Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Not that it's not an important week. On the contrary, UVA can officially clinch a spot in the ACC tournament this week. I mean, that's kind of academic by now, but it's nice to have it mathematically. A sweep will do the trick, and a 2-1 series win would get it done too as long as GT beats NC State in their series.
Duke has a few guys who can swing a bat, but if it weren't for Maryland (which is unbelievably bad at scoring runs) they'd be rock bottom in the ACC in that department. SS Jake Lemmerman and 1B Will Currier each have nine homers and are legit slugging threats. Will Piwnica-Worms, he of the too many W's, is probably the best all-around bat they have, a legitimate threat to get on any base at any time. Leading hitter, as well as one of the best sluggers with five HRs and five triples, and to top it off, he draws walks too. But on the other end of the spectrum, catcher Ryan McCurdy is slugging .345, which isn't a product of a poor batting average: he has 40 hits this year - 35 singles and five doubles. That's got to be some kind of no-power record. Duke is full of statistical idiosyncracies. For example, they draw fewer walks than anyone in the conference. They also strike out less than anyone in the conference. My initial thought about that was: OK, they probably just ground out all the time. That was confirmed when I next found that they GIDP way more than anyone else. 41 on the season - almost one double play per game is turned on them. No wonder they have such trouble scoring. UVA is the conference's second-best fielding team, so you have to figure that'll play nicely into our hands. (Who's first right now? Duke. They seem to show up on one end or the other of nearly every statistical category - it's weird.)
They definitely show up at the wrong end of the pitching spectrum, though. They've been looking for a third starter all year and their latest try (pitching probables are here) will be freshman Marcus Stroman, whose sparkling effort last week in a win over Wake Forest was rewarded with another shot this weekend. That was Stroman's first start and it was a dandy: a complete game, with just three runs allowed, two earned, and shutout ball from the second through the eighth inning. That was also Duke's only win of the weekend; taking Stroman out of the bullpen thinned out that unit considerably and gave Wake Forest plenty of nice pitches to explode on, which they did, to the tune of 18 runs on Saturday. The pen is lousy and the rotation isn't much better. Overall, opponents are hitting .293 against Duke pitching; ACC opponents are hitting .339, and Duke's ERA in ACC games is 8.07. (!) The Hoos' bats should be almost as alive this weekend as they were against Maryland.
Could this be a second series sweep in a row? Absolutely. Stroman, if anyone, is probably the guy that stands in the way; he's the best pitcher Duke's got and it probably shouldn't have taken them this long to figure that out and get him in the weekend rotation. But as I mentioned, putting him there means the bullpen has nobody to come bail out a starter in trouble. Duke's starters have fared OKish against ACC hitting, but once the starter comes out, Duke gets lit up bad and crooked numbers start appearing consecutively on the line score. They're not awful-awful like Maryland where anything but a sweep is a disappointment. Duke has enough hitters to make a game interesting if you let it stay close, and they took a game from FSU and two from Clemson. But FSU is a top-ten team; UVA is top-three if you ignore the puzzling (to put it nicely) Collegiate Baseball poll and #1 for Baseball America this week, so I'd like to think we're a notch above. A sweep this weekend would be a good way to demonstrate it.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
- Dropped the following players: OT Evan Mulrooney (Maryland commit - we never offered), TE Brian Miller (Boston College commit), CB Jeremiah Hendy (Maryland commit), OT Conor Hanratty (Notre Dame commit, and that was pretty much a foregone conclusion), and DE Giorgio Newberry (has never really talked UVA.)
- Moved CB Demetrious Nicholson from blue to yellow. Bummer. UVA seems to be dropping here.
- Moved DE Corey Marshall and DE Norkeithus Otis from red to yellow. UVA's chances with Marshall still look slim, with VT and Michigan both pursuing him very hard, but we are in a top-four group and he didn't commit to Tech at the VT spring game. So either Tech is slow-playing him and telling him to be patient with committing, or he's serious about checking out the other schools on his list. Michigan is coming hard and I bet he goes to their barbecue on May 22nd - another "great news if he doesn't commit" date.
- Added OT Jake Goins to yellow. He'd be blue, but then he'd probably already be a Hokie if they actually wanted him this year. His offer there is for a grayshirt.
You'll notice some of the names are now highlighted in orange - these are the top-of-the-wishlist guys. The guys you need to really put a stamp of approval on a recruiting class. I'd be ecstatic, frankly, to get half of them, but if we can't get at least two it'll be a disappointment. Nobody in red is highlighted because frankly that's while-we're-at-it-I'd-like-a-pony territory, and orange doesn't show up too good on red anyway.
A little feedback on that would be appreciated, by the way, because I can't decide if it's better to have the wishlist guys in orange at the top of the color section or just at the top of their positions. I went with the latter for now because it's less work.
Also, I said I'd update the depth chart, and I did. Last year's seniors have now disappeared and the depth chart reflects the ground truth heading into fall camp. Thoughts on that because that's why this blog is here:
- Marc Verica, as mentioned, is the clear starter, and the race is behind him. That designation has an expiration date of mid-October, and you can bet the staff will be scrutinizing Verica in the season's early going to make sure it's worth it to keep sending him out there.
- Red flags should be going up in your head when you look at the running backs. Perry Jones topping the chart at RB is a surprise. It's not a good sign that the two-deep at RB comprises 1) the football Muggsy Bogues and 2) a guy who's made a long career out of getting passed up on the depth chart. I dunno, maybe Jones blew away the coaches with his moves and football IQ and Keith Payne is finally living up to the Chuck Norris-like status he was assigned as a recruit, but one thing we definitely didn't hear out of spring camp is how the running backs were really stealing the show. Reading between the lines here, I'd hazard a guess that this is more about what the competition (Torrey Mack, mainly) didn't show in spring camp. Expect this battle to start totally anew in the fall with all-new horses in Dominique Wallace, Kevin Parks, and Khalek Shepherd.
- Wide receiver will be a position of strength if Tim Smith is as good as advertised. Kris Burd is a good receiver but not the kind you game-plan for; Smith is the only such player in that group.
- Don't be fooled by the apparent lack of depth at guard; I'm pretty much only going by what they say, and they don't list a whole lot of guards. A lot of guys are just listed as OL and they basically end up at tackle until we learn otherwise, because tackle is what they were recruited as. They have to go somewhere, and the byproduct of that is, tackle looks really heavy and guard looks really thin, when that's not the case.
- On the other hand, I've been telling you we're really heavy at linebacker and really thin in the secondary: a side effect of London's decision to move a lot of players a slot closer to the line of scrimmage. This illustrates it pretty nicely. Four linebackers, including incoming guy Chris Brathwaite because I think DE is where he'll end up, got moved down to the D-line, so there really isn't a major glut of linebackers, but we can't even go three deep in the secondary until the freshmen show up, and then only just barely, and also only because Javanti Sparrow got shifted to the defensive side of the ball. It's no accident that three of our first seven commitments for 2011 (counting Kyrrel Latimer) are defensive backs.
- London omitted the kickers from the depth chart; it's clearly still open season on that competition as well.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Anyway, here are the guys you'll be pulling for to make an NFL roster this year:
Chris Cook - 34th overall to the Vikings
The Vikings picked Cook with the selection they got from the Lions for trading out of the first round - really only a four-pick drop. The UVA fan in me is thrilled - Cook is going to a team bound and determined to upgrade a shaky cornerback position. The Lions fan in me is really pleased to finally have what looks like a really dangerous running back (the Lions took Cal's Jahvid Best with the pick acquired from the Vikings.)
But the combination UVA and Lions fan in me thinks the whole thing sucks. As a Lions fan, see, I can't stand the Vikings - maybe not as strongly as a Packers fan would hate them, but still; and I hate to see a Cavalier drafted by them, it's almost as bad as being drafted by Green Bay or Dallas. Not only that, but they used the pick the Lions gave them, and the Lions really, really need a cornerback too. (They picked one up in the third round instead.) And for the coup de grace: drafting Best gave the Lions the RB depth they needed to cut Cedric Peerman loose. So it's like a double no-Hoos whammy for the Lions.
But, Cook. As the Vikings' highest pick, he's something of a mini-star already in the Twin Cities and will no doubt be scrutinized come fall camp. He wasn't the Vikings' first choice, though; that was going to be Patrick Robinson, who got snagged two picks ahead of them. Minnesota needs cornerbacks badly enough that they decided to take the next one on their board instead of going with the best-player-available approach.
The situation there is really shaky. Cedric Griffin is the best they got, and they're not sure he'll be available for the start of the season. Everyone else was horribly unproductive last season, and the Vikings went out and signed a bunch of other guys before the draft (read: flung poo against the wall to find out what sticks) to try and shore up the position and be able to print up a depth chart and still look at themselves in the mirror. With Griffin probably out for training camp, Cook will have every chance to strut his stuff. Except for maybe the Lions, he'd have had a hard time finding a better situation.
