Thursday, May 30, 2013

charlottesville regional preview

I just watched this again.  You should too.  Pretty sure it's required by law when entering the NCAA baseball tournament.

It's that time of year again.  This is this blog's fifth season and in only one of those years has UVA failed to host a regional (and that happened to be the program's first-ever trip to Omaha) so we are growing accustomed to success around here.  Also fourth straight year hosting.  And UVA will be heavily favored this weekend to advance, possibly in the minimum three games, and host a super-regional against whichever team finds their way out of the Starkville regional.

None of that actually helps win games, though.  So it's time to find out what UVA is up against this year.

UNC-Wilmington Seahawks
Conference: CAA
Record: 37-21 (18-8)
RPI: #29


C: Drew Farber (.246-3-38) (R)
1B: Matt Keeler (.297-2-15) (L)
2B: Michael Bass (.387-4-34) (R)
SS: Terence Connelly (.286-1-24) (L)
3B: Ryan LaGrange (.372-5-37) (R)
LF: Luke Dunlap (.338-6-44) (R)
CF: Andy Austin (.200-0-6) (L)
RF: Tyler Molinaro (.249-11-33) (L)
DH: Corey Dick (.277-8-37) (L)

Lineup notes:

-- Keeler is a midseason replacement for UNCW's all-time hits leader, Hunter Ridge, who must have done something pretty bad because he was suspended for the duration of the season in April. 

-- The Seahawks typically inserted Josh Abshire (.235-0-4) at catcher for one game each weekend; whether that happens during the tourney is anyone's guess.  Both Abshire and Farber bat right-handed so it's clearly a rest thing, not a platoon.

-- There's been no continuity at center field.  Austin has started most of the recent games; the equally light-hitting Christian Wolfe (.210-2-11) has been another option.  In the final regular season game, the Seahawks tried Luis Renvill (.272-1-13) out there to try and get his bat into the lineup.  P.S. no, I didn't forget an E at the end of his name.

Starting rotation:

LHP Mat Batts (9-3, 3.07, 110 Ks)
RHP Jordan Ramsey (6-6, 2.36, 82 Ks)
LHP Christian MacDonald (4-1, 4.02, 26 Ks)
RHP Blaze Tart (3-4, 4.40, 30 Ks)


LHP Kelly Secrest (3-1, 3.73, 52 Ks)
RHP Ricky Holden (5-1, 4.62, 29 Ks)
RHP Justin Livengood (1-2, 1.93, 47 Ks)
RHP Jack Lane (2-2, 5.91, 16 Ks)
RHP Evan Phillips (2-0, 4.26, 13 Ks)

Wilmington is the region's #2 seed, and all due respect to the CAA's best team (until tournament time rolled around) but just about any UVA fan would take that over, say, Oklahoma, or some other team from a major conference.  Scuttlebutt has it that UNCW will start ace lefty and CAA pitcher of the year Mat Batts against Elon in the first game, so if this is UVA's Saturday opponent, UVA will likely face righty Jordan Ramsey.  Ramsey is a harder thrower but with less polish than Batts, rather less durable (Batts tossed six complete games this year), and has been battling a blister.

Later games against UNCW would involve some much more hittable pitchers.  Christian MacDonald pitches to a lot of contact with a very low strikeout total.  Weekday starter Blaze Tart is a guy with an injury history - this is his first season back from elbow trouble that cost him half of 2011 and all of 2012.  Opposing hitters are hitting .325 off of him; this has partly to do with the fact that UNCW's midweek opponent is often an NC State or a UNC, and Tart has been getting beaten up by ACC opponents.

The bullpen is largely bereft of left-handers, except for closer Kelly Secrest.  It's probably not a worrisome one.  Justin Livengood's ERA looks shiny, but he's prone to wildness (24 walks in 32.2 innings as well as five hit batsmen.)  In fact, most of the regular relievers have just as many hit batsmen as the starters do, in one-third the innings.  Freshman Evan Phillips actually has a K/BB ratio below one.  (13 Ks, 20 walks.)  I'm not concerned about the pen.

The Seahawks generally have made their living with their bats.  They have some power up and down the lineup, led by Tyler Molinaro's 11 home runs.  Their slugging percentage leader is also their stolen base leader - that would be 2nd baseman Michael Bass, who legs a lot of singles into doubles, and is dangerous even if he stays at first, as he's been successful on 24 of 25 steal attempts.  Other than Bass, the Seahawks don't steal much, but they do like the sac bunt.  Luis Renvill has the most with 13, and Terence Connelly and Ryan LaGrange each have eight. 

LaGrange and Bass are the top hitters for average; those two plus Luke Dunlap comprise the .300 club on this team, and none are just slap hitters.  All have some pop.  UNC-Wilmington expects production from every spot in the lineup, although it gets a little light at the very tail end of it.

Overall, UVA should have a healthy respect for the bats here, but there's a significant dropoff in pitching quality after the first two games.  UNC-W could be dangerous on Saturday, but we won't have to face Mat Batts (most likely) and sooner or later our bats will get a shot at the Seahawk bullpen and the back of their rotation, a matchup which could produce fireworks.

Elon Phoenix
Conference: Southern
Record: 32-28 (18-11)
RPI: #71


C: Alex Swim (.267-1-44) (L)
1B: Ryan Kinsella (.321-20-75) (L)
2B: Wil Leathers (.249-2-20) (R)
SS: Antonio Alvarez (.296-4-39) (S)
3B: Danny Lynch (.250-2-15) (L)
LF: Casey Jones (.268-0-16) (L)
CF: Sebastian Gomez (.332-1-3) (R)
RF: Quinn Bower (.263-1-22) (R)
DH: Chris King (.314-3-22) (L)

Lineup notes:

-- Elon's lineup is one of the more fluid ones you're likely to see.  Things are subject to change, a lot, and so much so that it's not worth going into every possible lineup combo.  This one is a basic, nominal lineup that'll probably have at least one change in it somewhere.

-- Most notably, third base is a place for getting a lot of guys some at-bats.  Joey Tomko (.280-1-16) and Chris Bresnahan (.270-0-11) are other possibilities to fill that slot.  Both are right-handed hitters, so if we play Elon and toss a lefty, they're more likely to play than the left-handed Lynch.

-- Bresnahan, in fact, is a jack-of-all-trades infielder who's started everywhere but 1B and seen time at all four spots.

-- Outfield is also prone to shuffling.  Blaine Bower (Quinn's twin brother, hitting .262-1-12) may also start.  Gomez is rarely pulled from the lineup but at times plays elsewhere than center.  Chris Schaedel (.302-0-3) has only nine starts but lots of pinch-hit appearances.

-- And yes, there are lot of different guys who DH, as well.  Not even going to go into the whole list.

Starting rotation:

RHP Kyle Webb (7-3, 3.66, 92 Ks)
LHP Dylan Clark (6-4, 3.86, 54 Ks)
LHP Spencer Medick (7-6, 5.09, 71 Ks)


LHP Andrew MacDonald (4-1, 2.33, 32 Ks)
RHP Jacob Baker (0-2, 7.68, 40 Ks)
RHP Nate Young (2-1, 5.03, 33 Ks)
LHP Tyler Manez (1-3, 6.90, 27 Ks)
LHP Ryan Pennell (2-2, 5.33, 21 Ks)
RHP John Antonelli (1-0, 7.66, 17 Ks)

Yeah, Elon's pitching staff is as unpredictable as their lineup.  The more or less undisputed fact is that Kyle Webb is the ace, and it looks like he'll go on Friday against UNC-Wilmington.  He's probably the only pitcher Elon has that's capable of shutting down the Seahawk lineup enough to get past them and into the winner's bracket game on Saturday.

After that, I throw up my hands.  Who Elon might start against us on Saturday, if we do play them, I don't feel like venturing a guess.  Dylan Clark is a possibility, except that he didn't start at all in the many-gamed SoCon tournament.  Elon instead used a few guys (MacDonald, Young) that had barely started a game all season, if at all.  And it's not like they were saving anyone.  The SoCon is a one-bid league this year and it was win or go home.

This all said, Elon is one of the very lowest-ranked regional 3 seeds in the whole tourney.  There's a pretty big gap between the Fighting Christians and the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks, and our chances of not playing them at all look pretty good.  Most of the lineup pieces are pretty interchangeable.  Not too many scary pieces.  I'd be remiss, of course, in not mentioning 1B Ryan Kinsella (who unfortunately is not from Iowa.)  Kinsella donked 20 homers this year, and with only one multi-homer game as well.  Very, very tough hitter no matter how you slice it, and the pride of the Elon lineup.  Beyond that, there are some steal threats - Quinn Bower was 20-for-21, and Alex Swim, 15-for-18, and Elon likes to move baserunners that way.  You can expect at least a couple steal attempts.  And Sebastian Gomez hit .332 this season.

Otherwise, it's a team on the light-hitting side for a tourney participant.  And Webb is a solid pitcher, but unless Elon subscribes to my save-your-ace-for-game-2 theory (and they probably won't get past Wilmington's lineup if they do) we'll never have to worry about him.  If we do play Elon, it's probably in the loser's bracket; if all goes as planned in the regional, we won't see them.

Army Black Knights
Conference: Patriot League
Record: 29-21 (11-9)
RPI: #204


C: Andrew Johnson (.266-0-13)
1B: Patrick Mescher (.345-2-40)
2B: Grant Van Orden (.235-0-12)
SS: Alex Jensen (.297-3-38)
3B: Harold Earls (.253-0-20)
LF: Michael Sands (.221-1-13)
CF: Jacob Page (.314-3-35)
RF: Jon Crucitti (.271-0-6)
DH: Mark McCants (.315-0-23)

Lineup notes:

-- The one real platoon is at second base, where Grant Van Orden splits time with Justin Reece (.236-0-10).  Army doesn't provide batting/throwing arm information, so there's no obvious answer as to whether it's a lefty-righty thing, but just based on an image search to see if I could find pictures of them at bat, they're both righties.  Probably.  Don't do the image search yourself, though, at least not on Yahoo, it's a bad idea.

