Monday, March 31, 2014

building a Program

They picked the wrong sport to do a video series on.

I think there are two ways, and only two ways, a coach can earn the trust of his players.  Being nice is not one of them.  Being honest isn't even one of them.  (Not being honest can lose you their trust, but players will not follow an honest, incompetent coach.)  So much is made of someone being a player's coach or a disciplinarian and so on, and some players respond better to one style than another, but it's still just style.  If being mean was a deal-breaker, nobody would've ever heard of Bobby Knight.  But nobody ever said he'd lost the trust of his players.

How do you earn their trust, then?  Simple.  If a coach says: do X, and Y will happen, and the player does X, and Y happens, that's how they come to trust him.  That goes for everything.  Maybe Coach says, move your feet a certain way and you can beat that defender.  Maybe Coach says, the next dumbass who misses a class doesn't play.  Maybe Coach says, this is an important concept and the first one of you to pick it up, starts.  Maybe Coach says, this team we're playing is lousy at chasing through screens, so we will get an open shot if we run this play.

Or maybe Coach says, if you come with me and work hard, we will put this place on the map.

And then Akil Mitchell learned how to beat defenders, Sylven Landesberg got parked, Will Sherrill became a starter, Malcolm Brogdon found himself open against Pitt, and Virginia Basketball is on the map.  For five years this team has done X.  And Y happened.

Most coaches get at least some traction this way, or they wouldn't be coaches.  At some level, they can make their players better.  They can teach their players footwork, fundamentals, shooting, they can draw up plays that work more often than not. The more they fail to deliver Y, though, the less their players will want to do X, and that's how most of them eventually get fired.  And the bigger Y gets, the harder it is to deliver.  Uncommon is the coach that can deliver on the biggest of his promises.  Bo Schembechler became a legend at Michigan because he promised, "Those who stay will be champions" and those who stayed literally became champions.  Tony Bennett sold his first recruiting class on a similar theme, and what a feeling of fulfillment it must have been for Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell to watch it coming true around them, first in Charlottesville, and then in Greensboro.

How can anyone see that promise delivered and fail to trust the man after that?  It's impossible.  This is not to say there'll be no more transfers.  (This is not to say there will.)  But if someone leaves the program now, it's not because they don't believe what Tony Bennett is selling.  It'll just be that they want something else more.

Such a person would probably be hard to find on this team.  I said there were two ways for a coach to earn a player's trust.  The second is this: when someone new joins the team and his new peers are hanging on every word Coach says, they'll do the same.  That's what they call a culture.  A guy like Justin Anderson, it's not so much that when Tony Bennett says jump, Anderson asks how high.  It's more that he already knows how high.  A fresh crop of players will arrive in the summer, three of them, and they'll be integrated into team activities and they'll see the Andersons and Brogdons and Perrantes's and everyone else, who don't need to be told stuff, and pretty soon the new guys won't need to be told stuff either.

I'd say, for all that, that we're witnessing the beginning of a new team culture, but that already happened.  We saw it when a former afterthought of a walk-on, whose millions will be made on Wall Street instead of a basketball court, got tossed into the starting lineup because he set better screens than the other guys.  Will Sherrill, if he'd ever tried to guard a Jabari Parker, would've been gooshed like a spider, but he could do one thing better than just about anyone else - that being, "what Tony wanted."

Will Sherrill is just one example; a process like this will have far too many to list and we fans won't see most of them.  But it's telling that when Joe Harris saw his promise slipping away, that a 35-point loss in Knoxville didn't fit with the proposed vision of the program, he didn't call a player's-only meeting or put his head down and sulk or commiserate with his teammates or retreat to an empty gym and shoot angry free throws til his fingers bled.  Tony Bennett had delivered Y every time his players gave him X, so Joe Harris simply asked for another X.

That's a powerful statement of trust.  And Tony delivered again, as he's done for his players without fail for five years.  In doing so, he also delivered the one thing UVA fans have been craving for a long time: relevance.  It's impossible to be upset for very long about exiting the tournament, because this is a built program now.  Not everyone wants to believe that (you'd be surprised, or maybe not, about how many Maryland fans went from "lord I hope they don't win this conference in our last year" to "they're just this year's Miami.")  "This year's Miami" is actually kind of a theme for a lot of people, even ones I've talked to up in my neck of the woods, who in about 11 months will not remember they said that.  This was a great friggin' ride, a phenomenal three months, by far the best months of my roughly 14 years as a Hoo.  And for all the joy and wonder of every single game this team played, it was all the better for the realization that it doesn't have to stop when the dance ends this year.  For the first time in almost six years, I can turn around a favorite lament of mine: we can have nice things.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

lacrosse bracketology

Life is ashes and the sun is dark in my eyes, but the show must go on.  Besides, this is always fun to do, so it's mildly therapeutic, and therapy was also received by seeing MSU lose.  (I'm not really one of those hope-they-go-all-the-way types.  That's for if we get blown out.  Get blown out and it might as well be to the champ.  Lose close, especially a game the refs had a large hand in deciding, and every win by the team that beat us just makes me think "that coulda been us.") Whatever, here is lacrosse bracketology.

Some more surprises this week which bear a little further explanation.

-- All three of Syracuse, Penn, and Yale seem overseeded, per their actual records.  In fact, my system wanted Cuse to be above both Duke and Maryland, and I was like, dude, no.  Sometimes I have to apply a little judgment, and when Team A loses to Team B 21-7, Team A is usually on the wrong end of said judgment.  However, the seeds these teams got here isn't as crazy as it seems; the worst loss among all three of them is Princeton, and they've done a solid job of piling up wins against medium-good teams.

-- I was surprised that Fairfield snuck their way in, and their case is not exactly unassailable; still, they've been plugging away and they have wins over UMass and Yale.  I still think they can't afford any slipups.

More notes:

-- UVA's 7 seed is much more defensible than that 2 seed I had them at last week.

-- Loyola is the #1-ranked team in the country, but a weak average RPI of their wins holds them back and suggests that this #5 slot is just about right.  Their upcoming schedule, aside from Hopkins in their final game, ain't exactly real hot either - they need some RPI help from the PL tournament or they might be this year's version of 2012 UMass - a team with a really shiny record against not quite the best competition, which causes people to howl when they get too low a seed.

-- The gap between Fairfield and Notre Dame (the first team out) is not large - the gap between Notre Dame and UMass is.  Hofstra snuck hold of the CAA autobid this week by knocking off Towson and Drexel, and would slot in between ND and UMass on the at-large list - but much closer to the UMass side of it.

-- Likewise, Albany is fully and completely in autobid-must-have territory now that they have a loss to Canisius on their resume.  Albany is quite the darling of computer rankings, efficiency rankings, and suchlike, but I don't think there's anything they can do to rescue an at-large at this point.  It's auto or bust now.  Where would they fit in the ranks of at-large hopefuls?  Between St. John's and Towson.

Last week's games that mattered:

Loyola 10, Colgate 8: It's games like this that are keeping the 9-team Patriot League a one-bid conference.

Syracuse 11, Notre Dame 10: Syracuse's first-ever ACC win, kinda.

Penn 6, Yale 5: Penn did themselves a real solid here, knocking Yale four seeds down from last week and moving themselves into hosting position for now.  What's interesting is that Princeton, Penn, and Yale now form a triangle of doom, and there may not be room for all of them in the Ivy tournament.

North Carolina 13, Johns Hopkins 9: Hopkins running low on chances to earn a bid-clinching win.  No, Albany would not be a bid-clinching win.

Maryland 9, Virginia 6.  Frap.

This weeks games that matter:

Albany at Johns Hopkins: The announcers during the UVA-Maryland game suggested that this one would be just gravy for Albany but a must-win for Hopkins.  I think I agree, but not really for the reasons I think they were using.  Sometimes there's a game where if one team wins, it does nothing but hurt them both, and this is just that kind of game.  If Albany wins, their RPI and resume is such relative junk that Hopkins would just look a lot less inviting.

Duke at Notre Dame: The Irish really have to scrap from here on out.  However, they can take solace in the extreme likelihood that there won't be two ECAC teams in the final bracket.

Towson at Massachusetts: Towson is probably no threat to steal an at-large, but they do act as a nice resume-fattener if you beat them - and they are a threat to snag an autobid in the CAA tournament.  The race for which, by the way, is basically 5 teams for 4 slots, maybe 4 for 3 now that Hofstra's gone to 3-0, so games like this one are important.

Bryant at St. Joseph's: This is Bryant's big chance.  If they win, not only will they move into the field but they could push Albany to the play-ins.  If not, well, this isn't real yet anyway, and it'd still be the shock of the year if they didn't make the NEC tourney to play for the autobid.

Brown at Penn: Brown surprised quite a few folks by upsetting Princeton last week; they can continue throwing monkey wrenches into the Ivy race with a win here.

Penn State at Drexel: Big fat raspberry to Penn State, the flop of the year - but they're not past redemption yet.  They need this one if they're gonna get a turnaround going.