Will Barker - Cowboys UFA
Ugh, I hate the Cowboys, but there's no denying former Cavaliers have had their share of success in Dallas. Both John Phillips and Kevin Ogletree caught on with the Cowboys last year, hauling in seven passes each, and they're joined this offseason by Connor Hughes, providing some warm-body depth at placekicker.
Barker ended up on a team that's more or less without a left tackle, but unfortunately I really have my doubts that Barker's suited for the left side. If he's a tackle, he's a right tackle, and Dallas has more depth on that side. Still, they didn't pick up a lineman til the sixth round and haven't been real active on the FA market for linemen either, so Barker's got as good a chance as any to impress his way onto the roster. As ever, UFA's face a long uphill climb to a steady paycheck and the odds are stacked against them, so when I say he's got a decent chance, that's definitely relative.
Nate Collins - Giants UFA
Another place with a nice contingent of Cavaliers; Collins will join Chris Canty and Clint Sintim on the Giants' defense. There isn't much room, though. Canty is an expensive investment that the Giants want to get some use out of after he was hurt much of last year, and so the depth chart at DT will get a little clogged. They drafted another defensive tackle in the second round as well. Overall, the Giants need more production than they've been getting out of the middle of their D-line, but there's enough depth there - especially high-priced depth - that it'll likely take an injury or something else unforeseen for Collins to crack the roster.
Mikell Simpson - Bengals UFA
Simpson's his small size - seriously, he looks like he's going to break every time he's tackled - make it a difficult battle no matter where he goes. Plus, he's not the only UFA RB the Bengals signed, and guess what else: Cincinnati picked up some familiar competition from the Lions. (Peerman, for the slow on the uptake.) The Bengals have no competition for the starting tailback job and some pretty well-established backups - they're basically looking for one last guy to fill out the back end of the roster, and Simpson's going to find it extremely difficult not to be one of the first cuts.
Rashawn Jackson - Panthers UFA
Guh. Carolina has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams and some backups they really like in Tyrell Sutton and Mike Goodson. If Jackson is going to make the Panthers' roster it'll probably be as a pure fullback, and a backup at that as Tony Fiammetta has been groomed for the starting job. Unlike Simpson, Jackson also has the size to make a mark on special teams, and in order to make the roster, this is where he'll probably have to expend a lot of effort.
Working in his favor, Fox Sports called him the second-best undrafted free agent, and compared him to Jason Snelling, who's done a terrific job carving himself a niche with Atlanta. The comparison is no accident - Jackson has a very similar skill set, looks a lot like Snelling on the field, and minus the medical year off, followed a very similar career path at UVA. Eerie similarities. Let's hope the parallels can continue; if Jackson catches on with Carolina, it'll likely be right from the Snelling blueprint.
Vic Hall - Bears UFA
Hall's pro recruitment probably reminded him a lot of his college recruitment. Defense? Offense? Different teams had different ideas. For the Bears, it'll be offense, at least at first - slot receiver. Right in Devin Hester's wheelhouse. The Bears also have Rashied Davis as a backup there, and if Hall ends up as a slot and KR, those two at least will be in front of him. His versatility makes it tough to figure his chances of making the roster, but it also greatly improves them, and don't be surprised if he does land on his feet somewhere. Might not necessarily be the Bears, and it could be anywhere on the field - kick returner, gunner, cornerback, slot. The practice squad is also a distinct possibility - thanks to his athleticism, probably a greater possibility than any of the other UFA's listed here since he can be asked to portray various opposing burners as a scout teamer. That kind of sucks, but in the end there's a reason Hall was one of Groh's favorites and I can't see him being completely shunted aside when all's said and done.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Like ACC championships.
Or if you want to get all big-picturey, like "years in a row UVA has won more ACC championships than any other school." Yup: the men's lacrosse, women's crew, and men's tennis teams ensured that no ACC school can catch UVA in the championships department this year, and the seven total championships is a post-expansion record. Stand tall, Hoos, and give this statement of fact some thought: For the third year in a row, the University of Virginia has the ACC's premier athletics department.
Another heady phrase: 100 ACC championships. That mark was reached on Saturday by the crew team; Sunday brought the total to 102. The official site has the awesome breakdown here.
And let's not forget: there's still some baseball (as well as softball) to be played. And some of it was played this weekend, too, although calling what happened on the College Park diamond "competition" is a stretch. Maryland is a doormat when it comes to baseball with one respectable pitcher and few bats, and they were treated as such. I did expect a sweep; I did not expect 27 runs to be posted on Saturday, though it comes as something less than a complete surprise.
Coastal Carolina's pitchers will give us much more trouble than Maryland's, and they're not even throwing their weekend guys. If you follow college baseball, you've heard of Coastal Carolina; if not, you might have anyway, as they're basically baseball's Gonzaga. Coastal's already beaten five ACC squads this season, which is more than Maryland can say, and they're probably the toughest test we'll see until the season finale series against Miami. I think Branden Kline will take the mound, and neither of our top relievers (Arico and Wilson) pitched at all against Maryland and will be available on Tuesday as well. A win tomorrow would do wonders for bringing a super-regional to Charlottesville.
But if I had to pick the best part of the weekend, hell, it wouldn't even automatically be the lacrosse team's ACC championship, although a trophy is a very shiny piece of validation. Frickin' finally beat Duke! For the first time since I graduated. Adam Ghitelman is your tournament MVP, although if that award wasn't cemented when he flung the ball into the open net from 60 yards out, then it ain't worth shit. Goalie goal! That alone is MVP stuff - 16 saves against 6 goals versus Maryland is just gravy. Just my luck it comes in the one part of the year that isn't on TV in these parts, because that would have been the best highlight ever.
(Sheesh, listen to me. Here, true story: it's not that I paid no attention at all to lacrosse while I was at school, but my actual, active fandom dates from the 2006 championship - the semis against Syracuse, specifically - when I turned on the TV just to see what might be on and it literally just happened to be UVA lacrosse. I made it a point to also tune in to the UMass game and since then I've been hooked. I had had no idea they actually televised it; here I am four years later bitching that some of it still isn't. At least there's lousy-res streaming video online.)
Anyhoo. It certainly helped that Maryland sat Will Yeatman, who stands six-foot-seventeen and weighs at least 400 pounds and is the only Terp who can consistently score goals on us without having them waved off. Still, holding a fellow ACC squad to six goals is an accomplishment no matter how you slice it. Really, five, since Maryland's final goal came with 11 seconds to go and Ghitelman probably already trying to decide where to put his MVP trophy.
Other stuff from the weekend:
- Jeff White, as usual, is on top of his game. Indispensible breakdown of maybe UVA's most successful weekend of the past decade.
- White did miss one thing: Chris Cook was the only Hoo taken in the NFL draft, but he went before every Hokie. Tomorrow I'll have the full rundown.
- He missed one other thing, though as a mouthpiece of the school he's really not allowed to talk about it: the Jordan Lomax commitment. Yup, even football had an awesome weekend. I'll update the recruiting board shortly.
- The post-spring depth chart is out, too. Interesting bits: 1) Marc Verica is clearly listed as the starting QB. 2) Perry Jones is the starting tailback - though that comes without competition, yet, from Dominique Wallace. 3) Steve Greer isn't the clearcut starter at MLB. (I expect that to change, though.) 4) LaRoy Reynolds is the starting Sam - and is listed at a meager 215 pounds. 5) No kicker is named.
Now that spring practice is over, I'll be updating the depth chart on the blog here within the week, and pushing the graduated seniors off the edge into the wide world.
- Steps to happiness: 1) Take this Sporcle quiz. 2) Cackle with glee. (You'll figure out why once you've completed the quiz.)
Saturday, April 24, 2010
I'm happy UVA won the game, but I'm at least as happy, if not more, that the BYU bib look never caught on in the mainstream. Seriously, eww.
Friday, April 23, 2010
OK, well, that's not totally accurate. Actually what happened is I decided after it was 4-0 bad guys to try and finish the damn thing up because it was a lot more productive of a pursuit than watching us not play defense. Without me and my jinxy ways, they began lighting the scoreboard up like Christmas, so I figured, no need to mess with what's working, I'll just go ahead and finish up all the way and then watch the rest of the game. So that's what I did, and they outscored Duke 12-4 without me. So now you have a video and a win over Duke, and I think that's a pretty productive afternoon and earns me another scotch.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Last year, UVA won more ACC championships than any other school, and we have a great chance to duplicate the feat this year. UVA has racked up four, tying with Florida State; Florida State, however, doesn't compete in all of this weekend's sports. It'll be a disappointment of colossal proportions if UVA doesn't snag at least one this weekend, because that would require at least two major upsets. The six sports contesting ACC championships this weekend are:
- Women's lacrosse. This one's already underway, and VT is in the process of being crushed as I write. We're not the favorite, however; that distinction likely belongs to UNC, whom UVA topped in overtime in the regular season. After VT comes Maryland, who blew us out earlier this year, and getting past that means a likely rematch with Carolina.