-- The lineup is otherwise pretty stable, with the only other exception being that Sands and Crucitti have, for whatever reason, occasionally switched places.

Starting rotation:

RHP Chris Rowley (9-3, 2.68, 72 Ks)
RHP Alex Robinett (7-3, 2.96, 61 Ks)
LHP Brook Davidson (2-3, 4.75, 25 Ks)


RHP Gunnar Carroll (3-4, 5.66, 22 Ks)
RHP Erik Washburn (1-0, 3.38, 13 Ks)
RHP Julian Larimer (2-2, 3.91, 10 Ks)
LHP Patrick Gardner (2-1, 6.85, 11 Ks)

Might be interesting to see what Army does if they survive long enough to play more than three games.  The Patriot League plays four weekend games, not three, and Army's top three was pretty clearly set, but the fourth was rotated among a whole host of different players.

The odds of that are pretty slim, though.  It's clear who their top two pitchers are, and UVA will face Chris Rowley, a familiar foe, as Rowley was also the starting pitcher in last year's opening contest as well.  If we don't face Rowley, it'll be Alex Robinett, but it'll be Rowley so whatever.  Rowley can be a tough cookie and no doubt has learned a lot from his last outing at Davenport, in which he walked five and plunked four in six innings.

Rowley's a righthander, and in fact UVA's pretty unlikely to face any lefties during this game; good news since a lot of our top hitters are left-handed.  In fact, Army pitching will be mostly a parade of righties, which bodes ill for their chances in the regional, particularly if they have to face Elon and the left-handed Kinsella.

As for the Army lineup, it's pretty meh.  There are some guys who can hit for average decently, led by Patrick Mescher, Jacob Page, and Mark McCants, but there's very, very little power here.  Army only popped nine home runs all season; every lineup in the regional features at least one player who hit that many or more on his own.  They'll try to manufacture runs, and you can bet that when they're playing us they'll be extremely aggressive in doing so.  They're not shy about stealing or bunting regardless of who's trying to execute the play.

So Army plays in one of the junkiest baseball conferences in the country, didn't beat anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line except Navy (and Navy took 3 of 4 in their weekend series), and has a lineup even less scary than Elon's.  But they make me a little nervous all the same, because of Rowley.  They might make Elon a little nervous, too, if those teams meet on Saturday; Army doesn't have Ryan Kinsella, but they might have a better starting pitcher than what Elon throws.  So if they fall into the loser's bracket, they could play spoiler.  After that, though, it's tee time.  Their staff is too highly dependent on Rowley and Robinett.


If a team other than UVA wants to advance out of this regional, they'll have to strike early.  The disaster scenario would be Rowley outpitching Brandon Waddell on Friday, and then Elon upsetting UNC-Wilmington in the later game; after that, UNC-W's solid lineup and Jordan Ramsey surprise the Hoos in the loser's bracket.  That's the off-ramp for UVA.  The deeper this goes, though, the more UVA likes it.  We have, with no exaggeration implied here, three times the pitching depth of any of the challengers.  They all go about two starters deep and none have more than one or two really good, dependable bullpen arms.  We have four starters that we like and how many quality arms in the pen?  Four, five?  Depends on your definition, but it's more than twice what anyone else gots.  If UVA is still alive after Saturday - and dammit we better be because that would be a colossal collapse if not - then you can book the trip to the supers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

recruiting board update

Two commitments in the past week means I look like an ass if I don't update this sucker.  Board is in the same place it always is.

-- Moved OT Will Richardson from green to orange.  Richardson plus Steven Moss gives me a lot of confidence in the offensive line portion of the class this year.

-- Added LB Caanan Brown to orange.  First total surprise commitment of the year.  Not to be confused with Canaan Severin, whose A's and N's are in a totally different order.

-- Moved RB Jordan Ellis from yellow to green.

-- Removed OT Terronne Prescod from red.  Now that we have two OT commitments in a limited year for space, it's time to take down one name where the mutual interest has been low to nonexistent for a while.

You're allowed a little skepticism if the idea of offering and accepting Brown so quickly is a little puzzling, given the small class size we're looking at having.  That said, take another look at the board: I would say there are only three must-get names on there (Kamara, Andrew Brown, and Nnadi) and maybe three more that would be just below must-get (Stewart, Clarke, Keihn.)  Maybe the chances of getting all of the first three are 75%; the chances of getting all of the next three are a lot lower than that.  Get all six (unlikely, obviously) and we'd have 12 in the class with room for a couple more.  Much as we might be excited by the prospect of a guy like Jeffery Farrar coming in from California (which there's still room for) the whole yellow section is not going to up and commit to Mike London.  So if Jon Tenuta sees a guy he likes and thinks would be a terrific fit for the system, he's got every right to offer him, whether or not he had a profile on Rivals before the offer came.

We can't do it too often, of course.  But if it starts to get to be too hard to juggle the numbers, that's when you figure the coaches will start nudging the Andrew Browns of the world toward a decision.


I will preview the Charlottesville regional tomorrow, and then sit out the weekend as it's a busy one.  Next week we get to start having a little fun as we kick off the Cavalier of the Year competition.

Monday, May 27, 2013

weekend review

Well, after all the buildup the ACC tournament turned out - for UVA, at any rate - like most other weekend series.  Go somewhere, win more than you lose, go home, and no special accolades attached, which is code for we didn't win it.

That said, I don't call it entirely unsuccessful.  UVA got dusted by the Hokies on Wednesday - bad - and dusted Georgia Tech the next day - good.  Losing the first game meant we needed three things in order to happen in order to see the Hoos in the championship game, and #'s 1 and 3 got taken care of just fine while #2 (GT needed to beat VT, and didn't) never materialized.  Some short takeaways from the weekend:

-- When FSU dropped their second game of the tourney, it assured us of one important thing: UVA has more ACC championships this year than anyone else.  No ties: we have five to everyone else's less-than-five.

-- It's kind of been a while since Nick Howard started a game, and lately when Brandon Waddell has a good game it's usually on the order of "nice job getting out of all those jams."  I'm pleased to watch Waddell battle; you can tell he's got some of that no-fear mentality that our coaches want to see out of their starters, and when you've got that, developing your stuff is the easy part.  But right now, Scott Silverstein is the starter I trust the most on the hill.

-- Which in turn sets up nicely for the upcoming regional.  The #1 seed has the luxury of the option to hold back their ace for the second game,** and the way it goes this year, we don't even have to mess with the rotation to achieve that.

** Which I maintain is the most important game regardless of seed, but typically, the 1 seed is guaranteed to have the tougher contest in the second game, while the same can't be said for the 2/3 seeds.

-- Kevin McMullan has always been the Shamel Bratton of third-base coaches.  Don't do that don't do that why did you do that YESSSSSSS

-- Florida State - the #2 seed and Atlantic Division champion - went 0-3 on the week.  If you like you may call that an indictment of the silly division system that awards pointless division championships and serves no purpose whatsoever.  Although I would temper that by pointing out that FSU would've been the #3 seed in a correct divisionless system and would've still had GT and VT on their plate.

-- Seeing Whit Mayberry go long enough to be eligible for a win is nice.  That pretty much officially gives us four starters for the NCAAs, and a fifth (Kyle Crockett) who can turn in some very long relief outings and destroy left-handed hitting besides.  (And has a fan in Mike Martin, who sounded slightly awestruck in saying Crockett has a "beautiful, beautiful arm."  There's no Danny Hultzen or even a Tyler Wilson or Branden Kline on this staff, but what it lacks in ace-quality pitching it makes up for in depth.  Long after opponents have gotten into the part of their bullpen that makes their fans sweat, we're still trotting out quality arms.

-- A school of thought said that if we knew the FSU game would be meaningless as it relates to the ACC tournament (which it was since VT had already clinched their trip to Sunday's championship game) we should empty the bench and play all the dudes who don't otherwise play.  In retrospect, I'm glad we didn't, as it gave our players one last taste of extra-innings drama - and another lesson in how to win - before the NCAAs began.


And now for future baseball stuff instead of past baseball stuff:

-- UVA's tournament draw is pretty decent.  Nobody stands out as particularly scary in our own regional of UNC-Wilmington, Elon, and Army.  Army does have a solid pitching staff and will probably toss Chris Rowley again, the same guy UVA faced in last season's regional and managed to hit fairly well.  But no power-conference two-seeds and no sneaky mid-majors, like, say....

-- ....South Alabama, who is in our paired regional as a two-seed against host Mississippi State.  The Bulldogs actually got two such sneaky mid-majors, with Mercer tossed in there as well.  Mississippi State has a top-ten RPI but in terms of record was fifth in the SEC, behind Vandy, LSU, Arkansas, and South Carolina.  So we could've done worse in the draw.  Much worse.  UVA, by the way, is the national 6 seed.

-- I'll tell you who else could've done worse: Miami.  The tournament committee practically fellated the Hurricanes.  Miami's RPI is 19th, which might help explain it, but sheesh: this was a team with a losing ACC record.  They did beat Clemson, VT, and GT in weekend series, but also lost series to Duke, BC(!), and Wake (three of the four non-entrants to the ACC tournament) as well as Florida, who is a regional 3 seed.  Which is probably what Miami should be.  Instead they're a 2 seed with a nationally unseeded regional host.  Wut?  Well, they have one of the nation's toughest 3 seeds in Oklahoma State, so it's not all craziness.  I guess either the committee likes their RPI + series wins, or else it's a measure of respect for the ACC.

