Monday, January 31, 2011

smh

Wanna know how you know we just switched from "middle of basketball season" to "almost baseball season"? When you lose to the most miserable team in all of BCS-level basketball.

As I said before the game, the conditions were the opposite of ideal. Wake had a ton of time to prepare, and they ran quite a few plays that showed they knew our tendencies and how to take advantage. We had less than 48 hours, and had to travel. They were fired up for their best chance at an ACC win. And none of that would've been an issue if we had a good enough team to meet the goal of making the postseason and finishing .500 for the season. A pox on the pieces of Mike Scott's ankle that aren't in their proper places. I hope next year makes this year worth it.

The problem, as ever when you're talking about lousy basketball, is defense. And I wish I could pinpoint an issue because half the time it looks like the defense is playing pretty well. Assane Sene is turning into a real presence in the middle, for example. But the results don't lie, and the cold hard stats are regressing without any indication of where the bottom is. The sad part is all the wasted effort. Too much went right for that to have been a loss: Sene's monster career day, generally very good shooting, excellent scoring distribution. Just a lack of defense at the wrong times, and too many fouls. The latter is bad defense's cousin, and they go hand-in-hand.

I guess what it means for the rest of the season is that we're now Wake Forest, in the sense that we'll be trying to snatch whatever chance for a win that we can find. Fortunately there aren't any more 2-day gaps between games, but we do get another break of a week - right before the trip to Tallahassee argh. So we'll see, I guess. I should have seen all this coming, so it bothers me. And really I did see it coming, so it bothers me that it bothers me. So many freshmen, so few veterans, so little consistency - didn't we expect that would be the case? Find a decent rhythm offensively and disintegrate on the defensive end. It might well be that the opponent won't matter at all for the next six weeks (except for the matchup nightmares like Maryland), because this team will either put it all together and win, or not, and lose. I might just go with that line the rest of the way, because the idea that we can beat most of these ACC teams on a really good night is comforting, being that we expect a much greater proportion of really good nights as the team gets older. Just like I said earlier, though, I hate that we have to wait til next season to find out how good next season's gonna be.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

the recruit: D.J. Hill

Name: D.J. Hill
Position: LB
Hometown: Covington, GA
School: Newton
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 215

ESPN: 77; three stars; #81 OLB
Rivals: 5.6; three stars; #41 ILB; GA #83
Scout: three stars; #103 OLB

Other offers: Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee

D.J. Hill is a little bit of a forgotten recruit in this class, on account of committing outside of this year's happy hunting times (summer and postseason) and not living within 100 miles of UVA. As a Georgia boy (a place where I'd love to see UVA do a little more recruiting) he's easily the furthest-afield recruit in the class, some 150+ miles further out than Tim Cwalina and his Pennsylvania roots.

So there's a little bit of anonymity, so UVA fans may be surprised to find out Hill is the highest-rated linebacker recruit we have. We're all rooting for that to change, of course, with the potential addition of Curtis Grant, but until then, Hill is the best we have if you buy into the scouting rankings.

There's good reason to, as they're all very consistent. Whether he ends up on the outside or inside is a mystery, but outside seems like a good bet if ESPN's correct in saying he has "advanced coverage skills." He's more athlete and quickster than anything, a fit with what Mike London is looking for. Hill was also Newton's featured running back and fast enough to be a prolific base-stealer for Newton's baseball team.

As mentioned, the services are awfully consistent in their rankings of Hill. Rivals has him as the #41 ILB, which might seem a lot higher until you remember there are about twice as many OLBs as ILBs. So it's about the equivalent of #80 in the country. Scout lists quite a few other offers that only one other source anywhere seems to corroborate, but UVA and Ole Miss would probably be the top two on anyone's list whether or not UAB or Southern Miss is a candidate. Ultimately it's a thinner list than you might expect given his ratings; Hill looked for offers from Georgia Tech and South Carolina but they never materialized.

His future at UVA is pretty much the exact same thing as I talked about in Darius Lee's post last month. There's a huge gaggle of linebackers who'll be redshirt juniors next season, and the only linebacker we have or might have that can leapfrog them is Curtis Grant. Hill, Lee, Caleb Taylor, and the rest - whoever among them ends up pegged at linebacker (and Hill isn't going anywhere else) - are sure bets to redshirt, but they're also going to find themselves with a free and clear path to playing time after two years of patience. Unless there's a lot of superstar linebackers coming to UVA in the next few years, Hill looks like a three-year starter - and because of the experience he'll have as a fifth-year, a fringe all-conference candidate - as long as he develops on track.

Friday, January 28, 2011

game preview: Wake Forest

Date/Time: January 29, 4:00

TV: ACC Network, ESPN3

History against the Deacons: 58-66

Last matchup: Wake 69, UVA 57; 1/23/10; Winston-Salem

Last game: Md. 66, UVA 42 (1/27); Duke 83, Wake 59 (1/22)

Opposing blogs: Blogger So Dear

KenPom:

National: UVA #124; Wake #254
Offense: UVA #96; Wake #234
Defense: UVA #158; Wake #262

OK, so, last night was a disaster. This is less surprising than a win would have been given how badly we matchup against Maryland. Wake Forest is one of the worst teams in the country, let alone the conference. They are sandwiched in the KenPom rankings by Coppin State and Army. This is not an easy situation for UVA, but they'll have to make the best of it because a loss on Saturday would step it up to a full-blown catastrophe. Crisis mode would be offically enabled and the media will begin employing crisis-mode words like "reeling" and "struggling." This can be averted with a win, and all eyes could then turn toward the possibility of attaining and even surpassing, however briefly, .500 in the conference.

HOW WE CAN WIN

- Forget and focus. No dwelling on the Maryland game. It'd be easy to look past Wake since the game is so close - less than 24 hours away. Players should focus on their own job and their own fundamentals, because there's too little time to consider Wake's tendencies, and they've had a week to prepare so they've probably got their own wrinkles in store anyway.

- Dominate their bench. Wake's bench is essentially useless outside of J.T. Terrell. (Our own team probably looks similar, of course, but we're not the ones who are winless in the conference.) Any time someone outside the starting lineup steps on the court, it's time to turn up the heat on them.

- Shut down Travis McKie. By shutting down Jordan Williams, Bennett's proving that he can dial up a defensive game plan to stop just about anyone. Of course, Williams had a supporting cast. Bennett was betting that they couldn't come through, but they did. McKie is Wake's only consistent performer and Wake's supporting cast is a lot less likely to make UVA pay for focusing on one player.

HOW WE CAN LOSE

- Lingering effects. I seriously worry about this. Going on the road for a game just 43 hours from the end of the last one against a rotten team we have no business losing to is so typical of UVA's worst losses.

- Ignore Gary Clark. Even with the emphasis on McKie, Clark is one guy capable of sticking a dagger in, and he shouldn't be left alone. 35-of-54 on three-point shooting; an astounding 65%. That is insane, and you know how we are about three-pointers.

HOW THE GAME WILL GO

We all think Tony Bennett is a new breed of basketball coach that we haven't seen at UVA in a long time. Leitao and Gillen would be at risk of losing control, while Bennett is a much better teacher. Or so the theory goes. I subscribe to it, and so do you. Here's a chance to prove it. In a vacuum, we should not lose this game. Coming off an ugly loss to a hated rival at home, and then having to get on the bus and get fired up to play a rotten team is a real motivation challenge for a coach. And Wake has surely circled this game as their best chance all year to steal a win.

If the game is lost it will be because of defensive breakdowns. Wake can't stop a YMCA club from scoring, but, a 39-point shit show against Georgia Tech notwithstanding, they can score a bit themselves if you turn it off on defense. Defense is where Bennett's system demands 100% concentration at all times, so this is where the danger lies.

I don't think we're in for this, though. Seattle is long past us, and the shooting then was even worse than the shooting last night, which wasn't as bad as it gets but it sure looked like it. Nobody in the ACC has beaten Wake by less than 19. That might change on Saturday, with the game closer than we'd like, but I think Bennett will have his guys ready. And unless it's a real skin-of-our-teeth kind of win I think UVA fans will call it progress to turn what could easily have been a loss under previous regimes into a comfortable win.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

recruiting quickies

This is the kind of chase I hope UVA is mired in every year. Four playmakers, all of whom could conceivably make the decision for Virginia. It's worth keeping on top of:

- First, either Jordan Lomax made it official that he's decommitting, or the staff made it official that they were tired of his waffling and less than pleased with his trip to Iowa, but either way he won't be coming. The staff is trying to load up on defensive backs, and Lomax probably wasn't pleased about being recruited over with Brandon Phelps and Demetrious Nicholson, and their continued pursuit of Jeremiah Hendy. If I had to pick a reason for his decommitment, the depth chart would be it.

By the way, no, I wouldn't expect that the strange news out of Iowa would have any effect on either Lomax or Hendy's decision. How often is it said about teenagers that they always think "that won't happen to me?"

- We're in competition with Ohio State for both Darius Jennings and Curtis Grant. The Columbus Dispatch has a sentence or two on each: good news about Jennings and bad news on Grant. I would take both with a shakerful of salt, especially that about Grant, which says:

Grant has offers from Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, though for a while now he has been expected to choose between Ohio State and Florida.
That's because large traditional outlets, especially ones like the Dispatch which might as well be the Columbus Pravda when it comes to the Buckeyes, can't wrap their heads around the idea that a backwater like UVA could possibly compete with mighty Ohio State or Florida for a player like Grant. If Grant picks UVA, there'll be a pair of spoiled fanbases going "WUT???" That'd be almost as good as actually having Grant at UVA.

