know how to impart that to someone who needs to squeeze all his available potential out of limited resources. Someone like Marc Verica, for example. At receiver, Moore may not be 100% familiar with a lot of the footwork and blocking techniques, but he can impart what a quarterback wants a receiver to do, which is half the battle.
Running backs: Mike Faragalli
This is where London will supposedly be looking for offensive wisdom. Faragalli's been in the coaching business for three decades, running the gamut from assistant at every position to offensive coordinator (at Bowling Green, Lafayette, and Richmond) to head coach (in the CFL.) Dude's been around.
Faragalli was the backup plan as offensive coordinator if London couldn't find one, and originally I was of the opinion that if London was taking this damn long to find a coordinator, he really wasn't sold on Faragalli's abilities there. Change of opinion: it actually seems more likely London wanted Faragalli in a minor official role so he could take on a very large unofficial role.
Technically, therefore, Faragalli is the running backs coach, but the staff is so under-experienced that Faragalli probably carries the unofficial title of co-everything else. He'll have a hand in building the playbook, you can bet on that. He'll be showing the ropes to the newbie coaches. I know very little about Faragalli other than an overview of his career history, but I wish there were more like him on this staff.
Tight ends: Scott Wachenheim
London brought Wachenheim on board to coach the tight ends, yes, but he's also made it abundantly clear Wachenheim will be expected to lend a hand with the offensive line. Like Faragalli, Wachenheim has an official position and an unofficial one, and given Ron Mattes's woeful lack of experience, it seems to me Wachenheim's duties will be split as much as 50/50. I don't think that's especially healthy. As far as the tight ends go, if Wachenheim is able to focus the right amount of attention on them then I don't have any worries that they'll be productive, but given that he basically has to babysit a pair of rookie coaches, I have my worries about the arrangement.
Offensive line: Ron Mattes/Gordie Sammis
Neither are listed as assistant coaches, because the limit there is nine. Mattes and Sammis are technically graduate assistants, with a lot more responsibility than the usual graduate assistant is given. Both are UVA alums, bringing the alum count on the staff to four, six if you count video grad assistants Josh Zidenberg and Brennan Schmidt. Neither has a lick of coaching experience. Well, OK: Mattes spent four years at JMU after his rather successful NFL career was up - unfortunately that was over 12 years ago. He spent one of those years coaching the O-line.
And yes, this has "bad idea" written all over it. Mattes' extensive time in the NFL is a plus, but that's about the only thing on his resume that says this is a good idea. Sammis is really just apprenticing, but Mattes is going to be expected to pull his weight along with the rest of the coaches. This is a unit that badly underperformed last year because their heads were spinning from the new ideas being thrown at them: two-point stances, huge line splits, entirely new blocking schemes. To put them in the care of a guy who hasn't coached for 12 years and barely has any more experience coaching the line than you or I is not a low-risk move.
Overall, I can't offer up a big vote of confidence for this offensive staff. Taken individually, it seems fine: Lazor has a lot of impressive referrals, Moore is a UVA legend, Mattes is a highly accomplished NFL lineman and should know his trade pretty well, etc. etc. But the experience mix tilts way too heavily toward the inexperienced side of the ledger. This offense is sorely in need of some quality guidance. It needs people who can say, "look, this is how you do it because this is what has worked for the past thirty years." We just don't have enough of that here, and as a result the guys who do have the experience are going to be spending too much of their time babysitting the guys without. Worse, all that inexperience is in the most important positions. Coordinator. O-line coach. Wouldn't it make more sense, for example, to break in Mattes as the tight ends coach, where he would only have five or six players to worry about, than to give him the biggest unit on the team (twenty-plus players)? I have serious misgivings about the way this has been put together. You can only employ someone as a grad assistant for two years, so there will be a guaranteed shakeup after 2011. I don't know whether to add that to the pile of problems or consider it a blessing in disguise.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Anyway, I'll have something ready for baseball season too, but today it is lacrosse time, and we'll take a spin through the nonconference schedule to see what it holds. There's no point in an ACC preview, what with there only being three other teams and they're always just as good as we are. The OOC, as usual, is a mix of the other elite teams in the nation plus some stomping mats. College lacrosse being what it is (that is to say, competed in by a relatively small number of teams and dominated by an iron-grip oligarchy of about eight teams) the schedule doesn't change much from year to year, and there's only one team on this year's schedule that wasn't there last year. The opponents are....
