Friday, February 28, 2014

game preview: Syracuse


Date/Time: Saturday, March 1; 4:00

TV: ESPN

Record against the Orange: 1-3

Last meeting: SU 73, UVA 70; 11/28/08, Syracuse

Last game: UVA 65, Mia. 40 (2/26); SU 57, Md. 55 (2/24)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 61.6 (#344)
SU: 61.0 (#345)

Offense:
UVA: 112.4 (#41)
SU: 114.4 (#22)

Defense:
UVA: 88.9 (#3)
SU: 92.5 (#9)

Pythag:
UVA: .9366 (#4)
SU: .9206 (#10)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (7.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.4 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Syracuse:

PG: Tyler Ennis (12.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.6 apg)
SG: Trevor Cooney (12.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.3 apg)
SF: C.J. Fair (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.3 apg)
PF: Jerami Grant (12.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Rakeem Christmas (5.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.7 apg)

Finally.  The moment you've all been waiting for.  Fortunately, the basketball team we root for is better at staying in the moment than the fans are, or this game might have fizzled before it even began.  No disappointment here, however.  It's the biggest game of the weekend across the whole college hoops landscape.  Tickets are going on the secondary market for more than the price of buying that seat for the whole season.  Dickie V is in town.  Big, big time college basketball is coming to the JPJA.

It's also Senior Night for Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell.  Only two of Tony Bennett's heralded six-man class remain with the team.  Two of its least-hyped members, too.  These guys came in at the bottom and rode to the top - or more accurately, brought the team there themselves.  "Buying in" is such a hackneyed phrase, but if you want to know what it actually looks like, you can't do better than to trace the careers of these two.

Add it all up and it's the most can't-miss event that ever took place on the JPJA floor.  No wonder it costs a cool G to get in.

-- UVA on offense

The 2-3 zone is all anyone talks about when talking Syracuse defense.  They're one of the very few teams whose KenPom defensive fingerprint is "mostly zone."  Other teams deploy the 2-3 to try and take back control of the pace and the game on the defensive end; Syracuse uses it as their base defense.

Because of that, you can bet they don't play it the same every time down the court.  There will be different looks - Cuse will change the level of pressure on the ballhandler, their spacing, the amount of ball denial to certain places on the court.  They'll change help assignments on screens.  They'll throw out a lot of different looks, much the same way a spread offense team in football will line up in the same formation every play on the same drive and then change the playcall.

UVA's answer will generally come from the experience they've got in playing against 2-3 zones in the recent past, some of which have required large adjustments.  They've used four-guard lineups, multiple different players in the high post, and various approaches to force the zone to space out more than it wants to.  Moreover, I suspect the second half will be higher-scoring than the first, for the simple reason that's when the teams shoot at the end where their bench is.  I expect Tony to be pretty heavily involved; the coaches will help London Perrantes and all the ballhandlers out as much as possible by being more involved than usual in trying to pick the best approach for the defensive approach they're seeing.  Probably the first 10-15 seconds or so of the possession will be used to feel out the defensive call.

I don't have to tell you that three-point shooting is huge.  It doesn't matter who gets hot, but someone has to.  Perrantes's explosion against Miami had to cause a little bit of an oh-shit moment in the Syracuse coaches' meetings; it was clear that the Canes had been told to deny Harris and Brogdon and take their chances with Perrantes bombing away, and it cost them.  It wouldn't surprise me if Jim Boeheim had been planning a similar tactic.  That alone might've loosened up the zone just a little.

Personnel-wise, Syracuse has two thoroughly deadly shot-blockers in Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita - the fortunate provenance here is that they don't ever play together.  The defense is designed to let one or the other patrol the middle and have them swat any stray layup attemps that might've gotten past the very long, lanky, and athletic wings and forwards.  C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, and the very little-used Tyler Roberson all measure in around 6'8", 210, and play a lot of denial in the zone, discouraging both entry passes and drives to the rim.  Michael Gbinije is built much the same, and two and sometimes three of these players are in at all times.

Because of these guys, don't be fooled; the 2-3 is the most conservative of all defenses, except in the hands of Syracuse; they're as good at getting steals as any team in the country.  If I didn't know London Perrantes better, I'd say we were in real trouble with a freshman point guard.  He'll still have to play with care and realize the defenders between him and the pass recipient are bouncier and more athletic than what he's used to.  Despite the heralded abilities of Syracuse's scorers, it's their defense that worries me the most.

-- UVA on defense

First thing to understand: Cuse is not a very deep team.  Right or wrong, primary scoring is limited to four players.  I say "right or wrong" because a couple of those guys not on that list are in fact pretty dangerous and maybe should be more involved.  Michael Gbinije is a .400+ three-point shooter, and Rakeem Christmas only scores like six points a game but is in fact the team's second-most efficient offensive player, just a hair behind Trevor Cooney.

Yes, Cooney, not Tyler Ennis or C.J. Fair.  Fair is - wait for the surprise here - actually somewhat of a volume scorer.  UVA will defend him much the same way they defended Lamar Patterson, as Fair is a very similar player.  Like Patterson, his efficiency drops off a cliff if he can't get to the rim, which is exactly what Tony's defense will try to make happen.  Even though he's Cuse's leading scorer, he needs to shoot almost 29% of Cuse's shots while he's on the court to make it happen.

It's Cooney's three-point shooting that's probably the most dangerous thing here.  Even more so against a pack-line defense that prefers that you shoot over top.  Cooney launches threes at an astounding clip and will probably shoot his 200th attempt on the season in this game.  He lands them at a 40% pace, too.

At point, Tyler Ennis is all he's cracked up to be.  His ratio of a 32.5% assist rate to a 14.2% TO rate is among the very best in the country.  The scoring facets of his game demand respect, too.  And if Cuse misses a shot, they will crash the boards extremely hard to try and gather up another chance; UVA's stellar defensive rebounders will get a strong test from Grant, Christmas, and Keita.

All this said, offense has been SU's Achilles heel lately.  They actually have not shot the ball well; this is a team that will do absolutely everything right on offense and then clank the shot, which is why pace (Syracuse's is as slow as ours) is only part of the explanation as to why they haven't gotten any higher than 60 points since February 3.

UVA will have one other advantage, which I think is miniscule but worth mentioning: while the Hoos have faced a number of different 2-3 zone looks in the past month, Syracuse has not seen the pack-line except on film.  And then finally, there's the fatigue question; lots of folks are wondering if Syracuse is hitting a wall, a fair query given that four players play over 30 minutes a game, where UVA has only one such player (Brogdon) and he still lags behind all of Syracuse's big four in average minutes.  In terms of numbers, UVA isn't actually a great deal deeper than Cuse given that Darion Atkins and Evan Nolte are only half members of the rotation, but there's a hell of a lot more substitution.

Still, these are by no means game-breaking advantages.  They just tilt the field a tiny bit our way.  There are lots of ways Syracuse can tilt it back.  Lots of talent.  UVA should be able to defend this team, but that is the least given of all things.

-- Outlook

Could Syracuse win this game?  Easily.  They're the #4 team in the land for a reason; they reeled off a 25-game win streak for a reason; they scored 91 points in 68 possessions against Duke for a reason.  Talent abounds, and going through a rough patch doesn't mean you'll stay in a rough patch.

However, that's quite the rough patch.  The Syracuse offense is struggling hardcore.  Failing to score a point a possession against Boston College, which is not even a top 300 defense in the country, at home, should be a five-alarm bell.  C.J. Fair ballhogged and shot 7-for-23 while being guarded by such defensive luminaries as Eddie Odio.  While the complaint that UVA has benefitted from an unbalanced schedule is a fair one (I can hardly complain about this since I pointed out at the very beginning that we had the easiest schedule in the league by far) it's also true that Syracuse has not faced a defense like ours.

Objectively speaking, then, how can one pick the Cuse?  UVA is at home and playing elite defense, rolls more bodies on the floor, with the further intangible boost of trying to send the seniors off in style.  Syracuse is on the road, playing poor offense by the standards of an aspirational #1 seed, and looking for all the world like they're doing a slow dive into a brick wall.  No, I wouldn't be awfully surprised to see Cuse win - but if they do, it'll be close.  A lot of trends would have to suddenly reverse themselves for the Orange to walk out of the JPJA with a win, though.  I haven't picked against UVA in a long time.  I read these same tea leaves when UNC came to town, and was not disappointed.  Now is not the time to buck the trends.

Final score: UVA 55, SU 48

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Bonus!  It's a very Cusey weekend, and I would hate to omit lacrosse from the festivities.  UVA is 5-0, which is very nice and a better start than they had last year.  But we're also 0-0 against all the teams which we measure ourselves against.  One of them is coming to town this weekend.  Time constraints don't permit me to write a full-blown preview, but some bullet points and a prediction would be handy.

-- Syracuse was the #1 team in the country, but relinquished that distinction after being blown out at home by Maryland last week, 16-8.  The Cuse is now #8 with a 2-1 record; UVA is ranked #4, which is kind of scary high for a team that doesn't look like they've got it all figured out right now.

-- The Orange attack is a two-headed monster of Kevin Rice (2 goals, 11 assists) and Dylan Donahue (12 goals, 2 assists.)  You can see how this combo works out.  Midfielder Henry Schoonmaker also has a nice shot, and Randy Staats has been a good all-around guy with 7 goals and 5 assists.  Pretty much most of the names you hear when Syracuse has the ball will be unfamiliar.

-- Both teams need a lot more out of their goalies than they've been getting; Matt Barrett is at a .480 save percentage and Cuse's Dominic Lamolinara isn't much better at .488.

