Monday, May 31, 2010

another new video

It's a holiday, so there is not so much with the posting, but yes for the making of the videos. The marvel that is ESPN Classic brought you another Thomas Jones Special, this time the 200+ yard effort against Georgia Tech that saw the Hoos take down the #7 team in the country and Jones break the single-season UVA rushing record with four and a half games to go. If you're not too stuffed full of brats and beer, enjoy.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

that one's gonna leave a mark

Ah, Bill Simmons. The only sportswriter with whom a love-hate relationship can truly blossom. Simmons is at times the most entertaining guy in the business and highly useful, and at others obnoxiously unreadable. Falling (mostly) into the former category is the Levels of Losing that he made popular.

Incredibly, UVA found a way to lose in such a way as to bring like two-thirds of these levels into the equation. I wonder if that's ever been done before. There are fifteen levels. (Simmons claims there are sixteen but that's because he allows the insufferable whiny Red Sox girly-girl that exists within every Red Sox fan to write the end of the column, and places Bill Buckner at Level I. I acknowledge no such extra level.) Take a gander at how many of these applied to last night's lacrosse game:

- Level 15: Princeton Principle. No - we are not a Cinderella team.

- Level 14: Achilles' Heel. Yes. Faceoffs faceoffs a thousand times faceoffs. I told you we would not win if we couldn't win faceoffs. Final result: 26% - and we still almost won.

- Level 13: Alpha Dog. Duke's 14th goal was Max Quinzani's 68th goal of the season on Ned Crotty's 62nd assist. We have an excellent, well-rounded offense, but nobody that statistically dominant. Mark it a yes.

- Level 12: Rabbit's Foot. No.

- Level 11: Sudden Death. Not technically, but, yes, with 12 seconds left, it might as well have been. Don't tell me you weren't thinking "they can't score here or we lose."

- Level 10: Dead Man Walking. No, not really. The Stony Brook game caused a palpable sense of dread but that's not quite how this is meant.

- Level 9: Monkey Wrench. Not only yes but fuck yes. Picture the scene, in case you didn't watch. It's 8-5. Duke has the ball but our defense has been doing a good job of keeping them at bay, and it culminates in a shot that goalie Adam Ghitelman saves - with his damn face. Announcers make joke about courage. The ball, incredibly, is lodged in his facemask, but the refs don't blow the whistle, so the closest Duke attacker tries to dislodge it with his stick. Repeat: ball stuck in facemask, Duke attacker poking at it. HE IS HITTING OUR FUCKING GOALIE IN THE GODDAM HEAD WITH HIS FUCKING STICK. Defenseman Matt Lovejoy sees this and does the only thing a defender is honorably allowed to do in that situation: levels the Dookie with a vicious shoulder check. Penalty is called, but not for the faceshots; on Lovejoy for unnecessary roughness. Because there's no reason to hit a guy who's clocking your teammate in the head, right?

Duke doesn't score on the ensuing man-up chance - in fact, Ghitelman makes yet another nice save and UVA clears, but Duke naturally doubles the ball as our middie (Pomper, I think, but I can't remember and I'm not going back to look) tries to burn time. With the penalty expired, or nearly so, Duke regains the ball and races downfield for a transition goal to make it 8-6. They would score six more after that before we finally got the ball in the net again.

No doubt Ghitelman would have been penalized if he'd grabbed the ball out of his mask during play - you can't use your hand to play the ball - which is obviously why, other than the fact that there was a crosse up in his face, he didn't do that. So why is the presence of the ball an excuse to take illegal headshots? And if the ball was live (which I guess it was til the refs blew the whistle) then why the penalty for a shoulder check to the front of a guy who's playing the ball? Because it's Duke. You play Duke, Duke gets the calls. Duh.

Level 8: Butt-Kicking. No - and in fact, this shouldn't even be that high. A full-fledged butt-kicking wouldn't have been half so painful to watch.

Level 7: This Can't Be Happening. No. Reserved for losing to a clearly way inferior team. Stony Brook would have fallen under this category.

Level 6: Drive-By Shooting. No. Reserved for teams even worse than clearly way inferior.

Level 5: Broken Axle. Yes, on account of not scoring at all while Duke rattled off seven straight.

Level 4: Role Reversal. No. Sadly, this is what happened to Duke in the ACCs. But not here.

Level 3: Guillotine. Gotta go with yes. The whole time, the lead felt tenuous. We weren't winning faceoffs, we were looking sloppy, and at the same time so were they and you just knew that if Duke ever stopped being sloppy, the result wouldn't be pretty. All it took was an executioner to set it off, and this one came dressed in black and white.

Level 2: Stomach Punch. Tie game, momentum on our side, faceoff, ball right there on a UVA crosse for a last possession - and then it wasn't. Yes, and for a couple other reasons besides.

Level 1: The Tailspin. No, I suppose not. This one seems anticlimatic.

In one game, UVA found a way to lose in seven of the fifteen ways on Simmons's Levels of Losing, which has got to be some kind of record. And where's the category for Missing Your Best Chance when you know you haven't had this good a team in years, you won't next year, and there's no doubt in anyone's mind that yours was the best team all season? What about Didn't Win For The Gipper? What about The Next Game Would Have Been Way Easier? Notre Dame's had a good run of it so far but Duke is going to crush them, and yes I know they already lost to the Irish once but they won't again. What about Great Now There's Nothing Left But A Meteor Game? Yes, I actually hope Duke wins because I like Notre Dame way less than Duke and if someone's going to win their first-ever lacrosse championship it better be a team that's paid a few dues, but still: ewwww.

Great way to kick off the decade.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

game preview: Duke

Programming note: Taking a break tomorrow since it's a holiday weekend, but I'll be doing stuff on and off throughout the weekend. Besides, Friday is usually a day off during football season anyway, and Saturday's lacrosse matchup is as big as any regular season football game.

Anyway, you know Duke. More than you'd like to, I'll bet. You know Duke because this will be the third UVA/Duke clash this year, and because beating them in the ACC tournament forced announcers to change the story from "seven-game losing streak" to "lost seven of the last eight to Duke."

Actually, let 'em talk that way. This is our boogeyman game. In the last ten years, half of UVA's lacrosse seasons have ended right here in the semifinals, including the last two. Plus it's Duke; obviously you know about the long losing streak, and breaking it required averting a total first-quarter disaster in the ACC tournament that threatened to end that tourney run right then and there. So UVA fans are understandably extremely nervous. Maybe we wouldn't be so nervous if UVA wasn't facing the one opponent to beat them all year - and win fairly handily. Or if it wasn't an opponent that had a penchant for beating us. Or if said opponent hadn't just got done manhandling North Carolina. Or if the team hadn't had such a scare last week and hadn't looked badly out of sorts at times. Or if there weren't a ghastly backdrop to the whole thing that makes everyone wonder just what frame of mind the team is in.

Last year none of that was even remotely true. The team had just finished completely steamrolling two totally hapless opponents. The next opponent had already been beaten handily once that season and had just barely escaped their quarterfinal matchup. And there was a blissful lack of felony charges pending against former teammates. So there wasn't nearly the anxiety level going in, and naturally we got beat like a drum.

But there's enough to be nervous about this year, so as a nice calming exercise, let's list reasons why not to be:

1. Last week's game wasn't half as bad as it looked. In fact I put it to you that it was one of the best defensive efforts of the year, rivaled only by the Cornell game and the UNC game. And the UNC game, in which UNC only scored five goals, was helped by the fact that UNC is a terrible shooting team. Nine goals allowed might seem a pedestrian showing, but given the time of possession (a stat which they don't really keep in lacrosse but I wish they would; in this case its obvious which team won that battle) it's phenomenal. Stony Brook's big three were held to five measly points, and UVA only took two penalties - one a procedure call which wasn't entirely Lovejoy's fault since his stick had been slashed out of his hand. And neither man-up chance resulted in a goal for Stony Brook. Play defense like that against Duke and our chances will be greatly improved.

2. We still have an offense. Even with the brain farts suffered against Stony Brook (stepping out of bounds? Really?) it was a pretty efficient effort. The offense caused a few defensive mistakes and probably would have scored 16 goals with anything resembling a reasonable faceoff margin. The theme of the upcoming game is "whoever has the ball will score" and this is a UVA team that's not had trouble scoring all year.

3. There is no way the faceoff battle will be that damn lopsided again. 5 of 23 is an astronomically bad number. And we still won! We thought Duke killed us at the X in the loss, and they did: our faceoff guys won 8 of 25. Both are outliers. So is the 22-for-32 effort in the ACCT win. But when we lost the faceoff battle to Duke, we lost the game by four; when we won the faceoff battle, we won the game by four but only because the defense kind of slacked off after gaining what looked like an insurmountable seven-goal lead. I can't see anything so lopsided happening this time around, which means a tight game. And a tight game goes in our favor, because...

4. Duke is having major-league goalie issues. You'll remember that their starting goalie, Dan Wigrizer, got yanked during our ACCT matchup, and effectively lost his starting job then and there. Backup Mike Rock took over and started the next three games. Then Rock got pulled in the UNC game - a game they were winning - because he'd only managed to make one save against five UNC goals. Wigrizer finished the game after a short and unsuccessful stint by third-stringer Devon Sherwood and didn't do all that great either. Lord only knows who'll get the start in net for Duke on Saturday, but all three options have enough of a body of work to show that whoever it is will play poorly.