-- This is the bracket that will be used next year and in the future at ACC baseball tournaments.  It's a 10-team double-elimination.  Having been morbidly fascinated by how they will pull that off, I find that the final product doesn't disappoint in all its convolusion.  Stare at it til your head hurts, then come back here for the explanation, such as it is, if you need it.  Let's see if I can interpret that:

* The teams will be divided into two pools of five: 1-4-6-7-9 and 2-3-5-8-10.
* The top two seeds will get a bye. (Presumably, they will still be, stupidly, the division winners.)
* The first set of games, on Tuesday, will be 4-9, 6-7, 3-10, and 5-8.  The losers of those games head to the loser's bracket to play Wednesday.  In each pool, the best-seeded winner gets a bye til Thursday, and the worst-seeded winner plays the 1 or 2 seed on Wednesday, the winner of which advances to Thursday.
* The winner of this Thursday winner's bracket game advances to Saturday.  The loser heads to the loser's bracket, which concludes sorting itself out on Friday and sends a team to Saturday.
* By Saturday, we only have four teams left, two from each pool, which will play a single-elimination tourney to decide a champion on Sunday.

Got all that?  On one hand, I guess it's nice that they've found a way to reward better-seeded teams.  (I'm avoiding using the term "higher-seeded" because that bracket uses that term to mean worse.)  On the other hand, that has potential to grind up pitching staffs something fierce, and plus nobody will be able to understand it.  Is the ACC baseball tournament such a cash cow that it's so vital to have 10 teams there?  (No.  It isn't.)  Better alternatives include:

* The same thing we're doing now.
* Not having a tourney at all, playing one extra week of regular season ball, and handing the banner to the team with the best record.
* This.


Further stuff in brief:

-- Fresh off losing one Richardson, the football team picks up a future one in the form of OL Will Richardson.  Despite the limited space in the 2014 class, I think we'll probably try to get one more OL, but with Richardson and Steven Moss, the class is a paragon of quality-not-quantity on the OL.  Richardson has ratings ranging from high three stars to sitting inside the ESPN 150.  (Though admittedly, had he chosen Florida State instead, he had a much better likelihood of staying there.)

-- Paul Jesperson has settled on Northern Iowa as his landing spot.  Much closer to his home of Wisconsin than his other option, USC.  Much luck to him.

-- UVA's first two football games - BYU and Oregon - will both be 3:30 games, the former on ESPNUVA and the latter on ESPN2 or ABC depending on your location.  Win.  A strong showing in those games - which is probably to say, beat BYU and don't get embarrassed by Oregon - should set us up for decently-televised games through mid-October.  And since that's the softer part of the schedule, moving through it with aplomb might just give us some well-timed games (i.e. not at noon on Raycom) the rest of the year.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

the recruit: Quin Blanding

Name: Quin Blanding
Position: S
Hometown: Virginia Beach
School: Bayside
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 201

24/7: 99, five stars; #1 S, VA #3, US #9
ESPN: 90, five stars; #1 S, VA #3, Atl. #4, US #11
Rivals: 6.1, five stars; #1 S, VA #2, US #4
Scout: five stars; #3 S

Other offers: Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee, Penn State, UCLA, North Carolina, NC State, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Purdue, Maryland, Cincinnati, Connecticut

It's time to begin the recruit profile series again.  Normally I've been able to save some of the best recruits for last, because normally they wait til near the end to commit, and these are always, without exception, written in order of commitment.  Five-star mega-dudes with offer lists the size of Lindsey Lohan's rap sheet don't usually finish their recruitments this early.

Quin Blanding, obviously, did.  This is the fruit of Mike London's labor in the state: having wrapped up previous classes fairly early, he had time to plant the seeds for years like 2014 and 2015.  As a result, this recruitment was over almost before it began.  Blanding's offer list actually is less extensive than it might've been had he waited even another six weeks or so, but it's impressive (to say the least) all the same, a veritable who's-who of programs.

Blanding is also an elite recruit on a dizzying level.  Sometimes we get a guy we call a five-star recruit because one service said so.  Good for us and all that.  Blanding is a five-star recruit because every service says so, the first such player we can claim since Eugene Monroe from way back when there were only two services.

Why do they say so?  For one, Blanding's size; he's tall for a safety (even an NFL safety), a little heavier than most, and still faster and quicker than any of his peers.  Most of our depth chart guys are in the 6'0", 190ish range.  ESPN says he possesses "ideal size" but the truth is he's actually bigger than ideal without sacrificing one mote of the necessary athleticism.  He's already built like a guy playing on Sundays, except without the years of weight training.

The services then follow that up by trying to outdo each other in gushing about Blanding's actual game: instincts, ball skills, and the like.  24/7 writes: "What stands out most about his game is his ability to read a play. He is rarely out of position .... His speed, versatility and leaping ability were also all on display throughout the competition."  ESPN is eerily similar: "Excels in coverage with instinctive ball-hawking skills and a real feel for route recognition and field awareness. Reads the quarterback eyes and knows where he is going with the football which allows for so many big plays. Disciplined and rarely caught out of position. The ideal roaming safety who can read, react and close on the football quickly from any alignment."

Rivals agrees too: "It comes down to a few things at the safety position: How do you see the field? How quickly do you react? Do you avoid false steps and misreading the play and are you willing to come up and smack someone in run support and make them pay down the middle of the field in the passing game? ...Blanding has all of those attributes."  They then go on to trump the other two by talking up his leadership skills, which they rarely fail to mention in any one of their many Blanding Is Awesome articles.

It's really almost not worth diving too deeply into the scouting reports.  Of all the ideal attributes of a top-notch free safety, Blanding isn't missing any of them.  Even Scout, which comes up with the only downside in his game because they have to fill up the "Areas for Improvement" section somehow ("backpedal quickness" is what they've come up with) goes on two seconds later to say he "really doesn't have a weakness in his game."  So the real question is, does Blanding go straight to the all-ACC lists or does he go bust?

We'll turn to the ranks of Rivals's previous five-star safeties for the answer.  There actually aren't many.  Of those evaluated as DBs, 2002 through 2004 produced mostly guys who played offense, grew into linebacker, or were cornerbacks.  2005 is the first time we see safeties who stuck at safety: Kenny Phillips became a very, very good player for Miami and an eventual first-round draft pick, and Demetrice Morley was on track to be just as good but let off-field problems derail his career.  2006 had two more safeties: Reshad Jones (Georgia) and Myron Rolle (FSU), both future NFLers.  Chad Jones in 2007 had a good career at LSU, was picked in the third round of the NFL draft, but chose baseball eventually.  2009 had Craig Loston, who has slowly become an impact player for LSU.  2010, you've got Lamarcus Joyner, doing outstanding work at FSU, and Matt Elam, who did outstanding work at Florida and then left early to be a first-round pick.

What did I learn from the little sojourn through history?

-- Rivals rarely hands five stars to safeties.  Cornerbacks get about three times as many five-star designations as safeties do.
-- When they do, they're not wrong.  I didn't leave out any busts on purpose just to make the list look better.  For the most part, the only reason a player busted out is because he was a head case.  Worst-case scenario for non-head-cases was taking a couple years to reach full potential.  Blanding is not a head case.

We're not bringing in an all-world recruit who does everything in order to redshirt, obviously.  Blanding will be on the field from Day 1.  There are those who think he could start for college programs right this minute.  Hell, there are those who think he could've started for college programs last fall as a high school junior.  They might be right.  In 2014, though, UVA will probably have this little luxury: two long-term starters (Ant Harris and Brandon Phelps) entering their senior year.  So if Blanding does start from the get-go, either something very bad happened or we're going to have an NFL safety roaming the defensive backfield for three years.  More likely is that Blanding gets into the rotation in the two-deep and then takes over the starting job as a true sophomore.  Blanding will also face a little competition from Anthony Cooper and Malcolm Cook, two players who aren't as far along on the eligibility scale.  Both have gotten good press.  But Blanding aces the eye test and literally everyone who's seen him play raves about both his physical and mental game.  How much early playing time he gets depends somewhat on his adjustment to the college game and his scheme pickup, but anyone betting against his becoming a starter sooner rather than later - and a likely full-time resident of the various all-ACC lists - is a sad and foolish man.  The only downside is that if all goes as planned, he'll probably only be around three years.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

recruiting board update

It's been long enough, so it's that time again.  The board itself is in the same place you left it.

-- Removed RB Cortavious Givens from yellow.  UVA has offered enough other RBs and we've seen little enough of Givens's name in the news that it appears plain UVA has moved on.  Keep in mind that it was the previous staff that offered Givens.

-- Removed LB Connor Strachan from green (BC.)  I had some hopes for that one, but it was not to be.  No Jim Reid (and therefore nobody with a Bahstan accent) makes it harder to pull prospects out of New England.

-- Added RB Jordan Ellis, WR Juwann Winfree, TE (or WR) Jamal Custis, ATH Elijah Staley, and DE Deonte Holden to yellow.  Been keeping an eye on the new crop of offers, which are going out once a day or so to someone new, and these are the ones I think are most likely to bear a little fruit, or at least bear watching.

Staley is the most interesting case; he wants to walk on to a basketball team somewhere and was originally committed to Vandy, but Vandy wasn't OK with that, so he decommitted.  UVA has told him they'd take him, hoops and all.  I do believe he'd count toward the hoops scholarship limit of 13 even on a football scholarship.

Holden is a DeMatha product, which always is worth a look.  I definitely wouldn't mind keeping that pipeline open; we didn't get anyone from there in 2013.


