Tuesday, May 31, 2011

seriously the best weekend review ever

That was awesome and nobody can tell me different.  The best way to respond to an ACC championship by the baseball team is to one-up that sucker the next day and win a national title.  I doubted it could happen even up to the day before the Denver game.  You doubted it could happen.  Don't lie, you did.  19 goals to Duke will do that to you.

There's so much to be said about the fifth national title in UVA lacrosse history that it's hard to know which should come first.  How about we start with Dom Starsia, since his is the evaluation I seem to have screwed up the most?  Contrary to the idea that his career is tailing off, Coach Starsia pulled off what might well be his best season of coaching ever.  He changed up his whole philosophy.  This year he couldn't out-athlete the competition like he likes to do, so he shuffled players around, implemented a zone defense, and he and his crew of assistants got together and figured out how to change the offense from a one-man-at-a-time show to a working machine.  This season I've harped on the unsustainability of having more than half your goals be unassisted; Inside Lacrosse points out that in the four tournament games, 74% of UVA's goals had an assist attached to them.  This is more fun to watch by far, more successful, and ultimately the result of a focus by the coaching staff to make a concerted change in the way the offense attacks the net.  You could brush that off and claim it was forced upon them by the removal of the Brattons from the equation, but you and I both know that not every coach is savvy enough to know he needs to radically switch gears and talented enough to make it work.

And on top of it, Starsia, as evidenced by his interviews and the things the mike caught him saying to his team ("now go shake their hands, they deserve it") is as classy an individual as any that we have coaching here.

So there's one kind of leadership for you.  Then you have the players, especially captain Bray Malphrus, that got their teammates together and demanded accountability.  Malphrus is one of the team's captains, along with John Haldy, Adam Ghitelman, and Steele Stanwick.  Would this team be here without the leadership they brought?  I'd venture to say no.  The season would've ended early, probably in the first round, the team would have an unheard of six losses, and the only narrative would be about how the whole thing fell apart after last year's drama.  The laid-back Haldy is the perfect foil for the fiery and hyper-competitive Malphrus, and the combination was precisely the medicine this team needed after last year's troubles and another heartbreaking loss to nemesis Duke.  Malphrus plans to kick terrorist ass in the military after graduation and I'd say he'll do very, very well in the military environs.  Next year's team will have little trouble filling in the gaps on the field left when these seniors depart (and that's meant as a compliment to the rest of the team, not a knock on the seniors) but they'll need to make a very concerted effort to fill the leadership gaps.

If there's one on-field hole to fill next year, it'll be in net.  It seems like Ghitelman's been in there forever, and he took some real lumps early on from disapproving fans.  But he leaves UVA as the NCAA's third-winningest goalie of all time with 50 victories.  In a way I'm especially happy to see Ghitelman get this trophy because it'd be a shame to be that good for four years and come away empty-handed in the trophy department.

Other things I think:

- Steele Stanwick was held almost completely off the scoresheet, but with 20 points in the previous three games, he's made the Tewaaraton voting awfully interesting.  There's a school of thought that says no Final Four = no Tewaaraton for you, and Stanwick was the only candidate on the field in Baltimore.  That he got there by wildly outplaying the previous prohibitive favorite, Cornell's Rob Pannell, makes it even tougher to vote against him.  The trophy will be awarded Thursday.  If Stanwick doesn't win it won't be a travesty of justice, but if he does it won't be a shock any more.

- Crystal ball time: In February you learn that UVA will make it to the championship game in Baltimore.  (That would've saved a lot of gnashing of teeth in April.)  In that game:
  • You'll see zero goals from Rhamel Bratton, Shamel Bratton, Steele Stanwick, or Chris Bocklet, and the only goal scorers at all will be Colin Briggs, Matt White, and Nick O'Reilly,
  • UVA will lose the faceoff battle 12-7,
  • UVA will also lose the groundballs battle and be outshot,
  • Top defender Matt Lovejoy will be out from shoulder surgery,
  • UVA will be shut out in the first quarter
And your prediction?  Yes, I think losing 16-4 sounds about right.  Actually winning instead is a real testament to the defense and the efficiency of the offense.

- I didn't hear any major horror stories from people in the overwhelmingly pro-Terp crowd in Baltimore.  John Tillman seems like a stand-up guy and the Maryland team doesn't seem to act too bad.  Admittedly the Terps probably had at least as good a reason for neutral fans to root for them as we did, maybe better.  And it was cool to have an all-ACC final.  Still, it never hurts to have the occasional reminder that Maryland fans can be the shittiest dickbags this earth has ever seen.

- I'll have a whole separate post on 2012 lax in the not-far-off future.  National championships have a way of brightening the future.


It wasn't too bad a redemption story for the baseball team, either, erasing all memory of that final-week sweep by Carolina by winning the ACC title.  And not the cheap way, either: a 4-0 weekend.  Because of tiebreakers, the Hoos had locked up a spot in the title game against FSU before the Saturday rematch against Carolina, so, as predicted, Danny Hultzen was held back til Sunday and Cody Winiarski pitched against UNC.  And won anyway.

Then UVA picked up a 7-2 victory against FSU in a very decidedly non-UVA fashion: by smacking home runs.  All seven runs came that way.  This caused the FSU Rivals site to go all George Washington on us, mixed in with a little just-a-couple-plays-away Pete Hughes action: their description of the game was, "Three bad pitches."  Seminole starter Hunter Scantling echoed the "two bad pitches" line, except what he actually said was "one bad pitch" instead, which I guess means that when John Barr was hit by a pitch to put him on base ahead of Proscia's jack, that was a good pitch.

Proscia was the tournament MVP, by the way, on account of hitting that home run that would turn out to be a game-winner, and going 7-for-16 on the weekend.  Kenny Swab and Chris Taylor also made the all-tournament team, and Tyler Wilson was left off for reasons I can only assume involve it not being fair that UVA would have so many players on the team.  UNC's Patrick Johnson made it instead, for doing the exact same thing Wilson did (mow down Wake Forest) except without the part where Wilson also burned through Florida State in relief.  In the championship game.  So that makes sense.

So the Hoos get the autobid to the NCAA tournament, I guess, but the #1 seed label means they probably didn't need it.  (Y'know....probably.)  They'll see some familiar faces in the Charlottesville regional: East Carolina, an OOC opponent the last two years; St. John's, which comes to Davenport for regional play for the second year in a row; and Navy, which actually isn't all that familiar but wutever.  You might think that our old buddy Tim Weiser finally did us a solid by giving us the #1 seed, but you'd be wrong: assuming UVA makes it out of its own regional, Weiser handed the Hoos Pac-10 champ UCLA and their rotation of doom (with potential #1 pick Gerrit Cole) as a likely opponent.  THANKS DOOD

The baseball win gives UVA five ACC champeenships for the year, which ties us with Maryland for the season's most with five.  Our five: men's tennis, rowing, baseball, and men's and women's swimming and diving.  This is as good a time as any to brag about Virginia's ACC dominance.  In the years since ACC expansion (so, starting with the 2004-2005 season), here's the rundown of schools and their ACC championships:
  1. Virginia - 37
  2. FSU - 26
  3. Duke - 25
  4. UNC - 21
  5. Maryland - 16
  6. Ga. Tech - 14
  7. Va. Tech - 11
  8. Clemson - 8
  9. NC State - 6
  10. Miami - 5
  11. Wake Forest - 5
  12. Boston College - 1
UVA's 37 championships (in 7 years) break down like so:
  • 6 each: Men's swimming & diving; men's tennis; rowing
  • 4: Women's swimming & diving
  • 3 each: Men's cross country; women's lacrosse
  • 2 each: Baseball; men's lacrosse; men's soccer
  • 1 each: Men's outdoor track & field; women's soccer; wrestling
Other accomplishments in this distinguished field:

- In each of the last seven years, only one of them saw another ACC school pick up more championships than Virginia.
- That year was 2006-2007, when UVA had three.  That's the lowest total in any of the seven seasons, but every other school has had at least one year of just two or fewer.
- UVA has otherwise picked up at least five in each season.
- UVA's six ACC championships in 2008-2009 and 2007-2008 would be the highest single-season total for any school in the expansion age - nobody else has ever had more than five - but....
- UVA broke that record in 2009-2010 with seven ACC titles.


Busy week coming up, what with overdue recruiting board updates, and I also can't wait for the customary introduction to our latest basketball recruit, Justin Anderson.  Justin Anderson is the five-star we stole from Maryland, and I'll probably never get tired of using that phrase and may eventually just abbreviate it TFSWSFM because that is just so damn catchy.

But it's even more important that you know this: June 8 is the official Blog Birthday, marking three years of service to the Wahoo community.  That's a week from tomorrow.  Around these parts we celebrate birthdays by giving out presents, not receiving them, and that means the 3rd annual Cavalier of the Year Award.  In the near future, I'll unveil the 12 nominees that I think are most deserving of recognition as the top Virginia athlete of the year.  Over the course of a couple weeks, I'll profile each and tell you why they're on the list, and then you the fans will have the privilege of voting on the winner.  There's no awards ceremony, trophy presentation, or scholarship donation in the name of the winner (yet - the 20th annual award will be a black-tie affair, you just wait and see.)  For now, just a goofy Photoshop.  But the voting is fun.

