Tuesday, January 21, 2014

flying high again

The Ozzman cometh.  Take it away, Ozzy:

Got a crazy feelin' I don't understand
Gotta get away from here
Feelin' like I shoulda kept my feet on the ground
Waitin' for the sun to appear

Mama's gonna worry
I been a bad, bad boy
No use sayin' sorry
It's something that I enjoy

If you could be inside of me
You'd see, you'd see what light I see
Flyin' high again

I'll pinpoint to you exactly when I last felt this damn good about Virginia basketball: shortly after the beginning of the second half of Basketball On Ice.  The Hoos were ranked in the top ten, and they'd apparently figured out, faster and better than the recent Final Four entrant MSU Spartans, how to deal with the absurd floor conditions.  UVA had erased an MSU lead and was slowly building one of their own when the refs and coaches decided enough was enough.

After that, UVA, despite being ranked in the top ten, muddled their way through the rest of their nonconference schedule, clanked their first two ACC games, brought about a small midseason resurgence, and then watched it come crumbling down the rest of the way to the tune of a first-round NIT exit.  (Which I still blame on Keith Jenifer.)  Hardly the fate you'd have expected in late November when UVA was considered one of the country's elite teams and was poised to prove it against another member of that club.

I had pretty mixed emotions about that MSU game - I mean, yeah, that game was obviously both dangerous and a mockery of basketball, which you could tell after four seconds of watching.  At the same time, dammit, we were winning, and for reasons which you might guess, I really wanted to beat Michigan State especially.  The season never seemed the same, and the Hoos, who had been to the NCAA tournament only a few months before, wouldn't return for another five and a half years.

UVA has had some good years in the interval; why's this different?  So many reasons - the margins of victory in ACC play; the knowledge beforehand that this was a good team; maybe just a little giddiness over the realization that UNC is not only mortal, but capable of really bad basketball; close to absolute confidence in the coach who's orchestrating it all.

I think it's more this: 5-1 is something UVA hasn't done in 20 years.  Fan Recency Bias ("what just happened will always happen") is something we must always watch out for, but the more games that pass under the bridge, the less that particular flaw in fan psychology comes into play.  When you do something once or twice, caution is always warranted; when you do something for a month, maybe that's just what you are.  I've been trying to convince myself that the teams we've seen have been at best badly flawed and at worst god-awful, and they are, but how many of them do you have to see before you're winning because you're that damn good, instead of because they're that damn bad?

Whatever the answer, we're almost there.  I mean, NC State and Wake Forest are not good ACC teams, but it's not like they're horrendous. UVA waxed the floor with them.  KenPom says Florida State is the 16th-best team in the country right now.  UVA waxed the floor with them twice.  UNC beat a bunch of really, really good teams.  UVA waxed the floor with them while complaining about not playing good UVA basketball.  The walk-ons went in against UNC.  Even if UNC isn't anywhere near their standard, and you're of a Hokie mind that UVA is just filling a vacuum at the top rather than actually knocking anyone off a pedestal, the top is still the top - and the point is to be better than all the other teams, not better than all the other teams at their historical pinnacle.

I suppose this is where we put the obvious reminder that nothing's really been accomplished yet.  In fact, UVA is still a bubble team as far as we ought to be concerned.  If the team goes .500 from here on out.... they're probably not dancing.  The reason for the excitement is how unlikely that seems.  UVA is a deep, deceptively athletic team playing with a ton of discipline, within a system that they know especially well.  They can no longer sneak up on anyone, but it won't matter most nights.


-- I wasn't exactly a fan of alley-ooping at the end of the Florida State game.  Akil Mitchell said something to the effect of FSU was chirping all game and playing just a little on the other side of chippy, and even if so, you still look like the bad guy when all of a sudden you throw down a highlight dunk at the end of a blowout.

That said, the technical on Anderson was stupid; if he'd let go of the rim in a "timely fashion" he'd have broken his back.  That was more for dunking at the end of a blowout than for hanging on the rim.  A real Karl Hess move - and it gave the teams the opportunity to discuss the events to date in a reasoned and diplomatic fashion.  For which FSU's Okaro White earned a reprimand from the ACC office and more T's were handed out.

