Tuesday, March 12, 2013

weekend review and rooting guide

Obviously there's no sugarcoating the fact that Sunday's regular season finale against Maryland was ugly with a capital "ugly."  No surprise there.  What might surprise you is if I said it wasn't just the first half.  The whole damn game was ugly.  The truth is that I don't think the second half was any prettier than the first.

The main difference is that Maryland started playing a lot worse.  Or more truthfully, that they played more like Maryland is used to playing.  The clock struck halftime and Nick Faust turned into a pumpkin.  Justin Anderson's putback slam was a potential spark according to the announcers, and that might've been a turning point of sorts, but then, I don't think there was a particular turning point.  KenPom's win probability chart for the game shows a steadyish slope in Maryland's favor for pretty much the whole first half; the second half probabilities swerve wildly back and forth and every single play is designated "high leverage."  And eventually it's swerved its way to the good guys.  That's a pretty accurate portrayal of how it felt to watch.  Both teams just played ugly basketball for 20 minutes and UVA played less ugly than Maryland and it was all good in the end.

That speaks to the talent difference.  Joe Harris had a totally pathetic shooting night (4-for-18) but the complementary players picked him up (Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey in particular.)  Our complements are better than their complements, and their star (Alex Len, I suppose, but it's hard to say Maryland really has had a lead dog this season) played even worse than Harris, because Harris really gets basketball and Len has a way to go.

(Case in point: the final play of regulation, in which Len not only allowed Mike Tobey to set up shop right next to the hoop, but then foolishly - and halfheartedly - went for the steal and found himself in no position to do anything at all.... especially defend the bucket.  Tie game achieved.)

That gives UVA an ACC tournament bye for the second year in a row.  Since ACC expansion to 12 teams, this is the 3rd bye that UVA has managed, and each and every time, NC State has been the team that played through to UVA's bracket.  And won, I might add.  I'm not so sure I wasn't pulling for NC State to beat Florida State on Saturday so that we might flip the script on them.  There's probably something to be said for the momentum gained from beating the crappiest team in the conference and the rhythm from playing while your future opponent sits.

I'd've liked to have the excellent chance as well to add a neutral-site win to UVA's RPI resume.  Certainly, winning on Friday would do wonders for UVA's tourney chances; I would go so far as to say that it would lock down a bid.  More than for NCAA reasons, though, I just want that quarterfinal win for its own sake.  I've yet to even see one as a UVA fan.

(By the way, David Teel has the obvious perspective on what Tony Bennett has achieved this year.  Essentially this was a season where UVA was supposed to finish 7th, instead finished 4th, and did it with Malcolm Brogdon on ice, Jontel Evans out nine games with a broken foot, Darion Atkins ineffective for most of the ACC season with shin splints, and Mike Tobey parked for a couple weeks with mono.  We had the usual boatload of health problems and hardly noticed.)

Oh, and congratulations are in order for Harris and Mitchell for making the ACC's 1st and 3rd teams respectively, and Jontel Evans for making the all-defense team.  The latter is a little bit of a reputation pick, kind of the way Pudge Rodriguez kept winning Gold Gloves even as a mid-30-year-old catcher, but it's not like Evans is undeserving either.  And the selections for Harris and Mitchell are spot on and exactly what they deserved.  No, I don't think I'd have put Mitchell on the 2nd team.  3rd is just right; the competition is pretty good this year.


As a bubble team, even with one foot in the tournament field, it's probably worth a look at what the rest of the bubble is up to this week.  Here's a rooting guide for the conference tournaments you want to look at:

Atlantic 10: Temple did itself a big favor by beating VCU.  Bad for us.  They have the A-10's 3rd seed and draw the winner of UMass-George Washington on Friday.  Those teams are solid NIT material and aren't in the NCAA conversation, so you'll be pulling for whichever one to soften up Temple's resume a little.  La Salle is in a dicier spot: as the 4 seed, they drew the winner of Butler-Dayton, so, they drew Butler.  Excellent as long as Butler takes care of business.  Butler's tourney resume is ironclad, with a whole assortment of wins over really good nonconference teams (Indiana, UNC, Gonzaga) so they can't play their way out no matter what.  But they can take care of La Salle for us.

Big 12: UVA is literally Lunardi's last at-large in.  Baylor is the first out.  They have the Big 12's 6 seed and drew Oklahoma State in the first round.  You are a big Cowboys fan; a Baylor win might leapfrog them past us even if we do beat NC State.  Iowa State is sort of kind of bubbly, so it wouldn't hurt if they lost to Oklahoma, either.  But the biggie is Baylor.  Also keep in mind that Baylor was one of the teams that Adidas outfitted with their Zubaz getup, so there's that too.