Monday, May 30, 2011





Thursday, May 26, 2011

game preview: Denver

Date/Time: Saturday, May 28; 4:00


History against the Pioneers: 4-1

Last matchup: UVA 13, DU 7; 2/20/06; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 13, Cornell 9 (5/21); DU 14, JHU 9 (5/21)

Opposing blogs: LetsGoDU

Here we are: where before the season we arrogantly believed we'd have no trouble getting to; where midseason we despondently thought we had no chance of getting to; where after the season we hopefully spoke of getting to.  The Final Four.  This senior class has never missed out on it, but they've also never done anything better than one-and-done, losing three times in the semifinals.

The Denver Pioneers, on the other hand, two weeks ago won the first tournament game in their school's history.  When our seniors were sophomores, Bill Tierney was at Princeton and Denver was 1-4 in the now-defunct GWLL in a season that included a loss to Quinnipiac.  That upstartiness makes them the sentimental favorite around the lax world, and I can hardly blame folks since if it was anyone else in our position, I'd probably be pulling for Denver too.  But it's not, so screw that.

The first thing to know about Denver: a highly efficient offensive machine.  If anyone had any questions about their strength of schedule in the past, scoring 14 goals on Johns Hopkins ought to put those to rest; that was a season high on the Hop by three.  Denver comes in second in the country, behind only Duke, in the KenPomish offensive ratings I put together.

And UVA is fourth.  Both defenses are a couple notches below elite status, so this could be the game of the weekend.  Goalies beware.

There really isn't much of a weakness in Denver's game, to tell the truth.  At 57% on the year, they'll probably kill us on faceoffs.  Solid goalie.  Their goal-scorers are well-rounded guys.  Nobody is strictly a finisher or strictly a playmaker.  Top attackman Mark Matthews has 45 goals and 24 assists.  And Denver does a very good job putting shots on net.  And to top it off, goalie Jamie Faus has a .570 save percentage, right up there with the top goalies in the country.

So on paper, this is a really, really tight matchup.  The old Virginia, circa March, looked nothing like this Denver team; the new one is a credible match, except without all the faceoff success.  The obvious intangible is that none of these Denver players have made it to such a big stage before, while UVA hardly knows anything but.  I'd like to think that'll make a real difference, but I doubt it.  Bill Tierney, he's been around the block a few times, and he'll know how to keep his players from going on emotional tilt.  As always under the bright lights, winning this one will take pulling the right coaching strings at the right time, and somebody turning into the hero.  Denver's not here on a fluke or a hot streak at the right time.  I can't even convince myself 100% that we wouldn't rather have Hopkins.  Despite the non-East-Coastiness, non-old-schoolery of the opponent, it has an old-fashioned, may-the-best-team-win slugfest feel to it.  May the best team be Virginia.


Unless you just woke up - entirely possible and understandable if you're still in school - you know already that UVA hoops offiically picked up five-star forward Justin Anderson today.  Unless you lived under a rock in a swamp - entirely possible and understandable if you're in school in Maryland - you know that this was mainly just a formality that was simmering for a little while now, ever since Anderson's visit to UVA last week.  The best part is getting a ridiculously athletic five-star guy for the future; the second best part is listening to the denial, backtracking, and sour-grapesing from Marylanders who forgot we beat them smacked the shit out of them in their building last year** and promising to be bigger dicks than usual.

At any rate, I'd have something much bigger on Anderson for you tomorrow, but it's vacation and I'mma be busy.  Timing is just a little off.  Next week.

**yes, it went both ways but to listen to Marylanders you'd think they made the tournament (they didn't), swept UVA (they didn't), have "owned" UVA recently (they haven't), and that their program isn't a foundering wreck that has to start almost completely over on the recruiting trail (it is.)  Mark Turgeon is a solid coach who'll fix 'em back up in time, but til then the Terps will spend the summer in denial until the ugly proof shows up before their eyes starting in November.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

acc tournament semi-preview

UVA baseball didn't exactly roll into the ACC tournament on a wave of momentum.  They do happen to be the #1 seed, and if you like that, thank (ick) the Hokies for taking one of three from Georgia Tech.  UVA did itself no favors in a horrendously weak hitting exposition against the Heels last weekend, getting themselves....swept.  Never thought I'd say that as long as Danny Hultzen was still on the team.

Not the end of the world, though.  The pitching is still as good as it ever was.  Carolina didn't get much hitting in, either, a five-run inning against Cody Winiarski and Kyle Crockett last Thursday being the scariest thing that happened all weekend.  As long as you have pitching, you're in every game.  So the ACC tournament pods shook out like so:

1. Virginia
4. North Carolina
5. Miami
8. Wake Forest

2. Florida State
3. Georgia Tech
6. Clemson
7. NC State

Now for the good news: the Hoos got the tourney off on the right foot.  Simply winning would've been cool and all, but the ACC tourney has a mercy rule (there's other games going on, chop chop, get a move on) and the Hoos took advantage.  Wake Forest, whom UVA hasn't seen on the diamond for a couple years, got smacked to the tune of 13-1 in just seven innings.  And really, six for the bats, because UVA was the home team.  So the bats are back.  Tyler Wilson got the start and pitched a gem, naturally.  Struck out 12 in 6.1 innings.  Nasty as ever.

The other result of the day - you'll like this, too, promise - was Clemson blanking Georgia Tech, 9-0.  Losing the first game of the tourney means you need to win your next two games and hope the team that just beat you wins neither of theirs.  So GT has a major uphill climb to win their side of the pool.

Friday, UVA plays Miami, and throws Will Roberts against right-hander Eric Whaley.  Last time against the Canes, Roberts gave up three hits to Miami in seven innings, allowed two runs, one earned, and struck out five.  Whaley was just as strong, with four hits, two runs, none earned, and five strikeouts in six innings on Saturday.  That was right after the exam break so hopefully that's why the bats were like that.  They always are.  This is the game that makes me most nervous; Roberts is a solid pitcher but obviously he's more hittable than the guy that might just be the #1 overall pick in the draft.

The final game of pool play in the tournament is the UNC game on Saturday at 7 PM; RoboDanny pitches against UNC's Kent Emanuel.  This was the same matchup as last Friday.  Emanuel is a lefty, same as Danny, and he held UVA to one lousy run in six innings.  Again, hopefully lingering exam break cobwebs.

The championship game, which hopefully UVA will be in, will be Sunday.  If we get that far, expect Cody Winiarski to start.  Unless a situation arises in which a CG appearance is clinched before Saturday's game, which can happen if UVA beats Miami and UNC loses both their first games, then you'll probably see Cody go on Saturday and Danny held back for the championship.

I'd be remiss, too, if I failed to mention all the Hoos on the all-ACC squads: John Hicks, Steven Proscia, David Coleman, Danny Hultzen, and Branden Kline on the first team and John Barr and Tyler Wilson on the second.  CyberDanny is the pitcher of the year, obviously, and Brian O'Connor is the COY, both for the second year in a row.

Programming note: Tomorrow I preview for you the lacrosse game against Denver, and then I'm off until either Monday or Tuesday.  Happy start of summer, and try not to get schwacked by a tornado.  They seem to be all over.  No tornadoes here, but the manhole on my street outside got blown out of its socket somehow by all the water raging through the sewer system and took a huge chunk of the street with it.  Never seen that before.

Monday, May 23, 2011

what's old is new again

Naturally, as soon as Saturday's game against Cornell started, and UVA gained possession, Cornell did exactly what you'd expect from a team that knew its opponent was going to try and slow the game down.  They extended their midfield defense all the way out to Siberia and put someone right in the face of not only the ballcarrier, but his passing options too.  As it started to work and UVA got very few good looks at any possible way to get the ball moving somewhere, and Cornell started building an early 4-1 lead, I reflected on UVA games past and a time when teams wouldn't dare do that because UVA's athletes would make them pay for leaving all that open space.  The old Virginia would've crushed anyone who thought they could have a short-stick defender playing its midfielders at a distance of three inches.  Remember, the last time UVA and Cornell met on the playoffs field, Cornell did the exact opposite: they packed it way in, let our attackers pass and run all over the field, but dared them to shoot through the red forest in front of the net.  It worked spectacularly, too.

Turns out that being down 4-1 is having 'em right where we want 'em.  It also turns out that the old Virginia is the new Virginia.  When simply running past overeager defenders isn't an option, there are other ways to take them out of the play.  Passing works for these purposes.  UVA has discovered the art of the pass again, and on Saturday, ballcarriers found all kinds of passing targets.  Some got open the traditional way, which is to run to an undefended spot (a skill that looked forgotten for most of this season), and some got open thanks to an impressive array of screens and offensive sets.