Way things are going now, no result between a 15-goal loss and a 15-goal win will surprise me all that much. "Whoever has the ball will score"....that much is true, but UVA's the team you want to bet on if both teams have the ball equally. a faceoff.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

some stuff

Stuff goin' on - let's do a little catching up on it.

- Hat tip to Gobbler Country on this one; you can see a screenshot of the new football uniforms in action here. Screenshot because it's from NCAA '11. Picture #14 is what you want. There's only one problem: they messed them up. The players in the screenshot are wearing the NFL-style socks that disappeared along with most of the rest of Groh's additions to the look. (You have to admit, it probably looks better that way because there's hardly anything on the uniforms to break up all that white.) There's also no ACC patch, even though the rest of the depicted ACC teams have them. (Nutjob conspiracy theorists, you now have your flimsy ammunition: Big Ten teams wear no conference patch.) And I can't tell if there's an orange outline on the numbers, but if there's supposed to be, it's nowhere as distinguishable as it is on the real thing.

I still say this new look will be a lot better if we keep the white-on-white and blue-on-blue to a bare minimum.

- All-ACC baseball teams are out and the Hoos are very well represented. As you'd expect from the regular-season champion, no school has more players named than UVA does; seven in all with three on the first team (Arico, Gosselin, and ACCy Young winner Danny Hultzen) and four on the second team (Morey, Parker, Werman, and Cannon.)

- This has nothing at all to do with UVA athletics, but please oh please oh please let this guy's middle name be Maury.

- Speaking of baseball, the ACC tournament got off on the right foot for UVA with a 6-4 win over Boston College this afternoon. A game that was a little closer than we'd have liked to see means that top long reliever Tyler Wilson is now used up til Saturday and won't be available tomorrow. That puts a little more pressure on Morey to go a long way. However. Florida State lost to Miami today as well, so in all but the most unlikely of scenarios (that being BC winning both the rest of their games) UVA will have to beat Miami to play on Sunday. The flip side is that beating FSU tomorrow might not be absolutely necessary.

In fact, the strong possibility exists that it'll be totally meaningless. The early game tomorrow is Miami/BC. If Miami wins, the FSU game won't mean anything and the Miami game will determine the championship. Why? Say we lose to FSU but then beat Miami. Then we're 2-1, Miami is 2-1, and Florida State is either 2-1 (with a win over BC on Friday) or 1-2 (with a loss.) Either way, the tiebreakers break in our favor. If I were Brian O'Connor, I'd have both Morey and Kline (or Neal Davis) get ready and wait for the result of the early game before choosing a starter. Being able to save Morey for a possible Sunday game would be big. Reason not to: If he pitches on Sunday he won't be available for early NCAA regional games. Still, it's a strong consideration.

- Recruiting board update! It was getting a little old. It's also getting a little long. The evaluation period just finished up, and the coaches aimed the offer cannon out of state at players they were getting their first good looks at. Not a lot of players come off the board during this time, because they're getting flooded with offers and aren't narrowing things down yet. And they're taking SATs and ACTs and final exams, so campus visits are at a minimum. When the summer camp circuit and visit circuit fires up, that's when players will start knocking schools off their lists or make their commitments. So here are the updates - many more additions than removals:

- LB Daquan Romero (committed to UNC) and QB Gary Nova (Pitt) are the only removals.

- DT Vincent Croce is added to blue. Originally I figured his offer list was just entirely too big to even bother adding him, but what do you know, he has UVA in a top 3.

- TE Darius Redman, LB Nick Menocal, DEs Zach Wood and Stephon Sanders, and CB Blake Countess are added to yellow. All were beneficiaries of the offer gun. Menocal attends school in Florida with 2010 signee Pablo Alvarez.

- WR Tacoi Sumler is added to red. Sumler's offer list is divided into Volumes I, II, and III, it's that big, so we're not getting him, but he's a former teammate of early enrollee Michael Strauss, so hey, why not.

- Moved WR Dominique Terrell from yellow to red.

- Moved WR Daniel Adams from yellow to blue.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ACC tournament preview

The Hoos go into the ACC baseball tournament as the #1 seed; sources say this is a good thing. The #1 seed has a couple benefits. Most obvious is the tiebreaker scenarios: if three teams finish 2-1, the highest seed gets the nod for the championship game. This is not entirely unlikely when you place three potential NCAA hosts in a pool with a bubble team with horrible pitching. Not as evident is the game rotation. UVA plays last, so UVA is the only team in the pool with a real chance of finding out beforehand that the final game doesn't matter and they've already earned their spot in the championship game. That requires winning both games beforehand, though, so there's still business to take care of.

Here's who the Hoos will see in Greensboro this week:

Boston College - Wednesday, 12 PM

The 1 and 8 seeds kick off the tournament. UVA will put Cody Winiarski on the hill, and Boston College will counter with "ace" Pat Dean. Dean's the best starter BC has, but at UVA - and most other ACC tournament teams - he'd be pitching on Tuesdays. Opponents are batting .290 against Dean this year, and that's without having faced the murderer's row that UVA's lineup can be. He missed his start in our series against the Eagles. Dean has good control - he walked just 11 batters this year - but he's very hittable.

Winiarski, on the other hand, was outstanding in his start against Boston College. That start was the beginning of his road to redemption, because after getting shelled by Florida State the previous week, Winiarski appeared to be thisclose to losing his spot in the weekend rotation. His only blemish against a tough BC lineup, though, was a solo home run by Mickey Wiswall, who homers against a lot of people (18 this season.)

A somewhat higher-scoring game should be in the cards here. BC's lineup is light on the back end, but nothing to sneeze at overall. If they had any pitching they could have challenged for the division. UVA, on the other hand, should tee off on Dean.

Florida State - Thursday, 4 PM

We may know our fate as early as the end of this game. Miami will have played two games already. If we've already beaten BC, and in the unlikely event Miami is 0-2 by this time, then a win here will clinch the pool and the championship game.

UVA will send Robert Morey to the mound against Brian Busch. Busch appeared as a reliever in UVA's 9-8 Saturday victory against FSU, going three innings and giving up a run. He has a few starts under his belt, but his usage this year has primarily been out of the bullpen. Morey's outing was rocky, giving up five runs (three earned) in five innings.

FSU's lack of hitting compared to FSU's standards has been responsible for their tough season. The pitching hasn't been great, but they've patched together a rotation out of baling wire and duct tape. But the hitting just hasn't been there. Stephen Cardullo, after putting together a .376-10-51 line last year, is batting an abysmal .267.

Expect a much lower-scoring game here than in the opener. Morey should be much more settled down than he was the first time around, and Busch is one of FSU's better options on the mound.

Miami - Saturday, 12 PM

Friday is the Hoos' day off, but BC and FSU will be tilting on that day. If UVA is 2-0 and Miami has lost a game, then your Friday rooting interest is whatever team beat Miami. Because of the three-way tiebreaker, that's the way to render this Saturday game meaningless.

If both teams enter 2-0 or UVA has already lost, Miami will have to get past ACC Pitcher of the Year Danny Hultzen. They'll counter with David Gutierrez, who you might remember from last Saturday who handed UVA a 5-2 lead after five innings. This is the same matchup as the rubber match from last week. Advantage: Hoos.

If we're fortunate and our Sunday ticket is already punched, expect to see Hultzen saved for what'll likely end up being a Georgia Tech matchup; in that case, Neal Davis probably gets the start so that Branden Kline is also fresh. That's if Kline hasn't been used already, but if we've beaten BC and FSU, he probably hasn't.


Interestingly, both Miami and FSU are 8-10 against ACC tournament teams, and Miami is 4-5 against those in this pool while FSU is 5-4. Compare that to UVA's 13-5 record against tournament teams and 7-2 result against pool teams. We didn't get to fatten up on Wake Forest like everyone else did. In every matchup, we have the better pitcher. Top to bottom, our lineup is better. Clearly, UVA is the team to beat.

The problem is that the ACC tournament is crazy. The team to beat gets beat a lot. Since going to this format in 2007, the championship game has never seen a 1 vs. 2 matchup - or a 1 vs. 3, or a 2 vs. 4, or a 2 vs. 5, or anything that involves a couple of high seeds locked in an epic struggle. 2007's game was the #2 vs. #8, and that was followed by two #1 vs. #6 games - which as you might remember was won last year by the 6th seed. The double-elimination format before then didn't often turn out well for the favorites either. Every matchup screams UVA, but assume a cakewalk at your peril.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Stony Brook video up

Just cause I was done with today's post doesn't mean I was done working for you. The video library now features yesterday's heart-racer against Stony Brook. Lacrosse videos are always the most popular videos in the set, so be one of the cool kids and go check it out.