As we've done every year since 2002, we open the season with the Drexel Dragons, who had the audacity to beat us the very first game after the national championship of 2006. Very rude of them. Drexel is not quite as doormatty as their name would suggest, but their conference (the CAA) tends to be owned by Towson and to a lesser extent Hofstra, and it occasionally receives two bids to the tournament but never three, so Drexel doesn't go - ever. They weren't good last year, but that was with a freshman goalie and a young attack. The flip side of that is that they had a fairly experienced defense, much of which has to be replaced this year - not good when facing an attack as strong as ours.
MOUNT ST. MARY'S
The Mount has appeared on the schedule every year since 2005, and we kill them. Combined score in the games since then: 80-19. They're historically lousy and they play in a lousy conference. These games typically aren't close and the stat sheet is always full of lopsided numbers, like us outshooting them 75-23 in 2007 en route to a 23-6 victory.
Another fairly doormatty team, Stony Brook has been on the schedule since 2006, and other than a scare in 2008, they haven't given us a lot of trouble. They could be tricky this year, though. The Seawolves return every starter but one (a defenseman), as well as the nation's top face-off man (Adam Rand) from last year's team that just missed earning their conference's autobid to the tournament. This is a team that probably has tournament on their minds this year.
National champs, yo. Cuse is one of those oligarchy members I mentioned, and for them, lacrosse is practically a revenue sport up there with football and basketball. Our game against them last year - at Syracuse, mind you, not a fancy neutral location where we often play them - drew over 16,500. More often than not, these games are decided by one goal. I could hit you up with all kinds of whatever about who graduated, who didn't, all that, but it doesn't matter: they're a powerhouse and UVA-Syracuse will attract a lot of attention, as it always does.
The only other school in the state of Virginia that plays men's lacrosse. Certain other schools in that region of the Commonwealth should take note and man up. VMI's been on the schedule consecutively since 2006 and the cumulative score since then is 84-12, including a rare shutout three years ago. Not a threat.
Revenge plz. Cornell is another fellow oligarchy member, and they did not, as you might recall, treat us kindly in our last meeting. I was in Foxboro for that debacle, sitting behind a loud and burly Cornell fan who apparently only ever learned four words of language ("YOU BET, BIG RED!!!") and used them after everything that happened. Cornell has the Ivy League by the balls and hasn't failed to make the tournament since 2003. They haven't won a national title since 1977, but damn if they didn't come close last year. In our game last year, they basically played the lacrosse equivalent of a pack-line defense, and turned the attack zone near the net into a black hole into which passes and shots disappeared only to reemerge on the stick of a Cornell player. Expect them to do that til we figure it out.
Not good, and not likely to ever be as Burlington is still snowy during half the season. This year could be especially rough on the Catamounts as they've managed to schedule themselves eleven road games against only four home games. Schedule filler here.
Owing to a favorable location (Baltimore) Towson is something of a mid-major power and a semi-regular participant in the NCAA tournament. They juuust missed the tournament last year after Villanova withstood their rally in the CAA championship (though, you might remember, 'Nova's reward for that was to get spanked pretty badly at Klockner.) With Villanova off to the Big East, Towson's chances at getting back to the tournament get a boost, but they have quite a few seniors to replace. Towson is a regular on our schedule, having appeared there since 2001, and we don't lose to them although typically we have to play a good game or else it's a little too close for comfort. Last year looked a lot better, though - we held them to two goals, and with a lot of their scorers graduated, we should be able to repeat that kind of good defensive effort.