As for Jennings, I said about a month ago that I thought he'd pick UVA, and I'm sticking with it. I think of the four we're chasing, we get two, minimum. Sound good? Sounds good.

i figured it out

The reason KT Harrell is so good is because he is Chris Williams.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

game preview: Maryland


Date/Time: January 27, 7:00

TV: CSN

History against the Twerps: 69-106

Last matchup: Md. 74, UVA 68; 3/6/10; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 72, GT 64 (1/22); Md. 79, Clemson 77 (1/22)

Opposing blogs: Testudo Times

KenPom:

National: UVA #106; Md. #22
Offense: UVA #74; Md. #82
Defense: UVA #151; Md. #5

This is where normally I say something about What It Means and how this game fits into the grand scheme of things and whatnot. I got nothing here. First off it's Maryland, so you don't need to be told that we want to beat them pretty much to the moon and back. Second, I'm not real sure what to make of this Maryland team. By all accounts - that is, various ratings such as RPI, KenPom, Sagarin, etc. - this is one of the ACC's top teams. Yet they're 2-3, with a lot of close losses to good teams, and some unimpressive play of late. (Getting housed by VT, by 17, in their own house, would qualify as unimpressive.) I'm not sure if we'll get a Maryland team that's fired up to redeem themselves after a lackluster couple of weeks, or if we'll get them on a downslide. Just to be sure, we should probably give the downslide a nice jump start by making them bus their way down to Charlottesville and then canceling the game due to snow. I think you're well aware of what kind of a losing streak that can incite.

HOW WE CAN WIN

- Make the shots count. You know how Tony Bennett preaches not to get to excited about offensive rebounds, and to get back on defense rather than crash the glass after a missed shot. It also happens that Maryland is an excellent rebounding team. Every shot must be a good high-percentage one.

- Extra effort on the defensive glass. In the same vein, Maryland is an elite offensive rebounding team. Jordan Williams is a big hairy beast down low, and if we had Mike Scott it'd be one thing, but there will be times where UVA fans will be immensely frustrated watching Williams get an offensive rebound and turn what should have been a quality defensive stop into an and-1. UVA must limit that and make defensive rebounding an all-hands effort.

- Double Williams and make the guards beat us. Assane Sene is good enough defensively to handle just about anyone one-on-one, but Sene is a beanpole and Williams is 6'10", 260. I suspect you'll practically never see Williams allowed to go to work on a single defender. If Terrell Stoglin or Adrian Bowie or the like are hitting their shots, fine, we lose that way, but I like our odds a lot better with the ball in their hands and not Williams. None of them are shoot-the-lights-out types. The same goes for Cliff Tucker, by the way, who is more of a wing guy but should be paid attention to if they try any low-post shenanigans with him. Double-teams should be employed liberally.

HOW WE CAN LOSE

- Foul trouble. Fouling Williams seems awfully tempting because teams do a lot of it and he's a 50/50 shooter from the line. I was even thinking of calling this a key to victory. But it's not a good idea, because foul trouble means shuffling a lot of very inexperienced players in and out of the game, and Williams will probably eat Will Regan for lunch. As we saw against UNC, nothing good can come out of having all our bigs in foul trouble. Especially not against one of the most talented bigs in the conference.

- Lose one-on-one matchups on the perimeter. In other words, defenders must keep their men in front of them at all times. No getting beat on the baseline (a cardinal sin in Tony Bennett's world anyway,) no getting overaggressive on the ball for steals - in short, do not get beat off the dribble. Ever. Maryland's not a good three-point shooting team and they know it, and don't take many. But they will break a defense down with ballhandling, make good entry passes, and they're not afraid to miss a mid-range jumper or a layup because they tend to get the rebound. Only one team in the country gets a greater percentage of their points inside the arc. Very few bad things can happen if the ball remains outside that arc, and the defense should focus on keeping it there, and don't give up the lanes. Maryland will breeze through this game if their guards can get past their defenders.

HOW THE GAME WILL GO

Maryland's just 12-7, 2-3, but don't be fooled. They're extremely stout defensively - among the best in the country - and well-equipped on offense to take advantage of our biggest weakness: frontcourt thinness. Against Georgia Tech I said we'd have to win big; in this case, we'll win close or not at all. Maryland simply doesn't play bad basketball in long stretches, so we'll have to play outstanding basketball in long stretches in order to make up for it. There's reason for optimism if you're looking at recent results, but I think our best hope is to catch them in a bad frame of mind, because they've got a lot of depth and a budding superstar playing center. A very tough - and unfavorable - matchup for us.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

the recruit: Clifton Richardson

Name: Clifton Richardson
Position: RB
Hometown: Newport News
School: Menchville
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 195

ESPN: 80; four stars; #24 ATH; US #142
Rivals: 5.8; four stars; #20 RB; US #238; VA #6
Scout: three stars; #47 WR

Offers: Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Miami, South Carolina, Maryland, West Virginia, NC State, Louisville, East Carolina

Clifton Richardson was a big-time guy last spring. Lots of early offers, probably plenty more coming if he'd done the whole recruiting banquet circuit - the camps, the junior days, everything. Richardson's March commitment was the eye-opener: here this guy was going to have his pick of any school in the mid-Atlantic and plenty outside it, and he jumped on UVA with a quickness usually seen only at Texas when the Longhorns go "we'll take you and you and you...."

So why wait this long for the profile? Richardson committed, yes, and happily informed everyone, only to put the brakes on a little while later. Or specifically, his father did. You really can't blame him: Clifton Jr. was every bit the teenager with V-shaped stars in his eyes during the entire visit, and Senior thought his son would be better served checking out his options before he was sure of what he wanted. Not wanting to back out of his word, they characterized it as a soft commitment, and Clifton would be taking more visits to other schools, at the very least for comparison's sake.

None of those visits ever materialized. Richardson's got a major-league loyalty streak, which makes him an easy guy to root for. Menchville is a historically terrible team and they were terrible again this year. Richardson never won any more or less than two games a season there, and he could have transferred to a different school where there's a bit more exposure. Didn't happen. Neither did any visits to any schools other than UVA - where Richardson showed up frequently throughout the summer. Every so often he'd talk about visiting this or that school, and never did. Finally in September he "solidified" his commitment, but the way things went down, that was just semantics: Richardson was a Hoo from the moment he told Mike London so.

Being far and away the best athlete on his team, Richardson played what they all play: quarterback. But there's no indication of such at UVA; he'll be a running back from day one. (Didn't stop Scout from evaluating him as a wide receiver. I swear they are terrible at position slotting. Still, even that's encouraging: all his minuses are receiver-centric and his plusses are RB-related.) Other reports are breathlessly positive. His coach claims he has "more potential than Vic Hall." ESPN is all slobbery. Richardson is big, strong, fast, and he'll be at UVA at over 200 pounds. Couldn't be brought down by just one guy in high school.

The only downside to all this is that Richardson is one of the verbals in this class that I wouldn't give a 100% chance of making it to the fall without having to prep. Don't get me wrong: he probably will. It's just that....every so often you read something that suggests it might be an issue, and this is UVA dammit - Clifton Richardson not quite qualifying (or having us on pins and needles in the spring as he works on a few final requirements) after falling in love with the program and being one of our biggest recruiters all year, that would be just the sort of thing that the football gods like to do to UVA.

That's because not only can Richardson make an impact starting this fall, he happens to be one of my favorite recruits in this class. There are just four running backs on the roster this spring, and we lost two of the top three from 2010 to graduation. That leaves Perry Jones, Torrey Mack, and two redshirt freshmen. Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd are still pretty much unknown quantities, Jones is too small to be a 30-carry guy, and Mack has yet to show he's capable of enough consistency to be a feature back. Richardson is one of the most athletically gifted players to show up at UVA in a while; there's a great chance he plays in September.

As for that favorite recruit thing, well, there's that loyalty bit, and it so happens that a tremendously exciting running back is my favorite position on the football field, so he's got that going for him too. But if this doesn't make you go "ohmygod awwwwwwww" then you are either a zombie or a Terrapin. (See also the link about Vic Hall.) It adds up to make Clifton Richardson both one of the most exciting and most rootable recruits UVA's ever had.

2012 recruiting board

Presenting the recruiting board for 2012. Methodology: For the most part, these are players which two or more of the scouting services list UVA among their offers. Players in blue are generally those who already have some kind of connection to or favor UVA; for example, Michael Moore is Shawn Moore's son. Players in green, I feel reasonably good about for some semi-flimsy reason or another, such as having older teammates currently playing at UVA, or maybe UVA was their first offer.

Red players are mostly those for whom UVA is swimming in a huge pile of offers. Typically at least half of these guys eliminate UVA early on; maybe they've even already done so. Yellow is everyone else. The criteria tend to evolve as the recruiting season goes on, of course.

I anticipate a pretty full class, but not quite in the realm of the current one where the coaches are cramming it as full as it can legally get. Much depends on how much of the space that opens up for the class of 2011 comes from uninvited fifth-year seniors, or other attrition.