Harvard at Cornell: Harvard's sitting at 2-0 in the Ivy, but that's after playing Brown and Dartmouth.  Time to start really finding out what they're made of.

Virginia at North Carolina: Honestly, probably the Hoos' last best chance to secure a bid to the ACC tournament.  Lose this one and we'd be at massive risk of missing out on the RPI-fest.

Siena at Hofstra: Has no bearing on conference races, but if Siena wins and a few stars align their way (OK, a lot of stars, but still) they have the outsidest of outside chances of getting out of the play-ins.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

game preview: Michigan State

Date/Time: Friday, March 28; 9:57


Record against the Spartans: 0-3

Last meeting: MSU 82, UVA 75; 12/4/02, East Lansing

Last game: UVA 78, Memphis 60 (3/23); MSU 80, Harvard 73 (3/23)


UVA: 61.0 (#346)
MSU: 66.0 (#189)

UVA: 114.6 (#20)
MSU: 117.9 (#9)

UVA: 89.8 (#5)
MSU: 96.7 (#41)

UVA: .9430 (#4)
MSU: .9072 (#8)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 apg)


PG: Keith Appling (11.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.6 apg)

SG: Gary Harris (16.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Denzel Valentine (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.9 apg)
PF: Branden Dawson (11.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 apg)
C: Adreian Payne (16.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.2 apg)

You know the games are getting big when they have funny non-zero numbers at the end of the game times.  Give everyone generic jerseys and this is arguably the most compelling matchup of the whole Sweet 16.  I love the storylines.  You've got possibly the most hyped-up #4 seed in history with a ton of talent that can score a lot of different ways - but a team that's got a strong element of enigma due to injuries and inconsistent play during the season.  That team is going up against the most disrespected #1 seed in history, who plays suffocating defense and is shattering preconceived notions, game by blowout game.  And it's one of two games featuring major-conference tourney champs.  You can have Louisville-Kentucky.

UVA and MSU played such a memorable game last time they met that I completely forgot it wasn't even the last time they met.  I wanted to make a joke about picking up where they left off in Richmond, but it turns out they did the following year.  Todd Billet and Devin Smith scored 28 and 24 points, respectively, but UVA couldn't overcome 10/28 shooting from the rest of the team as well as 26 fouls and 19 turnovers, and lost by 7.  Interestingly, the preview on the official site claims that all three games between these teams have been played in East Lansing, by which I suppose they mean all three completed games.

No need, of course, to harp about what's at stake.  Survive and advance.

-- UVA on offense

Challenges abound.  One of MSU's keys to success on defense is Branden Dawson, a sneaky good defender who looks like a matchup problem for the Spartans due to his size, but might be the best overall defender on the team.  As a power forward, Dawson is hardly any bigger than our shooting guard, but he can get blocks and steals equally and is rarely in foul trouble.  Adreian Payne tends to get the attention, and both he and Dawson were hurt this year (you can't make this stuff up: Dawson punched a table during team film study and broke his hand) but MSU's losses this year correlated much more closely to Dawson's absence than Payne's.  They kept winning when Payne got hurt; they started losing when Dawson did, and lost only one game since Dawson's return to the starting lineup.

Also a challenge: Gary Harris, one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big Ten.  Harris is a projected lottery pick for a reason (he's kinda quick), and his assignment will be Malcolm Brogdon.  It's likely Brogdon's ability to create off the dribble will be curtailed, and the screens that UVA uses will be of even more importance to get Brogdon some room.

One of the enigma factors to MSU is their fouling, however.  Individually most of these guys actually have pretty good fouls-per-40 rates.  Delaware and Harvard, their first two tourney opponents, shot a ton of free throws.  Payne is prone to fits of hacktion, and Harris managed to foul out against Delaware despite being one of the best on the team (and one of the better players in the country) at staying out of foul trouble.  Denzel Valentine is an enigma even to Spartan fans, and part of his head-scratching repertoire is, of course, inexplicable fouls.  This is all about a team in the Big Ten, mind you, a league that operates just this side of call-your-own-foul playground rules.

The other noticeable weak(ish) point in the Sparty defense is three-pointers.  They're not egregiously bad at defending them, but they did allow the second-worst 3-point shooting percentage in Big Ten play.  Teams generally do prefer to try their luck from deep, and in most of MSU's losses, the opponent hit on 40% or better.  This results in a very large proportion of points scored on their defense being from behind either the charity stripe or the arc.  They're aggressive down low, though, and teams have a tough time with a standard two.

The strategy, therefore, might be to try and take advantage of one or the other of these weaknesses, but they're both capricious ideas.  Your shot can abandon you at any time, and MSU is very capable of defending without fouling.  This ought to be a close game anyway, and the key might be, rather than hitting a bunch of threes, simply hitting timely ones.

-- UVA on defense

Plainly, the marquee matchup of the game is Adreian Payne and Akil Mitchell.  Here's the good news for UVA fans: Mitchell has shut down Jabari Parker and T.J. Warren, and there isn't a post defender in the Big Ten like him.

Payne is a different animal, of course.  Both he and Parker have big-man quicks and can pop three-pointers, but Payne doesn't have Parker's dribble skills and won't hurt you with pull-up jumpers the way Parker can.  Instead, he's bigger and stronger, with a better array of post moves, and probably a better feet-set shooter.  This might be where the problem in this matchup lies for UVA - Parker couldn't shoot over Mitchell (as was ably demonstrated early in the ACC title game) but Payne is 6'10" and more likely to, and may well start the game testing Mitchell with some straight-up bulldog moves in the post to see if he can win the matchup that way.

This is also a very dangerous team from deep.  Among the best in the country.  The whole starting lineup, except for Dawson, will not only shoot, but make, as will bench sharpshooters Travis Trice and Kenny Kaminski.  Make no mistake - this team can get hot from deep.  Among regulars, the worst three-point shooting percentage is Gary Harris's .352.  They'll tell you that point guard Keith Appling's wrist is still bothering him, as it has all season, which is bull; Appling has shot .571 from deep in five games of tournament play and that's including 0-for-2 against Harvard.

Plenty of other ways MSU can score, of course.  Harris can create, and Dawson's a very athletic player and over a 60% shooter.  Appling is a very steady senior PG and runs the show very well, not to mention adding some very good secondary scoring.  Not for nothing is UVA's defense as good as it is, though, and the Big Ten is not loaded with top-notch D's.  Only two of its 12 teams are in KenPom's top 25; compare that to five ACC teams with another just a smidge outside.  UVA has the tools to handle the Spartan attack - not shut it down entirely, but certainly show them a look they haven't seen.  The one that'll keep you up tonight is that three-point shooting.

-- Outlook

Undeniably, this MSU team has talent - in fact, it's likely the most talented team UVA has seen this year outside of maybe Duke, and I'm not sure about Duke.  Injuries might've kept them from hitting their potential, but so has just plain inconsistency.  Let's not forget: everyone's favorite tourney pick was losing to Harvard in the second half, and the Crimson - coached by a coach who Tom Izzo used to dominate when that coach had much better talent than he has now - came close to pulling that one off.

MSU is a bad matchup for the Hoos in a couple ways, particularly the three-point shooting.  They're a deeper opponent than we're used to seeing, and Tom Izzo is a tournament regular while UVA is making a whole season out of the phrase "not since".  But UVA is also a bad matchup for inconsistent teams.  Time to shock the world.

Final score: UVA 59, MSU 56

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

the pace thing, again

Pace.  More so than defense or anything you care to name, it's the one thing that's been most synonymous with Virginia basketball ever since Tony Bennett set foot on the JPJ floor.  Been quite a saga, too; since national punditry is always much slower to catch on to intelligent things than the populace at large, UVA fans have been in a constant state of eye-roll for about four years now.

Necessary digression.  We are forever past the days when announcers could be taken as serious authorities on anything they announce.  Used to be, when Keith Jackson told you something about a player, you probably didn't know it before.  You hadn't read about it on the Internet because you had no Internet.  Now they can't tell you anything new, because you've seen it all.  When TNT highlighted Joe Harris's bedroom wall full of Sharpie-written motivational sayings, I'll bet at least half of UVA viewers went, well, yeah, ESPN had a thing on that months ago.

The same holds true for smart analysis of the game.  National punditry is necessarily broad and only as deep as it has time for.  But fans, via the Internet, are exposed to incredible depth of coverage, and all of them get a say if they so choose.  And the smartest opinions often bubble to the top and spread among a fanbase, so that when an ESPN writer picks a long list of Wooden Award candidates, probably using the per-game tools he's used to, and the list omits Mike Scott, he gets bombarded by hordes of UVA fans screaming "Pacist!"

Eventually the pundits start incorporating that into all their analyses.  It takes them a while, but they get there.  One of those nuggets of Internet wisdom that's made it now into punditry discourse is this: Good teams should play at a fast pace, bad ones should play at a slow pace.  This will limit variance much the same way that a seven-game baseball series does a better job than a one-game series of ensuring that the better team advances.  Then there will be less chance of the good team being on the wrong end of the Cinderella story.