And for an encore, I will piss and moan at you about the refereeing for just a couple seconds here. I said it was bad; part of the reason was because you could plainly see, live, the crease violation(s!) that should have wiped out Stony Brook's fourth goal. You could, I could; the ref didn't, even though he was in prime position to. The proof is clear:

That's Stony Brook's Robbie Campbell, stepping into the crease not just once, but twice, a split second before scoring the first goal of the second half to cut UVA's lead to 5-4. Did it affect the play? No, but rules is rules, and if you're going to call this one back....

...then you have to call them all back. Consistently. The refs did not do a good job; this is the most blatant one that they blew.

weekend casualty report: one remote control

You gotta understand, usually when I watch games on TV, one of two things happen. When the good guys are winning, I'm pretty animated. When the bad guys are winning, I normally just sit there and stew and sulk until either the game is over or I decide I've had enough of that shit. So you know the refs were bad when, in a somewhat out-of-character moment, my Tivo remote went screaming across the room after UVA was called for yet another chintzy violation of some kind of rule.

See, the way I figure it, lacrosse is a game of 50/50 calls that really could go either way, so a good way to tell how bad the refereeing is would be to take note of how tilted the 50/50 calls are. When UVA gets called for all the faceoff violations and all the loose-ball violations, in many instances they're deserved and in many instances they're not. When the ball is loose and two guys in different-colored uniforms are running after it, and they collide and one of them falls over, play on, right? Not in the refs minds, which is why in one graceful motion, I leapt up from my chair and winged the object in my hand at the couch. Said object happened to be the remote, which didn't hit the soft cushy couch and therefore was in one piece when it left my hand and about eight pieces when it came to rest. I was lucky I missed the window.

There's a happy ending for both remote and game, however. The remote was repaired (it only came apart rather than having anything actually break), thanks in part to some leftover anger that boiled up when Stony Brook scored and caused me to squeeze the damn thing back together; before then it was being stubborn and wouldn't fit. And the game, of course, was won.

Watch the game or just check the box score, it's not hard to see that the story of the game was FACEOFFS. Goes to show what kind of a neutralizer that can be. The common theme afterwards was "we can't play like that against Duke" (next week's opponent) but I disagree: for the most part, we have to play like that against Duke. About the only problems I saw with UVA's play were the faceoffs and some offensive brain farts. I call those one-game issues. I don't think you'll see them repeated next week. On the flip side, the defense - especially the goaltending - was outstanding. The coaches threw different looks at the Seawolves, a memorable one being the sudden pressure that forced a mistake during one of Stony Brook's man-up chances. Adam Ghitelman stood tall. Stony Brook's big three - Compitello, McBride, and Crowley - accounted for just five of Stony Brook's 14 points. Duke is powered by a big three as well, and that kind of defense on Crotty, Quinzani, and Howell would be just priceless.

I'll just say that was the adversity you have to have on a championship run in order to get in the right frame of mind for it, because I very much want that to be true.


As for baseball, the ride is just beginning. The regular season is done with a series win over Miami - well done, that - and the draw is in for the ACC tournament. As a reminder the format is as follows: the top eight teams in the ACC are broken into pools of 1/4/5/8 and 2/3/6/7, and the pools play round-robin from Wednesday to Saturday with the pool winners playing a championship game on Sunday. Ties are broken as follows: two-way 2-1 ties go to the winner of that game, and three way 2-1 ties go to the highest seed. Woot for being #1.

In UVA's division is #4 Miami, #5 FSU, and #8 Boston College. For Wednesday's game against BC, Coach O'Connor is still deciding on the starter - it'll be Cody Winiarski, Neal Davis, or Branden Kline. Winiarski had an excellent outing against BC earlier this season, and my guess is it'll be him. No indication as to who'll go for Boston College, but it matters little: BC's pitching is awful.

Robert Morey is a near-lock to get the nod for Thursday against Florida State, and then we bust open a can of Danny Hultzen on Saturday. Lucky Miami. The only way they avoid him again is for UVA to have the championship game locked up before Saturday's game. This can happen one of two ways:

- Miami heads into the game 0-2 and UVA goes in 2-0, or
- UVA is 2-0, Miami is 1-1, and the team they beat also loses on Friday in the FSU/BC game.

The former sets up a situation where we can finish no worse than 2-1 and win a head-to-head tiebreaker against anyone. The latter would mean that if we lose, the three-way tiebreaker comes into effect, and the championship game is awarded to the high seed.

If either of those happen, Hultzen will almost certainly be saved for the Sunday championship game, which you might as well assume will be against heavy-hitting Georgia Tech.


In other NCAA tournament akshun:

- The women's lacrosse team is done after a quarterfinal loss to UNC. The men's team will be carrying the flag for them from here on out.

- The men's tennis team, thought to be the best shot at a national title this spring, is also done after making it to the final four. An upset loss to USC just this evening is the end of their season.

- Softball didn't make it out of regional play, but it's still the best softball season in UVA history. First-ever tournament appearance and they got a win, too. That's a program on an upward trend.

Friday, May 21, 2010

game preview: Stony Brook

Round Two of the reunion tour commences on Sunday. Stony Brook is the lacrosse team's next hurdle between them and the national championship, and because the NCAA values saving travel money over the usual fundamentals of competition, the game will be at the designated neutral site: Stony Brook. This doesn't seem like the way things are supposed to be done, but whatever, we're the ones with the big budget and they aren't.

Last time out, we were playing our first home game of the season, and field conditions (there was a lot of snow on top of it) forced the game over to the Turf Field. It was a comfortable UVA win, if not exactly a blowout. Sort of like how the first Mount St. Mary's game went. Good Adam showed up in net, and Chris Bocklet and Steele Stanwick did their thing with hat tricks.

Two things stand out about Stony Brook. One, they have the most prolific offense in the nation after Robert Morris. And two, they have an outstanding faceoff guy. Adam Rand was the top guy in the nation last year and he's third or fourth this year, winning over 60% of his faceoffs. During the game in February, he was killing our guys at the faceoff X until Ryan Benincasa was sent in to deal with the situation, and deal he did: Benincasa won 12 of 16. So I think we both know who's going to take the faceoffs on Sunday.

As for that offense, it's extremely top-heavy. Three players account for basically all their scoring: attackmen Tom Compitello and Jordan McBride and midfielder Kevin Crowley. That right there is 60% of their goals - 49, 36, and 48, respectively. Those are, to put it mildly, big numbers. McBride carries a .495 shooting percentage - in other words, he basically scores every other time he shoots. So don't let him shoot. All three of those guys are above .440, which is pretty much outstanding; for UVA, only Chris Bocklet is above .400.

The catch for Stony Brook is that they haven't really beaten anyone. Until last week's first-round game against Denver, they hadn't knocked off a top-15 RPI team all year. The best skins on the wall were Towson and Delaware. They lost close to the quality competition on their schedule (UVA and Cornell) and otherwise fattened up their record and scoring numbers on small-time competition. You can't blame them for that schedule, really: until this year, Stony Brook was small-time competition, not the type of team you'd expect should be loading up the non-conference slate with nothing but ACC and Ivy teams. But they're kind of built for 2010 and didn't lose any key pieces from last year.

After watching the ruthless dismantling of Mount St. Mary's last week, you shouldn't have any doubts about the team's mental state any more. They're ready for some lacrosse. So I don't expect the outcome to be in doubt for long. There won't be any 14-point leads this time; the combination of a sharp faceoff guy and sharper offense is a dangerous one and can lead to sudden runs on the scoreboard. But the Seawolves have yet to prove they can really score against top competition. Another comfortable if unspectacular win should be in the offing, followed by a Baltimore rematch next weekend against another familiar opponent.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

what if?

The Big Ten has been making expansion, and therefore the total revamping of the college football landscape, the topic of offseason discussion. The funny thing is it didn't even have to do anything. Almost literally, all they've ever said is "we're thinking about expanding" and suddenly the Big East, ACC, and Big 12 are all set to disappear in a puff of smoke, the Big Ten, Pac-10, and SEC are going to be super-duper-mega-conferences, and the entire NCAA is going to dissolve. If you're the type to believe everything you hear, you're probably already stocking up on gasoline, ammunition, and can openers and waiting for The Road to come out on DVD so you can glean some valuable survival lessons.

The way I see it, the ACC's new TV deal was as big a watershed moment for the conference as you'll see this decade. It ensured survivability. It was also validation for the last round of expansion. ESPN doesn't pay that much to a nine-team conference with no championship game. The conference is no longer a plausible target for the picking and can afford to wait and see what the Big Ten does.

And if the Big Ten causes a landslide by adding more than one team, then I think you'll see 2015 dawn on a larger ACC as well. Especially if the Big East ceases to be a viable BCS football conference, and as it is, it's clinging to that status by a fingernail or two. Michigan blog Maize 'n' Brew points out that the Big East managed to dole out just $5.5 million to its football schools - if that. That's light years behind everyone else. Big East football can't survive the loss of two football members, and its basketball-only schools like Marquette and Villanova probably would love to push the football members out the door anyway.

