Wednesday, March 31, 2010

let this be a warning to you

I didn't have any comment the first time this monster reared its ugly head, so it's time to seize that opportunity. The monster in question is the specter of NCAA tournament expansion, specifically the idea of exploding the tournament from 64 to 96 teams, brought into the forefront again by the revelation today that the commissioner of the Big Ten considers expansion of the tournament "probable."

Now, it's being widely reported that Jim Delany is referring to the big kahuna of 96, despite the fact that the question posed to him (at least as written in the original story there) has nothing to do with 96 teams and refers instead to "the expansion issue", which could mean quite a few different things. But the media is running with the 96 number that the NCAA floated a few weeks back. So I will too.

The response to the idea of 96 has been pretty much unanimous among those whose job, hobby, or preferred distraction is to opine about sports in whatever forum they have: they hate it. It is a universally condemned idea, and I'm not about to try and be the lone voice going against that crowd. I hate it too. The 64-team tournament (I do not acknowledge that the loser of the play-in game actually participated in the tournament) has a perfect symmetry to it. And more importantly, it still means something to make the tournament. For those of us in a power conference, it's the dividing line between a good and bad season. Chanting "N-I-T! N-I-T!" at a bubble team you don't particularly like is fun; replacing it with "Eight-teen-seed! Eight-teen-seed!" just doesn't sound the same, does it? When you talk about a tournament season, or "we've been to the tournament this many times this decade" or whatever, it loses a lot of meaning if it becomes that much easier to get in.

But I'm not here to talk about why I don't like a 96-team tournament. If I were, I'd go on for days. A little bit later, I do plan on assessing the possibilities for where this could go in the future, and some of the impossibilities too.

The obvious fact is, the NCAA doesn't give a shit what you or I think. There isn't a fan out there who would say, "oh yeah, the new name for the Peach Bowl is a big improvement." And besides, there are lots of other people on this soapbox, and when it comes down to it we all know - and so do they - that we're going to sop up like dogs whatever the NCAA throws out there. They could declare a 256-team tournament and we'd all be like, "Woo! Tournament!" once March rolls around. So what we think doesn't matter to them.

But that does bring me to the main point: People like tournaments, you see, and though the Official Platform Position of this blog is anti-playoff in football, your humble writer knows he's in the minority. And for that matter, accepts the likelihood that sometime in his lifetime, a playoff will exist. Now, there is a very sizable contingent among the very sizable pro-playoff crowd whose feelings about a football playoff run something like this: "I want a playoff, but I don't want to ruin the regular season, so I want a small one. Six or eight teams. This would allow the best teams to play for the title." Does that sound familiar? Do you or someone you know feel this way?

If the answer is yes, then I'm speaking directly to you. We all like the 64-team format in basketball. It's symmetrical, it's competitive, it's entertaining. Nobody wants to see it messed with by going to a 96-team monstrosity, but the NCAA doesn't care what you think and is seriously considering going to one anyway. As soon as next year, in fact. I will say this in big, bold, yellow, colorful, completely unmistakable letters - not to insult your reading or seeing capabilities, but so that nobody ever miscontrues what I'm saying:


This 96-team idea is the shot across your bow. I've said this before, I've been saying for the longest time, and I will continue to say it. The NCAA does not give a rat pellet about what's best for the competition. They care about the money. Money drives them. Let me restate what I said over a year ago:

Take a look at March Madness. You think it's got 65 teams because those are the best 65 teams in the land and they all have a great shot at the title? Hell no. It's 65 because the NCAA couldn't resist the awesome bracket-building, money-grubbing wonder of three weekends of March Madness, baby! It used to be 8 teams. Then it was 16. Then it was 20-some. Then 32. Then 48. Then 64. Then 65. And they're talking of expansion again! Your cute little perfect six team or eight team football bracket will not stay that way.
I warned you back then. I'm warning you now. And to whomever does not listen to these warnings, and thinks they can have a neat little eight-team bracket without having it balloon to an ugly and unrecognizable mess in the future, I will have no hesitation in saying I Told You So when the time comes.

The NCAA wants a 96 team tournament. If they don't do it this summer, they will do it eventually. Never underestimate the ability of the college presidents and conference commissioners and NCAA board to screw up a good thing if it's not bringing in enough cash. The same will happen with football, if they ever decide to shake up the bowl system. It might not happen immediately, but it will happen. If you want a football playoff but would be unhappy with a big one, now is a very good time to rethink.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

big-picture recruiting

Slow news day today. There's no midweek lacrosse game and baseball is taking on Towson, which is terrible. I thought I'd take the opportunity to take an early stab at projecting the 2011 recruiting classes in both basketball and football. Not with names, mostly, but a big-picture kind of look.


There are 14 seniors departing after the 2010 season, and the team is one shy of the limit of 85 after Riko Smalls' departure, so there are 15 for-sure openings. There is always attrition and you can always count on some redshirt juniors not being asked back for a fifth year. I think there are two or three candidates for that. So a class size of roughly 20, plus or minus a couple, is what I'd expect.

On offense, the staff is probably going to be pretty judicious with the offers they send out at the skill positions. Lazor's offense doesn't need a whole lot of receivers; in fact, with Adrian Gamble on board, the staff probably wouldn't have a lot of heartache if he was the only one. There are a couple guys on that board that you take no matter what, like maybe Quinta Funderburke, but the numbers at receiver look about right for now.

Same for running back. Clifton Richardson is basically onboard already and Nyjee Fleming appears likely enough to follow; once those two are in the bank, that'll be all we need. Quarterback too; London scooped up everyone he could find at the end of the last recruiting cycle and the only real reason to take one this year is the principle that you basically want one every year because you never know. They've offered who they like, if they find another they like they'll offer him too, but there's already a whole bunch coming in the fall and there's no need to cram a whole bunch more into that tight a space. One is all we need.

O-line, however, is a place where you always, always want to stack up as much depth as you can, and take three or four in every class. Thus the offer cannon has been readied. Between the Rivals offer list and the recruiting board here, there are probably 10 or 12 linemen already out there for the looking, and maybe one of them will end up at UVA. Offers are going to be flowing out of Charlottesville to offensive lineman all spring and summer.

So on offense: say two running backs, one or two receivers, a quarterback, and 3-4 linemen. Throw in a likely tight end as well, and of the target 20 scholarships, about 9 or 10 for the offense.

There's a slightly greater need on defense. Starting with the defensive line, where thanks to the switch from the 3-4 to 4-3, defensive tackles are suddenly in demand, big time. One is already in the house (David Dean), I really like our chances with DE Rob Burns, and we still need more. Ends and tackles alike have been offered with regularity, and my thought is that four, maybe even five linemen is the target.

So you'd think that linebacker would take a corresponding drop in demand, but I'd guess not. The staff moved Ausar Walcott and LoVante' Battle down to linebacker with the idea of increasing the speed at that position, but what that did to the numbers is give us five scholarship sophomore linebackers, and six scholarship linebackers in all the other classes combined. That means two things: one, someone like Battle or Connor McCartin is a prime candidate to put the redshirt back on this year so as to even out the numbers a bit, and two, in the long-term - like, 2012 or 2013 - we're going to be slammed with departures if we don't do something to soften the blow. That means at least two, possibly three linebackers in this class of 2011. Travis Hughes and Curtis Grant are both take-no-matter-what prospects if we can get either one, and there are a couple other LB's in blue on the recruiting board. Offers will continue to roll here.

And hey, we're suddenly thin in the secondary too, thanks to the aforementioned position switches. Plus, one of my biggest heartaches over Groh's recruiting was the near-complete lack of true cornerbacks recently. I think Demetrious Nicholson is one of the biggest must-gets in the class for that reason. Must collect defensive backs - both safeties and cornerbacks. There's already one in Matt Bailey, but five defensive backs is not too many, split about evenly between CB and safety. Four seems like a more likely number.

All told, that's 4-5 linemen, 2-3 linebackers, and 4-5 DBs. No way do we clock in at all three upper limits, but I think UVA takes 10 defensive players at a minimum and probably more like 11, maybe 12.


Basketball recruiting is grimy as hell, so I try to avoid it as a topic, but this is big-picture stuff so it's OK. There is an open scholarship in 2010 and it looks like it's going unfilled, except for maybe giving it to Will Sherrill as a senior present. Regardless, it makes four openings in 2011.

Tony Bennett's no dummy, and he knows that tying ten scholarships in two classes (it'd be six in the '10 class and four in '11) makes for some ugly numbers. You don't want your back against the wall when it's time for them to go. So Bennett's actively going for a two-year transfer. This would have a lot of benefits, but one of them is that his scholarship would free up again in 2013, one year before this six-man monstrosity of a class finishes their eligibility. Help spread the schollies around. If he can't get Justin Hamilton, and I hope I hope I hope I hope he can, he'll find someone else.

That leaves three for the '11 class, which is a perfectly normal size. And one of them is a stone-cold lock to go to a big man as long as Tony can find one that can fog a mirror and not be a defensive neanderthal. You know as well as I do that if Marshall Plumlee wants to be that guy at UVA, there's a spot for him.

Two big men would be an even better deal for the class and that's probably what Bennett will press for. Thing is, though, of the six coming in 2010, only two really qualify as big guys. Being as we lose Mike Scott and Sherrill after this season, that'll leave us with - as of now - Assane Sene, James Johnson, and Will Regan to man the interior. Hence the push for Hamilton and Plumlee. If by some miracle we get both, then what we'll need is a 6'8" power forward type. If we don't, then whoever has the best combination of size and skills, whether that be a seven-foot tree or another Scott type that can be asked to bang down low despite being a bit undersized for the job.