In carving up the normally solid Cornell defense, the UVA offense redeemed two seasons: this year's, and next.  Losing to end the season never fails to be disappointing, but getting back to the Final Four is what this season will be thankfully remembered for, not what happened in the ACC tournament.  And as for next season, simply remember that the attack squad that did that (to Cornell) was comprised almost entirely of non-seniors.  The only player on that starting attack or first-line midfield that won't be here next year is John Haldy, a decent player who is nevertheless replaceable.  And in that stunning nine-goal run,** seven different players scored - all of whom will be back next year.

**Seriously: nine goals in a row!  I just wanted to type it again to see if it was any more believable.  It's not.  Nine goals!  Seven in one quarter!  I'm not interested in looking at every line score from every game of the season, but I will bet that the second quarter was the best-played quarter by any team, anywhere in the country, all year.  Seven to nothing in one quarter didn't even happen for us against VMI or MSM.  To make it happen against Cornell is mind-blowing.

So, back to the Final Four, where the Hoos will take on Denver in Denver's first Final Four appearance ever, and because of that they'll be everyone's least favorite team in Baltimore.  The lacrosse world is pulling for the Pioneers.  This is great news.  I told you to beware the power of a team with UVA's talent and an underdog mentality.  That can be a buzzsaw.  It was on Saturday.


Other ramblings:

- Now, how about Bray Malphrus?  Adam Ghitelman played a terrific game, Steele Stanwick had seven points to go with his eight against Bucknell, but the MVP of the game is Malphrus.  I will brook no argument.  In man-to-man situations, Malphrus was matched up against Tewaaraton finalist and previously-thought-to-be runaway winner Rob Pannell.  Pannell had three goals in the game: the first was had nothing to do with the defense, and the second didn't come until two minutes remained in the third period with Cornell already a mile down.  His goals had little effect on the game except to pull Cornell to a four-goal deficit instead of five.  It's not a stretch to say Bray Malphrus and the zone defense may have taken the Tewaaraton away from Pannell.  They certainly ended Cornell's season.

- It's a down year in the ACC and yet the Final Four looks like the ACC tournament redux.  Maryland and Duke are on the other side of the bracket.  No fair trying to call out all the analysts who bagged on the ACC for a down year, because it was.  The losses that ACC teams suffered, like Colgate, Ohio State, and Penn, they happen, but they shouldn't happen all in one year.  So it was a down regular season.  But it's not a down year any more.  And while I have, let's put it very mildly, an extremely strong distaste for Maryland and Duke lax, I can't help but giggle at pissed off Syracuse fans who aren't enjoying the ACC success.  The Big East may be a threat one day to ACC lacrosse dominance, but with both the Domers and Cuse falling to ACC squads, that time hasn't come yet.

- Almost all the seeds advanced in the first round, and then the quarterfinals were upset city.  Which probably goes to show that the quarterfinals weren't really all that big of an upset-fest after all.  There's a distinct difference between the best teams and the not-best teams, but not much of one among the top tier.

- UVA plays on Saturday at 4:00.  The championship game, if for some reason we might be interested in that, is Monday at 3:30.

- Despite the mega-jinxitude of this: Bring on Denver.  I can't wait.


A small announcement and slight confession: I'll be out of town over the Memorial Day weekend so actually, I won't get to see the Denver game, or preview the championship game if there is one for us.  That's just as well because all it would say is: we lost to these guys before so let's fuck 'em up this time for revenge.  I'll post as normal on Thursday, then Friday through Sunday will be off days.  Monday, if I'm in the mood, I'll write something.  If there's something fun to write about, you know what I mean?

Friday, May 20, 2011

game preview: Cornell

Date/Time: Saturday, May 21, 12:00


History against the Big Red: 7-3

Last matchup: UVA 11, Cornell 9; 3/12/11; Baltimore, MD

Last game: UVA 13, Bucknell 12 (5/15); Cornell 12, Hartford 5 (5/14)

Last time these two teams matched up, about two months ago, here's what I wrote about Cornell:
If anything, they're a little down this year with a loss to Army and uninspiring wins over Hobart and Canisius and a decent one over terrible Binghamton. ... Cornell's goalie, A.J. Fiore, is in his second year of starting in net and hasn't started off well. And their starting defense is ever so young - all sophomores, two of them also in their second year of starting and one in his first. UVA's wily veterans on offense should be able to find plenty of ways to put the ball in the net. As long as Pannell is shut down - more than doable, as our defense has been relatively stout - this game should be a good national-TV bounceback from last week.
At the time it was perfectly true, but it sure looks silly now.  UVA did indeed win the game - it wasn't easy, but we got the win.  That's the last time this season Cornell has landed in the loss column, a schedule that includes the Ivy League regular season and tournament, and a win over Syracuse to boot.

It's probably a good thing they did that, since UVA's fortunes went south real quickly not long after this game.  Beating the eventual #2 seed in the tournament helped assure a home-field game.  But about the only true word about Cornell in that paragraph is the unflattering assessment of goalie A.J. Fiore, whose .516 save percentage is a tad pedestrian.  (Never fear.  We'll improve that by taking shots three feet from the net, which, as with our basketball team, we never seem to score on.)  It doesn't matter, though, because Cornell's defense is outstanding; opponents only score on 25% of their cleared possessions, good for third in the country, and they're 10th in the nation in caused turnovers per game.

In light of the continued absence of the Brattons and the terrible UVA defense, Dom Starsia is adopting the underdog strategy this week and working on slowing the game down.  You've seen them doing so in the past, too; several times against Bucknell the announcers clearly expected UVA to take a quick shot at the goal in transition and were surprised when they didn't, and set up in a half-field offense instead.  This is a good thing; I also spent most of that game exhorting them from afar to do just that and I'll probably do so again on Saturday.

Obviously, Cornell is the Rob Pannell show; with 86 points he's the runaway favorite for lacrosse's Heisman, the Tewaaraton Trophy.  In the past UVA would've handed Pannell off to Ken Clausen or whoever was the top defender on the team and told him to be on Pannell like his shadow and that would've happened all game long.  If we do that this game it'll be a complete disaster, so that strategy's out.  Pannell is their Steele Stanwick - he can run the show from anywhere, and he'll score if you let him and if you don't let him he'll pass to someone who will.  His version of Chris Bocklet - the finisher - is Steve Mock, who's got 36 goals and three assists.  I'm glad I'm not the guy who has to figure out the defense; it'll probably be a roughly 50/50 split of man and zone again.

I hope when the coaches say they'll be slowing the game down, they mean really slowing it down, because I think that's what it'll take.  Yes, that's an acknowledgement of majorly underdog status.  I wouldn't be as worried, but the defense, you know.  When the offense has the ball they need to be extra-patient.  They'll probably earn a stall warning or three if they're doing it right.  The key to scoring will be a lot of tossing the ball around and waiting for an opportunity to throw a lightning bolt of the kind that Stanwick and Bocklet hooked up for several times against Bucknell.  The other thing they'll need to do is dominate on faceoffs.  I know that's not something you normally associate with UVA lax, but it's possible.  Cornell's top faceoff guy is sub-50% on the season, and our three face-er off-er FOGO types have shown the propensity to beat subpar opponents.  Success has come in streaks, but the coaches need to ride the hot hand, whoever that is, and it might just result in more possessions instead of make-it take-it lacrosse for Cornell.

I won't bore you with What's At Stake, since it's pretty clear, but I'd have to say this: it feels a little fortunate, the way this season has gone (not to mention how the Bucknell game went) to be sitting one win from another Final Four trip.  Let's hope for a little luck and a little lightning in a bottle tomorrow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

series preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Thu.-Sat., May 19-21; 7:00, 7:00, 2:00

TV: None unless you want to shell out for the UNC video production

History against the Heels: 92-167-4

Last matchup: UVA series win, 3-0 (3-2, 5-1, 5-3), Charlottesville; 5/15-5/16, 2010

Last game: UVA 5, Miami 4 (5/15); UNC 7, App. St. 2 (5/17)

Last weekend: UVA 2-1 series win over Miami (2-6, 3-2, 5-4); UNC 1-2 series loss to GT (3-2, 8-9, 0-3)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #1; UNC #17
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #1; UNC #16
NCBWA: UVA #1; UNC #14
Perfect Game: UVA #1; UNC #15
Coaches: UVA #1; UNC #13
Composite: UVA #1; UNC #14

RPI: UVA #2; UNC #3

Opposing blogs: It's Carolina, so baseball is something that other teams play during the basketball offseason.  Seriously.

UVA's established itself (at a pretty good time to do so) as the king of the rankings; for the first time this season the Hoos are #1 in all five polls.  Such is the power of Virginia baseball that Miami actually moved up in some polls as a reward for not getting swept last weekend.

This week, another test for UVA: a road trip to Chapel Hill.  UNC is similar to Miami in the sense of having a good pitching staff and only fair hitting.  Better pitching, in fact, but slightly worse hitting, and very solid fielding.  The result is a team that's surprisingly (to me) third in the RPI.  Maybe it's that series sweep over 37-10 Stony Brook.