Alright, look, you know about Johns Hopkins if you've ever followed lacrosse. Even if you haven't, you still know, because Johns Hopkins is famous for two things: lacrosse, and a killer med school. (Errrr, wait. That's probably not the best way to describe a med school. Let's just say it's elite.) We play 'em every year and will continue to do so until the earth falls into the sun; it's kind of a rivalry. In fact, I'm of the opinion - for real - that the ACC should be actively trying to convince Hopkins to join as a lacrosse-only member and then scrounge up another team from somewhere so as to have the six teams necessary for an autobid. This would have been way cooler if Syracuse had joined the ACC as planned, but still. Hell, Hopkins is always playing the whole ACC anyway....if they joined, the schedule wouldn't even change.
Anyway, it's a marquee game. Obviously. Must beat Hopkins.
This is the only team on the 2010 slate that wasn't an opponent last year. They're also in an interesting spot: in between the ACC tournament and the NCAAs. Nice little tune-up game that should keep the team sharp. This is another CAA team - there are three on the schedule - and they slot in below most of the teams in that conference, so they shouldn't pose too much of a threat.
The neat thing about checking out the opponents on this year's schedule is that most of them, especially the sort of doormatty ones, highlight the Virginia game as they release their own slate. I mean, you don't need me to tell you about our lacrosse success stories and how we're a member of that iron-fisted oligarchy over the lacrosse landscape, but still, it's really a lot of fun to hop from site to site investigating the season's opponents and finding that they've all circled the UVA date on their calendar.
Just a reminder for upcoming posts: I still owe you two more recruit capsules on Mike Rocco and Zach Swanson, plus the offensive side of the coaching staff, and I'm also working on a three-part preview of the ACC baseball season. Lot of good stuff to look forward to. The 2010 recruiting board is finalized - finally - and the 2011 board still needs a good scrub, it's been a while. Yesterday's statistics post got a nice little highlight from TheSabre, which I always appreciate, but which also means a lot of new people were poking around the place and clicking on the recruiting boards and now I know how my mom must have felt when a bunch of guests would come over and the party would move to a room she forgot to vacuum. So those needed an update, and the 2010 board is for all time complete and the 2011 board (probably) will get one sometime this week. Snow day tomorrow - might just be my big chance.
Monday, February 8, 2010
As I need not explain to you, Tony Bennett came in as coach this year and made as his #1 priority the installation of the pack-line defense, a strict system that, when properly executed, is godawful painful to try and score upon. Just ask North Carolina. This, plus the demand that his team play a measured, deliberate pace, is the hallmark of the Tony Bennett system. The results on the defensive end have been impressive enough to earn a mention in the NCAA's official blog. Mention, hell: they wrote a whole article detailing the defensive improvement. The spectacular drop from 72.5 PPG allowed to just 60.9 is cited as the reason for the improvement on the standings sheet. They're not the only ones - it's basically conventional wisdom. Improve on defense, improve the record, it sounds simple. Hooray for Tony Bennett and his pack-line.
Wait, what? Yup. The truth is, the team hasn't actually improved that damn much on defense at all. Somewhat, yes. But the main reason we've gone from doormat to an outside shot at the NCAA tournament is because of the huge improvement on offense, not defense. I shall explain.
For those unfamiliar with the KenPom ratings, the fundamental point is this: What's the point of defense? Answer: to stop the other team from scoring on the current possession. Therefore the possession, not the game, should be the base unit of measurement. KenPom's offensive and defensive ratings are based on points per 100 possessions. Very very roughly, the average team gets about a point per possession, so above 100 on defense is bad and below is good. Roughly.
KenPom further adjusts his stats by applying some complex logarithmic exponential differential whatever formula to the raw stats. This is to take away the effects of strength of schedule and try to simulate how the team would do against a perfectly average opponent on a neutral court. We'll be using adjusted stats here.
This year we're averaging about 93.7 points allowed per 100 defensive possessions; last year we averaged 95 points allowed per 100 possessions. There's hardly any difference. Tony Bennett is known for his slow pace, and that is most definitely borne out in KenPom's stats. In 2009, a UVA game averaged 68.2 (adjusted) possessions, 92nd in the country; in 2010, that number is down to about 63 (adjusted) - 322nd in the country. (That's per team per game.) They weren't kidding when they said Bennett slows the game down.