Lastly, a point guard. The guard offers out so far are all point guards. About the only true, honest-to-god point guard we'll have going forward is Jontel Evans. Sammy is a two guard with some one-ish abilities, and Billy Baron is a point guard on the same concept of having your best athlete play quarterback: whatever gets the ball in his hands the most. Baron might stick at the one, or shift to the two.

Bottom line here: the 2011 class has some very, very clearly defined needs. A true point guard and a true center. And a pony, while we're asking. We're awfully needy at both positions, but so is 90% of the nation. If Bennett can score one player who perfectly fits the description of a true 1 or a true 5, that'll be pretty good. To make a safe prediction: three guys in the class - two tall and one short. Plumlee tops the wish list; Angelo Chol would look pretty good as Tall Guy #2. I sort of suspect the point guard will be someone we haven't heard of yet. Someone who plays Bennett Ball, whatever that is.

Monday, March 29, 2010

weekend review

Yawn. Another weekend, another dominating performance by UVA athletics. Now if we could say that in the fall, that'd be sweet, but spring ain't bad either. I've already given you my take on the lacrosse game, complete with video, and only have one thing to add: those orange shorts at home are way, way better than white ones if we're going to stick with these white helmets. I don't like the marshmallow look. Our colors are blue and orange, let's see some of that.

So let's talk baseball a bit. Let's talk baseball stats - it's the one sport most inclined to stat geeks. Like:

- Extra-base hits. This one was brought up by one of the observant posters on TheSabre and given the lineup Clemson has, it's remarkable: our pitchers allowed just one extra-base hit all weekend, a Chris Epps double in the second game (8-5 loss.) That's right - neither of Clemson's biggest boppers (Schaus and Parker) managed anything but singles. They got their share, but were limited to two RBIs between them.

- Unearned runs. ARGGGGH. After I go and brag on our fielding and bag on theirs, it's UVA that gets done in by three unearned runs in the ninth inning of Game 2. That's head-asplodingly annoying.

- Strength of schedule. Oh yes. This is actually the interesting stuff here. Back in January, the media held their poll as always to offer up their preseason rankings. Baseball uses the division structure, so the media voted and ranked by divisions, but here I'm ranking them based on how many points they earned in the poll:

1. UVA
2. FSU
3. Clemson
4. GT
5. UNC
6. Miami
6. BC
8. NC State
9. Wake
10. VT
11. Md.
12. Duke

Miami is better than Boston College and nobody in their right mind would say otherwise, so I'm giving them #6 and BC #7. It's neato enough that we were #1, but now that everyone's played three series, guess who has the strongest strength of schedule per these ratings? Duh, UVA again. And that's obviously without the benefit of getting to play the #1 team. The strongest schedules so far are UVA (played FSU, BC, Clemson), Maryland (VT, GT, FSU), Florida State (UVA, UNC, Md.) and North Carolina (Duke, FSU, GT.)

And we're 7-2! And so is Miami, despite having played the worst schedule of the bunch (BC, Duke, NC State.) I say despite because how do you lose two games? Georgia Tech is on our sked in two weeks and hopefully their Duke series this week gives them a false sense of confidence before our pitchers mow down their lineup. UVA is putting the tough games behind them, and winning those series too. 20 wins is within reach here.

Speaking of pitchers mowing down the opposition, guess who actually had the best game of the three weekend starters? Morey was nasty striking out 7 in six innings, and gave up fewer hits too, but it was Cody Winiarski that stuck out by scattering six hits and giving up just one run. That's two brilliant starts in a row now, and doing it against Boston College is one thing; Clemson is another entirely. Two games against Towson this week before the NC State weekend series, and Roberts and Kline take the hill - looks like someone's solidified his spot as a Sunday starter. This was (and still is, a little bit) in my opinion the #1 issue facing the team if they wanted to compete for the national title. The way tournament ball is set up, a solid third starter is absolutely crucial. Actually, you really need four, but you can't have four if you don't have three. So Winiarski stepping in for Andrew Carraway is the biggest variable in the championship baseball equation.


Not forgetting the swimming! With a tenth-place finish at the NCAAs, the men ensured that we'd see both our swim teams earn top-ten finishes. It's a slow but hopefully steady climb to national prominence for the UVA swim teams. There's still a huge gap between where we are and the Stanfords and Cals and Arizonas of the swimming world, but it's a lot smaller than it was a few years ago. And of the swimmers who scored for UVA at the meet, only two were seniors and both were relay guys.


Now for basketball. We got a lot of the bad news out of the way early. If it sounded like Sylven Landesberg had his mind made up about going pro a while ago, that's probably because he did. So it's no wonder Tony Bennett offered Billy Baron way back in December. But now that hopefully all the attrition is out of the way (and I think it is) it's time to talk about other people's misfortune being our gain. I'm behind on this because the beans were spilled after this guy was spotted at the lacrosse game Saturday, but just as I'd hoped, Bennett's looking at transfers.

And this guy Justin Hamilton is precisely what we need. He'd be a two-year transfer, for starters, so he'd help to spread out the scholarships. He's a 6'11", 255 pound big man, and he can score some, rebound some, doesn't turn the ball over much for a big man, good shooting percentage, can shoot free throws as well as any guard. THANK YOU SIR MAY I HAVE ANOTHER??? Sounds like exactly what was missing from this lineup. And lest you think he might have padded his stats against inferior competition, please note that all his double-digit scoring games and double-digit rebounding games came after the New Year this year. That includes 10 and 7 against Duke and a double-double against Kansas. We must have Justin Hamilton.

Hamilton will be eligible to play for whatever team he chooses in 2011, which, with this huge 2010 class turning sophomores, would just about coincide with our Rise To Glory. We just have to beat out LSU and UCLA for his services, and then fend off angry Cyclone fans wanting to know why a guy transferred to Virginia from Ames, Iowa in order to be closer to his family in Utah.


Finally, the ol' recruiting board has been looking a little dusty lately, so I gave it a refresh. Here's the updates:

- Added LB Daquan Romero to blue.

- Added ATH Brandon Phelps and QB Gary Nova to yellow. Only thing putting Phelps in the yellow and not red is his legacy status - he's been offered by everyone.

- Added DE Norkethius Otis to red.

- Removed TE Eric Ebron from the red section - he committed to UNC.

Finally finally for real, Maryland is this weekend's lacrosse matchup, which means it's Hit A Terp With A Stick Week. You are not encouraged to commit violence against actual animals, or for that matter Terp fans no matter how much they might ask for it by swearing like sailors in front of your eight-year-old, but the lacrosse team will be celebrating on Saturday in ways that entertainingly cause Maryland coach Dave Cottle to turn as red as a Twerp jersey. He does that when he's mad. It's fun.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

if you're not having fun then you're probably dead

I know I'm having fun. Got-damn am I having fun. Fun is watching the #1 team in the country look like the #1 team in the country and wearing your colors while they're at it. Even more fun is that I could be talking about one of several different sports this weekend - baseball, lacrosse, or tennis. Today it happens to be lacrosse. If you watched the Hopkins game yesterday, you saw what it looks like when a team is firing on all cylinders and really clicking. And if you missed it, there is video.

Thoughts coming at you like bullets:

- They're not depending on any one player or one unit to produce goals. Three hat tricks, eight different players scoring a goal, and two players with five-point days. The opposition couldn't focus in on one player and couldn't stop our athletes one-on-one. We have the best offense in the country.

- Along those lines, the best thing to happen to the offense this season was Shamel Bratton's injury. Yup. With Shamel out, Rhamel got his chance to get out from the shadow a little bit. Now Shamel's back too, and the supremely athletic midfield we were promised when these two signed on has materialized. Both of them make you go "ARGH don't shoot th- oh SWEET." Unless you have to defend them, in which case there's nothing to do but clean the singe marks off your jersey.

- Adam Ghitelman was in top form. He's one of the absolute best at doing all those things goalies do outside of actually stopping the ball, especially clearing, and yesterday he was also stopping the ball. Made all the stops he was supposed to and a few he wasn't. I want that Adam Ghitelman to show up in the tournament, not the one we sometimes see that has the reflexes of a drunk hippopotamus.

- Hooray, Nizolek's back! And you could tell the difference in the defense.

Coming up: three top-ten teams. Such is the way of ACC lacrosse. Maryland's not going to be happy about losing in 7OT last year, UNC takes place in the big-stadium environment in New York (ok, New Jersey) and then there's Duke, which never fails to enter the game ranked lower than us and never fails to beat us. And then we do it all over again in the ACC tournament.

Friday, March 26, 2010

game preview: Johns Hopkins

Some of the cool kids these days are wondering if Hopkins lacrosse just isn't Hopkins lacrosse this year. Will we blow them out? Will Hopkins miss the tournament? Interesting questions all, because this is the first year in God only knows how long (it's never happened in the length of time that the UVA official site has in its schedule archives) that Hopkins has entered this game with three losses already on their plate. They're "only" ranked 12th - another low for quite some time, because I also couldn't tell you when's the last time they came in not ranked in single digits - which is definitely not up to Hopkins' standards.

