Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013 hoops preview: OOC schedule

This can be notoriously difficult.  Last year I divided up the teams on our out-of-conference schedule into four categories; the one labeled "Wins if we're halfway decent" contained three teams, all of which we lost to.  Then we beat the teams under the "We're the cupcake" category.  Damned if I know anymore, man.

ESPN is astoundingly schizophrenic in determining whether our schedule is a good one or a bad one.  Eamonn Brennan gave it 7 out of 10, behind only UNC and Duke in the ACC (and tied with a few other ACC teams) and wrote, "UVa missed the tournament last season mostly thanks to (a) a bad noncon schedule and (b) a bunch of really bad noncon losses. This slate should help nullify both concerns."  Joe Lunardi thoroughly disagreed, calling UVA a team that "might already have scheduled [itself] out of the next NCAA tournament."  Andy Katz couldn't decide, so he took both sides of the debate; his lead-in paragraph in introducing UVA as #19 in the power rankings called the non-con schedule "rather vanilla," followed by a video that labeled it "pretty good."

My initial reaction was leaning more toward the Lunardi view, based on seeing more crap teams than we really should (all these 300-level RPI teams are just bad news) and admittedly a little bit of annoyance that the same marquee teams from last year are still here this year.  I get that you schedule a home-and-home with opponents that are worth a damn, but I'm a little annoyed that the Big Ten gave us the same opponent twice in a row.  Anyway, I guess maybe we'll see how this looks when actually broken down somewhat analytically.

James Madison
Colonial Athletic Association

'12-'13 record: 21-15 (11-7)
'12-'13 postseason: NCAA 16 seed; lost in 1st round
'12-'13 KenPom: .4780 (2nd CAA, 172nd national)

Preseason conf. poll: 7th of 9
ESPN projection: 7th of 9

Preseason KenPom: .4265 (7th CAA, 181st national)
Preseason Hanner: 5th CAA, 187th national
Preseason TeamRank: 7th CAA, 247th national

Chance of a win: High to very high

JMU pretty much peaked last year; that's the cold truth of it.  This is decidedly a rebuilding year.  Four seniors depart and the remaining team is one senior, one junior, and a bunch of underclassmen.  The senior is Russkie Andrey Semenov, a mismatch forward with a career three-point percentage of .403.  Junior Christian Pierce is a walk-on, leaving the minutes for the sophomores and freshmen.

Sophomore Ron Curry (not that Ron Curry) will take over point guard duties, but his shooting was abysmal last year.  Taylor Bessick is the likely big-man starter - but he's not much better of a shooter and averaged 6.4 fouls per 40.  JMU is a little thin on bona fide bigs, but they do have a biggish roster; Curry at 6'4" is the shortest listed player, and everyone but him, Bessick, and redshirt freshman Dimitrije Cabarkapa is between 6'5" and 6'8".

Given the youth on this roster, it's fair to expect they'll have a tough time against the rigors of the pack-line, especially since the only apparent shooting threat is Semenov.  JMU will probably create a surprise or two along the way in the CAA season, but likely not in the opener.

Atlantic 10 Conference

'12-'13 record: 27-9 (12-4)
'12-'13 postseason: NCAA 5 seed; lost in 2nd round
'12-'13 KenPom: .8762 (2nd A-10, 20th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 1st of 13
ESPN projection: 1st of 13

Preseason KenPom: .8765 (1st A-10, 21st national)
Preseason Hanner: 1st A-10, 22nd national)
Preseason TeamRank: 1st A-10, 20th national)

Chance of a win: Middling

Shaka Smart had VCU in the Final Four two seasons ago, and last season his "Havoc" defense, while always somewhat of a calling card, gained a lot of national prominence in causing turnovers more than one out of every four opponent trips down the floor.  Unfortunately for the Rams, Havoc was exposed almost as quickly as it was revealed, in that when you try and super-press an elite point guard like Trey Burke, he nukes you.  VCU is also vulnerable in the halfcourt; an ESPN preseason article pointed out that if you take out turnovers (i.e., in VCU's case, beat the press) they gave up 1.38 points per possession.  They're probably not that bad in the halfcourt - no doubt a lot of that number simply comes from easy buckets given up by the press.