So I'm curious as to what future ACC expansion might look like. I basically stole this idea, but I'm the kind of guy who likes breaking stuff down like this anyway. Below you'll find a grid that evaluates the expansion candidates on a number of categories:

- academics
- football prowess
- basketball prowess
- quasi-revenue sports prowess
- cachet
- size
- geographical fit
- intangibles

I rated every school from 1 to 10, but if it didn't earn at least a six, it reverted to zero. Why? For example, take JMU and Texas-Pan Am and their basketball prowess. There's a sizable difference between the two; on a scale of 1 to 10, JMU would get a 3 maybe and UTPA gets a solid 0, because JMU would crush UTPA nine out of ten times. But for the ACC's purposes, JMU is equally useless. Geographically, Missouri is over twice as close to the ACC as Stanford, but they're both far enough away that they're horrible fits. Below a certain level, the ACC isn't going to be interested in what you have to offer there. Geography is the exception, because it's understood I'm not bothering with the Utahs of the world.

An explanation of the categories:

- Academics is based mainly off the USN&WR rankings, which is a pretty crude way to do it, but simple and tells you what you need to know. (Duke and UVA good; FSU not as good; ECU horrible.) 10 is Duke and UVA; 1 is Marion Barry High School.

- Football prowess: 10 is Texas and USC; 1 is Eastern Michigan.

- Basketball prowess: 10 is Duke and UNC; 1 is UTPA.

- Quasi-revenue sports: this is a category I totally made up based on what UVA and the ACC are good at (because this is a UVA blog, I care about how expansion would affect what we do) and what's ever likely to show up on TV at some point. These sports are soccer, women's basketball, men's lax, and baseball. 10 is UVA; 1 is, I dunno, UTPA again.

- Non-revenue sports: you know, like swimming, tennis, track. 10 is Stanford; 1 is, hell, let's keep picking on UTPA.

- Cachet is my way of fudging things a bit. The ACC is an old-school conference with old-school boosters, and if there are two schools that are pretty equal in their accomplishments of late (say, USF football and Pitt football) this is a good way to tiebreak the two. 10 is Michigan and Alabama; 1 is Florida Atlantic.

- Size: important because more alums = more money. 10 is Arizona State; 1 is Wofford.

- Geography: 10 is the Research Triangle schools; 1 is St. Louis; anything below that, and, like, why?

- Intangibles: no number rating because they're, you know, intangible. Just here to point out what else they'd bring that's of interest to fans and probably not of any interest at all to the check-writers.

Without too much further ado, here are the candidates. They include all eight Big East football-playin' schools, plus four more that make geographic sense if nothing else. The ACC would add Big East schools if the Big East fell apart and at least look in the direction of the other four if for some crazy reason armageddon happened and the ACC had to replace departed members or die. None of these schools are or have ever been in any way mentioned as candidates except as pure, unadulterated speculation such as I'm doing right now. For the lazy, everything below is presented in a handy chart at the end. Here goes:


Academics: 5 (0)
Football: 3 (0)
Basketball: 3 (0)
Quasi-rev: 1 (0)
Non-rev: 2 (0)
Cachet: 0
Size: 7
Geography: 3
Intangibles: none

Total: 24 unadjusted, 10 adjusted

This is only on here in case someone's thinking, "well, we looked at Syracuse once and Buffalo's not too far away from that." Anyone who thinks it's a good idea for the ACC to add Buffalo is probably a grouchy Ball State fan who wants them out of the MAC. The funny thing is their academics are better than a lot of BCS schools (especially SEC ones) but still ranked lower than every ACC school.

Central Florida

Academics: 4 (0)
Football: 5 (0)
Basketball: 3 (0)
Quasi-rev: 3 (0)
Non-rev: 6
Cachet: 2 (0)
Size: 10
Geography: 6
Intangibles: none

Totals: 40 unadjusted, 22 adjusted

UCF is pretty worthless at basketball and brings nothing to the table in the quasi-revenue department save a sometimes halfway decent women's basketball team. They're even bad at baseball, surprising for a Florida team. Their saving grace in the non-revenue department is women's soccer and a fair track squad. But the bottom line: the ACC would and should never give UCF a sniff unless the SEC filched both Miami and FSU and the brass felt it important to maintain a Florida presence. Even then there are better options.


Academics: 4 (0)
Football: 8
Basketball: 6
Quasi-rev: 2 (0)
Non-rev: 4 (0)
Cachet: 6
Size: 8
Geography: 3
Intangibles: none, really, though they have a basketball name that'd look good in the ACC

Totals: 41 unadjusted, 31 adjusted

In a Big East armageddon scenario, I think Cincy is going to be one of the unfortunate odd ones out; perhaps duking it out with Louisville for the last available spot in an SEC that's decided they can pick off the Big East's low-hanging fruit at discount prices. But here, you see why it's a good idea to adjust all sub-six scores to zero. They come in just a point above UCF if you don't do that, but four out of five dentists will tell you the ACC would at least listen to Cincy's pleas after the Big East goes under. The fifth dentist is insane.

The Bearcats still aren't a great fit for the ACC, though, academics and geography being the kickers.

P.S. - their football rating might seem low given that they've been to two straight BCS bowls, but with Brian Kelly gone their glory days are over.


Academics: 7
Football: 7
Basketball: 10
Quasi-rev: 6
Non-rev: 7
Cachet: 8
Size: 7
Geography: 6
Intangibles: man, that ACC basketball tournament would be tough. Also, could renew rivalry with Boston College, which does not like UConn.

Totals: 58 unadjusted, 58 adjusted

Here's your fit. And the best part is, the Big Ten is probably only moderately interested, despite the erroneous reports that the Huskies had already been extended an invite. It's an Atlantic Coast state, the football is improving, the academics are right in line with the rest of the conference, and obviously they are basketball, basketball, basketball. Plus they have quality soccer programs for the men and women, decent non-revenue sports (field hockey, for one) and are playing amazing baseball this year, especially for a northeastern team.

Historically, I'd like to think of the Big East as the northeastern power conference and the ACC as the south-central one, but the Big East's football days are coming to an end and in the brave new world of ultramoney college athletics, UConn could find a very nice, long-term home in the ACC.

East Carolina

Academics: 2 (0)
Football: 7
Basketball: 2 (0)
Quasi-rev: 4 (0)
Non-rev: 4 (0)
Cachet: 3 (0)
Size: 7
Geography: 10
Intangibles: the word Carolina in the name has got to count for something

Totals: 39 unadjusted, 24 adjusted

ECU has nothing going for it but a decent football team that would probably get better once they could recruit to the ACC, and geography. Even their once-darling baseball team has been floundering. Academically, the ACC presidents aren't going to tolerate the idea.


Academics: 4 (0)
Football: 5 (0)
Basketball: 9
Quasi-rev: 7
Non-rev: 7
Cachet: 6
Size: 6
Geography: 3
Intangibles: none

Totals: 47 unadjusted, 38 adjusted

In the final word, somewhat undistinguishable from Cincy. Better basketball, better quasi- and non-revenue sports (very good baseball team and decent soccer and swimming), worse football. The football would get better with the ability to recruit to the ACC, though. But ultimately, academics and geography work against the Cardinals, just as with Cincinnati. If you forced me to choose between the two, I'd take Louisville, but it's not a fit.


Academics: 4 (0)
Football: 4 (0)
Basketball: 3 (0)
Quasi-rev: 2 (0)
Non-rev: 1 (0)
Cachet: 4 (0)
Size: 5 (0)
Geography: 5 (0)
Intangibles: none

Totals: 27 unadjusted, 0 adjusted

Just, no.


Academics: 9
Football: 6
Basketball: 2 (0)
Quasi-rev: 6
Non-rev: 6
Cachet: 8
Size: 2
Geography: 9
Intangibles: The ACC could get its claws into the Army-Navy game ca$h every year, which is probably half the reason Navy stays independent in the first place.

Totals: 48 unadjusted, 46 adjusted

Navy would make a very intriguing, out-of-the-box choice for expansion. They'd also be one of the least likely to want to join. The football team would probably never go to a bowl again, as they'd lose the ability to schedule a steady diet of Louisiana Techs, Delawares, and Western Kentuckys. And they'd be locked into the same three out of four nonconference matchups every year, because they can't not play Army, Air Force, and Notre Dame. There's a reason Army got out of the conference membership business in football. An intriguing idea, but forget about it.


Academics: 8
Football: 8
Basketball: 9
Quasi-rev: 3 (0)
Non-rev: 6
Cachet: 8
Size: 7
Geography: 6
Intangibles: Because they're already inside the Big Ten Network footprint, they're likely to get passed over by the Big Ten expansion tsunami.

Totals: 55 unadjusted, 52 adjusted

This must have been a weird football offseason for Pitt faithful. When the Big Ten announced expansion, the whole world assumed they meant just one team. Pitt looked like a really, really logical choice to be rescued from football purgatory to join their Pennsylvania brethren (which hate each other) to bask in the golden rays of the money-shitting BTN.

Now that mega-expansion is on the table and it's clear the main idea is to expand the BTN's footprint, Pitt is suddenly looking at some doom-spelling writing on the wall. It'd be a shame to see a school with as much tradition as Pitt relegated to Conference USA, and no doubt the Pitt brass thinks so too. If they don't get an invite to the Big Ten, they'll be banging on the ACC's doors next, and the ACC should take a look-see. Other than a lack of strength in the quasi-revenue department, they bring a lot to the table, not least a lot of TV-watching eyes in the state of Pennsylvania. UVA would benefit, too, by playing some football games in the recruiting happy hunting grounds.


