Tuesday, April 15, 2014

basketball season in review, 2

Continuing the series begun last week.

#12 - Joe Harris - Sr. SF

This season: As predicted, Harris's raw numbers went down this year.  He scored less and rebounded less, and played fewer minutes too.  And as predicted, this was a good sign; it meant more reliance on a larger number of teammates.  Spread things out and it can only be a good thing.

Harris's shooting percentages were down across the board, too, though in the case of his three-point percentage, nobody would ever complain about a 40% success rate there.  People did wonder what happened to his free-throw shooting, as a normally extremely reliable shooter from the stripe suddenly seemed to brick way more than his share.  Despite that, his KenPom O-rating actually went up - most likely the result of reaching a career high for assist rate and a career low for turnover rate.  (Besides, if he'd shot .740 instead of .640 from the line, it would've meant less than one more make every three games.)

Even though Harris passed the end-of-game heroics torch, I think it's clear whose team this was.  Every year a basketball team finds a new identity; this year, it was easy to see Harris's fingerprints.  His ability to do just about anything well, nothing notably spectacular, and score in whatever way was necessary and expedient, that was essentially the whole offense in a nutshell, and the versatility Tony wants out of his guards.  He was just as likely to be setting a screen as running off of one, and you get the impression it never occurred to him to think it wasn't his job to screen for someone else.

We would also be remiss if we failed to remember that it was Harris's visit to Tony Bennett that instigated the famous turnaround.  Would Tony have made the changes on offense that he did, if Harris hadn't done that?  Who knows.  It's not worth the speculation.  Tony got the leadership he wanted out of his senior class, responded positively, and the rest is banners.

For his career, Harris finished with 1,698 points, good for 11th on UVA's all-time list, below Curtis Staples and above J.R. Reynolds.  Tremendous company.  No doubt exists in anyone's mind that between that and the trophies he brought home, the pantheon of UVA all-time greats added a new name this year, and his name is Joey Hoops.

Next season: Obviously, we will follow his professional career with great interest, though the NBA is a fringe possibility at best.  Chad Ford has him 99th out of 100 on that board of his.  UVA will definitely miss his scoring and leadership, but if the culture that we think exists, actually exists, someone will fill the void.  As long as we can find someone to shoot threes as good as he does.

#13 - Anthony Gill - So. PF

This season: We were promised that Tony had really dug up a gem in the South Carolina transfer, and I for one am not disappointed.  Gill brought a powerful scoring punch to the frontcourt, and coming off the bench, often found himself guarded by someone who was totally incapable of the task.

His favorite weapon was the face-up drive from the elbow; probably three-quarters of the guys guarding him couldn't stop that move.  Gill drew a ton of fouls this way; despite playing fewer than half the available minutes, he led the team in free-throw attempts, and with a .627 percentage from the line, wasn't stellar in converting them but was good enough to make it work.  (And he hit two of the year's absolutely hugest free throws, calmly knocking down both ends of a 1-and-1 against Pitt to turn a 1-point lead into a 3-point lead.  Justin Anderson's block finished off the win, but Gill's shooting set the scene.)

Gill was also a feisty offensive rebounder, and got more comfortable (and aggressive) on defense as the season went on.  He was credited with 20 blocks this season, 16 of which came after the Tennessee game and fully half of which came in ACC and NCAA tournament play plus the season-ending Maryland game.

Next season: Chances are very good that Gill makes the move to the starting lineup next year, and how he handles that transition is one of the biggest questions to be answered.  That's a twofold issue; the first part is, how will his offensive game evolve and will it continue to be as effective when always going against the other team's best?  The second is on defense, and how well he continues to absorb Tony's system.  That's still a work in progress, as there were occasions this year where you could catch him out of place.  In only his second year learning the ropes, that's not exactly a strike against him, but there'll be an expectation that he continues to eliminate those mistakes.  As already pointed out, that progress was on display even as the season continued, so there's no reason at all for pessimism.

And by the way, as Gill shot 39% on the occasional three-pointer while at South Carolina, it just might be that we should be on the lookout for Tony to let him incorporate that into his game too.  We'll see.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - So. SG

This season: Coming off a redshirt year induced by a stubborn foot injury, I fretted that that kind of injury could turn into a chronic thing, and I don't think anyone really knew for sure if his foot would hold up to a full season of 30-minute-a-game pounding.  At least, anyone outside the team.  Brogdon didn't play like he was exactly worried and Tony didn't play him like he was, either.

Obviously, it held up and nobody even thought about it after December.  After a freshman year as a complementary scorer, taking a backseat role to Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski - one in which he frankly turned the ball over too much - Brogdon burst back onto the scene as a new man and the Hoos' leading scorer.

Thanks to London Perrantes, Brogdon wasn't asked to be the primary ballhandler (though he did still continue to act as point guard at times), and could focus his efforts on the basket.  In ACC play and beyond he averaged 14.5 points a game, drilled any number of huge shots, and even occasionally put in an appearance on KenPom's top ten players in the country, showing up as high as #8.  He was an indispensable end-game player, as a near-automatic free-throw shooter, and his size and UVA's penchant for forcing outside shots allowed him to become a prolific rebounder for a guard.  Combine that with a flip-flopping of his assists and turnovers, and you have the profile of a new Top Dog for this team going forward.