-- Faceoffs are a problem, as with always.  Mick Parks and Jeff Kratky are combining to go .434.  A surprise bright spot is on the roster in the form of defenseman Nate Menninger, a D-III transfer who got his first action against Rutgers and went 9-for-15.  His 18 total faceoffs are an itty-bitty sample size, though, and last season at Hamilton College his win percentage was only .468.  Syracuse still has excellent face-off guy Chris Daddio, who is at .557 right now, so a long day at the X seems likely.

-- Expect a high-scoring affair here.  Both teams' defenses have disappointed.  UVA had a really nice start for two quarters against Loyola and then fell off like a rock.  Syracuse had to squeak by Albany, 17-16, and gave up another 16 goals to Maryland.

Being 5-0 is nice, but UVA has yet to put together a full four quarters.  You can get away with that against Rutgers and Richmond.  Syracuse might struggle to stay out of the ACC basement this year but they're still a notch above anyone UVA's seen this year.  I'm in show-me mode right now, so....

Final score: SU 16, UVA 13

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Double bonus!  ACC sims are updated, with one small wrinkle.  Go see.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

defense travels

Background: During the Notre Dame game this past Saturday, the announcers were discussing UVA's sterling road record and the amount of success they've had away from the JPJA, particularly in ACC play.  By way of explanation, Doris Burke said simply, "Defense travels."  I liked it instantly (not least because that's all she said, and didn't spend three possessions blathering on trying to explain it.)

The phrase had a certain elegance, because it made perfect sense.  Hostile crowds are always yelling at you on offense, but they shush when you're on defense.  You don't have to worry about shooting backgrounds, giant swirly cutouts during free throws, false countdowns, airball chants, and all the other stuff the crowd throws at you when you have the ball.  In general, offense demands execution while defense demands effort.  (Yes, I know Tony Bennett's intricate help systems will crash and burn if you don't execute.  But still.)  It's not hard to exert effort - it is hard to be mentally sharp enough to execute.

Simply making sense wasn't quite enough, though.  I wanted to see if I could quantify the concept.  I took, out of the KenPom rankings, the top 25 teams most skewed toward offense and defense, just by dividing a team's offensive efficiency ranking (out of 351) by its defensive efficiency ranking.  The 25 teams at either end of that list are the least balanced ones.

(This method skews rather heavily toward teams at the top of either list.  I thought of taking every team with a difference of, say, 35 spots between offense and defense, but there's a huge difference between being ranked #2 and #37, and being ranked #162 and #197.  One is being really good at one thing and decent at another; one is just mediocre at everything.  Clearly, it's not actually a bad idea to cherry-pick the teams at the top, since the edges of the bell curve is where we want to do this research.)

If defense travels while offense gets stuck at home, you would expect the defense-heavy teams to be about as good on the road as at home, maybe only adjusted by the standard 3-point advantage for home teams.  Similarly, you'd figure offense-heavy teams to struggle on the road.

I decided to look only at conference games, for two reasons.  One, the vast majority of the 50 teams in the study have played an equal number of home and road games inside the conference, while including OOC games would throw that out of whack.  Two, it levels off the quality of competition.  Teams in the ACC, Big Ten, etc., would play a bunch of crappy teams at home and skew the results.  This way teams are playing competition mostly equal to themselves.

The methodology was simply to average each team's margin of victory or loss on the road and at home and then average all those together.  The result is below.  (Offense-heavy teams are on the left, defense-heavy teams on the right.)


As an example in case the numbers aren't meaning anything to you, William & Mary has lost by an average of five points on the road and won by an average of 7.14 points at home, the difference being 12.14.  The average team in the offense column wins by 1.64 points on the road and 8.3 points at home.

The obvious, and rather disappointing, conclusion is that the hypothesis is bunk.  The defensive teams actually perform ever so slightly better at home vs. on the road than the offensive teams do - the margin, however, being so close as to be functionally the same.  The correlation between road vs. home performance and defense vs. offense is essentially zero - positively no relationship whatsoever.

About all I managed to affirm with this is that defensive teams generally play somewhat closer games than do offensive teams - like, duh, they do - and that the three-point home-court advantage that linemakers give is fairly spot-on.

But the evidence is plain: it doesn't matter whether your team is defensively-oriented or offensively-oriented, you're still subject to the difficulties of playing on the road.  I was really hoping to see a correlation for a couple different reasons.  One of which is that we have a defensive team.  As it turns out, we're just special.  Only three other teams out of the 50 I looked at have an average double-digit margin of victory on the road, and all three of the others - Davidson, Harvard, and Southern - are mid-majors running roughshod over crappy conferences.  It just turns out that UVA is good on the road not because they're a defensive team, but because they're good on the road.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

game preview: Miami


Date/Time: Wednesday, February 26; 7:00

TV: ACC Net., ESPN3

Record against the Canes: 5-10

Last meeting: Miami 54, UVA 50; 2/19/13, Coral Gables

Last game: UVA 70, ND 49 (2/22); Mia. 69, BC 42 (2/22)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 61.5 (#344)
Mia.: 58.7 (#351)

Offense:
UVA: 112.1 (#43)
Mia.: 106.7 (#133)

Defense:
UVA: 89.5 (#4)
Mia.: 97.7 (#54)

Pythag:
UVA: .9308 (#6)
Mia.: .7341 (#71)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (7.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.4 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Miami:

PG: Garrius Adams (10.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg)
SG: Rion Brown (15.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SF: Erik Swoope (3.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.5 apg)
PF: Donnavan Kirk (8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.2 apg)
PF: Raphael Akpejiori (0.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.1 apg)


Amazing as it may sound, Syracuse isn't the next game.  There's still the little matter of this Miami thing.  The last time these two teams met, Miami was the 2nd-ranked team in the country and on its way to an ACC title.  Fortunes have reversed somewhat; the Canes are 5-9 and no threat to make any tournament but the CBI, and it's UVA that's on a title quest.

A win here would give UVA the drop on Duke and clinch a seed no worse than 2nd in the ACC tourney, but more importantly, it'd be a piece of concrete proof (as if we needed any more) that Tony Bennett's insistence that the team climb the stairs one at a time is sinking in.  Really, there's nothing here in terms of tournament setup that UVA can't do later on; there's also nothing they can do later (like win the regular season title) that can be sped up and done here.  It's very much a take-care-of-business game.

-- UVA on offense

The Hoos are coming off their most explosive offensive performance of the year - 70 points in only 52 possessions - fueled largely by completely unstoppable forward play.  Things will have to be a little different here.  Miami has one of the best two-point defenses in the country - allowing a .429 shooting percentage, good for 15th-best.

UVA will get another healthy dose of zone defense here - Jim Larranaga is using it more heavily than in the past.  His team is uniquely set up for it; practically everyone they'll deploy is 6'6" or taller, and do a solid job of discouraging drives at the rim.  They foul very little, don't pick up a lot of steals, and they'll block shots (particularly Donnavan Kirk - he's been a very good rim defender his whole career).  It's a pretty conservative defense.

That means things might look a lot like the VT game.  UVA was unable to loosen up the Hokies' zone for long stretches, laying quite a few bricks along the way.  Hopefully the familiar setting will fix some of those problems, because if the Hoos want a simple game, no muss no fuss, they'll need to hit the open threes that inevitably come their way.

-- UVA on defense

Miami is sort of an island of misfit toys on offense, and things didn't get better when Larranaga suspended forward James Kelly last week.  Kelly's suspension is "expected to last three games" which means this one would be the final one, and it deprives the Canes of a versatile bench scorer.  Kelly is the only player on the team shooting over .500 on the season.

Initially expected to try out freshman Davon Reed at point guard, Larranaga abandoned that experiment, and the starter at the 1 is Garrius Adams, more suited for shooting guard than point.  He's backed up by waterbug freshman Manu Lecomte, who brings good secondary scoring and a rangy jump shot, but is still learning the ropes at point.  The pack-line is already a tricky thing for a rookie point guard to handle; things could get interesting if Tony Bennett chooses to attack Lecomte with Justin Anderson, who stands nine inches taller and gives up nothing in terms of quickness.

Without Kelly, the most dangerous players on offense are probably Rion Brown and Donnavan Kirk.  Kirk is the only major interior threat; seven-footer Tonye Jekiri doesn't bring much and Raphael Akpejiori is strictly a defender.  Adams is the second-leading scorer, but he's never been terribly efficient; in general rather a volume scorer.  Reed has shown a decent three-point shot, but is shooting only .317 from inside the arc.

Overall, though, poor shooting is what's doomed this team.  They're at best inconsistent - when they win, it's because they're hitting their threes (or else the opponent is REALLY missing theirs.)  Only VT shoots twos worse, though, in conference play.  UVA should be leery of the Canes' three-point shooters, because most of their players won't hesitate to fire away, and the way the Canes set things up, we'll be in for it if they're hitting and we're not.  But that's why home-court advantage exists.

-- Outlook

Despite being a fairly poor offensive team by ACC standards - and despite supplying VT's only two conference wins - Miami probably isn't totally as bad as their record.  They play solid D and they did go on the road to beat both FSU and UNC (the latter during the Heels' dark ages, though.)  Still, with a hit to their depth and being on the road, and not being able to shoot all that well, Miami's a clear underdog.  This game could be closer than you'd think it should be, because of Miami's wicked slow pace (you know it's bad when a Virginia fan is saying this; Miami is in fact the slowest team in the country, because zone defense and misfit point guards) and the possibility that we could go dry from three.  Still, one of these teams is 14-1 for a reason.