Academics: 7
Football: 7
Basketball: 3 (0)
Quasi-rev: 3 (0)
Non-rev: 6
Cachet: 5 (0)
Size: 10
Geography: 8
Intangibles: Speaking of football games in the recruiting happy hunting grounds...

Totals: 49 unadjusted, 38 adjusted

I purposely set Rutgers' cachet number just below the cutoff point. See, they have name recognition, but for the better part of the last fifty years, that name recognition meant "football suck." When the Big East booted Temple a while back, a lot of people wondered why Rutgers didn't go with them. Lately they've been alright, and could get better if they could recruit to the ACC. Plus they're the SUNJ, after all, so they're HUGE, and people seem to think NYC cares about them, meaning TV ratings. But NYC does not. Rutgers is OK at stuff that doesn't get on TV, but would be an unexciting lightweight in the sports that get ratings. I guess it's cool that we could beat up on them, but if you could choose between Pitt, UConn, and Rutgers, which would you leap at? Not Rutgers.

South Florida

Academics: 4 (0)
Football: 7
Basketball: 5 (0)
Quasi-rev: 6
Non-rev: 5 (0)
Cachet: 3 (0)
Size: 9
Geography: 6
Intangibles: none

Totals: 45 adjusted, 27 adjusted

USF rubs me totally the wrong way, and I'm not the only one who doesn't like 'em. I used to like the idea of a fourth major team in Florida siphoning off talent from FSU and Miami, but their basketball program is skeezy as hell, and the school its very self is obnoxiously uppity. (Jim Leavitt didn't like that billboard, for what it's worth, but he didn't turn out to be the paragon of father figures, either.) South Florida in the ACC would make me gag; fortunately, the only reason they were in the Big East was because the Big East wanted to maintain a Florida recruiting presence after Miami left, and the only reason the ACC would invite them would be the same. The only reason for their presence in a BCS conference was their Florida digs. No worries: in a few years they'll be stuck in C-USA where they belong.


Academics: 8
Football: 4 (0)
Basketball: 10
Quasi-rev: 8
Non-rev: 6
Cachet: 9
Size: 6
Geography: 6
Intangibles: You know the history here.

Totals: 57 unadjusted, 53 adjusted

And the only reason they're not higher is because they're smallish compared to mecha-Rutgers and a little bit off the beaten path. Obviously, the ACC already thinks Syracuse is a fit. ACC lax would rule all, forever. You bet your ass they'll try again if the Big Ten doesn't invite them first.


Academics: 4 (0)
Football: 5 (0)
Basketball: 8
Quasi-rev: 1 (0)
Non-rev: 4 (0)
Cachet: 4 (0)
Size: 8
Geography: 7
Intangibles: none

Totals: 41 unadjusted, 23 adjusted

Yeah, I'm surprised too, that Temple isn't exactly an academic beacon. Seriously. I thought they were higher, but they came in pretty low. Of course, the reason their nickname is the Owls is because of Temple's origins as a night school, which is a very different dynamic from the southern Ivies in the ACC.

Anyway, about all they really have going as an ACC candidate is good basketball (and only recently resurgent into the upper echelons at that) and location. Nothing to see here, really. A possible fate for Temple is a re-invite to a football-less Big East.

West Virginia

Academics: 4 (0)
Football: 8
Basketball: 9
Quasi-rev: 2 (0)
Non-rev: 7
Cachet: 7
Size: 7
Geography: 7
Intangibles: Could restart rivalry with Maryland.

Totals: 51 unadjusted, 45 adjusted

The national media thinks WVU would be a terrific fit for the ACC. Location is about right, brings worthy competition to bear in football and basketball, has an existing rivalry with Maryland (it's not so much because they're border states, but there's a natural tendency for two horribly-behaved fanbases to get on each other's nerves.) And of course, they'd be natural rivals for UVA and VT, right?

Probably not. Neither Virginia school has shown much interest in a football series with West Virginia. And except for extreme geographical proximity (as when two rivals share a state or their fanbases share a metro area, as in UVA/Maryland) you don't generally see rivalries sprout up between two university cultures so diametrically opposite. Interstate rivalries are between schools with much in common, or with the same goal in mind, like UVA/UNC, Texas/Oklahoma, USC/ND, or Michigan/Ohio State. UVA is fratty, preppy, blue-blooded, and full of history. WVU hoots, hollers, holds grudges, and burns couches.

Besides, WVU wouldn't make the cut academically, and you have to remember who these decisions are ultimately made by.

Below is the easy-on-the-eyes chart:

The top three choices would be UConn, Syracuse, and Pitt. Athletically, academically, and culturally, they're all excellent fits for the ACC. So of course those are some of the schools at the top of the Big Ten's list, too. I don't know how the Big Ten expansion gambit will play out, and neither does anyone else, no matter what they tell you. But the Big Ten isn't going to snarf up all of them, and you shouldn't be the least bit surprised if in five years, at least one of those three schools calls themselves a proud member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

series preview: Miami

One more win. That's all it takes for UVA to secure the #1 seed in the ACC tournament. That would also, by the way, set a new program record for wins in an ACC season, so there's some neat stuff to be accomplished here. The catch: Miami is the best team we'll have seen in over a month - since the GT series in April, to be precise. The Hurricanes are pretty much a consensus #13-14 team to the pollsters, except for Collegiate Baseball, which has them 9th. Pseudo-RPI tells a different story, though: Miami comes in 7th, though a pretty sizable gap separates them from 6th.

Why is Miami so good? Pitching. They claim to have the best ERA in the ACC, but that's kind of a lie. They've gotten outstanding starting pitching all year from Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez and they have some dynamite relievers, particularly big freshman righty E.J. Encinosa and current closer Daniel Miranda. Encinosa has some eye-popping numbers: he's limited opposing batters to a .184 BA and boasts nearly a 3-to-1 K/BB ratio.

Now, the catch for Miami? Ace starter Erickson is out for the series. Erickson had Tommy John surgery last year and his elbow is tightening up again, and Miami is making sure he'll be available in the tournament. Instead of Erickson, UVA will face Jason Santana tomorrow; Georgia Tech needed fewer than three innings last week to blast him off the mound, and Santana was also the pitcher responsible for Miami's early-season debacle against Manhattan. Hernandez - a quality pitcher but no better than Robert Morey - will face Morey on Friday.

Our own pitching is changed up a bit this week as well. For the first time in 10 ACC series, O'Connor has shuffled the rotation; this as a result of the shorter rest between last week and this. Cody Winiarski, who only just pitched on Sunday, will be held out and be the likely starter next Wednesday when the ACC tournament kicks off. In his place, Branden Kline will get the nod on Thursday, followed by Morey Friday and Hultzen Saturday.

As for the hitters they'll face - well, that's what's keeping Miami from being a top-5 team. The middle of the order, the 4-5-6 hitters, are devastating. Yasmani Grandal is an obvious front-runner for the Johnny Bench award as the top catcher in college baseball. His .432-13-54 line is astounding (plus he's slugging .784), and if you pitch around him he'll happily draw the walk and let Harold Martinez (17 HR) drive him in. Chris Pelaez, hitting .323-9-45, rounds out the trio and provides more than enough protection for Martinez.

Other than that, though, Miami's pretty average. They fall into the lower-middle range of the ACC in most hitting stats, except for power numbers which are largely driven by the above trio. They're tied with Georgia Tech in the standings, but they're definitely no Georgia Tech at the plate.

All this, plus the luck of missing out on Erickson, should give the series to UVA. The pitching matchup on Thursday is highly favorable: Santana is a way hittable pitcher and I expect to see good run support for Kline in his first ACC start. It'll be up to Kline to make good use of it. Hultzen automatically tilts any matchup in his favor, so the real drama might end up being on Friday when Morey and Hernandez face off. UVA is on a 14-game winning streak, tops in the country by a long shot. Miami's good enough that they should be very disappointed if they can't take at least one game - it's in their house, after all - but neither should you be bowled over if the streak is intact come Sunday.


Let's talk ACC tournament for a bit. A little bracketology (as it were - the tournament isn't a bracket) is in order. Here's how I think the weekend's series will go down:

FSU 2-1 over Clemson
GT 3-0 over BC
NC St. 2-1 over Duke
UVA 2-1 over Miami
VT 2-1 over UNC

Whatever happens in the Wake-Maryland slapfight, happens. I don't know how to project a series where two terrible pitching staffs duke it out against two even worse batting lineups, and it doesn't affect the tourney, anyway. Here's the seeding if the above comes to fruition:

1. UVA
2. FSU
3. GT
4. Miami
5. VT
6. Clemson
7. NC State
8. BC

Yeah, ouch for UNC. If that seeding holds - and I think it's pretty likely even if I'm off by a game in those predictions - and assuming the schedule is the same as last year, then UVA draws Boston College on Wednesday, Virginia Tech on Thursday, and Miami on Saturday. Winiarski will get the ball on Wednesday, and after that, it's anybody's guess, but Morey on Thursday and Hultzen on Saturday sounds like the logical bet. That leaves Kline and whatever committee of relievers is available on Sunday if we get to the championship game.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

great news for the acc

I'm referring, of course, to the ACC's TV deal with ESPN that hit the waves yesterday. In a world where it suddenly matters how much money each conference is paying its members, the important number is this: $13 million, per year, per team.

