Monday, December 30, 2013

season preview: Miami


Media prediction: 12th of 15

Last season:

Record: 29-7 (15-3); ACC 1 seed and tourney champion
Postseason: NCAA 2 seed; lost in Sweet 16
KenPom: 14th of 347

Returning scoring: 13.4%
Returning rebounding: 15.5%
Returning assists: 9.8%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: G Shane Larkin
2nd team: C Kenny Kadji
3rd team: none
HM: G Durand Scott
Defensive: G Shane Larkin, G Durand Scott
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Davon Reed (Fr.)
SG: Rion Brown (Sr.)
SG: Garrius Adams (5Sr.)
PF: James Kelly (Jr.)
PF: Donnavan Kirk (5Sr.)

Bench:

G Manu Lecomte (Fr.)
C Tonye Jekiri (So.)
F Erik Swoope (Sr.)

Coach: Jim Larranaga (3rd season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Florida State, NC State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech
Once: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Wake Forest

Talk about rebuilding.  Everyone knew Miami's window of opportunity was last year, and they made it count with an ACC title and a Sweet 16 appearance.  In all the time I've been doing basketball previews, though, I've calculated the returning points and stats and stuff the same way and never seen numbers that low.  I'm sure it would be a record if I bothered to look.  Probably for the last decade or two; having such turnover among your key players is rare, and absolutely bound to result in a major drop-off.

Jim Larranaga's been around the block a few times, though, and picked up a couple transfers to supplement the freshmen and few returning players.  Some of them won't be available til next year, but forward Donnavan Kirk is an interesting case.  Rare indeed is the player who transfers back to the school he originally left, but Kirk spent a couple years at DePaul and then came back to Miami to finish his eligibility as a grad student.  Kirk is only an average scorer at best, but an excellent rebounder - particularly on the offensive end - and a big-time shot-blocker as well.

The rest of the thin frontcourt is comprised of forward James Kelly and center Tonye Jekiri, also better rebounders and defenders than scorers.  Miami occasionally moves a few other people into the game, but these three take up most of their frontcourt minutes; suffice to say there's not much offensive punch back there.

Miami is also looking for answers at point guard, where they've asked 6'6" freshman Davon Reed to handle some of the duties, as well as fellow freshman Manu Lecomte.  Reed has a decent shot but a tough time getting to the rim, and isn't a good free-throw shooter.  Lecomte is tiny at 5'9".  The offense really runs more through senior shooting guard Rion Brown, one of the few veteran holdovers from last season.  Brown is the guy being asked to take charge of the team and be the lead dog in the scoring department.  He's got help from fellow senior Garrius Adams.  Both can score, although much less consistently from three.  Adams is a better defender as well.

Overall, though, this team is precisely what you'd expect after losing so much talent: a little on the thin side, freshmen in key places, star players who are capable but not really stars.  It's not that Brown and Adams aren't ACC-level players, but the Canes don't have enough proven talent like that, and guys like those two are best in complementary roles.  The Canes play solid defense - not surprising under a veteran coach like Larranaga - but don't shoot well, don't get to the line much, and struggle to score even in their wins.

They started the season with a loss to St. Francis (NY) and it's been a struggle since.  An upset win over Arizona State will likely prove to be the highlight of the season, but, sitting at 7-5 already, Miami looks as though they'll finish the season with a losing record.  They've already lost to predicted last-seed Virginia Tech.  In 18 ACC games, it would surprise if Miami were to win more than four or five, and their season will come to an end in the ACC tourney.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

game preview: Tennessee


Date/Time: Monday, December 30; 7:00

TV: ESPN2

Record against the Vols: 8-4

Last meeting: UVA 46, UT 38; 12/5/12, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 66, Mizz St 56 (12/23); UT 82, M'head St 67 (12/23)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 63.0 (#340)
UT: 64.5 (#313)

Offense:
UVA: 106.2 (#127)
UT: 111.7 (#44)

Defense:
UVA: 89.9 (#2)
UT: 97.9 (#59)

Pythag:
UVA: .8727 (#22)
UT: .8208 (#44)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (3.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SF: Justin Anderson (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (4.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Tennessee:
PG: Antonio Barton (6.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)
SG: Jordan McRae (18.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.5 apg)
SG: Josh Richardson (7.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PF: Jarnell Stokes (13.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PF: Jeronne Maymon (11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.1 apg)

UVA finishes up the nonconference portion of the schedule with a trip to Knoxville to return the other end of the home-and-home that started last season with a major slog through the defensive mud.  It's not a must-win, exactly, but neither is it a game the Hoos can much afford to lose.  Both teams will be looking at the other as a pair of shoulders on which to climb in order to reach the NCAAs, so it should be a hard-fought battle.

-- UVA on offense

At this point it's likely to be a fruitless exercise, guessing the UVA starting lineup.  Tony Bennett is still fiddling with it and probably will continue to do so, looking for the right combinations.  It might've been unthinkable a month ago, for example, to not see Akil Mitchell in the lineup, but his offense hasn't been what it was last year and Darion Atkins has been a defensive spark.

On Monday, it may hinge on how Tony wants to deal with Tennessee's power forwards, twin 6'8" 260 players in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon.  These two are going to start regardless.  Does Tony try to counter them with Mitchell and Atkins or otherwise going big (Mike Tobey, say) or does he trust to his system and have Stokes or Maymon try to guard Justin Anderson?  My bet would be the latter.  One of Tennessee's tests will be whether one of these forwards is quick enough to chase Anderson or Joe Harris around the court.

Frontcourt-wise, UT is a little thin; freshman A.J. Davis is the only other real forward to see much action this year, although there could be a wild card in Derek Reese, who made his long-awaited Tennessee debut against Morehead State last week.  Reese came off the bench to block four shots and collect ten rebounds, and his presence would significantly deepen UT's frontcourt.  He'll take minutes from Davis, but his will probably be much more productive.  However, the Vols have no true center.

The backcourt, though, is big.  Fewer than 25% of opponents' shots are from three, which is something that's true of only 18 teams in the country.  This has a lot to do with the size of their guards; 6'6" players like Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson and 6'5" bench guards Darius Thompson and Robert Hubbs have done a nice job of preventing opponents from shooting beyond the arc.  The shots opponents do get tend to be more open, and so offenses shoot a better percentage of threes than average, but many shots simply don't get taken.

Much of the game may hinge upon whether UVA can use a guard-heavy lineup (if you consider guys like Anderson and Evan Nolte guards) to force Maymon and Stokes away from the basket or out of the game entirely.  If the Hoos can punish Tennessee for sticking with their usual lineup too long, they can gain an upper hand.  The counter to that is Reese; a lighter and quicker forward, Reese may have the ability to hinder Anderson and Harris that Maymon and Stokes may not.  It wouldn't surprise if it turned out Reese was put in the game against Morehead State to warm him up for UVA with an eye toward defending a guy like Justin Anderson.

UVA will also have to make an extra pass here and there in order to find an open three; shooting over the Tennessee backcourt is going to be harder than against most teams.  Finally, using the height of Mike Tobey and the down-low athleticism of Anthony Gill to find a couple extra buckets from the paint would be well-advised, as the Vols' guards are generally their best defenders.  And as always, hit a free throw for once.

-- UVA on defense

Offensively, Tennessee is an interesting team with plenty of talent and just as many weaknesses.  The talent starts with explosive scorer Jordan McRae, averaging nearly 19 points a game.  McRae can get to the rim and is very good at it but likes to shoot from anywhere he's got an opening.  This is another reason to bet on Justin Anderson starting the game; he's got the athleticism necessary to stay in front of McRae.

UT gets quite a bit more offense as well from Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, the aforementioned power forwards.  They have some skill near the rim and both love to crash the offensive boards, getting putback points aplenty.  UVA will need to work hard at keeping them away from the basket, and with both in the game, their defenders can't count on much help.

The scoring drops off a bit after that.  Josh Richardson is a good complementary scorer, and senior point guard Antonio Barton - a transfer from Memphis - is a fair three point shooter (something in relatively short supply on this Tennessee team.)  He doesn't look for his shot first, though, and the offense runs just as much through McRae as it does Barton.  Backup shooting guard Robert Hubbs is a more assertive, but quite a bit less efficient, shooter; backup PG Darius Thompson is a less assertive shooter than just about anyone on the team but at times is a better distributor than Barton.

Scoring-wise, depth is limited.  Again, Derek Reese has the chance to be a big wild card and put a new dimension into Tennessee's offense, but stopping their big three of McRae, Stokes, and Maymon is the key.  In fact, the root of the matter may be keeping Stokes and Maymon off the offensive glass.  The most interesting matchup of the whole game is Tennessee's offensive rebounding vs. UVA's defensive rebounding, both of which are elite.  Tennessee doesn't shoot well overall, so they rely on that rebounding to pick up the slack.  They do take care of the ball very well, but they also don't have an ignition for the offense, lacking a distributing point guard and sporting a very low assist rate.

With UVA being a team that likes to encourage teams to shoot threes and watch them clank (the Northern Iowa game was especially fun in this regard, with the Panthers bricking or gravity-checking 17 of their 19 threes) everyone will have to get in on the rebounding act.  Tennessee's size in the backcourt will somewhat nullify the advantage that Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris often have, so every rebound will be a scrap.  Finally, Tennessee happens to be just as slow-paced a team as UVA, so, one, expect a low-scoring game, but also expect each rebound to really mean something.

-- Outlook

This ought to be a close one.  Each team has unique advantages and the winner will probably see those advantages magnified in the boxscore - particularly in the rebounding numbers.  If the Hoos hit the defensive glass the way they normally do, they should win.  If Tennessee can use their backcourt size to harass our scorers and defend just as well as UVA typically does, the Vols should win.  Not knowing which is more likely to occur, I think you have to give the slight nod to the home team here.  Close games often become free throw contests, and while UT isn't really any better at that than UVA is, the home floor should swing it in their favor just enough.  Don't be surprised to see this game go either way, but....