Plus, one of those losses was a blowout loss to Hofstra in which starting goalie Michael Gvozden got yoinked for giving up three quick goals. Stephen Burke replaced him and took the loss by not really playing any better. Hopkins lost 14-6, and while Hofstra's a pretty good team, they're 6th-ranked now largely on the strength of that win, having not really got another signature game on their schedule.

Hopkins also lost an OT game to Princeton and dropped one to Syracuse too, but anyone can lose to Princeton and Syracuse, it's easy. I wouldn't take too much from that. The moral really is that Hopkins is still Hopkins. The stats back me up here. You look up and down the stat sheet and there's no glaring weakness that suddenly showed up this year. Ground balls, faceoffs, EMO %, turnovers, shooting %, clear %....if you're looking on the stat sheet to find why Hopkins is struggling a little bit, you'll find nothing. And Gvozden, despite the Hofstra fiasco, is actually playing a lot better this year. Adam Ghitelman makes us shake our heads sometimes, but Gvozden's save percentage last year was .503. This year he's tacked 60 percentage points on to that for a way-more-respectable .564. If he was playing like he did last year, it'd mean an extra seven goals (one per game), and maybe another loss since they only beat Siena 8-7.

So that's not the problem. Hopkins is scoring a little less often than they did last year, and the loss of senior attackman and leading 2009 point-getter Chris Boland has a lot to do with that. Boland had 46 points last year and 28 goals, but he was suspended for three games to start the season, played in two games, and then tore every tearable thing in his knee two and a half weeks ago against UMBC. Steven Boyle has stepped up big-time for Hopkins with 21 goals already - as many as he had last year in twice as many games. But teams have been able to slow down Kyle Wharton, who led the Blue Jays with 34 goals last year and is a full goal per game off that pace this year.

Even so, this is a game you never never never never take for granted, especially if Hopkins is still pissed about the way they went out of the tournament last year. (You don't think the same thing didn't have anything to do with why we beat Cornell by 8 earlier, do you?) That'll only be mentioned in the JHU locker room four or five hundred times by faceoff time.

However. Our own team has reached Just Play Your Game status. As in, play your game, take care of business, and everything will be fine. There's nothing scary about this Hopkins team except the Hopkins name. More than likely it'll be close enough to be interesting, but if this season's win streak is going to end sometime, I don't think it'll be tomorrow.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

series preview: Clemson

As I mentioned yesterday, big weekend coming up. In the hopper for the baseball team is the Clemson Tigers, one of the toughest matchups we'll see this ACC season.

Clemson is a tough team to pinpoint right now. They're a very good team, no doubt about it. One of the best in the ACC. But are they a true contender, a top-5 team? Or simply a dangerous team that has tournament aspirations, but whose Omaha dreams just aren't legit?

Here, for example, are the pitching probables for the weekend, and notice the Tiger ERA's:

Danny Hultzen (4-1, 1.06)
Casey Harman (4-0, 1.86)

Robert Morey (3-1, 3.07)
Will Lamb (2-0, 2.08)

Cody Winiarski (2-0, 5.70)
Scott Weismann (3-0, 2.96)

The pitching is legit, but is it as legit as Hultzen and his resume that includes six innings of pure dominance against Florida State? This'll be the weekend to find that out, because Clemson's competition to date has been respectable (Wright State and South Carolina) but not at all overwhelming. And they're coming off two straight losses to less-than-mediocre Elon - weekday series, so different pitching than we'll see, but the same bats. Which couldn't scrape together more than three runs in game 2.

Your best bet is to ignore that that happened and consider both the rotation and the bats of Clemson very dangerous. I don't care what the competition is; to have 10 home runs at this point of the season is pretty outstanding, and that's what Kyle Parker's done. Oh - he's also hitting .405. He and Jeff Schaus (.321-6-31 so far) make a potent 3-4 combination in the lineup that can easily rival - maybe even blasphemously surpass - ours.

By all appearances there's a big gap in the quality of third starters, and Scott Weismann's success this season hasn't been a product of lesser competition - he was excellent out of the pen lasts season. How to make up the difference? Put the ball into play. Clemson is the worst-fielding team in the league, dubiously led by shortstop Brad Miller, who has 13 errors in 104 chances for an .875 fielding percentage. In other words, hit the ball at the shortstop and there's a better than 1-in-10 chance he'll boot it or throw it away. Our heavily-right-handed batting lineup ought to like that. Catcher John Nester can be stolen upon, too: 16 successful steals out of 19 attempts. Brian O'Connor ought to like that.

The telling stat is that Clemson has a team ERA of 3.69, but allows 5.24 actual runs per game. That is a huge gap. 110 runs allowed, only 78 of which are earned. In contrast, UVA is the best-fielding team in the conference and has only allowed five unearned runs all year. Clemson's pitching and hitting are outstanding and they're one of the few teams in the conference that can match us in that regard. But the gloves are another story entirely.

At stake here for us is a deathgrip on the conference. It won't look like it, because if we can take 2 out of 3, we'd be 7-2 - as would Clemson, and most likely GT and Miami too. But we'd have FSU and Clemson as skins on our wall, while those other teams have been fattening up on BC, Duke, and Wake (Miami - and they didn't sweep BC); Wake and Maryland (GT); and VT and NC State (Clemson). To be 7-2 with FSU and Clemson out of the way? Now that'd be nice. It sucks for seeding purposes that Clemson and Miami skip each other, and FSU and GT skip each other, and we have to play all of the above, but when all's said and done it'll be a nice little boost for the ol' RPI.

Oh, one more thing. There's a little lesson that the Michigan fan in me just can't resist making sure you learn: You really shouldn't schedule Division II teams; you definitely shouldn't bother with Division III teams; and under absolutely no circumstances whatsoever should you ever consider scheduling an NAIA team such as, oh, sayyyyy, Webber International (total enrollment: 616.) Because this is what can happen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Towson video

Instead of writing anything today, I made another video. It's the first lacrosse video of the new year (and of the slightly new format - now with pictures where there didn't used to be any!) so that's exciting for you, and the backlog is now officially and finally cleared, so that's exciting for me. Have fun with it.

Big weekend this week: baseball hosts #8 Clemson, lax hosts #12 Hopkins, and there's the potential for another individual national championship as the men's team takes to the water at the NCAA's with Scot Robison seeded #1 in the 200 free. Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

what could have been

Yup, time to play "Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda: Basketball Edition." Why now? Because today we learned officially what all the signs have been pointing to for weeks: Sylven Landesberg is done at UVA.

We're not going into whatever illustriousness would have happened in the next two years that would have put the #15 into the rafters blah blah blah. I have not much interest in trying to make sense of what the lineup will actually look like next year and how they'll perform - not when the 2010 recruits haven't even gone to senior prom yet let alone get themselves on Grounds. So it stands to reason I have even less interest in pontificating over spilled milk.

I don't know when the hell we've ever seen a five-star basketball recruit actually enroll at UVA. Recruiting five-stars always ends up with UVA as the bridesmaid. Ed Davis, Patrick Patterson, DeSagana "it's pronounced JOP" Diop. You know the story, cause it turns out the same every time. But we've been pretty successful bringing in four-star types, the sort that you still ought to be able to build your team around and maybe even expect them to stay awhile. The Rivals database goes back to 2002, so here's the list of four-star recruits (not counting the '10 class of James Johnson and K.T. Harrell) that have said yes, Virginia:

Derrick Byars ('02)
Devin Smith ('02)
Gary Forbes ('03)
Sean Singletary ('04)
Will Harris ('06)
Jamil Tucker ('06)
Jeff Jones ('07)
John Brandenburg ('08)
Sylven Landesberg ('08)
Tristan Spurlock ('09)

Of those 10 players, exactly three have finished or will finish their eligibility at UVA, and that number includes Jeff Jones who shows every intention of doing so as well as Devin Smith who only had three years to begin with.

- Byars stopped wanting to play for Pete Gillen and transferred to Vanderbilt, where he morphed from useful reserve to SEC Player of the Year.
- Forbes transferred to Manhattan after becoming ineligible at UVA, and ended up eventually at UMass where he morphed from useful reserve to A-10 Player of the Year. (Damn these patterns.)
- Harris kept getting hurt at UVA and led a terrible Albany team in scoring this year.
- Tucker didn't show any interest in the academic side of his obligations and was more or less kicked off the team, having never suited up for Tony Bennett. At least he made it three years.
- Brandenburg was very sparingly used, had some murky family stuff going on, and you'll see him in a Colgate uniform next year.
- Landesberg is singin' dolla dolla bill, y'all.
- Spurlock is off to parts unknown.

Wait! That's not all:

- Donte Minter transferred to Appalachian State.
- T.J. Bannister transferred to Liberty after his minutes went backwards in his junior year.
- Sam Warren left much as Spurlock did: spent a year in the new program after committing to the old coach, and gave up. At least Spurlock didn't wait til the beginning of fall practice.
- Lars Mikalauskas was booted from the team after pissing off Leitao one too many times.

It's hard to find a recruiting class that managed to make it all the way through school without losing some of its members. Only 2004 (Adrian Joseph, Sean Singletary, and Tunji Soroye) and 2007 (Mustapha Farrakhan, Jeff Jones, Mike Scott, Sammy Zeglinski) qualify, and we're not done with '07 yet. Anything could happen. Because the theme here is that if you're going to be a UVA basketball fan, then transfers, academic casualties, and behavior casualties have been par for the course this decade.