Boo, UVA lost at baseball today.  Badly, I might add.  In the future, however good UVA is and however lousy VT is, I guess they'll always be able to say they had our number in 2013.  The Hoos just couldn't figure out how to hit Mantiply all season.

At any rate all is not lost; a very plausible path still exists to get UVA to the championship game on Sunday.  Obviously they must beat both GT and FSU; it's never possible to get to Sunday going 1-2.  The VT/FSU game doesn't matter;** it's the Friday GT/VT game that matters, and we need GT to win that one.

**Because let's make it a given we win the next two; that makes FSU 0-2, GT 1-1, and VT 1-0 that we know of so far.  If VT were to beat FSU but lose to GT, that sets up a 3-way tie at 2-1, which we win because we had the best regular season win%.  If VT were to beat GT and lose to FSU instead, that would create a two-way tie between us and VT; bad news.  Obviously if VT wins both their next games it's irrelevant, and if they lose both their next games then great.  But the outcome of their game against FSU won't change our outcome.  So we need to beat the Jackets on Thursday then be their biggest fans on Friday.

acc tourney preview

So that starts Wednesday.  It's officially the postseason, and that means obsessing over pitching staff usage and the goings-on in your little pods as the tournaments make their inexorable advance toward (hopefully) championships of some kind.  UVA's game times for the ACC are as such:

Wednesday, 3 PM: Virginia Tech
Thursday, 11 AM: Georgia Tech
Saturday, 11 AM: Florida State

Sure, don't put the conference's winningest team on in prime time or anything.  We wouldn't want anyone to see good baseball.  My whining aside, you've already seen series previews on each of these teams, so these will be just little capsules of each game.

-- Wednesday --

The Hokies haven't announced any rotation info for the tourney, but I think it's a safe bet that UVA will face their top pitcher, lefty Joe Mantiply.  Mantiply has gotten a lot better as the season went on; when I wrote the series preview a few weeks ago he was allowing a .304 batting average, which is now down to .256.  He's got good velocity for a lefty and has worked himself into being one of the ACC's legitimate top starters, though he didn't get an all-conference nod.

UVA's last outing against Mantiply didn't go all that well; Kenny Towns and Derek Fisher took him deep, but they were solo shots only and the Hoos managed three runs in seven innings.  Brandon Waddell will oppose the Hokies; he gave up six runs in 5 2/3 in the Friday game against VT, but the UVA bats bombed the Hokie pitching and handed him the win.

Tech's lineup, as before, is largely about the six or so players that make it go.  Tyler Horan finished the regular season leading VT in nearly every applicable category, including a .344 BA and 11 HR.  The bottom three aren't a major threat, but if you let the top six string things together it's a long day.

-- Thursday --

Georgia Tech will have their FSU game under their belt by game time Thursday, and UVA won't have to face Buck Farmer, who mowed down the Hoos' lineup in the first meeting.  Instead it'll be righty Dusty Isaacs facing off against Scott Silverstein.  This was also the Saturday matchup in the regular season, which UVA won 7-2 with five runs in four innings off of Isaacs.  Silverstein, meanwhile, had one of his best days of the year, allowing just one in seven innings and whiffing nine.

We need that kind of performance again, because GT's lineup as usual is built around trying to get on base in front of their gorillas; this year, said gorillas are named Zane Evans and Daniel Palka, and they combined for 31 homers and 125 RBIs in the regular season.  GT's lineup makes them dangerous, but this pitching matchup was a pretty favorable one the first time around, and should be somewhat so again.

-- Saturday --

This is the final game of pool play on our side of the bracket, so we'll know for sure going in what the story is as per trying to get to Sunday.  Obviously, the most likely thing is that we have to win to get there (if we aren't already eliminated from contention.)  O'Connor hasn't picked his pitcher yet for this game; probably, it'll be Nick Howard if we need to win or if we're already out (the latter being just for the sake of getting Howard some work, as he didn't pitch against UNC), and if somehow we've already clinched a spot in the Sunday championship, then we probably save Howard for Sunday and toss Whit Mayberry instead.

FSU, meanwhile, has already made their choice: southpaw Brandon Leibrandt, who opposed Scott Silverstein in the regular season and lost despite pitching a gem.  UVA only scratched out four hits and two runs, but it was enough because Silverstein pitched his other best game of the year: seven shutout innings.  The actual likely starter, Howard, also pitched a terrific game the next day to polish off the regular season sweep.

FSU may actually have the least scary lineup in the pool.  It's deeper than either VTs or GTs but doesn't have the top-end power and for-average hitting that the Techs bring.  The pressure will be on the Noles, given their inability back in April to break through against UVA's pitching.  If we can get through the first two games with a 2-0 record and a reasonably intact bullpen, the final hurdle will be ours for the taking.


I would obviously be remiss if I said nothing about the tennis, which beat UCLA in a drama-filled matchup for the program's first national title in its history and the ACC's first in that sport since like the caveman days.  (If you count Notre Dame's 1959 title.  Otherwise it's the ACC's first in that sport since ever.)  UVA swept through every round up to and including the quarterfinals without losing a match; a 4-1 win over Georgia was closer than that score indicated, and a 4-3 win over UCLA was closer than that score indicated too.  #3 singles player Mitchell Frank finished off the title win with a really gutty come-from-behind win after dropping his first set 6-0.

And I've already edited the Wikipedia page, you're welcome.

Fun facts:

-- This is UVA's 20th NCAA-sanctioned national title and 27th counting other sanctioning bodies (such as pre-NCAA lacrosse action and indoor tennis.)

-- UVA has won a national title in something for five years in a row.  (This blog will complete its fifth season whenever baseball wraps up.  Hmmmm.  I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.)

-- And it hasn't been done by owning a death grip on some esoteric sport, like the way USC has won the last five (and probably six, soon enough) men's water polo titles.  Five titles, one per year, in four different sports: men's soccer, men's lacrosse, men's tennis, and two in crew.  Not too many schools, if any, can claim that kind of broad-based excellence.

So.  Many congrats to Brian Boland, who's had his team on the cusp for a long time now and finally broke through.  UVA didn't lose to a single opponent all year, and hasn't lost to a conference opponent since 2006.

Speaking of conference opponents, while we're busy collecting trophies, there's still one straggler that doesn't show up in the annals of the elite.  A moment of silence for an empty case, please.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

weekend review

Of the big four sports played in North America, as well as some of the next-tier ones like soccer and lacrosse, baseball is easily the most structured.  That's why it lends itself so well to advanced statistics.  That's also why it's the most prone to bizarrity; in a more free-flowing game like hockey or basketball, there's less of a structure to break free of, which means there's less opportunity for something nutty to happen.  And usually when it does, it's because of the officials.

So you get games like Saturday's against UNC.  It's impressive how fast a pitchers' duel turned into a slugfest.  Whit Mayberry did a great job in five innings of starting, needing only about 60 pitches and moving very efficiently.  Nathan Kirby was great for two innings; unfortunately, he pitched in three, with the wheels coming off in the eighth.  (He wasn't the only one, though; the boys in Carolina blue fell apart at exactly the same time.  And I was impressed in the confidence the coaches put in Kirby, having him pitch through some tough situations in a very tight game.)

Thankfully, UVA scoring runs and then UNC giving them back wasn't the ultimate story.  Carolina boneheadedness was.  UVA's 11th-inning rally started to bear fruit when UNC tried to get the lead runner at third on a sacrifice bunt, and Colin Moran biffed the throw, which of course moved everyone up a bag.  That's how the 11th started; it ended when Skye Bolt hit a deep drive that Mike Papi caught against the wall (saving at least a double), and for whatever reason, the pinch-runner on first never tagged up.  He was nowhere to be found when the ball arrived back at the base to double him off and polish off the game.

You can argue for a while whose fault that was (and we have, believe me) but since none of the replays show where he ended up, it's all speculation.  My guess: he came in thinking there were two outs (there was one) and that Papi's catch was the end of the inning.  And therefore went tearing around the basepaths at the crack of the bat with home plate on the mind.  If that's the case, I blame the first-base coach; I mean, I used to kind of internally roll my eyes in my baseball playing days, when I'd reach first and the coach there would remind me how many outs.  But there's a reason they do that.  I doubt it happened this time.

So with Thursday's game being a carryover of the scorching-bat attack from the Duke series and the VCU midweek game, and UVA scoring 10 runs on Carolina's ace Kent Emanuel (the more-than-heavy implication on the Sabre board is that Emanuel was tipping all his offspeed pitches) the only thing that kept UVA from a sweep was one really lousy inning on Friday.

It's really not that bad a deal, though.  If you buy that there are five real competitors for the ACC title, any of which could win the tourney, UVA is in the tourney pool that has only two of them; us and FSU.  UNC has to deal with both Clemson and NC State.  On the other hand, we do have the only two teams that beat us in a series this year (that would be the two Techs.)

Some other notes in brief:

-- Nate Irving moves like a sloth in molasses, which makes it all the more exciting when he does things like beat out a bunt and score from second on a single to left.

-- Kyle Crockett was absolutely devastating on Thursday.  In retrospect it's a shame we used him Thursday, because he got shelled Friday and might not have if he hadn't pitched the day before, but man: when his curve is working, left-handers look like total dipshits against it.  And let's face it: we all know UNC has a nasty good lineup, and a six-run lead isn't totally safe.  As we sort of learned on Saturday when the Heels overcame a three-run deficit and nearly blew past a four-run one.  So no bagging on BOC for using Crockett to "save" a huge lead in game one.