Multiply 93.7 by 0.63 and you get about 59. What do you know - that is just about exactly how many points per game we actually give up. Only off by a point or so. The stats work. Do the same for 2009 - multiply 95 by .682 - and you get 65. That's actually quite a bit fewer than our actual PPG average, but the discrepancy is very easily explained the fact that we average four fewer turnovers than last year. That's four fewer possessions for the opposition, and possessions off turnovers - those caused by steals anyway - tend to be fastbreak opportunities, meaning more points. The four-turnover difference is actually more like an eight-possession swing in our favor: four fewer possessions for the bad guys, and four more chances for us that don't turn into an automatic zero.
But our offense? Improved? Obviously. Again, if you look only at points per game, you'll miss the point entirely. Last year, 70 points per game. This year, 70 points per game. But remember: that's on six fewer possessions per game. Whether you look at KenPom's raw or adjusted numbers, we are scoring ten more points per 100 possessions. We're 43rd in the country in offensive efficiency at 111 points per 100, up from 165th in the country last year.
The numbers don't lie. Our defensive efficiency is about the same as it was. (If you use real-world numbers the improvement is a lot greater, but that doesn't account for the fact that we have yet to play the hardest part of the schedule.) Offensively, we're much better. So what's the real difference?
One, we can shoot. Last year I repeatedly lamented our inability to hit a simple jump shot. This lousy shooting caused a lot of long rebounds and hurt our defensive numbers because teams were scoring easy transition buckets. We're shooting so much better it's unbelievable. Sammy has found a shot, JJ has found a shot, Sylven has found a shot. Such a difference when you can make your three-pointers.
Two, did I mention Sylven Landesberg? He's no longer a freshman and there are two major differences in his game: Turnovers are down and three-point shooting is up. This is big. He's not a deadeye shot from downtown, but he's good enough that people now have to respect it. Good enough to get a little pub for POTY, in fact.
Three, the ACC has been playing out exactly as I told you it would. We are better because we didn't lose any major pieces from last year's team, and the teams we've beaten, with the exception of Georgia Tech, are worse. NC State has taken a step back, Miami has taken about twenty steps back, and UNC has crashed into the goddamned mountain.
If all this sounds like it's taking credit away from Tony Bennett, it's not meant to. He did, as I've harped on, walk into a good situation in that his team is basically the same as last year only a year older, a year wiser, and a year better. And the ACC is, in general, worse. But the turnover numbers are all Bennett. He emphasizes "take care of the ball" more than Leitao did, and his slow pace makes it much easier to do so. Leitao's offense was almost literally indescribable, because nobody was quite sure what it was. (OK, that's not quite fair to Leitao, but the offense was still a mess last year.) Bennett has a philosophy and it results in better shots. Bennett is calmer; Leitao's style was a bit rough on a young team. And Bennett's slow pace keeps the game closer, a plus for a team facing a talent deficiency the way we have been against teams like GT and Wake.
And finally, there's this: Leitao played a pretty traditional man-to-man defense. The guys have been doing that for a while. It's not hard to learn and the players had experience with it. Bennett brought in a whole new thing, which demanded the players scrap their old ways of thinking and do things, in some cases, entirely the opposite of what they'd been taught: do not switch on screens, and such-like. Yes, the defense is only just as effective as it was last year, but to be as effective in a totally brand-new system is an accomplishment in itself - while at the same time improving rather dramatically on offense. Just you wait til this pack-line defense becomes second nature.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Defensive coordinator: Jim Reid
I have no idea what the difference is between an assistant head coach and an associate head coach - probably none at all - but Jim Reid, besides being the chief defense dude, is officially the latter. The guy's been around. He started his career by rising all the way from graduate assistant to head coach at UMass, and he coached Richmond and VMI as well.