Unfortunately, that was always a flawed bit of wisdom, yet it's made its way in all the same.  The Sporting News jumped all over it; the Wall Street Journal's blind-bracket tool did too.**  They both did so in the following form: UVA plays slowly and is therefore at risk of being upset.

Commence eye-roll.  Also destruction of this idea now and forever.

Let's start with this: Despite the fact that UVA is the only one of the Sweet 16 teams identified as playing slow, there are actually five teams in the remaining 16 that are in the bottom 50 in pace.  One of them - is Florida.  The near-universal choice as #1 team remaining (and SN's #2).  They must be so good that they can overcome all pace-related difficulties.  The other three are Tennessee, Baylor, and Michigan, none of whom got dinged for playing slowly and all of whom SN ranked above UVA.  Michigan plays a meager 1.3 possessions faster than UVA and with much worse defense.  If we were to play Michigan, at Michigan's pace, each team would get one extra possession during the game.  Makes all the difference, eh?

You would really have to play at a VMI superpace to make pace count for you.  Let's take some ludicrously extreme comparisons.  Let's take two good teams, each of whom score 1.2 points per possessions and hold their opponents to 0.8.  A team that can do that isn't just good, it's elite and totally ruins its competition.  When the Hoos obliterated Navy, 67-42, and Notre Dame, 70-49, that 0.4 margin was pretty much exactly the result in those games.

Now let's say one of our two elite teams plays a 60-possession game and one plays at 75, which just about represents both tail ends of the real-life bell curve.  Each of our elite teams gets a 0.2 point advantage for every offensive possession and the same for each defensive possession.  Under KenPom terms a 60-possession game is actually a 120-possession game, 60 each of offense and defense, so a little math tells us our slow-paced machine will finish the game with a 24-point lead and our fast-paced dynamo will have a 30-point lead.

Six points.  I just had one team plod around like a brontosaurus and the other one race like maniacs, every bit as fast as the fastest team in the country, and I made both teams absurdly and ludicrously better than their opponent and all I could squeeze out of the difference was six points.

Now, does anyone really think that the much narrower and more realistic differences between tournament teams, and barely-noticeable pace differences, will create a situation in which only one team of 16 is subject to losing because of their pace?

Suppose we beat MSU and play 7th-seeded UConn - that would be a game, I think, where, if we lost, it would be considered quite the upset.  Let's go through the same exercise as above.  According to KenPom, if we played an average team on a neutral court we would score (roughly) 1.15 points per possession and allow 0.9 on defense.  The margin, then, is 0.25 points per possession.  And let's pretend UConn is that average team.  If we played the game at our pace, we would outscore this average UConn team by 15.25 points.  But say we bowed to the wisdom of the pundits and sped up to play at UConn's pace of 65.2 (call it 65) possessions - not especially fast, but obviously not slow enough not to attract the attention of Sporting News, or anyone else for that matter.  We would outscore them by 16.25.  One point.  Speeding up is worth one point.  But to Sporting News, that makes all the difference between being at risk of getting upset and being good to go!  (And UConn is not, of course, an average team, so that points-per-possession margin should be much smaller.)

Noting that, in fact, exactly half the remaining 16 teams are in the bottom 100 for pace, we can finish demolishing the Sporting News foolishness by pointing out that all these slow-ass teams are playing each other, which to anyone but the most thoroughly idiotic observer would note is something that nullifies any pace-related concerns entirely.  (And the cherry on top of the demolition: going by the fact that Sparty is the 3rd-best team in their calculus and we're 11th, we should be slowing the game down according to the very theory they use to discount our chances in the first place.)

We're not done here, though; a final few words with the intent of putting to bed the whole theory of "good, fast; bad, slow" in the first place.  It is of course predicated on the assumption that no matter when in the shot clock you shoot, you have the exact same chance of coming away with a basket.  Tony Bennett knows better, obviously.  If you're a good team playing a bad team, the longer you make that bad team defend, the more likely they are to make a mistake.  Hell, this is true for just about anyone.

We can use the same theory of probability in a slightly different fashion.  Let's say the shot clock was only five seconds long.  Would you get a good shot?   Of course not - you'd get a heave at best.  If it was 10 seconds, you'd have it a little better, but you still wouldn't do very well most of the time.  15 seconds gives you a fighting chance.  20 seconds lets you actually run an offense.  All of these increases improve the chance of scoring, so it naturally follows that you can't artificially speed up the game and expect to have the same chances at any time in the possession.  Eventually that would run to an asymptote, of course, and you wouldn't materially improve your odds, but that point comes somewhere well after the 19.8 seconds that an average UVA offensive possession lasts.

At the normal pace of media osmosis, if we can get these ideas disseminated to the punditry, they'll be the conventional wisdom by which London Perrantes's senior year is analyzed.

**I can't hate on the blind bracket tool too much.  I used it and it told me I should pick North Dakota State and Harvard.  I would never have done that, certainly not with ND State and maybe not with Harvard either.  But I went with it and lo and behold.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

weekend review

This is an odd spring season.  Neither of our marquee programs passes the eye test and yet they're both very highly-ranked as usual.  Baseball is closer; the team is pulling out of a slow start and for the most part continues to pitch very, very well.  The hitting is behind, but after a solid weekend on the road at Miami, catching up.

Game 1 was ugly on that hitting front, with only five hits in 29 at bats.  The Hoos figured it out later, though, bizarrely needing extra innings to put Miami away despite outhitting them 16 to 3 on Sunday.  Monday - it was one of those ESPNU Monday night weeks - was a little more conventional, with a 5-3 win that would've been a lot more comfortable but for some sparkling defensive plays by the Canes.  This was my first actual live exposure to the baseball team this year, by the way, chalked up largely to really wanting to watch some basketball.

Lacrosse continues to make me shake my head.  How this team is 8-2 is a mystery.  It's a very slim percentage of Hopkins fans, let alone lacrosse fans in general, who think Hopkins is a legit title contender, and I count myself with the majority - and we barely snuck past them.  We got absolutely blasted by Notre Dame.  But 8-2.  With a win over the current #1 team in the country.  I dunno lol.

To be fair, the Hopkins game, like the Miami game, need not have been that close.  Hopkins was the beneficiary of two utterly atrocious first-half penalties, one on James Pannell for an illegal body check and the second on Tanner Scales for playing too good of defense.  The Pannell one was an understandable call on a certain level - but essentially a call for being too mean and rough.  Scales technically got flagged for a cross-check, but please.  Hopkins got three goals out of the deal, turning a 4-1 UVA lead into a tie game.  All it was missing was TV Teddy Valentine doing his That's A Charge! Dance and full-blown ref takeover would've been achieved.

We also need to point out that Matt Barrett played probably his first really good game in a UVA uniform, making 16 saves including at least a couple that I figure he's let by in the past.  I think Duke and Maryland will be nigh-impossible games to pull off, but give us a game like that against Carolina and things might go pretty well.  UVA doesn't pass the eye test at all this year, but then, the way things are shaping up, not many teams do.


-- You remember that Barclay's Center stuff from last week; it's coming true woo-hoo.  (I guess.)  Pertinent details:

* The ACC tournament will be in Brooklyn in 2017 and 2018.  This settles the tourney locale for the next four years; 2015 is Greensboro, 2016 is DC.  The A-10 goes back to the Barclay's in 2019 for three years, so the ACC is holding firm on their decision to rotate.  If I were a betting man, and I am at times, I'd say 2019 we'll be back in Greensboro.

* There will be "annual nonconference doubleheaders" (it doesn't say for how long) between the ACC and A-10 starting the season after next, all at the Barclay's.  I would definitely be down for playing a UMass or a Dayton or a St. Louis.

-- In NBA decision news, so far, NC State's T.J. Warren is leaving, and UNC's Marcus Paige is staying.  We're not done with that particular silly season yet, of course.  Other decisions to watch: Clemson's K.J. McDaniels, Duke's Jabari Parker, UNC's McAdoo, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, maybe also Jerami Grant.  C.J. Fair is a senior, as is Pitt's Lamar Patterson.

-- VT's coaching search didn't last long, and they pulled a coup in landing Buzz Williams from Marquette.  Tech hasn't had a coach with a stick of hair on his head since Ricky Stokes was fired in 2003.**  This is because if you're going to pay the basketball coach almost Frank Beamer money (Williams is getting paid more than triple what James Johnson got) then you have to keep Beamer happy in other ways, and they do that by letting him have the most luxurious crop of distinguished silver hair in the whole department.  Bud Foster's no-nonsense buzz cut is actually a stipulation in Frank's contract.

Anyway, forking out for Williams is an impressive level of commitment, which was going to have to be step one in pulling that program out of the turd bowl.  Step two will be recruiting good players to a non-urban area that isn't even close to anything resembling an urban area to play in facilities that were aging and obsolete before their coach was even born.  Williams will have some cachet, though, and it's no longer a laughable idea that VT could make the tournament in the next few years.  At the very least they're not likely to continue bringing up the rear of the ACC.