For the geographically inclined, there is now a recruiting board map.

Please note: this gets updated roughly once a week.  If something happens and I update without reflecting it, kindly let me know - but don't expect daily servings, it's too time-consuming.

Here is the board. May it serve you well.

Latest update:

Monday, January 24, 2011

weekend review

So, two things happened this weekend: basketball and recruiting. At the same time, too, what with all the prospects being in attendance at the game. First, hoops:

It bugs me when we control a game pretty well and the score doesn't really reflect it. So I guess you should take it with a grain of salt when I say I wish Will Sherrill had taken the layup that he was handed at the end. I mean, I certainly don't fault him for passing to a teammate to try and run the clock to the end, though the execution could definitely have been better: Sherrill was so surprised to be in his own zip code under the basket that he heaved the ball out of bounds in an attempt to pass to the first teammate he saw. I totally get that you don't want to run up the score, but GT was pressing with the shot clock off. If they want to play ball, play ball. I was even less impressed with Tech's Maurice Miller, throwing down an emphatic slam dunk that did nothing but pump up his own stats when nobody else was bothering to give a shit. Trashy.

Anyway, it's nice to see what you can do with shooters. It's not that uncommon to see a team shoot better from three than they do from two; at one point late in the game UVA was shooting better from the three-point line than the free-throw line. Tony Bennett's push to get some big-league shooters is paying off.

Bullet thoughts:

- We have very underrated point guards. The offense is obviously better when Jontel Evans is in the game. People look at his shooting percentage and conclude he's hurting the team; nothing could be further from the truth. Defenses still go oh-shit when he drives; they collapse, he kicks. He makes an outstanding kick-out pass. Sammy Zeglinski doesn't run the offense quite as well, but he does make timely shots. Both play very good defense. Jontel really is the bulldog he's reputed to be. Even with 2.5 seconds left in the half and forty feet from the basket. He'll learn timing.

Criticisms: Sammy needs more of a sense of urgency. Too many of his misses come with a second left on the shot clock. He's running the offense, he's the one that needs to avoid that situation. And Jontel: when you have the ball outside the arc and the closest defensive player is five feet away and standing behind your own teammate, that is when you are supposed to shoot. That guy didn't even care if Jontel shot or not. Time to shoot.

- I didn't mind the double-technical on Jontel and Maurice Miller. First and foremost the refs have to keep the game under control, and you could see why they felt like it might be slipping away. It's not like Jontel was asking Miller about the weather on the way down the court. Fine, slap 'em both with T's and lo, the chippiness was over for the most part. (Except for Miller's silly dunk.)

- I don't know who's playing basketball in Mustapha Farrakhan's uniform, but I like it. The guy's got the same quickness and athleticism as Mu, but he's more assertive and - get this - way more consistent. All of a sudden the pendulum has come to a stop, and the result is a guy filling the Mike Scott leadership void on the court. I hope what we've seen from Mu in the last couple weeks lasts the season and we don't go back to shooting 1-for-12.

- The other player due for major accolades on his improvement is Assane Sene. He still looks suprised when someone passes to him down low, but he doesn't drop it (much) any more, and he's developed a finishing touch. And he's really hustling. If this improvement trajectory continues, ours will be among the best frontcourts in the ACC next year with Mike Scott, an improved Sene, a redshirted James Johnson, and a developing Akil Mitchell and Will Regan. The latter two have also shown noticeable improvement as the season goes on.

- Now if only anyone else could finish a layup.

- The next two games worry me. Maryland always worries me. I don't know what to make of their season so far, and Gary Williams always has his team ready to play. Two days later we'll be visiting Wake Forest with less than 48 hours of preparation, while Wake has the whole week to get ready for our visit. That's a dastardly setup and it's how you become the only number in the win column of a horrible team.

*************************************************

Now for the recruiting. With three of the remaining four targets in town, and the other (Darius Jennings) having finished his visits, everyone was hoping for maybe a commitment to happen this weekend. And it did! And LOL SUPRIZE it's not exactly what you thought, is it?

The newest addition to the list is safety Mason Thomas, whose body is made of the same stuff they used to build the F-117. Other team's coaches and quarterbacks are gonna be really surprised when the ball magically stops short of what they thought was a wide-open receiver and starts floating back toward the other end zone all by itself. Woooooo it'll be voodoo magic. No, it'll be our invisible safety, Mason Thomas.

There are two things to read into this:

- One, even though Thomas is basically a I-AA player according to the scouting services and his offer list, the coaches must reeeeeeeeeally like him. They didn't bother re-recruiting Nick Menocal even though he flipped from Miami to Georgia Tech this weekend. They haven't gone back to Ryan Malleck even though he's like thisclose to decommitting from Maryland AND we lost this class's tight end (Darius Redman.) They told Cormac Craigie there's no room. And yet Mason Thomas gets his offer on Sunday, and the coaches did it knowing full well he'd commit.

- Two, a few more shoes are likely to drop. Thomas's commitment gives us room for two more in the class. We have 25, we can fit 27 because of the two early enrollments. You can't fit four guys into two slots, and Curtis Grant is likely to be the last one to decide: there is no way the coaches squeeze him out of the class. And the Scout folks think both Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings will be 'Hoos.

So there's probably decommitment and/or prep news we haven't heard yet, but that the coaches know. It's recruiting silly season, after all. Maybe Jordan Lomax commits to Iowa, since that's where he is right now. Maybe Kyrrel Latimer isn't getting it done in the grades department at Fork Union. Maybe there's another prep candidate, like (please say it ain't so) Clifton Richardson. Maybe there's a thunderbolt coming from the blue. It's UVA, there always is.

I will tell you what, though: I think we'll be some happy campers come Signing Day.

Anyway, this necessitates a recruiting board update. And no more green or yellow positions. Everyone is basically either A Top Target or Not A Target, and the red players are now there mostly as a reminder of what was. I don't think we'll take anyone who's not in the blue now. Of course, I also thought that before I'd ever heard of Mason Thomas. So. Changes:

- Added S Mason Thomas to orange.

- Moved CB Jeremiah Hendy from green to blue.

- Moved RB Nyjee Fleming and WR Timmy Keith from yellow to red.

- Removed TE Rory Anderson, who committed to South Carolina.

Depth chart changes coming when I feel like it. 2012 recruiting board coming....tomorrow!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

season preview: Wake Forest

Much is going on and it's a busy week. But business is business. Last of the hoops previews. I've got at least six more recruits to profile - hopefully more - and baseball/lacrosse season is fast approaching. No shortage of things to write. But for now, here's Wake Forest to make you feel a hell of a lot better about UVA.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Media prediction: 12th

Last season:

Record: 20-11 (9-7); 5th in ACC
Postseason: NCAA 9 seed; lost in second round
KenPom: 58th of 347

Returning scoring: 30.5%
Returning rebounding: 15%
Returning assists: 15.8%

2009-'10 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: F Al-Farouq Aminu, G Ishmael Smith
3rd team: none
Rookie: G C.J. Harris
Defensive: F L.D. Williams

Starters:

PG: C.J. Harris (So.)
SG: Gary Clark (Sr.)
F: Travis McKie (Fr.)
F: Ari Stewart (So.)
C: Carson Desrosiers (Fr.)

Bench:

G J.T. Terrell (Fr.)
C Ty Walker (Jr.)
F Nikita Mescheriakov (rJr.)
G Tony Chennault (Fr.)

Coach: Jeff Bzdelik (1st season)

Schedule:

Once: Boston College (A), Clemson (A), Duke (H), Miami (H), North Carolina (A), Virginia (H)
Twice: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, NC State, Virginia Tech

It doesn't seem to have been a difficult choice for the media to decide who they thought would bring up the rear in the ACC parade. Wake Forest lost all but two of their major rotation players from last season; most of this year's rotation consists of freshmen and other players just getting used to the idea of heavy minutes. The surprise is just how badly they're doing. The list of teams Wake has lost to this season is long and horrendously undistinguished; they're a major reason why "the ACC is down this year" is such a media theme. (The Big East would like you to pay no attention to the DePaul behind the curtain.) I could write the whole list, but Stetson and Presbyterian will suffice to give you an idea of the suck.

The bright spot is Travis McKie, a forward out of Richmond that Tony Bennett tried like hell to recruit. You can see why: he's the team's scoring and rebounds leader and an efficient scorer. Bennett also went after J.T. Terrell, a streaky shooting guard. McKie is playing like a veteran; Terrell is every bit the freshman. He's second in scoring after McKie but takes and misses way too many shots. Terrell hasn't quite settled into a role - eventually he'll be a starter, but for now he's a spot starter and sixth man, depending on the opponent. The guy who should be taking more shots is Gary Clark, who's hit an astounding 35 of 54 three-pointers.

Those are the top three scorers, but none were on the team last year. The two that were previously mentioned are C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart. Both are reliable scorers in their own right, and both turn the ball over far too much relative to their value to the offense.

Those are basically the only five scorers on the team. All score in double figures; nobody else even averages five per game. Wake alternates Carson Desrosiers and Ty Walker at center; they're more or less clones of one another except that Walker is a junior and blocks way more shots. Pull any of the five scorers out of the game - they're rarely all in at once anyway - and Wake is playing a man down on the offensive end.