- Rowing. UVA is the heavy favorite here, being ranked #1 in the region. Clemson, as you see, is second, and poses the greatest threat, but the ladies' crew should be ACC championship #5 when all's said and done. This team, by the way, holds my interest in a different small way as it's the only UVA team to include athletes from my high school on the roster.
- Men's tennis. The other sport where UVA = domination. Not only do the Hoos beat everyone they face, most of the time it's not even close. Miami is the first opponent on the chopping block, scheduled for tomorrow. Barring a major upset this should be championship #6.
- Women's tennis. UVA is the 6th seed in this tournament and has a long road to hoe to get to the championship, but stranger things have happened. Again, Carolina is the favorite, but the match against them this season was a very close loss.
- Men's golf. You know what, I don't even know. College golf is weird. UVA's got a decent team, I guess - here's the coaches' poll - and based on that I'd say we're not the favorites, but we're certainly in the hunt. And if there was ever an anything-can-happen game, it's golf, which is a lesson I learn every time I'm on the links. Maybe we win, maybe we don't.
- Men's lacrosse. As ever, a series of coin-flips between four teams of more or less even strength. Of course we drew Duke in the first round, but odds are basically two in three we'd have to play them at some point anyway. I really think there's a champion-ness about this team that wasn't there last year, but who knows, maybe that comes out in the NCAAs instead of the ACCs. I think most people would prefer that anyway. In any case, figure we have a 25% chance of winning this mini-tournament, which still ain't bad.
Of course, the baseball team plays this weekend too: in College Park against Maryland, who is as bad as advertised. They have a respectable #1 starter and one or two guys who can hit the ball, but the basic deal is, not sweeping this series might as well be considered a series loss. In ten of their forty games (in which they are 15-25) they've given up double-digit runs; three of those games have been 20-run monstrosities and another was a 17-run ugliness at the hands of Delaware. If there was ever a time to give the bats a little wake-up call, this is it.
Lastly, I have the same opinion as everyone else about an impending 68-team NCAA tournament: YAY IT'S NOT 96. In fact, I like 68 better than 65. Now there's some symmetry to it. Until 96 was mentioned, I always sort of figured 68 was inevitable anyway, since at some point in the future the Great West Conference will get an autobid and the whole reason for 65 was to make room for a new AQ conference. With a 14-year deal, we likely won't have to worry about earthshaking expansion again til the 2020's. And the split between CBS and Turner means that you don't have to watch just any game that CBS foists on you, which means that if your team is not playing the "interesting" matchup at the moment, you don't have to miss it. Consider this whole thing a positive development, and not even the kind that's positive only because it's less crappy than what they floated at first. It's actually a good thing.
Right - 45 minutes to the NFL draft. Root for Chris Cook tonight, who's occasionally projected as a first-rounder but more commonly in the high second round. Me, I'm off to go pray to whatever god will listen that the Lions don't get a major case of the stupids tonight. The symptom is "doing anything other than selecting Ndamukong Suh." Yes, it's the obvious pick; yes, Suh blows up everything he sees; yes, he's the best player in the draft; yes, he's a high-character guy and that too is written in neon lights; no, I don't have much faith in the Lions being anything other than the Lions. Watch them reach for Trent Williams. (Edit: they picked Suh! Wooo, shit yeah!!)
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
This is because tradition means nothing in college football, except for when it means dollar signs. The Big East has no football tradition. It's glommed together from teams that either have no tradition themselves (USF, UConn) or spent all their history as an independent (WVU, Pitt.) Their boosters couldn't care less what happens to the Big East. The Big 12 has a slightly different dynamic - it's like the Civil War there, north vs. south. Only in this case, the south thinks the north is holding them back and the north thinks the south (read: everyone in Texas) is hogging everything. Given the way that conference came together, that's not surprising. But the blue-blooded boosters at ACC schools like the ACC, thank you very much, and so does their money. The ACC is either standing pat or expanding.
But anyway, the point. Yesterday I made passing mention that UVA in the Big Ten would be a disaster for UVA. I'd've said more, but it was getting to be a long post and the Red Wings were on, so today I'll expand on that a little. The point for today is, "disaster" might be too soft a word. I think the word "Northwestern" might be more appropriate. If you want to be Northwestern, by all means advocate a paranoid jump to the Big Ten to fend off the imaginary cataclysm that isn't going to leave UVA begging the Ivy League for admission.
Problem #1 is that recruiting would take a tremendous nosedive. Benefit: we can now sell our recruits on games against some of college football's oldest and most visible powers.
The obvious issue with that is we would very soon find ourselves competing against those powers for recruits. You can spend all your time telling a kid how awesome Michigan is and how neat it'll be to play against them on national TV in front of 100,000 people, and watch it all backfire when his Michigan offer comes in the mail. Oops. Michigan's already horning in on our territory thanks to Rich Rodriguez's West Virginia history; remember Ken Wilkins and Jordan Paskorz? They loved UVA until Michigan came calling. You watch: Corey Marshall is going to be at VT's spring game this weekend, and if he doesn't commit then and there, Michigan is the next place he's taking a hard look.
So it'd be mightily counterproductive to let Michigan - and Ohio State and Penn State and so on - come to the state of Virginia and put on a show for our instate recruits. Like we already don't have enough trouble getting Pennsylvania recruits to ignore Penn State for two seconds and take a look at Charlottesville. Big Ten schools would love to get their hooks into Virginia and would derive a hell of a lot more benefit from being on TV here than we would by playing in barren recruiting wastelands like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Right now we play games in quality recruiting territory: NC, FL, GA. That'd change in the Big Ten, and the only quality recruiting territory we'd play any games in are states where the top recruits only leave if the instate power lets them.
Neither would it help that VT would be telling all our recruits about the cold weather up there. It's not actually that bad, or so this native Michigander will tell you, but by the time Frank Beamer's done with those recruits they'll think we play all our road games in Nunavut. And once our guys take their first late-November trip to Minneapolis, they'll think he's right. Southern teams don't do all that well in sub-50-degree weather, let alone snow.
Which brings us to the competition side of things. Now, when it comes to football, the Big Ten and ACC are not the cool kids' conferences. And as a fan of a team in both, I tend to occasionally find myself in the strange position of defending each conference to each other's fans. Big Ten fans scoff at the ACC, and vice versa. My actual opinion, though? Big Ten football wins the cage fight. Especially in cold weather. The ACC's worst are generally better than the Big Ten's worst, but the Big Ten is stronger at the top and has a much clearer hierarchy there. Advancement in the ACC is easier, now that Florida State is no longer the conference hegemon and shows no signs of becoming so again. There is no conference hegemon. The Big Ten has 'em, and everyone else can just enjoy their Alamo Bowl trips. You ever want to win a conference championship in football? Stick with the ACC.
Full disclosure, of course: there's a personal aspect to this. One of my criteria for choosing a college was that they couldn't be a Big Ten school that wasn't Michigan, because I had no interest in choosing sides every year. A bowl game or a nonconference game would be one thing - a novelty - but on a personal level I'd really, really hate to be pitting my teams against one another all the time. But my personal biases don't change the harsh realities. I don't want to see UVA in the Big Ten.
Alright, I spent all this time talking about future recruiting situations that are never happening anyway, so maybe I owe you some real-world stuff too. So here's a recruiting board update, not least because UVA picked up another commitment last night, sneaky-style, while my attention was occupied with hockey.
- Added DE Diamonte Bailey to glorious orange. Bailey wanted to be a Hoo so badly that once he received his offer he went back in time to accept it before it was given, just to demonstrate his enthusiasm. His recruitment went that quickly. This is a good thing, because we need bodies on the defensive line like nothing else, and Bailey also just so happens to be a teammate of Curtis Grant.
- Added ATH Anthony Harris and OL Kelby Johnson to blue. Johnson seems like a great bet to be a Hoo sooner or later, which would extend our streak at DeMatha to four years in a row.
- Added TE Brian Miller to yellow.
- Moved LB Travis Hughes from yellow to red. Hughes is really giving off this vibe that says, "You're really nice, can we just be friends?"
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Of course, I don't think even the Big Ten brass knows how it's going to play out, let alone the Tribune or any of the other media wonks that Know So Much about what the Big Ten wants. If their only goal was to fuck with everyone's minds a little bit, saying "we're expanding" and then throwing out these hints to random media entities and then being very boring and pilfering Pitt - or even not expanding at all - is a great way to do it. Because now you've got everyone, not least of all the occasionally panicky and paranoid UVA fanbase, wondering how their school will be affected. So I might as well take a crack and see what indeed could happen to UVA in the event the Big Ten goes down this or that road less traveled on their expansion path.
I don't know how comprehensive this list of expansion possibilities is, because people's imaginations are running insanely rampant when it comes to superconference talk, but here goes.