Final score: UVA 57, Miami 50

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Party time: I finally got around to putting up a new banner.  The fact that the boring white one stayed for like a month was no purposeful protest, I just have a job and stuff and nobody stepped to the plate to make me a new one.  So I said the hell with it, and did it myself.  I know my limits as a graphic designer, and they are many and large, so I didn't get all ambitious, and I like the result.  It's simple and clean, if I do say so myself.  It's here to stay for a while.

Monday, February 24, 2014

even more golden

Against Notre Dame, for the first time since February 8, and for only the 11th time this season (in 28 tries) UVA's point total got into the 70s.  So I was bowled over to look at KenPom and find that that was the second-slowest game - 52 possessions - that we've seen all season.  Only the Pitt game, at 51 possessions, was a lesser pace than this one.

So when Mike Brey said "that was a nuclear explosion," well, at first I figured he was just saying that because this particular explosion happened to him and not someone else.  But no, that's a legit descriptor, and really I should've realized that Brey knew what he was talking about because it's not the first UVA explosion he's witnessed.  70 points in 52 possessions is about 1.35 per, an astounding number that blows away UVA's previous best effort, which was against Liberty.

Shooting 7-for-15 from three is a nice result and contributed to the effort, but it pales in comparison to shooting 21-for-29 - a whopping .724 percentage - from two.  Anthony Gill and Akil Mitchell combined for 12-of-13.  It didn't even have anything to do with zone defense.  Brey didn't deploy it all that much.  Sometimes basketball is about intricate play breakdowns and sometimes it's just about a light bulb going off, that says, "this guy can't guard me," and then doing something about that.

In Notre Dame's case there were a lot of this-guys - ND might as well have had four equal-sized dudes with the same number on their jersey and "GUMPY STIFF" where the name goes.  It almost makes me wish Garrick Sherman had stayed at Michigan State so he could be a terrible post defender in East Lansing instead, but as the results of the weekend proved, Sparty didn't need the help.

Mike Tobey, meanwhile - the one guy we have who's comparable in size to the gumpy stiff gang - collected four blocked shots.

When the run came, in typical UVA fashion it didn't announce itself like it does for other teams.  Brey - perhaps this is why he's a pretty good coach - knew it anyway.  He called time-out when the lead stretched to five - Joe Harris had just hit that running three-pointer and then kiboshed a minute-long(!) Irish possession with a blocked shot, leading to an Anthony Gill you-can't-stop-this bucket.  Not a minute had passed when Brey called another one.  The building was getting around to figuring out what Brey already knew, because Justin Anderson had just dropped Little Boy on Zach Auguste and Gill had deployed Fat Man on the other end.  When Malcolm Brogdon lefty-tossed the ball high off the glass and in, despite being clubbed with a hidden shillelagh Eric Atkins was saving for just such an occasion, Brey looked on resignedly.  He didn't bother calling another timeout, and took two of them to the locker room.  How do you fight a nuclear bomb with timeouts?

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The baseball team is two weeks into the season.  Some stats of note:

-- Matt Thaiss is 6-for-17 to start the season (.353) with four doubles.  It's exceedingly early to say this, but it appears we have two catchers that could start on just about any team in the ACC.  Because it's not like Nate Irving - 5-for-15, 4 walks - is just handing over the job.  Quite the opposite.

-- UVA pitching has allowed 16 runs, not one of them unearned.  UVA has scored 31 earned runs and 21 more unearned.  When Brian O'Connor sets out to fix what he thinks is a fielding problem, he fixes the hell out of it.  The Hoos have committed two errors all season, one by a pitcher (which is to say, I don't care as much.)

-- Brandon Downes already has three home runs.

And finally a lacrosse game, which left me shaking my head in all ranges of emotion from annoyed disbelief to happy disbelief, also leaves me with one overarching impression of this team so far: I keep expecting disaster and don't get it.  UVA is ranked 4th, which seems likely to result in the house-of-cards thing, but 4-0 is 4-0.  I get the feeling this season will either be another train wreck or pretty darn awesome. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

acc sims updated

A power outage yesterday prevented me from writing anything substantial, but I still managed to update the sims as promised.  They're both surprising and anticlimactic, and perhaps surprisingly anticlimactic.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

the recruit: Jake Fieler

Name: Jake Fieler
Position: OL
Hometown: Parkersburg, WV
School: Parkersburg South / FUMA
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 300

24/7: 88, three stars
ESPN: 74, three stars
Rivals: 5.5, three stars
Scout: three stars

Other offers: Cincinnati, Southern Miss

With apologies to Jamil Kamara, it turned out that Jake Fieler was probably the most important recruit of the post-season recruiting push.  With Will Richardson decommitting about a month after Fieler's commitment, UVA was left with a paltry two linemen in the class.  You have got to wonder what ditch our program would be lying in if not for the good folks at Fork Union.

Fieler graduated high school in 2013, but did so without having received any Division I offers.  Deciding he could earn some anyway, he enrolled at FUMA for some post-grad work, to try and boost his profile.  Mission accomplished, as UVA and a small handful of other programs came sniffing around.  Fieler took almost no time at all selecting the UVA offer.

He comes from an athlete family, which is always a plus.  He has a volleyball-playing sister and his brother, Chase Fieler, is a senior hoopster at FGCU, famous for their Sweet 16 run last year and earning his 15 minutes with this.  Whereas Chase is a tall and lanky forward, Jake gives up about 3 inches but makes up for it with an extra 100 pounds or so.  Fieler's parents were college athletes, too.

While at FUMA, Fieler played guard almost (if not totally) exclusively.  ESPN evaluates him as a guard, and says of his pass-blocking skills, "Displays a good punch with the ability to be able to slide with a rusher in short area once locked on."  Again, the scouting reports are as useful for what they don't say as what they do; "short area" means, not in the open like a tackle.  And Coach Shuman at FUMA came right out and called him Austin Pasztor, who stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman guard and stuck for his whole career, a ride that took him to the NFL.

Plenty of similarities, and not just having been coached by Shuman.  Fieler is described as physical and strong, which was also the best part of Pasztor's game initially; they were both FUMA players who'd been overlooked by colleges and low-rated by the services (in Pasztor's case, because he was Canadian and only spent the one season at FUMA); of course, they play the same position, too.

Fieler's been told, as well, that he should be prepared to get second-string snaps in spring practice, as he enrolled in January along with Andrew Brown.  So the fast track is another thing he shares with Pasztor; here in 2014, though, the sorry state of the depth chart is at least 2/3rds of the reason.  With only 13 scholarship linemen in camp, maybe 12 this spring depending on the health of George Adeosun, the coaches basically have no choice.  As well, it may mean Fieler's already leapfrogged a couple more experienced players, which would speak very poorly of recruiting in the past.  That said, it might just also mean that with so few players, the coaches will just consider anyone second-string who isn't first string.

However you interpret it, Fieler will enter the fall with a head start on his classmate Steven Moss.  Because of the state of the depth chart, that could really mean something.  In a perfect world, we'd redshirt every lineman that ever rolled through the program.  Hell, in a world with any kind of sanity at all, that's what'd happen.  These days, playing as a true freshman seems to be the only path to playing time of any kind; the few linemen that've redshirted, we haven't seen hide nor hair of.  Sean Karl and Ryan Doull redshirted and if they ever got into a game this year I sure missed it; meanwhile, four true freshman played extensively.  Fieler, he might not redshirt either; it certainly seems as though the coaches fully intend for him to be in their plans this season.  At least in his case, he's already a year older thanks to the postgrad year.  Playing time at guard seems as wide open as any position on the field, so there's plenty of room for Fieler to continue following in Pasztor's footsteps.  We could do quite a bit worse than to see that comparison hold true for four seasons.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

zoning out

Yesterday I was working on a points-of-view style post, like the one from last week, which would've been, "if we win out, do we get a #1 seed?"  I scrapped the idea halfway through (which is why you got nothing yesterday) because if I do more of those I want to actually have some fraction of a buy-in inside my head for both sides of a debate.  I couldn't convince myself that there was any kind of argument which made a future #1 seed even remotely realistic.

Maybe it's a good thing I did.  You never know - that one little post could've been the thing that tipped the karma scales the other way.  Yes that's a load of crap but you can never be too careful with this stuff.

That makes two straight ugly wins on the road.  Better than losing pretty, as goes the saying.  Maybe even better than winning pretty.  VT has logged three decent (for them) games in a row, looking much more like a viable threat to one's existence than in the past.  This constitutes a trend.  Blowouts are fun, but isn't it also nice to know that this team can fire bricks for 35 minutes and still end up on the right side of the score sheet?

They probably can't do that against Syracuse, but they aren't going to blast the Cuse out of the water, either; better to have that close-game experience than not to have it.  A good team, one that has aspirations of doing more at the dance than showing up and taking in the atmosphere, has to have all the tools in its bag or it's going to be buzzsawed by someone that does.

Close games always are full of things you could do better - in this case, find ways to get 2-pointers against a stubborn zone, and rebound.  After drop-kicking Clemson on the boards (thanks in part to their Nnoko-sized hole in the lineup) the Hoos actually got outrebounded by VT.  That's not good, but it's also good: you win a game on the road in the ACC while being outrebounded and having your top two scorers combine to shoot .238, you have done something right somewhere.

And every game is important, even if you think there's a chance to make it up later.  If you don't believe me, looky who now sits on top of the ACC.

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

-- Let's talk 2-3 zones for a second.  Syracuse's is famous, of course, and VT gave us heavy, heavy doses of it.  And they did a much better job than Notre Dame did.  I may actually do some serious photo analysis later, but here's a summary.  UVA attacked the 2-3s of ND and VT the same way: stationing Mike Tobey at the elbow and getting him the ball. 