His head coaching record appears spotty at first blush (he has a losing record), but there are mitigating circumstances, the biggest one being: it was friggin' VMI. That's a no-win situation there. Pun intended. At Richmond, he did very well until his last few years, but UVA fans can no doubt sympathize with the reasons: the meddling administration cut down the number of scholarships he had at his disposal.
He did well enough at Richmond that he almost got himself hired here at UVA, and probably would have been if George Welsh hadn't retired. It makes for a nice little circle from when Reid was sent to shadow Welsh around some 20+ years ago to learn the coaching ropes. Welsh said Reid's defense gave him fits, which must have some ring of truth to it given that Al Groh's first UVA squad needed a missed extra point to beat Reid in 2001.
If nothing else, you have to appreciate what this hire says about the honesty of the coaching staff in place. It's an interesting dynamic because Reid was London's boss once upon a time. London has proclaimed his willingness to depart from the Groh tradition of heavy-handed micromanaging, and Reid for his part believes that the coaches he hired worked "with him, not for him." London's willingness to hire an old boss whose pinky finger has more head coaching experience than London will have in five years, and Reid's willingness to leave a cushy NFL job and work under someone he once directed, speak to the truth of these statements.
Fun fact: Welsh wasn't the only opposing coach to praise Reid's defenses. His counterpart at Villanova called games against Reid's Richmond defenses "bloodlettings."
Defensive line/recruiting coordinator - Jeff Hanson
Hanson is one of the cadre brought over from Richmond along with London, and it's not the first time London has hired the man. Though Hanson spent 28 years at Richmond, it was London that brought him in for his third stint in 2008. Hanson's never been a head coach or even a coordinator, and has also never coached in the I-A ranks before. However, Hanson was London's assistant head coach for two years at Richmond and would have been the acting head coach if for whatever reason London wasn't available.
It's just a little bothersome that Hanson has never coached at the highest levels before despite bumming around the I-AA ranks for a full 38 years. What Hanson does bring to the table is a high degree of familiarity with his bosses - he's already worked for both London and defensive coordinator Jim Reid in the past, at Richmond, and the (caution: annoying corporate buzzword follows) synergy that that brings is comforting. The job of recruiting coordinator is largely administrative and carried out in the offices, not on the recruiting trail, and the major difference between his old job and this one is that I-A recruiting has a much more national scope than I-AA recruiting does. Other than that, his skills should translate over seamlessly.
Fun fact: Does not actually put on the foil before every game.
Linebackers - Vincent Brown
And just when you think you've gotten rid of the Bill Parcells coaching tree at UVA. Back in the day, Brown was a top-notch linebacker for the Patriots for - yup - Bill Parcells for a couple years. He got his feet wet coaching for - yup - Parcells again, this time with the Dallas Cowboys, first as an intern, and then, he must have made some kind of impression, because he was brought back for a year as the Cowboys' inside linebackers coach. No doubt due to the well-known Groh-Parcells connection, Brown spent 2007 as a grad assistant right here at UVA, and then was brought to Richmond when London left to coach there.
Brown appears to have the makings of a real up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. Just one internship in Dallas and no less a personality than Bill Parcells gave him an actual NFL coaching job - probably under some supervision, but still. Just one year working with Mike London at UVA and he was promptly offered the linebacker job when London got his chance at Richmond. Occasionally, people voice some concern that London has turned our coaching staff into Richmond, version 2, but Brown can't really be lumped into that - he's a London guy more than a Richmond guy, and his NFL experience is a major asset. He's inexperienced, but he's made all the right impressions so far.
Fun fact: When Brown took the ballsy step of asking Bill Parcells for a coaching job, Parcells made him chill out for a year to make sure he actually wanted to coach.
Cornerbacks - Chip West
Like Hanson, West is in his first I-A job (unless you count having been a grad assistant at WVU.) Being a Hampton native, he fills the role here of the resident celebrity recruiter in the crucial 757 area, and London makes no secret of his having been hired in part to do just that. West also has the distinction of being on the first coaching staff of the reconstituted ODU football team, where he just happened to have been assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator. Quality coaching credentials, although as always there's a smidge of doubt about taking those skills to the next level. Still, personality is personality, and West is here to recruit and the fact that he's only being given half a position to coach (a typical coaching staff has one coach for the DBs, not two) underscores that.