-- Colin Moran won the ACC POY award over Mike Papi.  I am not sure whether to be enraged or not.  Papi probably had one of the best seasons ever for a non-winner.  I mean, hello, national OBP leader.  (Then again: national RBI leader Moran.)  On the one hand, Papi was probably penalized for not playing the whole season.  He wasn't even a starter at the beginning and sat about 10-12 games entirely.  This is probably part of the reason Joe McCarthy won freshman of the year instead of Skye Bolt.  So in that respect it evens out.  And it wasn't the media voting, it was the coaches, so for once we can't blame Caulton Tudor and his ilk.

On the other hand, the coaches couldn't even agree on which third baseman should be on the all-ACC first team; Moran shared that honor with VT's Chad Pinder.  If he's not definitively the best at his position, is he really the best overall player in the conference?

Oh well; we don't really know if Papi was "definitively the best" outfielder either, and he might well not have been.  Anyway, UVA was well represented on the honors list: Papi, Reed Gragnani, Nick Howard, and Kyle Crockett all made the first team; McCarthy and Branden Cogswell the second team, and UVA took home FOY and COY honors while UNC took pitcher and player of the year.  Of 36 slots on the honorees list, 15 are filled with Hoos or Heels.  Nice especially to see Gragnani honored after a career spent mostly on the injured list.

-- A few other bragfacts from the ACC release on this honors stuff: this is BOC's third COY award in four years and fourth of his UVA tenure.  During that tenure, UVA has only failed to reach 40 wins twice; we got 39 those times.


-- Clifton Richardson's impending transfer is definitely one of the more disappointing ones of late.  I think pretty much all of us had high hopes for his future.  It doesn't hurt the depth too badly, but Richardson had more potential than either of the backs in front of him on the chart.  Even if Taquan Mizzell was likely going to ensure Richardson never hit the top of the food chain.  It leaves basically four backs on the roster for 2013, all of whom will almost certainly see the field at some point.  Kevin Parks and Mizzell likely hold the inside track on the top two slots, and Khalek Shepherd and Kye Morgan will at a bare minimum get garbage time - though probably a little more than that.

-- An article that casts some doubt on the future, as-yet-nonexistent ACC Network.  Consolation prize if the ACC Network falls through: more cash from ESPN, quite probably meant as a way to ensure the viability of the conference since it's really in ESPN's best interest for the ACC to exist.  The article says that works out to about $2 million more per school per year, which after a little math and some assumptions means about $336 million total.  So what I hear from that is that if ESPN can buy out the necessary rights from the other media entities that own them for less than $336 million, it's network city.

-- The men's tennis team plays in its third straight national championship matchup tomorrow against UCLA.  A win would give UVA its first ever title, and extend our national championship streak to five years (UVA has won a national title in something every year since 2009) as well as give us a chance at our first multiple-title year since 1993.

Friday, May 17, 2013

acc meetings

ESPN writes that the ACC meetings wrapped up today "with little fanfare."  That's because they didn't have to spend the whole week fending off rumors that the conference is the new feeding ground for all the other ones.  Good to know.  So what did they do instead?  Good question.  Mostly administrative stuff.  Here's a rundown of the issues that took some headlines:

-- Madison Square Garden.  What is the future host of the ACC basketball tournament, Alex, if some get their way?  There are further discussions to be had here, but it's clear the ACC would like to figure out how to get its hoops tournament there somehow.  It might be a lot closer to happening if MSG didn't have a contract with a very faraway expiration date with the Big East (the Catholic one, not the future AAC) to keep hosting that tournament.  And I doubt you'll find the Big East willing to move to the early weekend of conference tourneys in order to accommodate the league that helped burn down the one they're in.

It might be more likely that the ACC finds its way to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  It might not have the old-school cachet of MSG, but it'd certainly be an attention-grabber in its own right.  (And you know how "attention" is right there in the college sports thesaurus next to "recruiting.")  What really needs to happen is that the tournament needs to find its way out of Greensboro, permanently.  You've got the premier hoops conference in the country; it needs a bigger stage.  Rotate it to DC and Atlanta and Charlotte, lawyer your way into MSG, or "settle" for Brooklyn, but let's figure something out that gives the tourney the stage it deserves.

And by the way, I'm not too worried about the Carolina mafia trying to force it to stay in Greensboro or NC in general.  When suits sit at a conference table - which is where this decision will be made - they're thinking in terms of money, not home-court advantage.  In this respect the suit from Duke is no different than the suit from Pittsburgh.

-- Conference scheduling.  I want nine games.  The coaches, though, unanimously want eight, and they'll probably get their way.  ADs are amenable to eight because it allows them to schedule more home games, which means more cash flow.  The coaches' argument is understandable from their perspective.  Let's say you're Clemson; you've got three OOC slots after nine conference games get scheduled, and one of them is always South Carolina, and now one of them is going to be Notre Dame roughly every three years.  So every three years you get to schedule one OOC game for yourself.  Which will probably be, like, Furman so you can get that easy home game for the aforementioned cash flow.  This was not a topic of major discussion, which is as good a sign as any that a move to nine games isn't gonna happen for the near future; probably never, until and unless Notre Dame makes it official and then maybe the conference adds a 16th team for the sake of the numbers.

-- Playoff seeding.  The coaches also made it known they want their poll to be in the selection committee criteria.  Once again I find myself at odds with the coaches.  As it is, I worry that the selection committee will be awfully bloated as various voices try to find their way into the conversation.  The fact is, though, that no poll of any kind is used in basketball, or lacrosse, or baseball, and with good reason.  The running joke about the coaches' poll is that it's always filled out by some GA, and sometimes it probably is.  Polls just don't make good selection tools.

-- Ticket allotment policies.  Meaning for postseason games, where a school has to sell X tickets and eat the ones it doesn't sell.  These always receive a lot of bad press because people always go "whoa, they lost money by playing in the bowl game!" (Generally these articles are the result of poor and incomplete accounting, but I digress.)  The ACC didn't come up with any grand new ideas, but they did agree to keep talking about it.  It's probably a net positive, if they can come up with a way to counter the trend of people buying tickets anywhere but through their school, which always charges full price up next to Stubhub or the bowl itself selling them cheaper.  People can't be blamed for not buying $50 tickets for a group of four when they can buy $25 ones instead, but the school does have to fork out the difference, so it'd be nice if the first option, rather than the last, was buying from the school's allotment.

-- ACC Network.  Workin' on it.  See if you can get them to put it on basic here in Michigan, mmk?

-- Stuff they won't do.  Divisional realignment.  FBS-only scheduling mandates.  Some of this stuff is just the media asking, "hey, now that that conference did it, will you too?"  No.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

series preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Thu./Sat., May 16-18; 6:00, 7:00, 2:00


Record against the Heels: 98-175-4

Last meeting: UNC 3-0 over UVA (1-2, 2-6, 3-5); 4/13-4/15/12, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 17, VCU 3 (5/14); UNC 2, App.St. 0 (5/14)

Last weekend: UVA 3-0 over Duke (6-5, 17-8, 14-6); GT 2-1 over UNC (4-5, 3-1, 8-9)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #7; UNC #3
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #7; UNC #2
Perfect Game: UVA #6; UNC #2
Coaches: UVA #7; UNC #2
Composite: UVA #6; UNC #2

North Carolina lineup:

C: Brian Holberton (.310-9-29)
1B: Cody Stubbs (.365-7-65)
2B: Mike Zolk (.300-2-25)
SS: Michael Russell (.304-2-27)
3B: Colin Moran (.379-13-78)
LF: Parks Jordan (.281-1-24)
CF: Chaz Frank (.293-1-27)
RF: Skye Bolt (.391-6-41)
DH: Landon Lassiter (.331-1-23)

Lineup notes: In UNC's ideal hitting world, that's who they'd start.  Skye Bolt's injury, from which he returned against Appy State this week, forced Holberton to go to the outfield.  In his absence, Matt Roberts (.167-2-16) and Korey Dunbar (.163-0-3) split catching duties.  Obviously they're both atrocious hitters, and will probably be used mainly as defensive replacements.  This is a lefty-heavy lineup, and both are right-handers, so pinch-hitting against our lefty relievers isn't out of the question either, nor, I suppose, is starting them against our lefty starters.  Utility OF Alex Raburn (.200-0-5) is a right-handed pinch-hit option as well.

Pitching probables:

Thursday: LHP Brandon Waddell (4-1, 3.88, 69 K) vs. LHP Kent Emanuel (9-2, 2.03, 73 K)
Friday: LHP Scott Silverstein (8-1, 3.21, 53 K) vs. RHP Benton Moss (8-1, 2.96, 74 K)
Saturday: TBA vs. LHP Hobbs Johnson (4-0, 1.99, 54 K)

North Carolina has been more or less the undisputed best team in the ACC all season, with only one remaining challenger to the throne: Virginia.  The Hoos can usurp the Heels' spot atop the conference with a sweep this weekend.  Unlikely, of course, but possible.  Sweep, and UVA takes the #1 seed in the ACC tourney; otherwise, the #3 seed awaits.

-- UVA at bat

UNC will send a parade of outstanding pitchers to the hill this weekend, whom they've relied on all year.  Kent Emanuel has had three excellent years at UNC, and is going to go in the first round because he's a very rare breed of pitcher: a big, tall lefty who's filled out his frame and is still upping the velocity on his fastball.  That was a decent-at-best pitch as a freshman that's worked its way into the low 90s; additionally, he's a four-pitch guy with a terrific changeup and great control.  Emanuel pitches deep into games; he's racked up four complete games and averages over eight innings an appearance.  Basically, he pitches into the ninth more often than not.

Friday will be hard-throwing, beanpole right-hander Benton Moss, who was a freshman all-American last year.  His fastball is mid-90s stuff - and that was coming out of high school.  He, too, has a nice arsenal of pitches, and is more of a strikeout fiend than Emanuel is, averaging over one per inning.  But he also brings a little less polish and control.  Finally there's Hobbs Johnson, a lefty more in the typical mold of southpaws, with a more moderate velocity on his fastball and an array of pitches that he must command well in order to be successful.  Johnson has been good at keeping hitters from making solid contact, but walks more than he should and runs up high pitch counts; he's pulled, on average, in the fifth inning.