The whole idea of scoring against a zone is to force the defense to rotate in some fashion that puts them out of position.  Notre Dame willfully obliged every time.  Perhaps afraid of having three-point holes blown in their defense by Harris and Brogdon, they kept their guards out by the arc even with the ball at the elbow, guarding territory not normally bothered with by a 2-3.  They paid for it dearly because with their center straying from the basket to guard Tobey, it was the simplest thing to find open space directly underneath the hoop.

VT got burned like this very early and never again.  When Tobey got the ball at the elbow, their defenders never made drastic moves.  The guard on that side dropped down to harass him from above and their center inched up so he could bother a shot (and Tobey is a rather slow jump shooter, so in the time he would've needed to gather himself for a shot, Joey van Zegeren would have been in his grill.)  Meanwhile, the opposite-side forward shaded over to the rim, ensuring there would be no cutters for easy dunks.

Tobey was left with the option to either pass back up top to reset, or to skip-pass to the opposite wing or corner.  The VT defenders were not so far out of position that they couldn't hustle over to defend the recipient of those passes by the time he got the ball, and there was never an open jumper from the corner.  In the second half, UVA eventually stopped going for this initial entry pass to the elbow, and focused on other ways to attack the zone.

-- Amazingly, there are folks who think Brogdon's elbow never made contact with Devin Wilson's chin.  Sorry, it did.  Sometimes basketball blogging means admitting Karl Hess made the right call.  I'm not real enamored of the idea that you can call a defensive bump foul and that elbow on the same play.  It feels like when a hockey ref calls both a hook and a dive.  It really ought to be one or the other.  Being that close should waive your right to protection from all but the most intentional flying elbows.  I wish Brogdon had turned around the other way to dribble upcourt instead of encouraging the contact, but in no way can I fault the referees for handling it the way they did.

Wilson, on the other hand, had an awfully and obnoxiously sanctimonious look on his face in the process of making his case to the ref.  He reminded me of playground kids who go, poke poke poke poke poke poke poke until they get punched and then play innocent for the authorities.  I think he'll be a good player for VT, but there might be just a smidge of Greivis Vasquez potential there, too.

-- There's something awfully sneaky about a UVA game-clinching run.  You never realize it's happening until it's too late.  I think it's because a UVA run starts on defense and doesn't always involve consecutive possessions with points, but does involve long stretches without them.  A UVA run isn't a 12-0 blitz, it's a 22-5 slog.  It lulls the opposition into thinking things are still under control, and it takes so long that the game is over when the run finishes.

-- The ACC sims are becoming sort of academic these days, with UVA officially clinching a double-bye and poised to grab no worse than #3 the next time they win or UNC loses, but I like them and I'm still gonna do them.  But this week's won't be til Friday, because of the postponed Duke-UNC game happening late Thursday.  You are pulling for the Heels in that one, by the way.

Monday, February 17, 2014

game preview: Virginia Tech



Date/Time: Tuesday, February 18; 9:00

TV: ACC Net., ESPN3

Record against the Hokies: 85-53

Last meeting: UVA 65, VT 45; 1/25/14, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 63, CU 58 (2/15); VT 52, Mia. 45 (2/15)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 62.2 (#340)
VT: 65.3 (#252)

Offense:
UVA: 111.5 (#50)
VT: 99.0 (#268)

Defense:
UVA: 88.8 (#4)
VT: 101.1 (#107)

Pythag:
UVA: .9319 (#7)
VT: .4391 (#187)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (4.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.3 apg)

Virginia Tech:

PG: Devin Wilson (9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.5 apg)
SG: Ben Emelogu (10.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg)
SF: Jarell Eddie (13.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Trevor Thompson (4.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.1 apg)
PF: Joey van Zegeren (5.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.2 apg)

I undershot a little bit when I said that UVA could clinch as high as the 6th seed in the ACC tournament on Saturday; when the dust settled, it was the 5th seed that UVA had ended up with as a minimum prize.  And thanks to Pittsburgh's loss this weekend, the Hoos sit poised to lock up one of the four double-byes available - all they need to do is go into Blacksburg in front of tens of rabid Hokie fans and deliver a win.

-- UVA on offense

Fundamentally, very little has changed about VT since last we met.  The lineup is quite a bit different, but the numbers aren't that different.  VT still does a solid job on most aspects of defense, especially in shot-blocking, and the starting lineup now includes reinforcements in that regard in the form of 6'11" Trevor Thompson to play alongside Joey van Zegeren.  Thompson is even more of a yutz on offense than van Zegeren is, but he's a strong (if fouly) defender, and an excellent rebounder.

This gives Tech a really big starting lineup.  They've taken some hits in the depth department, though.  The Hokies don't expect to have Cadarian Raines available, which cuts into their frontcourt and robs them of a lot of experience.  Marshall Wood hasn't played the last three games, either; he only played seven mostly invisible minutes in the last game, though, so if he's absent again, it wouldn't change much.

VT does have one statistical curiosity: defensive time of possession.  The average possession length for opponents is 17.4 seconds, which is 88th in the country (if the shortest possession is ranked first.)  That's not strange in and of itself, but I would've expected a team which never gets turnovers to be forced to defend for much longer, and Tech never gets turnovers.  My only guess: easy threes.  Almost 40% of shots taken against VT's defense are threes, and they probably tend to come earlyish in the shot clock.  I don't know why I mention this, because shooting early threes is something that tends to earn the Tony Bennett evil eye.  If they kept track of Shots Passed Up we'd lead the country.  But I suppose if you can get an early three, you can probably get a later one, too.

At any rate, last time out, UVA was largely able to beat VT at the game the Hokies play best, and not needing help from the generous VT three-point defense to pile up a 20-point margin.  UVA shot .500 from two-point land in the game in Charlottesville, and most teams that have been able to do that, blew out the Hokies.  VT only blocked two shots, less than half their usual game total.  Beat the Hokies with superior athleticism inside, as UVA has, and you take away their main defensive strength, which in turn really leaves them with nothing to fall back on.

-- UVA on defense

Let's not get too fancy with analysis here.  Speaking in terms of conference-only play, this matchup is the ACC's best defense by a lot against the ACC's worst offense by a lot.  UVA's conference-only defensive efficiency is 89.6; second-best is Syracuse at 97.7.  VT's offense rates at 92.1 in conference play; next-worst is Clemson at 95.3.

This is because they're lousy shooters.  Again in conference play, VT is shooting .399 from two and .309 from three.  They've got some three-point shooters who'll hurt you if they get hot, but they're also prone to go on chuck-it streaks, attempting to heat up via volume.  Probably the only consistent inside scoring threat is C.J. Barksdale; after that, their next-best two point shooter (with any reasonable sample size, excluding for example Christian Beyer and his 16 shots all season) is van Zegeren.  Bad news for the Hokies given how ham-handed van Zegeren can be at times.

Barring a really, really hot night from someone's downtown shooting - not out of the question as Jarell Eddie and Ben Emelogu are both capable of it and even Barksdale will pop one in if you fall asleep on him - VT will struggle to score just as they did in Charlottesville.  Individually, most Hokies have a formula for defending them.  Stay in front of point guard Devin Wilson, who never saw a rim he didn't want to drive at; allow Eddie inside where he gets a little frantic and is a relatively easy shot block; hack the bejeezus out of van Zegeren and watch his .344 free-throw percentage go to work.  It's one of the easier teams to prepare for.

-- Outlook

That said, I don't want to act too ridiculously overconfident.  Pride comes before fall etc. and you have to expect a pretty good effort out of VT, which knows the value of the rivalry.  Plus it's a road game.  It's a classic trap, with UVA coming off a tough road win and now having to grind out another one, and VT surely feeling chastened by the 20-point loss last time and wanting to defend their home court.  But objectively speaking, VT shouldn't be able to score, and he that cannot score cannot win.

Final score: UVA 65, VT 45

Just because.

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

It's worth mentioning a few events from the weekend.  All basketball; we can deal with lacrosse and baseball later.  UVA moved up in a lot of estimation and didn't even do all that much.  Lunardi's latest bracketology has UVA as a 3-seed, surprisingly high.  But Michigan took a rather well-deserved tumble and our win over Clemson - on the road - vaulted us over Cincy and Iowa State, both of which had boring home wins against boringly mediocre teams.  Clemson ain't going dancing but they're quite a show better than Houston and Texas Tech.  At such lofty heights - what looks to be the 11th spot in a 68-team bracket - you probably can't help yourself much by beating the dross that fills the next three slots on UVA's schedule, but I will absolutely not complain about a 3 seed.  I think running the table - really running it, meaning winning every game between now and Selection Sunday - would earn us a 2 seed.  And I think we'd have to run the table to get one.  So a 3 seed looks like the winning combination of both high and realistic hopes.

In related news, Seth Greenberg has managed to go on record saying that not only is UVA his pick to win the ACC, that's his safe-bet pick in a gimmick where ESPN's guys were asked to make two predictions, one safe and one out on a limb.  You have to give the guy credit, he has never let his former Hokie status bias his judgment against UVA - in fact he's almost overcompensated for it the same way Kirk Herbstreit is conscious of never talking up Ohio State too much.  Maybe he's got a ton of respect for Tony Bennett, having coached quite a few games against him; maybe he's getting back at his former employer for the disgraceful way they kicked him to the curb; maybe he's simply more familiar with UVA than any other opponent he coached against while at Tech.  Or maybe he's just the smartest damn analyst they got and we don't know it yet and he's fixin' to look like a genius for going against the Syracuse and Duke grain.  (I do like his studio analysis.  It's more insightful than most of the faces they trot out.)