That's a hell of a lot more money than we were getting before. Over twice as much. The ACC brass must be doing cartwheels and raising a glass to Fox, whose presence turned the negotiations into an auction and cranked the price up about $40 million a year more than people expected. In a perfect world, business deals like this should stay in the boardroom and we fans should just worry about who's going to start at quarterback in the fall, but this kind of thing has a big say in the look of the landscape, so it's left to us to try and make sense of it with a set of imperfect facts.

BC Interruption beat me to the punch with a lot of things I was thinking about this whole deal. The major thing is that it makes the ACC a lot more pilfer-proof than it was before. When the dust settles on this round of TV contract renegotiations, the ACC will have the third-best setup of the major conferences, behind the Big Ten and SEC but probably ahead of the Pac-10, Big 12, and Big East. Unless those conferences come up with something revolutionary, that's the way it'll be; such is the value of ACC basketball. I keep ganking their stuff, but BCI brings up the point of shelf space: that is, there are X games to be played in a weekend and only so many time slots and channels on ESPN, so they're not likely to be as big a player in the bidding for the Big 12 and Pac-10. I agree where the Big 12 is concerned, but the Pac-10 has entirely different timeslots available because of the time difference; it's conceivable that Fox and ESPN will get after it again on the West Coast. They still won't be paying as much, though, because 10 PM games are a lousy way to get ratings in the Eastern Time Zone where everyone lives, and Pac-10 basketball is worth a fraction of the ACC's style.

Now. People forget a lot of common sense facts when discussing the idea of conference expansion, and one is that conference revenue sharing is only a portion of athletic department revenue. Another is that cash for cash's sake is not the goal; the cash is merely a means to make your athletics more competitive. Yes, there's more money to be made in the Big Ten and the SEC; but all the schools in those conferences are getting that money, and you can't be competitive on the national scene if you can't be competitive in your conference. I've already discussed how I think UVA athletics would be nuked into permanent armageddon in the Big Ten; the same is true for a school like, say, Clemson, which is being bandied about as a potential SEC expansion target. Here's a breakdown of every I-A school's athletic department revenue; the numbers are from 2008, but usable.

Take Clemson, which brings in about $60 million. Now that the ACC will hand out $13 million from its TV deal, a jump to the SEC would only bring in about $4 million extra since the SEC's current deal is worth about $17 million per school. The ACC is a conference where just about any school has a shot at the championship in football; could Clemson say that if they were competing with Florida, LSU, and Alabama every year? Could Maryland say that if they were competing with Michigan and Ohio State?

The SEC isn't as much of a danger to expand as everyone thinks it is, anyway. That TV deal is capped out. Unlike the Big Ten, which can increase its Big Ten Network revenue by expanding into new markets, the SEC is stuck at a particular number. Any new teams in the conference only cut into the number that can be handed out, so the SEC, if it's set on expansion, has got to find schools that aren't just new mouths to feed. Clemson and Georgia Tech would be mouths to feed. SEC commissioner Mike Slive is making noises about expanding, but I think what they'll end up doing if they expand is waiting to see if the Big Ten burns the Big East to the ground and then pick up the scraps (West Virginia, Louisville) by offering terrible deals that they can't refuse because they no longer have a conference. Or they'll try and entice Texas, which has actual honest-to-god value. The southern ACC teams would be way down on the list.

And the northern ACC teams, thanks to this new deal, would be way down on the Big Ten's list. The Big Ten knows it can get teams like Rutgers and Missouri to agree to uneven revenue sharing for a while. An entrance fee, if you will. Now that Maryland, UVA, and Boston College will be getting a good deal from ESPN, they don't need to take the Big Ten's guff about a smaller share than the old Midwestern boys. That smaller share probably wouldn't be any better than what they get in the ACC anyway. If there were ACC teams on the Big Ten's list, they just got crossed off.

That should make the Big East nervous. When it comes time to renegotiate that deal, ESPN will chuck a few nickels at the Big East and tell 'em to take it like a man. That conference's football has almost no value at all compared to the rest. There are now three conferences with great TV deals surrounding them. Any conference serious about expansion is probably serious about expanding at the expense of the Big East, and the brunt of the pain is going to fall on any team that's left out of the feeding frenzy. Think South Florida, which in the event of Big East disintegration is probably headed back to Conference USA. You think the SEC is going to take them on when it could have West Virginia and Louisville?

Ultimately, the new TV deal is one of the best survival tools the ACC now has. It didn't need to draw level with the SEC and Big Ten, it just needed to close the gap, and it did that. You don't need to be faster than the bear, you just need to be faster than the other guy. The new deal changes the calculus from wondering which ACC schools might be expansion targets to wondering which schools might be ACC expansion targets.

Monday, May 17, 2010

weekend review

Back to....normal? Not really, and for UVA it probably won't be until we stop showing up on the cover of non-sports magazines, but sort of. But in the sense that our teams are back to winning? Definitely.

The lacrosse teams got back on the field, and if you hadn't known they were playing, it's not ESPNUVA's fault: man they must have advertised the upcoming match a few thousand times during the earlier games. It's weird to be the headline team. Those rooting for UVA, whether as fans or as the sentimental favorite, weren't disappointed. The ladies gutted out a tough one against a tough opponent in Towson, and from here out the road gets insanely more difficult, starting with a trip to Chapel Hill next weekend for a game against 3rd-seeded UNC. They already beat UNC once this season, so it's not out of the question.

Dom Starsia said in a TV interview that his guys had looked distracted and sloppy in practice during the past two weeks; by Saturday they'd apparently gotten all the bugs out of the system and looked every bit the part of the #1 seed. Mount St. Mary's happened to be the unfortunate victim in the way of the machine, but a game played that well would have beaten anyone in the country. The score was 18-4 and it wasn't that close; I watched this game with some family (and besides me, everyone in the room could probably have combined the number of lacrosse games they'd ever seen and counted them on two hands) and the verdict from the peanut gallery was that UVA was so much bigger, faster, and stronger that it was hardly even fair. Add that to the tremendous play by Adam Ghitelman and the crisp, beautiful passing in all facets of the game and the result is a rout.

MSM's coach Tom Gravante was admirably classy in his postgame statements. He'd also warned his team they were about to wake up a sleeping giant, which I think is about as accurate a statement as you'll see. Mount St. Mary's is a tiny school with corresponding resources, which is why they lost by 14 and not 4, but there's not a Duke or a Syracuse or a Maryland which could have stopped UVA on Saturday. That team was focused.

Of course, the way Syracuse played this weekend, they'd even have lost to Army, and hey, whaddaya know? Maryland's path to the final just got a lot clearer, and honestly I'm not sure I wouldn't rather play Syracuse. But there's a few things to worry about before then, like Stony Brook. At Stony Brook, which certainly seems fair. I doubt it'll matter, though.


Before the weekend I said that if the baseball team swept North Carolina, it'd probably be a low-scoring series (it was) and that it'd need to be the result of some poor baseball at some point from UNC. You can't blame anyone for having a lousy day trying to hit Danny Hultzen, but Robert Morey - while a quality starter in his own right - is not a Hall of Famer and you should probably get more than three hits off of him in nine innings. Bravo to Morey for a rare complete game.

But it really only took one lousy, badly-timed pitch to make the sweep happen. Two pitches into his relief appearance, Colin Bates served up a walk-off gopherball to John Hicks on a silver platter and the sweep was complete. For UVA it was a weird way to win - all five runs coming on home runs. That win tied the UVA record for conference wins, hopefully to be broken next weekend, and set all kinds of other marks and firsts as well. The main thing, though, is that just one win against Miami next weekend will earn the #1 seed in the ACC tournament. The tournament outlook for UNC is suddenly a lot more dire: NC State stole one from FSU and gets Duke next weekend; UNC has to play VT and is a game behind the Pack for the 8th and final spot.

From here on out the competition is nothing but the best. Tuesday's opponent, VMI, already clocked us once. Miami is a top team in the ACC and a near-lock to host a regional. After that it's all tournament ball, where you're playing for keeps and one really bad outing by a pitcher can have a cascade effect that sends you home before you expected to go. However, Boyd's RPI needs report says UVA has already locked in a spot in the RPI top 8, and Davenport Field should hopefully see two weekends' worth of NCAA tournament ball. This year's road to Omaha won't have detours in Irvine and Oxford.

The ACC has its new TV deal, and it's a good one that exceeds expectations. The ACC will far more than double the amount of money they're getting now. That ESPN would be willing to pay so much for ACC programming bodes well for the other major conferences; even more significantly, I think it slows down the process of Big Ten expansion, makes the ACC a less attractive target for potential pilfering conferences, and is another nail in the coffin for Big East football. More on that tomorrow; I think the TV deal merits its own post.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

game preview: Mount St. Mary's

Moment of truth. Saturday night, under the Klockner lights, UVA fans and a curious nation get their first look at the men's lacrosse team since....well, since the Robert Morris game actually, because it wasn't even 48 hours thereafter when their world went spinning upside down. The women don't play until Sunday, so this is the first chance for the loyal, the casual, the curious, and the voyeuristic to get a peek into Virginia Lacrosse since the news cycle hit full blast.