-- Anthony Gill had a really, really nice game against UNC - on defense, which hasn't been a calling card of his so far.  He's learning positioning and how to use his body strength without fouling.

-- I'm going to use the occasion of London Perrantes's 9-assist effort against UNC to mention that his most KenPom-similar seasons involve some pretty damn good players.  Perrantes's freshman year is most comparable to the freshman seasons of point guards James Robinson of Pitt, Eric Atkins of Notre Dame, Corey Schaefer of Lehigh, Yogi Ferrell of Indiana, and Scottie Wilbekin of Florida.  With the exception of Schaefer, those are big names.  Some of them very big.

-- UNC is making me look like total moron for claiming that they're legit ACC contenders.  They looked awful.  Marcus Paige had an off shooting night, which helped, but that team looked like impostors in Carolina blue.

-- FSU's Boris Bojanovsky looked like one of the worst-passing big men I've ever seen.  He seemed to have a bottomless bag of awful decisions.

-- We need to talk more about Perrantes.  No casual viewer, unfamiliar with the UVA roster but knowledgeable about basketball, would guess he's a freshman.  When he came out of nowhere to pick off that UNC pass and start the 2-on-1 break, I would guess, just by watching, that he knew three steps in advance how he'd finish it.  It's like when Justin Anderson baits an opponent into getting his shot blocked.  Basketball IQ is not how I'd describe how those two play, because to me that phrase means a knowledge of not just what you're supposed to do but why you're supposed to do it - and what everyone else is doing too.  How the individual pieces of a scheme work together.  Not that these guys don't have that, too - but what Perrantes and Anderson really have is basketball sense.  I think they're more instinctual than cerebral.  If you want an example of the difference, think of Will Sherrill and Akil Mitchell as more cerebral players.  Both needed a little time to learn the system, but once they did they took to it like a fish to water and rapidly maximized their athletic abilities.  Perrantes and Anderson play the system too, but they're also drawing on a large well of innate instincts to fill in the gaps.  I remember writing, when Jontel Evans was a freshman, that I liked how I felt with the ball and the offense in his hands.  I feel exactly the same only much more so with Perrantes.


Anonymous said...

How fun was that to write?

Anonymous said...

I made this comparison awhile ago, sorta, but Perrantes reminds me a bit of Harold Deane. A guy who, physically, might not be the most gifted (although, to this day, I think Deane was a little undersold in that regards, and Perrantes may be as well), but a tough-as-nails leader who came in from the get-go and provided solid leadership and floor play.

Looking at the schedule, things set up nicely for us. We're still on tenuous ground due to the early losses, so we can't afford to lose games we shouldn't lose, and we probably need a big win to really lock up a spot.

The scary thing is, the future looks that much better. As great as Harris has been for us in his four year run, and the same goes for Akil, it's not hard to imagine that a starting lineup with Justin Anderson's athleticism in there, along with development from the guys, could be a far superior squad to this year's grouping. Add in Stith and Hall giving us some wing depth, and the team looks good for the future.

Anonymous said...

I'm flying high, too. I mean, sure, Tennessee. But... with this talent (and this coach), that game never did make any sense. (Disclaimer: I didn't watch it.) Taking the season as a whole, that's the game that most appears to be an outlier, not the norm.

Perrantes. Man, there's such a massive difference between having a lot of talented players -- and having a lot of talented players PLUS a talented point guard. I've been missing Bub this year, but Perrantes suddenly looks totally comfortable and in charge out there.

And Mitchell. Frickin beast. Who cares if he doesn't create his own offense when he can rebound and defend like he does? Love to watch that guy play.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with one point - I do not miss Bub at all. He was a mediocre point guard and a terrible, terrible offensive liability. The 'Hoos played 4-5 for years at the offensive end with Jontel Evans in the lineup. His complete lack of a shot beyond 6 inches offset his defensive prowess.

Long live London Perrantes.