Speaking of Duke, how about that Duke-Maryland game?  In which the ACC admitted screwing up the possession arrow and not flipping it to Maryland after a tie-up when Duke had it, thus giving Duke a possession they shouldn't have had.  Of course they scored on that possession and of course they won by two.  Flippin' brilliant is what I say.  Maryland gets screwed, which is A-OK by me since the school is a dirty Benedict Arnold.  (Ok, the players didn't make that decision and screwing them over is decidedly not that exciting since they don't have a Greivis Vasquez at whom to direct delightful schadenfreude.)  I'm still rooting against the Terps at every turn, though, including when they went to Blacksburg.  So Duke getting that win is nice, and what's even nicer is it's thoroughly tainted.  We all like to believe you're playing 5-on-8 when you go to Cameron and now we have concrete proof of that, and not just in some judgment, block/charge call.  The ACC was forced to come flat out and say "yep, some Duke opponent got hosed."  They left out the "for the zillionth time" because those aren't official.  But this one is.  Now any time a Dookie pretends like they got screwed because they didn't get that charge call their players worked so hard for, we all have something to point to.  Maryland getting screwed and Duke and the refs looking like asshats - this is known in the bizness as a "win-win."

There's just one thing I have a beef about: the conference's statement that "The matter has been and will be handled internally by the league office."  Look.  I know that the conference's priorities really don't align with those of the fans.  They never do, and that's not unique to the ACC.  And I don't expect them to run out and make big procedural changes.  And I know that PR 101 says to just clam up, call it an internal matter, and the media will go away and stop bothering you about it.  This all said, every fan outside of North Carolina thinks the league office exists to grease the Tobacco Road skids, and the league is not so completely thick and tone-deaf that they don't know this.  Would it kill them to make a small effort to change that perception?  Maybe by saying this: "We understand that there's a perception of favoritism from referees and conference officials toward certain schools in the conference.  While nothing could be further from the truth, we're also aware that the inexcusable mistake during the Duke-Maryland game may exacerbate those concerns.  We want to assure our competitors and fans that we hold our officials to the highest standards and to that end we are [blah blah blah whatever corrective measures you're taking.]"  Battening down the hatches only makes you look even more like the All Carolina Club that everyone already thinks you are.

Friday, February 14, 2014

game preview: Clemson


Date/Time: Saturday, February 15; 12:00

TV: ESPN2

Record against the Tigers: 69-52

Last meeting: UVA 78, CU 41; 2/7/13, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 61, Md. 53 (2/10); ND 68, Clem. 64 (2/11)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 62.3 (#339)
CU: 59.5 (#349)

Offense:
UVA: 109.3 (#83)
CU: 101.4 (#230)

Defense:
UVA: 87.3 (#2)
CU: 90.5 (#6)

Pythag:
UVA: .9300 (#9)
CU: .7870 (#52)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (4.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.6 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.2 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (7.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Clemson:

PG: Rod Hall (9.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Adonis Filer (4.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.3 apg)
SF: K.J. McDaniels (17.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.3 apg)
PF: Jaron Blossomgame (4.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.3 apg)
C: Landry Nnoko (5.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.4 apg)
This is a time in the season where every game now is a chance to pick off spots in the ACC tourney.  What I mean is this: UVA can mathematically fall no lower than the 8th seed; win this game, and it'll be 7th, and likely enough, 6th, with NC State playing Syracuse later in the day.

That said, it'd be nice if NC State would win; looking in the direction we ought to be looking, which is upwards, UVA still needs help if it wants to win the regular season outright.  Sharing is nice and all.  Sharing still lets you put a new number on your banner.  That's all well and good, but I'm still gonna be all greedy 'n shit.

As for Clemson, this was a team predicted by the media to bottom-feed, and they are not doing that.  Some folks did give them more credit than that, but I'm sure no one expected them to beat Duke.  Clemson can be dangerous, with a profile that looks not unlike the early Tony Bennett years at UVA: good field, no hit.

-- UVA on offense

Clemson's KenPom defensive profile should look awfully familiar; like UVA's, it's full of bright green colors that indicate elite play in various areas.  No team in the country, for example, has been better at defending threes.  Teams have shot just 27% from distance against the Tigers, and this combined with a general reluctance of their opponents to even try the long ball has meant that a disproportionate number of points and attempts against Clemson have come inside.

This is fine by them, as they have a pool of long tall defenders to choose from down low.  Length is one of the best things going on this Clemson team.  You start with K.J. McDaniels; much of the reason Clemson is so stingy on three-pointers is their tendency to have him guarding opponents' top shooters and haranguing them into not shooting.  McDaniels has a tremendous 9% shot-block rate.  Center Landry Nnoko is the Tigers' best interior defender, another long alterer of shots with plenty of bulk to hold his ground.

They've also utilized a pair of bench centers to spell Nnoko, but it's likely only one will be available tomorrow as Sidy Djitte rolled his ankle against Syracuse.  Djitte is the better of the two, the other being Ibrahim Djambo, who's long but incredibly skinny and less of a true center than a tall forward.  Djitte's been a decent shot-blocker but it's really only McDaniels and Nnoko that Clemson has needed in order to be 13th in the country in block %.

To pile on the things they do well, they don't send teams to the line much.  Mainly that's through the efforts of the guards, who are never in foul trouble.  The frontcourt is actually rather foul-prone, and their game against Notre Dame took a big swing in favor of the Irish when Nnoko sat with foul trouble in the first half.

(As a side note, one of the things Clemson does really well is free-throw defense.  Their opponents have shot 63.8% against them, 7th-worst in the country.  Now, of course you're calling bullshit on me, but this isn't totally a stroke of luck - the fact that their frontcourt does all the fouling means that when they do foul, they're usually fouling other teams' crappy free-throw shooters.)

How, then, to attack the Clemson defense?  There's a weak point: the fact that there's only one McDaniels and three pretty unimpressive shooting guards.  Does Brad Brownell assign McDaniels to our top three-point shooter (Joe Harris) or best all-around offensive threat (Malcolm Brogdon)?  My bet would be on Brogdon, as putting any of the two-guards on Brogdon would open up the court for him tremendously.  Adonis Filer is the best defensively of any of the three aforementioned guards, and Clemson could use him on Brogdon without losing much, but Jordan Roper is too small and Damarcus Harrison also risky.  Anyone Roper guards will tower over him.  UVA may look to spread Brogdon and Harris - or whoever is playing 2 and 3 at the moment - completely apart on the floor, so as to remove McDaniels from the equation as much as possible.

-- UVA on defense

This is where Clemson loses games.  McDaniels is an absolute hoss, of course.  17 points a game on a team with a way slower tempo than even UVA is amazing.  He takes 31% of his team's shots when on the floor.  He can be stopped, however.  For one, once he puts the ball on the floor, he's not looking to pass much.  Unlike a Lamar Patterson, whose assist rate is sky-high, McDaniels is much less of a passer and his teammates, when he does pass, don't knock down many shots.

The other comparison to Patterson is this: I suggested UVA should make him into a two-point jump-shooter, and that's exactly what they did and he went 1-for-10 from inside the arc.  Even more so with McDaniels - he hits almost 70% at the rim and is an outstanding free throw shooter, so once he gets a head of steam, good things happen for Clemson.  But he's only a 33% shooter on jump shots.  UVA must work to shut off all passing lanes to McDaniels except outside the pack line, collapse hard on him if he drives (preferably before he drives), and force him to either pull up or kick it outside.

The main threats on offense outside of McDaniels are point guard Rod Hall, a solid all-around player and a good facilitator, and center Landry Nnoko who uses his size well.  Clemson is also a very good offensive rebounding team, with Nnoko, McDaniels, and Jaron Blossomgame good at cleaning up friendly misfires.

However, there are plenty of weak points, too.  Blossomgame and Ibrahim Djambo like to toss threes in the general direction of the rim; under no circumstances should they be discouraged from doing so, or in fact ever guarded more than 10-12 feet from the rim.  Filer, Hall, and McDaniels are at best decent three-point shooters who force you to keep it in the back of your head not to let them get screamingly wide-open looks, but aren't likely to go on a rampage.  Clemson gets much less production than you'd like out of their 2-guard position, with Filer, Roper, and Harrison all starting games at some point and none of them really seizing the job.  Roper was a very good three-point shooter last year but is much colder this year, and his size makes it hard to get good looks any closer.  Harrison has always been a horrible shooter in general and the only thing keeping his O-rating afloat is a lack of turnovers and excellent free-throw shooting (the latter of which makes his poor in-game shooting that much more inexplicable.)

-- Outlook

Clemson is one of the few teams in the country that UVA can look at and go "cripes, you're slow."  Combine that with the excellent defense played by both teams and this is a first-to-50-wins game.  It might not even take that much to win the game.  In conference-only play, you can go down the list of KenPom's defensive stats and tick off, one by one, all the areas where UVA is first.  Total efficiency, 1st.  Effective FG%, 1st.  Defensive rebounding, 1st.  Turnovers, 2-point defense, free-throw defense**, 1st, 1st, 1st.  3-point defense, OK, fine, 2nd.  Meanwhile, Clemson is 14th out of 15 in almost all the things I just listed.  (15th is ha ha ha you know the answer.)  If UVA is up to its usual standard on defense and even moderately effective on offense, they'll win this game rather handily.