Smart will play a very long bench, a necessity when you run as hard as the Rams do.  The biggest challenge for VCU will be ensuring that junior Briante Weber is ready to take over the point from departed senior Darius Theus; this of course has as much to with fullcourt defense as the offense.  Guards Rob Brandenburg and Treveon Graham will be leaned on for three-point scoring, although neither is elite, shooting in the mid-.300s.  Down low, the offensive star will be Juvonte Reddic, a tremendously efficient player who takes, and makes, a ton of shots, and has a nose for the glass.

This game is going to be both an early bellwether and totally useless.  It probably won't be much good in terms of evaluating future chances, because it's possible the team could be either really good or really bad at breaking the press.  (Past experience is not encouraging.)  However, a win will open up some tournament possibilities, since VCU should be able to pile up the wins in their conference.  And since they're currently considered the best program in the state, UVA has a chance to make their own case for the crown.


Southern Conference
'12-'13 record: 26-8 (17-1)
'12-'13 postseason: NCAA 14 seed; lost in 1st round
'12-'13 KenPom: .7453 (1st SoCon, 69th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 2nd of 11
ESPN projection: 1st of 11

Preseason KenPom: .6980 (1st SoCon, 81st national)
Preseason Hanner: 1st SoCon, 82nd national
Preseason TeamRank: 1st SoCon, 90th national

Chance of a win: High

This is the sort of opponent you want the brass to be scheduling for RPI-manipulation purposes.  Davidson is probably not going to be awesome.  17-1 in the SoCon isn't likely to happen again, as they graduate a lot of seniors.  Some good players remain, though; senior forward De'Mon Brooks was actually the SoCon player of the year two years ago (coaches' selection) and senior mismatch forward Chris Czerapowicz can shoot the three and takes outstanding care of the ball, ranking extremely high in KenPom's turnover-rate rankings.

The Wildcats do run a little on the small side; they return some bigs, but they were little-used last year and the team as a whole doesn't show up very big in the weight department.  Alistair Mackay is 6'11" but only 215 pounds, for example; should he earn some minutes against UVA, it's unlikely he'd be able to move Mike Tobey around.

So why do I like scheduling these guys?  Because they're not deep enough to give UVA a tremendous run, but they have the pieces to run roughshod over the downtrodden Southern Conference.  The teams of the SoCon haven't put up much competition lately and the conference as a whole ranked 28th of 32 in KenPom's rankings last year.  Though picked 2nd by the media, it was a very narrow margin behind Elon, and no other projection has the Wildcats below 1st; TeamRankings has Elon like way the hell down there.  Davidson is exactly the team to push the RPI upwards, particularly since this game is a neutral-court matchup to be played in Charlotte.

Patriot League

'12-'13 record: 8-23 (2-12)
'12-'13 postseason: None
'12-'13 KenPom: .1457 (8th PL, 319th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 10th of 10
ESPN projection: 10th of 10

Preseason KenPom: .1756 (10th PL, 322nd national)
Preseason Hanner: 8th PL, 270th national
Preseason TeamRank: 9th PL, 268th national

Chance of a win: Practically guaranteed

The expansion of the Patriot League won't help the Middies any.  They were its worst team last year and have a very good chance to be its worst team this year.  There's no frontcourt to speak of unless freshmen Enuoma Ebinum or Edward Alade figure to see any time; sophomore forward Will Kelly was lightly used last season.  6'10" would-be junior Jared Smoot isn't listed on the roster.  And that just now was the full list of players over 6'6".

Point guard Tilman Dunbar had an incredible 41% assist rate last season; passing the ball was almost always his best move as he's a lousy shooter.  Junior forward Worth Smith was the team's only double-digit scorer.  Navy puts a lot of different players on the floor because they can (they don't have to worry about athletic scholarship limits) but with literally almost half the roster at just six feet or below (5'6" shooting guard Kevin Alter is actually one of the most efficient offensive players with an O-rating of 106 last year) UVA should have little trouble scoring in the paint at will and ought to win very comfortably.