The overarching question, obviously, is what kind of mindset the team will be in when the whistle blows. Because the players have been rightly veiled under a shroud of protection and Coach Starsia has rightly spoken very little and said even less (and with one of his charges in jail and his father passing away in the past two weeks, it's not been an easy fortnight) every fan is anxious to see what transpires.

Fortunately, though it's the NCAA tournament, UVA took care of business with a vengeance in the regular season and earned a very pedestrian first-round opponent - and one they've seen before. Mount St. Mary's hosted the Hoos in our second game of the season and their opener; not only that, but the Mount's only other trip to the NCAA tournament ended after one game, also right here in Klockner.

The game back in February was a 15-7 triumph for UVA, and other than a shot total more than twice MSM's, UVA didn't blow the Mountaineers away on the scoring sheet. They simply won the faceoff battle, won the ground ball battle, went a perfect 18-for-18 on clears, and let the scoreboard take care of itself. Starsia also took his foot off the gas in the fourth, emptying the bench and getting backup goalies Fortunato and Eimer some burn as well. Chris Bocklet officially announced his presence as a goal-scoring machine with 4 tallies, and Connor English had a hat trick too.

Any discussion of Mount St. Mary's starts with their standout goalie, T.C. DiBartolo, who leads the entire country in save percentage at .606. The difference between Mount St. Mary's, MAAC champ and Mount St. Mary's, MAAC 6th-place is DiBartolo. They get outshot fairly heavily, especially for a tournament team, and if they had an average goalie with a .540 save percentage, they'd allow more than three extra goals per game.

For scoring, MSM relies heavily on attackman Cody Lehrer, whose 48 goals and .471 shooting percentage outpace anyone on UVA's roster. Lehrer is a sophomore, and that makes him not at all unique in the Mount's lineup: their top seven scorers and entire starting attack and midfield are all freshmen or sophomores. The Mount even has their own version of the Bratton twins - they call them the Schmidts, and not only do they look identical, they score identical. Bryant is a midfielder and Brett plays on the attack, and they each scored 36 points. Big bro Justin is a reserve defenseman who's also played in all 16 games.

Overall, they have an offense to be concerned about. Very accurate shooters. When they have the ball they're dangerous, but they do a poor job of getting the ball. They cause fewer than six turnovers a game, good for just 7th of 9 in their conference, and they're a poor clearing team at just 79%. This makes them a really great matchup for UVA, a good team at taking care of the ball and one of the very best at going to get it - particularly on the ride, where opponents enjoy just a 76% success rate on clears.

The recipe for a win on Saturday, therefore, is the exact same as it was in February. Win the battles on the ground and the goal-scoring will take care of itself. A little overaggressiveness won't hurt anything - in fact, this is the time and the opponent for it. A young team, most of whom will be playing in front of the largest crowd of their lives, under the lights on the biggest stage of their lives. A team not particularly good at the gritty stuff like ground balls or clears. Minus silly penalties - probably the biggest concern of the game - this is the right team to get aggressive against. And this time it's for keeps, so there won't be any lifting off the gas pedal in the later stages. Finally, it's time for some lacrosse.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

series preview: North Carolina

Flying out of town again on Friday, so this stuff comes at you a day early. Plus I'm getting antsy for more baseball. Final exam break is boring. This weekend's opponent is UNC, and much like in basketball, this is a good chance to stomp the Heels while they're down. Normally an Omaha-caliber team, UNC finds themselves on the bubble for not just the NCAAs, but even the ACC tournament. They are tied at the moment with NC State (whom they beat in an earlier series) for the 8th and final place in Greensboro. The Heels have the tiebreaker, but they also have the tougher row to hoe in the next two weeks - especially this weekend, where they face a team capable of sweeping them if they don't play good baseball.

Yes, I said "sweep" - but I also said UNC would have to play poorly for that to happen. UVA is at a disadvantage right off the bat: it'll have been well over a week since they saw any live pitching in a game. UNC had their finals break a couple weeks ago and are on a nice seven game winning streak - eight if they beat Charleston tonight. A series against Wake Forest such as they had last week is really good for what ails ya.

UNC is still a good baseball team, so if a UVA sweep is in the offing, don't expect this streak of double-digit runs to continue. UNC has quality pitching, especially from Friday starter Matt Harvey, who promises to be excellent competition for Danny Hultzen. Harvey's numbers aren't quite as eye-popping as Hultzen's, but they're still brilliant, especially for college pitchers: a 2.68 ERA, .212 opponents' BA, 80 Ks. Like Hultzen, he's gone the distance once this season.

Second starter Patrick Johnson has been throwing on Sundays lately, likely in an effort to match up against a team's worst starter, and he's no slouch either (3.62 ERA), though somewhat more hittable than your usual second starter (.280 opponents' BA) and prone to the occasional disaster when opponents string those hits together. NC State did just that and lit him up to the tune of six runs in the fourth. The Heels have been tag-teaming the third (Saturday for them) starter's job, with either Chris Munnelly or Colin Bates starting and the other first out of the bullpen. Neither is fearsome.

As for the bats, UNC has 'em, but they lack two things: a bottom third of the order, and that one really nasty, fearsome hitter that you never want to see in the on-deck circle. Dustin Ackley not only left town early, he was the second pick in the MLB draft, behind Stephen Strasburg. He left Carolina without a true masher in the middle of the lineup, so their lineup looks a lot like a poor man's UVA. It's a good set of hitters, but the highest batting average on the team would rank 7th at UVA (that belongs to Dillon Hazlett, hitting .352, but he takes so few walks his OBP is only fifth on the team.) And they're exceedingly low on power. Their 33 home runs are the second-fewest in the conference, ahead of only the anemic Terrapins, and only one player has more than five.

In general I expect a low-scoring series: Carolina's strength is their pitching and they have a capable bullpen. Their hitting ought to be good enough to take one game, two if we show up on Friday and the batspeed hasn't caught back up to the fastballs yet. But if Hultzen is really zoned in on Friday, and if the crafty but hittable Patrick Johnson suddenly starts giving up hits all in a row on Sunday....well, NC State has Duke this weekend and the pressure is on UNC to steal one or they'll be seriously behind the 8-ball going into the regular season's final weekend.



- Ken Clausen is a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist. No defenseman has ever won the males' trophy, and I doubt it'll happen this year; it'd probably take a UVA national title plus Duke falling short of the final four for the voters to turn their heads away from Ned Crotty's 51 assists.

- The ACC/Big Ten Challenge opponent is Minnesota, so yay for my prognostication. I suppose I'd have been smart to check out which other Big Ten teams had been on the road last year. So we probably lose that game. The annoying thing after all is that there are eleven Big Ten teams, and this is, I think, the 12th year of the event, and this'll be the fourth matchup against Minnesota. No imagination, man. But we get the first-day matchup in which UVA is the only show of the day, so that means a national TV audience.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

some minor annoyances

A few quick things today that fall into the "argh" category:

The USC game this fall will happen at ten flipping thirty in the evening. At least it's a Saturday night, but seriously - we'll be watching football at one o'clock in the morning, assuming we haven't given up on what looks like another 40-point blowout by that time. One in the morning, every football fan is either asleep or drunk and getting drunker, so this is not a recipe for awesomeness. It is a recipe for jetlagged Cavaliers.


Half the ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchups are out - not officially, but through a leaky hole somewhere - and here's what we know:

Michigan State at Duke
Purdue at Virginia Tech
Ohio State at Florida State
North Carolina at Illinois
NC State at Wisconsin
Indiana at Boston College

That leaves six possibilities for our opponent: Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan, Minnesota, or none at all. Now here's the annoying part, following a little deduction:

- I don't see us playing Minnesota. They're a tournament team and we're not close, and that makes for lousy TV. So eliminate the Gophers.
- I don't see us playing Iowa. Iowa is a beatable team, but they've been told they're going on the road. We hosted a game last year, and while it's not out of the question for teams to play two home games in a row, the Challenge incorporates Rule 2(b). (Remember being dealt Northwestern on ESPNUVA - and beating them by 40 in a game nobody cared about - the year after being the regular season ACC champs?) So eliminate the Hawkeyes.
- I don't see us playing Penn State. We played them last year and while rematches aren't out of the question either, they're rare. So eliminate the Nittany Lions.

That leaves three possibilities: Northwestern again, probably on ESPNUVA again; Michigan; or no game at all. No game at all would suck, but typically the last-place ACC team (Miami) gets dealt that card. Still: Rule 2(b).

Or we could play Michigan, and I don't know how I feel about that with my split loyalties, but I do know how the run-up to the game will go: it'll piss me off. I occasionally end up defending the ACC to some of the snobbier Big Ten fans and the Big Ten to some of the snobbier ACC fans because there are elements of both that think the other is the shittiest sack of shit conference outside of the MAC. Both Michigan and UVA are facing heavy rebuilding years (which would make for intriguing TV and a good reason why I think this is the most likely matchup) and therefore I'll have the pleasure of watching both sets of fans badmouth the other team as an easily winnable game. This annoys me.