Final score: UVA 59, Clemson 50

**Again, not a total coincidence.  The pack-line severely limits drives to the rim, which in turn keeps good free-throw shooters off the stripe.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

the recruit: Michael Biesemier

Name: Michael Biesemier
Position: DE
Hometown: Lynchburg
School: Virginia Episcopal
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 235

24/7: 76, two stars; #97 SDE, VA #64
ESPN: 72, three stars; #140 DE, VA #41, East #217
Rivals: 5.4, two stars
Scout: two stars

Other offers: James Madison

(For the ACC sims, clicky.)

Despite having a grand total of six scholarship bodies on the roster at DE - not all of which are guaranteed to be on the team, actually play DE, or be healthy - it took until December for UVA to land a defensive end commitment.  Michael Biesemier (pronounced BEEZ-mai-ur, in case you were wondering) had been committed to JMU for most of the year, but the combination of a coaching change in Harrisonburg and a UVA offer made the decision to flip pretty easy.

Biesemier is a solidly-built athlete who plays three sports in high school, adding basketball and lacrosse to his resume as the seasons change.  It's safe to say he projects as a strong-side DE, though some suggest he could move inside to DT or even across to the other side of the ball; he's done all of that in high school.  The problem with such projections is that he'd have to put on at least 40 pounds to make that happen, probably more like 60 if he were to move to OL.  It doesn't make much sense to make that a goal.  However, 35 seems perfectly reasonable.

It so happens that SDE is a position of great need; the problem is that Biesemier is going to need a ton of time.  Leaving aside the universally skeptical ratings for a sec, he's got two things working against him: quickness (or a lack thereof, which would be necessary to make an earlier contribution at WDE) and the level of competition.  Biesemier comes out of the VISAA Division 3, the second-lowest level of Virginia's private-school league.  He generally plays against O-linemen his own size, not towering monstrosities like you get in college, or even in the upper levels of the public schools.

So the adjustment period will be longish, and in order to play SDE, Biesemier must have more weight.  This means redshirt, in a sane and logical world.  He's just athletic and well-built enough for London to possibly like him at special teams, so if he did get out there in that capacity, I wouldn't bat an eye. 

I wouldn't have to like it either.  The odds are already stacked against him.  Let's face it - there's a reason Biesemier has two stars almost all the way across the board and had just one college offer before his UVA one.  Part of that reason is being buried out in the countryside in a very low level of football.  Another part of that is needing a ton of work in the technique department and not possessing mind-blowing athleticism.  His strength is his calling card right now.

Optimistically, you could draw a comparison to Brent Urban - a guy offered for his body type and athleticism who needed to put on weight and spend a couple years getting accustomed to playing against D-I athletes.  Pessimistically, think LoVante' Battle - a rawish athlete with zilch offers on whom a near-lame-duck coaching staff took a flyer, and who got buried quickly when the new staff recruited over him.  There's no getting around it: Biesemier is a risk the coaching staff was forced to take by not having any commitments - or even any promising leads - 10 months into the recruiting cycle, at a position of great need.  That's the whole DE class.  The hope is that his strength holds up as he grows and in a couple years, we have a useful run-stopping DE similar to Jake Snyder.  It's at least as likely, though, that his fate is tied to this coaching staff, and a new one could try to recruit over top of him.

2014 baseball preview

Expectations, yo.  Par for the course for the baseball team, which has been at this long enough to play out in cycles; in the down years, we think to ourselves "if things go our way we could host a regional"** and in the up years, "if things go our way I'm taking a two-week vacation to scenic Nebraska."

This is the latter.  Two of the five baseball polls made UVA their preseason #1, the first time that's ever happened.  "They're just loaded," saith Aaron Fitt of Baseball America in an interview with the Progress.  It's the lineup that's got the pundits all worked up.  The pitching is a little behind in terms of proven talent, but there aren't many better coaching staffs at handling pitchers than this one, and nobody's especially worried at this point.  Karl Kuhn's track record (plus the glimpses of potential we've seen so far) are enough to make us need to see the collapse happen before we'll believe the pitchers will be an Achilles heel.

With Opening Day just a few hours away (Friday, against Kentucky in Wilmington, if the teams ever make it through the ice blizzard) it's time to do this year's preview in the traditional style.  We'll see if this year I can avoid being flamed by any players' dads.  I no longer have a perfect record in that department.***

**To put this in perspective, you have to be one of the top 16 teams in the country, more or less, to host one.  Whereas, Please Let's Get Back To The Sweet 16 It's Been Like Twenty Years is the working title of the documentary chronicling our best-since-1982 basketball season.

***I only suspect this is what happened last year, but it's a strong suspicion nonetheless.

RIGHT FIELD

Incumbent: Joe McCarthy

Likely starter: McCarthy

Others to watch: Mike Papi

Saying there's a specific incumbent at either of the corner outfield positions is a little bit dicey, as there was a lot of rotation between them and the DH slot, but let's just say McCarthy here for giggles.  McCarthy burst on the scene last year as a freshman, leading the team in walks with 54 and hitting .336, third on the team.  Besides having a good old-school baseball name**, he's a combination of good speed and good power, and committed only one error in 99 chances last year.  Considering his excellent on-base tendencies - second on the team in OBP at .469 - he's a likely candidate to hit third and place a ton of pressure on an opposing starter after already having to face two on-base machines in the first two slots.

**A humorous story about the "original" Joe McCarthy - a Hall-of-Fame manager in the '20s, '30s, and '40s - involves a baseball writer who was speaking at an engagement of some kind and was informed that Joe McCarthy had died; the writer immediately gave a lengthy, moving, and flowery tribute to the manager and was afterward told that the manager was still perfectly alive and kicking and just for clarification's sake it was the famous anti-Communist senator who had kicked it.

CENTER FIELD

Incumbent: Brandon Downes

Likely starter: Downes

Others to watch: None

College baseball is a funny business; it's rare in the pros - scratch that, almost entirely nonexistent in the pros - to see a roster listing of "catcher/outfielder", particularly when that outfielder is your center fielder.  This isn't even the first time in recent memory, for anyone who remembers Kenny Swab.

Neither is it all that often that a major league team's center fielder is their terrorizing power hitter, but that's Downes too - the team leader last year in homers, triples, doubles, RBIs, total bases, and hits.  He was written in stone as the CF, except for one start at catcher, and just as strongly written in as the cleanup hitter, which he'll likely do again this year.  Downes could stand to cut down a little on his strikeouts, but as long as he continues to rake, it might not matter.

LEFT FIELD

Incumbent: Mike Papi

Likely starter: Papi

Others to watch: Derek Fisher

Like right field, this was sort of an unsettled position, and didn't fall immediately to Papi at the start of the year.  Papi didn't even open the season as a starter, which is a funny thing to say about the guy who spent the whole second half of the season as the national OBP leader until just slipping out of the top spot at the very end of the year.

Once he got into the lineup, Papi got off to a torrid start, and was hitting well over .400 for a while before settling at .381 for the season.  He was a deadly combo of contact and power, slugging .619 and ripping 15 doubles and 7 home runs.  It's asking a lot to repeat that run as the national leader in such an important stat, because getting on base more often than failing to get on base is a mind-blowing thing to do, but BOC clearly expects him to at least come close, as he's penciled in as the leadoff guy.

SHORTSTOP

Incumbent: Brandon Cogswell

Likely starter: Daniel Pinero

Others to watch: John LaPrise

Here is where a freshman is most likely to make a mark outside of the pitcher's mound.  With the need to replace the smooth-fielding Reed Gragnani, BOC turns to the freshman class to find a fairly tall shortstop and moves Brandon Cogswell to second base.  Players with Pinero's 6'5" stature don't usually play short, but Pinero wouldn't be getting this assignment if he were a clumsy fielder, and his height will be a plus at times too.  He'll likely start the season near the bottom of the order, perhaps as a #7 or #8 hitter.

As a freshman last year, John LaPrise only hit .171, and isn't a likely threat to take anyone's starting job, but he's begun to emerge as a likely-looking utility man who could play any of the four infield positions in a pinch (pun semi-intended - LaPrise is a lefty hitter and the only such player in the infield other than Cogswell), which will be awfully handy at times.

THIRD BASE

Incumbent: Nick Howard

Likely starter: Kenny Towns

Others to watch: John LaPrise, Nick Howard

Howard is a good hitter whose bat you don't want to keep out of the lineup, but the coaches want to focus on his pitching, too, so he hasn't been mentioned in connection with his old position much this year.  So third base falls to Kenny Towns, who served mainly as the DH last year with time at third as well.  Towns could very well be a defensive improvement over Howard, who wasn't a great glove man, and he brings a lot of pop to the plate.  He was second on the team in triples and third in SLG, and though you'd like him to maybe walk a little more, you can't argue with all the extra-base hits - 23 of them out of 54 total.  He shapes up to be perhaps a #6 hitter - the kind of guy you want to have putting a cherry on top of a big inning.

SECOND BASE

Incumbent: Reed Gragnani (graduated)

Likely starter: Brandon Cogswell

Others to watch: John LaPrise

BOC has done everything but come right out and say that Cogswell is moving to second base to complement Pinero's appearance at short.  His fielding assignments are flexible like that sometimes. Cogswell was last season's primary leadoff hitter, too, sporting a shiny .464 OBP and .346 batting average. He's no power hitter - he was one of only two regulars not to leave the park - but he swings for a lot of contact, rarely strikes out, and has the speed to stretch out for the extra base.  Cogswell shapes up as a #1 or #2 hitter this year.