And I only started at 2002 arbitarily. We could go back farther: Jermaine Harper to Cal-State Fullerton. Maurice Young to St. Bonaventure. J.C. Mathis to Michigan. Nick VanderLaan in and out again. Majestic Mapp and his injury troubles. Keith Jenifer acted the part of a cementheaded thug, managed to kill our chances for an upset win at Maryland by taunting Gary Williams and motivating the Terps, was accused of assaulting people on the Corner, and ended up at Murray State. (Where by at least this account he screwed his head on straight a little bit, something he desperately needed. In that case, though, the parting of the ways was addition by subtraction for UVA.)

Normally when players leave early, they're off to the pros, which you can deal with because it means they were pretty good; Landesberg and Roger Mason are the only ones in this category.

Basically, though, it boils down to using a lot of guys that were loads of fun to root for and terrific, upstanding people on and off the court, but out of their league in an ACC starting lineup. Jason Cain. Tunji Soroye. Jerome Meyinsse. And a lot of borderline ACC talent that should be competing against the other bench guys but instead have to contend with the Tyler Hansbroughs and J.J. Redicks.

A lot of this we've brought on ourselves. You expect transfers when you change coaches, and we've seen that twice this decade. Even more so, the coaches have been cut from entirely different cloth. Way, way different personalities. Pete Gillen was a nice guy, laid-back, let people get away with a lot. Dave Leitao swore like a sailor and yelled a lot, but doled out playing time pretty liberally. Tony Bennett is soft-spoken and not screamy at all, but not the tiniest bit flexible on his off-the-court standards and uses playing time as both his carrot and stick.

Plus, UVA is always going to be UVA, where the NCAA might say you're eligible, but the registrar has the final word.

But this brings us to the main thing I was thinking about, which is, what this team was really supposed to look like this year:

PG - Sammy Zeglinski
Wing - Sylven Landesberg
Wing - Jamil Tucker
PF - Mike Scott
C - John Brandenburg
Bench - Will Harris, Jeff Jones, Tristan Spurlock, Assane Sene, Jontel Evans

Tucker and Harris would leave after this year and Spurlock would slide into a featured role alongside Landesberg, and Mychal Parker probably would have joined the rotation. That's how it was all supposed to play out.

I don't know how that team would be on defense. It might be better than you think, being that a lot of the lousy defensive reputation of some of these players comes from their ability or maybe lack thereof to grasp Bennett's system. Tucker was never too committed on the defensive end, and this year, neither was Spurlock, but he committed to play Leitao's defense, not Bennett's. So it's not fair to assume he'd have been a liability on defense.

But man would this team score. A lot. And it would start a 7-footer and bring another off the bench. That's the team we'd have had without rotten luck and coaching changes. With the state of the ACC this year, that team would have won 9 or 10 games in conference and gone to the tournament for sure. And barring the sort of luck that tore it apart in real life, it'd be looking at another trip next year, too.

This is why I once said - and still say - that Leitao would have brought this year's team to the NIT. You can't control the luck, and without Brandenburg this team was always going to be a donut team. We knew that. But there's no way Leitao would have kept Spurlock on the bench. Tucker'd still be around too, maddening us with his indifferent defense but bringing a steady, reliable jump shot to the game. And there wouldn't be any issues with struggling to learn a totally new defensive system that requires you to unlearn all your ingrained fundamentals.

This is where I put in the obligatory caveat that this doesn't mean I'm not totally on board with Tony Bennett, here. I'm won over by his recruiting chops and his standards. The fact that he improved the team by five games and one ACC game is impressive, given the above-mentioned attrition and the fact that he's in tear-down mode. But that doesn't change that I don't think Leitao ought to have been fired. I think he'd have had this program on the upswing as well and deserved the chance to see it through. This lack of continuity combined with our higher academic standards is just murder on a basketball program.

The upshot of it all is that for the Tony Bennett program to work, both the admin and Bennett need to be totally committed to it for the very long term. That means four more years at an absolute, rock-bottom, bare minimum. No getting cold feet four years in and firing Tony the same way they did Leitao. You knew what he was going to do and how he was going to do it, and he deserves the chance to see his project all the way through, the way Leitao did not, without having the rug pulled out from underneath. And for Tony, no running off for bigger bucks at a bigger program. Normally I understand that's the nature of the business, but you don't come in, change all the standards and expectations, and tear down a program this way and then leave it half-done. Finish your legacy, whatever that is. And the fans, alums, and donors need to let it play out and not get all impatient and pissy when we don't make the tournament next season, because we won't. Bennett, hopefully, is the guy to reverse this pattern of playing season-to-season and losing all our players all the time, instead of program-building. Turn on him before he's had his chance and we'll find it harder and harder to bring coaches in here and relegate ourselves to the second divison forever.

Monday, March 22, 2010

director's cup update

Well, not officially. Not til Thursday. But they finished up all the championships that go into this update, so I did some back-of-the-envelope type numbercrunchinating, and came up with the following projected standings at the top:

Stanford - 555.5
Florida - 548
Penn State - 521.5
Virginia - 515
North Carolina - 457
Oregon - 454
Florida State - 448

Just rough pinscratch figuring, mind you, but the standings should be just about right and the numbers probably not much more than, say, plus-or-minus eight. In any case three things are pretty clearly true:

- UVA's not falling further than 4th in this update.
- Despite that, UVA actually made up ground on first place.
- That's as good as it gets for the winter. We should stay in the top ten at the final winter update but won't look much better than that, and may drop further.

There's 25 more points coming this way - that's what you get for losing in the first round of basketball tournaments. It sucks gonzo that the women's team decided to be the 5/12 victim in their tournament - it cost at least 25 points in the standings. Plus, the men's swim team should probably be good for another 70 or so.

Winter sports are not usually our strong point, but there's a lot that went right so far, despite the lady hoopsters' Green Bay fiasco:

- The lady swimmers grabbed ninth place at nationals. Lauren Perdue grabbed three top-eight finishes, and the team would have ended up eighth but for a DQ'd relay. Not a big DC points difference, though.

- The wrestlers took 15th at nationals, their best finish ever.

- Robby Andrews' national championship earned a 20th-place finish for the Hoos.

All are among the top finishes ever for the program - in wrestling's case, best ever. So with a likely top-ten finish after the winter sports wrap up and the really strong stuff - the spring sports with baseball, lacrosse, and tennis - coming up, is this the year, somebody (us, natch) knocks Stanford out of the #1 spot?

Uh, no. Keep in mind Stanford owns at sports we don't even participate in, like water polo. You only get to count 20 sports toward your Director's Cup standings and because of that, Stanford always has to leave off points in some of their sports. But, if our powerhouse teams don't stumble at the wrong times, a top-five is definitely attainable.


So speaking of the powerhouse teams, what did they do this weekend? Powerhoused, of course.

- Baseball swept Boston College, and in superdominating fashion. Game 2 only looked close because Kevin Arico, brought in to close out Robert Morey's gem, decided to make it interesting. The rotation absolutely killed the Eagles. In 21 total innings, Hultzen/Morey/ Winiarski gave up 10 hits and 2 earned runs. TWO. RUNS. Hultzen pitched eight of those innings and is a frickin' machine, as usual. Morey pitched seven and is a machine in training. Winiarski went six and probably extended his stay in the rotation til at least next week (I'd say it was probably do or die this weekend for him; there's only one weekday game and Roberts or Kline would be ready to go on Sunday if they had to be) and gave us reason to believe he can do a pretty good impression of a machine at times. We'll go as far this year as our pitchers can take us.

And the bullpen, outside of Arico who I'm really not worried about, was similarly sparkling. Not that the starters gave them much chance to work, but Halley, Davis, Wilson, and Mayberry didn't allow any runs at all. Mayberry had to work himself out of a little jam, but the nice thing about ten-run leads is they give the manager a lot of confidence in deciding to give his freshman pitcher more than enough rope to hang himself. Mayberry responded nicely, grew up a little bit, and the bullpen just got better.

Speaking of getting better, Halley's separated shoulder has done just that, as you might notice, and the bullpen has just gone from thin-looking to pretty damn robust. Get Halley and a looking-better-all-the-time Mayberry in the mix and suddenly Brian O'Connor has options and lots of them. I'd like to have another lefty in the pen, but Scott Silverstein can't stop getting hurt, so we have Neal Davis and that's it. Still, picky picky.

- Lacrosse didn't quite dominate the way they have the ability to, but hey: win's a win. The defense looks like it could really use Ryan Nizolek back, and took a lot of blame for letting Towson get closer than they probably should have. I say, throw this game on the pile with every football and basketball game we lost - the one labeled "sucky offense leads to sucky-looking defense." My take on lacrosse is: look, sooner or later, the other guys are gonna score, so you better be scoring too. The faceoff men were absolutely murdering Towson's in the first half, but when you turn it over eight times in a quarter, of course you're going to be losing.

Granted, there were at least three Towson goals that I can remember where I said to myself, hey, you got any clothespins? Cause we're hanging Ghitelman out to dry here. Like that third quarter goal where Lovejoy got burned on the restart. I mean, pay attention, dude. Lovejoy actually looked really good at times, but his mistakes were exceedingly visible.

Oh well. Guess it was nice that we could give Towson native Harry Prevas a start in Nizolek's absence. And it certainly speaks to our offensive talent that we can get 15 goals in a not-real-impressive showing. Yup, just another day at the office.