Fun fact: Being a black guy named Chip puts him into automatic consideration for the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars.
Safeties/special teams: Anthony Poindexter
Oh come on, look, if you don't know about Dex, I'm afraid we're going to have to put the training wheels back on your UVA fandom.
What you really need to know about this is that I am not at all convinced London would have brought back Dex given his druthers. Along with Bob Price, Poindexter was one of the holdovers from Groh's staff tasked by the administration to keep the program from falling totally to pieces while they conducted the coaching search. The reason I'm not really convinced London actually made the call to keep him is because 1) he wasn't the first choice for special teams coach and 2) he had half his positional responsibilities shifted to Chip West. It seems odd you'd do that latter move to someone you fully intended to keep around. I could be completely, 100% wrong on this, it's just speculation.
Fun fact: Poindexter once played football for the University of Virginia Cavaliers.
Mike London has worked in some capacity with each and every one of these coaches, including West, with whom he's never been on a staff but did work a few recruiting camps. Al Groh was an outstanding defensive mind, but thanks to a little continuity with Poindexter and a lot of familiarity between these coaches, there shouldn't be much of a step down, if any, from previous years. There's an extremely heavy state-of-Virginia slant - all of them have spent huge portions of their careers in the state, and experience at half the D-I football programs in the state is represented on the defense alone. Jim Reid should prove to be an excellent choice as defensive coordinator in all facets: he's got the certificates on the wall, he's got the seal of approval from no less an authority than George Welsh, and he's not likely to seek out another job for quite a while. There's a nice mix of experience and up-and-coming energy on this defensive staff, and it won't hurt that London is a defensive guy himself. The defense is in good hands for the coming seasons.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
ESPN: 75, three stars, #104 OT
Rivals: 5.2, two stars
It's sort of fitting that Lawe and Jake McGee committed on the same day, because their stories are pretty similar. Coach is hired from I-AA institution, brings recruit with him. In this case, Old Dominion is the I-AA instituion, and Chip West is the coach. Lawe's decision in the end came down to ODU or UVA, and let's see, when UVA is the higher-profile program, better school, and has your ODU recruiter onboard, the choice is easy. It really wasn't so much a choice as "can I get into school there" - Lawe had a little SAT work to do before he could pass muster with UVA admissions. I suppose there's still always the possibility that the SAT score won't be up to snuff, but Lawe is at least officially in the class.
On the field, Lawe is a borderline I-A prospect. He's got the size, which you can't teach, but only one of the scouting services really took him seriously as a I-A player. Lawe was in attendance at our prospect camp in July and did not, obviously, get an offer then. He pretty much made the rounds on the camp circuit, in fact, so calling him a sleeper isn't really accurate. People knew who he was and didn't offer. On the flip side, neither is it accurate to claim we're scraping for I-AA talent here just because ODU was his other final choice. Lawe was sort of being kept in the rolodex by a lot of programs and was also offered by Memphis, a program like ours that hired a new coach and needed to fill out a recruiting class.
Lawe's future in the program is going to be very much of wait-and-see. A redshirt year is a lock. Rare is the lineman that doesn't redshirt anyway, but Lawe needs to get stronger - it's a commonly cited weakness, even by his own high school coach. I offer no prediction at all as to when Lawe might see the field, if ever: he's the kind of depth guy you grab because you can never, ever, ever have enough offensive line depth. Sometimes they make an impact (Austin Pasztor) and sometimes they just sort of fade into the background (Billy Cuffee.) Lawe will be thrown onto the pile and we'll see where it goes from there.
To finish up:
- The greatest football player in UVA history is gone. Bullet Bill Dudley was old-school as all hell and had a proper old-school nickname to match. He ran, passed, kicked, punted, played defense - did it all, like old-school football stars did in old-school days. (In fact, Dudley is one of only three NFL Triple Crown winners and the only one in history to ever lead the league in four categories.) Served in WWII like all the old-schoolers. Wore an old-school number. Played for the old-school NFL teams - Pittsburgh, Detroit, Washington. And most of all he had that old-school integrity and character. One of the real greats is gone, and the world is a little less old-school for it.