If the Big Ten only picks up one team, then the superconference hurricane basically fizzles out:
- If they get Notre Dame or another Big East team, the Big East just adds Memphis or ECU, the dominoes fall, and life goes on. The Big East loyalty clause, in which a departing team must fork over $5 million and wait more than two years to leave, throws a little bit of a monkey wrench into this scenario, but it also gives the other conferences plenty of time to contingency-plan.
- If they get a Big 12 team, the Big 12 adds TCU, the dominoes fall, and life goes on. It's conceivable, I suppose, that Arkansas tries to get back to its old SWC brethren and the Big 12 gets the Razorbacks instead. Conceivable, but stupid. The SEC gets too much money from that shiny ESPN contract and the Big 12 is a relative wasteland when it comes to revenue. In the galactically unlikely event that this happens, the SEC might just look to poach the ACC and then all bets are off when we lose FSU or Miami or Clemson. But Arkansas isn't that dumb.
So far we have yet to see any effect on UVA or the ACC. Here's where it gets more interesting. What if the Big Ten does decide to go all-out?
- Suppose the Big Ten gets a combination of Big East and Big 12 schools.
This might not actually be too crazy, because both the Big 12 and Big East compensation scenarios are more or less independent of each other. Both conferences can raid the lower tier conferences and the various dominoes can fall and I'd be willing to bet the ACC remains untouched. The Big East could still hang on tight as a football conference if it had to add both Memphis and ECU. It's still less predictable overall, but here's why it's probably not so likely: I don't imagine the Big Ten wants to add a Big 12 team in 2010/2011 and then finish up with the Big East two years after that. That seems troublesome and too likely to develop complications over the years and fall apart. So if the Big Ten goes to 14 or 16 teams, this seems more likely:
- The Big Ten pulls an ACC and says All Your Big East Team Are Belong To Us.
This involves taking at least three Big East teams. Maybe they expand to 14 with all Big Easters, maybe they expand to 16 and get Notre Dame and Missouri too, or maybe they even snarf up all of five teams out of the Big East. Point is, the Big East is no longer a viable football conference. The teams involved would probably be some combination of Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, and UConn.
This could happen despite the loyalty clause, too. Couple ways this could happen. Remember that the Big East includes seven members that don't play I-A football. If three, or especially five, Big East teams wanted to leave, all they'd have to do is vote as a bloc to dispense with the clause. And (here's where my conjecture begins) the seven non-football members, and Notre Dame might just jump aboard too, could very easily agree and slam the door on the departing members' asses on the way out. They don't need Pitt and Rutgers to play basketball with. They'd just dissolve the football portion, maybe invite Temple back, and presto. No more Big East football. They'd miss marquee members Cuse and UConn, but Georgetown and Villanova might also like the spotlight to themselves, thank you.
Could the Big East try and muddle along as a football conference if three members departed? Totally unknown. Schools like Cincy and West Virginia would want to try and make it work because (as I'll get to later) the SEC likely won't want them, and neither will the ACC. But the Georgetowns and Villanovas aren't going to want to have, say, Marshall and ECU gumming up their basketball product. They're poor replacements for Pitt and Syracuse in all aspects. If five teams left for the Big Ten, it's over, and Cincy can try and join the Mountain West or something. Speaking of which, guess who's going to want a BCS berth no matter how many Big East teams get pilfered? See why the Big East could have a mess on its hands?
Plus. There's the ACC to consider. With the Big Ten going to 14, the ACC might pounce on the chance to take a team or two that got left behind - this is why this scenario could finish the Big East no matter what. It depends on who's available, but the ACC would sure love to have Syracuse, and might happily grab Rutgers and/or UConn if they're around. Just to keep up with the Jones's, mind you. Mike London would go WOO and Tony Bennett would go DAMMIT, because any ACC expansion that involves Big Ten leftovers from the tattered Big East is likely to water down the football again. That's why I say "might pounce" instead of "definitely would go for it." They're not taking West Virginia, Cincy, or South Florida unless the brass feels a lot of pressure to keep up with this whole superconference thing.
But what if the Big Ten raids the ACC instead?
This is the "uh-oh" scenario. It's also one of the least likely. Here's why:
- For the ACC to become an option, the Big Ten would have to decide that geography is not important. And once they did that, there are so many other options out there, starting with Texas.
- No one team is going to leave the ACC on its own. Boston College would be the most likely candidate, but they just made a jump and I can't see them making another one so soon. The Big Ten isn't gonna want FSU, Clemson, VT, or NC State - the ACC's academic anchors. Wake isn't going to leave its Tobacco Road buddies. Maryland would lose the one thing they have that can recruit basketball players: the ACC. Duke and UNC are the ACC, at least in Duke and UNC's mind, and the schools that nearly blocked ACC expansion because it would water down basketball aren't gonna go somewhere else. At least not on their own.
- And guess what, UVA isn't going by itself either. It would destroy our athletics as we know it. Football would be destroyed by having to compete in the cold weather against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, etc. Basketball would be destroyed by no longer being able to sell the ACC. Baseball would be destroyed by playing in an astronomically weaker conference. Lacrosse might survive as an independent, but you still lose the ACC cachet. Soccer might be OK, but the Big Ten still isn't anywhere near as strong a soccer conference, Indiana notwithstanding. There isn't a single sport that would benefit from the move. Some might maintain the status quo, but nobody would benefit. We'd be Vanderbilt for all time: occasionally able to field a competitive basketball team, but otherwise totally irrelevant.
But what if a whole bunch of ACC teams decide to join up with the Big Ten?
Well, we're getting into even murkier territory here. What if the Big Ten invited the three northernmost ACC teams (BC, Maryland, and UVA) to share in that sweet sweet Big Ten Network moolah? Or what if they invited Duke, UNC, and anybody? This is the sort of thing that has people all worked up. But I just don't see it happening.
1, Duke and UNC are kings of the ACC, and the ACC is as much a part of their bloodlines as anything else they've got going for them. Would they join what they see as a football conference? Would they give up royalty status in the ACC for minor nobility in the Big Ten? Even if the presidents and ADs wanted to, would their boosters?
2, if they don't go, the only plausible scenario where the ACC gets raided is then some combination of BC, Maryland, UVA, Miami, or GT - although three of those aren't AAU members, which is a particular point of pride for Big Ten presidents. Like I said, Wake ain't leaving Tobacco Road behind. BC, Miami, and GT aren't in the AAU, which is something of a membership hurdle although not insurmountable.
If push really comes to shove, and UVA is invited along with other ACC schools to the Big Ten, the dilemma will be whether to forsake traditional rivalries and a better competition atmosphere, or stay behind in a suddenly moribund ACC that has precious little hope of pulling off another expansion miracle. In my opinion? This is about as likely as that thing about Arkansas leaving the SEC.
Much more likely is the demise of the Big East as a football power. If it gets raided big-time, then the superconference era is on, and yes, the ACC as you know it is liable to change in a big way as the arms race escalates.
But there's one variable that has people unnecessarily sweating: the SEC. What if they too decide to expand? The ACC has all the logical choices: Florida State, Clemson, VT, Miami, GT, right?
Please. Get real. The SEC isn't going to expand. If this is the dawn of the era of the superconference, the SEC doesn't care: they think they already are one. Hell, they're already earning money like one. The Big Ten is expanding to expand the BTN footprint. The SEC has ESPN - they're already in 100% of America's households. They can't renegotiate the contract any time soon, and they wouldn't want to. They already play a championship game. 99% of new member possibilities would just be another mouth to feed, especially the way FSU and Miami have been playing football lately. The only school that could conceivably bring in more money overall to the SEC than it would take back isn't in the ACC: Texas.
So the only way UVA is in a tight spot is if the Big Ten comes knocking on the ACC's door for expansion - unlikely. And least likely of all, but something that the most paranoid of fans are fearing? That UVA would be left out in the cold entirely, relegated to the Ivy League or Conference USA or some other non-BCS entity. Not with our academics, and not with Teresa Sullivan's connections at the big-big-big-time schools like Texas and Michigan. Remember who makes these decisions. Not ADs; presidents. And what school president would turn down the chance to associate with UVA. There may be a storm coming, but Thomas Jefferson is our lifeboat, and the worst that'll happen is that a couple extra schools wash up onto the Atlantic Coast shores. Things will change, and believe me I'm a traditionalist and not a big fan of change, but I know what'll never happen: irrelevancy for UVA.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Shame, too, because it wasted a pretty decent show by Adam Ghitelman in net. Stats don't show it, but it was one of his better games. Adam will always let in a goal or two that he shouldn't let in, but when Good Adam shows up, he also makes a fair number saves he shouldn't make.
Then again, maybe Adam was the problem after all - rarely does a shot miss the net so badly as his did. Looked like he was aiming for the scoreboard. I guess we'll let it slide and let his goalie stick be his excuse. This time. Win or lose that was the highlight of the day - the goalie racing up the field with the ball like a crazed inmate loose from the padded cell. I'm not sure what was more awesomer - the realization by the time he reached the midfield V-sabre that he had no intention of passing to a teammate, or the shit-eating grin on his face that the helmet couldn't hide from the camera after the predictably errant shot attempt.