Final score: UT 51, UVA 49

Thursday, December 26, 2013

season preview: Maryland


Media prediction: 7th of 15

Last season:

Record: 25-13 (8-10); ACC 7th seed
Postseason: NIT 2 seed; lost in semifinals
KenPom: 48th of 347

Returning scoring: 63.5%
Returning rebounding: 59.5%
Returning assists: 63.5%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: C Alex Len
Defensive: none
Rookie: C Alex Len

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Roddy Peters (Fr.)
SG: Dez Wells (Jr.)
SF: Jake Layman (So.)
PF: Evan Smotrycz (rJr.)
C: Shaquille Cleare (So.)

Bench:

G Nick Faust (Jr.)
F Charles Mitchell (So.)
F Jonathan Graham (Jr.)
G Varun Ram (Jr.)

Coach: Mark Turgeon (3rd season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Florida State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Once: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest

Last season, Maryland was a bottom-of-the-bubble team that lacked anything close to resembling a signature win outside the conference; the best they could show the committee was an ACC tourney win over Duke (as well as home wins over the same and NC State.)  Wasn't nearly enough.  This year looks much the same, except, throw in some bad losses too.

Personnel losses have hit Maryland heavier than average.  Alex Len is off to the NBA, glue forward James Padgett and sharpshooter Logan Aronhalt have graduated, point guard Pe'Shon Howard transferred to USC, and sophomore PG Seth Allen is out for a couple more weeks with a broken foot that's caused him to miss the first half of the season.

Maryland has had to try and make a go of it with freshman point guard Roddy Peters, since Nick Faust long ago proved himself not a point guard and Dez Wells isn't well-equipped to play the one either.  It's been up and down; Peters has both an assist rate and a turnover rate in the mid-30s, high numbers both.  The Terps also give a few minutes here and there to juco transfer Varun Ram, minutes which are more or less wildly unproductive.

It hasn't helped that Faust has been missing the target with his shots far too much, which has banished him to the bench.  Wells is a quality scorer, but until Allen gets back, for now he's the only consistent threat in the backcourt.  Where Maryland is dangerous is in their perimeter-oriented forwards.  Jake Layman and Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz both stand 6'8" but are outside sharpshooters and bring a scoring mentality to the court.  Smotrycz's game at Michigan saw him drifting outside far too often, but he's been a more well-rounded player at Maryland with more rebounding chops.

Maryland also gets good contributions from Charles Mitchell and center Shaquille Cleare.  Cleare is undersized for a center but is a passable shot blocker; his size (only 6'9") gets him beat on the boards fairly often, though.  Mitchell isn't a primary scoring option but chips in often enough to open up the floor for the others.  Cleare helps make Maryland a decent shot-blocking team; Layman and Wells get good numbers there as well since they're almost always taller than their assignment.  Freshman forward Jonathan Graham only sees a few minutes a game, but he too is a blocker of shots; almost one per game despite averaging less than ten minutes.

Barring a miracle run in the ACC, the Terps have probably already blown their shot at a tourney bid.  The NIT looks like a very likely destination.  If the maxim is true about the ACC being a guards' league, they'll probably struggle some in conference play, too.  But they've got plenty of frontcourt scoring, and some of those guys can fill it from anywhere, making them a very difficult matchup at times.  Their 8-10 ACC record from last year is a solid starting point which they should be able to surpass by a game or two, and take a run at an NIT championship after getting to MSG last year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

season preview: Georgia Tech


Media prediction: 11th of 15

Last season:

Record: 16-15 (6-12); ACC 9th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 102nd of 347

Returning scoring: 76.9%
Returning rebounding: 80.2%
Returning assists: 63.7%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: C Daniel Miller
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Trae Golden (Sr.)
SG: Chris Bolden (So.)
SF: Marcus Georges-Hunt (So.)
PF: Robert Carter (So.)
C: Daniel Miller (5Sr.)

Bench:

G Solomon Poole (So.)
F Kammeon Holsey (5Sr.)
G Stacey Poole (rJr.)
G Corey Heyward (rFr.)
F Quinton Stephens (Fr.)

Coach: Brian Gregory (3rd season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Notre Dame
Once: Florida State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

On the surface, Georgia Tech ought to be an improved team over last year.  The media didn't see it that way, dropping them to an 11th-place predicted finish after their 9th seed last year (although, as before, with three new entrants all above this slot, dropping only two means they leapfrogged someone.)  Still, if truth be told, returning just about everyone and replacing your ineffective (and probably ACC-worst) point guard with a better one should be a recipe for some improvement.

Tennessee transfer Trae Golden should definitely represent a jump in play at point guard; he'll score more than Mfon Udofia did and so far is doing a better job of finding his teammates.  He's a crappy three-point shooter and always has been, but at least brings more of a scoring mentality to the point.

GT's scoring profile last year, though, was spread very evenly across the lineup; only wing Marcus Georges-Hunt topped 10 points a game, and that just barely.  Not a go-to man to be found in the bunch.  Golden might bring a little of that mentality, but otherwise things haven't changed; there are four players over 10 ppg at the moment, but the move into ACC play always brings numbers down, and there's a good chance the same dynamic will appear this year.

Brian Gregory's GT teams just have never been dangerous on offense, truth be told.  Center Daniel Miller is a superb defender, but his offense has taken some time to develop.  Now, as a senior, GT should probably run more offense through him as he's the only center on the roster and they don't have too many other options in the frontcourt.  Kammeon Holsey is consistent but not a star and Robert Carter isn't a great shooter yet and takes ill-advised threes.  (Carter, however, is an elite rebounder.)

At guard, GT might be well-advised to boot the awful-shooting Chris Bolden from the starting lineup in favor of Solomon Poole.  Poole is smaller and really more of a backup point guard at the moment but sees a few minutes at the two, and Bolden's shooting has been so bad this year that his O-rating is all the way down at 68.3; Poole, meanwhile, is the only real three-point threat on the team.  Solomon's brother Stacey Poole might also be an improvement, but he's not that talented of a player and better suited to bench minutes.

Expect GT to be solid defensively, but their offense?  Woof.  Golden can score but isn't at all suited to being the lead dog in that respect.  Miller is a fifth-year senior and has some moves, but this is basically a team of complementary scorers being asked to take primary roles.  Opposing teams will be happy to let them chuck threes, because they won't hit many, and teams that can beat them on the interior will beat them on the scoreboard.  GT rebounds well and defends well - they're a fairly big team overall and guys like Carter, Miller, and Holsey do very well in that area - but they'll have to put in that kind of effort for 40 minutes of every game because once they let up, good scoring teams will run away from them.  This isn't a tournament outfit; they could make the NIT if they play to their fullest potential but they missed out last year and will have to pull off a surprise or two over the course of the season to get there this year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

recruiting board update and other catch-up notes

Things have gotten a little slow around the production facilities lately.  I mean, it is close to Christmas after all, and plus I got free Red Wings tickets on Tuesday, so, shit happens.  Admittedly it makes my goal of having ten more season previews written by New Year's pretty ambitious, but regardless.

Let's start with the recruiting board, which is gonna look a lot different when I'm done.

-- Added OL Jacob Fieler to orange.  Fieler is a post-grad player at FUMA who'll join Andrew Brown as an early enrollee.  Adding any warm body at OL is a good sign; I'm more than fairly irritated at Mike London's desire to keep adding low-to-middling "athlete" types just because they play at a high school inside the Virginia borders while blowing off O-line recruiting.  There's far too much depth at defensive back and about two-thirds of what we need at O-line.  More on this in a bit.

-- Added DB Daniel Ezeagwu to green.

-- Removed OT Marcus Applefield (Rutgers) from green.

-- Removed OT Alex Bookser (Pitt) and DE Cory Jones (Toledo) from yellow.

-- Removed OT Brock Ruble (FSU) and DE Kentavius Street (NC State) from red.

It's time to go on one of those rants that us bloggers are famous for.  I don't have to answer to advertisers or subscribers or editors so I can do this.  Lemme start with a huge disclaimer: I fully get that recruiting is a touchy subject to be negative about.  These kids come in with all the confidence in the world and are thrilled to have the opportunity to play for a big-time college team at a fantastic school, even when that team is 2-10.  This is universal.  I remember how fired-up I was to get my acceptance letter to UVA - when someone commits to play football, it's no different, except maybe even better because there's really only one thing that can make your happiness better and that's when you're also making someone else's day, such as, say, a football coach.

Despite all this, it's long past time to take Mike London to task on recruiting.  Might sound like a funny thing to do, since recruiting is supposedly what London does best.  And while he has indeed been able to convince a lot of blue-chip players to consider and even commit to UVA, who might never have done so before, everything else has been a slapdash mess.

As it turns out on a depth chart, you start four defensive backs and five offensive linemen.  Therefore it would stand to reason that you'd want more of the latter than the former on your roster.  At the moment, however, we stand to have 19 scholarship DBs and 16 scholarship OLs for 2014.  And we're pursuing more DBs, without a single OL left on that recruiting board.  And Mike London wonders why his offense is so bad.

It gets worse: for one, it's really only 15 scholarship OLs, since Matt Fortin is the long-snapper and not going to play on the regular unit.  Reports say that George Adeosun's football career may actually be over.  Will Richardson is considering switching to NC State or Florida State.  Cody Wallace is a candidate for a non-invited fifth year.  If in fact we do manage to keep all 15 linemen around, it means we can go three full layers deep on the depth chart.  We can go five deep at cornerback and almost as much at safety, and we're still digging.  London is fighting tooth and nail against Wake Forest and East Carolina to add two-star CB DaiQuan Lawrence, is recruiting Daniel Ezeagwu hard, and the following line shows up in Jamie Oakes's report this morning: "While UVa is in the market for another offensive lineman, it’s not looked at as an absolute necessity in the 2014 class."