Big South Conference

'12-'13 record: 15-21 (6-10)
'12-'13 postseason: NCAA 16 seed; lost in play-in
'12-'13 KenPom: .2817 (6th BSC, 256th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 2nd of 6 (BSC North)
ESPN projection: 3rd of 6 (BSC North)

Preseason KenPom: .3591 (2nd BSC-N, 237th national)
Preseason Hanner: 6th Big South, 245th national
Preseason TeamRank: 4th Big South, 223rd national

Chance of a win: High

Liberty was a little bit of a hard-luck team last year, posting respectable (for the Big South) efficiency numbers but getting killed in the regular season.  It didn't matter; they rolled through the conference tourney and snagged a spot in the NCAAs anyway.  Putting them on the schedule last year would've been a real RPI drag; they almost certainly won't look so bad this year.

For one thing, the Flames likely will start five seniors and don't have to play an underclassman if they don't want to.  Point guard John Caleb Sanders is a very solid all-around point guard and shooting guard Davon Marshall was a .431 three-point shooter last year.  Forward J.R. Coronado, a big Venezuelan, is a banger down low and a fair complementary piece on offense in addition to being an excellent rebounder.  Like so many mid-majors, though, Liberty is thin in the frontcourt, not being able to bring out much besides Coronado and 6'10" center Joel Vander Pol.

Liberty also was one of the worst defensive teams in the country last year thanks in large part to being 343rd out of 347 teams in forcing turnovers.  You basically have to try to give them the ball.  This is the major weak point here and the biggest reason why UVA should again find little trouble.  But with any luck, Liberty won't be an RPI anchor either; they'll hopefully give their conference a run for their money.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

'12-'13 record: 14-17 (11-5)
'12-'13 postseason: None
'12-'13 KenPom: .2355 (7th MEAC, 277th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 4th of 13
ESPN projection: 4th of 13

Preseason KenPom: .4069 (2nd MEAC, 217th national)
Preseason Hanner: 4th MEAC, 234th national
Preseason TeamRank: 4th MEAC, 230th national

Chance of a win: Very, very high

This will be the second game of the Corpus Christi Challenge; after we host Liberty and Hampton, all the teams travel to Texas for the tournament-y portion of the tournament.  Hampton had a rotten start to the season last year, losing to a bunch of really bad teams, but recovered in conference play largely by playing pretty good defense and miserable offense.

Sophomore point guard Deron Powers is a lot like Navy's Tilman Dunbar: good at running the show and passing, awful at scoring his own self despite leading the team in ppg.  Du'Vaughn Maxwell is a forward with a reasonably effective mid-range game, but his main talent is blocking shots, which he's quite good at.  However, the same mid-major story reigns here: yada yada thin frontcourt, not real big overall, nobody over 225 pounds.  (And most of them 215 or under.)  Hampton could not score last year and was the third-worst three-point shooting team in the country; such a team will not match up well against one of the best defensive teams in UVA.

American Athletic Conference

'12-'13 record: 15-17 (5-11)
'12-'13 postseason: None
'12-'13 KenPom: .4424 (10th CUSA, 186th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 6th of 10
ESPN projection: 5th of 10

Preseason KenPom: .7100 (5th AAC, 76th national)
Preseason Hanner: 7th AAC, 105th national
Preseason TeamRank: 5th AAC, 82nd national

Chance of a win: Good, plus or minus who knows what

Maybe the most interesting case on the schedule.  There's a real chance this team could be pretty good, possibly NIT-good, for the first time in a long time.  The AAC (we're supposed to call it "The American" but I'll get on that right after I recognize the NCAA's play-ins as the "first round") is a top-heavy league, having been left with the non-Catholic remnants of the old Big East (Louisville, UConn, Cincy) and adding Memphis as well.  Nobody in that league will threaten that top four.  SMU is being given a real chance to be the best of the rest.

Famously capricious but undeniably talented coach Larry Brown is the reason.  Brown spent the offseason working on a major talent upgrade, so much so that it's possible none of last year's five starters will retain that designation.  The offense turned the ball over a ton, but Brown was able to recruit a Burger Boy in big shooting guard Keith Frazier, who gives the program instant credibility.