**Fun fact: do a Google image search for Bobby Hussey, Stokes's predecessor at VT, and on the second row you get....  This is because he played in a Nike tournament called the Bobby Hussey Memorial Day Classic.

Monday, March 24, 2014

walking on memphis

Mike Tobey popped a three.  Evan Nolte posterized a dude.  I officially don't know anymore.

We know Tobey can do that, of course; he hit three of them last year, out of five.  We probably should've known Nolte can dunk; he is, after all, six foot eight.  That said, some of these guys have a green light to take that shot.  Tobey....Tobey does not.  He had two options: make it, or get strangled by Tony Bennett.

He made it, because everything else had gone right so why not that too?  Swapped scoring roles weren't the only odd happenstance of the night; UVA also shot .812 on free-throws while being able to hack Memphis with near impunity because their free throws were less than half-likely to go in. 

One of UVA's three missed free throws was a Joe Harris deal that made me nervous.  Harris's form looked awful and the ball weakly clanked off the front iron.  Not unlike most attempted shots in the first half of the Coastal game.  "Tight," I said to myself.  "Nervous."  Still feeling the stage a little bit?  Progress is realizing "it's just hoops" sooner than in the previous game.

That realization was the end of the line for Memphis, accelerated by missed layups (many but not all of which were contested) and hideous shot selection in a misguided attempt to speed up the game.  I said this could be a terrible matchup for someone one way or the other, and we got our answer, I'd say, round about the time Chris Crawford couldn't be bothered to take two steps closer to the three-point line and launched from somewhere around the scorer's table.  This of course didn't work.  Whoever was guarding Crawford saw no need to close out, because, why?  Forcing crappy shots is the whole point; if you're willing to work that hard for an even crappier one, UVA won't argue.

So check another "not since" box.  52 fanbases are thanking their teams for a great season this week.  We'll be putting that on hold for now.  Next up: if someone would kindly remind our team - at every possible opportunity - that the whole world thinks Michigan State is going to win the title, that would be helpful.  As someone who watched MSU twice fail to beat Michigan's bad defense, I'm less convinced of that.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

lacrosse bracketology

Sunday is here, so while I hyperventilate a little bit about the upcoming basketball game, I'll squeeze in a little lacrosse bracket action.

If I were you I'd be looking at this bracket and seeing maybe at least two WTFers in the field.  Yale and UVA, specifically.  In both cases, but in Yale's especially, RPI is to blame - the problem with tournament selection for lacrosse is that the tools at the committee's disposal are all RPI-based.  RPI has its issues.  I am more of a defender of the RPI than most people but it's a blunt instrument that isn't real useful this early in the season.  Nevertheless, bracketology is not "what I think just based on watching a couple games this year."

So no, I don't think either UVA or Yale is the Xth best team in the country based on the seed number.  But the RPI does also happen to like Hopkins and Loyola, so it also turns out good numbers when you beat them.

Reminder on autobids: in this exercise they go to the team currently holding the best record in the conference (and 2-0 is better than 1-0), ties broken by the LaxPower computer.  This means that the likely best teams in the ECAC and NEC are hanging out on the bubble instead of in the field right now.  That said, the bubble is where they'll almost certainly stay, and on the wrong side of it, unless and until they do get that autobid.  Neither Bryant nor Fairfield has the schedule to keep up with the horses. 

And what about Albany?  That depends on what they do against Hopkins in a couple weeks.  Right now they would actually slot in between Penn and UNC in the "last four in" section.  I think it's likely they'll need the autobid too, but the nice thing about what they've done is, if they get it, they'll avoid the play-in round.  Oh, and for the record, UMass is also in the "needs autobid" category.  The CAA has a chance to be a multi-bid league, but PSU kind of fell on their face some and that conference is more likely than not to get just the one.

Last week's games that mattered:

Cornell 15, Colgate 10: I would not have guessed it'd be Cornell as the runaway #1 seed at this point, but here they are.  Colgate has failed to gain much traction this year, and has a really ugly loss (Lafayette) on their resume, but they've still got some chances left.

Fairfield 11, Massachusetts 5: This really did more to hurt UMass than help Fairfield.  Last week I said UMass didn't need the autobid - now they do.

North Carolina 13, Harvard 10: UNC had a big week, and vaulted from the bottom of the bubble to the very top and just inside the field.

Denver 17, Rutgers 11: Probably banished Rutgers for all time.

Mercer 10, High Point 9: Now this was a surprise.  Since Mercer's beginning days (not that long ago) they have been seen as a doormat on which other doormats wiped their feet.  Somebody completely weird has to come from the A-Sun, but still.  This one's not going to be over til the conference tourney, though.

Albany 17, Penn State 10: Albany's good, but Penn State is the flop of the year.

Cornell 17, Penn 9: Penn has this at-large in their hands still, somehow, but they've got work to do to make the Ivy tourney let alone the national one.

North Carolina 11, Maryland 8: Like I said - big week for Carolina.  This results in another eyebrow-raiser of a seed, as Maryland is almost definitely better than 8th in the country.

Virginia 11, Johns Hopkins 10: Woot.  I don't do a Bubble Watch (though maybe I should) but if I did, UVA would now have "should be in" status, with probably one more big win to call it a lock.  With VMI tomorrow, the Hoos will (barring a complete disaster) win their 8th game and thus clinch an over-.500 finish - which as you know is necessary for at-large consideration.

Duke 21, Syracuse 7: Part of the reason the #2 seed in this bracketology sets off a bit of a BS alarm is that Syracuse really isn't all that good - and they beat Hopkins despite getting absolutely murdered in the faceoff battle.  So I'm not real sold on the Hop, either.

Games that matter this week:

Loyola at Colgate: Big PL battle that should give a boost to the winner.  You definitely want a Loyola win, as a UVA fan.

Notre Dame at Syracuse: Any time the ACC gets together, it matters.  Cuse will be all but eliminated from the ACC tourney if they lose.

Penn at Yale: Probably only going to further inflate Yale, win or lose.

North Carolina at Johns Hopkins: If I'm right about the Hop, they'll lose and quite probably take UNC's place as the last team in.

Virginia at Maryland: Hit a Terp with a stick.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

game preview: Memphis

Date/Time: Sunday, March 23; 8:40


Record against the Tigers: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last game: UVA 70, CCU 59 (3/21); Memphis 71, GWU 66 (3/21)


UVA: 60.9 (#346)
Mem.: 68.9 (#59)

UVA: 114.5 (#23)
Mem.: 111.2 (#55)

UVA: 90.0 (#4)
Mem.: 98.1 (#55)

UVA: .9405 (#5)
Mem.: .8079 (#37)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 apg)


PG: Joe Jackson (14.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.6 apg)

SG: Geron Johnson (8.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.6 apg)
SG: Chris Crawford (8.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg)
PF: Austin Nichols (9.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.5 apg)
PF: Shaq Goodwin (11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.7 apg)

PHEW.  Breeeeeeeeathe.  Let's just say: you and I know that UVA would've suffered a worse reputation hit for losing as a 1 seed than any 1 seed in the past, present, or future could ever have taken.  Why?  Because Maui, that's why.  Now that the Chamin-ticleers bullet is dodged, so is the potential infamy of being on the wrong end of the biggest two upsets in college basketball history.

UVA will now play in a SECOND NOT THIRD round game of the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2007, trying for its first Sweet 16 berth since 1995.  At least this time, Ralph Sampson is not what follows the word "since."  Standing in the way are the Memphis Tigers, a team UVA has never played in its history.  Memphis knocked off George Washington in a close one in the 8/9 game on Friday.  No doubt after CCU, pundits will look at this and call Memphis a popular upset pick, but every game is different; right now you got Florida taking it to Pittsburgh despite the fact that Florida struggled with Albany and Pitt crushed Colorado.  So.

-- UVA on offense

Memphis plays a hair-on-fire brand of basketball; they're not quite VCU, but they like to press and see what they can't get, and if they fall behind they'll probably turn up the heat to 11.  They're thin in the frontcourt, with a couple of athletic forwards in Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols (a former UVA recruiting target) but Goodwin at 6'9", 242 is the largest player in the rotation.  6'7" forwards Nick King and David Pellom provide some spot relief minutes, but it's the guards that are the main focus of what they do.

Those guards will press up hard on defense and try to create turnovers, which they're very successful at doing.  Memphis is a top-10 team in the country in getting steals.  Any one of them - Memphis runs four guards on and off the court, usually playing three at a time - is a threat to get a steal, as is Goodwin.

Tony Bennett went with a slightly surprising move at halftime yesterday, employing Anthony Gill to start the second half; leaning hard on Gill is something he's been inclined to do if the team is struggling.  Gill played a season-high 29 minutes (tied with the Maryland loss) while Mike Tobey had just 15.  It would surprise me a little if Gill started the game (but only a little) but given the athleticism of the Memphis lineup it wouldn't surprise at all if Gill once again played most of the game in an effort to match.