Big Ten: Iowa is kind of a fringe bubble team hanging on at the bottom.  If they go on a rampage - and the Big Ten has been anything-goes this year in a good way - they could start to look interesting to the committee.  After their opening-round game against Northwestern, they would face Michigan State.  I'm not rooting for Sparty in any event, but you might want to.

C-USA: This conference kind of sucks, which is good news.  Southern Miss is the only bubble team, and really at this point they're less of a bubble risk than a potential bid thief.  They're the #2 seed in the C-USA tourney, and nothing they do there short of beating Memphis would impress the committee enough to extend a bid.  And if they beat Memphis they're an autobid anyway.

Mountain West: A surprisingly tough conference this year.  Boise State has a golden opportunity, playing in the 4/5 game against San Diego State.  SDSU is both a very likely tourney team and kind of vulnerable in this game.  Boise is who Lunardi has us playing in the NCAA play-in right now, putting them at basically the same level as us.  You definitely want San Diego State to pull this one out and soften up Boise's resume a touch.

Pac-12: Practically not worth mentioning, but Arizona State is in the same position as Iowa where if they go on a rampage they could attract some of the committee's attention.

SEC: Also known as Bubbleville.  The SEC has one sure thing (Florida) and a whole host of teams that'll watch the selection show with a few nerves.  No fewer than four bubble teams populate the SEC tourney.  As 2 and 3 seeds, respectively, Kentucky and Ole Miss are on a semifinals collision course.  As 4 and 5 seeds, Alabama and Tennessee have the same fate, only in the quarterfinals.  As with CUSA, the committee will not be impressed by anything these teams do prior to those games, with one exception: Missouri is a solidly-in team with a low seed (6) and in position to upend Mississippi before that Kentucky game ever happens.  Your idea result (barring an upset like Arkansas over Kentucky) is for Missouri to blow through that side of the bracket and eliminate both UK and the Rebels.  Barring that, at least one team will take out the other; you probably want it to be Kentucky that beats Ole Miss since Ole Miss is lurking from below while Kentucky is slightly above.  That said, if you want to root for Kentucky to earn a nice NIT #1 seed, I won't blame you one bit.  As for Alabama/Tennessee, it's another clear eliminator, but with a rooting interest: you actually kind of want the Vols to look like a tournament team, just to make that December win look a little shinier.  Plus, since we've already played Tennessee, the committee may look to avoid that rematch, which in turn may entice them to give UVA a slightly more favorable position in the S-curve.

In sum, your rooting guide looks like this:

UMass-GWash over Temple
Butler over La Salle
Oklahoma State over Baylor
Oklahoma over Iowa State
Northwestern or Michigan State over Iowa
anyone to knock off Southern Miss
San Diego State over Boise State
Stanford or UCLA over Arizona State
Missouri over Ole Miss and Kentucky
Kentucky over Ole Miss if comes to that
Tennessee over Alabama

Left unsaid is that obviously we want to beat NC State (which could make all of this moot) and to root for the favorites in the smaller conference tourneys; teams such as Akron, Louisiana Tech, and Bucknell.  (None are especially likely to steal a bid, but you don't want to take chances.)


Since this basically just became a basketball post, I'll save baseball and lacrosse for tomorrow.  But there was one development last week that bears mention: the announcement that the Catholic 7 split from the old Big East to become the new Big East is official.  What's so big about that?  Because now Notre Dame has to figure out what to do, and quickly.  I'd say the chances are pretty good - or very good - that they'll be in the ACC as soon as this summer.  The Catholic 7 basically smoked the Big East at the negotiating table - they even got to keep their tournament units (the method used to decide how the money from the NCAA tourney gets split up) and basically only had to leave behind the departure fees the conference has been collecting.  Which is admittedly a pretty copious figure.  Cincy, USF, and UConn will get a nice windfall.  But if it's true that the old Big East only wants $2.5 million from Notre Dame in order to leave this summer as well, then that's as good as done.  Notre Dame can find that money in their couch cushions.

EDIT: right, and as I'm typing that, this happens.  So yes.  Say hi to the Irish, just in time for St. Paddy's Day.


Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how many times we've been on the Bubble in the past 10 to 20 years? We're no Tech, but this has gotten to be annoyingly familiar territory.


Pezhoo said...

A lot. Although the last few years under gillen and certainly the last two under Leitao that wasn't the case because, hey, we disn't win much! I think our bubble days are numbered, Bennett has us on a real upswing. Hopefully in the years to come we'll be playing for seeding in march.