Such a direct quote is a no-no and I offer humble apologies, but the point needs to be made.  London has always made it a post-season priority to go find some moderately athletic player from inside the state and steal them out from under the nose of Old Dominion and James Madison.  Mason Thomas has managed to go absolutely nowhere in his career; Divante Walker played a few minutes here and there this year.  He's at it again in spades this year, and may add no fewer than three such players to this year's class (counting Donovan Dowling.)

Meantime, how are those trenches looking?  Alex Bookser was giving UVA just as much of a look as Ohio State, and for the past few months we've heard nothing about him; he committed to Pitt this week.  A guy from Pittsburgh who waits til December to commit to Pittsburgh is there for the taking if you make the effort, and now there goes a high-three-star or even four-star lineman to a division rival.  Brock Ruble just committed to Florida State; this is a guy not just from our own backyard, he's from DeMatha.  And hardly gave us a sniff.  That Mike London managed to screw up the DeMatha pipeline, of all things, is unbelievable.  Yes, there's been attrition on the O-line; that's no excuse for not replacing the lost players.

I haven't even started on the defensive line.  We'll have six defensive tackles next year if all goes well; again, three deep against five deep in the secondary.  One of those tackles is a converted O-lineman, so in moving Andre Miles-Redmond over all we've done is rob Peter to pay Paul, and AMR sat behind true freshman Donte Wilkins on the depth chart.  Tyrell Chavis is another; his conditioning was so bad he had no choice but to redshirt this year, and this after a FUMA-shirt season where he had every chance to get on top of that issue.  We're also depending on Chris Brathwaite to come right back after a missed season and get right back into the swing.

Defensive end is even worse.  This is a train wreck.  It's a junkyard tire fire.  It's a train crashing into a junkyard tire fire while carrying a load of kerosene and toxic waste.  Michael Moore has been a disappointment and absolutely should have redshirted; London has already screwed up his career, possibly beyond repair.  Trent Corney is a situational pass-rusher, as is Max Valles (who's technically a linebacker anyway) and Eli Harold is too light to hold up against the run.  Jack English is totally unknown (and may move to TE) and Stephen Lawe is almost certain to be non-invited.  Marco Jones might move over to help out at DT.  I just listed every DE on the roster.  And is the cavalry coming?  Not hardly; assuming we get Darrious Carter, our DE recruiting will consist of one two-star stolen from Temple and one no-star stolen from James Madison.

But fear not; London will no doubt find a way to add a couple cornerbacks before Signing Day.  Chances are pretty good that we could end up signing as many defensive backs as offensive and defensive linemen combined.  And it's some real big mystery why we're 2-10 and there's a countdown clock up there.

*************************************************

-- The lacrosse schedule is finally out.  It shouldn't take anywhere near this long to release; nearly every school has it out weeks before UVA does, and the baseball one was out a month ago.  This happens every year.  But at least it's interesting.  There's one extra game - we'll play 14 games now instead of 13, which is basically to say that we added Notre Dame and didn't take away a nonconference game.  This makes sense since Maryland will disappear next year.

Besides Notre Dame, new teams on the sked include Loyola, Richmond, and Rutgers.  Out are Stony Brook (on the schedule since 2006), Vermont (since 2008) and Ohio State (since 2010.)  OSU was pretty much just a two-for-one deal that wasn't going to be permanent, so it's no surprise they're being replaced.  The school doesn't announce this stuff, but I'd guess Rutgers is a similar deal.

Further change: Drexel remains on the schedule, but they're no longer the season opener as they have been since 2002.  That's Loyola this year, in the earliest start ever (February 6; brrrr.)  UVA will also serve as Richmond's first-ever varsity game a couple days later.  I imagine Richmond, as the state's third program, is at least a semi-permanent addition.

Finally, the ACC championship won't be hosted at a school; it'll be at the MLS stadium in (well, near) Philadelphia.  I'm sure it's entirely coincidence that it would've been Maryland's turn to host.  It's also worth mentioning that, where in years past the ACC schedule was always the last three games minus a possible NCAA tuneup after the ACC tourney, now the ACC games are spread out a bit.  Sort of.  Syracuse is still where Syracuse always was, and ND fits into March between Cornell and Hopkins as if they were a non-conference opponent.  Also, that tune-up game isn't a tune-up this year; Bellarmine is before the ACC tourney.

The schedule doesn't turn over much; major changes like this one happen only every few years, so it's interesting when it does happen.  I will use my predictive powers to suggest that next year's changes will only involve losing Maryland and replacing Bellarmine, since Penn only had a two-year run in the spot where Bellarmine is now.

-- The football people are again going to discuss a nine-game schedule.  I guess I'd put the chances of them actually following through at about 10%, but it's nice to see this remains on the plate.  Once again: the fact that 2027 is the next time we'll see Clemson at Scott Stadium is stupid.  And with Louisville and not Maryland as our crossover opponent, I'm a hell of a lot less attached to the idea of keeping that preserved crossover.  Nothing against Louisville, but that instantly gives us (and Louisville) the least foundational and traditional crossover in the league.

Syracuse's AD's idea is to play nine games and guarantee that you play the five opponents this year that you didn't play last year, but that won't fly as is since the NCAA mandates that you play everyone in your division.  Swapping out five opponents leaves only four from the previous year, and you have six division games.  There's no real way to divide 14 teams other than seven and seven, so the best we can do with nine games is to maybe eliminate the crossover (touchy since that would eliminate the yearly FSU-Miami game) and just play three new teams every year.  Or realign so that all the rivalries are in one division (but realignment is dangerous since if they roll north-south, we're suddenly north.)

At any rate, a nine-game schedule in nearly any form is preferable to visiting certain locations once every fourteen years.  Check out the future schedules on the official page; we'll visit Provo, Utah twice before we ever visit Boston or Syracuse.  Are they sure we're in the same conference as BC and Cuse?

the recruit: Jeffery Farrar

Name: Jeffery Farrar
Position: CB
Hometown: Upland, CA
School: Upland
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 194

24/7: 89, three stars; #38 ATH, CA #38
ESPN: 82, four stars; #27 ATH, CA #23, West #32, US #226
Rivals: 5.6, three stars; #40 ATH, CA #66
Scout: three stars; #88 S

Other offers: UCLA, Arizona State, Miami, Michigan State, Arizona, California, Utah, Washington State, Fresno State, Kansas, Nevada, Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico, San Jose State

How excited should we be over pulling an athlete like Farrar out of the LA area?  That's certainly a tough place for UVA to be spending a lot of time recruiting, and I have no idea what it was that tipped off Mike London that Farrar would be interested in coming east.  This is a guy who was all UCLA for a little while there, to the point of being committed there at one time, depending on the definition of committed.

The answer to the question is a tough one, though.  Preseason, there was a fair amount of hype over Farrar.  He was close to a consensus four-star and still resides in the ESPN 300.  His school, Upland, is a couple notches below elite status out in CA - but only a couple, and they play against excellent competition, so he ought to have been well-scouted.  However, you might've noticed that as we tracked the senior seasons of committed recruits, Farrar had a fairly quiet year.  That might've been the impetus in the massive downgrade he took from Rivals, who used to call him a four-star prospect and dropped him all the way to middling three-star.

Farrar initially appears set for cornerback, and didn't play a great deal of wide receiver this season.  This is likely another reason for the big Rivals downgrade; most of the articles scouting him, written by western-team affiliates, took a WR angle to the story.  Not having played very much of the position made it hard to call him a four-star WR as they did back in April.  ESPN, incidentally, thinks WR is his best position, and on defense calls him a "corner who likely would move to safety."

They don't think much of his defense in general, really.  Athletically they've got plenty of well-deserved praise, but it's hard to like the phrase, "Concern on defense is that he isn't very assertive. He waits on plays, especially in run support."  This is sort of hilariously contradictory to the notion that he's a better safety than corner, since an un-assertive safety is about as useful as a midget wide receiver.  Maybe they think he'll be a free safety and hang out in the back all the time; at least he won't get beat deep.

At any rate, Farrar is one of the better athletes being brought in this year.  It'll give him a leg up on the competition, which there's plenty of.  Mike London has never, ever been shy about bringing in as-yet-unmolded athletes and turning them into cornerbacks, safeties, or receivers, with mixed results.  There are 16 scholarship DBs on the 2013 roster; one graduates and four join the party next year.  Even accouting for the need to have three starting-quality cornerbacks, 19 DBs is a ton.  That depth of competition alone will ensure Farrar has a nigh-impossible time finding the field as a true freshman, unless he gets used on special teams.  Mike London is proving to be equally free and easy with true-freshman playing time as Al Groh was, so that's a possibility.  That said, I'd guess - and only guess, thanks to the fairly quiet season and the 3,000 miles of distance that ensured that not a lot of news made it out east to begin with - that Farrar shows up in more need of polish than your average recruit.  Consider him a high-ceiling, low-floor kind of player with anything possible in the range between total bust and all-conference.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

season preview: Florida State


Media prediction: 9th of 15

Last season:

Record: 18-16 (9-9); ACC 6th seed
Postseason: NIT 4 seed; lost in first round
KenPom: 121st of 347

Returning scoring: 64.4%
Returning rebounding: 69.9%
Returning assists: 69.6%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd teamG Michael Snaer
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Devon Bookert (So.)
SG: Montay Brandon (So.)
SF: Okaro White (Sr.)
PF: Robert Gilchrist (Sr.)
C: Boris Bojanovsky (So.)

Bench:

G Ian Miller (Sr.)
G Aaron Thomas (So.)
C Michael Ojo (So.)
F Jarquez Smith (Fr.)