As for baseball, no way I'm gonna treat this one like a loss, no matter how much it felt like a giant stomach punch to lose the sweep in the ninth inning. That's all we lost - the series was a big fat win. Tech can now go back to pretending football is the only sport they compete in. Or pretending to be front-running Dook fans, whichever floats their boat.
Besides, there's too much good to take away from this weekend to let one inning spoil it. Like the continued slow-but-steady upward progress from Cody Winiarski, and the corresponding downward trend in his ERA. And for a guy that's decidedly not a strikeout pitcher, the three in a row trick that he pulled off in yesterday's sixth inning was pretty cool. Or the continued emergence of Branden Kline as a dependable long-relief option. Good for this year when we'll need a bullpen during tournament weekends and good for the future as he hopefully transitions to the rotation.
The bats also did a very nice job of throttling Tech's two best pitchers. Jesse Hahn gave us five runs in six innings and closer extraordinaire Ben Rowen earned the loss on Friday when John Hicks and Phil Gosselin broke up a 2-2 tie in the eighth. And the next three series are juicy: Maryland (terrible), Duke (mediocre) and UNC (without which you can't spell UNderaChieving.)
Now about these rankings. Meaningless, so it's silly to get worked up over them, but I'm gonna anyway. The lacrosse rankings are a pretty standard exhibition of the severe ADD that pollsters always have: you lose, you get dropped from the #1 ranking, and never mind the fact that you've already beaten the newly crowned #1 team, or that said #1 team doesn't have any wins over top-5 teams or teams that don't have any other losses. This would be Syracuse, whose wins over ranked teams are: #6 Princeton, #8 Cornell, #10 Georgetown, #17 Hopkins, and #20 Denver. Doesn't match up so good against a resume that includes wins over the #1, #3, #5, #8, #11, #12, #14, and #17 teams. Ranking Syracuse ahead of UVA is insane.
But not quite as insane as the Collegiate Baseball poll, which rewards UVA's series win over a team they'd previously ranked with a drop from #4 to #10. Tenth? Collegiate Baseball trumpets the fact that they're the oldest NCAA baseball poll, but it's easy to see why there are others: clearly there was a crying need for better ones. The rest of the polls have UVA either #2 or #4 - either is totally defensible. I guess CB thinks it's better to lose a series to Kansas (LSU), a game to 12-22 Fordham (Miami), or take any number of eyebrow-raising losses (South Dakota State? Really, Arkansas?) than one to a team that's 29-8. As Mike Scott would say, smh.
I know, I know, bitching about the polls gets you nowhere, but in it's own way, it's kinda fun anyway. Besides, there's much bright side to look at. Some not-too-exciting things happened this weekend, but look at it this way: It took an unprecedented, epic collapse on faceoffs to hand the lax team its first loss; there's no way they'll be that bad on Friday for the big rematch. And it took an unprecedented, epic collapse on the part of the two best relievers in the bullpen to blow what would have been a sweep over Tech; there's no way that happens again all year. Arico and Wilson are too good for that.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Guess what: they can score this year too. The offense is almost entirely run through the attack; the three starting attackmen (Quinzani, Crotty, Howell) have more goals and points than the rest of the team combined. Max Quinzani is the nation's goal leader with 45, and Ned Crotty's 38 assists also lead the country. Zach Howell's no wallflower, either, with 31 goals. Quinzani's shot is deadly accurate. If there's one team in the country that'll make you pay for ball-watching, like our guys are over-prone to do on occasion, it's Duke.
They can be shut down by good defense, though. UNC still has the best defense in the country, and they harassed Crotty into making no impact on the scoresheet except under "turnovers", where he contributed six. In their Carolina game, Quinzani still got his goals - he will always get his goals - but Crotty was no help and Howell was nearly as invisible. Loyola, 2nd best defense in the country, same result: Quinzani got his goals and got almost no scoreboard help from anyone else, though Crotty did have four assists.
Well, guess who has the third best scoring defense? Duke faces them on Saturday. Not to oversimplify the equation, but the game will be as easy as shutting down Duke's attack, because they can't count on the midfield to pick up the slack if the attack isn't scoring. Duke's statistics are pretty much comparable to UVA's, and their ranking and 10-3 record is impressive, but they've been, in LF's words, bottom-feeding a little bit. That's a little harsh - they've beaten Brown, Loyola, and Georgetown, which aren't such shabby teams, and Maryland needed OT to finish Duke off - but their offense tends to disappear against the top-notch defenses and they've played more of the dregs than most of the contenders have.
As far as strategy, the best way to keep an opposing attack from scoring is to keep them from getting the ball in the first place, and I'd like to see UVA take fewer shots this game and stick to working the ball around the box until quality opportunities present themselves. There've been too many self-caused turnovers lately. Eventually, if you have the ball, you'll score; this is especially true with Duke and their dangerous attack, so an overabundance of patience is the key to this game.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
This year, Tech has a relevant baseball team that's looking to make the NCAA tournament, let alone their first ACC one. Relevant - but mightily inconsistent. They have their ways of surprising people, none bigger than their series wins over FSU and Miami. They also have their ways of delivering some major clunkers. Getting swept by Clemson put a damper on their record, and while it's not inconceivable you could lose a game to the ACC's worst teams(Maryland and Wake Forest) getting shut out by their awful pitching is not a prideful accomplishment. Neither is losing to Bryant.
Mostly, Tech's pitching is respectable but not scary. We'll probably see Justin Wright, and maybe Mathew Price if they want to give their catcher some exercise (one wild pitch every two and a half innings) but Jesse Hahn is the guy they'll likely send out to duel with Hultzen. Besides Hahn, the other pitcher to watch out for is Ben Rowen, one of the top closers in the country.
Their hitting is largely the strength of the team, although it's been known to totally disappear from various games. Austin Wates and Tim Smalling are batting .400+, and Tech overall is well in the upper echelons of power-hitting teams in the ACC. Steve Domecus leads the way there with nine home runs and a .655 slugging percentage. Tech doesn't walk much compared to the rest of the conference, which you'd expect from a power-hitting team, but they also don't strike out much compared to the rest of the conference either.
One thing Tech has a major shortage of is left-handed pitching arms. Wright is a lefty, and so is Joe Mantiply, and then there's seldom-used spot lefty Sean McDermott....and that's it. I would bet we'll face Mantiply on Sunday instead of Price for this reason, because UVA can throw more lefty hitters at a pitcher than your average team.
Maybe it's a good thing that the team laid such an egg yesterday at VMI, just to get that little memento mori out of the way before this series. Despite Tech's sudden resurgence in the rankings, our baseball team is still better than theirs, only I don't want to make any predictions because last time I said HEY WE KIN SWEEP 'EM, we didn't. Better than theirs, yes; so much better that we can sleepwalk through the series, no.
- Billy Baron signed his LOI yesterday, so now UVA can finally acknowledge that he exists.
- Dom Starsia gets a little testy.
- Mike London ganked another Richmond recruit: DreQuan Hoskey, who'll run track as well as play football. It's still up in the air who exactly is going to pay for his UVA education, but right now it seems likely enough that he'll count against the limit of 85 for football....maybe.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
We at UVA are not Michigan, Penn State, or Alabama: the football uniform changes. Nothing we have in that realm is so traditional or sacred as to be untouchable, and so, the general pattern has been more or less that when you change head coaches, you change uniforms. It's easy to identify the look by head coach: you've got Early Welsh, there's Late Welsh, there's Groh, and now there's London.
As it turns out, "Oregon of the East" was a massively inaccurate way to describe the uniform changes. We may not have a traditionally unified look throughout the ages, but we do have a tradition of not looking like we were outfitted by chimpanzees with ADD and a crayon, so the idea of copycatting Oregon was not real enticing. And the team is outfitted by Nike, so you never know if you're going to wake up in September and your team is suddenly wearing sports bras; Nike's really ugly like that sometimes. Fortunately, the look is exactamundo opposite of Nike's usual bizarredom. It's throwbacky. I ganked a couple pictures off the official site so you can use them for reference from here on out instead of flipping back and forth:
I like the look. I liked the old look, too, but this was the kind of coaching change where you just need a clean break and a totally fresh start, and keeping around the hugest visual reminder of the old regime wouldn't have been healthy at all. What do I like?
- First off, I have plenty of nitpicks, and there are a few mistakes. But the overall approach is a winner: a little too plain and boring is way, way preferable to going overboard with the wackiness. Gotta appreciate the simplicity.
- I love the orange jersey, especially with the blue pants. That's gonna look pretty cool. And since orange-on-orange is not a likely combo (good thing because we'd look like traffic cones), I suspect it'll become a favorite look of mine.