I suppose it wouldn't be UVA if I didn't have the chance to crap on your parade route a little bit and mix in some bad news with all the sunshine. The football team will be short one more player for the upcoming season without Riko Smalls, and the basketball team is losing - yeah, you guessed - Tristan Spurlock. Both had played similarly miniscule roles with their respective teams - Smalls, in fact, never appeared in a game - so it's largely just a lot of potential being lost. In Spurlock's case that potential is probably a lot more real than with Smalls, who was heir to the Keith Payne mantle of "player most wildly and unrealistically overrated by overexcited Hoo fans."

And in Spurlock's case especially, you have to at least tip your hat and wish him well. I don't know what things were like behind the scenes any more than you do, but Spurlock made an effort not to be a public distraction when he clearly was chafing at the bit to get in the games. And he wasn't recruited to play this system, he was recruited to be J.R. Reynolds reincarnate. He gave it a shot anyway - I don't think you can ask for much more.

Once we get the official word that Landesberg is out as well - and believe me, I'd like nothing more than to be wrong about that - then you may commence random and almost totally useless speculation about what Bennett's rotation will look like next year. Useless because we pretty much have no way of knowing which of the six freshmen will adapt best to the system; did you honestly expect Will Sherrill to see more than 10 minutes of total floor time all year, let alone start a few games?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

new video

Been hard at work this weekend, yup. Finally got the last video up that I've been sitting on - head over to the videos library to relive the hoopsters' second win over NC State as well as Mu Farrakhan's facialization of the Pack's Javier Gonzalez.

So that's the last basketball highlight of the season .... and once again, I'd like to send a hearty fuck you to NESN for depriving us of the ACC tournament win over Boston College by switching the programming at the last minute while I was at work. Thanks, assholes!

On the plus side, sometime soon(ish - this week I'm hoping) we'll inaugurate the spring season videos with today's lacrosse win over Towson.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the recruit: Billy Baron

The ultimate play-for-the-moment event is underway in college basketball, which means we might as well look to the future, right? Earlier this month we learned of a late addition to the group of five - now six - incoming freshmen that are going to kick-start the renaissance, Tony Bennett-style.

Name: Billy Baron
Position: PG
Hometown: East Greenwich, RI
School: Worcester Academy (MA)
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 185

ESPN: 88
Rivals: three stars
Scout: three stars, #37 PG

If you've got a secret that you're dying to tell someone, but you're still hoping it doesn't get around, try Tony Bennett. We saw it first with K.T. Harrell, a name we first heard maybe, what, a couple days before he made his commitment? If that? Billy Baron's got that beat. You would have had to be paying really close attention to some pretty far-away places to have ever heard his name in connection with UVA before March 2, when a Providence Journal article spilled the beans. That was the first time the name Baron really got out there, at least as far as UVA was concerned, and it was only just in time; a few hours after the article hit the airwaves, Baron was a UVA commit.

Truth be told? Baron had been on the Tony Bennett's radar a long, long time before that. Though he hadn't received a scholarship offer by the time he committed to the hometown Rhode Island Rams in October, the interest was there. Baron got his scholarship offer in December, which kind of makes you wonder what exactly's been going on behind the scenes in the basketball program. Who's had a foot out the door since then, you wonder?

Well, it doesn't matter. This is about Baron and the future. Baron would have been a BMOC at URI; his dad is the coach, and his older brother is a former Ram and the all-time A-10 three-point champion. I don't know how you tell your dad you're not gonna play for him after promising him you would, but that was the hardest part; since Baron wasn't eligible for a scholarship (his dad being a university employee) he didn't sign a letter of intent, so the NCAA rules side of this was the easy part.

UVA fans unfamiliar with Baron might be wondering just how excited they should be about a player who didn't have a lot of interest outside of the recruiting hotbed of Rhode Island and ended up committing to play for his dad. Rutgers and Seton Hall did offer, but still. Well, put those fears to rest. Baron transferred to Worcester Academy from Bishop Hendricken in the home state of Rhode Island, in order to get himself some better competition. Then, in an instance of impeccable timing, he broke his hand and was out all autumn. (Or thumb. Reports differ. It don't matter.)

When he came back, he got all the competition he asked for and more. Worcester plays in the NEPSAC (New England Prep School Athletic Council) Class A against some of the very best competition in the country. The players on these teams read like a who's-who of recruiting in the Northeast, and they're headed to places like Syracuse and Memphis. And Baron shone as bright as any of them, earning first-team honors in the league. It's because he does things like this, all the time: 41 points here, 30-odd points there. He averages 28, and throws in six assists for good measure. And his team is decidedly undermanned against most of the loaded and stacked teams they have for competition.

And then you have glowing character reports from all over. Let's go with ESPN's:

His toughness, work ethic, and will to win are absolutely off the charts and no one loves having the ball in pressure situations more than he does....It is very obvious that his effort does not only show up on game day. Baron has spent many hours honing his skills in the gym.
Sounds like the kind of guy you can root for. So how will all this translate to UVA? Well, as I said earlier, somebody in this class is going to get minutes, and lots of them. Probably a couple somebodies. Tony Bennett has proven he'll take effort, basketball IQ, and work ethic over talent. And that's not to say Baron doesn't have talent or that the other recruits don't have the work ethic, but Baron's the guy who's been praised for it, over and over. Coach's son, and you know Tony Bennett knows exactly what he wants to see from a coach's son. Baron's best described as a combo guard rather than a true point guard, but scoring from the point is something we're in desperate need of here. So you take someone who has the potential to provide that and throw in the work ethic Baron has, and I'd call it a pretty safe bet that we'll see Billy Baron on the court sooner rather than later. All in all, this adds up to the kind of player that UVA fans should be proud to call a Wahoo.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

why it wasn't so bad after all

Like I said, it's a good thing the Hoos got that win over Boston College on Thursday in the ACC tournament, and followed it up with a scrappy game against Duke. It keeps me from having to write this post in between a ten-game losing streak and the imminent departures of at least one and probably more of our players that were supposed to be top scoring options. I'd've felt like Gandalf in Return of the King: there's about ten thousand billion bad-nasties lined up at the gate with a big fucking battering ram and launching the flaming heads of our dead comrades over the walls just to piss us off, and here I am telling you to stand up and fight dammit. Funny how simply finishing with more points than another team in one simple game changes all of that.

This would only be a little less true had we lost that game, though. What I have now is the ability to say, "See, next year won't be so bad, we can do it without Sylven, we proved it in the tournament." And that's not an unimportant point, so do yourself a favor and file it away for when you inevitably hear that Sylven is going to play in Israel or Spain or the NBDL next year.

But the main thing here is a symphony in two parts. Part 1 is all about the Bad Luck. That comes in a couple flavors. First is the KenPom luck factor. KenPom actually quantifies luck, by calculating the difference between how much a team "should" have won based on his system, and how much they actually did. As with last year, UVA is one of the unluckiest teams in the nation. If you add our luck factor to our actual winning percentage, our record changes from 15-16 to 17-14. Likely good enough for a feel-good trip to the NIT. I believe I wrote something like this last year and suggested this should average out eventually, and obviously it didn't come true, but next year for sure!

But the real proof is in the win-loss column. Bottom line up front: Judiciously add ten points - five baskets - to the right places, and 15-16 (5-11) becomes 18-13 (6-10). Add a single free throw on top of that and it changes to 19-12 (7-9) and a likely NIT bid following an anxious and ultimately disappointing Selection Sunday. For the want of a nail the kingdom was lost; for the want of 11 points, the season was lost. In four games, the ball bounced the wrong way at the wrong time. That's it.

But, you say, everyone gets breaks and bounces. They come, they go, and maybe some of our wins were the same way. Not so. The wins all fall neatly into three categories:

- We dominated.
- We controlled.
- We rallied.

In all cases, even the rallies, we played well enough for a long stretch of time that the game was pretty clearly ours. The first category includes Longwood, Rider, Oral Roberts, Hampton, Miami, and UNC. The second includes NJIT, UTPA, UNC-W, and BC; the third encompasses Cleveland State, UAB, GT, and both NC State games. None of these games were even all that close at the end, and the closest thing to good luck in these games that you can claim is the shitty free-throw shooting on display from some of our opponents, like GT. (They were 3 for 11. Average FT shooting would have given them four or five more points, and we won by 7 after protecting a 12 points lead.)

The losses, on the other hand? Honestly, up until Sylven left, only one of these losses fell anywhere between "really close" and "horrific nasty blowout." That'd be the Miami loss. Otherwise, between (and including) the first Maryland game and the second Maryland game, this team was absurdly uncompetitive (more on that later) and that holds true also for the USF game and the first Wake loss.

But then there's the Auburn game, in which a last-second tip-in did us in. There's Penn State, where we controlled the first half and they controlled the second, and our rally (later in the season to be successful a couple times) fell just short. There's Episode 1 of the Tech series, where we got a little luck in forcing overtime but positively none at all in blowing the lead we'd held the entire game. And there's the Wake game, where Mike Scott's second half was 100% effort and 0% results. The man had six rebounds, three offensive, in the second half and the basket wouldn't open up for any of his putbacks, layups, or even dunks. In an overtime game like that one, just one bucket would have made all the difference.