UNC's staff is one you'd feel very confident going into a weekend series with; the rotation is strong and the bullpen is stronger.  Their pitching staff is second in the nation in strikeouts (guess who's first?? yup, very interesting matchup this weekend) and the leader there is Patrick Johnson, who'll pitch tonight against Cody Winiarski.  Johnson does it with command and control; he's not overpowering, which could be a plus for UVA and their patient ways at the plate.  Bottom line for UVA batters, though, is that they're facing a pitching staff very much like their own: going for strikeouts and not working the corners hoping for a generous umpire.

Carolina's got a few dangerous hitters - they're no murderer's row but there are a couple guys worth watching out for - but the real star of the team has been a freshman: third baseman Colin Moran, who's hitting .349 with nine home runs.  Yes, that's a big number in the brave new world of bats that go clank instead of ping.  He and shortstop Levi Michael lead the team in RBIs, and Moran has 63 to Michael's 45 so it's not real close.

I think the Heels' #3 RPI overrates them quite a bit.  How has UNC fared in the ACC this season?  A little bit underwhelmingly.  They're 9-0 against the real dregs (Duke, VT, and Maryland) but inexplicably lost their series with Wake Forest and even more inexplicably got swept by NC State.

The pitching rotation is a little bit different this weekend.  UNC hasn't changed anything, but it's Brian O'Connor's custom to shake things up and realign his rotation for the postseason; accordingly, Tyler Wilson is off this weekend with Winiarski starting tonight, Danny tomorrow, and Will Roberts on Saturday.  All it takes is one win this weekend or one GT loss and the #1 seed in the ACC tourney is ours; BOC is anticipating needing pitchers Wednesday (probably Winiarski), Thursday (Wilson), Saturday (Danny himself), and then hopefully Sunday (Roberts or Johnny Wholestaff.)  That's my guess at the rotation next weekend.  That Thursday game, assuming we're the 1 seed, will be against the 5 seed: probably UNC.  See the logic of keeping Wilson back this weekend?

Honestly, this weekend UVA has nothing to prove.  A series win would be a reaffirmation of awesomeness - series wins at GT and UNC and a sweep at Clemson, that'd be a record to be reckoned with - but barring the Rapture or some kind of catastrophe in the next couple weeks, UVA will be hosting a regional and getting first dibs on a super-regional, too.  That won't change if we have the misfortune of going 1-2.

Rest of the ACC:

NC State at Boston College
Wake Forest at Maryland: BC and Maryland are toast; the two road teams here will be vying for placement in the 2-3-6-7 pool in the ACC tourney.  NC State won the series against Wake, and so has the tiebreaker - both are 12-15.
Clemson at Florida State: A single win will give FSU the Atlantic Division and the #2 seed.  Clemson can win it if they sweep.
Duke at Miami: Good chance for Miami to get some separation from UNC in the standings, but it matters little since it'll probably be for the 4th seed over the 5th.
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech: GT must sweep and hope for a UNC sweep in order to win the division.  Otherwise they'll almost definitely be the 3rd seed, having already beaten Miami and UNC in their series.

Probable ACC finish:

1. Virginia
2. Florida State
3. Georgia Tech
4. Miami
5. North Carolina
6. Clemson
7. NC State
8. Wake Forest

Remember, the teams are sorted into 1-4-5-8 and 2-3-6-7 pools, so whatever happens this weekend, expect to have to do it again the next.  That's why BOC isn't letting UNC get a look at Tyler Wilson.


Bonus: Good news is afoot on the basketball recruiting trail.

- First, as predicted, Mike Tobey is starting to see a serious upward kick in his rankings.  Rivals gave him a fourth star and lists him now as the #100 prospect in the country, giving UVA two of the top 100 for 2012 along with Evan Nolte.  24/7 also puts him in their own top 100.  Time to be legitimately excited for a true center with major talents.  If Tobey pans out that way he could be the first real scoring center since, I dunno, Ralph?

- And two of the top 100 might be just the beginning; last night, rumors went 'splodey all over the tubes about Justin Anderson - a five-star to Rivals, top-25 player to just about everyone, and holding "god given off the charts athletic ability" according to ESPN.  By any measure, precisely the kind of player you always have room for on your roster.  Anderson is a Boo Williams player from Virginia and technically a Maryland commit at the moment; the coaching change and apparent loss of his lead recruiter there are causing him to have second thoughts.  The rumor mill is in full swing in the way that the rumor mill does, with affirmations and denials of everything and I'm not gonna even get into all that because I don't really do that.  Here's the bottom-line point: keep your eyes open for the next couple days because the possibility exists that the 2012 hoops class, which is already starting to look mighty awesome, could look twice as awesome by the end of the weekend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

recruiting board update

Time again to drop an update, and I'd better get to it so we can get Kwontie Moore up where he belongs.  Moore is the first true prize of the class, one of the top five and maybe top three recruits in the state.  Locking up Moore is a terrific first step to another top-20 class for Mike London.  Getting commitments from Eli Harold, Anthony Cooper, and Michael Moore would just about write that in pen, if not stone.

The board and the map:

- Moved LB Kwontie Moore from blue to orange. First time I've moved someone up there vice adding them in - that's a good thing, we should do more of that. Moore makes two Norfolk Christian players to UVA.  One is off to VT - more in a sec - so that leaves Courtnye Wynn as the only uncommitted NCS player.  Wynn is probably a future Hoo as well.

- Removed WR Mario Nixon from green.  Nixon is the VT kid.  My guess: Nixon more or less always preferred VT but sort of wanted to play with his NCS friends too.  So when two of them committed to UVA and Nixon realized he still wanted to go to VT regardless, he made it official.

- Removed TE Joshua Parris and LB Noor Davis from yellow.  Parris committed to USF, Davis to Stanford, which damn are they getting a big defensive class or what.  We may take a TE in this class but the coaches don't seem to be recruiting them very hard, so we very well might not.  I said we'd take one in the early look, but that was before Jeremiah Mathis was announced as a full-timer there, so there's less need.  And there are other conversion candidates, too, should the need arise.  As for Davis, he's a helluva talent and would've been a really great addition but the competition was fierce and linebacker is no longer a pressing need.

- Moved ATH Joel Caleb from yellow to red.  This is basically a feel like last year's #1 recruit in Virginia, only in reverse: he seems destined to go out of state, but if he doesn't it'll be Tech.

- Moved OL Greg Pyke and LB Ken Ekanem from red to yellow.

- Added DT Pat Gamble to yellow.  Kind of against my better judgment because he's been GT, GT, GT all the way but whateva.


I got so excited about the UVA-Michigan tilt in the ACC/BT Challenge that I forgot about all the rest of the stuff I meant to yak about.

- Still no Rhamel Bratton this weekend.  OK, that sucks, we really need his athleticism against Cornell.  More annoying is that Dom Starsia would make this announcement on Tuesday.  Cornell just went THANKS DOOD!  Why can't Starsia be like every coach everywhere and keep his status a state secret until five minutes before faceoff?  Cornell's game-planning just got that much easier.

- VT hoops took a little bit of a hit with swingman Manny Atkins's announcement that he'll be transferring.  On the one hand, he's transferring for what a lot of people would consider the wrong reasons, though he's at least honest about it where some guys would just say "I'm looking for a better fit."  On the other hand, what it comes down to is that you can probably consider Atkins a casualty of Seth Greenberg's absurdly short rotation.  Atkins was one of those guys who was at the back end of the (extremely minimal) rotation who would come in if one of the starters had to be pulled off on a stretcher or when Jeff Allen got into foul trouble.  If Allen didn't have a propensity to swipe at opponents' elbows as they blew past him, Atkins's minutes would've been halved.  If he played on any other team they'd have been almost double.

Atkins had the team's best O-rating of anyone, even including Malcolm Delaney, so even though he may or may not have ended up in the starting lineup, VT probably will not learn what they're missing until he resurfaces the way Derrick Byars did at Vanderbilt.  That O-rating gave him a better PORPAG than some starters on other teams - Wake's C.J. Harris, for example - despite Atkins playing just 32% of VT's minutes.  Losing him gives VT a depth hit and forces them to rely more on their incoming freshmen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

weekend review, a tad late

I guess the downside of pushing this back a day is that I blew my lacrosse wad yesterday, so there's none of that today.  But there's baseball, oh yes.  Specifically another series win, this one over the top-20 Miami Hurricanes.

UVA won on Saturday and Sunday to take the weekend, and needed every single one of its runs in the process.  What looked like semi-comfortable three-run leads in the 9th inning turned into roller-coaster rides.  It wasn't even all Branden Kline's fault, despite how close he came to blowing two saves in a row.  The fielding wasn't all there, either (and neither was it all there in the disastrous first inning on Friday that provided Miami's win margin.)  The hitting all weekend was best described as "clutch," which is sometimes a synonym for "you didn't hit shit all day until it really started mattering."  Miami's pitching staff is better than halfway decent, of course, so there's that.  Sometimes it doesn't have to be awesome, just good enough.

Really, the best part is the disgustingly good games from pitchers not named Danny Hultzen.  (Danny had a pretty damn good game for six innings, too, but the problem was that he pitched seven.)  Tyler Wilson especially was nasty: 7 2/3 innings, one hit, one walk, eleven strikeouts.  Even though Miami's lineup isn't the ACC's best, it's still an ACC lineup and that was one helluva day.  Nathan Melendres, normally one of Miami's best hitters, started the weekend off with six straight Ks: a golden sombrero on Friday and two more on Saturday.