- I like that we can do a lot of color combos and still look like Virginia. Once again in contrast to Oregon, which might at any given time wear silver and black, but not to pick on just them: plenty of schools out there are in the habit of wearing things that make you look twice just to make sure who's playing. No matter what we'll still look like Virginia.
- We kept the helmet basically the same. I'm one of the few who liked the goat horns, but the main thing is the V-sabre, which remains one of sports' coolest logos; keeping it on the helmet was critical.
- The switch to black shoes. White shoes looked fine with the old unis but they wouldn't have been real good here.
- Blue pants that at least match the blue jersey. I hated those old blue pants. Good idea, poorly executed.
- Keeping names on the jersey. Groh put them there and as a still-new UVA fan, I was glad he did. Some think non-named jerseys foster a sense of team over individual - I think it makes you look like you can't afford custom nameplates.
- Keeping the single, blue helmet. The helmet is a much stronger piece of the program's brand than the rest of the uniform and I prefer having just one. Helps keep things unified.
What I could do without:
- The butt-stripe. It's just unnecessary and kind of ugly.
- Monochrome combos. There's a good reason Jeff White suggested orange-on-orange isn't likely, and thank God for that. But blue-on-blue or white-on-white isn't going to look a lot better, because the pants are way too plain for it. The old white-on-white looked good because of the classy-looking stripe on the white pants. These aren't gonna look as good.
- All this PRO COMBAT! hype about stupid shit like the titanium belt buckles. Really? There's this huge noticable difference in how fast the team runs and how hard they hit because their belt buckles are three ounces lighter? Bite me.
I'm not just Mr. Criticism here. I have ideas, too. A couple things here - let's call them missed opportunities - could have made a very good thing even better:
- Blue numbers outlined in orange don't look great for the white jersey. Orange outlined in blue is the way to go. Blue helmet, blue pants, white jersey, orange numbers - that looks sharp.
- Sticking with the numbers theme, the block numbers do look nice. But UVA's been on a little bit of a common-branding kick lately - that's why the men's basketball team changed unis a couple years back to look the same as the women. That "VIRGINIA" font they're using shows up all over; in fact, you can see Mike London up there ensuring the world can see it prominently displayed on Marc Verica's butt. (OK, back of his waistline.)
But anyway, numbers. Seems to me they missed an opportunity - the basketball numbers would have looked pretty good on this uniform, for a little bit of style. UVA football still has never dressed better than 1998 and 1999 when those fancier numbers were on the jersey. (Also, the collar and sleeve accents on those unis were really cool.) I was juuuust a touch disappointed when I walked into Scott for the first time, saw kids and folks with those #6 Thomas Jones jerseys with the cool numbers, and then the team came out in boring block numbers. (And they ditched the blue pants that season, too.)
But nothing's perfect. And the neat thing about this is that everyone's gonna have a favorite look. Some will prefer the standard blue-on-white - what with the lack of goat horns on the helmet and the orange-outlined numbers, it bears a very strong resemblence to the 94-97 look. Me, I like the orange-on-blue. Nine different looks means something for everyone.
Bottom line is, the whole deal is a near-perfect combination of the fresh start that UVA needed and yet a continuation of a tradition of looking classy on the field. Thumbs-up from this observer.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
That said, however, spring can answer a few questions for us. So today I'll put my best foot forward in seeing what spring ball might have settled, and what remains to be seen.
Questions we now have answers to:
- Who's going to start at quarterback against Richmond?
That would be Marc Verica. I wish I wish I wish I could find the Jeff White article that more or less let it slip, but I can't - something about how the coaches were having a pretty spirited backup battle between Ross Metheny and Michael Strauss. Verica didn't blow away the competition, but his experience gave him a major leg up and he'll have to implode in the August to lose the job.
- What will the uniforms look like?
"Oregon of the East" caused a lot of consternation among tradition-minded fans (like me) who didn't really like the idea of diamond-plate patterns, random striping all over the place, or dressing like the Oakland Raiders when your school colors are those of the Green Bay Packers. Basically, those of us who don't want a clown show to take the field where the football team is supposed to. Fortunately, there's a much simpler, classier approach in place and we can step back from the ledge now.
- Will the offense still suck?
I think most folks are optimistically willing to keep this in the "unanswered" category, but in good conscience, I can't. The spring game generated two articles about the lousy offense on display - Verica was 8 for 23 and the entire running game stunk. And this was against a defense learning a totally brand-new playbook, featuring many players in entirely brand-new positions. This offense is going to need stability before it turns into something that coaches have to bother game-planning against, and that means a lot more than half a year figuring it out.
- How will the change to the 4-3 affect the defensive positioning?
You already knew some people were getting shuffled around, but moving Ausar Walcott and LoVante' Battle from safety to linebacker (which thanks to the alignment change already had a glut) necessitated even more movement. Mostly we know how that goes now:
* Walcott and Battle are outside linebackers.
* Terrence Fells-Danzer is a fullback, and Cam Johnson, Jeremiah Mathis, and Billy Schautz - all former linebackers - are defensive ends.
* Matt Conrath and Brent Urban are defensive tackles.
I'm still not sure I'm big on moving Walcott and Battle, by the way. Speed on defense is a good thing, but so is a depth chart in the secondary, where we're awfully thin. And we're even thinner at DT - I count four, which means there's no two-deep if even one goes down - so I expect at least one more move there. Wouldn't surprise me if incoming freshman Stephen Lawe finds himself on defense come fall camp.
Alright, but it wouldn't be any fun if we knew everything. Here's what remains to be seen:
- Who's going to start at quarterback in mid-October?
Verica has likely established himself as the first option, but not as the kind of guy who puts a deathgrip on a job. If we're an uncompetitive 2-3 (or, horrors, 1-4, meaning a Richmond loss) coming out of what'll probably be a total catastrophe of an Atlanta trip in October, you know it'll start to be time for a quarterback switch. Barring Richmond becoming the new William & Mary, Verica will probably keep the job throughout September because the competition isn't good enough (or is way too damn good) to properly gauge how the season is going. FSU and GT as the first two October games will be a much better yardstick as to whether we should start looking at the future.
- What will the running back depth chart look like?
Pure chaos right now, that's what. There are seven options here: Raynard Horne, Keith Payne, Torrey Mack, Perry Jones, Dominique Wallace, K.P. Parks, and Khalek Shepherd, and only four of them participated fully in spring practice and none of those four really grabbed hold of the job. Why don't we know anything?
* Horne has never really been much more than a change-up back, in to spell the starters.
* We really kind of know what Payne is capable of, and honestly it's not stardom.
* Mack flashed a lot of talent in spring ball last year but couldn't pass-block to save his life (and definitely not his quarterback's), thus whenever he was in the game, defenses keyed on the run.
* Jones is the size of the period at the end of this sentence, and not going to be an every-down guy, ever.
* Wallace might have the best size/speed combination but is still recovering from last season's injury.
* Parks and Shepherd ain't even here yet.
I don't see Horne, Payne, or Jones being #1 options. Any one of them might make a great change-of-pace type but they're not toting the load. There's a great chance here for Parks - who just might be the most talented of the bunch - to step in and make his name. Shepherd, too.
- Is the defense that awesome or is the offense that bad?
Such is the nature of spring practice that you can never really tell, unless you have a coach's eye, whether good results are really good results, or just bad news for the other side of the ball. The defense does remain highly talented, however, and I think they'll still look about as good as they did last year. But with the alignment switch, you never know.
- Who's the placekicker?
London said he'd pick one that would be the starter going into fall camp, but he hasn't told us who.
So with all that, I've updated the depth chart for ya, and today's addition of Ross Burbank to the commitment list (less than a week after his offer - this is a guy who definitely wanted to be a Hoo) merits a recruiting board update too. The depth chart, by the way, has one tiny format change: no more walk-ons, for the most part. It got to be annoying to track the comings and goings. If they've got a real shot to actually participate (Matt Snyder, for example, or the kickers) then they're still on there, but the ones who aren't a threat to see the field aren't there any more. Should be easier to track that way.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Because speaking of the spotlight, the baseball team is back in it. Every poll moved the Hoos up a notch or two, and one puts 'em right back in the #1 spot. Even better, how about this headline: "Virginia Tech Following Virginia's Footsteps."
How cute. And what perfect timing, with that series on deck this coming weekend. Tech's series wins over FSU and Miami give them some legitimacy they lacked, but they're still capable of crashing out and putting up some real stinkers (they split a series with brand-spanking-new D-I school Bryant.) So they have some work to do, and obviously the troubling thing is they're going to want to do it this weekend. It would be a good time for sweeping them, just because.
But our team isn't too shabby either, you know. Both the bats and the pitching shone against one of the top teams in the nation, and certainly one of the best-hitting:
- The offense just hammered GT's pitching. The Jackets' ace Deck McGuire fell apart in the seventh trying to protect a one-run lead. Saturday starter Brandon Cumpton faced five batters and walked four of them before being yanked having not retired a single hitter. All in all 23 UVA runs crossed the plate over the weekend.