And then there's Maryland, a team that doesn't do well if profanity isn't being showered onto the court by the student section and saw what we did in the Dean Dome after a blizzard; thus, they took the path of least resistance and postponed the game for snow, against ACC protocol that states if two teams and two refs are in the house, play ball. Suppose we had gotten half the bad bounces going our way instead, and instead of being 14-7 (5-3) at that point, we're 16-5 (6-2). Suppose instead of having to travel from Charlottesville to College Park to Charlottesville to Blacksburg to Charlottesville to College Park to Charlottesville in a week's time, we can eliminate one of those trips and not have to play three games in five nights. Maybe we win one of those games too? Maybe we don't get launched into the death spiral of terrible shooting and one-man-band offenses? I've long since gotten into forbidden what-if, coulda-shoulda-woulda, excuse-making territory, but do consider this: back then I pointed out that if we can't win three games in five nights, then we can forget about ever winning the ACC tournament - that still holds true, but with one important caveat. The ACC tournament only involves one bus ride, not six.

Now about that death spiral. This is Part 2. Remember the rather well-received post, about a month ago, that posited that the drastic improvement between seasons was due to better offense, not better defense? (And isn't hard to believe that all it took was one awful month to change the perception of the season from "best improvement story in the country" to "falling apart like OJ on the witness stand"?)

Well, the fact of the matter is, nothing changed. It was still all about the offense. As good as it was in the first two-thirds of the year, it was that bad and worse in the latter part. Consider the numbers from back then:

- Defense was allowing 93.7 points per 100 possessions.
- Offense was scoring 111 points per 100 possessions.

And now?

- Defense has allowed 94.4 points per 100 possessions.
- Offense has scored 106.7 points per 100 possessions.

That drop on offense moved us from 43rd to 92nd in the country. That's a precipitous fall, especially for just 10 games. The defense got a little worse, too, but by a small enough margin that you can probably explain that just by pointing to the terrible offense, or, more likely, the greatly improved competition. In fact, there were 7 games out of 10 against tournament teams in that stretch, compared with 4 out of 21 prior; the fact that the numbers only got worse by that tiny amount despite the huge boost in quality of competition probably means the defense actually got better.

A little simple algebra will tell you that during that 10-game stretch between that post and the end, the defense allowed 95.9 points per 100 possessions. That's not up to snuff but it's not terrible. New Mexico is a 3-seed (an outlier of one, but still) and they allowed 96.

But the ugly part is the offense. Again with the simple algebra, and we scored 97.7 points per 100. That's OK (again, not real great, but OK ... ish) for the defense. It's completely pathetic for the offense. Arkansas State scored 97.7 on the season and that is good enough for 222nd in the country. The worst ACC team is Florida State at 105.2, and they rank 119th. Remember how unbelievably unwatchable the '08-'09 season was? How jump shots clanged off the rim starting from Day 1 and there was no set rotation? The offense scored 101.5 per 100. That's how bad February 13 through March 12 was on offense: worse than a season that saw us go 10-18 and lose to, what the hell was it, Liberty? I try not to remember that happening. And the BC win is lumped in there too, so the losses had to be even worse than that 97.7 number.

Now, I know I already said this once. I said swapping Tristan Spurlock in for the ghost of Mamadi Diane could only result in an offensive boost. Well, maybe it would have, but we never made that swap, did we? But next year we have no choice - we'll be forced to put someone new in the rotation because Baker, Meyinsse, and Landesberg all drop out of it. With six newcomers plus maybe Spurlock if he stays, it's practically unthinkable that we can't find two out of that bunch that are more offensively gifted than Meyinsse (bless his heart, he has all of one move in the post) and Baker (who is decent defensively but has the nasty habit of trying to do something with the ball before figuring out what exactly he should do with it) and smart enough to pick up the defense well enough for Bennett's taste. Sylven's scoring will be tough to replace, and it'll just have to be done by committee. Nobody's going to give us 17 a game. But as you see, it can, and has, been done.

So cheer up, sports fans. Here you have this combination of horrible luck and inexplicably horrible offense, and it still got us five extra wins and a two-place boost in the ACC seeding. And you can't expect that double-dose of horrible to stick around forever, can you? Next year's still going to have its ugly moments, but they'll be slowly disappearing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

callin' it a comeback

“I was just trying to jump him so that he didn’t have time to react; .01 seconds – that’ll do it.”
That's men's track star Robbie Andrews on his national championship in the 800 meters, and it's a fitting call for a Saturday that crowned another great UVA weekend. The women's lax team spotted UNC a 4-0 lead in three minutes of play and brought it back for the OT win, and the baseball team's comeback was probably even more epic than Andrews' considering he was probably hanging back a little bit on purpose.

Even the basketball team tried to get in on that action a little bit on Friday by turning an eight-point first-half deficit into a one-point lead and cutting a ten-point shortfall into two before putting the lid back on the basket against Duke. There's not much more to say about the basketball team, as the season is now officially kaputski, but I'll say this for now: since we had to run into Duke sooner or later and were obviously expecting the worst when we did, and if we couldn't get the win, this was the best way to go out. A spirited game that made the Blue Devils earn their bread, put a little scare into 'em, build a little confidence on top of the Boston College win - but don't get so close that the loss morphs from the expected outcome to a brass-knuckled dong punch, a la Michigan. (I'm still pissed about that.)

Anyway, both that game and the BC game the day before accomplished precisely what needed to be accomplished at that tournament. One, put some confidence back into the team and into the atmosphere in and around the program. And two, give the coaches some ammo for the recruiting trail this summer. Consider both done. I don't think you can understate the impact of the BC win. I really don't. HUUUUUUGE. Marshall Plumlee, you may come on down to Charlottesville now ok plz.

As for the big guns of spring, the baseball and men's lacrosse teams, why, they didn't do much at all except solidify their spots at the top of the polls with big wins on the road against top-ten (top-five, in baseball's case) opponents. Cornell never posed a threat to the Hoos in Ithaca, and with that out of the way, UVA shouldn't be tested much until two weeks from now when Hopkins comes to town. And even that might not be the big deal it usually is: Hopkins got absolutely crushed this weekend by now-sixth-ranked Hofstra, 14-6, and they also needed a last-minute goal to beat 1-3 Siena. It's not out of the question we murder Hopkins too, as long as the defense continues the kind of effort they've brought in the past couple weeks.

(Now that basketball and lacrosse have both been covered, it's as good a time as any to let you know that thanks mostly to asshole TV stations and a little bit of my own sloppiness, I don't have either the BC game or lacrosse's Syracuse game to put on highlight video. Please don't throw things at me. The fuckwitted cockbiters at NESN decided to show some dumbass talking head yack about the Bruins for an hour followed by a Red Sox preseason game and switched my basketball off the channel I'd set to record and onto a different one. I hate the Red Sox even more than I did before, if that is possible. As for lacrosse, well, that's probably my own fault for not noticing ESPNU had some live something or other before the recording of the game, which of course ran overtime. DAMN it.)

Anyway, baseball. Woot woot for ninth inning comebacks. Down 8-3 in the ninth? No big deal; six runs and a little bit of lucky fielding later, the Florida State series is clinched. Would have been nice to get the sweep, but after a comeback like that nobody's complaining too much. Favorite part of the write-up:

Franco Valdes (Sr., Miami, Fla.) then fell behind 0-2 and was a strike away from ending the game, but he took four straight balls to draw a walk.
That is ballplaying right there. You don't have to get a hit to be a clutch hitter. And Valdes never walks. Do you know how many of those he got all of last year? Six. Six. The next batter was Keith Werman, whose scrappy single scrapped home two scrappy runs and provided the margin of victory. Thanks to the series win at FSU and LSU dropping two of three to Kansas (!) UVA moved up in every poll except the ones who already had us at #1. Basically, "it's Virginia and everyone else right now."

Lastly, why not talk a little football? After all, spring practice kicked off today. First, and maybe most importantly, whatever you do, DO NOT believe the Richmond Times-Dispatch when they say that Riko Smalls and Javaris Brown are "likely the cuts London was referring to when he said last week that he had dismissed two players for academic reasons." Any idiot, and I'm clearly just your man for that job, can look at the roster, check it against last year, and see that Billy Cuffee and Buddy Ruff are missing from the '09 list, and that Smalls and Brown are still there. Draw your own conclusions as to who the two players are.

Anyway, to commemorate the start of spring practice, I've got both a depth chart and recruiting board update. The differences on the depth chart are as follows:

- Every senior walk-on from last year is gone; notably, that includes Nate Rathjen, who did a little punting last year. Any competition for Jimmy Howell is now coming from Logan Spangler.

- Also gone is starting center Jack Shields. That job now goes to former backup Anthony Mihota unless someone jumps in. Cuffee and Ruff also disappear, as do Staton Jobe and Matt Leemhuis, potential fifth-year seniors that weren't asked back.

- Cody Wallace is moved over to center, and Terrence Fells-Danzer moves from linebacker to fullback. There are a few other position changes as well. As the RTD reported, Quintin Hunter worked out at quarterback today, but for now I'm leaving him at WR because that's not really settled yet.

- Added walk-on quarterback J.C. Poma, as well as the triumphant return of Keith Payne.

So a lot of shuffling, as you'd expect with a new staff, and we're almost certainly not done either.

I'm also delinquent on the recruiting board, so here's what's new there:

- Moved DT David Dean to the orange section. Yay!