The close-up defense that Memphis's guards play means that teams struggle to get three-pointers off.  Opponents shoot just .302 against the Tigers, and fewer than 30% of their shots are threes in the first place.  UVA must have good ball movement in order to find any chances from deep, because Memphis won't sag off and let you shoot it.

They also don't foul much; their big men Nichols and Goodwin (and particularly Nichols) block shots very well without getting in foul trouble.  You'd think that all the pressure on the ball would mean plenty of reach-in fouls, but the Memphis guards stay out of foul trouble as well.  If there's something the Tigers don't do well on defense, it's rebound; typically a team that forces a lot of two-pointers would be a good defensive rebounding team, but Nichols and Goodwin are both pretty pedestrian on the boards and the small guard-heavy lineup means they have a hard time corralling rebounds.  UVA can hopefully find some second-chance opportunities; Tobey remains a top offensive rebounder and Gill and Akil Mitchell do nice work there too.

The key, of course, is limiting turnovers.  Yes, that's important all the time.  Like, the key is to score baskets.  Memphis, though, doesn't want to defend for 35 seconds.  They want to take your ball and go the other way, quickly.  If UVA is both patient and sound with the ball, they should be able to find ways to use their size against the Tigers and, better yet, force Memphis into the halfcourt game the Hoos will prefer.

-- UVA on defense

With the trouble that Coastal Carolina gave UVA by playing a guard-heavy lineup and isolating the ball while looking for one-on-one matchups, you have to assume Josh Pastner noticed and will look to make his own guards take advantage of UVA the same way.  Memphis, however, tends to be a bit of an average team in the halfcourt, preferring to score early if they can.

The top offensive threat is probably off the bench, actually; sixth man Michel Dixon is a heck of a shooter from anywhere on the court.  Dixon and wing Chris Crawford represent Memphis's only major distance threats; this team prefers to get to the rim where they're much more efficient.  Crawford is essentially a three-point specialist.  Point guard Joe Jackson and shooting guard Geron Johnson will shoot too, but both are shooting under .280.  Jackson is also much more of a driver, and a pretty good passer too.

Memphis's hair-on-fire game, though, makes them also turnover-prone.  They get the ball stolen from them a lot.  Some of this happens in transition, where they may get a little too eager to take advantage of a steal, and just give it right back.  Still, UVA has done a good job in the past of taking advantage of turnover prone teams.  Also, in Memphis, UVA has finally found a worse free-throw shooting team than themselves.  Dixon is almost automatic and Jackson is pretty good; the rest of the team misses quite a bit.

Overall, this is not a team with a single go-to scorer, which is actually sort of unfortunate as UVA's better games tend to come when they have someone they can focus on.  Just about everything Memphis does, from shooting to turnovers to getting steals, is spread out among most of the team.  However, if UVA is successful at controlling the tempo, much of what Memphis wants to do can be neutralized, and it'll become a question of keeping the Tigers out of the lane.

-- Outlook

I think this is an interesting game from a neutral perspective, as there's potential for both teams here to be a terrible matchup for the other.  Maybe I'm a little gun-shy from all those Coastal Carolina guards and the isolation game they had success with, but the similarities in the guard-heavy lineups between our opponents can't be ignored.  On offense, UVA likes to slowly probe the defense and blocker-move until something breaks apart; Memphis's disruption could put an early kibosh on those plans during some possessions.  Plus, Anthony Gill won't have a large athleticism advantage and could find it harder than usual to face-up drive from the high post like he likes to do, at least as long as Goodwin or Nichols are guarding him.  Having a low, quick player guarding Malcolm Brogdon could result in steals; the same for Joe Harris, and UVA must be exquisitely careful about their passing lanes.

However.  UVA has a way of imposing a pace.  The Hoos took UNC down eight possessions from what the Heels are used to, for example.  Memphis doesn't want to play a halfcourt game, and being forced to defend for the whole shot clock, repeatedly, could cause them problems.  UVA also tends to make mincemeat of teams who don't take care of the ball.  And part of the trouble against Coastal - a lot of the trouble, actually - came from the Chanticleers hitting some tough, very contested shots, and magically turning into a deadeye three-point team.  With the score tied 47-47, CCU had hit 8-of-15 three-pointers.  Hitting on one-third like they're supposed to would've had the score at 47-38, and the ensuing 9-1 run would've iced the game instead of merely offering a little breathing room.  (Yes, I know that's not exactly how this works.  Just go with it - the lesson here is that just about any team that turns its bad tendencies into really good ones will pose a threat to anyone they're facing.)

Anyway, I wouldn't worry about Coastal.  It's a whole new game.  Like I said: Florida just stomped Pittsburgh despite the troubles they had with Albany.  Memphis is the team in front of us now.  The Tigers had only one bad loss all season (Houston) but entered the tourney on just a 4-4 run culminating in a blowout loss to UConn in the AAC tournament.  Often the consensus with Memphis is: really talented but needs to get their shit together.  UVA is one of the shit-together-est teams in the country.  I'd say watch out if the Tigers do start figuring things out and play the ball they're capable of - this isn't a team to be taken lightly, and could easily be considered perhaps the 2nd or 3rd toughest 8/9 seed in the tourney.  But it's too early yet to be calling for a tournament exit for the good guys.

Final score: UVA 67, Memphis 62

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

game preview: Coastal Carolina

Date/Time: Friday, March 21; 9:25


Record against the Chanticleers: 2-0

Last meeting: UVA 89, CCU 74; 12/22/03, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 72, Duke 63 (3/16); CCU 76, Winthrop 61 (3/9)


UVA: 61.0 (#345)
CCU: 67.1 (#132)

UVA: 114.1 (#22)
CCU: 97.6 (#292)

UVA: 89.5 (#3)
CCU: 102.1 (#113)

UVA: .9423 (#4)
CCU: .3729 (#222)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (7.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 apg)

Coastal Carolina:

PG: Josh Cameron (14.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg)

SG: Warren Gillis (14.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg)
SG: Elijah Wilson (16.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.9 apg)
PF: Badou Diagne (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.8 apg)
C: El Hadji Ndieguene (4.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 0.6 apg)

Quick programming note: I'm going to a hockey game tomorrow and don't expect to have time to write the preview, so it flies out the door tonight.  No post Thursday; Friday may see a Hopkins preview.  For obvious reasons, this is not guaranteed.

So, then: a Chanticleer.  Daphuq?  Chanticleer is the name of a cock-of-the-walk rooster out of a medieval fable, who triumphs over the fox who wants to eat him but first learns a lesson about humility.  Very Aesop, but with a Middle Ages origin.  Coastal Carolina is an independent school in its own right, but began life as a satellite school of the University of South Carolina, similar to the George Mason story.  Hence, a rooster nickname, to honor these roots.

As for the basketball team itself, they are here as the representative of the Big South Conference, KenPom's 27th strongest out of 32 conferences.  They might be especially notable for a collection of candidates for the tournament's all-name team, including Colton Ray-St Cyr, El Hadji Ndieguene, and Uros Ljeskovic.  This will be their first NCAA tourney game since 1993.  (They lost in the first round to the Michigan Fab Five team that would later become infamous for calling a nonexistent timeout.)

They're coached by Cliff Ellis, a guy with a long coaching history who once got Auburn an SEC championship and then had them ranked #1 overall in the preseason.  Ellis also coached at Clemson many moons ago, and has done enough weird things in his life (ostrich farming?) that if you didn't see them in his official website bio, you'd think someone was screwing around with Wikipedia.

The stakes now do not change: survive and advance.  Memphis and Georgetown play at 6:55 - the previous game - so, should we be ever so fortunate enough not to be the first 1 seed to lose their first tourney game, we'll already know our opponent for Sunday.

-- UVA on offense

The Chanticleers are the Big South champions because of defense.  They're the only team in their conference not to royally suck at it.  They rank at least 60 spots higher in KenPom's D-rating than any of their conference rivals and over 125 spots higher than all but one of them.  In fact, at 113th in the country they outrank three ACC squads, albeit three teams whom UVA beat handily.  Clemson completely smoked Coastal in their nonconference meeting in November, but Coastal's defense held them in some other games against big-conference teams, namely close losses to Ole Miss and NIT 1-seed Minnesota.

Cliff Ellis once wrote a book called "Zone Press Variations for Winning Basketball," and UVA will probably see some of this at times.  Fortunately, all those old concerns about press-breaking have melted away, and UVA has had very little trouble with the press all season.  Coastal can also be expected to go to the zone in the halfcourt sometimes.

Like most any mid-major, Coastal will give up a pretty significant amount of size to UVA.  El Hadji Ndieguene, at 6'10", 240, can legitimately be called a center, but 6'8" Uros Ljeskovic and 6'7" Tristian Curtis get only back-of-the-rotation minutes.  Badou Diagne has some length and shot-blocking skills, but UVA will have a size advantage most of the game if not all of it.

Diagne will likely be the biggest challenge on defense, as he's a top rebounder and does a pretty good job of defending without fouling, for a big man.  And Warren Gillis gets a few steals now and again.  All this said, though, a sizable athleticism gap is going to present itself, and there ought to be at least a few possessions where the basket appears the size of a hula hoop.