Meanwhile, E.J. Encinosa surely must be ruing his occasional confusion of batter and strike zone; all five of UVA's Sunday runs were scored with two outs after Encinosa had retired the first two batters in succession and then hit the third.  (UVA's hitters, besides knowing how to bunt and advance runners, also are very good at getting hit by pitches.  Yes, that's a talent.  They make only the most cursory effort to get out of the way and that often involves ducking their shoulders out of the way when the ball is headed for their foot, or other such tricks.  Get on base, man.  It don't matter how.)

So here we are with one series left in the season: a trip to Chapel Hill.  The standings look very nice.  Only one team can catch UVA for the #1 tournament seed: Georgia Tech, and the magic number is one, meaning all it takes for us to clinch is one win or one GT loss.  On account of the rules being insane, if for some reason we get swept AND GT sweeps VT, we drop to #3.


- Tomorrow is the update to the recruiting board, which is gonna be cool since just this past week we got our first blue-chip recruit in Kwontie Moore.  With Moore and Mark Hall on board, it gives the staff the luxury of being very choosy about their next LB commit, as both are quality prospects.  I estimated three LBs in 2012 and there might be room for four, but linebacker is now well-taken care of.  And Moore looks to be a great recruiter for the rest of our 757 targets the way Clifton Richardson was last year.

- The men's tennis team got through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament without much difficulty, dispatching Sacred Heart and Wake Forest at the Snyder Tennis Center.  The next rounds are Thursday, Saturday, Monday, and the championship Tuesday, and despite the awesomeness of the baseball team this is actually UVA's best shot at a national title this year.

- The ACC/Big Ten matchups are out.  Yay!  And UVA hosts Michigan.  Double yay!  As it stands now that's actually probably a loss for UVA, but a great matchup nonetheless, and I'm all sorts of happy to finally see a matchup between my two teams.  Even happier that it's not, like, a tournament or something where one team has to end its season.  One big downside: For the next six months I get to try and correct all the Michigan Sux misconceptions on UVA boards and UVA Sux misconceptions on Michigan boards.  It's already started.

Monday, May 16, 2011

zaprudering: the refs got it right

So I was thinking a little about the empty-net length-of-field heave that Bucknell took that awarded the ball back to UVA with more than enough time to make up a deficit of two goals.  It's a tad controversial to be sure.  But after Zaprudering the highlight reel that vasports.com has, I want to ease your minds: UVA was not the beneficiary of a bad referee call.  It was 100% right.

I said earlier that there was one Bucknell player down at that end and he was so far away from the net that if he was the closest guy to the ball, then it had to be a pass.  That was sort of right.  Let me 'splain.

In picture #1 here above, we see the Bucknellian about to take the shot, circled in red.  This was an even unwiser decision than I remember it.  No pressure, plenty of open players to pass to, and lots of time needing to be eaten up.  This situation probably would've resulted in an empty-net goal anyway, plus 15 more seconds off the clock, if he hadn't done that.  The important thing is where he is on the field: very much on the stadium side of it, barely inside the box if he were on the other side of the restraining line. And he's aiming at the net.

It's hard to see - like a distant star through a telescope - but it's there inside the red circle: the ball.  If you can't see it, you'll have to trust me, but it's there.  Click the picture and you can see it better.  The TV angle is like trying to tell if a pitched ball is over the plate from the dugout, but if it didn't go directly over the net it was definitely in the vicinity.

Because of the angle of the shot and the fact we've established that the ball went over the net or nearly so, it likely went of bounds roughly through the red oval, which I put just on the far side of the net.  It's a little hard to tell if you don't click on the image to blow it up, but of the four players near the end line, the two on the outside are wearing Bucknell orange and the two on the inside are UVA's white-clad defenders.

Pay no attention to the white spot between the red circle and the UVA defender below and to the right of it, because that is his stick.  I think, but I don't know for sure, that those are Prevas and McWilliams, and for the sake of simplicity let's assume I'm right.

The conclusions:
  1. This was clearly a shot, not a pass.
  2. The closest guy to where the ball likely went out of bounds is McWilliams, or the player that I think is McWilliams.  Assuming it did in fact go through the red circle, that's utterly indisputable.
  3. The Bucknell players are positioned so that if anyone wants to dispute where the ball went out and suggest they were closer, then the referees couldn't possibly rule that a shot.
There you have it.  If for some reason you tossed and turned last night worrying about winning the game with some undeserved help, you can sleep easier tonight.

comeback to the future

Good enough to bump normal weekend review programming to tomorrow.  That's how good the lax game against Bucknell was yesterday.

There've been bigger comebacks in the history of sport, sure enough, and it's not going to qualify as one of history's favorite games when a superpower in a down year scrapes out a win against a small-fry, high-school-sized school having its best year ever in lacrosse.  Admittedly I even felt a little bad about it, since you know Bucknell fans will remember that one a lot longer than we will.  But not bad, like, "I wish we hadn't done that," bad like, "I wish we had done that to Maryland."

Still, it qualifies as one of my favorite games.  Whenever you reach the point where you are convinced you're going to lose, and you don't lose, that's "epic comeback" level.  It's a fuzzier feeling about the game than it would've been had UVA blown a big lead and then rescued the win in OT.  It shouldn't be, but it is.  Being down 10-6 is a pretty bleak situation, but that's what you have superstars for, and Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet got busy, put the offense on their shoulders, and got to work.  When they were done working UVA had only its second lead of the game, and if you're going to lead just twice in a game, overtime is a fairly good choice for one of those.

So UVA survives a dangerous first-round matchup that many said they couldn't and looked like they wouldn't, and now gets to jump on board the "nobody believes in us" motivation train.  It's a hackneyed motivator that college kids are real suckers for, often to the point of obnoxiousness, but dammit it works.  Cornell is the next opponent as we run the gauntlet of the 'nells to try and get to the championship, and the fortunes of both our teams have been awfully divergent since last we met.  (Thank God Cornell turned out to be any good because without them rising to near the top of the heap, maybe we don't host that first-round game.)  Cornell will be righteously motivated by losing to UVA in March, and they have the best player in the country, but the combination of our talent with an underdog us-vs.-the-world attitude could be a deadly combo.  Other than Maryland we're the lowest remaining seed in the field (upset bids went nowhere all weekend), but if I were Cornell, there're several higher-seeded teams I'd rather be staring at this weekend.


- That said, there's a laundry list of things that need to get better next weekend.  Things that aren't game-killers against Bucknell but will get you destroyed against Cornell and other top-level teams.  Defensive pressure was lame most of the day, even at distances 12 yards and shorter.  Short-stick defense was especially poor.

- Speaking of short-stick defense, any questions as to whether reinstating Rhamel Bratton might have a negative effect on chemistry ought to disappear now.  They were legit after the Penn game; now it's clear that even if "chemistry" takes a hit with him out there (and I suspect it will not) it doesn't outweigh the necessity of having him on defense.  There was only one SSDM I was happy with yesterday (more on that in a bit) and having Rhamel's athleticism and defensive smarts will probably be critical against Cornell.  If Rhamel's gotten his stuff together and is ready for reinstatement then I want to see him at SSDM for most of the game, and put in on offense sometimes to mix up the looks we throw at Cornell.  And please don't announce it until 11:59 AM on Saturday.

- The aforementioned good-playin' SSDM is Blake Riley, who's been doing a great job of making his presence felt in the past few games.  It was Riley's aggressiveness that led to the Bucknell turnover in OT: taking advantage of his man slipping to the turf, checking him, and scooping the resulting ground ball.  Riley also led the team in GBs for the game.  The rest of the short-stick defense was unwatchable.

- No, seriously: Steele friggin' Stanwick.  I hope he's not actually healthy yet because eight points is ridiculous and eight points on a bad wheel is unbelievable.  Matt White scored the game-winner because Bucknell's defenders were deathly afraid of Stanwick having the ball, and his feeds to Bocklet were precise and too pretty for the naked eye.  They required replay to appreciate.

- Much is being made of the referee's decision to award UVA the ball after a Bucknell player heaved it in the direction of the empty net on their late clearing attempt when UVA deployed the 10-man ride and sent Adam Ghitelman out of the net.  Was it a pass?  A shot?  A Bucknell player was closer to the end line but was he actually closer to the ball?  Watching it live I assumed it was a shot and that the referee's angle led him to wrongly believe UVA was closer to it as it went out.  I reflected for all of half a second on the injustices of refereeing and another half-second on those times we get scrooged instead.  And then I stopped worrying about it.  Upon replay it's actually really hard to tell who's closer to the ball, but the Bucknell guy was positioned such that if he was closer, than the ball was so far away from the net that it couldn't plausibly have been a shot in the first place.  It sort of demonstrates an inherent problem with the rule about shots going out of bounds, but on final reflection I decided it was a 51-49 kind of call that the referee got right but couldn't have been greatly faulted for getting wrong.  And the larger issue, if I were a Bucknell fan, is that it shouldn't have been in the ref's hands at all because putting the ball in the air like that was a really bad idea.