- A lot of people ran around trying to figure out exactly what RB Clifton Richardson did on last weekend's junior day, and Dad says it's a "soft commitment." You can't blame them, really, for being honest when it's still so early they haven't finished looking around yet. Richardson is supposedly doing a lot of recruiting on his own on Mike London's behalf, though. But for now, until he announces he's stopped looking and UVA's the place for him for real this time, he gets moved to blue. As do RB Nyjee Fleming and LB Caleb Taylor. Let the lesson be that there are several different flavors of these colors here, and in blue's case it ranges from "pretty much a lock" to "I don't have a specific reason but I like our chances."

- Also added CB Demetrious Nicholson to blue (UVA is a "co-leader") and DE Marco Jones to yellow.

- Moved LB Travis Hughes from red to yellow.

Whew. Man, if you made it this far, pat yourself on the back and accept my many thanks, because damn did I ramble on today. That's what happens when UVA has yet another successful weekend, I guess. If we can get our football Saturdays to be as awesome as our spring ones, life'd be goooood.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

baseball season preview

Three weeks into the season might seem like an odd time to preview the team's prospects for it, but the real point here is the ACC season because the rest, except for the ECU series, is mostly just filler. Besides, having just won the first game of the Florida State series - maybe the biggest one of the season - means I get to feel good about the overexcited things I say about this team.

You already know all about our ACC opposition this season because I already told you about them. The other aspect to a season preview is, you know, our own damn team, so position-by-position is how we do it. The first thing to know is that, if you remember last season's lineups, this one's going to look awfully similar. With only a few tweaks here and there, this team is almost the exact same one that went to Omaha last year - in fact, every single player who started a game in the field (pitchers excepted) during ACC play returns. And that team was a terror at the plate. It was the only team to touch up San Diego State's #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg for a loss, and they led the ACC in hitting with a team BA of .327, as well as pitching with a team ERA of 3.23. The latter stat was helped by a performance at the Irvine regional that allowed only two runs to cross the plate in 27 innings of play.

The big home run isn't the preferred weapon in Brian O'Connor's arsenal - he prefers the stolen base. Not only did UVA attempt more stolen bases than any other ACC team - more than twice as many as some - the Hoos were also the most successful, on more than 82% of attempts. It's a deadly combination for opponents. If you're a singles and doubles kind of team, getting out of a double-play situation and into scoring position is paramount, and if you're as successful as .327 at the plate (and with an OBP of better than .400) then getting caught isn't really a big deal - you're likely enough to get another runner on base pretty soon.

Alright, so like I said, around the horn we go (to coin a phrase.)


By about a 2-1 split, senior Franco Valdes gets the majority of the starts here, with John Hicks and newcomer Kenny Swab spelling him. If you had to pick a single player on the roster who just looked like a ballplayer, Valdes would be the guy. More to the point, at 5'11", 205, he looks like a catcher. Valdes hit "just" .292 last year, but tends to be one of the best clutch hitters on the team and had a terrific run through the NCAA tournament last year, driving in nine runs to lead the team. Hicks is a little bit of a jack of all trades - catching isn't really his day job but to keep his bat in the lineup and to keep Valdes fresh, he mostly ends up behind the plate when he's not at first base. Swab is a juco transfer and almost entirely a singles-type hitter, and he fits the definition of utilityman. Not going to start many weekend games as the season rolls on, but you'll probably see plenty of him in the later innings when O'Connor needs to shuffle the lineup a bit.


Last year this was generally the territory of Danny Hultzen on days he didn't pitch, on which days Hicks would step in. Now the position belongs more to Hicks than Hultzen; Hultzen's main value is as our giant-killing unhittable ace pitcher, so O'Connor tends to split Hultzen's duties between DH and 1B on his non-pitching days to keep him a little fresher. Kenny Swab replaces Jared King as a spot starter and late-inning replacement here; Swab's bat will be an improvement over the light-hitting King.


Phil Gosselin is more or less the semi-regular starter here, but O'Connor's problem is that Keith Werman is the kind of scrappy little ragamuffin that it's impossible to keep off the field. So the duties get split, with Gosselin moving out to left field when Werman starts. Both are terrific glove men (Gosselin especially) and would stand out with the bat on any other team. Here they're just members of a long modern-day murderer's row, although to say that might be to belittle Werman's absurd start with the bat: he's hitting .636. (!!!) Gosselin is also the team's stolen base leader and one of the best pilferers in the league, successful on 24-of-27 last year, and whether playing in left or at second, he's the leadoff hitter.


No doubt about it here. Sophomore Steven Proscia started all 28 ACC contests last year and hasn't missed a start this year, either. Proscia's prodigious bat more than makes up for his average glove. He's as entrenched in the coveted cleanup spot as he is at third, and he was the team doubles leader last year (his 22 was good enough to land him second on the all-time list) and was one of only two players in double figures in home runs. His line last year: .333-10-58, and those RBI numbers are going to skyrocket as he's already racked up a whopping 24 in just 13 games. Proscia's well on his way to a breakout sophomore campaign much like Jarrett Parker's last year, and he'll probably end up with similar all-American accolades.


Rounding out the left side of the infield is another entrenched starter, Tyler Cannon. Cannon, too, can occasionally be shaky with the glove (though he's also capable of some outstanding athletic plays - witness the robbery of a base hit he made to help preserve the lead against Irvine in the final regional game) but he's a tremendously consistent, solid line-drive doubles hitter who hits extremely well for average and can usually be found either setting the table at the #2 spot in the lineup or protecting the all-Americans at the #6 spot. One of just three seniors on the team, and last year's first-team all-ACC shortstop.


As mentioned, when Gosselin isn't playing second base, this is where you can find him; when it's not him, junior John Barr is the usual starter. Barr is almost purely a singles hitter but (watch me go ahead and jinx this) he hasn't committed an error since his freshman year. That year he earned just enough at-bats to be eligible and therefore led the team in hitting at .325; his .375 start this year should be enough to show that his failure last year to top .300 (missed it by two points) was an unlucky fluke.


Here's the territory of one of our most acclaimed players: Jarrett Parker. Parker had an absolutely stellar sophomore season last year, going .355-16-65, which landed him on a ton of all-America lists and this year's Golden Spikes watch list. Parker's hitting .360 from his #5 spot in the lineup, and probably the only reason he doesn't have more RBI's than he does is because Proscia's hogging them all. Nevertheless, Parker's the reason Proscia gets so many nice pitches to hit, and by the time the season's over he'll be right up there at or near the top of the stat sheet where he belongs.


Dan Grovatt has this spot on lockdown, as well as the big-time 3-hole in the lineup. A junior, Grovatt has sat for maybe one or two games his entire UVA career. He was the team's leading hitter last year at .356 and is off to a torrid .420 start this year. Grovatt is a top-notch all-around hitter with some power to go with that average, and a very strong arm to boot. Strong enough, in fact, that O'Connor has tried him out on the mound a little bit this year, although that experiment hasn't produced quite the best of results. Still, as the #3 hitter, Grovatt is right in the middle of this station-to-station lineup; he'll be counted on to score as many runs as he drives in.


Kenny Swab doesn't really have a starting position to call his own; this is where he's best classified. Both he and John Barr have been regular pinch-hitters as well as spot starters. The other name to let yourself get excited about is freshman Reed Gragnani. Gragnani was also drafted by the Red Sox before coming to UVA (although as a 27th-round selection, it was a little easier to turn down) and he's done a nice job of hitting his way into a few starting lineup selections as the DH. In 16 at-bats this season he has seven hits, all singles, and he's added four walks to that. Gragnani is one of a very few switch-hitters in the lineup (the others are Cannon, Shane Halley, Valdes, and the likely-redshirting Ryan Levine) so look for him to be one of the first pinch-hitting options off the bench this year, and perhaps to continue to receive an occasional weekday DH start.


It all starts with Danny Hultzen. Hultzen can more than hold his own at the plate, but he makes his name on the mound. His 2.17 ERA, 9-1 record, and 107 K's would have been good enough on their own to earn him his ACC Rookie of the Year honors, but the .327-3-37 at the plate sure didn't hurt. Hultzen gave up a pair of earned runs in the very first inning of the season against East Carolina; since then, he has commenced the domination. His ERA is 1.04, and the three walks he issued against ECU were the only three he's handed out all year; they're matched up against 31 K's. The only reason there's a blemish in his loss column is because his teammates forgot to give him any run support against Wright State. He's just coming off an absolute gem against Florida State, where he held one of the best-hitting teams in the nation to two crummy little hits, no walks, and no runs in six-innings enroute to the 5-0 victory. Simply put, Hultzen is an ace in every sense of the word and probably in the running for the best pitcher in the country, and would be even if LSU's Anthony Ranaudo wasn't hurt.

After Hultzen, Robert Morey is plenty solid in his own right. Morey will be the #2 starter after mixing it up between the pen and the rotation last year. Opposing batters hit .210 against him last season, and he was the second leading strikeout man after Hultzen. He's picked up where he left off last season, posting a 3.63 ERA so far. Today's FSU game will be his biggest test of the season; he was a tad shaky against ECU, earning the loss, but he'll be good enough to beat most if not all ACC lineups on any given day.

The third weekend starter remains up in the air. Cody Winiarski has hung on to the job, but largely that's because nobody's really stepped up to take it. His 6.43 ERA is troubling, but he's improved on every outing so far (notwithstanding the fact that the competition has steadily gotten worse until this weekend.) Winiarski has got to get better if he's going to hold up against ACC competition, because if he doesn't, the #3 starter job could be extremely difficult to fill. This is where we most feel the impact of departures; we could really use departed senior Andrew Carraway here.