-- UVA on defense

This is where the matchup gets unfair.  Coastal is the second-worst KenPom team in the 68-team field, after Texas Southern, which just got bounced by 13-17 Cal Poly.  Offense is why.  Ranked 292nd in the country by KenPom, they're easily the worst offensive team in the tournament by almost 60 spots.  Even in just Big South play, they were 9th of 12 in their conference.

In a nutshell, Coastal is a team that is sloppy with the ball and not great shooting from outside; they generate second-chance points with good offensive rebounding, but depend heavily on the creation skills of their guards.  Only 40% of their baskets are assisted, which is one of the lowest numbers in the country.

Shooting is dominated by point guard Josh Cameron and shooting guards Elijah Wilson and Warren Gillis.  Cameron is a decent outside shooter but undersized and not good inside, and his A/T ratio is underwater at about 0.9/1 - highly undesirable in a point guard.  Gillis and Wilson are quite a bit more efficient; Gillis has a very solid midrange game, while Wilson can get to the rim but overshoots from deep and isn't especially good at it.  Gillis is also an 85% free-throw shooter, and Wilson takes very good care of the ball.

Outside of that trio, the only player with an O-rating over 100 is Badou Diagne, an occasional three-point shooter who also makes over three-quarters of his shots at the rim.  Anyone else with the ball in their hands - not a big threat.  After watching the work Akil Mitchell did on Duke's Jabari Parker, Diagne shouldn't be much of a concern either.

We've seen what happens, though, when UVA plays a team that doesn't take good care of the ball.  Florida State has good, ACC-level athletes and UVA beat them by double digits three times.  Diagne is the only thing resembling a scoring threat down low, and Mitchell can neutralize him, allowing UVA to focus on Coastal's guards.  Don't be surprised if the Chanticleers fail to touch 40 points.  This isn't a team that can score even on its usual Big South opposition.

-- Outlook

If a 16 seed is ever going to beat a 1 seed, it won't be when a really poor offensive team, who doesn't take care of the ball and whose 3-point shooting is mediocre on a good day, takes on a defensive juggernaut.  UVA should cruise in this opening-round game, the margin of victory kept down mainly from taking the foot off the gas pedal in the later stages.

Final score: UVA 68, CCU 41

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

you know my name

They do now.  They didn't before, but they do now.

A pantheonic season deserves some kind of commemoration.  For such as myself, a humble blogger incapable of putting a trophy in the trophy case, this means highlight video.  I debated with myself about the music - for such a thing, common choices might include something Ozzy-esque (already did Ozzy once) or hip-hop (not my style.)

Instead I chose something more lyrically appropriate.  Bond themes are generally always keepers, and were written for montages.  And this one ... says a lot, I think.  Enjoy.

(Link for YouTube viewing.)

weekend review

This is not the promised project.  That is close.  This is just to catch us up on a few things.  Also, the "project" is not the recruiting board stuck in development hell.  But I've got good news on that front.  I've hired a guy to finish it up; he's got a lot of project management experience having opened up a local chain of bagel stores in Charlottesville.  You've heard of Bodo's.  So any day now.

Over the weekend, the lacrosse team lost, the baseball team won three times, and I watched none of it because Tony Bennett.  The hitting is not greatly improved, and it really is not helping that weekday games keep getting cancelled because of weather.  You are authorized to continue feeling slight concern over this, but also keeping in mind two things: it is improving, and it is much easier to flip a hitting switch than a pitching switch.  The latter has been stellar, as has the defense; UVA has allowed two or fewer runs in 13 of 18 games and if you remove the numbers of a couple garbage-time relief appearances, has a 1.83 ERA.  Even the actual staff ERA of 2.03 is pretty nice.

-- Not helping in the hitting department will be the loss of Derek Fisher for about a month, month and a half due to a broken hand bone.  Fisher had been hitting .333 and playing errorless ball.  The Boston College series saw a couple different ways to replace him; for two of three games, Mike Papi played left field and John LaPrise DHed; in the middle game, Robert Bennie started in left but was lifted for a lefty-hitting PH when the Eagles sent in the bullpen.

-- It's carnage week in the basketball coaching ranks as ADs observe the ongoing dance party, reflect on their lack of invitation, and do something about it.  Two ACC coaches - VT's James Johnson and BC's Steve Donahue - are gone, and there's a watch on for GT's Brian Gregory and Wake's Jeff Bzdelik, despite John Feinstein's assertion that Bzdelik is safe.

If Bzdelik is safe, it's criminal mismanagement and nepotism on the part of Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman.  This is a guy who fired Dino Gaudio for lack of postseason success.  I guess the logic at Wake (besides "I don't want to fire my BFF from childhood") goes something along the lines of, if you never make the postseason, you can't lose there, and we're cool with that.

Donahue walked into one of the worst situations a coach ever could have, but by now was supposed to have the program back on its feet.  Instead BC took a big ol' backwards step and stunk up the joint.

As for Johnson, this one's interesting.  VT's new AD Whit Babcock gave a press conference that didn't exactly put to bed swirling rumors that Johnson was let go just as much for off-the-court stuff as on-court results.  A Hokie twitter guy wrote that, per a source, basically Johnson was kind of an asshole to people and ran his players into the ground, causing three of them to quit.  This last was corroborated by the TechSideline guys, naming Cadarian Raines as one of the walk-outs.

That would certainly explain why Raines's playing time disappeared into the ether, something even I picked up on when writing game previews of the Hokies.  Fortunately, nobody will ever use the words "donkey anus" to describe Tony Bennett's behavior, as a TSL poster did for Johnson.  At any rate, various names have popped up, as they tend to do, most of them hilariously unrealistic.  There are Hokies who think Gregg Marshall would leave Wichita State for Blacksburg, and the funny part is they mean it.  One candidate who might've actually been a serious name - Bruce Pearl - already got hired at Auburn.  Marquette's Buzz Williams is another name you might hear and not set your bullshit meter to 100%.  Other than that, the Hokies are probably looking at someone from the A-10 at best - no, not Shaka Smart - or a reasonably-achieving mid-major.  Depends on what they'll pay, really.

The other notable name to be let go is Ken Bone - Tony Bennett's replacement at Wazzu.  The coaching carousel will be worth keeping an eye on this season, as the dominos may eventually fall in the direction of Charlottesville and pick off one or more of our assistant coaches.  For example, George Washington's Mike Lonergan is a fast riser and a strong candidate for an open ACC job - and Ritchie McKay could easily be at least a candidate to replace him in DC.

-- Speaking of DC, the ACC tournament moves there in 2016 after one more year in Greensboro, and after that.... New York?  Barclay's Center, Brooklyn?  How you feel about that probably depends on how likely you are to go to the tourney in any given year - since it's not realistic for me, all basketball courts look the same on TV and a couple of years in NYC could be good for the conference.  I'm not nuts about the idea that being there will somehow "raise the profile" of the conference - it's not like people who wouldn't ordinarily watch a 12/13 game between two crappy teams will go, "oh, it's in New York?  Well, that's interesting, I guess I'll tune in after all."  Still, if your tournament banners are all over town and you sell a little advertising to go along with it, maybe you scrounge an extra half million or so, and the players would certainly appreciate a trip to New York more than Greensboro.

(This, by the way, makes you a hypocrite, if you ever said "but the players like it" to argue for whizbang uniformzz but bitch about not being able to go to the tournament if they move it somewhere the players like better.)

There are plenty of obstacles along the way, one of which is the A-10, which has a Barclay's Center contract through 2017, and plus the Barclay's folks ain't kicking the Nets out of town for 2 weeks.  This may involve a scheduling series with A-10 teams, which, hey, bonus, because those tend to be reasonably worthwhile matchups.

Truthfully, there are all kinds of different and worthwhile places to hold this tournament, and DC and Atlanta ought to be in a regular rotation too.  I don't buy that just because Maryland is gone, it makes no sense to hold the tournament there.  Plenty of ACC alums live in the area.  I mean, it's not like St. John's is an ACC school, but we're going to New York regardless.

Monday, March 17, 2014

lacrosse bracketology 2014

It's mighty convenient that basketball's Selection Sunday is right around the halfway point of the lacrosse season, because that's when I find it best to fire up my annual lacrosse bracketology series.  Normally I post these on Sundays.  For right now, Monday, because if you have to ask....

Of the various recurring things I do for this blog, I don't think I'm the best at any particular one of them .... except this.  I reserve my bragging for things where I can really claim success, and no more so than here.  The simple truth is you won't find more accurate lacrosse bracketology, anywhere.  Not on any of the major lacrosse sites, or ESPN, or from anyone.  This damn system works.  Proof?  I've done it for four years, and for the last three I haven't missed a single team in the tournament.  If I say they're in, they're in.

Now for the admittance: that's not all that hard, because lacrosse has eight at-large bids, so I'm just getting eight teams right.  But back to the crescendo: last year's final bracketology nailed the top five seeds in order.  You don't get that kind of bang-on accuracy from Joe Lunardi.