- In fact, it's really hard not to acknowledge the role that Bucknell's awful, awful decision-making played in this comeback.  Much like UVA against UNC, they should've been sitting on their lead and not shooting with two and three minutes to play.  It came back to bite them.  And most of their shots were at defended nets.

- Even so, the very gambly style - 10-man ride, double teams with two and a half, three minutes to go - was a lot of fun to watch.  Largely because it worked, but hey.

- Bring on Cornell.

- That last bullet will probably bring on the jinx instead, but whatever.

Friday, May 13, 2011

game preview: Bucknell

Date/Time: Sunday, May 15; 3:00


History against the Bison: 2-0

Last matchup: UVA 27, Bucknell 5; 4/25/98; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 11, Penn 2 (4/30); Bucknell 10, Colgate 3 (5/1)

Finally the second season.  Tournament time is a fresh start, though it's certainly nice to be entering the tourney coming off of a big feelgood victory instead of a loss or an ugly win.  Despite that, the Hoos are a popular upset pick.  It hasn't been the greatest of seasons and Bucknell's captured the attention of a lot of pundits and people who think they're pundits by having an outstanding season.  Their best ever, in fact.  This will be their second tournament game in their history, having last attended 10 years ago.

The huge concern for the Hoos, as always, is defense.  Even a two-goal effort in the last game, against Penn, isn't going to quell that concern.  UVA continues to be the second-worst team in the country - again, among company like VMI, Presbyterian, Mercer, and St. Joseph's - at getting turnovers on the defensive end.  I mean, just pitiful.  The national average is about 44% - that is, 44% of post-clear defensive possessions end in turnovers - and for UVA it's just 36.1%.  Not only that but Bucknell does a good job of holding on to the ball.  So Adam Ghitelman will need to stand tall.  Bucknell's offense operates with middling efficiency but they do get good, well-rounded scoring, led by Ryan Klipstein with 30 goals.

Where Bucknell truly shines is on defense.  Post-clear, they allow goals on just 25.1% of possessions - that makes them third-best in the coutnry - and they've allowed double-digit goals in only two games this year, both times allowing 11.  Caveats about quality of opposition apply since we're talking about the Patriot League, but only to a point.  Their four best wins are Villanova, Penn State, and two over Colgate.  They're also good at getting turnovers, but that department matches strength against strength - UVA is also outstanding at not losing the ball to turnovers and since we'll be playing sans the Bratton brothers, that's bound to be a place where our performance will be even stronger.

Overall, this is an opponent with a solid, solid game and no major weaknesses.  That's what you earn when you drop to the 7 seed.  They're good between the pipes - goaltender Kyle Feeney has a .561 save percentage - and good at both ends of the field, especially defense.  The fact that their opponents don't score much, and 70% of their opponents' goals have been assisted, suggests that their biggest strength is one-on-one defense on the ball, so it's probably in our best interest to continue the kind of offensive approach we had against Penn.  Much (MUCH) better ball movement and motion without the ball, and crisper passing.  The way we've played most of the season would probably play right into Bucknell's hands.

On the other hand, if there's one hallmark of UVA lacrosse we should be going back to, it's out-athleting the opposition in the middle of the field.  Bucknell's faceoffs, ride, and clearing ability are OK, not great.  The best way to win this game will be to unleash Chris LaPierre and some of our better athletes in the middle and try for some goals in unsettled situations - or at the very least, earn more possessions.  Both teams can win this one, but UVA's chances will be best if they can get a few lightning strikes.

As a side note, Dom Starsia will be going for the all-time win record on Sunday; he has a chance to tie the record of Jack Emmer who probably-not-coincidentally will be calling the game.  A run to the Final Four will give Starsia the record outright.

series preview: Miami

Date/Time: Fri-Sun, May 13-15; 5:00, 12:00, 12:30

TV: Saturday on regional networks; Fri. and Sun. on UVA website video

History against the Canes: 12-18

Last matchup: UVA 12, Miami 8; 5/29/10; Greensboro, NC (ACC tournament)

Last game: UVA 14, VCU 3 (5/3); Hofstra 5, Miami 0 (5/8)

Last weekend: UVA bye; Miami 2-1 series win over Hofstra

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #1; Miami #16
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #1; Miami #16
NCBWA: UVA #2; Miami #24
Perfect Game: UVA #1; Miami #19
Coaches: UVA #1; Miami #23
Composite: UVA #1; Miami #18

RPI: UVA #1; Miami #22

(Sorry, not my fault I didn't post yesterday.  Blogger's fault.  You know those commercials that try to push cloud computing on you and tell you how wonderful it is?  This is why those are bullshit.)

If the weather cooperates this should be one of those magical Charlottesville spring weekends.  Miami is typically one of baseball's best teams and they just tacked on another couple of seats to Davenport so another attendance record is the goal.

Miami continues to be a team strong on pitching and not so strong on hitting, though their hitting has improved through the course of the ACC season.  In fact, this week's pitching matchups might be the best of the season.  Other teams have brought better aces to the hill, but nobody's sent us a lineup of three starters like we'll see this weekend.  Friday is a battle of lefties; Sunday starter E.J. Encinosa has limited opposing hitters to a .193 batting average.  All three of them have 60+ strikeouts.  It's a daunting task, made harder by the exam break that always seems to wreak havoc on our batters' eyes.

The Canes will likely make every attempt to turn singles into doubles by stealing the extra base.  Three of their players have double-digit steals.  And leadoff hitter Zeke DeVoss is outstanding at what he does, batting .305 with a .469 OBP thanks to his 45 walks, and he's stolen a whopping 28 bases.  (Nobody on UVA, despite our propensity to take off, has more than 11.)  Our catchers have cut down more than half of opponents' basestealers, but they'll be sorely tested this weekend.

Miami's other standout hitters are DH Rony Rodriguez, with eight home runs, and CF Nathan Melendres, batting .343.  The Canes don't rely on the long ball to score, but Rodriguez has some major pop and most of their lineup is capable of going deep if they find a bad pitch they like.  Mainly, though, the Canes will try to advance and score their base-stealers by alternating them in the lineup with line-drive hitters.

The results of the weekend might rely primarily on how the Hoos bounce back from the week off, which historically hasn't been kind.  Miami's excellent starting rotation will make it tough, but at some point in the weekend they'll probably call on a reliever with a 5+ ERA; the pen has some good arms and some not-so-good ones.  I'd be mightily surprised to see a sweep of any kind, but losing or winning 2-1 each seem equally likely.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

next year in the acc

By which I mean basketball.  Now that the myriad deadlines have passed relating to the NBA draft and we know definitively who's in and who's out, it's possible to have a look at how next year's teams will stack up against each other.  Besides the graduating seniors, five ACC underclassmen also declared for the draft: Reggie Jackson (BC), Kyrie Irving (Duke), Chris Singleton (FSU), Iman Shumpert (GT), and Jordan Williams (Md.)

This post uses the PORPAG stat as derived by some sharp Michigan State folks and the somewhat less scientifically rigorous EPORPAG stat (but I like it anyway) that I derived myself (that's why.)  As a refresher, the formulas are:

(O-rating - 88) * Poss.% * Min% * 0.65 = PORPAG

PORPAG * ( ( (Blk% / 2) + Stl%) / 2.45 ) = EPORPAG

88 and 2.45 are replacement-player constants; 0.65 is a pace factor for the ACC.  The result of each is a number that approximates how many more points per game a particular player is worth to his team than a replacement-level schmo.  PORPAG is offense-only and EPORPAG makes some attempt at including defense in the equation.  For explanations of why all this is so, click the links above.

Also, I only ever calculated these for players who played over 30% of their team's minutes on the season.  Anything less was going to end up with a bunch of small numbers that'd be basically the same whether the player is Michael Jordan or you.

So anyway.  Team by team, here's who lost what and what's left for next year:


We all knew they were gonna be slammed by graduation.  They lost four excellent seniors and the conference's top offensive player, Reggie Jackson.  Jackson's PORPAG was 4.80 on the season, the best in the ACC.  (The reason BC wasn't totally awesome was because he and Joe Trapani were the only two players on the team whose EPORPAGs were higher than their PORPAGs, which is supposed to happen.  In other words, basically the whole team played worse than replacement-level defense.)  Next year, BC will carry over five players.  Five.  One freshman starter, two bench bodies at the back of the rotation, one transfer, and one walk-on.  They'll add six new freshman, but, look, if this team is anywhere near .500 in the conference their coach should be made King of Massachusetts.


EPORPAG's favorite player in the ACC was a surprise: Clemson's Jerai Grant, who was a perfectly good scorer on the offensive end and did a lot of work on defense to give him an EPORPAG of 8.02.  Next-best was GT's Shumpert at 5.84.  Fortunately for the rest of us, Grant's gone.  Clemson is one of five ACC teams to lose only two players, but as far as EPORPAG goes, they're the only one of those five to lose their top two guys.  (And of the two more ACC teams that only lose one, neither is their best.)  Clemson has some good building blocks remaining and is certainly in better shape than BC, but it's gonna be kind of a transition year.