- The schedule is out, and I don't really have much comment, other than that it really, really sucks to have our bye week so early, and before the easiest game of the season. Thanks, scheduling gods. As of now (that is, before the MAC schedules are released) Eastern Michigan has an open date on September 18th when we have our bye - if that remains open when the MAC schedules come out, I'm'a be pissed. Tell me you wouldn't rather have that bye in the middle of the season before Miami instead of like, right away.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
What you get in this fascinating extravaganza: a summary of the top storylines, a position-by-position rundown, and a few Top Five lists. Everyone loves Top Five lists.
- Morgan Moses is still a Hoo. Actual qualification remains up in the air, to be honest, but we're closer on that front than we were at this time last year, so hopefully he will be on Grounds in the fall. I'm just going to assume for purposes of this post that he will.
- Kevin Parks is awesome.
- The class is short one member. Kyrrel Latimer has to go to prep school for a year, so he'll be pushed back a year. (London doesn't mention him by name because he's not allowed to, but Latimer is the one listed as "not signed" and you can put two and two together here.) Latimer is now a member of the 2011 class for accounting purposes around here, and the depth chart and recruiting board and such will reflect that once I get around to updating them.
- This class is absurdly heavily weighted toward the offense. Of the 17 commits, just five are defensive, and one (Lawe) might end up there but isn't categorized as such for now.
- It's kind of a weak class. Rivals ranks it 10th in the ACC. But from a pure star-ratings standpoint, it's still better than the '08 class, which has already turned out a few real players in guys like Austin Pasztor, Cam Johnson, and Steve Greer. Kudos to Al Groh for being able to recruit a pretty fair class in the face of extremely difficult circumstances, and kudos to Mike London and the holdover coaches (Price and Poindexter) for not losing a single commitment and keeping the whole class together through the coaching change. That's rare. It's not a strong class, but it's not bad at all for having spent the whole year in coaching purgatory.
And a P.S. to this bullet: Price deserves extra credit for being a consummate professional throughout all this. He had no idea what his future would hold - and he's not even listed as an assistant coach any more - but he put himself out there and helped hold this group together while the head coaching search was going on. Bravo to Bob Price.
- With 17 signees, and assuming all fifth-years are asked back (they won't all be) we have 89 scholarships promised out. This isn't a number that concerns me - we'll be at 85 in the fall without much effort.
Going position by position....
We have a whopping four in this class, which is at least two too many, and we'll definitely see some positional movement. In order from least likely to switch to most, the list is: Strauss, Rocco, Gooch, McGee. McGee is basically already tabbed elsewhere anyway. Every single one of these guys is a Mike London recruit, and Strauss is already enrolled, which will put him through spring practice and give him a mostly-even playing field with Ross Metheny in the competition for places on the depth chart. Riko Smalls may or may not stick at quarterback, which will open up the gate just a little bit for Rocco and/or Gooch.
Last year I called this section of the class a big disappointment, because we only had one. A good one, but only one. More RB's decommitted than signed. This year things look much better, largely because Kevin Parks looks like the real deal, and we have Khalek Shepherd for insurance. Running back is my favorite position on the field and we got our best player of the class there, so I'm excited. There's plenty of room for true freshmen to get on the field, too.
Wide receiver/tight end
Only one true receiver in the class, but that's fine - we took such a huge haul last year that there's no worry. Zach Swanson was a late and badly, badly needed addition to the class, because we have only three scholarship tight ends on the roster and one of them graduates after this season.
Half this year's class is made up of last year's class. Conner Davis is one of the more significant additions, for reasons I'll go into below, and hopefully Morgan Moses will get the ol' academic situation squared away because the offense could very much use his help on the left side.