And it's not like the defense makes up for it. In fact, the defense is putrid. Actually, Wake (Walker, mostly) blocks shots very well, partly a function of always being able to have a seven-footer on the court. Other than that, they can't stop anyone, and they're especially poor at forcing turnovers. Nor do they rebound well. Jeff Bzdelik might have a lot more leeway among Wake fans, given the situation he's walked into, but any team with a functional offense will score on Wake. Stetson dropped 89 points on them, and that is a team that averages 62. That's a good way to get fired one-third of the way into your rebuilding project.

There's no point talking about Wake's postseason prospects, since they've been playing their way out of any consideration since Day 1. The real suspense will be to see if they even win an ACC game. They certainly won't be favored in any of them. So far they've yet to lose any by fewer than 19, and Georgia Tech held them to 39 points and beat them by 35. A year as ugly as this is going to require massive improvement next season in order for the torch-and-pitchfork crowd to stay quiet.

Friday, January 21, 2011

game preview: Georgia Tech


Date/Time: January 22, 12:00

TV: ACC Network; ESPN3

History against the Jackets: 31-38

Last matchup: UVA 82, GT 75; 1/13/10; Charlottesville

Last game: BC 70, UVA 67 (1/19); GT 74, Wake 39 (1/19)

Opposing blogs: From The Rumble Seat

KenPom:

National: UVA #103; GT #75
Offense: UVA #86; GT #125
Defense: UVA #123; GT #40

Today's preamble takes the form of a long-running tradition in advance of contests of athleticism against the Georgia Institute of Technology: a Q&A with From The Rumble Seat. Here it is in half of its entirety; the other half, as always, is over there, where you must go if you want my actual prediction for the game.

1. It always seems like Paul Hewitt is going to be the next ACC coach to be shown the door. Is this the season GT makes a change? If not, what saves his job?

Essentially, it all comes down to money. Hewitt's job is safe because of what we've dubbed the "Mega-Contract." The Paul Hewitt Contract states that the contract is always a 6 years contract because of a "rollover" clause (part 2.c). This rollover can be stopped by the GTAA with proper notice given to Hewitt but it would essentially send the worse kind of message to future recruits and send us down the tube worse than merely buying him out. Part 4.a states that Hewitt's minimum compensation per year after the 2009-2010 is $1.375 million. So that means we're stuck with a 6 year buyout at that salary if we choose to remove Hewitt. The only way to reduce it would be to not renew in April after the season ended. It's a perfect situation for Hewitt because April is during or before March Madness so every other year he is "safe" and could make the GTAA look like asses for firing a NCAAT coach. For your information, Hewitt's ACC winning percentage took an 8% dive after he got his mega-contract.

2. What's GT's defensive plan of attack?

Hewitt loves to press and play man-man but this year we've seen a lot of zone to help our guys on the inside. He also tries to take away a team's leading scorer at all costs even if that leaves the #2 guy wide open all game. Iman Shumpert, Daniel Miller, and Glen Rice have all had some decent games as of late shutting down key players on opposing squads in their one-one match ups. A decent small forward might be the only thing we can't guard against.

3. What's the difference between the team that got its ass kicked by Kennesaw State, and the team that kicked UNC's ass?

I don't know if there is a difference. I think there's an issue with motivation. No one can figure out why we lost to teams with 300+ RPI's and played Syracuse tight. It's starting to look like we just didn't care or weren't very focused to start the season. I think as Hewitt has gotten his rotation down pat we've seen some increased success particularly on defense.

4. Give us an Al Groh update. UVA fans love hearing about Al Groh.

The only news we've really got on Al Groh is that we've seen an interesting number of transfers and departures from guys we thought would be stars on Tech after the hiring of Groh. Sophomore Cooper Taylor transferred after only playing a couple of games and recovering from a rare heart disease in 2010. We figure something odd has to be happening in order for him to leave considering his dad played QB at Tech and he endured some pretty tough physical ailments to continue play football. When we thought that was past us, our starting punt returner and safety opted to go to the NFL despite receiving a 6th-7th round status from Draft consultants. (ed.: this would be Jerrard Tarrant.) To me, a player willing to give up his eligibility for a likely free agent contract (that most likely won't be there due to a strike) indicates a really sour grape. What caused this souring? A poem, perhaps?

5. Your turn: Prediction time.

I think Tech continues this hot streak on into Saturday morning breakfast but finds Hooville more of a challenge than UNC and Wake at home. However, Tech is 4-2 in Charlottesville under Hewitt so I wouldn't be surprised to see Tech edge the Cavs by two possessions.

Thanks as ever to the FTRS crew for saving me some writing. On with the show:

HOW WE CAN WIN

- Get Joe and KT going. Bird of FTRS points out that Paul Hewitt likes to try and shut down the opposition's top scorer. GT is a decent defensive team and since there's no dominant Sean Singletary or Sylven Landesberg type for the Jackets to focus on, it's a bit of a crapshoot as to whether they'll even stick with that strategy, let alone who their target will be. But Mustapha Farrakhan is the most likely option, given that he's actually the team's scoring leader and shows a good A/T ratio as well. Mu's smoothing out his game of late and gaining a little consistency, but if GT wants to stop him, they will. They held Harrison Barnes to 3-for-13, so Mu isn't a major obstacle.

So if GT cheats around on defense to Mu's side, Joe Harris and KT Harrell will have to provide the offense. Tony Bennett has found ways to get these guys open, and they'll have their share of open looks if GT focuses on Farrakhan.

- Pack it in. Unlike with UNC and BC, Tech isn't a threat to get hot from the outside. Interior scoring and three-point shooting are close to non-existent; GT likes to drive, drive, drive. If someone gets hot from beyond the arc, ok, but I think that's a chance we should be more than willing to take. Take away the driving lanes and let them hoist from downtown if they like. The two biggest shooters of three-pointers are also the worst: Iman Shumpert is shooting .270 and Brian Oliver, .297. Shumpert is their leading scorer - he can dribble-drive and post up smaller guards, but he's at best a mediocre creater for his teammates. (Not that he can't get them the ball - he can - but he's turnover-prone and almost as likely to get it to the defense.) The principles of the pack-line defense are exactly the medicine for dealing with the Jackets.

HOW WE CAN LOSE

- Keep it close. In order to win I think UVA is going to have to keep a big lead big. Even though the game is at home, our team has yet to learn to close out a close one - the only time they've really been able to do that this year was Norfolk State and I mean come on. Now, yes, they'll have to learn to do this eventually and yes, the only way to learn it is by doing it, and yes, there's a first time for everything. But until they do, the odds are against it. A close game will favor the opposition until we ourselves prove otherwise.

- Bad basketball. OK, this is one step away from "score fewer points." But the point is this: GT isn't a good team. But they're very well equipped to take advantage when the other team is playing poorly. They're good at defensive rebounding - so don't miss shots. They get lots of steals - so don't make it easy on them to do so. For the most part, they shoot free throws very well - so don't foul. You get the picture. GT is very beatable when you're executing well, but if you screw up, they don't return the favor.

HOW THE GAME WILL GO

If you agree with the goal I set for the team - a winning record - then this one is a must-win. GT is one of the conference's more vulnerable teams, and the game is at home. If this game isn't a win, it'll be a major letdown following some competitive losses against the conference's best. And it'll put a serious crimp in future expectations. Fortunately, this is a team we match up well against. There are many similarities, and one major difference: we can shoot threes and they can't. The UVA defense is well-equipped to stop GT's attack, and the crowd should be good on a home-game Saturday. I like our odds of getting back into the win column.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

too-late review, too-early preview: defense

I meant to do this last Thursday, but I was in no mood to bother. It is the follow-up from the same article on the offense. The defense. A mirror image of the offense: bad when it was supposed to be good. So bad that the year wasn't even out before a not-insignificant portion of UVA fans were calling for Jim Reid's head before the season even ended. Any illusions that this might not be the worst defense in the conference were shattered by Duke's 55-point performance in early November.

So...what went down:

DEFENSIVE LINE

This year....

The unit definitely felt the growing pains of the switch to the 4-3. Al Groh's 3-4 generally required the line to simply occupy space while the linebackers made plays. It occasionally utilized a pass-rushing defensive end, but the sackmasters were usually outside linebackers unless the DE was named Chris Long. Under the gun to make some plays of their own, the line fell short of expectations.

Nick Jenkins played a very stout defensive tackle, but the other tackle position was manned by John-Kevin Dolce more often than not. This was fine in pass-rush situations: Dolce had the moves to get around slower-moving guards, and was able to get to the quarterback at times. The pinnacle of achievement in this regard was his leaving a Jacory Harris-shaped impression in the Scott Stadium turf and knocking the Miami starter out of the game. Dolce, however, weighs less than 250 pounds. In the single most questionable slotting decision by a UVA coach that I've ever seen, Dolce was frequently placed in the role of run-stopper, which he was totally unequipped to handle. That would have required an extra 35-40 pounds. It was silly to think he'd do anything but end up in the secondary when taking on a run-blocking, 300-pound offensive guard. Dolce was the kind of guy you really want to get on the field, and Groh bounced him around until finding him a niche as a pass-rushing nose tackle, which worked fairly well. As a regular, first-down DT? That's just setting him up to fail. I sound like I'm bashing Dolce, but I'm not: he should never have been playing that position in 2010. As for the third member of the rotation, Matt Conrath moved over from defensive end, and struggled with the transition.