UNC's bullpen will put UVA's reliever-eating skills to the test.  Everyone who might be expected to show up on the hill has an opponents' BA below .200, except for closer Trent Thornton at .201.  Big exception there.  The one potential chink in the armor is that they're all righties; the likelihood of the Heels bringing a southpaw out of the pen is minimal.

-- UNC at bat

There's very little point in analyzing the ups and downs of the UNC lineup, because there aren't a whole lot of downs to go off of.  Colin Moran is legitimately one of the elite players in the whole country; his 78 RBIs are tops in the nation and the pace that he's on would put the major league record to shame if applied over 162 games.

Not far behind him, though, is Cody Stubbs, whose 21 doubles are best in the ACC and near the top in the nation as well.  I'd call those two the top threats, with third going to freshman outfielder Skye Bolt, hitting .391 and recently healed from a foot injury.  On the basepaths, it's Bolt, Chaz Frank, and Michael Russell presenting the biggest steal threats.

Now that we know we don't have Brandon Cogswell, it's safe to guess that the Saturday TBA on the mound is as much about BOC deciding whether he wants Nick Howard in the infield or on the mound as it is about sorting out the postseason rotation.

-- Outlook

This is a meeting of the ACC's two best-hitting teams; the difference is that UNC has a starting rotation that's more or less elite and backs it up with a bullpen.  UVA can match up in the bullpen department but not many teams in the country can match the rotation.  I think the Hoos, with their very patient approach, should be able to find some success against Hobbs Johnson and possibly Benton Moss as well.  That doesn't translate automatically to a win, of course, but we can at least point out that the Heels won't be invincible.  The other matchup in UVA's favor is the heavy emphasis on left-handed hitting that the Heels' lineup uses, against UVA's lefty starting pitchers and relievers like Kyle Crockett.

That said, this is obviously a tough series.  Could UVA pull out a 2-1 win?  Absolutely.  More likely is a 2-1 loss; I'll be fall-off-my-chair surprised if either team gets a sweep.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

weekend review

Note: day late due to me traveling

Mission accomplished.  Baseball-wise, the weekend couldn't have gone better for the Hoos.  (Actually in most other respects too, but more later.)  A sweep against Duke was accomplished via the use of fiery bats as UVA scored 37 runs during the weekend's three games.  Friday looked a little iffy with Duke's starter keeping the bats off balance for eight innings.  The Hoos scratched out only five hits on him.  But if there's one thing UVA has done well this season, it's ground relief pitchers into a fine paste and spread them over a nice blown save sandwich.  This was the fate of closer Andrew Istler, who faced seven batters and got just one of them out.

The rest of the weekend, they decided not to wait for the bullpen before they got out the beating implements.  UVA did an awfully nice favor for its fans in not making them sit around for nine innings anxiously hoping things would turn out OK.  Oh, I guess Sunday's game was kinda close for a time.  But the problem with letting UVA beat your starter up is that it forces you to put in relievers, and eventually the Hoos find one they like.

The offensive outburst was proof UVA has the depth to survive an injury, as it was announced before the series that SS Brandon Cogswell will miss some time with a broken finger.  Definitely the UNC series and ACC tournament and possibly (or probably) more.  The lineup solution was to slide Nick Howard over to short and place Kenny Towns at third; when Howard pitched, John LaPrise took over at short.  Obviously, the offense didn't miss a beat.

(On the plus side for Duke, they did validate their decision to pull Drew Van Orden from the starting rotation, as he gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning in relief on Saturday.  So, you know, the managing decisions went alright.)

Also going alright: the play around the rest of the ACC.  Clemson was idle, but UVA's sweep of Duke put them three games ahead of the Tigers, and having won the series against them earlier, that's a wrap as far as Clemson is concerned.  NC State lost their series to FSU 2-1, which put them 3.5 games back of UVA, another wrap.  The upshot is that UVA is guaranteed of finishing no lower than #3 in the ACC, and guaranteed as well of avoiding UNC in pool play in the ACC tourney.  UNC also lost their series (to Georgia Tech) but UVA still has to sweep the Heels in order to win the division; a 2-1 series win would leave UVA with a winning percentage of .733, and UNC .750.  In the standings, that's a tie as far as "games back" are concerned, but ACC rules specify winning percentage.  UNC has two fewer games because not every school manages rain as well as UVA, but one of the canceled games was against Boston College so it's not like they were really at risk of losing.  Still, it kind of sucks for us.  So just sweep 'em, then.  If we win the series 2-1 you can always point out to UNC fans you know that we didn't get to play the unbelievably horrible Eagles.


-- The weekend was successful elsewhere too, as the crew team brought home the school's fifth ACC championship of the season.  With NC State upsetting favorite FSU in the softball championship (FSU allowed just one run the whole tourney.... but failed to score in the championship game) that means it's guaranteeed that no school will have more titles than UVA this year.  Only one is left to be decided (baseball) and FSU has a decent shot to win it, but can only tie UVA in total championships for 2012-13.  Anyone else and we get the crown outright.

-- Mike Papi won UVA's first player of the week award in the ACC this year - sort of.  He had to share the honor with FSU's D.J. Stewart.  I think that means I can still say we're somehow winning this season without any good players.

-- Virginia Tech is adding a women's golf team.  I'm weird, so my first thought was "hmm, it looks like they have extra cash, I wonder if a men's lacrosse team is in their future."  I'd like to think so, so that we can trounce them every year in something new, but golf teams are cheap to run and almost never have more than ten players (and usually fewer.)  So no, it probably doesn't mean they're so flush with cash that men's lacrosse is on the way.

-- The ACC meetings are ongoing, and the most interesting topic will be football scheduling.  Specifically, should we go to nine games or stay at eight?  Probably they'll stay at eight, and we've been through this before once already with the conference deciding to move to nine and then changing their mind a few months later.  Just make it nine already.  Also, they'll discuss playing some games overseas to "expand the brand."  No sense in that.  For the pros it's one thing since leagues like the NBA already have international appeal and might be able to get a TV contract in Europe.  As well, the NFL is already publicly thought to want to have a team in London or somewhere.  Neither are ever going to happen for the ACC, so why waste money flying teams out across the pond?

Friday, May 10, 2013

series preview: Duke

Date/Time: Fri-Sun, May 10-12; 6:00, 4:00, 1:00

TV: Cavaliers Live

Record against the Blue Devils: 89-53-1

Last meeting: UVA 2-1 over Duke (3-6, 12-3, 10-3)

Last game: UVA 11, VCU 3 (4/30); Liberty 4, Duke 3 (5/5)

Last weekend: UVA bye; Duke bye

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #7; Duke unranked
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #8; Duke unranked
NCBWA: UVA #7; Duke unranked
Perfect Game: UVA #6; Duke unranked
Coaches: UVA #8; Duke unranked
Composite: UVA #7; Duke unranked

Duke lineup:

C: Reed Anthes (.213-0-7)
1B: Chris Marconcini (.272-8-34)
2B: Andy Perez (.322-3-21)
3B: Jordan Betts (.283-7-42)
SS: Kenny Koplove (.301-0-17)
LF: Mark Lumpa (.307-0-11)
CF: Grant McCabe (.301-0-14)
RF: Jeff Kremer (.302-0-24)
DH: Aaron Cohn (.333-0-0)

Lineup notes: Most of Duke's lineup is pretty static.  The exceptions are at catcher and DH.  Ryan Munger (.241-0-9) has been behind the plate when Duke starts Drew Van Orden; Van Orden isn't on the slate this weekend because he's been getting knocked around but good lately.  Still, Munger will probably get one of the three games.  Aaron Cohn is a new arrival to the lineup.  Matt Berezo (.270-0-18) has been doing a lot of the DHing, but Cohn has started the last four games for Duke.

Pitching probables:

Friday: LHP Brandon Waddell (4-1, 3.98, 63 K) vs. LHP Trent Swart (4-4, 2.45, 61 K)
Saturday: LHP Scott Silverstein (7-1, 3.32, 50 K) vs. RHP Michael Matuella (4-2, 2.76, 25 K)
Sunday: TBA vs. RHP Robert Huber (5-4, 4.39, 23 K)

Our long national finals week nightmare is over, and the UVA nine return to the field this weekend to take on Duke, the penultimate series before the ACC tournament.  Though we've been operating for a while on the assumption that UVA always comes out of the exam break poorly, they've actually won something like their last four or five post-exam series, so perhaps we can call that myth busted.

Duke is presently on the outside looking in for ACC tourney qualification, sitting in the #9 spot.  And with two of the ACC's tougher teams (UVA and NC State) left on their schedule, it doesn't look great for them, so they'll be playing desperate.  UVA, meanwhile, sits three games out of the division lead and technically controls their own destiny to win it.  A sweep of UNC next weekend would do it, as long as they don't lose any ground this weekend.  But that's as much a longshot, if not more, as Duke's quest to qualify.  More realistic: Attempt to maintain or extend their game-and-a-half lead on NC State and Clemson for the #3 seed, which would keep us out of the UNC side of the tourney field.  Since nobody has a tougher final weekend than UVA does, now is the time to get the job done.

-- UVA at bat

Duke has been shuffling their starting rotation some in an effort to find a workable combination.  As mentioned above, Drew Van Orden is out, on account of being ineffectively wild.  He's just been knocked around a ton this season and hasn't shown great control.  Trent Swart is the ace of the staff and has been a mainstay all season.  A diminutive lefty, Swart commands a mere mid-80s fastball, but has outstanding command; he's very similar to Waddell, his counterpart for Friday's game.