FIRST BASE

Incumbent: Jared King (graduated)

Likely starter: Nick Howard

Others to watch: Mike Papi, Joe McCarthy, John LaPrise

If we call Howard the starter at first base, then this will have to be the most flexible position on the team, as we'll go back to more of a Danny Hultzen situation where we'll need a solution for when the first baseman is pitching.  We lose one of the slickest-fielding first basemen we've ever had in Jared King, so there'll certainly be a downgrade in that department, but Howard hit .323 last year and with quite a bit more power than King.

When Howard's pitching, either Papi or McCarthy will probably grab a first-baseman's mitt.  I suspect BOC will settle on one or the other at some point this year, March or whenever.  For what it's worth, Papi is a right-handed fielder, somewhat of a handicap for a first baseman, but whether that affects the decision, I have no idea.

CATCHER

Incumbent: Nate Irving

Likely starter: Irving

Others to watch: Matt Thaiss

Nate Irving is a junior who won the confidence of the coaches as a freshman, and got the keys to the pitching staff.  He's one of the elite fielders in the conference, too; few if any catchers are better at throwing out basestealers, and teams often just don't bother.  He threw out over 40% last year.  And he's a consistent hitter, batting .279 in 2012 and .284 last year, and is one of the team's better bunters, too.

Knowing how BOC feels about handling his pitching staffs, then, it really says something that freshman Matt Thaiss keeps getting talked about as a real threat to take some playing time.  Thaiss's bat has raised a few eyebrows.  If you held the proverbial gun to my head, I'd bet on Irving to start the season without really having to think about it.  The lineup is deep enough that it doesn't need another .350 hitter, fun as that might be, and Irving presents a formidable challenge in the intangibles department, not to mention with his glove and arm.  But UVA is in fantastic shape here where the worst that can happen is Irving keeping his job.  That's a highly enviable situation.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Incumbent: Derek Fisher

Likely starter: Fisher

Others to watch: Nick Howard, Mike Papi

The really scary thing about UVA's lineup is how much room there is for a guy like Fisher to improve.  He hit seven home runs but "only" batted .293 last year.  Granted, the college season is short enough that it only would've taken two more hits all season to boost over .300, but Fisher is still a partly untapped mine of talent.  Contemplating what a breakout season might look like for him is a nightmare for opposing ACC managers.

PITCHERS

Incumbents: Brandon Waddell, Scott Silverstein (graduated), Nick Howard (moved to closer)

Likely starters: Waddell, Nathan Kirby, Josh Sborz

Others to watch (rotation): Whit Mayberry, Artie Lewicki, Connor Jones

Bullpen: Mayberry, Lewicki, Jones, Austin Young, David Rosenberger, Howard (closer)

Those aren't really the "likely" starters - those are the starters, as announced by BOC this week.  A rotation full of sophomores.  Waddell emerged as an unlikely ace last season, a left-handed control artist who didn't throw hard but kept the walks down and scattered hits.  His velocity should be up slightly this year, and up against a lot of competition he's kept his hold on the Friday job, at least for now.  Oak has more than alluded to the likelihood of the rotation changing as the season goes on, so he clearly expects that that competition isn't over yet.

Kirby was a hotshot name as a recruit but a disappointment as a freshman, with a fastball that kept straightening out on him.  But - and remember that summer ball is really just an extension of a player's season rather than a new year with an offseason program and all that - he dazzled in the Cape Cod League.  And apparently in fall ball, too, because he's the newly minted Saturday starter with a fresh chance to show the world why he was such a big deal as a recruit.

Fellow sophomore Josh Sborz, the only right-hander in the rotation, takes the ball Sunday.  He was a lot better than Kirby last year, mostly out of the pen, where he mowed down hitters with aplomb.  His final ERA: 1.98, in 50 innings of work.  Other than closer Kyle Crockett, Sborz was the top bullpen arm, but starting is what he's been groomed for.

Nick Howard looks likely to move the other way; BOC has said the first crack at the closer role goes to him after being last year's Sunday starter.  Howard has a chance to excel, as he throws a pretty heavy fastball when it's on.  O'Connor has always wanted starter-quality pitchers in the closer's role, using guys like Branden Kline and Crockett there in the past, and his instincts usually prove pretty good.

Despite the potential at the bookends, though, middle relief could still make a case as the strongest part of the staff.  It's a very deep bullpen.  Whit Mayberry (who's been around since forever, as 5th-year seniors are exceedingly rare in baseball) has bounced between starting and relieving in his career and gives you the kind of flexibility that's absolutely crucial postseason play.  Artie Lewicki got kind of Wally Pipped thanks to shoulder surgery, but turned in a strong season as a starter in 2012 and could be the weekday starter or a long reliever.  Austin Young was dead unhittable as a one-inning guy, with an opponents' BA of .195.  David Rosenberger, as the primary lefty option, had a very strong freshman year as well, and Connor Jones - this year's top pitching freshman - is an X-factor in the whole discussion. 

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

A sure-to-be-wrong crack at the lineup looks like this:

Papi - LF
Cogswell - 2B
McCarthy - RF
Downes - CF
Fisher - DH
Towns - 3B
Howard - 1B
Pinero - SS
Irving - C

That said, there's a little more certainty this year in a guess like that, because last year cemented a lot of reputations.  That's a scary lineup for any pitcher.  That top three all had OBPs of .464 or better - if they each "regress" to .450, an opposing pitcher has less than a 17% chance of getting a 1-2-3 first inning.  It's more like 14% using their actual OBPs.  The next three are sluggers that would form the 2-3-4 core of 97% of the teams in the country.  What team has a .323 hitter like Howard batting 7th?

So this team will explode at the plate.  So much depends on the pitching, which is incredibly deep but lacking a proven ace.  No disrespect to Waddell, who technically holds that designation as the Friday starter, but Hultzenesque star power has not yet revealed itself on this pitching staff.  That said, if you thought this lineup was a freak sight, imagine what this team could look like if the whole starting rotation pitches up to its full potential.  It's asking a lot, but that's because there's a lot there for the asking.  The potential is simply staggering.  Some of it's been scratched on the surface already - Sborz's performance as a reliever, Kirby's outings in Cape Cod, Waddell's surprise year followed by an offseason of conditioning and strengthening.  But those are just glimmers.

Ultimately, this team will be judged by what happens in the postseason.  I'll just go ahead and talk about the super-regionals now, because if they don't make it even that far then something went freakishly, terribly wrong.  That's a three-game series that will determine the legacy of this year's team.  There is serious national championship potential here, but let's also remember that baseball's postseason is occasionally a randomized mess - witness Fresno State's championship as a four seed, the equivalent of a basketball 13 seed at best.  The main thing is to get to Omaha and see what happens.  If this team doesn't get there, it's fair to say even in February that that would be a big disappointment.  No pressure now.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

points of view

I fully intended to write anything at all yesterday, but then what happened is I spent the evening on chat support trying to get my phone to work again.  I'm the absolute last person you'll see wigging out over being unconnected, but I do have this crazy fetish about getting the services I pay for, so it's nice that I can once again get text messages.

On the plus side, it gave me the chance to add the Maryland game to the stuff I was planning on, and things actually fall into place pretty nicely now.  Inside my head are two competing viewpoints on two different sports, so let's see if we can't resolve some of this cognitive dissonance.  Speaking in advance, before I even type this out, I am liking this idea so much that I might make it a weekly thing, if I can think of enough conflicting viewpoints on enough topics.

I said two sports, so let's start with lacrosse.

Point: ARRRRGHGHHGHGHGHGH.

We're basically screwed, right?  Even though the team is 2-0, it's certainly not a happy 2-0 when it's just seconds from being 0-2.  Choking away an eight-point lead against Loyola in just one quarter of action, and giving up 12 goals to upstart Richmond, these things do not support the preseason hypothesis that the defense would be a major strength.  This is two games in a row we've seen the opponent go on huge scoring streaks; Loyola potted nine straight and Richmond seven straight, the latter to turn a 6-2 UVA lead into a 9-6 deficit.

Need I add any more anyway, when you win by one lousy goal over a team playing its first varsity game ever?  Can you imagine the utter humiliation if the Spiders had won that game?  It would be the lacrosse team's Chaminade.  And we've seen this story as recently as last year; letting Mount St. Mary's and Vermont hang around for way longer than necessary foreshadowed the losing that took place later.

Obviously, this team has some major work to do.  Two games in and it's obvious.  Matt Barrett has debuted with a .342 save percentage, faceoffs are just a nose above .500, and opponents have gotten too many easy goals.  Just wait til Duke gets a load of this; they're gonna be merciless.

Counterpoint: Actually, things are looking up.

Let's face it, Loyola is no shit team - there are still players there with a ring - and for three quarters there, plus overtime, UVA was absolutely serving notice.  I had that team as the 10th-best offense in the country last year and the defense held them 100% scoreless for two straight quarters.  That absolutely counts for something.

And remember, I had Loyola pegged as Ohio State's replacement on the schedule - they're roughly at the same level of quality - and we lost to Ohio State last year.  So, replace a loss with a win, and we're already ahead of schedule.

The offense is finding its groove, too.  The other ACC teams that played all demolished their opponents, none of them playing a team even remotely close to Loyola's quality and scoring either 16 or 19 goals depending on which ACC team we're talking about, and it was still James Pannell getting player of the week honors from the conference.  For one, that's a totally new contributor from last year; Pannell definitely got a head start on living up to the tremendous praise he got from Dom.

UVA's midfield game, at least in the goal-scoring department, looks sharp, too.  Greg Coholan and Tyler German made their mark, and overall five different midfielders have scored.  And then finally, the defense has actually been all over the turnover map, and you have to give a nod to Joseph Lisicky, who leads the team in caused turnovers and ground balls** despite not even starting.  Looks like a terrific find.