Zane Parr and Cam Johnson had people excited about the potential of the defensive ends, particularly Johnson. Having pass-coverage duties removed by getting him off the linebacking corps was a boon to his pass-rushing, and he was able to get his share of sacks. Parr didn't progress from 2009 to 2010 - his decision to leave for the NFL was a surprise and a half.

Next year....

Parr and Dolce will depart, leaving Jenkins in the middle, Johnson on the end, and Matt Conrath to handle expanded duties as a full-time starter. Jenkins is a quality tackle, and hopes are high for Johnson. Conrath showed enough potential early in his career that there's reason to believe he'll be a decent player too; simply by virtue of being tackle-sized, he'll be an improvement over Dolce on first and second down.

Jake Snyder and Billy Schautz will compete for the nod as the other starter at end; I'd give the edge to Snyder, the younger brother of receiver Matt. Jeremiah Mathis would have been right there in the mix, but he's a permanent member of the offense these days. There will be need for a third tackle - you really need a rotation of three full-time players there - and the battle should be interesting between Will Hill, Chris Brathwaite, and Brent Urban. Hill has the advantage of some field time. Only one will be fully in the mix, barring injury; for most of the time we only saw three tackles in 2010 and that probably won't change. The same is true at end, where the "loser" of the Snyder/Schautz battle will be first in line to be first off the bench. However, the 2011 recruiting class is so crammed full of defensive ends that it wouldn't surprise at all to see one of them get some significant playing time.

LINEBACKERS

This year....

The group started out fast. Literally. Two-thirds of the starters were safeties during the Groh era. Groh wanted size; London demands speed, so there were a lot of players moving closer to the line of scrimmage. The outside linebackers were two of them. Laroy Reynolds, playing the strong side, showed an ability early on to fly to the ball, and energized the defense with some big plays. Problem was, he flew too hard at times and was woefully out of position as offenses played upon his tendency to go with the first thing he saw. On the other side, Ausar Walcott was less of a big play-maker, but also less of a risk to end up in the wrong area code.

There were a lot of position shifts as the season went on, too. The middle started off as a rotation between Aaron Taliaferro and Steve Greer - a surprise, because Greer was the team's leading tackler the year before. Midway through the year, Taliaferro switched places with backup strong-sider Darnell Carter, and Carter took over the job with Greer continuing to platoon in at times. Ultimately, though, the coaches never quite found the right formula at linebacker, and the unit ended up being a liability.

Next year....

A lot of that, uhh, liabilitude, came from playing a new position. Just by having a year to grow up in the position, Reynolds and Walcott should be better. Reynolds in particular is a hard-working type, and both have the athleticism to be successful. Still, it's a roll of the dice. They'll be better, but how much better is probably one of 2011's biggest mysteries after "who's the quarterback?"

Carter graduates, and Taliaferro will probably stay on the outside, meaning the job in the middle ends up back in Greer's hands. This is probably for the best. Greer is a bright player with a ton of football sense, which is why he started as a true freshman for Groh despite being undersized. I'm not optimistic about Jared Detrick's chances of being asked back as a fifth-year senior, so other than Taliaferro the backup positions are fairly wide open. Outside of the four already mentioned, I think Tucker Windle has the best chance of seeing the field next, but ultimately, the linebacking corps - both the personnel and the performance - is the team's biggest question after the quarterbacks.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

This year....

Life is never fair. What should have been a great year at cornerback turned into a mess, especially for one Ras-I Dowling. Dowling had a chance to go pro and be drafted high, but he came back to improve his draft stock and was good enough to start the season on Mel Kiper's Big Board Thing. Injuries of various types, all season long, kept him off the field except for a few plays.

That meant the number one corner was Chase Minnifield, who had a terrific season when he wasn't injured his own self. Minnifield was definitely the defense's MVP, reeling in six interceptions. For most of the season he played opposite Devin Wallace, who......was a complete disaster. Wallace's coverage was mediocre and his tackling was unwatchable. On the occasions when Minnifield was out, Mike Parker stepped in, and he was about as bad.

Safety was a problem area too, a major step back from 2009. Corey Mosley managed to irritate half the fanbase by being good at nothing but trash-talking - a few suggested he not be brought back for a fifth year, it was that ugly sometimes. (Unlikely, I think: the secondary is too thin to be not renewing anyone's scholarship back there.) Rodney McLeod had a few injury issues of his own and it looked all season like he never recovered from them 100%.

Next year....

The secondary will still be feeling the effects of London's decision to practically empty it out to fill the linebacking corps. Parker, Dowling, and Trey Womack graduate, and spring practice won't have enough scholarship players for a two-deep unless Javanti Sparrow makes an earlier-than-expected return. (Probably not til fall, though.) You'll probably hear Drequan Hoskey's name in April quite a bit - a lightning-fast walk-on with some flashes of potential at corner. Pablo Alvarez is listed at corner for now, but safety seems likely to be in his future. Like, spring ball future. Rijo Walker will have every opportunity in the world to prove he belongs on the field.

He'd better make the most of it, because the cavalry arrives in the fall. Freshman cornerbacks have disaster potential at times, but two of the country's best will be in Charlottesville. Brandon Phelps and Demetrious Nicholson are likely to get on the field sooner rather than later. With such a small group of players, this is the area most likely to see some true freshmen make an impact.

Minnifield will be terrific assuming he can avoid the Dowling bug, but Devin Wallace must improve - or somebody like Walker or Nicholson must get up to speed quickly - or teams will just never bother throwing to Minnifield's side.

Overall, the best thing that can be said about 2011 is that there's nowhere to go but up. Even a slightly better defense would have resulted in a win over Duke and a 5-7 season, which sounds a lot better than 4-8 and the Coastal cellar. Four starters depart, but that includes Dowling, who didn't start much, and the other three positions - DE, DT, and MLB - have good potential to see upgrades with the insertion of new starters. The system was radically new - it was as if a team that ran a spread offense for a decade had tried to install a pro-style, drop-back system with the same personnel. A realistic expectation would be mediocrity or sub-mediocrity instead of the unwatchable horror that was 2010. In the ACC, that's good enough to get bowl-eligible.

********************************************

Because tomorrow will be the GT game preview, there's no time for a full news post like I wanted, so here's a half news post:

- Jared Green is Audi 5000. 'Tis the season for attrition. It's the kind of thing you hate to see - Green represented UVA well and flashed some potential on the field - but it was more or less totally expected. I had Green as the fourth-most likely of the potential fifth-years to not be back next year. No way of knowing whether the decision is Green's or the coaches, but the result is the same.

For those keeping score at home, that puts us at 65 scholarships, leaving guaranteed room for 20. Anywhere from four to seven more won't make it to the fall.

- Supposedly there's a Dookie out there with a sense of humor. It's on the Internet, so it's a fact. And his brainchild - a flowchart, because flowcharts are really a very underrated humor medium - was passed around the ACC Roundtable, and verily it maketh us laugh. The verdict: funny because true.

- Gobbler Country is less than pleased about VT's recruiting class. I like it. Actually, VT's class doesn't suck. Ours is better, though, and poised to improve in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

season preview: Virginia Tech


Virginia Tech Hokies

Media prediction: 2nd

Last season:

Record: 25-9 (10-6); 4th in ACC
Postseason: NIT quarterfinals
KenPom: 36th of 347

Returning scoring: 98.2%
Returning rebounding: 89.7%
Returning assists: 98.2%

2009-'10 All-ACC:

1st team: G Malcolm Delaney
2nd team: none
3rd team: G Dorenzo Hudson
Rookie: none
Defensive: none

Starters:

PG: Malcolm Delaney (Sr.)
SG: Erick Green (So.)
SF: Terrell Bell (Sr.)
PF: Jeff Allen (Sr.)
C: Victor Davila (Jr.)

Bench:

F Manny Atkins (So.)
F Jarell Eddie (Fr.)
G Tyrone Garland (Fr.)

Coach: Seth Greenberg (8th season)

Schedule:

Once: Clemson (A), Duke (H), Florida State (H), Miami (H), North Carolina (A), NC State (A)
Twice: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest

After UVA went into Cassell and beat VT on their own gym, the season looked like three-quarters of a totally lost cause for the Hokies. Since then: 7-1, with the only blemish being a three-point loss to North Carolina. VT is well poised to return to their usual status as a whiny tournament bridesmaid.

Honestly, it'd be a shame, if it were anyone but Tech. (Or, say, Maryland.) The roster is senior-heavy and returned - almost literally - everyone who scored a basket at all last year. Transfers and injuries took a toll, though: lightly used guard Ben Boggs left the team in December, and depth forward Cadarian Raines broke his foot. Seth Greenberg uses an astoundingly short rotation, using his depth players very sparingly, so those weren't huge losses to Tech's usual way of business, but starting guard Dorenzo Hudson also went down around the same time Raines did.