- In turn, our own pitching was mostly great. GT's fearsome bats only really touched up one of our pitchers. Danny Hultzen had a little bit of an un-Danny-like outing, but most pitchers don't actually hold GT to four runs like that. Morey got bombed, though. But two performances stand out: Cody Winiarski, who did his little trick of making sure all the hits come in different innings; and Branden Kline, who pitched four very nice innings in relief of Morey, giving up just three hits.
- The pitching caveat is that O'Connor really shortened up the bullpen this week. Only three pitchers trotted out of there: Kline, and Tyler Wilson and Kevin Arico in games 1 and 3. With a 9-1 lead on Sunday, it might not have been the worst idea to give Shane Halley or Chad O'Connor an inning instead of Arico, but clearly O'Connor has no intention of dicking around against a team that's already bombed 70 home runs on the season. So I get that.
- So VMI this week - likely looking at Will Roberts for the start on Wednesday - then revenge time against the Hokies for winning the series last year and causing VT fans to care about baseball. We can turn off the Hokie give-a-shit meter about this sport by sweeping them out of Davenport.
Speaking of revenge, that's kind of the theme for this coming weekend. This past weekend we had just these colossal titanic matchups of top-five teams; coming up, it's revenge time. The lacrosse team can't ever seem to get past Duke, and this is a great time to start piling on for the seven or so years of tough times against them.
Astute observers will notice that this is the second year in a row that we've seen the lax team go undefeated into the Duke game, and last year it didn't work out so well. I think the team is playing much better this year, though. Much better. They look the part of a championship team, so I've got high hopes for this one. But what about Saturday's game?
- I was especially pleased with the physicality of the play. The team played a very physical game and at the same time managed to stay mostly out of the penalty box, unlike against, say, Syracuse, where we spent half the game a man down. Mostly, but there were exceptions....
- ....like Bray Malphrus, who should be sitting for half or all of the Duke game. Maybe he was retaliating for the equally late and even more purposeful hit on Shamel Bratton earlier in the game, but it doesn't matter. No place for head-to-head hitting like that. I don't wanna hear that lax is a contact sport; that's why he should sit, the game is dangerous enough as it is. You look at what Max Pomper did to Ian Braddish, there's nothing wrong with that. Not late and not aimed at the head; unfortunately for Braddish his ribs didn't feel too good afterwards, but it happens. Head-butting doesn't just happen.
- I think you have to put a little bit of an asterisk next to the defensive performance, considering Billy Bitter missed half the game, their top two goal-scorers missed the entire game, and as I mentioned earlier Carolina isn't a real efficient or accurate team on offense. But you can't use the asterisk for Adam Ghitelman. Good Adam showed up to play and left Bad Adam in College Park where he belongs, and the reward was an ACC POTW nod. Whenever Good Adam is in net, this team is nigh-unstoppable.
- No complaints about the offense, either. OK, they looked kind of bad at times, but we won't see a better defensive team than Carolina all year, and their goalie isn't too shabby either.
So yeah, Duke next week. Oh, and might I point out that in this week's USILA rankings, ACC teams occupy four of the top five spots, now that Duke vaults over Princeton after the latter's faceplant in the Big City Classic nightcap. Pretty good for a four-team league. Syracuse is the only interloper, and yeah, they've lost to us too.
Tomorrow, I finally say something about spring football practice (now that it's over of course) and on Wednesday, FOV goes all fashion critic on you and gives the new uniforms the ol' once-over.
Friday, April 9, 2010
1. Of the ACC contenders, and some of the noncontenders as well, GT's schedule to date has been the weakest. How much of the impressive batting statistics can be attributed to lousy pitching and how much is for real?
That's a valid question. Winfield himself was concerned about how our offense would look once the Jackets faced a formidable opponent like Carolina. We'd say the statistics speak for themselves: 26 runs, 4 HRs, 33 hits (12 of which for extra bases). Even though the opponents have been relatively weak, Georgia Tech has not let up on the gas pedal. The same cannot be said for UVA who let a sub-0.500 Wolfpack squad sneak by them. (Editor's note: Just for that, I'm gonna point out that even Carolina isn't necessarily the formidable opponent we thought they'd be earlier. As things are shaping up, UNC baseball is the UNC basketball of baseball season.)
2. The likely Friday matchup between Danny Hultzen and Deck McGuire looks like one of the best that college baseball fans will see all year, nationwide. But both teams also bat .344, tying them for the lead in the ACC. What do you expect out of this matchup?
Honestly, I think it will be a pitchers duel. I expect a game along the lines of 2-1 or 3-2. The opening game GT vs. UNC series went the same way, with 2 greate pitchers matching up against one another. Should be a heckuva a game... if you're a true baseball fan, this will be the one to watch.
3. Is this an Omaha-or-bust year for the Jackets? Both in terms of expectations, and the likely makeup of next year's team after this year's draft?
Yes, Tech's goal is definitely Omaha. We are tired of losing in super regional play especially when we host the super regional every other year. We have the sticks to score with any team in the country and finally have the depth at pitching required to win four or five games straight in the post season. Currently, Tech is on pace to best our last CWS team's season ERA and batting average. As long as the bats keep swinging against weekend ACC pitching rotations and the midweek pitchers continue to win, Tech fans are incredibly optimistic about our chances to make it into Rosenblatt's final season.
4. What's Hall's substitution philosophy? Will he ride the starters as long as he can? Platoon much? Big on lefty-righty matchups or just let your hitters hit and pitchers pitch and make the other team beat your best?
Offensively, we don't think he's real big on the right-lefty matchups, especially this year. He's said several times this season that he feels comfortable with any one of our hitters against a righty or lefty. As pitchers go, he's not going to keep anyone to a pitch count. He does tend to go for the favorable right-lefty matchup if he respects the other team's hitters. Concerning innings pitched, our starters usually go 5-6 innings and then middle relievers take over from there. Deck McGuire, however, has pitched about 2 more innings per game than typical Tech weekend starters just because he's performed so admirably. He's already thrown two complete games and is pitching about 7.6 innings/game.
5. I bet our fan favorite is tinier than your fan favorite. Who is the fan favorite? Not necessarily the baddest hitter or smoothest fielder - who on the Tech roster is the guy that you just call a ballplayer?
We don't want to denigrate any of our players or talk out of our asses on this question as Ted is currently in Kansas and has not made a game. Bird is in South Carolina and has not made a game yet either. Winfield has made it to several games but is completely out of touch with the Georgia Tech baseball fan base. So, if we were to pick a single player as a fan favorite, it would have to be Georgia Tech football's A-back, Roddy Jones. He was a highly heralded football and baseball recruit so the transition hasn't been too bad for him. He's still working on his batting technique but he's got the speed to steal bases and has been called upon to pinch run several times this season. Besides Deck McGuire, he's probably the most recognizable player on Tech's baseball squad despite the fact that he's struck out 6 times in 8 at bats. (Editor's note: I was thinking of Keith Werman here, and FTRS actually selected someone who Werman can almost see eye to eye with. Almost. But Jones has at least 40 pounds on the Werm.)
Don't forget to check out FTRS for my answers to their inquiries. And as always muchas mercis to the premier GT blog in the land.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Obviously, every discussion of UNC starts with Billy Bitter, and every time a UVA game has been on TV lately the announcers have been salivating over the likely eventual matchup between Bitter and Ken Clausen. But UNC is the #2 team in the country, so the rest of the defense is going to have to step up equally against the rest of UNC's attack in order to win the game. Right?
Right....mostly. UNC's offense took a major hit against Maryland when midfielder Sean Delaney went down with a shoulder injury. Despite missing the Hopkins game, Delaney is still the team's leading goal-scorer, and he isn't listed on the depth chart for Saturday either. And UNC isn't the most efficient or prolific offensive team. For a national contender, their numbers are pretty average. The low point on the season was a 5-4 win over Bryant - although that's not totally weird as Bryant's coach Mike Pressler knows UNC pretty well from his days at Duke. Still, the talent gap should have been enough to win without such a sweat.
It's the defense that's got UNC where they are. The GAA is a sparkling 6.3, best in the country except for "reclassifying" (i.e. not-all-the-way-DI-yet) Bryant. Best by a wide margin, actually. So the real matchup is going to be this: #1 offense in the country (that's us) vs. #1 defense. In most sports, defense rules, but my opinion of lacrosse is that if you have the ball long enough, goals are inevitable. So I like our odds.
The key is, I don't think UNC can outscore us. In order for the Heels to win, the game has to be low-scoring. A high-scoring game favors Virginia. And the peripheral stats all tilt our way - not extremely, but they do. UVA is better at ground balls, clears, and (sit down for this one) faceoffs.