If it is Michigan, it'll mark the first time in my split fandom that the two schools have played each other in something I care about enough to drop what I'm doing and watch (there were a pair of softball games earlier this year and I think there was a women's basketball tournament game a few years back) and I still have no idea how I'd approach this. I've long suspected my rooting interest would simply lie with whoever needs the win more, but there's always the chance I go with whichever team's fans spent less effort proclaiming the winnability of the game. Take that, fellow brothers in arms!

You see now why I didn't attend a Big Ten school.


Lastly, there are two articles; one is this article from Ratcliffe at the CDP on - well, the story of the week. It's worth a read, because it revolves mostly around the words of Pete Gillen, whose frankness in interviews is always refreshing. There's a lot to be learned, though there's a real sense of irony here since Gillen's firing was brought about in some part because he no longer had control of his team.

I don't have a link for the second article, as it's behind a paywall. furrer4heisman, better known as the mastermind behind the excellent Gobbler Country, passed it along. It's based on some of the same Gillen quotes, though it picks and chooses rather selectively in order to make a point. Since it's a paywall article, I won't reproduce the whole thing here, but the point can be summed up in these two paragraphs:

Pete Gillen's explanation - very likely shared by many coaches and administrators - that "young kids at that age think they're invincible" and that "when you're a star athlete ... you think you're king," is more than a little unsatisfying. Why do colleges put up with this behavior? Why are these kids still on campus? ....

.... It's been quite a while since American colleges and universities decided that they were no longer going to be acting in loco parentis. But most administrators still have trouble determining what their role is supposed to be. I remember as a freshman being told by a residential adviser that as long as your drink was in a closed cup, no one in a position of authority would demand to know the contents. But if, God forbid, someone found a hot plate or other "unauthorized appliance" in your dorm room, there would be serious trouble.
In other words, the approach to discipline at colleges is patchwork at best: heavy-handed in some instances and willfully ignorant in others, and often in the wrong instances in both cases. That's the article in a nutshell, and the point is well worth noting, not least because it's directed at academia in general and not UVA specifically. (Though I could have done without the snide suggestions about the type of discipline - or lack thereof - that Dom Starsia laid on George Huguely for his previous misdeeds.)

Therein lies the annoyance. The point could certainly have been made without that suggestion and without selectively quoting Gillen, whose words, as you can tell in the Ratcliffe article, were not meant to convey a purposeful lack of complete oversight of college athletes; rather, its impossibility.

I'd like to think I'm not so naive that I'm just now learning how the vultures in the media have a thousand different ways of circling a story. I've seen it before; still, it never ceases to amaze. Pete Gillen, as far as I can tell, is about as honest a man as they come, but the openness of his words doesn't prevent their being used to make two almost completely opposite points.

I leave you with this as a parting thought for today:

Four St. Bonaventure basketball players were fined $250 each on Monday after they pleaded guilty to one charge of disorderly conduct in connection to an on-campus fight in which two men were stabbed.
A decision on the amount of irony in this simple paragraph when juxtaposed with the nature of the coverage of the Love murder is an exercise I leave to the reader. In the words of our own intrepid James Michael Scott: smh.

Monday, May 10, 2010

weekend (p)review

It was a pretty silent weekend, at least at the traditional venues. Because of final exams, activity at Davenport and Klockner was limited to local wildlife. The church bells rang, and the selection committee buzzed with activity, but the weekend produced very little we didn't already know would happen. (Thank God.) So this weekend review is more of a preview of the future.

The lacrosse team can expect more of the same for the next week. We haven't heard a single word out of any of the players, and for that, cheers to the coaches and admin. I don't know how you'd concentrate on finals with all of this going on, let alone with a microphone in the face. The media will be at it anyway, though, and their reactions range from the classy to the moronic.**

As for the tournament bracket itself, well, it's mostly what I expected, except that I managed to get all of two out of eight matchups exactly right, and that's only if you count me hedging my bets on Mount St. Mary's beating Siena. (I did nail the top seven seeds, though - again if you count the alternate prediction in the Ivy championship game.)

I'm surprised as hell about Georgetown being left out, though - I did have 15 of the 16 teams right and only missed Notre Dame - and frankly it's stupid. I imagine the reason Notre Dame is in is because of their marquee win over Duke. But if that's the reason, then there's no excuse for Hopkins, who didn't manage to beat anyone. You have to apply two completely different sets of criteria to leave out Georgetown in favor of both Hopkins and Notre Dame.

But that is them, and this is us. The tournament draw means that barring upsets, UVA will have already played every tournament opponent this season. Rematches tend to favor the loser, but the #1 seed has its privileges: under normal circumstances, there should be nothing preventing a return trip to the Final Four, this time in Baltimore. The MSM game earlier this season was a relatively easy win in which Adam Ghitelman gave way to his backups in the fourth quarter. Get to Baltimore and a likely rematch with Duke or UNC awaits.


The baseball team's future is plenty bright as well. For starters, they are the lockiest of locks to finish in the RPI's top 8. Thanks to a finishing schedule that includes RPI #29 UNC and #9 Miami, all it should take is one win in the next seven to finish in the RPI top 8; that is the best outlook in the country. RPI isn't the be-all, end-all of tournament seeding - if we don't finish strong enough, Tim Weiser will probably find an excuse to ship us to Guam as a regional 3 seed - but eight is an important number because the top eight national seeds get to host both a regional and a super-regional.

UNC scares nobody this year, and Miami's 18-6 ACC record (tied with UVA at the moment) looks nice, but they haven't played the conference's two other best teams yet. Miami's still tough, though, and I think it can only be a healthy thing to have good competition as the last matchup before the ACC tournament. Said tournament, by the way, takes place Memorial Day weekend - the same as the lacrosse finals - and the NCAA regionals will be announced that Monday, the 31st.


Circumstances being what they were, it's been a little bit of a while since the last time the recruiting board was updated. This has now been done, and I have:

- Moved OT Kelby Johnson to the orange section. Woot.

- Added CB Dominique Noble and S Kameron Mack to yellow.

That's basically it. May is an evaluation period, which means plenty of offering and not so much committing. Players will get added to the board, and few will come off. June is the month for the latter, as prospects go to camps at the different schools and a lot of them end up committing then and there.

**I debated linking this tripe at all, but I figured it needed a rebuttal. The basic point of it is that, according to the author, UVA should shut down the men's lacrosse team and......well, that's it, really. Just shut 'er down. No suggestions on what the university ought to do after that. I tried to find any and couldn't. The University, according to the author, "should" do the following:

- "Shut Down Lacrosse Program."
- "[cancel] the rest of the team's campaign, immediately, and at least [suspend] the coach"
- "[pull] their team from consideration by the tournament selection committee."
- "stop everything until it understands what role its oversight, or lack thereof, may have played in allowing the apparent unraveling of one of its students."

It doesn't say what should come after. Starsia should be suspended, apparently, until this whole murder thing is "all sorted out," as if that's some kind of a milestone to be reached. No helpful solutions like, I dunno, alcohol counseling, improved reporting of run-ins with the law, random drug testing, curfews, heavier punishments for alcohol-related incidents, or anything at all. Just shut down the team - that is literally the only point made in the entire article outside of "Duke did it" and "George Huguely had a record." It's a plan that sounds like it was concocted by underpants gnomes:

2. ???

Any moron can tut-tut about "the culture of lacrosse" or "the lack of oversight," but do you know who has been the only person so far to offer anything even resembling a concrete plan of action? No, not an ink-stained asshole like Kevin Blackistone - John Casteen. And the moment he proposed his fairly simple idea, the reaction was "gee, that's tough, I dunno, maybe not a good idea, it's complicated." So I guess you see why writers don't bother. Too complicated. Just shutting down the season - that's a lot easier to justify before a deadline.

Besides that, it's pretty obvious Blackistone didn't think for one minute about the ramifications of such a decision. He calls the lacrosse team "a team ready to spin out of control." (Huguely is also referred to as "out of control," which has a really nice parallelist way of making it sound like the whole team is about to commence a killing spree. Nice, Blackistone.) Even though that's the dumbest thing ever, let's play make-believe and pretend it's true: imagine a lacrosse team teetering on the brink of total meltdown. They've just learned about the death of a close friend, and that another close friend is responsible, so between all the drugs, alcohol, the pressure of finals, and the murder, they're pretty much an emotional disaster at this point, if they even have any emotion left and haven't been reduced to cold alcoholic zombies, what with all the boozing and vandalism they apparently do. Pretend that Blackistone's imagination is borne out in reality.

Now take away their adult supervision indefinitely and the last reason they had to keep up even the pretense of sobriety.

Wow. Maybe you should have thought about that one a little bit, Mr. Pretentious Writer Man.

I'd like to think that rather than being a target for gratuitous potshots, both lacrosse teams - and especially the women - should be a sentimental favorite in the upcoming tournaments. It's one thing to suggest the team should stop playing out of respect for Yeardley Love or because they just might not want to play; it's another entirely to demand it because you think the actions of one of the players means they're all a bunch of out-of-control monsters.