What'd you do this weekend? Decent time? I hear you had a little snow down there. Like four inches or so in Richmond? (It's cute how you think that's a "snowstorm" down there, although it's been such a weird winter here in Michigan that four inches is at least half the entire winter's total.) If you're a Virginia fan and only a Virginia fan, it was a halfway decent weekend all things considered, but this kind of weekend is why I highly recommend ardent double-fanhood. Actually, now that I go to grad school, it's really more like two and a half. I had a great frickin' weekend, part of which involved going down and watching my grad school beat up on JMU in hoops.
But I'm not here to brag on Michigan's eight(!!!) four-star recruits that committed this weekend, or the weekend sweep in hockey**, or the big win over Ohio State in basketball. Actually, yes, I kind of want to brag about the Ohio State thing. That one is germane to UVA hoops, because the win over Michigan is probably the difference between being parked on the tournament bubble, and not. Michigan is in great position to get at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, and, depending on tiebreakers, the top seed in the B1G tournament. So having very compellingly beaten them earlier this year gives UVA a Big Thing on which to hang our hat. (Now you see why I say that if Michigan and UVA ever play each other in something, I root for the team that needs the win more.)
Of course, if you're trying to get to the tournament, it helps to beat the teams you're supposed to. Maryland is a team we're supposed to beat, and 71-44 is the kind of beating you always want to hang on Maryland. It's proof that our defense is our Linus blanket. It's always there, comforting and secure. The offense can be a ticking time bomb, but lo and behold if Malcolm Brogdon AND Sammy Zeglinski hit a few shots, then this is what happens. Tony Bennett is starting to find ways to make opponents regret allocating their biggest guy to guard Mike Scott, because those guys aren't used to running through screens at the elbow.
Terrapin football has Randy Edsall, who's fantastically easy to lampoon because (among other reasons) he's being a huge twat about the Danny O'Brien transfer. (In fairness, Edsall's percentage is pretty good, as he didn't decide to publicly be an ass about the other 23 guys who left in one year.) VT's Seth Greenberg is a funny guy too. Unfortunately for the humor section, though, it appears at first glance that Maryland has replaced one classy hoops coach with another. Mark Turgeon couldn't stop talking about how well Virginia played and refused to use the 36-hour turnaround from Thursday as an excuse. That said, he did produce an amusing bit of honesty in his post-game interview: "If we put Terrell (Stoglin) on the point, we might go 17 possessions where nobody else touches the ball."
Would that be worse, though? Maryland had all of three assists on Saturday. They might still only have three assists with ballhog Stoglin running the point, but they might cut down the turnovers; Maryland had fifteen. A 1-to-5 A/T ratio will lose you every game. As expected, Jontel Evans totally abused Nick Faust on the defensive end; Faust had five turnovers and no assists. Evans is seven inches shorter than Faust, but weighs 13 pounds more, and poor Faust looked like a lanky ninth-grader trying to beat a tornado one-on-one.
Maryland fans fully expect a win in the rematch, naturally, but the truth is that the ACC continues to shake out into the four-tier system I identified two weeks ago. At 10-2 and now a full three games ahead of the pack are Tobacco Road and FSU. At 7-5 is the bubble trio of UVA, NC State, and Miami; the main thing keeping us actually off the bubble is that Michigan game as well as a few road wins OOC. The kids with loaded guns are either 5-7 or 4-8, and the only one of those without a win against a higher-caste team is Maryland. Then there's the win farms at the bottom, all with 10 losses, where the rest of the league goes to puff up the left side of their W-L column. Sadly, there aren't any games left against the win farms; only two road tilts against the loaded-gun children and two home games against the high seeds.
**Seriously, wouldn't it be neat to have a varsity hockey team? We'd be terrible, I don't doubt, but I take a perverse delight in rooting for shitty teams because there aren't any expectations and you can just blow off some steam and enjoy the game without worrying about the consequences of losing. This is the part of my fanhood that's been carefully honed and developed by the Millen Era of the Detroit Lions.
In the non-revenue world, things went according to plan and then some this weekend. The ladies wrapped up a fifth straight ACC title in the pool, finishing 233 points ahead of their closest competition. Four of the 11 teams at the meet didn't score that many points. Of the 18 swimming events, UVA won 10, and took a 1-2-3 in the 200 backstroke.
And how about a sport that gets hardly any love around here, because I don't really know anything about it? I refer of course to wrestling, which polished off its regular season at 11-1 in dual meets, the best record in the history of UVA rasslin'. For the next-best record, you have to go back to 1974. Wrestling coach Steve Garland is a member of the Craig Littlepage Hired Me coaching fraternity that includes guys like Brian O'Connor, and he directs the latest up-and-coming program in the school's repertoire. It would be a terrific thing to get really good at wrestling, because wrestling is one of only two sports where Virginia Tech has the better program.** (Guess who is responsible for the lone blemish?) Getting to the point where we have forced VT to second-place status in the state (or worse) in every sport is the ultimate goal, and to take the rasslin' title from them would be a great next step. The team won a surprise ACC title two years ago and might just do it again this year, too.