Next season: There'll be only one senior, and he's almost certain to come off the bench, which means this is Brogdon's team now, and all that entails.  Doesn't get any simpler, or more complex, than that.

#23 - London Perrantes - Fr. PG

This season: On one of the message boards early this year, I don't even remember which one, someone posted that they loved that Perrantes had #23 because it meant he had guts and swag, picking Michael Jordan's number and all.  I wasn't particularly big on that idea, and still am not.  It's his play that earned the Cali Swag label.

Actually, "swag" is not how I'd describe it; Perrantes was simply cool and unflappable and brought a surprising innate basketball sense to the court.  So often with point guards, what they're doing right isn't really quantifiable, but you know it when you see it.  With Perrantes, it didn't take long to become clear that he was doing things right.

Perrantes started most games in the non-conference, but not the Tennessee game; he was put back in the starting lineup for the ACC slate, and a couple weeks later when he delivered a season-high 9 assists against UNC (and only one turnover) we were all wondering why he'd ever been out of the starting five.  But the real turning point of his season might've been the Virginia Tech game in Cassell Coliseum.  There, with UVA in real danger of being upset, Perrantes hit more three pointers (three) than he'd hit in the past seven games combined, and all at crucial junctures.  The rest of the season, that game inclusive, he was an incredible 24-for-39 from beyond the arc.  That's 61.5%.

With actual scoring - 8.7 ppg during that stretch - coming from the point guard position, UVA's offense was suddenly extremely hard to stop, and the O-rating started taking leaps and bounds every time out.  The offense was KenPom's 50th in the country going into that VT game, and 20th going into the final game of the year.  By that time, people were having second thoughts about whether Tyler Ennis really was the conference's best freshman point guard.

Next season: Perrantes has grabbed the starting PG job with a vengeance and probably won't let go til those pesky NCAA eligibility rules make him.  Expect him to be more assertive for his own shot next year, and expect that not to hurt his distributive skills one bit.

#25 - Akil Mitchell - Sr. PF

This season: Mitchell did a lot of things for the team.  He rebounded at a near-elite level, midseason he rediscovered his baby hook that worked so well for him last year, and he brought a fiery attitude to the court that was second only to Justin Anderson's.  (We won't mention the sometimes facepalm-inducing free-throws.)

Mitchell's real value, though: his picture-perfect understanding of Tony Bennett's defense.  It's so damn hard sometimes to find someone with such a combination of athleticism and court sense.  Mitchell was never, and I mean never, out of position.  He hedged on ball screens higher and harder than anyone and never fouled in the process.  He could take a ballhander practically over and back doing that and still recover to the paint in time.  He could double-team and recover in a flash, because while some guys have their shooting stroke committed to muscle memory, Mitchell had his defensive positioning there instead.

Not bad for a guy who was considered the biggest project of the whole six-man class.  Arguably, the defensive contributions Mitchell brought will be much harder to replace than Joe Harris.  Scoring is something a lot of people can do; exquisite defense is rarer.  It's also less memorable in the mind of the public at large, but if you named an all-defensive team from the annals of all UVA history, it's not complete without Mitchell.

Next season: Same as Harris, we wish only the very best in a possible (and almost certainly overseas) pro career.

#30 - Thomas Rogers - Sr. SG

This season: So I don't usually include the walk-ons in the picture, but Thomas Rogers provided the single best moment of the season by nailing a three to put the perfect cap on the Syracuse game.  This team won two different ACC titles and earned a #1 seed and was on the winning end of more than one big nailbiter and they were never so excited as when that three found the bottom without even stopping for the rim.  It proved that when they talked in interviews about winning for each other, there wasn't a fiber of canned cliche to it.

Next season: Has a UVA degree, and therefore is set for life.

#32 - Darion Atkins - Jr. PF

This season: Coming off of severe shin splints which derailed his sophomore year, Atkins unfortunately found himself in a no-man's land.  Not as good a defender as Mitchell nor as good a scorer as Gill, nor as big as Mike Tobey, Atkins appeared in every game but got pushed to the back of the rotation.  When in the game, at times there were flashes of the Atkins that started last season and was a terrifying force when paired with Mitchell.  But only flashes.

Next season: Mitchell leaves behind 26 minutes a game that need to be filled, and I don't picture Tobey and Gill picking up more than six each.  Even with two frontcourt freshmen coming into the picture, it'd be awfully surprising to see Atkins not add to the 10 minutes a game he got this year.  Some consider him a ripe candidate to transfer and play one season elsewhere, but he hasn't graduated (to my knowledge) and it would be somewhat surprising to see him sit for a year to play for a year.  (Part of the reason people think "transfer" is because Atkins never looks all that into the game, but his bored facial expression is just... that's just how he looks all the time.  When he goes flying to block a shot, which he does often enough, questioning his into-it-ness is a lot harder.)  Besides, the fact that Teven Jones announced his transfer means Tony has already had the "honest talk" with his team over their seasons and their anticipated roles.

So Atkins probably boosts his minutes to the 13-16 range.  Substantially more scoring out of him is not likely, but he'll be asked to haul in more rebounds, maybe even double his per-game total there.  He may have to fight off the newcomers Wilkins and Salt to be the first big off the bench, but he's got an obvious head start in the defensive system, which makes a big difference.


This concludes our look at the team itself.  Once the early entries to the NBA draft are all sorted out, then I can write something semi-coherent about an early look at next year's ACC.

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