Coach: Leonard Hamilton (12th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Clemson, Maryland, Miami, VirginiaOnce: Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

With their string of four NCAA appearances broken last year and a predicted 9th place ACC finish this year, it'd be fair to wonder if FSU has begun to peak under Leonard Hamilton.  Hamilton has always had defense-first teams, and there aren't any defensive all-stars like Chris Singleton or Bernard James populating the roster this year.

However.  What is populating the roster is size at every position.  Florida State is simply an immense team, among the very biggest in the country.  That's going a long way toward their defensive efficiency so far this year.  They might be even bigger if ever 7-foot center Kiel Turpin can return from a nagging knee injury; Turpin's return would give the Noles a practically unprecedented three seven-footers in the rotation.

The other two are sophomores Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo.  Neither are big pieces of the FSU offense, but Bojanovsky is shooting .784 so far this year and could be an all-ACC talent, easy, if he played more aggressively.  Both are tremendous shot-blockers, of course, and Ojo clocks in at a whopping 292 pounds, making him a defensive brick wall.

The frontcourt is rounded out by forwards Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist, both seniors (though Gilchrist was a juco transfer last season.)  White is FSU's primary frontcourt scorer and capable of playing small forward, sprinkling in a few three-pointers into his game.  FSU is closer to their full potential when White can play the three, so while Gilchrist is only a minor scorer, his ability to defend the four has been huge for the Noles.  Freshman Jarquez Smith gets a few spot minutes here and there but isn't quite ready for the prime time.

FSU's size doesn't stop in the frontcourt.  Shooting guard Montay Brandon is 6'7"; he was a near-disaster as a point guard last year but has found a home off the ball and is a solid complementary scorer.  Devin Bookert, his rotation partner last season, has stuck at the point and is pretty large for a PG himself at 6'3" - the smallest in FSU's rotation.

The top scorer, though, comes off the bench.  Ian Miller hasn't started a game, but he's third on the team in minutes, thanks to his ability to play either the one or the two pretty efficiently.  Miller isn't especially great at any one thing but does almost everything fairly well, both on offense and defense.  Also a high scorer for FSU is Aaron Thomas, who, like Miller, sees starters' minutes off the bench.

As you'd expect out of a team as big as FSU, they get most of their scoring inside, and it helps that they're overall a good free-throw shooting team too.  They shoot fewer threes than most teams, as none of them are deadeye shots from long range.  The highest percentage belongs to White at .421, but he's very selective; it would come down quickly if he shot more of them.

The lack of a true go-to guy may hurt them at times in ACC play.  Scoring is well-balanced, with Miller, White, Thomas, and Brandon all in double digits, but having no takeover player has already cost them in close games against good teams that they couldn't crush with their defense.  Losses to Florida and Michigan were heartbreakers, in which FSU couldn't respond fast enough when the opponents figured out their defense.  That defense and size should probably help them outperform 9th-place expectations in the league, but they'll struggle to crack the upper echelon and will spend the year floating perilously on the bubble.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

season preview: Duke


Media prediction: 1st of 15

Last season:

Record: 30-6 (14-4); ACC 2nd seed
Postseason: NCAA 2 seed; lost in Elite Eight
KenPom: 6th of 347

Returning scoring: 42.9%
Returning rebounding: 46.4%
Returning assists: 68.5%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: C Mason Plumlee
2nd team: G Seth Curry
3rd team: G Quinn Cook
HM: F Ryan Kelly
Defensive: none
Rookie: G Rasheed Sulaimon

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Quinn Cook (Jr.)
SG: Tyler Thornton (Sr.)
F: Rodney Hood (rSo.)
F: Jabari Parker (Fr.)
F: Amile Jefferson (So.)

Bench:

G Rasheed Sulaimon (So.)
F Josh Hairston (Sr.)
G Andre Dawkins (5Sr.)
G Matt Jones (Fr.)

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (34th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse, Wake Forest
Once: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Miami, NC State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Early returns on the season suggest this may be an off year for Duke, by which I mean they might be as low as a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAAs.  Horrors.  Perhaps even lower, depending on how they do in the ACC season, as their two best chances for a glamor win slipped them by, with losses to Kansas and Arizona early on.

Duke's roster took a lot of turnover during the offseason, losing three top players to graduation.  There are still some seniors here, but the reins have been handed to junior point guard Quinn Cook, a savvy player with a well-developed game.  Cook has a good shot and a sky-high assist rate and is every bit the player his recruiting rankings expected him to be.

Cook has some veteran help in the backcourt; though Seth Curry is finally out the door, two more seniors step up to take his place.  These seniors are here to shoot threes.  Tyler Thornton hardly shoots at all, actually, though when he does shoot from long-distance he's pretty decent.  His defense is what's earning him 20+ minutes a game, though.  Andre Dawkins is back on the team after taking a year off of basketball, and his three-point shot hasn't left him.  Likely due to conditioning issues he's only played 11 or so minutes a game, but he's good for a little instant heat off the bench.

Rounding out the backcourt are freshman Matt Jones, in for some spot minutes at times, and Rasheed Sulaimon.  Sulaimon had a good season as a freshman last year but has managed to play his way into K's doghouse, and didn't unglue his butt from the bench in Duke's win over Michigan.

Duke lacks a traditional center now that Mason Plumlee has moved on and Marshall Plumlee seems unable to get off the bench.  The youngest Plumlee is getting walk-on minutes only, and Duke depends on a fairly deep set of 6'8"-ish athletic forwards for backcourt minutes.  Jabari Parker is showing why he was such an elite recruit; he's become Duke's go-to guy with an astounding 22.1 ppg this season, and 7.8 rebounds as well.  Parker dominates the ball, but he ought to; he can score from anywhere at all, and he's also a high-level defender, too.

The Blue Devils also get plenty of quality minutes from Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, another deadeye shooter from anywhere you please.  Hood is averaging 19 points a game, and while he's not the rebounder or defender Parker is, he's actually shooting a higher percentage from both inside and outside the arc.  Amile Jefferson is proving to be a nice complementary piece, missing only seven of his thirty shots this year (though you can foul him without fear; he's a rotten free-throw shooter.)  These guys are pushing senior Josh Hairston to the sideline; Hairston has started three games and plays about 14 minutes a game, but barely registers on the stat sheet.

No question that Duke can score; the leading trio of Parker, Hood, and Cook are combining for 56 points a game.  And the worst part of it is, any one of them can score inside or out.  Outside of Jefferson, this is a really good free-throw shooting team, too.  However, their defense is up and down.  They've been dominant, but only in patches.  Probably their worst moment: getting outscored by seven in the second half against Vermont and winning that game by just one point.  The Catamounts scored 90 points in only 65 possessions.  (Vermont, by the way, is 3-6, with wins over Siena, Illinois State, and D-II Sonoma State.)

So there's no reason they shouldn't go through the ACC like a knife through butter, except that there'll be a few nights here and there where the defense fails them.  The tournament committee will probably penalize them a touch, though, for not having any OOC games on the road and (so far) only having a win over Alabama in the preseason NIT to burnish their away-from-home resume.  They'll have a crack at UCLA later this month, and the outcome could move them up or down a seed.  They're a strong contender for the ACC title, but they'll need to improve their defense in order to make a deep NCAA run.

Friday, December 13, 2013

what went right

In a 2-10 season, very little.  But we're going to try and put on a smiley face and see if there weren't a few nuggets of goodness here and there.  It's kind of a fake smiley face, mind you.


Also, as good as Brent Urban was this year, we're going to limit it to things that can be applied to next year.  That way there's no false hope.  Nope, nothing but real optimism in this post.

Kevin Parks

Parks recorded the first 1,000-yard season by a UVA back since Alvin Pearman in 2004.  This is a pretty nice individual achievement.  I'm going to break my optimism rule, though, by pointing out that it was largely due to not having to extensively share carries.  Several seasons since then, there would've been a 1,000-yard rusher if the carries had not been split, and that 2004 season almost had two such accomplishments, with Wali Lundy falling 100-and-some short.  Even the much-maligned Michael Johnson looked awfully good that year.  UVA had a powerful rushing attack in 2004.

Still.  The more-overarching point to this is that Steve Fairchild deserves a pretty good deal of credit for this.  Parks is a solid back with good vision and balance and he hits a hole pretty quick.  And, obviously, highly durable.  But he's also thoroughly unexplosive; he had just one run all season over 50 yards, and in seven of twelve games, didn't pass 20 on any one run.  This means he can't pad out his stats by being bottled up all game and then bursting through for one huge run to make the whole day look good.  In order for Parks to rack up yards, he has to do it on a lot of different plays, and he needs good blocking to do it.

And this was an offensive line that lost most of its physical battles.  So how to get an unexplosive back running behind an unproductive line to the 1,000-yard marker?  Schemes.  Fairchild's playbook deserves much of the credit for the accomplishment.  It's why when the whole fanbase is giving him an F-minus, I give Fairchild a C.  I had as much hate and discontent as anyone over things like short-side sweeps on 4th-and-2, but we have to apply Sherlock Holmes's maxim here.  When you've eliminated all else, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.  Parks didn't get to 1,000 yard by racing away from defenders and he didn't get there because the offensive line blew open holes for him.  What remains is Fairchild, however, unpopular a conclusion that may be.

Anthony Harris

Actually this sort of breaks another rule, the one about being able to apply this stuff to next year, because seasons like Harris's regress to the mean most of the time.  Still, you just can't knock the nation's interceptions leader.  The problem with a safety, unfortunately, is that a good one cannot make a bad defense good, but a bad one can make a good defense bad.

So the defense as a whole didn't really follow suit.  But a guy with instincts like Harris's, but with 12 extra games under his belt, ought to be a force on the field next year.

Eric Smith

Smith was a true freshman on the offensive line, which at times went about how you'd expect.  Georgia Tech was a particular case, in which Smith had to go up against Jeremiah Attaochu all day and spent the whole day eating Attaochu's cleats.  Sometimes he was just freshman-y.