Aw, you know how it is.  They're the Yankees.  They lost Irving, as well as Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler (but Singler isn't even that amazing a defender) but they just picked whatever talent they wanted for their freshman class so it doesn't matter. 


The reason I like EPORPAG is that I think it passes the eye test for the most part, and one of the eye-test players is FSU's Singleton.  His EPORPAG is well over twice his offense-only PORPAG, which is about what people think of his game.  Even with him gone, FSU will have a great defense, and I'll tell you right now, Bernard James will take center stage next year and open a lot of eyes.  James is the best returning player in the league in EPORPAG because he's an outstanding shot-blocker and gets steals at the rate of a guard.  He got some press this past year for his background as an Air Force NCO, but he'll get legitimate coverage for his basketball skills this season.


This team was crap last year because they had Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice, and a lot of basically replacement-level dudes.  Shumpert is gone and now it's Rice and the Replacement-Levels.  They're very young, though, so there's a lot of room for growth.  The only scholarship junior was Shumpert.  Lot of uncertainty here, with the mostly-undeveloped team and new coach.


Uncertainty here, too, but the bad kind.  With three seniors plus Jordan Williams leaving, the roster is very light on returning contributors.  Maryland's second-best 2011 recruit, Sterling Gibbs, has asked for his release, making it absolutely imperative they hang on to Nick Faust, their best.  There will be some lesser-used guys playing bigger roles, and we'll find out if Terrell Stoglin is capable of carrying the team as the focal point.  None of the upperclassmen are anything but role players, so their large sophomore class will have to take charge.


Could be a scary team.  They lose just one contributor, and they have the highest returning combined PORPAG and EPORPAG in the league.  Yes, higher than Duke and UNC.  I don't think they'll be better than those two, but honestly if they can't get to the tournament with that bunch, then their coaching hire is a failure.  We've seen what Jim Larranaga can do, so I doubt very much that'll be the case.


These guys were by far the biggest beneficiaries of draft decisions.  They only lost little-used senior Justin Knox to graduation; Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes defied conventional logic and returned to school.  Those two were easily the team's PORPAG leaders last year.  Not that there isn't talent behind them (naturally, UNC has two five-star freshmen coming in) but those two decisions mean UNC will legitimately be considered a contender instead of just because they're UNC.


The Wolfies return more 30%-of-minutes players than anyone else with seven, and all but one was a freshman or sophomore.  Or they did until Ryan Harrow asked for a transfer.  Despite crappy results in the win column last year, NC State's guys put up quality tempo-free numbers for their ages.  (Key is "for their ages" - they didn't have any big numbers, just a lot of decent ones.)  Still, with a much better coach on the sidelines they should see plenty of improvement, and if they can get over the loss of point guard Harrow, there should be a good core to rebuild around.


Well, you know how it is.  Actually, if you go by just PORPAG and whatnot, this team overachieved amazingly last season.  The best offensive player was Joe Harris at a PORPAG of 1.59; Mu Farrakhan was just a shade less at 1.58.  Those are above-average but pretty pedestrian numbers; NC State's "decent for their ages" guys were led by Scott Wood at 2.26.  But Harris was the fourth-best freshman in the league last year, or at least had the fourth-highest PORPAG, and KT Harrell was eighth, making UVA just one of three teams with two of the top ten freshmen.  Mike Scott, of course, is the wild card.  Had he played the whole season at the minutes pace he started on, he'd have had a PORPAG of 3.42 - good enough to be the best returning player in the league.


It's awfully hard to tell what this team should look like because Seth Greenberg doesn't seem to know you can freely substitute in and out, unlike, say, soccer.  Three pretty huge contributors depart, and only Erick Green and Victor Davila remain among players that Greenberg actually used.  They'll get a couple quality players back from injury and add a decent freshman class to the equation, so as with UVA, the Hokies will probably outperform the PORPAG tally I'm about to do.


God this team was bad.  I can't remember any time since I became a UVA fan that an ACC team that we called bad was actually, legitimately shitty and unable to beat even other bad opponents, as opposed to merely not really good enough to win the conference.  (That makes it even more awesomer that we lost to them!)  Will they be better?  Yes.  Competitive?  Probably not.


That was the summary; here's the tally I mentioned.  These two lists rank the ACC teams by the total PORPAG and EPORPAG of their returning players:

PORPAG (offense only):

Miami: 10.00
UNC: 9.83
Duke: 7.43
NCSt: 7.29
Clem: 5.13
UVA: 3.43
FSU: 3.08
WF: 2.98
Md: 2.88
VT: 2.83
GT: 2.08
BC: 0.82


UNC: 12.76
Miami: 11.10
Duke: 10.76
NCSt: 8.78
FSU: 7.53
Clem: 5.99
VT: 4.08
UVA: 3.90
WF: 3.43
Md: 2.91
GT: 2.71
BC: 0.63

This is a reasonably accurate picture of how things will look.  For common sense reasons, the actual predicted order should look a little different.  UVA, VT, and mayyybe GT will outperform those rankings; NC State and Wake will probably underperform them, and so will Miami just because they won't really be the conference's best or second-best team.  But I'll be keeping these lists in mind when it comes time to prognosticate the 2011-12 hoops season.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

recruiting board update

Necessitated largely by yesterday's insta-commit from Norfolk Christian athlete Wilfred Wahee, who waited only long enough between offer and commitment to find out if the offer was really for reals.  Wahee is teammates and hopefully BFFs with Kwontie Moore, Courtnye Wynn, and Mario Nixon at NCS, so with any luck we'll get not only an athletic DB but a ripple effect too.

This week's changes to the board and the map:

- Added CB Wilfred Wahee to orange.  Could be a receiver or safety, too, but things lean toward DB right now and the only service that doesn't list him as ATH is ESPN, so CB it is.

- Removed OL Brock Stadnik from red, who along with his brother Clayton committed to South Carolina.  Clayton didn't have the UVA offer but these two made their intentions known as a package deal.

- Moved RB Kye Morgan from yellow to green.  I still think he'll be a bit of a challenge to get out of New Jersey since he lives almost literally in the shadow of Rutgers.

- Moved QB Chad Voytik and ATH Corey Coleman from yellow to red.

- Added QB Greyson Lambert to red.

- Moved RB Kye Morgan from yellow to green.

About a month or so til high schools are out for the summer, at which point things will hopefully get very interesting.  More junior days, camps, etc.

Monday, May 9, 2011

weekend review of bad news for our northern neighbors

Remarkably, I have nothing to complain about vis a vis the results of last night's lacrosse selection show.  But Quint Kessenich (it was probably Quint but if it wasn't I'm content to blame him anyway) gave me a heart attack anyway when he teased us with the fact that two ACC teams would be meeting for the third time this season.  I know it would've been insane to match us up with Duke, but then again it was also pretty insane to send our ACC champion baseball team to Irvine, California for a matchup with Stephen Strasburg.  Tournament committees are prone to attacks of ludicrosity.

No, the only nutz thing that happened was matching up Maryland and UNC, which I think is a bit of a screwjob on Maryland but it's not like I'm unhappy seeing our three ACC rivals in Syracuse's side of the bracket.  (Besides, Maryland's schedule was lamesauce.)  Our own matchup with Bucknell is perfectly fair.  7th is the lowest UVA's been seeded since not making the tourney in 2004 (by far the lowest) but we did that to ourselves.

The bracket didn't produce much else that jumps out as being really weird, except for maybe ignoring the seemingly-natural Hopkins-Delaware matchup that pretty much every bracketologist ever had predicted.  Speaking of which: I said I was looking forward to comparing my bracket to those of the professionals.  LaxPower and Inside Lacrosse each did their own, of course.  Who's the champion bracketologist?  I compared each prediction bracket with the final result and gave each of them one point per team per difference in final seeding.  For example, Delaware is "seeded" 12th (by virtue of playing the 5th seed, Duke) and each of the three prediction brackets had them 14th (playing the 3rd seed) so each of them get two points.**  Fewer points is better, obviously.

Result: LaxPower's was the most accurate bracket with 17 points; mine second with 18, and IL least accurate with 21.  (And I'd've been two points fewer and scored the title if I'd put Siena and Hartford in the right spot.)  All three of us got all 16 teams correct; that was the easy part.  Both IL and LP underrated Bucknell and badly overrated Hofstra; I had both just about nailed and further I was the only one of the three to award Denver a seed and a home game; the others had them traveling to the 8 seed.  (Denver is the 6th seed, hosting Villanova.)  On the other hand, I had UNC massively underrated and LaxPower was the only one to nail the top five seeds.  I hit the top four and IL had the top three.

So either lax bracketology is easy enough for anyone to try their hand at and the pros don't do any better a job than the average schmo or I'm just that damn good and ought to be getting paid for this.  It's almost definitely the former but I'm happy to pretend to believe the latter.