In the frontcourt, Cannen Cunningham was a quality defender last year, and Brown added juco transfer Yannick Moreira as well as former Villanova Wildcat Markus Kennedy.  And 6'7" Jalen Jones, who averaged 14 ppg last year, is listed as a guard but has more of a forward's game.

So there's some intrigue involved here.  Even more so because this is the first Corpus Christi game; winner takes on the winner of Texas A&M and Missouri State.  Neither are exactly fascinating for RPI purposes, but A&M is the better team.


Big Ten Conference

'12-'13 record: 23-12 (12-6)
'12-'13 postseason: NCAA 5 seed; lost in 1st round
'12-'13 KenPom: .9045 (5th B1G, 13th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 4th of 12
ESPN projection: 4th of 12

Preseason KenPom: .8737 (5th B1G, 22nd national)
Preseason Hanner: 3rd B1G, 10th national
Preseason TeamRank: 3rd B1G, 8th national

Chance of a win: A notch above 50/50

You know the conferences just love matching UVA and Wisconsin on purpose.  It's the whole Tony Bennett connection, plus the fact that UW is our evil doppelganger.  Bo Ryan's teams play nasty defense and slow-paced ball, so the usual joke for this game is "first to 40 wins."  Wisconsin loses several key pieces (especially in the hair department, having graduated ginger-mop Mike Bruesewitz and flat-topped Ryan Evans) but Bo Ryan has been around too long to assume the Badgers can't replace them.

Evans was a terribly inefficient player, so on the offensive end, that may be addition by subtraction.  (Evans was a very good defensive rebounder, though.)  Wisconsin does bring back some sharpshooters, particularly mismatch forward Sam Dekker and shooting guard Josh Gasser, the latter of whom missed last season with a knee injury.  Point guard Ben Brust is also a solid offensive player, and Wisconsin may also try out four-star recruit Bronson Koenig (whom Tony Bennett pursued with some vigor), giving the Badgers a deep and talented backcourt.

The frontcourt players will all be trying on new roles, though; center Frank Kaminsky has proven to be an effective shot-blocker and tries a few threes at times as well, though he hasn't yet shown that he needs special attention on defense in that regard.  Kaminsky will be asked to at least double his minutes this year.  Beyond him, Wisconsin needs to turn to sparingly-used Evan Anderson, or else one or two of the frontcourt freshmen they brought in.

The bottom line is a team that should be better on offense than they were last year, but may need some time to get up to speed on defense.  I wouldn't count out a Bo Ryan-coached team, though.

Green Bay

Horizon League

'12-'13 record: 18-16 (10-6)
'12-'13 postseason: lost in CIT 1st round
'12-'13 KenPom: .5896 (4th Horizon, 123rd national)

Preseason conf. poll: 1st of 9
ESPN projection: 2nd of 9

Preseason KenPom: .6773 (1st Horizon, 93nd national)
Preseason Hanner: 2nd Horizon, 119th national
Preseason TeamRank: 2nd Horizon, 84th national

Chance of a win: Somewhat better than good

The prognosticators can't quite agree whether Green Bay or Wright State should be the Horizon favorite (and indeed UWGB took the media poll by a single point) but they all agree the Phoenix should be pretty good.  They only lose one senior and return basically all their important pieces from a team that had a pretty successful season last year.

Style-wise, Green Bay doesn't shoot a lot of threes, but 7'1" center Alec Brown and 5'11" Keifer Sykes hit them last season at a 43% clip.  Yup, the center.  He's a tough defender, too.  And the Phoenix have a good rebounding team overall, with forwards Jordan Fouse and Alec Mays chipping in a great deal in that regard.  Greg Mays is a capable forward off the bench, too; there is some depth here.

Brown and Sykes, though, will be the main offensive threats.  UVA handled Sykes well last year, limiting him to 4-of-13 shooting, but this year might be better-equipped to handle Brown.  Green Bay's frontcourt is probably more imposing for Horizon League competition than UVA; Akil Mitchell had 20 points against the Phoenix last year and both he and Darion Atkins pulled down nine boards.  This will be a road game, so the Green Bay fans can have a chance to watch alumnus Tony Bennett in action, so that complicates things a touch.  But that's a nice RPI touch and Green Bay should be another RPI-booster by winning more than a few conference games.