There is nobody. What we have is one guy recruited as a linebacker that'll likely move to DE - Brathwaite. That's the worst part about this class is a general lack of bodies at a position that we just expanded this offseason. We did pick up a mess of defensive ends last year, but a lot of shuffling is going to be required in order to have anything resembling a depth chart on the D-line. DE's will move inside and OLB's will move down, else we won't have enough linemen to fill out a proper 4-3 defense. This needs to be a priority for 2011.
Little thinner than we're used to, but we only need three on the field now. Both Ryan Cobb and Henry Coley were for the most part lightly recruited, but Groh made them priorities. Trust Groh to know his linebackers.
Argh. Once again, a shortage of true cornerbacks. We should be OK at safety this year and going forward - plenty of depth, and we might even have the room to put a redshirt back on Corey Lillard. But after 2010 we are going to be experiencing a significant cornerback crisis. Rijo Walker was a huge, huge pickup because we didn't recruit a single true cornerback last year, but he's all by himself.
We didn't need any and didn't get any.
OK! Lists. You know you want them.
Five most likely to play as true freshmen:
By "five", I meant "four." That's really about it. Even before we knew last year would be a major freshmanfest with 14 of them hitting the field, it looked like there'd be opportunity for true freshmen to see playing time. Not so much this year. By the way, I got three of five last year and would have gotten four of five if Moses had qualified. Moses makes the list for the second year in a row because his talent is going to be hard to ignore. The same is true for Parks. He and Shepherd go into a situation where very few of their competitors have much time on the field, and playing time will be up for grabs. Swanson also plays a very thin position.
Five I'm most excited about:
We've discussed Moses and Parks in great length. Walker, I'm just happy to finally have a cornerback in a recruiting class. I have this inexplicable gut feeling about Brathwaite. I liked him a little better as a 3-4 rush linebacker than a true DE, but something about Brathwaite strikes me right. And Strauss has enrolled early, which you cannot underestimate the value of doing, especially for a quarterback. It's like a free seven months of playbook study and a whole bunch of practices that the rest of the guys don't get.
The criteria for this list: I have to like something about your game, and you have to have been ignored or shat upon with the Two-Star Of Doom by at least one of the major scouting services.
For Parks, I make an exception because this is a guy who'd be a high four star if one of two things were true: if he were 5'11", or if he'd waited til October or November to commit. Neither is the case, so the services just lazily left him with the middling ranking they'd given him based on his size and speed.
Cobb comes from one of the elite programs in the country and is a two-way player there - worth something for sure. Brathwaite I've talked about a bit. Very hard worker, smart guy, very athletic. Strauss and Gooch get to be on the list because Scout was like "whatever" and gave them two stars. You might be able to understand that with Strauss, whose other scholarship options were mainly the MAC and Sun Belt. Actually the same is true for Gooch, but the services are all over the map with him - ESPN believes he's our best non-Moses recruit. (Which is part of the reason Parks makes this list, when you think about it.)
Purely mathematical here, or almost purely. Just a composite of the three rating services - these are the guys that come out on top.
Last year, I finished up with two of the most fun lists of all: who we'd beaten out Maryland and VT for. This year is much sadder: the lists are so small they're hardly worth it. We have precisely one recruit that chose us over an offer from VT: Conner Davis. They have five that we offered. It's not as bad it sounds: truth be told, most of those guys are like Mark Shuman, Nick Dew types - they really were going to be nigh-impossible to pry loose anyway. That many kids growing up dreaming of wearing the ugliest colors imaginable, that is a problem in and of itself and will require a few winning seasons to rectify. But with a narrow focus on this season, we got our guy, they got theirs, and what more can you do?
Things are brighter on the Maryland front. Davis had an offer from the Terps as well, as did E.J. Scott and Khalek Shepherd, which you'd expect because that's where they're from. Tyrek Cheeseboro is the only recruit that picked them over us, a much better showing than last year when they pried Caleb Porzel directly out of our hands.
And that wraps up another Signing Day. We're not quite ready to close the book on the class, because I still have to get around to writing up several of these guys. Then it's onto 2011 with a vengeance. Already three recruits in what looks to be a big class.