**I know the NCAA is generally believed to not seed the bottom eight and assign games based on travel, but if you think about it, not seeding the bottom eight at all would make seeding the top eight totally pointless.  What good is it being the 1 seed if you're handed the 9th best team because they're close by?  The committee ranks the bottom eight too and then fudges a bit for travel as needed.  I think it's pretty clear they do consider Maryland the 9th-best team, Bucknell the 10th, and so on.


The news and stuff:

- It's a bad week for Maryland.  Besides losing to Colgate and probably costing themselves a host game, they also lose a basketball coach.  Just when the ACC coaching wheel of fortune had stopped turning, Gary Williams decided to step up and give that mother another turn.  Part of me is sorry to see this.  My utter dislike of nearly everything Terrapin does not extend one iota to Gary Williams, who I've always thought of as one of the most respectable coaches in the biz.  Terrific coach and a clean program.  Jordan Williams kept his butt parked in the NBA draft, so Maryland gets a double whammy, with more possibly on the way depending on how the recruits, both 2011 and 2012, react to the new hire.  Always a concern.

Where will the Terps go for a new coach?  The CAA well is about dried up now, with Larranaga off to Miami and Shaka Smart having signed an extension.  They struck out on Arizona's Sean Miller, who leveraged his way into an extension in the desert.  Right now unless your letterhead says UNC or Duke, Big East coaches like Jay Wright, Mike Brey, and Jamie Dixon won't see the ACC as anything but a sideways move.  Maryland will have to look probably into the SEC or Big 12; the big rumor today is Texas A&M's Mark Turgeon.

- A bad week for Maryland is usually a decent week for Hoos, and a good week for Mike Scott is a great week for Hoos.  His medical waiver was already a 90% fait accompli, but it's really, really good to have that in writing.  Except for the one VT game we never got to see him terrorize the ACC; this coming year he'll get to do so alongside a team that should be hugely improved from last year's.

- Back in the world of lacrosse, it's been made official we won't see Rhamel Bratton this week against Bucknell.  I am so, so torn as to whether it's a good idea or not to reinsert him into the lineup after seeing the obvious wild improvement in chemistry during the Penn game.  Probably the best thing is to keep him at defensive midfield - his defensive talents are undeniably excellent - and let him play offense once every eight possessions or so just to fuck with the opposition's game plan.  I really do wish Dom Starsia had kept it a state secret whether or not he'd be playing right up until game time.  Bucknell's planning just got a lot easier.

- Like an amoeba, Davenport Field keeps growing.  And growing.  In increments small enough to be completed in between home series.  You show up to the ballfield one day and you could swear those seats didn't used to be there.  But there they are, and now the stadium has cracked the 5,000 mark.

- Some congrats are in order for former Hoo ballplayer Brandon Guyer, who became the 109th player in MLB history and the first Tampa Bay Ray to smack a home run in his first major-league at-bat.

- There's still no good reason not to be voting every day for Tyler Wilson.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

final lacrosse bracketology

With the selection show coming on tonight - in about five hours - this serves as a prediction, obviously.  I'm looking forward to comparing my projections with those of LaxPower and IL and the other semi-pros out there.

I was hoping Maryland's loss to Colgate would bump UVA up a seed to 7th, and if you just looked at the RPI and SOS, it'd be obvious.  But Maryland was undeniably more successful in the ACC than we were, and try as I might I can't change the fact that we lost to them.  Funny that both Maryland and Villanova lost, which I was hoping for, and because they both lost instead of just one, it didn't change much at all, though it did make it perfectly clear that we're hosting a game.

The conference tournaments were very interesting.  Hofstra and Penn should be able to survive losing; Stony Brook probably will not.  Harvard made a run but it should be remembered that they only split the season series with Penn, so winning that game this week wasn't enough to leapfrog them.

Ironically it looks like the biggest effect of Maryland's Colgate loss was to weigh down Duke and UNC a little bit; UNC doesn't get quite the bump they'd've hoped.  Actually they check in a little higher on the seeding and so should play a #6 or #7 team, but....those are ACC teams and I don't envision the committee doing that.  So, bad luck for the Heels, they're shipped out to Denver.

Last struggle was between Hartford and Siena.  It probably matters not the tiniest bit except for my own pride in getting this right.  Hartford has generally better metrics overall, but lost to Siena.  If they switch those two, then I go "dammit" but the tourney moves on with business.

Friday, May 6, 2011

soapboxing: antitrust? really?

I guess if there's a downside to the Sunday raid that iced Osama bin Laden for good, it's that I can't use him as an example of Don't You Have Better Things To Do anymore when the feds start nosing around in college football.

This is ridiculous, frankly, and not just because I don't want to see a college football playoff.  Look, I hate to get political around here and I think I've been good about never doing it, but if you or I want electricity we have to buy it from a monopoly, so I can think of at least one better example of antitrust operations in this country than the BCS.

But that's not the point.  Apparently the point is that the BCS "may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in the federal antitrust laws."

Let's examine this.  Antitrust laws are supposed to protect the consumer.  Well, the consumer is us, the fans.  We pay money for their product.  But the point of this particular incursion is to eventually force a playoff, not give us choices for our football-watching desires.  So the laws are being applied to try and protect a different kind of consumer, the TCUs, Utahs, and Boise States of the world that are somehow being unfairly prevented from a shot at the national championship.

But what are the criteria for a shot at the national championship?  There's only one, actually: Be #1 or #2 in the BCS standings at the end of the season.  It doesn't say: "Be #1 or #2 in the BCS standings and be affiliated with a particular conference."  If Middle Tennessee can achieve #1 or #2 status, then the Blue Raiders will play for the title the same as Auburn would.

No, the conference affiliations matter for one thing only: an autobid to a "BCS bowl."  The ACC is a BCS conference, so it has an autobid to the Orange Bowl.  And besides the label "BCS" and the method of choosing an opponent for the ACC champion, what is the difference between that and Conference USA's autobid to the Liberty Bowl for their champion?  We have a bid to a bowl.  They have a bid to a bowl.  The fact that the national championship game is tied in by affiliation to other bowls under the umbrella of the "BCS" is totally irrelevant - in fact, the national championship game is far more open and achievable than the Orange Bowl or the Liberty Bowl or the Website.com Bowl, because it is the only bowl game without conference affiliations.  It is part of the BCS only because it's hosted on a rotational basis by other bowls that have allied themselves with each other and called themselves the BCS.

So the BCS is simply an alliance of bowls that have done what every other bowl in the history of bowldom has done: signed agreements with conferences to host a team from that conference.  Except for one major difference: the BCS bowls have only one conference affiliation (except for the Rose Bowl) and the non-BCS bowls have two.  The BCS bowls have an "in" for all other comers, which has opened, not closed, participation by teams traditionally thought of as mid-majors.  Let me illustrate this with a crude graph:

I'll let you stare at that all you want.  Prior to the BCS, the Rose Bowl was an exclusive, members-only, Big Ten or Pac-10 or GTFO, millionaire's club.  (And we liked it that way in the Big Ten, thank you very much.)  TCU would never have played in the Rose Bowl without there being a BCS.

But since the Rose Bowl, look what TCU has done to capitalize on their success: joined the Big East.  Utah made a similar move.  There's no monopoly or cartel holding them back from advancement.  That's capitalism for ya.  With the money I have, nobody is forcing me to buy inferior products; I can buy the ones I want.  With the money (or otherwise capital of various kinds) the Big East invited TCU.  They weren't forced to, either.

College football is very capitalistic, in fact.  Much more so than the monopolization of postseason play that's gone on in the basketball world.  This is a key point.  Remember that the NIT, which was once owned by a third party, actually sued the NCAA in an antitrust lawsuit, because the NCAA was compelling its members to play in the NCAA tournament if invited, even if they preferred the NIT.  That may seem crazy, but it used to happen and the NCAA put rules in place to stop it.  In order to make the lawsuit go away, the NCAA paid $56.5 million for the rights to the NIT, and now you're compelled to go to both tournaments, whichever you're invited to.  Now it's even more of a monopoly than it was before.  On the other hand, conferences and teams are free to negotiate their own bowl destinations without outside interference.

$56.5 million. If the feds get their way and force a playoff to be instituted, all 35 bowl games would remember that.  And they're each going to want that kind of money to go away.  Can the NCAA afford to pay out almost $2 billion to make the inevitable antitrust suit from the bowls disappear?

So, yes, the whole thing is lunacy.  It'd be like the British government intervening on behalf of, oh, say, Burnley FC, which plays under exactly the same rules as the big boys at Man United and Liverpool but hasn't a fucking prayer of ever winning the Premiership anyway.  And the Brits don't seem to mind.  If the feds find the BCS in violation of antitrust rules, we can go one of two ways: Back to the dark ages, or straight to a playoff.  During the former, there was no mechanism at all for "the little guy" to get into the big bowls or ever win the national championship; the latter would open up the NCAA to actual, real antitrust lawsuits that in the past have cost them actual, real money.  This is not to call the BCS the perfect solution to anything, but if you're hankering for a playoff and you think the federal government is the best way to make it happen, be exceedingly careful what you wish for.