Northern Iowa
Missouri Valley Conference

'12-'13 record: 21-15 (11-7)
'12-'13 postseason: Lost in CIT semifinal
'12-'13 KenPom: .7376 (3rd MVC, 71st national)

Preseason conf. poll: 3rd of 10
ESPN projection: 3rd of 10

Preseason KenPom: .6666 (2nd MVC, 97th national)
Preseason Hanner: 2nd MVC, 69th national
Preseason TeamRank: 3rd MVC, 93rd national

Chance of a win: Higher than those numbers suggest

The short version for UNI is that they lost so much talent - and rode their starters so hard last season - that I'm a little skeptical of the high projections they're getting.  Northern Iowa barely dipped into their bench for minutes.  There were three senior starters - all gone now, of course.  Freshman (now sophomore) guard Matt Bohannon played about half the available minutes, off the bench as a three-point specialist.  Forwards Nate Buss and Chip Rank played some in relief, but not much.  Buss only played 16% of the minutes.  That was about the extent of the bench participation.

UNI will be counting a ton on forward Seth Tuttle, a terrifically efficient all-around player who can do just about anything.  Rebound, shoot a few threes, hit free throws, and definitely score.  Tuttle should be a top candidate for first-team in his conference.  Point guard Deon Mitchell is a good passer and a very good defender, able to snag steals without fouling much.  That, plus I suppose Bohannon, who'll probably be asked to do more than just hit threes this year, is about the extent of tried-and-true talent.  The Panthers will otherwise probably look to their five-man freshman class for some help, as well as transfer guard Wes Washpun.  Of not, a familiar face may be spotted on the UNI bench: this was Paul Jesperson's landing spot.  He's not eligible this year, though.

Anyway, I think UNI is going to provide less of a test than the projections say.  Tuttle is a very, very good player, and Mitchell holds his own nicely too.  UNI needs to develop some frontcourt depth fast, though, and there are so many new faces that I think other mid-majors in theoretically worse conferences - say, Davidson or Green Bay - will be sterner tests.

Norfolk State

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

'12-'13 record: 21-12 (16-0)
'12-'13 postseason: NIT 8 seed; lost in 1st round
'12-'13 KenPom: .3927 (3rd MEAC, 203rd national)

Preseason conf. poll: 1st of 13
ESPN projection: 2nd of 13

Preseason KenPom: .4300 (1st MEAC, 204th national)
Preseason Hanner: 2nd MEAC, 226th national
Preseason TeamRank: 3rd MEAC, 206th national

Chance of a win: Very high

You'll remember these guys, last spotted giving UVA an obnoxiously difficult time in the NIT's first round.  It'll be mostly the same team this time around, and this one, depending on who you ask, is the favorite to repeat in the MEAC.  Well, sort of repeat - they ripped through their conference schedule last year at 16-0 and promptly blew it in the first round of the conference tourney.

They also have the MEAC's preseason POY in Pendarvis Williams, who I would call a prolific scorer if he took more shots.  Williams had a prodigious O-rating last year of 121, but a usage rate of only 18.6%, 7th on the team.  Part of that is because he also doesn't turn the ball over (doing so increases one's usage rate) but at any rate he ought to have the ball in his hands more, particularly, you know, seeing as how he takes care of it so well.  Also in the backcourt is point guard Jamal Fuentes, who did a good job setting up his teammates (36.5% assist rate) but a terrible job taking care of the ball (32.7% TO rate) and was a terrible shooter.

Center Brandon Goode and PF Rashid Gaston look like solid offensive players in the frontcourt, and Goode is an excellent shot-blocker.  This is the MEAC, though; there's very little depth, and one also expects UVA will remember that this team played them tough (and perhaps a little too physical) last year, and will adjust effort accordingly.