So what you see is what you get, for the most part, when Tech takes the court for the opening tip. As long as they have Malcolm Delaney, they'll compete in every game. Delaney is a do-everything point guard. And if Jeff Allen is in the mood, he can dominate the post on the offensive end. He averages close to a double-double, though he has a tendency to be a lazy liability on the defensive end and is always in foul trouble. Delaney and Allen are most of VT's scoring punch, and with Erick Green replacing Hudson, they actually haven't lost much there. Beyond that, the other players on the roster are pretty pedestrian. They're functional, but not exceptional. Basically, Tech is a threat to win any game as long as Delaney is Delaney and Allen is fired up to win.

As for style, VT basketball games can get ragged. They try to out-athlete you and they have a tendency to lose discipline (Jeff Allen has zero business shooting three-pointers but he's usually good for one or two a game, which are always bricks) and it results in them creating a lot of turnovers, but also turning it over too much themselves, and fouling too much besides.

They've probably blown their shot at the NCAA tournament. A home win over Oklahoma State is the best thing going for their resume; they lost to every other good team they faced outside the conference. A pretty favorable ACC schedule should set them up for a good seed and an NIT bid at minimum, but they really only have two chances left - at Maryland and Boston College - to make a statement to the committee that they can win away from home. I don't expect to hear them called on Selection Sunday unless they can make a tornado-run through the conference schedule - 10-6, like last year, won't cut it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

game preview: Boston College


Date/Time: Wed., January 19; 7:00

TV: none

History against the Eagles: 7-4

Last matchup: UVA 68, BC 62; 3/11/10 (ACC tournament)

Last game: Duke 76, UVA 60 (1/15); Miami 72, BC 71 (1/15)

Opposing blogs: BC Interruption, Eagle in Atlanta

KenPom:

National: UVA #100; BC #55
Offense: UVA #86; BC #4
Defense: UVA #120; BC #208

Finally: winnable ACC games. It was fun to think for a while that we might score a major-league upset against UNC and Duke, but the talent disparity caught up to us. The next month or so, w'll see a parade of good, but flawed, conference opponents. That's basically the meat and potatoes of the ACC's makeup this year. Boston College is a legitimate tournament contender, but they have a number of weaknesses that can be preyed upon.

HOW WE CAN WIN

- Test Reggie Jackson's ankle. Jackson is one of the ACC's premier players, a sure bet for first-team honors, and a candidate for ACC POY if he stays healthy. He also might not be healthy. Jackson hurt his ankle at the very end of Saturday's game against Miami, and while it's being said that he's not expected to miss any games, he might also not be 100%. The ACC is no place for mercy for ailing opponents; UVA should go hard after Jackson on both ends until and unless he proves his ankle really isn't a problem. Run him through every screen in the playbook, and hound him on defense.

- Attack the basket and convert layup opportunities. BC is one of the weakest defensive teams in the conference; they don't block many shots, they don't get many steals, and they allow opponents to have good days shooting the ball. The only true center on the roster is Josh Southern, and he's not a shot-blocker. None of their big guys really are; the leading shot-blocker is, in fact, Jackson. There should be some points to be had by taking it to the hole, and converting the layup chances when we get them. Part of the reason Duke only had a nine-point deficit to overcome and not a nineteen-point hole is because of our maddening propensity to miss layups in that game. That should be fixable here.

- Whatever we did to Kyle Singler, do that to Joe Trapani. Trapani is a poor man's Singler and one of the most underrated players in the conference, I think. He has a way of doing the most damage at the worst times. Joe Harris could be a good answer for him on the defensive end, because Trapani is a forward that can play both inside and out. Singler had a quiet game on Satuday and our chances of a win tomorrow go up quite a bit if we can do the same to Trapani.

HOW WE CAN LOSE

- Get bombed out of the building. BC really loves the three-pointer and they're good at hitting it. And they have a lot of players who'll shoot it. The backcourt defenders will need to be on top of their game - rotating too far out of position could be deadly.

- Undisciplined defense. See above. To make it worse, BC is one of the best in the country at taking care of the ball. It's tough to get away with crazy risks against them because they're not going to panic in the face of inadvisable double-teams. They're a very veteran team and they've seen your tricks, and they're patient enough to wait for you to screw up - a potentially winning formula at home against a young team like ours. Discipline for the entire 35 seconds is crucial because Boston College has no problem waiting that long to shoot.

HOW THE GAME WILL GO

This game is funny because both teams are well-equipped to take advantage of the others' weaknesses. BC is one of the worst defensive teams in the conference, a welcome relief after playing the 14th and 4th best defenses in the country. The UVA offense is at its best when the guards can drive the lane, and opportunities to do so should be plentiful against a porous defense. Meanwhile, the Eagles are a patient, veteran bunch. They should find ways to score when UVA's defense has its inevitable freshman moments.

So it could be a relative barn-burner. Relative. These are the two slowest teams in the conference as well; their pokey pace would be slow even in the very deliberate Big Ten. Knowing that they won't likely be forced out of their comfort zone by an opponent looking to hurry it up the way UNC does could either be a bonus or deceptively lulling, but I'll go with the former because BC also has the least intimidating home court in the conference. Our team is still in learning-to-win mode, and this is a good opportunity for a positive lesson in that regard.

Which probably means we'll get spun on our ear and cause me to go "gee I wish they knew what the basket was for," but hey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

the waiting is the hardest part

It's not that hard, seeing into the future. You just have to know where and when to look. Basketball games these days are a good start. The Future Channel doesn't come in HD, of course; it's a staticky, broken-up picture. Sometimes it's there, sometimes not. It's clearest when you see things like aggressive close-outs that follow a crisp, well-executed double team; it fades out again when the ball is heaved carelessly out of bounds on the ensuing possession. The future is right there on your TV, but it's like listening to the radio on the very edge of the broadcast radius, with other stations fighting to be heard on the same frequency, replacing your Aerosmith with local community college talk radio every time you drive underneath a power line.

We're getting there, of course. It just sucks to wait. It's frustrating to watch this team play like a talented ACC powerhouse for 30 minutes, only to be foiled when the opposition realizes what it's dealing with. UVA had Duke fooled for a half and then some. They played exactly the aggressive, close-out defense I wanted to see. They forced entry passes to be caught too far outside the paint to be of any use and then double-teamed the shit out of the post man. They cheated outside the pack-line just enough to hurry Duke's three-pointers and eliminate the mid-range jumper that they've feasted on since about 1991. On offense, Jontel Evans and Mustapha Farrakhan drove with authority and kicked out to wide-open three-point shooters. Assane Sene somehow knew when to be on the offensive glass and when not to be.

And then it all went to shit when Duke remembered they were Duke and further took note of where Mike Scott was. The lack of anyone at all who can reliably score from inside affects everything on offense. There's nowhere to pass to except around the outside. You can drive, but Duke was basically playing an inverse box-and-one: four guys running around playing man-to-man and one seven-foot lummox stationed near the basket to discourage any thoughts of driving the lane. The lack of a respectable big man not only takes away your plays for scoring down low, it takes away most of your guards' options too because there's no good reason to respect anything you'll do within twelve feet. Duke simply deployed Ryan Kelly and/or Mason Plumlee around the basket and told them to swat any flying round objects. UVA's guards got the hint and ceased all attempts at aggressiveness.

Still: the future. So many pieces to a successful basketball team are missing from this one. No respect-at-all-costs scoring threat. No size. The future is visible in those glimpses of what's being accomplished despite that. Any team that can be leading Duke, by nine, at Cameron, in the second half, is a force to be reckoned with; give it back its best player, add a couple highly talented recruits, and give it a year to grow up, and you've got the reason Tony Bennett was hired. It'll be worth waiting for. It just sucks having to slog through the static to get there.

*************************************

Other stuff from the game:

- Didn't hear much out of Kyle Singler on Saturday. Part of that was because Duke was riding Nolan Smith's hot hand, but UVA did an excellent job defending Singler, holding him to his third-lowest scoring total and second-lowest rebounding total of the year. Singler's a matchup nightmare - he's Will Sherrill with athleticism and a better jump shot. Holding him to 13 and 4 is outstanding work.

- Mike Patrick and Len Elmore are supposed to be pretty good broadcasters, but they sounded like local radio. Basic knowledge of the visitor's roster was horrendous. I don't even know what Jontel's last name is any more; Patrick and Elmore offered a number of different suggestions, trying out "Jontel Harris," "Jontel Evans," "Jontel Davis," and "Mustapha Farrakhan" with equal emphasis throughout the course of the broadcast. That's when they weren't calling the real Mu "Mustapha Farracan." Small wonder people think the Worldwide Leader exists to cater to certain teams only.

- Speaking of hilarity from the WWL, it made me giggle to listen to the broadcasters praise Mike Kry-whatever for remaning calm in the face of adversity to provide his team with a "teaching moment," only to watch Coach K go apeshit in the very next timeout. I would make some kind of a comparison to Tony Bennett's timeout demeanor during the game except there were never any cameras on him. Duke, you see.

- The refereeing brought zero complaints from me, which is weird for a UVA game and really weird for one in Cameron. I thought it was very even-handed, actually, which probably means it was tilted in UVA's favor. At any rate, they failed to give Duke the platinum-membership treatment they're accustomed to, which helped the first half go as well as it did.