**Football is obviously the other - for now. There might be more but this is the kind of claim I can make without much fear that I'll be corrected by a Hokie, since in Blacksburg, sports are divided into two categories: football and money leeches.
The baseball team could've started off a little better. The weekend in South Carolina finished up 1-1-1 thanks to a rainout, and I hate ties because it's this little -1 that'll hang off the end of the record all year like a little vestigial appendix. The loss was to Boston College, which took a surprise 3-0 record home. Even Coastal Carolina had trouble, and that school is sort of the Butler of mid-major baseball, minus any final four appearances.
It really drives home the issues facing the team this year, though. The winning runs scored by Boston College came from two passed balls by catcher Nate Irving, followed by a Branden Kline mistake that ended up on the wrong side of the fence. In years past, the bats might have overcome that issue, but the hitting this year is still three-quarters potential. The bats waited til the CCU game to break out, instead. I'm going to write off the tie against JMU as a product of playing in rain that would've washed out 90% of baseball games much sooner than it eventually did. The fielding is what let the team down and gave up a 4-2 lead, but you can't draw any conclusions from that when the ball is sopping wet.
And speaking of things that we expected to look better: 9-8 over Drexel might've caused a few raised eyebrows, too. I mean, shouldn't we beat them by more than one goal? Is there something wrong with the offense that caused the output to be limited to nine goals?
Well, no. This is exactly why I started doing lacrosse efficiency stats. See, last year, UVA averaged more than 35 offensive possessions per game, the second-most in the country. And we scored on 35% of those possessions. Against Drexel we had only 26 OPs. And that wasn't the fault of lousy faceoff work (won 12 of 21) or bad clearing (13 of 15.) Nope, it was just a slow-paced game. 60 offensive possessions and 68-70 total is your average lacrosse game; this one had only 49 OPs and 52 total. It was just a very slow-paced game.
In that light, the offensive production was just fine. UVA's O-rating for the game was 16.81; last year's total was 16.64. Drexel's excellent goalie, Mark Manos, saved only five of 14 shots on net. We got nine goals from seven players, and better yet, seven assists from six players. And not a single point from Steele Stanwick, either. Owen Van Arsdale was the offensive star, and two goals came from Rob Emery, too. Young'uns. UVA was badly outshot, 41-24, but it hardly mattered; we did a much better job of getting our shots on net, and Rob Fortunato saved 11 of 19 SOG.
Could I fret a little about the defense? Yeah, I could. Eight goals is a little too many. Drexel's O-rating (and our D-rating) was 15.81, rather above the D-I average of about 14.10. But there are too many positives to come out of this game to get all worried. Ryan Benincasa was excellent on faceoffs (and freshman Mick Parks held his own), and there was only one penalty called on the Hoos the whole game. Plus a huge ground-ball advantage for UVA as well. The world will probably look at the 9-8 final score and a few of them will conclude Virginia is overrated. Not to worry: a deep dive into the refreshing tempo-free pool should give you all the peace of mind you need.
-- The multi-year scholarship rule barely survived an override vote. This is proof only that the rule for D-I membership needs to be tightened; it's out of hand when a school like Chicago State, which has the bare minimum of required sports and sucks at all of them, has an equivalent vote to the Texases and Ohio States and such of the world, which have nine-figure budgets. The requirements for D-I membership were established ages ago; it's only a natural consequence of expanding economies and populations that more and more schools would be able to meet them. And of course, the more FGCUs and Nebraska-Omahas and Presbyterians that make the leap, the more they'll be able to outvote the schools that help keep their budgets afloat. There are two reasons they don't tighten up the requirements and split up D-I: one, some of the conferences would be torn asunder as half their schools failed to make the grade. I think we'd all survive, though. Number two: none of the HBCU's would make the cut, and such a move would have Al Sharpton up in the NCAA's grill faster than you can say "race card."
Oh, and #3: any move toward such a split would instantly be massively downvoted, because we're this close to having the FGCUs and Chicago States in charge of this thing.
Anyway, the multi-year scholarship thing is a great thing. Schools that complain that multi-year schollies would be used as a recruiting tool are stupid. That's the point. They benefit the athlete, which is the point of the whole "college sport" thing. That's like arguing City Council should award the contract to the highest bidder instead of the lowest, because if they don't, the city will have more money to spend elsewhere, and that would be bad. It's such logic-defying argument it renders one speechless, which might've been the point.
-- Want to write a guest post? This is my attempt to make the site not a barren wasteland during my spring break in Peru, and your chance to get your opinion out there. Read here for details. A week and a half or so is the deadline.