Now that I'm done conducting my own brass section, some rules procedural:

-- The tournament is changed this year.  Two new conferences - the ACC and Atlantic Sun - have autobids, bringing the total number of autobid conferences to 10.  This necessitated a change I and several others have been predicting for years: tournament expansion.  18 teams instead of 16 now fill out the field, so the number of at-large picks doesn't change.

-- In case you're wondering, there's a two-year grace period to keep an autobid if you fall below the necessary six teams, so the ECAC still has one despite being a five-team conference.  That won't matter next year when the ECAC disappears.  There'll still be 10 conferences, though, as the Big Ten will begin play.  (Interestingly, now that the ACC has six teams for a year, that should give us until 2016 to find a sixth and keep the autobid.)

-- The two play-in games will be filled by the four conference champions with the lowest RPIs.  Automatically.  Not conference RPI, meaning if some scrub-ass team in a good conference steals an autobid, they don't get to float out of the play-ins based on being in a good conference.  Team RPI determines it.

-- When I do this weekly, I hand out the conference autobid to the team currently leading the standings; if there's a tie, the tiebreaker is the LaxPower computer rankings.  That way, less future shuffling is necessary.

Here is 2014's initial bracketology look:

There's an error that I'm too lazy to fix: UMass should be atop the "last four in" list, not Yale.  But there's a hairsbreadth difference between the two right now.  Yale has somewhat stronger metrics in general, while UMass is driven largely by volume of wins, which is why Yale is hosting and not the other way around.

Other points:

-- Most of those low-level autobids are not long for this gig.  Looking at Rutgers, St. Joe's, and Air Force mainly.  Denver has yet to play a Big East game while Rutgers and St. John's are tied at 1-0, the only BE teams to have won a game.  Denver plays Rutgers this weekend and should make short work of the Scarlet Knights, after which we won't see them again this year.

Likewise, Air Force and Michigan are tied atop the ECAC, both having beaten up on Bellarmine.  Ohio State gets their turn this weekend, and will probably replace Air Force, but the easy favorite in that conference is Fairfield.

It's really, really exciting to see St. Joe's make a bracketology appearance, because that is historically such a flogging-post program.  The Hawks went winless in 2011.  They've shaken off the doldrums in recent years, though, and sit at 5-2 already this year.  Sure, they've been beating up on Richmond and Monmouth and Wagner.  But a winning record for them is still a neat story.

It's pretty clear that Bryant is the class of the NEC, though.  And keep in mind the point right now is more about the at-large teams, to give you a picture of where they've set themselves up with their chances here at the real beginning of the race.

-- On the other hand, High Point has a real shot at staying out of the play-in game.  Depends on the ECAC champion, I'd guess.  The ECAC is way down this year and not just for losing Denver and Loyola.

-- Cornell's grip on the #1 seed is surprisingly ironclad.  If and when they lose, that will obviously change, but right now there is simply no other choice.

-- UVA is highly precarious right now, because the gap between the Hoos and the Loyola-Hop-Cuse cluster is pretty large and the gap the other way is quite small.  Having beaten two of them is not enough to cover that difference.  Those two wins could very well serve to keep UVA afloat most of the year, but another win over someone decent is likely going to be necessary to let us feel safe about getting a bid, and probably two more decent wins before we can host a game.

-- UNC is surprisingly far out of the picture, but that's what happens when you don't really have a great win yet and you started the season by beating up on worse-than-scrub teams.  They'll have their chances - but they need to make good on them, too.

Here are the games to watch next week:

-- Cornell at Colgate: I suspect Colgate will hang out in the reaches of the bubble all season, and end up on the wrong side of it, unless they can get a signature win.

-- UMass at Fairfield: Fairfield almost certainly will need the autobid, but they could make it interesting by winning here.  UMass, keep in mind, at this point has the CAA autobid, but doesn't need it.

-- Harvard at North Carolina: Two teams currently buried very deep in bubble-land, with a chance to change that.

-- Rutgers at Denver: I include this only because it's likely to hand the autobid over to Denver and open up an at-large for someone else.

-- Mercer at High Point: High Point has already beaten Jacksonville, the likely major threat in the Atlantic Sun.  Both they and Mercer are 2-0, so a win here would essentially keep High Point in the A-Sun autobid slot all season, with only the tournament to present a real chance at knocking them out.

-- Albany at Penn State: Albany is a darling of the polls and computers right now, but they're 2-3 and therefore not in the at-large picture thanks to one-goal losses to Syracuse, Drexel, and Bryant.  They have a tremendously ambitious schedule, but they're going to have to get a win somewhere, sometime, and stay above .500 in order to protect themselves from bid thieves in their own conference.

-- Cornell at Penn: Penn's at-large is very precarious, and in the competitive Ivy League, not making the four-team conference tournament is a real danger.  Someone out of Cornell, Penn, Princeton, Yale, and Harvard has to miss it, and Penn is already 0-1.

-- Maryland at North Carolina: If the Ivy League tournament is tough to make, imagine the ACC tourney.  UNC is already 0-2 - can they recover if they go 0-3?

-- Johns Hopkins at Virginia: Hard to say who needs this more right now.  Hopkins has a better RPI because they don't have any schmucks on the schedule like, oh, say, Richmond and Mount St. Mary's.  But they lack a signature win.  Both teams, of course, have plenty of chances to grab one this year.

-- Syracuse at Duke: Cuse is in the same position as UNC conference-wise, but with that win over Hopkins to float their boat.

I have a project I'm working on that may post either tonight or tomorrow, so keep an eye peeled.

Sunday, March 16, 2014




Champions of ACC everything is its own reward, but UVA got a further lift from the tournament committee.  A #1 seed, that's a special season.  Even better is the draw.  Kansas is probably the toughest 2 seed, if they can get Joel Embiid healthy particularly; Villanova is UVA's two seed, and I'd rather see them than any of the others.  I'd far rather have Iowa State than any of the other 3's.  Despite the no-respect picks from the CBS clowns, Michigan State is not the toughest 4 seed; Louisville is.

Florida State, as in, the same Florida State who UVA beat three times by double digits, is higher in KenPom than either 8 seed Memphis or 9 seed George Washington.  They could've given us Gonzaga, Kentucky, Oklahoma State - not Pitt, it would've been against their rematch rules - and I'd have been a lot more worried.

We're in business.  The transformation from intriguing little upstart story to national title contender is complete.  The perception problem now lies with anyone who doesn't get it yet.  Bring your best, and score some points, if you can.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: Sunday, March 16; 1:00


Record against the Blue Devils: 49-116

Last meeting: Duke 69, UVA 65; 1/13/14, Durham

Last game: UVA 51, Pitt 48 (3/15); Duke 75, NCSt. 67 (3/15)


UVA: 61.0 (#345)
Duke: 66.0 (#196)

UVA: 113.6 (#28)
Duke: 124.6 (#2)

UVA: 89.5 (#3)
Duke: 101.0 (#95)

UVA: .9394 (#5)
Duke: .9177 (#8)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (7.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 apg)


PG: Tyler Thornton (3.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.4 apg)

SG: Rasheed Sulaimon (9.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SF: Rodney Hood (16.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.0 apg)
PF: Jabari Parker (19.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.3 apg)
PF: Amile Jefferson (6.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.0 apg)

Now they've gone and done it: they've got me working overtime.  I couldn't pass up the chance to write about this blog's first crack at the ACC title game.  This serves as your official welcome to Cloud 9.  If there's a storybook finish in store, then it would have to come not only against the one team that all right-minded people in the country will root against, but the one ACC team UVA hasn't yet beaten this year.  It's time to find out if there's another banner at the end of the rainbow.

-- UVA on offense

There are two flavors of Duke teams.  One is elite.  When they go to the tournament, if they lose, everyone breathes a sigh of relief.  The other is still in the top echelons of the country, but beatable.  This year's Duke is the latter.  Unless they win on Sunday and win the national title, Duke will finish with eight losses, which is more than all but one of their teams since 1997.  (That "one" finished 22-11 in 2007.)  Defense is the reason for this.

And the reason for their mediocre defense is their size.  Former UVA target Marshall Plumlee can't unglue himself from the bench, and Josh Hairston has seen his minutes swirl the drain all season.  Hairston has only played in four of the last nine games, one being a Senior Night start.  Duke's CGNFT (Close Game No Foul Trouble) rotation has only three bigs: Jabari Parker, Amile Jefferson, and Rodney Hood - and Hood is more of a tall wing.  And only Jefferson is taller than 6'8" - he's a 6'9", 210 beanpole.

Duke has tried to cover up their soft middle with their athleticism, but it's been a struggle; most decent teams, and some not-decent teams, will score on them.  They struggle to rebound on defense and they've allowed better than 50% shooting from two, sitting at 237th in the country.

This means the way you should attack them is just the way UVA wants to attack.  Deliberate, and work the ball inside, which has the added benefit of limiting the number of possessions.  Duke actually defends the three very well (12th in the nation in opponents' 3-point FG%) on account of all that perimeter athleticism, which has the effect of skewing opponents' point distribution ridiculously toward the two-pointer.  Opponents get 17.4% of their points from three and 61.0% from two; the former number is the lowest in the country and the latter, 2nd-highest.  The game plan, then, is pretty obvious.