Sometimes, though, he was fantastic.  Clemson's Vic Beasley finished the season with 12 sacks, but never recorded one against Smith and UVA.  Smith had a good game against VT as well, and over the course of the season, the good outweighed the bad.  UVA has a good one in Smith, who could be the left tackle for the next three years.

Linebackers

I asserted early in the season, here and on TheSabre too, that I thought Daquan Romero should be the top candidate to lead the team in tackles.  I ended up being off by two; Henry Coley nudged him out 91-89.  Both Coley and Romero showed impressive instincts this year; Romero was particularly excellent at sniffing out and blowing up screen plays.

Combined with Harris, these two will give UVA more quarterbacks on defense next year than it knows what to do with.  Their ranginess gave Jon Tenuta confidence enough to use his third linebacker spot on Max Valles, who couldn't do much more than pass rush.

Eli Harold

Not only did he pile up eight sacks, he averaged 10 yards on them.

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There are a few honorable mention names that don't really qualify as full bright spots.  David Dean piled up very nice numbers for a DT but generally needed Brent Urban next to him.  Without Urban, teams tended to smother Dean.  Hopefully next year as he becomes an upperclassman he'll be the guy opening up a lane for his neighbor.  Daniel Hamm had that one really nice game; pity he got relegated to the back of the bench anyway.  Khalek Shepherd, when healthy, was a nice change of pace back.  Urban, of course, was outstanding, and his loss probably cost UVA a win somewhere along the line.

Everything else that happened pretty much earns a D at best.  And if there's a grade lower than F-minus-minus-minus, I'll hand it out to the quarterbacks and receivers.  Can you get a Z-minus?  At least, though, a few players kept us interested.  Bravo to that.  I have every confidence this team can show the progress it needs to double its win total next year.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

season preview: Clemson


Media prediction: 14th of 15

Last season:

Record: 13-18 (5-13); ACC 11th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 124th of 347

Returning scoring: 61.1%
Returning rebounding: 51.2%
Returning assists: 72.5%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Rod Hall (Jr.)
SG: Damarcus Harrison (Jr.)
SF: K.J. McDaniels (Jr.)
PF: Jaron Blossomgame (rFr.)
C: Landry Nnoko (So.)

Bench:

G Jordan Roper (So.)
G Devin Coleman (rSo.)
G Adonis Filer (So.)
F Ibrahim Djambo (Jr.)
F Josh Smith (So.)
C Sidy Djitte (Fr.)
F Austin Ajukwa (Fr.)

Coach: Brad Brownell (4th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest
Once: Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Let's face it: it sort of feels right somehow that Clemson has a very good football team and not a great basketball team.  Like the universe is just a little bit back in order.  The media seemed to think so, voting Clemson the second-worst team in the league in the preseason poll.  The Tigers lost two of their top three player (Devin Booker and Milton Jennings) from a team that was pretty bad to begin with, so the vote wasn't a surprise.

In truth, this team is similar to the one we just previewed in many ways.  There's a little less fiddling with the starting lineup, because it's pretty clear who the best players are.  Off the bench, though, that's still a work in progress.  Not least because Brad Brownell is close to desperate in finding some frontcourt depth.

The starters in the frontcourt aren't an issue.  You have to start with K.J. McDaniels, far and away the team's best player.  McDaniels is a tremendously athletic forward with a dangerous shot.  Possibly his most impressive numbers are his blocks and fouls - he's close to three blocks a game but commits just one and a half fouls per 40 minutes.  Pretty astounding.  Plus, over a steal per game, almost 19 ppg, and he rebounds a little too.  McDaniels is one of the conference's best players, one that all 14 other teams would find room for in the starting lineup.

Plus, sophomore center Landry Nnoko is developing into a very solid defender, and freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame, after spending last year recovering from a broken leg, shows a fair bit of promise.  Otherwise, though, twin 6'10" towers Ibrahim Djambo (a juco transfer) and Sidy Djitte are still seeing fluctuating minutes and playing small roles at most, and Josh Smith is frustrating Clemson fans with inconsistency.  Clemson has the bodies to throw into the frontcourt, no doubt about it, but needs to see some of them continue to develop because Smith isn't the only inconsistent one.

Clemson's guards are mostly respectable, but lacking in star power.  Point guard Rod Hall is shouldering more of the scoring load this year, so far nearly doubling his ppg average from last season, and doing it without sacrificing distribution or ball control as he did last year when he turned his focus to the basket.  But defenders don't respect his jumper and he's awful from beyond the arc.  That applies to shooting guard Damarcus Harrison, too; Harrison is more invisible than you usually prefer out of your two-guard.

Off the bench, Jordan Roper is Clemson's only true, consistent three-point threat other than McDaniels, but Roper is 5'11" and an abysmal shooter from two.  Backup point guard Adonis Filer has started off the season shooting very well, but has to continue to do so in order to be considered a true threat - he was just a notch over .300 last year.  The same for Devin Coleman, who is 7-of-16 from three this year (and, interestingly, from two as well) but hit just 3-for-21 last season.

Clemson has really, really good defensive efficiency numbers, the result of putting some long-armed bodies on the floor and daring opponents to shoot over or around.  They'll probably be tough to score on all season long, because it doesn't matter who they settle on to fill out the frontcourt rotation, they'll be looonngg.  And they'll have McDaniels to swat shots; Blossomgame and Nnoko are no slouches in that department either.

But they've struggled, and will probably continue to struggle, to find offensive consistency.  When they click, they've blown some teams out.  When they don't, they let teams like South Carolina State hang around; during that game, Clemson had scored only eight points nearly halfway through the first half.  Good teams (UMass and Arkansas) haven't had a lot of trouble with the Tigers.  With McDaniels around, Clemson is a threat at any time, but he needs more help to get Clemson into the tournament.  As it stands, the Tigers could finish perhaps a game or two on either side of .500 in the conference, but this looks like a safe-bet NIT team at best.  That would be an improvement over last year, and their preseason projection too, but they don't feature a single senior on their roster and are a year away from peaking.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

season preview: Boston College


Media prediction: 8th of 15

Last season:

Record: 16-17 (7-11); ACC 8th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 96th of 347

Returning scoring: 96.3%
Returning rebounding: 95.3%
Returning assists: 97.5%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: Ryan Anderson
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: Olivier Hanlan

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Joe Rahon (So.)
SG: Olivier Hanlan (So.)
G: Alex Dragicevich (rJr.)
SF: Eddie Odio (Jr.)
PF: Ryan Anderson (Jr.)

Bench:

G Lonnie Jackson (Jr.)
F Garland Owens (Fr.)
G Patrick Heckmann (Jr.)
F Will Magarity (Fr.)
C KC Caudill (Jr.)
G Danny Rubin (Sr.)

Coach: Steve Donahue (4th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia Tech
Once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Wake Forest

Time to kick off (or maybe, more appropriately, tip off) the basketball previews.  We start with one of the more interesting cases.  Boston College is a program still finding its way after a visit to the very depths of awfulness.  It's the fourth season of Steve Donahue's program and I still can't find a way to introduce the Eagles without mentioning the Al Skinner disaster, but it's still a dominant theme (although no longer the dominant theme) of the state of this team.

Actually, despite the losing record, it wasn't a half bad season for the Eagles in 2013.  They finished with the ACC 8th seed in the tournament and knocked off Georgia Tech in the first round.  The media picked them 8th again this year, but all three newcomers are ranked higher, which means the media expected them to leapfrog a few programs this year.

It wasn't a bad choice.  BC returns a staggering 95+ percent of its production, as it had only one senior last year.  And that senior wasn't all that good, only a bit contributor.  BC returns 12 guys who registered a stat in some form or fashion (nine of them rotation regulars) and adds three freshmen and a junior transfer from Notre Dame.  Surely this is a recipe for upward momentum.

Not so fast.  One month into the season, BC is 3-6 and the second-worst team in KenPom's ratings.  To start with, they gave themselves an ambitious schedule.  Losses to UMass and UConn highlight that column, and the UConn one was close.  Toledo is the top team in the MAC at the moment, and Providence is no slouch - again, a close loss.  Blowout losses to USC and Purdue - neither of them especially outstanding teams - have plummeted the Eagles 26 spots in the KenPom rankings.

The lineup is very, very much a work in progress.  Ten different players have started a game this year, the latest being shooting guard Lonnie Jackson back from an early-season hamstring injury.  That lineup above is kind of an odd duck, with plenty of height but not much weight.  Center KC Caudill is a back-of-the-rotation player and Dennis Clifford has struggled with knee problems, so BC regularly plays just one player over 220 pounds: Swedish freshman Will Magarity.  The roster is so weirdly laid out that 6'8" Alex Dragicevich (the ND transfer) is listed as a guard and 6'5", 203 lb. Garland Owens is a forward.

This might help explain BC's defensive struggles; they've been just awful on that end of the court.  They can't get turnovers, they're lousy defensive rebounders, and teams have shot .407 from three against them.  Magarity is 6'11" and has the worst defensive rebounding rate on the whole team; front-line forwards Ryan Anderson and Eddie Odio (whose name is a delight to say out loud) are simply undersized relative to the competition and struggle to rebound.  They're solid players, but they're badly outgunned in the post.  The end result is that BC only has one game in which they've allowed less than a point per possession - Sacred Heart, the second-worst team on their schedule and a game they won in overtime.

The abysmal defense is kind of a shame, because BC can score.  A triumvirate of players leads the way on offense, particularly sophomore guard Olivier Hanlan.  Hanlan beat out a ton of ridiculously highly-rated talent (think Marcus Paige, T.J. Warren, Rasheed Sulaimon) to almost unanimously win Rookie of the Year honors, and was the only unanimous selection to the all-freshman team.  He's currently averaging 19.2 ppg.  Ryan Anderson isn't far behind with 18, and point guard Joe Rahon rounds out the scorers with 12.