Southeastern Conference

'12-'13 record: 20-13 (11-7)
'12-'13 postseason: NIT 2 seed; lost in 1st round
'12-'13 KenPom: .7214 (6th SEC, 75th national)

Preseason conf. poll: 3rd of 14
ESPN projection: 3rd of 14

Preseason KenPom: .8263 (4th SEC, 34th national)
Preseason Hanner: 3rd SEC, 34th national
Preseason TeamRank: 4th SEC, 36th national

Chance of a win: About even or just over

The Vols are the final piece of the nonconference puzzle, as UVA takes a trip to Knoxville to fulfull the other end of a home-and-home series.  They're expected to be a contender in the SEC - one intrepid voter even picked them to win it - and go to the NCAAs this year, and they'll go on that quest with a very different lineup than the one that scored 38 points in Charlottesville last year.

One holdover will be Jarnell Stokes, a big, beefy forward who's a nationally-elite rebounder.  Senior wing Jordan McRae didn't start against UVA, but he worked himself into the starting lineup later in the year.  Josh Richardson is a very similar player to McRae in both skills and physical makeup; the primary difference is McRae has a three-point game while Richardson is a better midrange player.

Tennessee has to deal with the loss of point guard Trae Golden to Georgia Tech, and they'll replace him with Memphis transfer Antonio Barton.  Barton, however, would probably need a major boost in his game to replace what Golden brought.  The Vols will also expect big things from five-star freshman SG Robert Hubbs.  Besides Stokes, though, this is likely to be a perimeter-heavy team.  Playing in what's likely to be a tough atmosphere will be a big test for the Hoos, but they should be at least slightly favored.


So, the verdict on the schedule: I like it better than when I started.  This is upon coming to the realization that, whether done on purpose or not, several of the mid-majors should give a hidden boost to the RPI.  These teams - Green Bay, Davidson, Norfolk State for example - are expected to do well in their own conference, boosting UVA's SOS component to the RPI.  Liberty and Hampton should at least not be disastrous.  UNI may not either, if the pundits are smarter than I am.  (Which seems likely.)  Navy will be a monstrous drag, but oh well.  If we're able to add Texas A&M to the list (instead of Missouri State) it'll be another small boost.

Better yet, there are a few games away from home.  Davidson is a neutral-court game, as will be the games in Corpus, and Green Bay is on the road.  Teams should schedule an easy road game or two every year just to goose their RPIs a little; remember, the win-loss aspect of the RPI doesn't take into account the strength of the opponent.  (It's a common misconception.  In other words, you can beat Somalia State or Kentucky on the road and get the same W-L bonus; it's the SOS part where you'll get burned or lifted.) 

This is part of the reason, by the way, that I've occasionally advocated a yearly neutral-court game in Norfolk, Richmond, or DC during Christmastime.  UNI or NSU would be ideal games for this as they take place on the 21st and 23rd of December, respectively.  The students are gone and nobody wants to drive up to Charlottesville for a game when they're trying to deal with Christmas preparations, so these rarely fail to be badly-attended games.  So it's not like the department would be giving up much revenue, if any at all, and we'd be able to cheat the RPI just that little bit more.

At any rate, I'd still like to see maybe one more marquee or semi-marquee game.  I suppose in many years that would be taken care of by playing in a more prestigious tourney than the Corpus Christi thing, although one argument I don't accept is "we automatically get a B1G team so we don't need to add too much more."  I mean, I don't need a game on an aircraft carrier or anything.  But maybe a second B1G, A-10, or SEC team, or start that Georgetown series I keep harping about or something.

Still, this should be a decent schedule.  Especially if we come through it undefeated, which is possible.  VCU looms as perhaps the toughest test, and that's mainly because the press break is still a boogeyman for the Hoos.  One or two losses won't doom us to another NIT selection show, but expectations for this team are such that an undefeated run through this portion of the sked could set a lot of radars pointed toward Charlottesville.


Anonymous said...

No, you can't beat Somalia State on the road.

Anonymous said...

I'm fully bought into the hype: this team is going to be GOOD. And since RPI matters the most when you're on the bubble, I'm not too worried about it. (Of course, I'd rather be a 3/4 seed than a 6/7, so I'm a *little* worried about it.)

Looking forward to an awesome season.