Still, it'll be tight. I think we're better, but not so much better that the mistakes we've seen out of this team can be overcome if too often repeated. No wasted possessions. Lot at stake here - not only the #1 ranking in the country (which is nice but ceremonial) but also the #1 seed in the ACC tournament, which goes to the winner. The stage couldn't be bigger: the first-ever event in the new Meadowlands stadium. Just think, that stadium is going to stand there for at least 30 years, who knows how long, and it won't be the New York Giants that opened it up - it'll be your Hoos. (Hofstra/Delaware is actually the Big City Classic's first game, but good luck finding it on TV.) We're more battle-tested: UNC has Princeton, Maryland, and Duke on its wall, and that's nice, but they haven't got Syracuse, didn't smoke Hopkins like we did, didn't cream Cornell like we did. Like I said before the Hopkins game, this team has earned the right to have it said that if they play their game and take care of business, they'll win. Carolina is a much stronger opponent, but the previous applies. Play your game, win the game - it's that simple.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Plan of action is simple today: the good and the bad of the first half. No ugly. Teams that spend most of the first half ranked #1 get to skip the ugly. Also, bad first. So you get to leave on a high note.
- Walks. Especially Tyler Wilson's.
I mean, he's issued a lot of them. Last year he was a very, very dependable pitcher in long relief. This year he's unhittable - opposing batters are hitting .181 - but they get on base via free pass almost more often than by hitting their way there. Against NC State on Sunday, he walked two batters, let them both score, took the loss, and saw his ERA skyrocket north of four.
And against JMU, the team combined to walk 14 hitters. Yikes.
This hasn't been an all-season thing, only a late trend. But it's got to stop before this weekend, because Georgia Tech bombs home runs like they're hitting fungos. And Wilson's been too inconsistent in general this year.
- Franco Valdes.
His light hitting is edging him out of the lineup. Ideally he would hit well enough to lock down the catching duties, letting John Hicks play more first base, and give us that extra flexibility at the DH and with pinch hitters. When Hicks catches, it robs us of a pinch hitter. Unfortunately, Valdes has just 11 hits in 15 games all season.
- Starting pitching on days other than Friday or Saturday.
Cody Winiarski earned himself a reprieve, I think, by locking down Boston College and Clemson, but returned to his excessively hittable ways last Sunday against NC State. He has a team-worst - and that's also including non-eligible pitchers - opposing BA of .315, and carries a 1.67 WHIP. Half a season is a very small sample size for a pitcher, but at this point I'll be genuinely surprised if a future Sunday doesn't see a different starter.
Not that Will Roberts or Branden Kline have been otherwordly and impressive either; in fact, Roberts didn't even get out of the first inning against JMU yesterday. If they had been, one of them would likely already be starting Sundays. But they're slowly improving - Kline, I believe, faster than Roberts - and one of them is likely to get a later-season chance. And they're definitely going to have to step up and face some ACC competition come tournament time.
- Jarrett Parker's bat.
Solid....ish. But solid is way below last year's performance when he missed the team Triple Crown by .001 worth of BA and led every other hitting category imaginable.
- Shane Halley's injury.
Argh. Halley missed a lot of the season after separating a shoulder warming up for the very first game. Now that he's back, hopefully it'll settle the bullpen down a bit.
- Danny Hultzen.
OK, we knew he'd be a monster on the mound, but this damn good? I could maybe rattle off a bunch of stats (1.57 ERA, .161 opponents' BA, 55 Ks against 8 walks, that sort of thing) but then again we could do that all day. Against Florida State, he struck out six and allowed two hits and no runs in six innings - that's when you knew he was legit. GT looms as an even bigger challenge, but it's safe to say now that Hultzen belongs in the conversation with the best pitchers in the country.
- The non-everyday hitters.
We're talking Werman, Swab, Bruno here. John Barr, too, and even Reed Gragnani. These guys platoon and pinch-hit their way to at-bats, and they're a terror on bullpens. Championship teams don't have holes in the lineup, and these are the guys ensuring that we don't. Not only have they hit everything they're put in front of, but they give Brian O'Connor a remarkable amount of lineup flexibility, because they're spread all over the field and in that bunch there are both lefties and righties.
- Branden Kline's improvement.
OK, there was a little hiccup against Towson last week. But the trend here has been one of game-to-game improvement for Kline, one of the biggest recruits we've had in a while. His first appearance and first start were awful. Since then he's shown every sign of figuring out the college game, and if (or more likely, when) O'Connor decides to look for a new third weekend starter, my money's on Kline to get the call. Continued improvement would be one of the best developments we could have for tournament play.
Of course, there's a lot more good than that going on. The hitting is as good as ever. So are the gloves. Terrific hitting, top-notch defense, and mostly-good pitching is a recipe for tournament success. Now, if I had one wish, it'd be for a solid third starter, and if I had another, it'd be for consistency out of the bullpen. And yes, the top two issues with this team are pitching, and no, that's not good, but the important thing is we have the talent to make them both happen, and we're moving in that direction. There's not a single ACC team we can't take 2 of 3 from. And if things go the way they should, and Tim Weiser is given a one-way plane ticket to Botswana around selection time, we'll play the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at friendly Davenport.
Final note, having nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with new football uniforms: Look for them on Friday. Please oh please oh please do not be ugly. A lot of folks say "it doesn't matter what they look like as long as they play well while wearing them." To that I say: would you replace all the brick buildings on Central Grounds with modern, Frank Gehry steel? Tear down Old Dorms and put up a high-rise? Would you ever get away with saying, "it doesn't matter what the buildings look like as long as the teaching and learning is first-class?" UVA's not UVA if it doesn't look like UVA; and no, I'm not saying the current unis have the historical cachet of the Grounds themselves, but I'd rather not look like a clown show. Again.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
- First, not to put it too bluntly or anything, but Jeff Jones is gone. So much for keeping the recruiting class of 2007 intact like I mentioned a few weeks ago. My take: shit. Long-term it's not a huge deal as Jones only had a year left, but it's a big problem for next year. Jones' shooting improved dramatically this year; it was still streaky, but the good streaks were a lot longer than the bad ones this time. When all was said and done he was the best three-point shooter we had. For the three games Sylven Landesberg was out, Jones stepped up as a go-to guy, averaged 15 points, and shot 9-for-15 from three-point land. That was Jones' one job on this team. It's fair to say that under Leitao he was a total bust, and equally fair to say he had turned it around under Bennett in a big way, becoming one of the most important players on the team. This team needed Jones's stroke from deep to succeed.
Scholarship-wise there's almost no impact, other than to make it even more likely that Will Sherrill gets off the hook for paying his way. For next year's rotation, the biggest beneficiary is likely Joe Harris, supposedly the best shooter of the bunch. I still have no interest in trying to predict a rotation - I recommend a ouija board if you really must know - but Jones was the player Harris was most similar to, and it's not hard to project him to an increased role now. Meantime I hope Sammy, Bub, and Mu are shooting 1,000 jump shots a day.
- Second: the ACC coaching carousel spins and spins. Boston College fired the winningest coach in school history and has replaced him with Steve Donahue, who you might recognize as the guy who brought Cornell to the Sweet 16. I have no opinion on Donahue, and recommend you check out BC Interruption if you want to know more. Doug Doughty has some interesting things to say, pointing out that the atmosphere surrounding the BC-UVA game in Boston this year was a huge symptom of the reasons behind Al Skinner's dismissal. "Atmosphere" is a poor choice of words, because there was none; I was at that game, and Doughty can use the "official" attendance figure all he likes, but the attendance at that game would have had to triple for the place to be half full. I'm guessing 1,500 was more like it. BC was lousy this year and nobody noticed; Skinner's firing was a given.
Less of a given (a lot less) was the news coming down from on high today that Oliver Purnell would be leaving Clemson for DePaul, a Big East member that's been trampled underfoot lately. Dave Leitao did a good job at that school and then Jerry Wainwright completely cratered it; Purnell is coming in to fix it and earn a dumptruckload of money in the process.
This could go either very well or very badly for Clemson. Lately, when filling out my tournament brackets, I had an ironclad rule that never failed me: When in doubt, never ever ever bet on Oliver Purnell. His teams always raced out to a big start to the season and folded like a cheap card table down the stretch, culminating in a loss to some double-digit seed in the tournament. Still: tournament. My gut feeling is Clemson won't really be able to attract quite the talent they'd like for the head coaching job, and will take a semi-permanent step backwards.
- Jeff White has a nice article on the unprecedented success of the swim teams. Unprecedented: yes. Unrepeated: I very much doubt it. The future is bright here, as both teams continue to return the bulk of their talent and Bernardino continues to succeed on the recruiting trail.
Lastly, the recruiting board gets another update. It's looking pretty robust these days, as you'd expect in the time where the coaches have fired off a bunch of offers and most the players are still not ready to narrow down the list yet. Here are the changes:
- Added WR Daniel Adams, CB Jeremiah Hendy, LB Zeek Bigger, and QB David Watford to yellow.
- Added CB Kyshoen Jarrett to red.