It kind of drops off a cliff after that, though.  Getting Jackson back into the swing will help quite a bit.  Dragicevich is mostly a three-point shooter, though, and he hasn't hit many; Patrick Heckmann is just as cold.  Odio, Owens, and Magarity are not scorers; they're not bad, but they're not assertive and they don't rebound, meaning all the frontcourt offense is left to Anderson.

Overall this is one of the strangest teams you'll see.  They shoot threes pretty poorly overall but are one of only four teams in the country with a free-throw shooting percentage over 80.  And yet everyone from Hanlan to Magarity tries their hand from long range.  They're 24th in the country in KenPom's effective height measurement but they rebound like crap.  Nobody has an offensive efficiency below 100 - a really rare thing to see - but only three guys score consistently.  They have that 6'8" guard and 6'5" forward.  It's really hard to peg a lot of these guys into a particular role.  Hanlan is a star, no doubt about it, and Anderson is a really tough defend as well.  If these guys can figure out some roles, maybe settle on a starting lineup, and for godsakes play some defense, they could be tough.  There's probably no hope of an NCAA bid, but pulling things together could mean making some noise in the ACC to the tune of a .500ish record (probably below, but still, close) and maybe an NIT bid.  Getting Clifford on the court would be a world of help, to keep Anderson and Odio from constantly being overmatched against opposing bigs.  If they don't figure things out, they'll take a huge step backwards, potentially all the way to the ACC's basement.  Because if Florida Atlantic is tearing up their defense to the tune of 1.2+ points per possession, what will the ACC do to it?

Monday, December 9, 2013

weekend review

Mannnnn..... I put off writing this as long as I could because it was definitely one of those weekends that makes me wish I had a different obsession.  Or at least different teams.  I should go pretend-root for the Boston teams, I hate them all (the pro ones) and I could then at least take a perverse pleasure in watching the sport gods think they're spiting me.

Almost nothing went right - even when my teams weren't playing they were getting jobbed by the jobbing jobbers down in Brazil.  (OK, OK - of the many things FIFA does badly, and possibly corruptly, the WC draw probably isn't one of them.)

From just a UVA perspective, the women's soccer season went poof in penalty kicks, and the men's basketball season is already going poof before our eyes.  Losing to Wisconsin is one thing; losing to a satellite campus is another entirely.  Now there are two full weeks to stew over it.

Fall sports aren't over quite yet, though; one last gasp remains in the form of men's soccer, which plays Maryland this Friday.  Fun fact: out of eight teams making up the men's and women's College Cups, six are ACC squads.  UVA is two of them; FSU, VT, Maryland, and ND are the others.  VT came oh-so-tantalizingly close to filling that dippy trophy case, but got nosed out of the semis by Florida State.  The 75 points you get in the Director's Cup for getting that far will probably be a third of Tech's total for the year.  A school with already far too many national titles won the women's tournament, so let's hope the pattern holds, and the school with the second-most men's titles adds another star to the crest.

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Two of our senior-year commits played some football this week.  Both of them Browns, come to think of it.  Caanan and Clearwater Central Catholic reached the state title game in Florida, and lost 34-7.  Andrew and Oscar Smith played a defensive struggle against Colonial Forge and won, 17-0, moving them to the state championship against Centreville.  In Scott Stadium, of course.  And for that matter, UVA's 2015 commitment, Juan Thornhill, also plays for a state title next week.

Lastly, the recruiting board gets a little update of its own:

-- Re-added CB DaiQuan Lawrence to blue.  Lawrence committed to Wake Forest over UVA but re-opened his recruiting following Jim Grobe's resignation.

-- Added DE Darrious Carter to blue.  Carter is currently a Temple commit.

-- Added CB Cornelius Floyd to yellow.


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This is the dead period of final exams; I love the Christmas season but hate the 10-14 days between basketball games during finals.  And it's a full two weeks this year.  With such a gap, it's time to go full speed into the ACC previews for basketball, and I may have to run some two-a-days this year as there are three extra teams and I'm getting a late start.  And there are four more verbals on the list which I can sprinkle in.

Friday, December 6, 2013

coaching position paper

You know by now how I feel about the current football regime.  It stinks.  I'm not 100% sure when Mike London lost me, but I think it was a combination of two things.  The first was his comment following the Clemson game (which I hate to mention again because I feel like I've done so several times already.)  For the forgetful or those who've missed it, London was asked after that game how he felt about his team's effort and intensity, and he said early on it was great and that Clemson played four quarters.  The second thing was his idiotic decision to accept the holding penalty against North Carolina that gave them a second crack at scoring a touchdown, which of course they did.  I finally hit my breaking point for terrible game management.

Anyway, all that is stuff I've railed on before.  You know all about London's game management; everyone does.  The one thing he does well is motivate players, and if he's losing even that ability, it's over, that's all there is to it.  But I thought it was necessary to pull all my opinions into one post and then move the hell on.  I probably won't bother with a full seasonal review, because most grades would just be D or F, but I'm tossing around the idea of a "bright spots" post.  And I'm sure most of you just went right ahead and made the "well that'll be a short post" joke in your heads.

So, the coaches.  Individually I think most of the coaches probably do a fair job, but they're all taking their direction from someone who is just in over his head.  The difference between good coaching and bad coaching is often small and not easily noticeable, and the players probably can't tell the difference at all.  Technique is technique - there's a right way and a wrong way to do a lot of things.  But the devil is in the details, and it's the things the coaches never think to say that makes the difference. 

Such as, why did Anthony Harris - a junior - not know to bat down a deep fourth-down pass?  Why did Mark Hall down a punt that would've rolled at least another 10 yards?  Why does Dominique Terrell always make the wrongest decision possible when catching punts?  Why was Kyle McCartin allowed to keep playing as if nothing had happened when his bonehead-ass penalty cost his team three points - the very week Mike London had made noise about accountability for boneheadedness?  Why did Tim Harris fall hook line and sinker for a double-move well short of the sticks on 3rd-and-15 - do you really care if Clemson gains ten yards from their own 4?  Tim Harris is not a veteran player, but the rest are, and when veteran players make silly mistakes, it means they're not being coached not to.

Accountability and details are two things this program lacks, severely.  London is extremely slow to bench players.  No, they shouldn't have to worry about being one mistake away from the pine, but they should worry about being five or six mistakes from it.  London never benches anyone until the media starts asking about problem areas, as in, "Coach, this is the third week in a row the receivers have dropped all the Watford passes that actually make it within a catchable radius of their body, what do you think the problem is?"

London is also long past excuse-making time.  "Well, it's a tough schedule."  And it's gonna be one next year, too.  Too bad - he burned up all his goodwill capital, in his fifth season (which it will be next year) your program should be able to handle difficult schedules.  "Well, we had a lot of injuries."  Yes, there's no doubt that losing Sean Cascarano, Brent Urban, Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady lowered the achievable ceiling for this team.  (Not to mention Chris Brathwaite's academics.)  But 1) everyone has injuries, 2) at 2-10, what was the ceiling with those players, 4-8? and 3) it's the coaching staff's job to develop replacements.  Virginia Tech also lost two cornerbacks, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum.  They still had a good defense.

All this said, however, I'm utterly resigned to another year of this staff, as you might guess by the clock.  (And as you might also guess by the clock, only one more year, as I've got little faith in their abilities to turn it around.)  That means the whole staff.  You hear a lot of calls to fire Steve Fairchild, for example, which is a foolish idea even considering the many legitimate criticisms.  (Which in a nutshell are foolish play-calling at critical times, apparent inability to get David Watford to improve any, and apparent tendency to put a huge bearing rein on Watford's decision-making.)

Let's face it: is this team just one assistant coach away from respectability?  Come on, man.  Here's the result of firing Fairchild: the quarterbacks and the offense get their third coach in three years.  That's entirely the hallmark of a bad team.  Marc Verica also had that situation and anyone who thinks that played no part in his development (or general lack thereof) is being willfully ignorant.  And it's worse than that, really, because another continuity break would put another big hole in this sinking ship and make it even more likely the whole staff is broomed out next year - which in turn means a fourth OC and QB coach in four years.  Terrible situation if you're trying to develop Greyson Lambert, Matt Johns, and Brendan Marshall.  Calls to fire Fairchild come out of a short-sighted desire to make someone pay rather than a reasoned look at the situation.

Besides, the kind of OC we'd get if we tried would have to be either really dumb or really desperate to take a job in a regime that's one step away from the chopping block.  Either way it wouldn't be an improvement.  "But Tom O'Brien could do it," you might say.  TOB was supposed to come onboard and fix London's game management.  Any day now.  TOB is a former Marine, which is to say, chain of command is everything, and I doubt he's given London much unsolicited advice.

So it's got to be the same staff, and London will sink or swim with them.  Eight wins needs to be the barest minimum.  You showed no progress this year; in fact you regressed miserably.  Therefore it needs to be made up next year.  What I'm afraid of is that we'll win six or seven games, go to some fourth-rate bowl, and Craig Littlepage will call it a joyous occasion and extend the whole staff in the name of Making Progress.  Dave Leitao did not even get a fifth year, so why London should get a sixth unless he takes the team to a really, really nice bowl is beyond me.  And in point of fact, October really ought to be the drop-dead date for progress.  If we're sitting at 3-3, or 2-4, or what have you, then London ought to go right then and there and TOB named the interim head coach.  Literally the only argument I've ever heard against this approach is "we've never done it that way, it's not the Virginia way," whatever the Virginia way is, and that argument is a pile of bullshit seven feet high.