**************************************

I don't know when this week I'm going to be able to get to this, so now's as good a time as any to update the recruiting board. This is in advance of what shapes up to be a huge recruiting weekend. Practically this whole class committed before official visit season began, so most will be in town, along with a couple of the biggest of the biggest targets on the board. Ahead of the weekend, it's time to whittle a few names off the board and get ready for the homestretch. Updates:

- Removed DE Horace Arkadie from blue - he committed to Arkansas. That's one of the main five targets down, though Arkadie was almost certainly fifth of five on the wish list. Mainly that's a function of space and already-committed players, although it's always hard to get a Texas kid out of the southwest.

- Removed WR Brandon Reddish from yellow - Syracuse commit.

- Removed LB Nick Menocal from red - looks like a definite to stick with Miami.

- Moved LB Curtis Grant from green to blue. Remember how I've been saying UVA would at the very least be one of the hats on Grant's table? Well, here we are: Grant will take an official visit to UVA, a change from his earlier stance of figuring he'd been to Charlottesville enough. That's good enough to move him up. Bleacher Report thinks he's down to Florida and Ohio State only, but that report was derived from the rectal extraction tables.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Curtis Grant just can't stop hanging out in Charlottesville. I like our chances just as much as OSU and UF like theirs.

- Lastly, Daquan Romero now shows up in the database, a week following David Watford, so his status is changed to "enrolled."

The 2012 board is thisclose to being ready to go. Really I'm just waiting for a good chance to unveil it. If not this week, and this week is likely, then next. Possibly the weekend.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

season preview: NC State


NC State Wolfpack

Media prediction: 4th

Last season:

Record: 20-16 (5-11), 11th in ACC
Postseason: 2nd round, NIT
KenPom: 68th of 347

Returning scoring: 69.1%
Returning rebounding: 68.6%
Returning assists: 67.7%

2009-'10 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: F Tracy Smith
3rd team: none
Rookie: none
Defensive: none

Starters:

PG: Javier Gonzalez (Sr.)
SG: Lorenzo Brown (Fr.)
SF: Scott Wood (So.)
F: C.J. Leslie (Fr.)
PF: Tracy Smith (Sr.)

Bench:

G Ryan Harrow (Fr.)
C DeShawn Painter (So.)
F Richard Howell (So.)
G C.J. Williams (Jr.)
C Jordan Vandenberg (So.)

Coach: Sidney Lowe (5th season)

Schedule:

Once: Boston College (A), Georgia Tech (H), Maryland (A), Miami (H), Virginia (A), Virginia Tech (H)
Twice: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Wake Forest

NC State might be the best bad team in the conference. Or the worst good team. At any rate they're unlikely to achieve the 4th-place finish predicted for them, which could have a negative effect on Sidney Lowe's already shaky job status.

The Pack should be a contending team, as they're adding some very talented freshmen to what looked before the season like a solid core of returning players. Two of those freshmen have been regular starters all season, and the third, Ryan Harrow, earned the nod in the Pack's most recent game against Florida State. Harrow mans the point and is outplaying his counterpart, senior Javier Gonzalez, who might have started his last game. Harrow and fellow freshman C.J. Leslie, NC State's biggest-name recruit in quite some time, are second and third on the team in scoring; Leslie is also the team's rebounding leader.

Leslie is part of a deep frontcourt. The team's heart and soul, Tracy Smith, is just coming off of a knee injury that caused him to miss three weeks. Smith is the best scorer on the team; think Mike Scott, but with less rebounding. Also listed at forward is three-point specialist Scott Wood, but Wood plays more like a biggish guard - his main job is to catch and shoot. If State needs height, they turn to Jordan Vandenberg, the only true center on the roster, though he's not even remotely offensive-minded.

Despite the lack of redwood trees to man the paint, NC State is actually deceptively big. They've got a large collection of 6'8" forward types and their guards are big, tall players too; only two regulars (Gonzalez and Harrow, the points) check in at under 6'5". Brown is a big guard, as is his backup, C.J. Williams. Given that, you'd think this would be a strong defensive team, but they're actually not good on that end of the court. They allow more shot-blocks than they have themselves, and they're one of the worst teams in the country at creating turnovers: according to KenPom, they rank 320th in opponents' turnover percentage.

The Wolfpack have good balanced scoring, and they should present a matchup challenge to a lot of teams with their size. But it's not a good sign that they start three freshmen these days. NC State hasn't done anything on their resume to make a case for the NCAA tournament, and they blew two chances to do so in their first three ACC games, with losses at BC and FSU. They're likely to be relegated to the NIT again. It looks like a classic case of underachievement - they have the talent to be better - and that could mean the end of the line for Sidney the Big Red Blazer.

Friday, January 14, 2011

game preview: Duke


Date/Time: January 15, 2:00

TV: ESPN

History against the Blue Devils: 48-112

Last matchup: Duke 57, UVA 46; 3/12/10

Last game: UNC 62, UVA 56 (1/8); FSU 66, Duke 61 (1/12)

Opposing blogs: Duke Basketball Report, Blue Devil Nation

KenPom rankings:

National: UVA #97; Duke #2
Offense: UVA #85; Duke #4
Defense: UVA #113; Duke #4

We gon' die.

HOW WE CAN WIN

- Perfection, and industrial-strength earplugs. For certain stretches during last year's ACC Tournament game, UVA was playing perfect defense. And hitting shots. This resulted in an even game. It was those spurts of imperfection that lost it. And it's one thing to do that when you're on a prove-yourself mission on a neutral court; it's another when you're coming off a loss that could've been a win and playing in Cameron. And most of your team is freshmen. If Joe Harris's freshman-ness caused him to be too tentative to take a wide-open shot in front of a friendly crowd, I don't want to see the result of the decision-making process in front of a hostile crowd.

- Incredibly aggressive man-to-man defense. Unfortunately, Tony Bennett's pack-line has a way of allowing open shots if it breaks down. For this game I'd like to see our defenders, especially the on-ball ones, get so far up into the grill of the ballhandler they can count the veins in their eyeballs. Might that cause some quicker players like Nolan Smith to blast on by for a layup sometimes? Probably. Might it cause some fouls? Probably. I'd still rather see that than Duke be allowed to shoot jumpers at will, because they have a nasty way of always falling. The hardest basketball team in the whole world to beat is Duke in a comfort zone. Harassing them into using up most of the shot clock is the way to beat the odds. Letting them run an offense is not.

- Make every shot. Obviously.

HOW WE CAN LOSE

- In just about every way imaginable. Pick your favorite disaster scenario.

HOW THE GAME WILL GO

I think you know. UVA has a way of playing Duke tough more often than many teams do, but never at Cameron. The ACC is Duke plus eleven stooges this year, and their loss to FSU is likely to 1) be the last ACC loss this year and 2) piss them off. And FSU is an elite team defensively. It's not nice of ESPN to pick the road Duke game for one of their token national UVA exposures, but once this is over we can go back to trying to figure out where six more wins are coming from.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

season preview: North Carolina


North Carolina Tar Heels

Media prediction: 3rd

Last season:

Record: 20-17 (5-11); 10th in ACC
Postseason: NIT runners-up
KenPom: 60th of 347

Returning scoring: 45.3%
Returning rebounding: 33.3%
Returning assists: 61.9%

2009-'10 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
Rookie: none
Defensive: none

Starters:

PG: Larry Drew II (Jr.)
SG: Dexter Strickland (So.)
SF: Harrison Barnes (Fr.)
PF: John Henson (So.)
C: Tyler Zeller (Jr.)

Bench:

G Leslie McDonald (So.)
G Reggie Bullock (Fr.)
F Justin Knox (Sr.)
G Kendall Marshall (Fr.)
G Justin Watts (Jr.)

Coach: Roy Williams (8th season)

Schedule:

Once: Georgia Tech (A), Maryland (H), Miami (A), Virginia (A), Virginia Tech (H), Wake Forest (H)
Twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, NC State

You'd think a team that was shut out of all-conference honors, bowed out in the first round of the ACC tournament as a 10 seed, and returns less than half its scoring would be all set for another dreary cellar-dwelling season. No luck - this is Carolina. And they're good.

As we've already seen this season, there's been no drop-off in athleticism. Carolina's still big, quick, and they've made huge strides on defense from last season to this. It helps that Tyler Zeller is healthy; last year he missed time with a broken foot. Zeller and John Henson, who's practically a second center on the floor, bring the size. Henson, despite being listed as a forward, really does a lot more of the center's work - more rebounding, more shot blocking. This is because he's a total mismatch for anyone trying to guard or be guarded by him. Zeller, though, is still your standard seven-foot tree, able to simply drop the ball in over top of most defenders. Harrison Barnes is the scoring punch from the wing, and he's made clear and noticeable strides since the beginning of the season. Barnes is the guy that scouts were pimping as the #1 pick in the draft even before the season, but he looks like a player who will really benefit from a year in college. Duke's Kyrie Irving grabbed the headlines early on as Barnes struggled, but by the ACC tournament Barnes will be the guy in the spotlight.

The interesting thing is that while the ACC is supposedly a guard's league, UNC's guard play is only somewhat better than average. Point guard Larry Drew is a horrible shooter and almost entirely a distributor. Most of UNC's guards, while still more athletic than most in the ACC, are fairly interchangeable and very young. When the second group goes in, UNC turns anonymous, and beatable. There's a lot of playable depth, but Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald aren't going to blow your doors off.