Vying for that job would be regular weekday starter Will Roberts and superfrosh Branden Kline, neither of whom have stood out much. Roberts had an excellent summer campaign in the NECBL, but hasn't been good in his two starts this year. Kline made a splash when he turned down sixth-round money from the Boston Red Sox to come to UVA, and in relief this year he's done quite well, but he and reliever Neal Davis had to be bailed out of a loss in his first start against William & Mary by some later-inning batwork. Both will likely see a start this week as we rematch against W&M and travel to JMU, as well as two weeks from now for a two-game weekday series against Towson. The audition continues.


Another part of the team feeling the hit from the departures, as Robert Poutier graduated and Matt Packer decided to try his luck in the minors. Long reliever Tyler Wilson and closer Kevin Arico have been their usual lights-out selves so far, and other than that one shaky outing against W&M, Neal Davis has been very good also. You need more arms than that, though, and so O'Connor has tried position players Grovatt and Corey Hunt on the mound; the results have been poor. Unless he moves into the rotation, Kline is also likely to see some ACC innings out of the pen in long relief. Two names to keep an eye on: Whit Mayberry and Justin Thompson. Neither have given up a run in very limited action this year. Mayberry is a freshman who went undrafted, while Thompson is a sophomore who made seven appearances last year and also didn't allow a run. There could be a bigger role for them in the future. Shane Halley's shoulder injury hasn't exactly been a help to a thinnish bullpen, but if he returns and can pitch at the same level as last year, it'll be a big boost. Otherwise he might get a redshirt year.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

ACC baseball preview, part 3

I know, I know - we just won a big ol' basketball game and all Mr. Bloggerman wants to talk about is baseball. Well, I gotta finish this up, mmmk? Don't worry, there's plenty of basketball in the future. Here, I'll give you a bonus preview of the Duke game tomorrow: we're gonna get our asses kicked. Such is the tangible reward for winning a game such as today's. The intangibles are where it's really at when it comes to rewards here.

Anyway, on with the show. Part 3 begins now; part 1 and part 2 are right there.

North Carolina State

Last season: Missed ACC tournament
Record: 25-31 (10-20, 10th in ACC)
Return: 65% of ACC starts; 48% of total innings pitched
Names to know: SS Dallas Poulk, IF Andrew Ciencin, C/IF Pratt Maynard

My initial take, when NC State opened their season with a 32-3 assassination of overmatched La Salle, enroute to a 65-run weekend, was that NC State needed all the wins they could get and might as well enjoy them now. That changed a bit the following weekend when the Wolfpack shocked then-#6 UC-Irvine, whom you might remember from last year, in Myrtle Beach. Irvine's been in a little bit of a freefall since then, but NC State was also plenty competitive later on in the weekend despite losing to hosts Coastal Carolina.

Since then they've continued proving the early-season bats were no fluke. It shouldn't be much surprise, as most of last year's usual suspects return in the field. Three weekends in and they have five hitters batting over .400. Dallas Poulk has always been a hitter, but his best season was three years ago as a freshman - he looks to be embarking on a campaign to fix that. He bats low in the lineup and seems to have plenty of people setting the table for him. Poulk was the only NC Stater to start all 30 ACC games, but right behind him were a pair of freshmen, Andrew Ciencin and the multi-useful Pratt Maynard, who catches, plays first, and in a pinch can be used on the mound, too. The bats look legit, which would be a huge improvement over last year's ACC-worst team BA of .265.

And any mention of the NC State baseball team would be remiss without Russell Wilson, who is used literally all over the field, off the bench as well as in the starting lineup. Yes, the Russell Wilson who quarterbacks the football team. He's not always the most consistent hitter, and is too shaky on the mound to be a regular there, but when he gets hold of the ball it goes a mile. So far this season he's got more extra-base hits than singles, and it was his moonshot to center field that won the Irvine game for the Pack.

Three weeks into the season and the NC State bats look legit, but the pitching? The front line is a little thin here. NC State lost terrific starter Jimmy Gillheeny to the Seattle Mariners, and the rest of the pitching was frankly garbage last year. Hence the 20 ACC losses. So far this year, a couple reliable starters have emerged from the wreckage of last season in Jake Buchanan and Cory Mazzoni. But can they find a third? The other regular starter has been Danny Healey, and he's failed to make it past the second inning in two of three starts. Nobody else has been any better, and we're talking competition like Quinnipiac here.

So it remains to be seen if NC State can keep the momentum going. Things are certainly looking a lot better than a year ago at this time, but the lack of anyone remotely qualified to be a third weekend starter will be a big handicap. They'll likely look to the bats to steal a few 15-12 games if they want to get to the ACC tournament this year.

Virginia Tech

Last season: Missed ACC tournament
Record: 32-21 (12-17, 9th in ACC)
Return: 72% of ACC starts, 76% of total innings pitched
Names to know: IF/OF Austin Wates, SP Justin Wright, SP Jesse Hahn, OF Steve Domecus

Tech has yet to reach the ACC baseball tournament, but they're a popular choice to break that streak this year. Or were until ace Justin Wright got shelled by SEC also-ran Kentucky. Losing to Bryant didn't help matters either. (Again - what is it with ACC teams getting beat this season by crappy teams from the great snowy north?)

Still, VT's in decent shape. Between Wright and Jesse Hahn, Tech's got a pretty good 1-2 punch on the mound, and it looks like they've found another good one in freshman Joe Mantiply to round out the weekend rotation. And closer Ben Rowen has made eight appearances so far without letting a run cross the plate.

And the bats? Not bad either. Just like last season, Domecus and Wates are leading the way at the plate, and Wates is also a tremendously efficient basestealer. VT also plugs Arkansas transfer Tim Smalling into shortstop and moves Ronnie Shaban to third. Smalling is an instant upgrade with the glove; Shaban is something of a butcher in the field and his platoonmate at shortstop was worse. Smalling's also provided quality hitting, leading the team in RBI. So despite a few questionable early losses, Tech indeed looks like a smart bet to end their ACC tournament drought.

Fun fact: Not satisfied with having the worst colors in all of collegiate history, Tech holds their split-squad fall series between "Team Camo" and "Team Throwback." The camo is about what you'd expect. For throwback uniforms, Tech goes with the Houston Astros look. It's, uh, about par for the course, actually.

Wake Forest

Last season: Missed ACC tournament
Record: 22-30 (6-24, 12th in ACC)
Return: 53% of ACC starts, 67% of total innings pitched
Names to know: OF Ryan Semeniuk, C Mike Murray, SP Tim Cooney

At least the Maryland series will be interesting. Wake Forest was absolutely brutal last season, and they'll fight with Maryland this year for ownership of the cellar. We'll start with the most horrifying stat of all: the 7.30 team ERA in 2009. That's earned runs, mind you; Wake was pushing nine runs allowed per game overall. Can't be easy to win games when you basically have to score 10 runs to win and your offense was six runs shy of a tie for last place in that category too.

There are a few hitters in the linup. Semeniuk steps into a starting role this year after getting only nine ACC starts last year, and is showing he deserves the job, leading in nearly every hitting category. And the ones he's not leading, Mike Murray probably is. Murray's a team captain, the starting catcher, an excellent hitter for both power and average, and has Pudge Rodriguez skills with the glove. The only downside for Wake here is that you can steal him blind - he threw out just 8 of 78 baserunners last year and only has one to his credit so far in 2010.

If Tim Cooney lives up to the hype - and so far he has - then the pitching will be better by default because the Deacons will finally have a single dependable weekend starter. Wake's coach declares him the pitcher with the best command on the team, and that was before the team played a single game. Probably not the best endorsement of last season's "ace", Austin Stadler. Stadler was the only pitcher not to be tossing beachballs to the opposition every time he pitched - just some of the time - but this season doesn't look like it'll be much better so far.


OK, crystal ball time. Here's how I think the ACC seedings will shake out when all's said and done:

#1: Florida State
#2: Georgia Tech
#3: Virginia
#4: Clemson
#5: Miami
#6: North Carolina
#7: Virginia Tech
#8: Boston College
#9: NC State
#10: Duke
#11: Wake Forest
#12: Maryland

Why third for UVA? For the simple and totally not fair reason that FSU and GT get to skip each other on the schedule, and we miss out on the feast that is Wake Forest pitching. But we can have a big say in that ranking with a good showing this weekend against Florida State. Matchup of the titans here - we're #1 or #2 in every publication, and FSU is top-5 in all of them too. So tomorrow, having given you every other team in the ACC, will be our own big season preview.

Some other quick stuff worth mentioning:

- Congrats are in order for Jerome Meyinsse, the ACC's top scholar-athlete in basketball this year. Meyinsse is an econ major with a minor in math. The guy goes all-out on the court and in the classroom; it's a shame his example won't be around next year for the huge freshman class to follow. Exactly the kind of quality individual that every Hoo should be proud to have representing our University.

- Further congratitutions for the mens' swim team, which qualified all five relays and seven swimmers in three individual events each - the max - for the NCAA championships. Special congrats to Scot Robison, the #1 national seed in the 200 free and #2 in the 100 free. We could have a national champion - possibly a dual champion - on our hands here, and both swim teams will be gunning for a top-ten finish.

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.