I don't think Littlepage will have the guts to do it, though, which is why the countdown clock goes til Thanksgiving weekend.  But as long as we're talking succession, here's some more things I don't want to see out of the next staff:

-- Any holdovers.  At all.  Fresh start.  There was much concern last time whether Anthony Poindexter would be retained.  Hopefully not this time; nobody from a 2-10 staff is so damn important they can't be replaced.  He's a great recruiter; fine.  He's not the only one in the world.

-- Whatever the conventional wisdom says.  I've come to decide that the conventional message board wisdom is really, really dumb.  The CW wanted Mike London ("it HAS to be London" was a phrase I saw more than once), it wanted Tubby Smith and was furious (for varying lengths of time, given the individual) about Tony Bennett, it wanted a "hyper-aggressive" defensive coordinator to replace Jim Reid, it thought Phillip Sims would march right in and take over at quarterback and that would fix everything, it thought Keith Payne was going to make everyone forget about Tiki Barber, it thinks a lot of things and most of them turn out wrong.  If the CW wants Pete Lembo, I want Dave Clawson.  If the CW wants a MAC coach, I want a coordinator.  If the CW wants Nick Saban, I want Greg Robinson.

-- Anyone previously connected with UVA.  When I say fresh start, I'm not kidding.  Nothing against UVA alums Tenuta, O'Brien, Poindexter, and Hagans.  The latter two, though, have not proven themselves; they're just here because we like them.  Hagans, in my opinion, has done an absolutely brutal job as receivers coach.  Let's find some coaches who have proven themselves at other stops for once.  Tenuta and TOB, at least, have a resume and were last here long enough ago that almost everything has changed.  I'd still rather, when it's time to build the next staff, have it full of people who aren't stuck in our own rut.  I don't want any of that voice on the staff.

Mostly, though, I'm just looking forward to seeing a new-coach press conference in which a different face shows up behind the podium and promises better days or at least some on-field discipline.  And then maybe even deliver them.  London's promises ring hollow as a drum these days.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

the recruit: Andrew Brown

Name: Andrew Brown
Position: DT
Hometown: Chesapeake
School: Oscar Smith
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 295

24/7: 100, five stars; #1 DT, VA #1, US #4
ESPN: 94, five stars; #1 DT, VA #1, East #2, US #4
Rivals: 6.1, five stars; #1 DT, VA #3, US #8
Scout: five stars; #1 DT

Other offers: Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford, USC, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Penn State, South Carolina, Nebraska, Florida, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, West Virginia, Miami, NC State, Illinois, Duke, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, South Florida, Syracuse

Admit it, you've been waiting for this one.  There's nobody who doesn't think Andrew Brown is the best defensive tackle in the country, and programs from coast to coast were banging down his door.  It's almost superfluous to list his offers, because there's no program anywhere who'd turn him down.  Brown committed to UVA back in the summer, a more innocent time full of rainbows and chocolate gumdrop fountains and candy ponies and stuff.  Before the Doom.

He stuck with it anyway, and made some news last month by signing his financial aid paperwork at UVA, which under a new interpretation of an old rule, allows the school to acknowledge his existence by name.  It was kind of a big deal, in the sense that at least it allowed us to see something going right.

Brown's story is well-known by now.  He hails from maybe the most talent-rich school in the whole state, Oscar Smith, which hasn't known this year what a close game is like.  That team has dispatched every one of its opponents with ruthless efficiency and will almost certainly win a state title in Scott Stadium about nine days from now.  Thus his name is pretty familiar, even to those who only tangentially follow the sport.  (It's worth mentioning, though, that Brown was one of many to take advantage of Virginia's very lax transfer rules, and began his career at Indian River.)

Brown is, of course, heavily and extensively scouted.  Most prospects have a few videos on Rivals.  At least one or two.  Brown has 51.  Everyone who watches him credits him with explosive quickness off the ball and disruptiveness in general.  He's strong - of course he is or he wouldn't be a consensus five-star - but reading between the lines I gather that it's that fast-twitch quickness that separates him.  He's a three-tech defensive tackle in the body of a nose tackle, which is a pretty deadly combo.

When he gets to UVA, which will be for the spring semester as an early enrollee, he probably won't play only defensive tackle.  Jon Tenuta and the defensive coaches will probably have him at end sometimes too; given a weapon like Brown, there's no reason to put him in a box.  And there ought to be no expectation of a redshirt, and you're hereby authorized to reach through your screen and slap the first redshirt zealot who laments the fact that Brown won't use one.  With Brent Urban departing, UVA will be awfully young at DT, David Dean suddenly being the greybeard of the unit.  Barring possible moves (Michael Moore?) there'll only be three other scholarship DTs besides Dean, which is a little bit scary in the depth department considering how bad the defense looked when the coaches had to dip into the walk-on ranks to play DT this season.  (It wasn't often - only once, I think - but it was ugly.)

One of the real letdowns of the season (among an admittedly huge selection) is that the recruiting class didn't develop around Brown and Quin Blanding like it should've.  Two five-stars, which just never happens to UVA, and we've struggled to surround them with talent.  So much of the class has the feeling of the kind of player at tremendous risk of being recruited over by the next regime.  But with the proper development (iffy given this head coach's lack of attention to detail, but this isn't the time for whining) Brown should be what Urban would've been this season, but better....and much sooner.

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I was expecting to write some sort of recap of Wisconsin, but since the team shot like 3% from layup range, that pretty much becomes the story of the game.  Fortunately, I didn't really see anything that looked like a chronic unfixable problem, but unfortunately, the resume is starting to pile up with home losses - bad for the RPI, and representing wasted chances.  The last chance to put a nonconference win on the resume worth having will be at Tennessee.

If I could throw one more raincloud into the mix, it'd be this one observation: Akil Mitchell does look like he's regressed on offense.  Not just based on the Wisconsin game.  I expected less of a role for him on that end, but he's forcing things that aren't there.  Fortunately, he remains an elite defender, and it should be mentioned that Tony deserves a ton of credit for a defensive gameplan that delivered an outstanding performance.  Even disregarding tempo I don't think anyone will lock down Wisconsin like that all year.  Their .217 performance from three was no accident.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

game preview: Wisconsin


Date/Time: Wednesday, December 4th; 7:00

TV: ESPN2

Record against the Badgers: 2-1

Last meeting: UVA 60, UW 54; 11/28/12, Madison

Last game: UVA 83, Mizz St 63 (11/30); UW 70, WVU 63 (11/27)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 64.2 (#330)
UW: 65.7 (#293)

Offense:
UVA: 110.2 (#58)
UW: 115.1 (#13)

Defense:
UVA: 90.6 (#4)
UW: 95.7 (#37)

Pythag:
UVA: .9043 (#14)
UW: .8937 (#17)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (2.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (10.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (8.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.3 apg)

Wisconsin:

PG: Traevon Jackson (11.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.6 apg)
SG: Ben Brust (11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.1 apg)
SG: Josh Gasser (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)
SF: Sam Dekker (14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.9 apg)
C: Frank Kaminsky (15.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.0 apg)

A mildly annoying tendency of the ACC/B1G Challenge is to have us play the same opponent in spurts, like when we played Northwestern three out of four years.  I don't think it's on purpose, just a factor of how the games are scheduled.  But the upshot is, this year we have essentially the second half of a home-and-home, after winning last year in Madison.  The Badgers lose a few key contributors but are again among the nation's top teams and a likely tourney entrant.

-- UVA on offense

Known as a top-notch defensive team as much as UVA is, Wisconsin is actually a little off of an elite pace this year.  Teams are simply shooting better against them than in the past, and their defensive efficiency, though #37 in the country at the moment, is driven partly by the one thing they can't control: opponents' free-throw percentage.  Additionally, they don't foul.  They also don't get many steals or turnovers in general, something that often goes hand-in-hand with not fouling.

This was a bigger Wisconsin team last year.  Departed are 6'10" Jared Berggren, lengthy defender Ryan Evans, and gingerbomb Mike Bruesewitz.  Our group will look bigger by comparison, too, because of the additions of Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill.  Wisconsin starts a three-guard lineup, and UVA will have size advantages against two of them.

Down low, Wisconsin, like UVA, circles four players in and out of the rotation, but tilts those minutes heavily toward Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky.  It's because of the 6'11" Kaminsky I think Tobey gets the starting nod.  Dekker is a possible target for abuse; despite being 6'7" he's more of a perimeter player than a true power forward.  Not as much as Evan Nolte, who is basically a 6'8" Keith Friel, but Dekker's ability to handle the athleticism of an Akil Mitchell or an Anthony Gill could be called into serious question.  Wisconsin may look to Kaminsky or a help guard to double if one of UVA's post men starts to go to work on Dekker.

Kaminsky is a problem.  Not only is he a shot-blocker, to be expected at his size, but he's also got more steals on the team than anyone but point guard Traevon Jackson.  I call tall three-point shooters mismatch forwards; Kaminsky is a mismatch center, and is sneaky quick.

It may be a positive that Wisconsin doesn't foul a lot, since we've had those issues at the stripe.  Making the first shot is important, though; the Badgers hit the glass hard and everyone gets their hands on defensive rebounds, even the guards.  If the Hoos can get the Badgers into foul trouble, though, well, Bo Ryan has stuck with an eight-man rotation all season, and ventures beyond that only when it's walk-on time.  Being as they depend so heavily on the five starters, who get about three-quarters of the minutes, a possible tactic might be to pick one of them - Dekker, say - and attack ruthlessly to try and force foul trouble.

In general, teams have scored most of their points against Wisconsin from two; 63.8% of them, in fact, which is the third-highest percentage in the country.  That bodes well for a team like UVA with so many weapons down low and a slasher like Justin Anderson to boot.  The matchup should tilt slightly UVA's way here.