**Except for Mick Parks, which isn't fair since Parks is the faceoff dude.

Verdict: Punt.

In the end, neither side of the debate can be ignored.  There's no reason to beat Richmond by any less than 10 goals, unless it somehow turns out Richmond is a surprise powerhouse.  Motivation level may have come into play in that game, and that's still no excuse.

Besides, for every bad point I made there's a silver lining, and vice versa, too; for example, yay Pannell, but he did play two full games while the other teams' stars probably played three quarters at most.  This team is full of new names and new combinations, and still gelling; it's too early to draw any conclusions beyond eliminating the most extreme expectations in either direction.

We've seen domination in both directions, and a team that's capable of dominating and being dominated usually moves in the dominating direction.  Lacrosse is a very short, small-sample-size season, though, so it all depends on how much time they need.  With Drexel on deck, there's another very good chance to get some more data points on this team; til then, and maybe for a couple more weeks, we'll have to sit with slightly bated breath.

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

Point: The basketball team is slowly running out of steam.

It was probably inevitable, but 20-point blowouts have given way to a fair amount of drama during basketball games.  Boston College - the same Eagles that are 6-17 and only ever beat Virginia Tech in conference play - took advantage of sloppy defense and forced Tony Bennett to leave his regulars in, when he was probably contemplating when to let the walk-ons get some time.  And we were losing both the GT and Maryland games at halftime.

Really, it's the natural consequence of math, as well as simply being later in the season and having already expended a bunch of energy.  UVA is regressing to the mean, that's all - it's no surprise that teams, having oodles of tape on UVA's systems and tendencies, have figured out a way or two to deal with them.  Remember, this team was picked fourth in the conference, not first, so anything above sliding into the last double-bye spot in the tournament is overachieving.

Counterpoint: Pish-posh and fiddle-faddle.

In case you haven't noticed, most of those blowouts came against suckhole teams in the bottom of the standings with no hope of making the NCAA tournament (the lone exception being UNC, which was in a major rough patch at the time) - and by the way, BC and GT count as blowouts.  I warned you that BC was capable of keeping it close with a run or two, and the fact that they hit a couple timely threes doesn't change that we were blowing them out of the water for 36 minutes.

GT's a similar deal.  UVA went on a 22-1 run to finish the game and held the Jackets almost completely scoreless for 12 minutes.  If that had happened at the beginning rather than the end, we'd all be talking about what a complete domination it was and how we gave ourselves the luxury of just coasting the rest of the game.

So when we finally play a halfway-semi-decent team like Maryland, and that team goes on a hot jump-shooting streak to start the game, there's no reason to panic.  Everyone goes cold eventually, and if a team beats us because they shot 12-18 from three or something, you just tip your hat.  Til then, this team is still playing its calling-card awesome defense, and that's going to make even Syracuse sweat.

Verdict: Quit whining.

That is, if there's anyone out there doing so.  This one goes squarely to the counterpoint; if you'd said in November that in February I'd be complaining about no longer winning games by 20 points, I'm sure we'd all be a little bit happy about that.  Fun fact: even with a full one-third of the ACC season left, UVA can finish no worse than the 9th seed, and if Wake Forest loses tonight to NC State, you can make it the 8th seed.  In other words, we've literally already secured a single bye in the ACC tourney.

One more week of this winning stuff and you can write us into the Dance, too; I don't think we've quite reached the point where we could lose everything the rest of the way and still get invited, but we're on the cusp at worst.

Besides, is it really so bad to have to scrap for one every so often?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

game preview: Georgia Tech


Date/Time: Saturday, February 8; 12:00

TV: ACC Network, ESPN3

Record against the Jackets: 35-39

Last meeting: UVA 82, GT 54; 2/24/13, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 76, BC 66 (2/5); Clem. 45, GT 41 (2/4)

KenPom:

Tempo:
UVA: 62.8 (#337)
GT: 67.2 (#160)

Offense:
UVA: 109.1 (#85)
GT: 102.5 (#208)

Defense:
UVA: 87.6 (#3)
GT: 98.3 (#61)

Pythag:
UVA: .9257 (#10)
GT: .6182 (#112)

Projected lineups:

Virginia:

PG: London Perrantes (4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.2 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Georgia Tech:

PG: Trae Golden (14.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.3 apg)
SG: Corey Heyward (0.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.2 apg)
SF: Marcus Georges-Hunt (12.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Kammeon Holsey (7.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.7 apg)
C: Daniel Miller (11.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.3 apg)

UVA's slog through February continues.  The Boston College game was mostly the blowout it should've been, except for the end which UVA decided to make interesting by easing off the gas pedal.  I did say BC could make some runs on offense.  I'm hoping that the end result is the best of both worlds: a win and a wake-up call, the latter of which is occasionally necessary.

Three of the next four are on the road, starting Saturday in Atlanta.  Georgia Tech has been slammed with injuries this season and it's shown on the stat sheet.  It's caused them to struggle in ACC play more than they probably should've, as losses to NC State and Miami have hurt the bottom line.  They'll be hoping that a four-game homestand rights the ship somewhat.

-- UVA on offense

GT's big center Daniel Miller didn't make last year's all-defense team in the ACC by accident.  Miller is one of the toughest customers in the post in the whole conference; he checks in at 6'11", 275, and has been an outstanding shot-blocker his entire four-year career.  At any time Miller is in the game, which is about 30 minutes of it, he's a hugely disruptive presence in the post.

He's one guy, though.  You can pass around or shoot over one guy.  GT might, maybe, who knows, get back power forward Robert Carter.  Carter has missed all ten games of the ACC season with a torn meniscus, and his absence has been keenly felt.  Were he to return, he would give the Jackets a second shot-blocker inside, as well as an absolutely elite rebounding presence - one that might be slowed a bit by rust and rehab, but much better than any of GT's other frontcourt options.  Kammeon Holsey is no shotblocker and bench forward Quinton Stephens is a total stick at 6'8', 184.  Even without Carter, GT is a very good defensive rebounding team, thanks to Miller and Holsey, but Carter would give Akil Mitchell some fierce battles down low.

Whether UVA can actually score down low depends partly on Carter.  Without him, even Miller hasn't been able to keep opponents off the scoresheet just by himself.  GT was one of the best teams in the country in 2-point D before the ACC season and one of the worst in the conference since conference play began.

On our side of the ball, Malcolm Brogdon has been doing what Joe Harris did last year: have a big game, and then have a bigger one, and then a bigger one.  His stat line against BC was a little bit of everything and a lot of some things.  Now that he's going home to play in front of family and friends, you have to think he wouldn't mind giving them a little show.  Lately, GT has been starting freshman Corey Heyward at shooting guard, for reasons both of thinness and shaking up the lineup; Heyward is a smallish, quick player, but UVA will clearly look to take advantage of Heyward's inexperience.

-- UVA on defense

There's a slim chance GT won't have point guard Trae Golden available for the game.  He aggravated a groin injury in GT's win over Wake Forest and sat out the Clemson game.  Life without Golden was pretty crappy for the Jackets - they scored 41 points in the loss to Clemson.

GT is so totally screwed if they don't have Golden that it'd be not even worth doing any analysis.  Just call it game over.  So for the sake of the narrative, we'll assume they do.  Even if on the court, Golden may be limited, the driving portion of his game taken somewhat away if he's worried about his groin.  And GT might not want him playing 30 minutes, either.  When Golden's not in, the point belongs to Corey Heyward, who isn't ready and will probably get chewed up and spit out by UVA's defense.

The Jackets are just an inefficient team on the whole, though.  They lack a three-point threat - their best shooter was Solomon Poole, recently kicked off the team.  Golden is an OK shooter but has never displayed good shot discipline.  Chris Bolden, in and out of the starting lineup at shooting guard, is just an awful shooter in general. 

If GT would run more of their offense through Daniel Miller, they might have better success.  Miller's size makes him tough to stop, and he's got a little bit of range too.  This is a guy who used to be kind of a schmutz on offense, but has reduced his turnovers and improved his shooting every year, and has become a real weapon.

Carter, if he plays, can also score down low, and Kammeon Holsey brings a pretty good midrange game, but also gets in foul trouble and turns the ball over too much.  The rest of this team?  Mainly volume scorers.  Marcus Georges-Hunt is second on the team in ppg, but first in minutes and shots and only shooting .416.  GT as a whole doesn't shoot well, particularly threes, turns the ball over too much, and doesn't do a hot job at drawing fouls, either.  If Carter is in the game, they can be a little more multi-dimensional, but Golden is likely to be somewhat limited, which gives back the whole gain from Carter and then some.

-- Outlook

Any team that plays less than efficient offense is a great matchup for UVA.  UVA's defense is designed to make you inefficient.  The longer the possession, the more likely you are to turn it over, and UVA specializes in long possessions; you generally get one shot because UVA rebounds so damn well; often that shot's a crappy one for a long multitude of reasons.  When playing a team that already turns it over too much, can't rebound on offense, and shoots badly, things ain't likely to go well for said opponent.  Carter's presence might improve their offensive rebounding, but without him they've been 13th out of 15 in conference play.  As long as UVA can shake off the travel and the early game time - and they already waltzed into Notre Dame and laid down the stick after having to bus in from Chicago during some kind of polar vortex whirlpool death blizzard, so I think they can handle balmy Atlanta (assuming the poor city has recovered from their own apocalyptic brush with winter) - they should be just fine.

Final score: UVA 68, GT 54