Friday, November 11, 2011

basketball preview part 2

Also see Part 1.  Let's get right to this without wasting any more time, because of who is up first:

#23 - Mike Scott

What he brings: A bazooka to a knife fight.  Mike Scott has always been an emotional player.  When Dave Leitao broke the news to his team that he'd been fired, Scott stormed out of the meeting, angrily kicking innocent trash cans.  In his younger days he was a little bit prone to going on tilt and getting into foul trouble, but last year, he was on his way to an all-conference type of season.  Then he got hurt, which brings us to the Mike Scott of today: a guy who's never been to the NCAA tournament and is itching to get back onto the court after having to watch the show last year.

Scott's talents and tools are many.  The first thing you noticed about him as a freshman was his tenacious rebounding.  He's finally got healthy ankles, and he has both backboard-breaking power and a soft-touch fallaway jumper.  His post game is more Rasheed Wallace than Shaq Diesel, but that floating jumper - like Sheed's - is extremely reliable, and opponents are susceptible to it because Scott is powerful enough to blow past them if they cheat aggressively against that jump shot.  Not only that, but he's a very high-percentage free-throw shooter so you can't foul him.  I am positively salivating at the idea of watching a healthy Mike Scott channel his emotions in the direction of beating the bejeebers out of his opponents this year.

What we need: Just health.  Please be healthy.  Pleeeeeeeeeez pleez pleze plz.....  be healthy.  Everything else will take care of itself.

#24 - KT Harrell

What he brings: Harrell basically does two things well: score and defend.  Regarding the latter, he's a big guard with the quicks to defend guards of any size; regarding the former, he's become well-known for his mid-range jumper, which is nasty good.  His three-point shot was a very pleasant surprise by shooting an outstanding .421.  Harrell takes care of the ball, but on the flip side isn't a creater.

His defense will be what earns him minutes, and in the meantime he'll be looking to diversify his offensive game.  The ability to consistently drive the rim isn't there yet.  Did you know, for example, that Harrell did not have even one slam dunk last year?  Not that he can't jump obviously; it's a question of getting to the rim against actual defenders.  Until he can, Harrell will have to depend on his teammates to find him looks.

What we need: A 42% shooting percentage from three-ville suggests he ought to be doing that more often.  As mentioned, the ability to get to the rack would be nice, too.  Harrell is an efficient scorer and at worst will continue to be about even with Sammy Zeglinski as a scoring threat - in other words, about the third or fourth option on the team.  Ideally, though, he'll put a couple PPG worth of separation between himself and Sammy.  Projecting this team to 4th or so in the ACC assumes that Harrell's offense will develop - or has developed - some diversity.

#25 - Akil Mitchell

What he brings: Potential, and lots of it.  Tony Bennett has been hinting at a breakout season for Mitchell.  He's a long, lanky dude who's finally filled out his frame somewhat; he was recruited at just over 200 pounds and is up to 234.  Defense got him on the court in fits and starts at the beginning of last season; as time went on, Mitchell found himself playing starter's minutes at times.  Body-wise, imagine Mike Scott but with some fast-twitch quickness.  (Less strength, though.)

Despite the buzz around Mitchell, don't look for him on the top of the stat sheet.  At least not yet.  Mitchell's offensive game is still developing, and not like Harrell where he can do a lot already.  He won't really be relied on to score out of set plays; his offense will come from his athleticism and ability to clean up messes.  On defense is where he'll make his name, and Bennett has talked very highly of his ability to defend.  Because of his long arms, he can guard big men effectively, and his athleticism will help his positioning immensely off the ball.

What we need: Chip in a few points here and there and lock it down on defense.  I don't mean to downplay Mitchell's offense to Tunji Soroye levels, but the point is we shouldn't need it very badly.  Tthis is team that's currently without an honest-to-betsy Big Post Guy that can do everything - but not on defense.  Between Sene, Mitchell, and Scott, and potentially James Johnson too, we shouldn't have to worry about having some big-ass galoot in another uniform tearing through our middle like tissue paper.  And Mitchell is potentially the best of that bunch on defense.

#32 - Darion Atkins

What he brings: It's....hard to say.  When Atkins chose UVA, his other finalist was Notre Dame, and he had a number of other worthy offers, too, including Maryland.  Atkins is sort of Akil Mitchell from last year: just about the same size, and a defender in need of a great deal of offensive development.  But he's probably the player we've heard the least about from fall practices.  If Atkins plays this year - and Bennett has said either he or Paul Jesperson will redshirt - it'll be for defense, and probably not a whole lot of minutes a game for either.

What we need: Basically, stay in front of your man and don't let him score and chew up some minutes while the rotation guys are in foul trouble.  The big-man rotation goes four or so deep, so minutes for Atkins will be hard to find, but it's my guess that Atkins will play and Jesperson will redshirt, simply because big guys get in foul trouble easier.

#34 - James Johnson

What he brings: A year's worth of weight training, practicing, and getting the mind and body right to play in the ACC.  Johnson felt he needed it in order to be properly ready to contribute, so he now enters the lineup a little bigger and stronger than he would have, and can ease his way in as the fourth big man in the rotation.  Other than Assane Sene, Johnson is the tallest guy we have, and I think what we'll see is a well-rounded player who can score a little, rebound a little, defend a little.  Two years ago, when Johnson committed, I called him a project, but he also had offers from everyone who's anyone on the West Coast.  He won't dominate the stat sheet either, but he makes UVA awfully deep inside, and I expect more than a few "glimpse of the future" moments to get us excited.

What we need: For this year, to eat up some minutes, and defend well so he can stay on the court and keep developing.  A little offense would help too, otherwise the second unit won't have much from inside.


It's a good day to finish this up, because this evening UVA announced the signing of the 2012 class: Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte, and Teven Jones.  We owe a thank-you note to whichever slimeball agent pushed Gary Williams far enough to exasperation that he retired, leading to Anderson's UVA commitment.

As for this year's team, it's exciting.  Really exciting.  It may be that the best thing that happened to UVA basketball since Sean Singletary signed on the dotted line, was Mike Scott's season-ending surgery last year.  Fer serious.  It had a ripple effect that put guys like Akil Mitchell on the floor early and gave him badly-needed development time.  It forced guys like Joe Harris and KT Harrell to do some scoring themselves and not use the senior big man as a crutch.  It gives James Johnson a chance to ease into things instead of "there's Tyler Zeller, good luck dude."  And most importantly, Tony Bennett's all-important third season was looking pretty good: a couple of veteran guards and a senior big man, some very promising young talent that just had some great freshman seasons, and an exciting freshman joining the mix.  Now we get all that - plus Mike Scott.  Without Scott, this is a team ready to take the next step and join the ranks of the postseason players once again, maybe hang around in the bubble conversation and end up playing decent competition in the NIT.  With Scott, maybe we skip a step or two.  People are talking NCAAs.  I'm talking NCAAs.  Joe Lunardi's preseason bracketology prediction doesn't have UVA in the bracket, but you can mark it down now that a reasonably healthy UVA squad gets to the Dance.  And then I can put Lunardi next to Heather Dinich on the list of people I'm smarter than.

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