Saturday starter Michael Matuella is a hard thrower who can touch the mid-90s and sit low-90s with his fastball.  Matuella has been brought from the pen to the rotation, having spent a large part of the season in long relief.  Even though he's probably the hardest thrower in the Blue Devil arsenal, he's not a strikeout pitcher; he relies on the heavy fastball to generate outs in the field.  Lastly, there's Robert Huber, with a fastball in between those two and a penchant for boom-or-bust pitching.  Huber has tossed two complete-game shutouts this season, but outside of those, sports a 6.62 ERA.

Out of the pen, Duke has a reliable closer in righty Andrew Istler, who relies largely on good command of his fastball and change.  Sarkis Ohanian and Nick Hendrix, a righty and lefty respectively, provide Duke's other two top bullpen options.  Beyond that, things get iffy, and Ohanian and Hendrix aren't exactly unhittable themselves.  No doubt they'll try Van Orden, and Dalton Brown is another name to watch for, but both have ERAs on the wrong side of 5, and Hendrix is the only left-handed option.  That basically means that Swart and Hendrix are the only two lefties UVA is likely to see all weekend.

As for our own bats, the main thing is to hope they're not stuck in deep freeze after the exam break.  It's always the biggest worry.  It should be possible to score the runs we need against the Dookies, though.

-- Duke at bat

Duke basically has three kinds of hitters:

-- Crappy hitters
-- Good hitters with zilch power
-- Good hitters with good power

It's amazing how well their lineup fits these three archetypes.  There are five .300+ hitters and most of them - the exception being 2B Andy Perez - fall into the middle category, almost exclusively singles hitters.  It's the infield that provides the power: Perez, along with 1B Chris Marconcini and 3B Jordan Betts, are the middle-lineup guys who are depended on for the RBIs.

Duke's lineup took a hit two months ago when regular catcher Mike Rosenfeld ruptured a tendon in his thumb, leaving two very light-hitting options in his place.  Reed Anthes is the superior defensive player, but a lousy hitter, and Ryan Munger has been taking one day a weekend as well behind the plate.  That's probably the only real hole in the Duke lineup, though, or at least, their starting lineup.  Other than deciding whether to start the recently discovered Aaron Cohn or the more-established Matt Berezo at DH, Duke's options off the bench are perilously few.  None at all, really.  The lineup is solid, but they're not going to pinch-hit much.  They can stagger their lineup between righties and lefties and hope for the best.

On the UVA side of things, Brian O'Connor isn't much for employing the TBA in the pitching probables, but there you see it.  The plausible theory off the message boards is that he's prepping his rotation for the postseason and wants to see how the Duke series shakes out before he commits to a Sunday guy.  Nick Howard can be held back if this series goes well the first two games.  It fits what BOC has done in the past for sure; the final series is almost always rejiggered a bit and this would be just a setup to that.  If Howard isn't used, I would hazard a guess on Nate Kirby or Trey Oest.

Bottom line for this weekend, though, is that Duke has a solid lineup ... but one that's been routinely held in check by quality pitching staffs.  They scored three runs all weekend against UNC, six against GT, and ten against FSU.  I think it'd be presumptuous to assume we can limit them to a run a game, but neither is it an elite, run-machine bunch.

-- Outlook

Duke isn't a terrible team, and they can steal games from the ACC's upper echelon.  They have a lot of the pieces to be successful, but the pitching has betrayed them at times.  UVA ought to win the series.  Losing one along the way shouldn't shock anyone, but this needs to be - and should be - a successful weekend.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

recruiting board update

Time for a relatively minor update to the ol' board.

-- Moved OT Bentley Spain from green to yellow.  Technically UVA is in a top five, six, whatever, but no matter where you look, UVA doesn't get a mention.

-- Moved DE Jalyn Holmes from yellow to red.

-- Removed OT Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame) and ATH Travon McMillian (VT) from red.

-- Added CB DaiQuan Lawrence to green.

It's a pretty active evaluation period right now for coaching staffs, which means new offers going out pretty quickly.  For the moment I'm holding off on adding most of them, except for Lawrence because he's instate, since most of these guys have all sorts of other offers that they've been focusing on for a while and UVA is new to their picture.  I'll wait to see some indication of reciprocated interest before adding them.

Various other mostly minor things have showed up in the news cycle lately, among them the announcment of the ACC's bowl lineup.  The only reason I mention that is to talk about my lack of opinion.  It's, like, the same as last year's.  The Gator Bowl might get added back in the future, which is cool.  Yay and all.  I can get more fired up about that than I can for a rematch with Wisconsin in next year's ACC/B1G Challenge.  I kind of wish they wouldn't do year-to-year rematches like that, but there you go.

the recruit: B.J. Stith

Name: B.J. Stith
Position: SG
Hometown: Lawrenceville
School: Oak Hill
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 175

24/7: 94, four stars; #12 SG, VA #2, US #44
ESPN: 80, four stars; #19 SG, VA #2, Atl #14
Rivals: four stars; US #36
Scout: four stars; #19 SG

Other offers: none

For those of you just getting back from your five-year tour in Antarctica, B.J. Stith is the son - the second son, he has an older brother Brandan who'll play his college ball at East Carolina - of UVA legend Bryant Stith.  Naturally, therefore, his every move has been watched by recruitophiles for a long time now, and much of what I'm going to say is already well-known.

I normally write the basketball profiles within the week after the commitment, but in Stith's case that didn't make much sense.  It's been almost two years since he verbaled up, which is to say that he did so before his sophomore year even began.  September of 2011, specifically.  There wasn't hardly anything to go on, so I made the executive decision to file it for the summer of 2013.  Close enough.  This is about the time for Stith's classmates of 2014 to get with the committing business, and we'd be doing this around now if Stith had followed the usual protocol instead of jumping two years early.

A lot has happened since then.  Eldest brother Brandan went to ECU, as mentioned; UVA wanted him to prep a year, largely to see if he'd grow, because he's something of a tweener.  He decided not to.  Old UVA coach Jeff Jones got hired at ODU, and got the gang back together in a way by hiring his former pupil: Bryant Stith.  Dad Bryant had been B.J.'s coach at Brunswick HS, where B.J. played his first three years.  That sort of gave an extra push to something that was long in the works already: a transfer to Oak Hill, where the competition will be better than what he'd have had at Brunswick.  Also helping to precipitate the move: Brunswick is dropping a division.

Stith's arrival in the fall of 2014 will be a welcome sight, because the Hoos are woefully short of true shooting guards, particularly now that Paul Jesperson has announced his departure.  Malcolm Brogdon is being counted on for a return, but this is UVA and we can't have nice things and Brogdon isn't totally assured of coming back.  Joe Harris will have graduated by the time Stith arrives.  If we have Brogdon like we should, great; if not, Taylor Barnette will be the only real two on the team.  Justin Anderson is kind of a two, but not really.

Anderson happens to be a good comparison for Stith's game.  Harris as well.  Stith is more athletic than Harris, less so than Anderson; he'll likely bring a better perimeter shot than Anderson but might be hard-pressed to match Harris in that department.  He's got good court vision and the playmaking skills that Harris and Anderson bring, and is about their size if a little bit skinnier.  (Lest you need reminding, though, he's still in high school.)  He's got the creation-for-self skills that this team lacked so greatly last season, and he can do that with both hands, adding a little extra dimension of danger to his game.  Bryant calls his game very perimeter-oriented, which makes him a great fit.  You've got a star player who just happens to in love with the school where he's a legacy, at a position and time where that school needs him the most.  Couldn't draw it up any better if you tried.

B.J. is very well-liked by the scouting services, with four stars all around, and generally considered one of the top 50 players in his class.  The lack of offers is because of the early commitment and the blatantly obvious blue and orange blood.  It's too bad we don't have a list of competitive offers to compare ourselves against (Ohio State came sniffing around, but neither they nor anyone else had a prayer), but I'll trade that for the kind of loyalty B.J. has for UVA in an instant.  Lest you think his was a hasty call, Bryant tried like hell to talk him out of such an early decision.  Wasn't happening.  B.J. asked his dad for three good reasons why he shouldn't commit early.  Bryant's best efforts couldn't sway him into holding off.  And he seems to be perfectly happy not having gone through the typical whirlwind of hoops recruiting.  Take that whole package, add the great head that B.J. carries on his shoulders (did we mention the 4.0 grade point?) and it's hard to imagine how any recruit could ever fit UVA better than this one.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

final lacrosse bracketology

Whew.  Made it.  Here is the final prediction for the upcoming lacrosse selection show, which is less than an hour away:

I'm not really sold on Syracuse as the #1 seed.  I'd be more sold on Notre Dame - if ND hadn't lost twice to Cuse.  I'd be more sold on Denver - if they didn't have the fifth-best RPI and the fourth-best average RPI of their wins.  Syracuse is tied for third (and is closer to first than to Denver, which is next) and second, respectively, and basically has to be above ND, I think.  So it is what it is.

OSU vaults into third with a win over Denver in the ECAC final.  They've both beaten and lost to Denver, so head-to-head doesn't make a difference, especially since the loss was at home.  They're just better in most categories now.  Denver works fine at fourth and UNC is a solid fifth.

Duke misses out on a seed and a home game because their RPI is comparatively atrocious.  We send them to Cornell so that Maryland can host Loyola.  I'd like to send Albany to Cornell instead, but Cornell is too low-seeded and I don't think the committee will be quite that flexible.  Same goes for Lehigh and Penn State.  Yale is a reasonableish travel distance from State College.  Travel and seeding would make Cornell and Yale an ideal matchup except for that pesky can't-play-a-team-from-your-conference rule.