The bottom line is that Carolina is almost Carolina, but not quite. Barnes should get better and better as the season goes on and give UNC one of the best frontcourts in the nation. The value of their backcourt, though, lies mostly on defense, where they excel. If the frontcourt isn't scoring and the opponent is a good one, the guards aren't going to be able to pick them up. UNC's resume bears this out: they're capable of beating just about anyone when firing on all cylinders (Kentucky is a notable example) but their record against really good teams is tilted toward the L side of the ledger. Illinois, Vandy, Minnesota, and Texas comprise UNC's loss column. This should be good enough to sweep handily through the ACC in a down season, with probably no more than three losses, and a tournament berth is just about definite. Should they fail to make the Sweet 16, though, that too will come as no surprise.

the recruit: Tim Cwalina

Name: Tim Cwalina
Position: OT
Hometown: Mt. Lebanon, PA
School: Mt. Lebanon
Height: 6'7"
Weight: 295

ESPN: 74; two stars; #139 OT
Rivals: 5.5; three stars; PA #29
Scout: two stars

Other offers: Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Boston College

We're finally at the end of the summer commitment wave. Unless you count Clifton Richardson making it officially official in September-ish, Tim Cwalina committed in July on a visit to Charlottesville and that was the last verbal to Mike London until November.

And when the news came out, UVA fans reacted with a unanimous "wut?"

The word "sleeper" is overused in recruiting; every time everyone's team gets a verbal from some two-star that didn't have any other offers, he's a "sleeper." No, he's a decent-ish football player that nobody else really wanted. Tim Cwalina is a sleeper. He called the recruiting process "hectic and annoying" and I will submit that for galactic understatement of the year because I would guess that Tim Cwalina hates the whole thing. For one thing, that plus a single Rivals article are the only places on the whole googletubes to find an actual thing Cwalina said. Most everything else comes from his coach, some of which are articles for which Cwalina declined to be interviewed.

I don't think he ever went to any combines, either, because all the recruiting sites (which usually get their height/weights from combine measurements) have different statistics on the guy. 295 sounds right since it comes from his high school coach. He could easily be 300 by the time he shows up at UVA, since he packed on 25 pounds during the last offseason.

Despite the dearth of information, football programs know who he is. Cwalina pretty definitely had offers from Boston College and his hometown Pitt, and probably Wisconsin too, as well as a couple maybe-no-one-will-notice-him offers from places like Buffalo. He also made second-team all-state in Pennsylvania (and Mt. Lebanon plays at Quad-A, the highest level, so the competition is stiff) so if they didn't know before the season, they'd have known afterwards.

UVA has four offensive line commits for 2011. Kelby Johnson is from DeMatha, Ross Burbank is from Virginia Beach, and Jay Whitmire is probably the star of the group and played at T.C. Williams. High-profile places for followers of UVA recruiting, to be sure. And Cwalina has, overall, the lowest ratings of the bunch. But it'd be a mistake to ignore him; other than Whitmire, Cwalina has the best offer list. Any lineman that Wisconsin offered is a damn good lineman. He's got long arms and a "prototypical tackle body", so based on a couple paragraphs by the gurus or semi-gurus I'm willing to say he'll stay at tackle. Mike London and his offensive staff are doing a good job of reestablishing the O-line pipeline, and younger players like Morgan Moses and Sean Cascarano are stepping into their roles, so Cwalina and his classmates probably won't get to the two-deep for a couple years. (Moses leaving early for the NFL, as he could do if his talents live up to the hype, could help speed that timeline along.) But there's good reason to believe that this class of linemen, Cwalina included, will make a good successor group when the current core group has moved on.

Monday, January 10, 2011

now what?

The weekend brought two pretty significant clarifiers to the next two months of basketball. First, a loss to UNC that could easily have been a win, and second, the thoroughly unsurprising news that Mike Scott will undergo surgery and seek a medical redshirt.

Scott's news is barely even news, really. The longer he was out the more likely it became that he and the operating table would enter the ring for round two. It did come as a surprise that UVA held an 11-point lead in the second half against UNC. We learned that if we'd had Mike Scott, and if the refs ever called UNC for the moving screens and over-the-backs they commit, and if our guys really gut up and play nasty defense, and if they hit shots, and if they have a good, sold-out crowd at their back, they can almost win a game against a really good team.

Which naturally is a useless lesson on a team consisting of freshmen and Mustapha Farrakhan. I promise you there will be at least one game later this season where the team looks they have no idea why someone hung an iron circle over the pretty wooden playground, and they'll try to knock it right off its pegs. But it's nice, at least, to know what they're capable of when they play defense.

I do feel pretty confident in saying that would have been a win with Mike Scott. Once UNC figured out what we were up to on offense, they were able to use their superior athleticism to harass our guards on the perimeter and effectively put a stop to it. Hell, simply having Scott's five fouls would have been a plus; our bigs shuffled in and out all day with foul trouble. Will Regan and Akil Mitchell simply don't have the strength to consistently nullify the height disadvantage they had, and Will Sherrill is a gimp. (His effort in this game, and probably the rest of the games going forward, should not be overlooked. I refuse to go the the gym for an hour if my muscles are too damn sore from the day before; Sherrill's leg bone still isn't all in one proper piece and he goes diving onto the floor for loose balls. Then he asks to come out of the game because his tibia just bit him in the shin and gimps right back in a minute later because someone picked up a fourth foul.) Given these obstacles, the quality of defense played on the interior was astoundingly good. Regan and Mitchell are in for a baptism by fire these next two months, but that was a good start and matchup-wise they won't have it much rougher than that going forward.

The goal for the season, simply put, should be a winning record, for which we'll need to go 6-8 the rest of the way. Easily done if Mike Scott was in the lineup; a scratch-and-claw battle without. The lesson from UNC is that continuing to play like that will probably make it happen; the lesson from last season is there's no telling how many times we'll see it.

**********************************************

A quick recruiting board update is in order, with two removals due to commitments: QB Gary Nova to Rutgers and WR Demetri Knowles to Tech. Knowles is blazing fast, and the UVA staff probably would have accepted his commitment in the summer when UVA was his only offer, but he dawdled. It became clear as time went on that guys like Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell were keeping UVA in their minds, and the class started filling up for serious, so the bus left the station. When's the last time Tech was picking up UVA's leftovers and not the other way round?

A 2012 recruiting board is in the works and should debut soonish.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

season preview: Miami


Miami Hurricanes

Media prediction: 8th

Last season:

Record: 20-13 (4-12), 12th in ACC
Postseason: none
KenPom: 46th of 347

Returning scoring: 69.6%
Returning rebounding: 63.9%
Returning assists: 82.9%

2009-'10 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
Rookie: G Durand Scott
Defensive: none

Starters:

PG: Malcolm Grant (Jr.)
SG: Durand Scott (So.)
G: Garrius Adams (So.)
F: DeQuan Jones (Jr.)
C: Reggie Johnson (So.)

Bench:

F Adrian Thomas (6Sr.)
G Rion Brown (Fr.)
C Julian Gamble (Jr.)
F Donnavan Kirk (Fr.)
F Erik Swoope (Fr.)

Coach: Frank Haith (7th season)

Schedule:

Once: Maryland (H), North Carolina (H), NC State (A), Virginia (H), Virginia Tech (A), Wake Forest (A)
Twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech

Is there a more anonymous team in the ACC than Miami? Certainly there's not one that was harder to figure in the preseason. What do you make of a team that lost their top two scorers but returns basically the entire roster otherwise, has just one senior, finished dead last in the ACC, and proceeded to upset two heavily favored opponents in the ACC Tournament and almost bumped off the eventual national champion, too? Are they dead last or major contenders?

Despite a lack of big-name firepower, the answer is probably closer to the latter. And even the lack of "big-name" firepower suggests a problem with the media, not Miami. The Canes are one of the few teams in the conference blessed with the two things that every ACC coach would give their left nut for: a combo of excellent scoring guards and a big true center who scores and rebounds.

The guards in question are Malcolm Grant and freshman honoree Durand Scott. They've taken to a newfound starting and leadership role like Ralph Friedgen to the Twinkie buffet. Grant is a perimeter shooter and a distributor; Scott is a bit larger and chips in on the boards. Reggie Johnson is the biggest guy in the league, listed at over 300 pounds, and not only does he average 12 points a game and does all those things centers do, he shoots free throws like a guard so you can't hack him to death.

After those three, though, Miami runs out of big-time players awfully fast. Frank Haith has shuffled his lineup all season looking for a good starting five combination. Miami relies heavily on Adrian Thomas, the old man of the team in his sixth season after losing the last two to injury. Garrius Adams is sometimes the first option to spell Grant and Scott off the bench, but Haith also likes three-guard lineups and Adams gets his share of starts, too.

Still, it's a major drop-off in talent from the top three, and most of Haith's bench options are freshmen yet. This is a very young team: one senior, three juniors, and a host of underclassmen. And Johnson is very foul-prone, as much so as this blog's favorite lazy-assed whipping boy, Jeff Allen; thus, a weapon that should be tearing up the ACC doesn't see as many minutes as Miami would probably like.

Essentially, Miami will go as far as their big three will take them. The rest of the roster shouldn't scare teams with ACC-caliber talent. But even though they currently sit at the bottom of the conference at 0-2, that should change. This is a team that will contend for a much better finish than their 8th-place prediction, and should be a bubble team come March.