A final point on the operation of the offense: if in fact UVA does earn a lead of some kind in the last quarter of the game, trying to sit on it for eight minutes the way they did against Pitt will probably fail miserably.  Pitt has a good, athletic defense and all that dribbling around was probably a poor idea.  This'll be even more so against Duke.

-- UVA on defense

This is the end of the court where the game becomes a clash of titans.  Duke's current KenPom O-rating of 124.6 is higher than any team has ever finished the season with in the KenPom era.  (And it's still more than two points behind Creighton, which explains a lot about why Doug McDermott is such a runaway Wooden winner.)  UVA is third in the country with an outstanding, but non-historical, D-rating of their own.

It's really not just Jabari Parker - he is in fact eighth on the team in individual O-rating.  (That said, usage tends to drag one's rating down, and it's very hard to find someone else who can be so high in possession usage - 31.4% - and keep his O-rating that high too.)  Still, Parker is KenPom's #3 player in the country for a reason.  There's nowhere he can't score from.

Just about everyone in Duke's rotation - Amile Jefferson being the one exception - is a scary three-point shooter.  Leaving the lightly-used Matt Jones out of it, their worst distance shooter is Quinn Cook at 35%.  Four of these guys are over 41%.  Kinda frightening.  And Duke as a team doesn't hesitate to fire away.  For the most part, when they lose it's because their three-point shooting failed them, the shots just didn't fall, and their defense couldn't keep them in it.

Complicating the matchups a bit is that K has switched Quinn Cook out of the starting lineup in favor of Tyler Thornton.  Thornton's a better distance shooter but Cook is otherwise the better player; Cook scores and distributes much better.  In UVA's case, "complicating" might be the wrong word, since seeing Cook come off the bench might well be a cue for Justin Anderson to stand up as well.  Anderson would be wasted on Thornton in any go-defend-that-point-guard assignment.  (Then again, Anderson might well be deployed on anyone from Hood to Parker as well.)

Beating Duke this year tends to involve a little luck; you basically hope their threes don't all drop at once and get everyone involved in chasing down the misses.  This is not to say they have no inside game; unlike on defense, they're plenty effective from two.  Jefferson, for example, is shooting .652, and four rotation players are over 50% as well.  But I see this as an area that'll cancel out.  They'll get a few, we'll stop a few, and what we'll really hope to do is keep those threes from being shot in the first place.

-- Outlook

The arena will probably be reasonably noisy for UVA and much louder for Duke.  But for the rest of the country, the TV audience, when you play Duke on a big stage like this, for two hours you become America's Team.  And we don't want to let America down, do we?  1976 - the nation's bicentennial - is the most recent, and only, number on the ACC Tournament banner in the JPJA.  Kind of lonely-looking.  It's high time to get another one.  For America.

Final score: UVA 67, Duke 66

Friday, March 14, 2014

game preview: Pitt

Date/Time: Saturday, March 15; 1:00


Record against the Panthers: 8-3

Last meeting: UVA 48, Pitt 45; 2/2/14, Pittsburgh

Last game: UVA 64, FSU 51 (3/14); Pitt 80, UNC 75 (3/14)


UVA: 61.2 (#345)
Pitt: 64.2 (#283)

UVA: 114.4 (#23)
Pitt: 115.9 (#15)

UVA: 90.1 (#4)
FSU: 97.1 (#46)

UVA: .9397 (#4)
FSU: .8852 (#16)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (7.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.3 apg)


PG: James Robinson (7.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.0 apg)

SG: Cameron Wright (10.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Lamar Patterson (17.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.4 apg)
PF: Michael Young (6.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.0 apg)
PF: Talib Zanna (12.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 0.5 apg)

Whee!  Getting rid of long streaks of futility is fun.  Problem with success, though, is it leaves you wanting even more.  In the spirit of "haven't done X since Y", it's been even longer since UVA has played in the ACC championship game.  One year longer, actually; the last championship game appearance was 1994.

Standing in the way is Pittsburgh, last seen in February.  Despite the underachieving label, they remain a dangerous team, as UNC found out by letting the Panthers get out to a stupid-huge lead that the Heels tried but failed to overcome.  After the last meeting, Pitt fans claimed their team hadn't brought its "A game" and UVA fans scoffed at the perceived lack of credit being given to our own team.  The benefit of six weeks of hindsight shows there was probably an element of truth to both sides of that.  UVA turned out to be a damn good team after all, and Pitt can play better than they did.

-- UVA on offense

Joey Hoops didn't start getting called that because he's the white Kobe Bryant or anything.  He got that nickname because he's a step-up player.  It's a nickname that perfectly fits a guy who does big-time things in big-time games, like shrugging off a mini shooting slump to score 20 points in the ACC tourney.

UVA won that FSU game despite poop-level shooting from Malcolm Brogdon, which should make the Panthers pretty nervous.  And 64 points is a pretty nice total for a 56-possession game.  The other player that helped out the most in the scoring department: Anthony Gill.  Good news going into the Pitt game, because if Pitt can be said to have an Achilles heel on defense, it's their size down low.  Gill scored just one point in the last Pitt matchup, but the hot hand down low was Akil Mitchell, shooting 5-for-7 and grabbing nine boards.

Someone, then, is likely to have a good game down low.  Pitt has four players who can conceivably be called power forwards, but Derrick Randall is very, very sparingly used and Jamel Artis is undersized for the position at 6'7".  UVA should be able to find a mismatch somewhere in the frontcourt, and whoever is the beneficiary - Gill or Mitchell, maybe Tobey - will have a big day.

This is not to say they'll be a pushover all over the place.  Pitt will make you work on offense, and you have to be extra careful with the ball because their backcourt can be disruptive, particularly Cameron Wright.  They're tough to win the rebound battle against; Talib Zanna can be a real force on the glass.

Finally, of course, you hope that playing their third game in as many days will wear on the Panthers.  We like to talk about our depth and rotating more players in and out, but the fact is, the rotation has tightened some of late, and Tony Bennett is leaning more on his starters than he used to.  And even so, it's less so than Pitt does.  Three players play over 30 minutes and one more (Zanna) is close enough that he might as well.  Will the second half bring a bonanza as relatively fresh legs go against tired ones?  It might.

-- UVA on defense

What do you do with Lamar Patterson?  He's the nation's 8th-best player according to KenPom.  He shoots a ton and makes quite a few; he's got 40% range from three and he's a really good passer, too.

The answer is simple: exactly what UVA did last time.  He's a very good shooter with his feet set and he can get to the rim, but he's actually pretty awful in the mid-range.  UVA turned him into a pull-up jump shooter in the game in Pittsburgh and it was pretty much brilliant.  Patterson made one early shot and then bricked every two-point attempt the rest of the way.  Overplay just a touch and be ready to help once he takes that first step inside the arc.  You want him pulling up, and if you can get him to do so, he's mortal.

Patterson has launched 186 three-point shots this year, but there aren't many Panthers who won't try it out given the chance.  There aren't many who're real adept at it, either; Pitt shoots a respectable .361 from deep, but that's skewed by Patterson's .403.  Point guard James Robinson is fine, and backup shooting guard Josh Newkirk is much better than fine (shooting .457, which oddly is also his free-throw percentage.)  Cameron Wright, however, is lousy from deep, and his efficiency skyrockets inside the arc.  As well, most of Pitt's power forwards will give the deep ball a try at times, too; this behavior should be encouraged.

Down low, it takes a concerted effort to stop Talib Zanna, whose strength and athleticism is a major asset for Pitt.  The fact that he took just three shots was a big factor in the last game, and if UVA continues to be that effective at ball denial it'll be a real advantage.  The other starting forward, Michael Young, is much less fearsome, and simply physically not the player Zanna is.  His O-rating is rescued largely by outstanding free-throw shooting, so he's not the player you want to hack.  (Protip: Hack Zanna instead, or better yet, Newkirk or Derrick Randall.)

Plenty of weapons on this team, but UVA produced the blueprint to stopping them back in February.  Turning Patterson into a pull-up shooter is paramount.  Pitt won't help you out the way Florida State does, and sophomore PG Robinson is one of the players that broke the A/T ratio record in the conference this year.  But UVA's scheme matches up fairly well with the Panthers, and let's not fail to mention the potential fatigue factor either.

-- Outlook

Pitt had a pretty crappy finish to the regular season.  Home losses to Florida State and NC State; OT wins over Notre Dame and Clemson, and they let Boston College get pretty close as well.  They might've rediscovered a little mojo in the tournament, though.  Two straight 80-point games, starting with a thorough demolition of Wake Forest.  Fair to say this'll be a challenge.

UVA was the deeper team in February, though, and that sure didn't change.  And UVA earned the extra bye and ought to be able to make use of it.  I say, it's time to go play for a championship.

Final score: UVA 60, Pitt 54