It may be that the committee thinks too highly of RPI, and that Bucknell might be a more deserving team of the final at-large spot in the eyes of some.  But this is the way things are, and based on the criteria the committee uses, there's a very bright line between the ins and the outs here.  I'm pretty confident in picking Loyola over Bucknell and the rest of the bubble.  If Hopkins gets in you'll know the TV-rating fix is in.

Bryant is pretty clearly better than Detroit, which ran the MAAC table to win that tourney as the 4 seed (YES) but travel dictates keeping Detroit in the Midwest.  It's likely Detroit will follow ND wherever they end up, be that as the 1 seed, 2, or 3.

Friday, May 3, 2013

upset-riddled lacrosse bracketology

Friday was a bloodbath in the world of lacrosse conference tournaments.  The result is below:

How was the bracket upended?  Let us count the ways:

-- Towson knocked off Penn State for the CAA championship, thus bid-thieving Bucknell out of a spot.

-- Princeton and Yale upset Cornell and Penn, respectively, in the Ivy tournament.  OK, Yale over Penn wasn't actually a major upset, but it did knock the Quakers out of the bracket, where they'd been most of the year.  Neither Cornell nor PSU will find themselves spurned on Selection Sunday, but it's still a mess.

-- The MAAC three and four seeds will face off for the title, instead of the two teams that actually ran the show in the regular season.

Albany plays for the A-East title tomorrow (Saturday, that is) and they will probably lose just to spite me.

The top four seeds are pretty fuzzy.  Their identities are clear; their order is not.  I'll say with pretty strong confidence that it'll be some order of Cuse, ND, Denver, and UNC.  Why do I have them in the order that I do?  Denver doesn't have a lot of glaring resume flaws; Syracuse beat Notre Dame twice and can't under any circumstances be underneath them any more.  Denver-Cuse-ND is a triangle of doom, but Denver seems to have the most solid ground to stand on, and if they beat OSU for the ECAC title they'll cement their 1 seed.

Ohio State is now a very likely five seed; Cornell and PSU are still seeded as well, and Maryland edges Loyola for hosting duties there.  Maryland can move up in that pecking order by beating Colgate.  I'm also fairly confident that those eight teams will be the eight seeded ones.  Loyola has no more opportunity for advancement, and the Terps would drop only by losing to Colgate.

Regardless of what happens in the MAAC and NEC, Towson is ahead of either conference champ, but so far down the pecking order that I don't think there's much chance of them escaping the effective #14 seed.  Albany is a little lower than they look, but they're OK for a travel exemption of sorts and got matched up with Cornell.  I suspect they'll follow Cornell wherever they go.

I'm going out of town this weekend and may be back in time to post a bracket before the selection show.  In case I don't, here are some predictions for the record:

-- If the MAAC champ is Siena, they'll be the effective #15 seed while the NEC champ is the effective #16.  If it's Detroit, and by the way go Titans, they'll be the effective #16 and the NEC champ the effective #15.

-- The winner of Princeton-Yale gets the autobid, we know that; the loser will stay home.  Princeton would just slide right into Yale's spot with little fuss.

-- If UMBC upsets Albany, they are basically equalish to Siena, so those two (assuming Siena also wins) will get placed in the effective 14 and 15 spots, depending on travel, and Towson will get bumped upwards to the effective #13 seed.

-- Yes, I do think Maryland will beat Colgate, so in that case the seeded teams' identities won't change.  If Maryland does lose, Duke is a more likely replacement than Loyola.

-- What if Villanova knocks off Syracuse?  Consider them about Lehigh's level, and watch Loyola, Duke, and Maryland all sweat bullets.  Colgate could then knock Maryland out of the tourney, or if Maryland wins, it's down to Duke or Loyola losing their spot.

effect of the rules changes

Before this season, the NCAA instituted a very extensive set of rules changes for lacrosse.  It was probably the most extensive set of rules changes in any sport since, I would guess the new overtime rules in football, which are almost 20 years old now.  Certainly more so than the new bats in baseball.  I've been a vocal advocate of never ever instituting a shot clock for lacrosse, not even for a stall warning only (which is what they did for this year) because I figured it wasn't a great idea to put that burden on the judgment calls of the refs.  But now that a full season is over, or almost over, or over from our perspective anyway, how about a look to see what the effects of these changes really were?

Some of the rules were kind of invisible to the fan.  They tweaked the rules about stick stringing, which, OK, sure.  If you wanted to get into the stick, the one that a lot of people often have a burr up their butt about is the pinched heads, and there would be some that would celebrate if they were outlawed.  This little tweak to the rules, though, went almost totally unnoticed.

On faceoffs, a lot of changes were discussed but the main one that got through was that it became a 30-second penalty to have three faceoff violations in a half.  It seemed like an answer to a question nobody asked.  Anecdotally, I guess I noticed a couple times where a team had two violations and played tentative and lost some subsequent faceoffs, but was there a really quantifiable effect?  I'd say not really.  A 30-second penalty isn't much of a deterrent when you get down to it.  It's not all that common to score on those.  Simply not having the ball - which is the punishment for any violation - is more of a deterrent than the penalty, I think.

The other faceoff change was that on pre-whistle faceoff violations, the offending player was no longer required to leave play.  Which is fine.  I always thought it was a little bit of a silly exercise watching the FOGO guy execute the GO portion of his role as fast as his legs would let him while the offense prodded to see if it could find a fast break chance in the eight or so seconds they'd have before the defender hit the field.  Now the FOGO guy often has to play some lacrosse before he can sub off, which is a minor improvement to the play.

Restarts were another rather minor improvement.  Essentially the Steele Stanwick quick restart became legal.  Dude was always trying to get a step and more often than not would get away with it.  Now the rules encourage it instead of try to limit it, which is fine.  Goalies don't get a five-second grace period to mosey back to their nets, which makes them think twice about running to back up a shot and slightly speeds up the game.  Also fine.

Having more of an effect in the speed-things-up department is the abolition of the substitution horn.  To make up for that and throw the coaches a bone (no horn means less control, which coaches hate) the substitution box got bigger.  I tell you what, I did not miss that damn horn.  I've always liked the idea of having the best offensive and the best defensive players on the field at once, which the horn allowed you to do, but I'll bet it added 10 minutes to the game's elapsed time.  Still no quantifiable data that I've seen, but the combination of no horn, and faster (and more flexible) restarts meant that balls going out of bounds slowed down the game considerably less.

And then we have the one rule change that everyone was actually talking about: the shot clock.  The old keep-it-in rule on stall warnings was replaced with a 30-second shot clock, which would disappear only on a shot on goal (or hitting the post) or change of possession.  Lots of people proclaimed that this was really speeding up the game.  Announcers could hardly get through a game without declaring in a very satisfied manner that the stall warning shot clock was making a real difference.

Did it?  Kind of.  Used to be, the stall warning didn't actually end the possession; now, it practically guarantees the possession will end after 30 seconds.  Theoretically you could shoot on net and get a rebound, and the stall warning would be over, but that's rare.  Stall warnings basically end with either a turnover, save, or goal - and the goal is actually pretty rare too.  So possessions per game go up, right?  Actually, no.

According to both the numbers I have and the ones at Tempo Free Lax, possessions per game rose by a little over one.  Well, that's team possessions, so it's about two and a half.  Basically, each team has gotten one more possession this year than they did last year; it's nowhere near the greatly increased back-and-forth game envisioned by shot-clock proponents.

Possessions are only one way to measure pace, however; shots will also serve.  There are some that prefer shots as a measurement.  Shots are indeed up, and more so than possessions: this year has seen about five shots more per game than last year.  Scoring is up slightly too, though not so's you'd notice.  Teams are scoring an average of 10.24 goals per game, up from 9.92 last year.  That's not a real difference.

So what the shot clock has done is increase shooting as teams try to avoid the 30-second clock.  With good reason: it's proven exceedingly difficult to score once that happens.  I have only anecdotal evidence (i.e. from the games I've watched) but scoring with the 30-second clock on basically didn't happen.  So teams smartly want to avoid that, which means more shots - and worse ones.  Shooting percentage is down from 29% last year to 28% this year, which isn't a major gap, but it's there.  The drop occurred mostly at the bottom of the chain where games aren't being watched, though.  The best-shooting teams this year have similar shooting percentages to the best-shooting teams of last year.  Teams shooting worse than 25% increased from 5 in 2012 to 13 in 2013.

The lesson I take from this is that the shot clock as currently set up is a net success, but with a cautionary tale.  I do like that offenses are doing less hanging around.  I think everyone likes that.  The stall warning has a great deal more teeth than it used to.  However, once that stall warning hits - you know as the defense you're getting the ball back.  That's what it amounts to.  Nobody scores on stall warnings.  A good reason not to include a shot clock in regular play; the effects you see here would be compounded quite a bit and distorted to grotesque effects.  I think shooting percentage would plummet.  Shot clock proponents suggest that teams would go into fast breaks all the time because they'd want to avoid settled situations, but there are all kinds of reasons this is wrong.  If fast breaks were so easy to pull off, teams would use them more now.  Lacrosse coaches are no different from regular coaches: they're all risk-averse, and fast breaks are risky.  And we did see a few more fast breaks this year, if you believe the announcers, but the problem is many of them involved long-stick guys, and a long-stick guy on offense is a frightening sight, as apt to fail spectacularly as to be useful.

So have they found a good balance?  For now, I think so.  I haven't seen anything in these rule changes that've changed things for the worse; if I had to pick one I'd say the three faceoff violations thing, but that's more just unnecessary rather than deleterious.  Let's hope they leave things alone for a while and let us get a long-term look at the way the game settles down.