-- UVA on defense

Let's start with Frank Kaminsky.  A 6'11" player with a three-point percentage of .480 doesn't come around often.  Wisconsin's three-point shooting is inside out; Kaminsky and Sam Dekker are two of the top three on the team in terms of total attempts.  Number one is Ben Brust, and he's deadly too.  For this game, though, Brust will be guarded by someone four or five inches taller than he is.  Wisconsin will make conscious efforts to get him open for threes, so Brogdon, or Harris, or Anderson, whoever has that assignment, will need to stick a little closer and not sag off as much as you'd expect from the pack-line.  Do that successfully and you can eliminate Brust as a threat; he's not going to drive around you.  Nice for us since that's what we worry about people doing to Brogdon.

Three-pointers are basically the #1 concern, actually.  Of the eight players in Wisconsin's rotation, only one doesn't shoot them; that's freshman power forward Nigel Hayes, who comes off the bench.  The other seven shoot .379 at a minimum (Dekker) and that's the only number under .400.  Their forwards can score down low, too, but Brust and point guard Traevon Jackson are actually pretty lousy inside the arc.  Just give them open looks from three, though, and you'll have trouble.

Fortunately, stifling the three is something UVA did well against this team last year, allowing 8-for-22 shooting.  That's .364, which isn't bad but also is not the lights-out stuff they've managed so far this year.  Wisconsin does a lot of things well - they take care of the ball and they're good free-throw shooters - but it's that three-ball that drives their OE from very good to great.  That's their ace in the hole, and UVA will have to repeat last year's performance on defense or Wisconsin will take over the game.  And right now, opposing teams are getting 37.7% of their points on threes, the 7th-highest number in the country.  (That, however, is a function also of UVA being so stiflingly good against the two.)  The challenge will be figuring out how to guard every inch of the three-point arc and still play the pack-line the way it's supposed to be played.  Solve that and you solve Wisconsin.

-- Outlook

Fortunately, Tony Bennett knows a thing or two about defense, and if you don't trust him by now to have an answer or two, you're not paying attention.  This is an interesting matchup not for the usual slowpoke tempo deal but because UVA should have a decided frontcourt and overall size advantage and Wisconsin is so uniquely structured around the three.  (And UVA has a defense designed to encourage that.)  If Wisconsin's threes are falling there's no way in hell they lose.  Fortunately, I think UVA has the ability to do just enough to limit that - use their hefty backcourt size advantage, for one.  Keep Wisconsin mortal from beyond the arc and UVA should be able to win the game by winning the frontcourt matchups.  It's early in the season, which equals optimistic homerism, so I think they will.

Final score: UVA 63, UW 58

Monday, December 2, 2013

weekend review

So, the more astute members of the audience, and the less astute ones too, should notice a new addition to the blog.  I figure it this way: Al Groh was let go the very same day in 2009 as the season-ending loss to VT.  That was November 29.  By Gregorian coincidence, next year's Thanksgiving Saturday is also November 29, and if things go as everyone fully expects, five years to the day of Groh's sacking, UVA will fire another football coach.  And the team will be freed from the yoke of pathetically undisciplined, aimless coaching.  Maybe that'll only be for a week - we have no idea who'll take London's place - but there's no way the replacement can be less adept at obnoxiously basic crap.

This year's edition of the VT game was London in a nutshell.  He did a great job at firing the team up and getting them ready to play; I certainly did not see any of the quit that was hinted at in the Clemson game and seemed more than evident against UNC.  He also did a shit job at preparing them.  As ever.  We didn't do anything different like you'd like to see against an archrival; we just did a few things better.  And most things just the exact same as always.  The unused first-half timeout can be sold to raise money for the program, of course, but the chance to score off of an opponent's turnover is lost to the wind forever.

I'll probably write a position paper or something on the coaching staff later on, but the cliff notes here are: we're stuck with them; fire all or fire none but don't make any more piecemeal changes; Steve Fairchild comes in for some unfair criticism at times but lots of perfectly good criticism too; whatever the conventional wisdom is about who the next coach should be, I don't want it; and there's not a single coach including alums Dex and Biscuit that I'd shed a single tear over losing.

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Basketball was much more entertaining, wouldn't you agree?  In fact, I have the games downloaded and will spend time this week chopping them into highlights - and not only that but the very first HD highlights I've done.  I expect so, at least.  They're very worthy games.  The Fightin' Smoos put up a real scuffle and a scare into the Hoos; that looks to be a pretty darn good frontcourt they have there, and hopefully they put it to good use in the newly-constituted AAC.

The SMU game was a great time for the free-throw shooting to come alive (if only temporarily) as the refs called well over a foul a minute.  Even more so, it was a great time to shoot 10-for-14 from three-point range, which ultimately is what sank the Mustangs.

Interestingly, though, I think I found the Missouri State game more educational, despite the carpet-bombing the Hoos delivered.  It was 11-3, bad guys, at one point, and then an 80-45 run squashed flat any hopes of a Bears upset.  UVA has made a bit of a pattern this year of going on a long, morale-crushing run in the latter part of the first half, clamping down on defense to hold the opponent scoreless for long stretches.  At some point there, Tony Bennett yells something in Russian, and the pack-Drago defense unleashes its cold, calculating fury.

What I think is happening is that opposing coaches are scouting the pack-line a little harder, and finding a couple ways to attack it, and the UVA players need a few passes against whatever the opponent is bringing to adjust.  It helps if the opponent starts the game 4-for-5 beyond the arc.  Then an adjustment is made, and the opponent goes poof.  Against Hampton, the frontcourt guys worked a little harder on denying entry passes, because the Hampton forwards were catching the ball in good position.  Against Missouri State, the guards helped a little less down low and stayed home a little more so as to make those threes just that little bit harder to shoot.  And voila: game over.

Next up is the toughest remaining non-con game: Wisconsin.  The Badgers have remained perfect against some very decent competition: St. Louis, West Virginia, St. John's, and the apple of the bunch, Florida.  On the plus side for UVA: Their defense isn't as elite as it's been in recent years, and they run with a very thin rotation.  Eight players get 97.8% of their minutes, and their five starters get 78.4%.  As you'd expect from a team like that which also hasn't lost a game, they're among the very best in the country at staying out of foul trouble.

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Recruiting board needs an update due to commitment today:

-- Added DE Michael Biesemier to orange.  I know I shouldn't talk down about a recruit who just committed like six hours ago and who I haven't even come close to profiling yet, and I know I'm still grouchy about a two-win season, and I know we needed to find a defensive end somewhere in this recruiting class, and commitments are supposed to be exciting, but.... I still have an awfully tough time getting fired up over stealing a recruit from James Madison.  This is what you reap when you sow a 2-10 season.  Eventually we'll have a closer look to see what we see.

-- Added TE Blake Whiteley to yellow.  Whiteley is - brace yourself - a JUCO player, certainly the first I've ever put on the recruiting board.  (UVA's transfer-credit policies tend to rule out most JUCOs.  It's different sending someone to Piedmont to get re-eligible, because the school can tell them what to take.)  Texas will almost certainly snap him up if they offer, otherwise it looks like Arkansas is the main competition.

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Elsewhere news:

-- The David Teel interview of Craig Littlepage ruffled a lot of feathers.  Count mine as not among them.  Nothing there came as a surprise; the fact is that once the statement is made that London isn't going anywhere, Littlepage has to back that up with all his guns every time he's asked.  It's a lose-lose proposition, because the tiniest crack in that facade is met with huge headlines all but officially proclaiming the end of the London tenure.  Hell, I've gone and done it myself without Littlepage's help.  The only thing is that Littlepage ought to know it's a lose-lose proposition and politely decline the interview, because now he sounds like a clueless bumbler who takes a 2-10 coach and says, yup, what a great job he's gonna do, I just know it.

The other problem I have is that the transcript there only stokes my fears that Jon Oliver, far from being next to face the firing squad, is actually being groomed as Littlepage's successor.

-- Oval-football season is over, but Euro-football rolls on smartly.  The men's team was shown a red card 57 seconds into the game against Marquette, and so played damn near a full game a man down, and still stomped the Golden Eagles 3-1.  And then received a fortuituous bit of news: as the 8th seed in the tourney, UVA would've had to play #1 seed UCLA in the quarterfinals, but unseeded UConn put a stop to that.  Which means one more game at friendly Klockner.

That will not be televised, but the women, in the women's College Cup against UCLA, will be.  Friday the 6th at 7:30, ESPNU.  Going to be on the TiVo for sure.

-- Alabama fans are officially horrible people.  Not content with killing mere trees, Alabama fans have graduated to actual human murder, the motive being: not being upset enough over the loss to Auburn.  In recent memory, Alabama fans have:

- Publicly teabagged a passed-out LSU fan
- Destroyed a popular monument at Auburn
- Sent death threats to the kicker who missed the field goal this week - and the kicker's family.
- Murdered a fellow Alabama fan because that person joked about the loss.

At some point there - it might've been after the 100th death threat, or when some crazy bitch pulled a gun and started popping caps - Alabama fans lost the right to whine about judging the whole fanbase by a few bad apples.  If you are an Alabama fan there's a smallish but reasonable chance that you're a sick fuck, and a 100% chance you take football far too seriously and need to get a damn life.

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Senior Seasons feature as a few of our players move closer to state titles.

Centennial 86, Upland 56: Jeffery Farrar obviously didn't do anything special here, I just felt like pointing out the 909 yards racked up by Centennial.  Farrar's Upland had 557.  Defense was not something anyone was interested in, apparently.

Clearwater Central Catholic 7, Miami Westminster Christian 0: And Caanan Brown could not have played a more different game.  CCC will play for the state championship next week.

Oscar Smith 40, Forest Park 7: The actual notable thing is that the big Smith-Ocean Lakes matchup was derailed, and Oscar Smith will now play Colonial Forge in the semifinals next week.

Salem 42, Woodgrove 25: J.J. Jackson's season ends this week as well.