Wednesday, November 26, 2014

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Friday, November 28; 8:00


Record against the Hokies: 37-53-5

Last meeting: VT 16, UVA 6; 11/30/13, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 30, Miami 13; WF 6, VT 3

Line: UVA by 1

(No injury report, at least not from me; it's too soon to know.)

Back in 2003, there was legitimate palpable excitement for this game.  Actually, there was legitimate palpable excitement for the program in general, the result of having a coach that came in and actually had more or less immediate success.  But the VT game had a very distinctive this-is-our-time feeling to it, which persisted even though VT was 8-3 and ranked, and UVA was 6-5, and not.  Yours truly was in the habit of staying home all of Thanksgiving weekend and driving back to school on Sunday, but instead I hightailed it back to Charlottesville that Friday and regretted it not in the slightest; rushing the field is a fine way to watch your last game as a student.  I don't know if we'd have been more or less excited about the win if we'd known it'd be the last one until ????; it's probably best we didn't know.

This year has that feeling again, albeit without the very strong future-is-bright feelings about the program.  It's more about the feelings surrounding the other program, which has managed to make Steve Fairchild not the least popular OC in the state.  The Hoos are even favored in Vegas, on the road no less, with the line moving quickly from one side of the ledger to the other.  It sets UVA football up for a real feel-good story if we win, and for a lot of angry fans and bad vibes if we lose - and even the latter situation could be channeled into something productive.  Neither program is even close to relevant on the national stage, but a lot more is going into this one than in turkey-games past.

-- UVA run offense vs. VT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 168 carries, 675 yards, 4.0 ypc, 4 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 81 carries, 348 yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
146.8 yards/game, 3.88 yards/attempt
91st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
154.6 yards/game, 4.09 yards/attempt
56th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Right up front, here's what you need to know about VT's defense: their safeties stink.  Many's the VT broadcast that's been interspersed with replays pointing out horrible decisions by their last line of defense, and you can bet that for every instance the announcers catch, they miss five or eight more.  This has been evident in both the run and passing game.

VT is normally pretty good against the run.  Those stats for this season aren't stellar, but they're certainly not bad.  Fact is, even if they don't have quite the linebacking talent they're used to, they do have a pair of defensive ends that wreck a lot of off-tackle attempts and sweeps and such.  Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem are legit.  Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams - the Hokie starting DTs, who rarely rotate out - aren't bad themselves, but when Tech gets gashed, and it happens a lot, it's usually right up the middle.  VT is in the top half of the country against the run overall, but has also given up 28 runs of 20+ yards - only four teams have allowed more.

You wonder if UVA can take advantage.  The Hoos found a lot of success on the edges against Miami.  Darius Jennings had a great day on the jet sweeps and end-arounds, and Taquan Mizzell ran well to the outside too.  Whenever UVA has a good day running the ball (which is relative, but hey) it's usually to the outside.  The inside hasn't borne much fruit all season.

The main hope is that Kevin Parks is cleared to play; if he is, he'll be one motivated dude.  Rather surprisingly, UVA didn't take to the air hardly at all in the second half last weekend, indicating perhaps a renewed interest in seeing what can happen on the ground.  Parks, if he's allowed to, ought to be able to snag one or two of those 20-yarders for himself, even if he's bottled up otherwise.

-- UVA pass offense vs. VT pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 139/229, 60.7%; 9 TDs, 10 INTs, 1,421 yards; 6.21 ypa

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 38 rec., 496 yards, 5 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 35 rec, 197 yards, 0 TDs
Kevin Parks: 28 rec., 166 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
232.8 yards/game, 6.50 yards/attempt
95th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
178.7 yards/game, 6.36 yards/attempt
29th of 128 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

This isn't a promising area of the game.  The run game is probably more likely to be productive; those decent-looking run-game numbers are puffed up by sacks, of which VT has a ton.  42, in fact, third in the country with almost four per game.  Nicolas and Ekanem each have 7.5, but Bud Foster is pretty well-known for being a mad scientist with the pressure he brings.  It's not Tenuta-style BLITZ EVERYTHING as much as mixing up which players are coming and which drop back.

That'll make things awfully damn tough on Greyson Lambert, who, yes, is finally the quarterback.  He's got to hope his O-line of rice paper can figure out the pressures and keep him protecting, while at the same time not accidentally throwing right at a linebacker who disappeared from sight and reappeared in front of the slot receiver just in time to meet the ball.  If that weren't enough, cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Chuck Clark have combined to defend 24 passes.

The bright spot: those safeties.  Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett make a lot of bad decisions.  If Lambert can be kept on his feet for a few extra seconds, it wouldn't hurt to try and chuck it once or twice or ten times.  The main thing is to limit short-range INTs and either move the ball very, very methodically or else 40 yards at a time.  I don't mind an arm punt here and there, but turnovers otherwise have to be limited because this isn't going to be a high-scoring game.

-- VT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
J.C. Coleman: 64 carries, 258 yards, 4.0 ypc, 2 TDs
Joel Caleb: 22 carries, 96 yards, 4.4 ypc, 0 TDs

VT offense:
137.7 yards/game, 3.58 yards/attempt
104th of 128 (national), 12th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
113.6 yards/game, 3.20 yards/attempt
16th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

Now's where things get fun.  To start with, Tech is thinner than thin at running back, having lost three of them to injury this year.  Among the regulars, only J.C. Coleman remains standing.  Marshawn Williams tore his ACL against Duke, Shai McKenzie did the same in September, and Trey Edmunds has a broken collarbone.  Edmunds was questionable for Wake Forest; he might return this week.

Plus, Tech's already unimpressive O-line took a hit when RT Jonathan McLaughlin was lost for the season a couple weeks ago.  Tech's running game is just this side of a shambles this year; it has actually managed to be worse than UVA's.  And while the barely-effective UVA run game is going up against a decent Tech defense, this side features an ineffective Tech run game against a top-notch defense.  VT has faced an equivalent defense in the recent past - and leaving out sacks and a 30-yard fake punt, the Hokies scratched out 43 yards on 25 carries.  You want to know why there's optimism for this game - this is it.

There's one potential wrinkle, and it's something VT fans are almost to the point of seeing if they can just run it the whole game: the read-option.  Michael Brewer has not endeared himself to the Hokie faithful, and they'd like to see Brenden Motley and the read-option, which they've run a few times with occasional success.  I'm not worried.  VT is not going to turn into the other Tech with a couple weeks worth of reps in the read-option.  Motley can do it, but it really has to be second nature and instinctive to work consistently, and VT isn't a read-option team.  And Wake Forest has nobody like Max Valles, who has been known to successfully defend both choices at once of a GT-style option play.

-- VT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Michael Brewer: 233/384, 60.7%; 15 TDs, 13 INTs, 2,363 yards; 6.15 ypa

Top receivers:
Isaiah Ford: 50 rec., 607 yards, 6 TDs
Willie Byrn: 41 rec., 347 yards, 0 TDs
Bucky Hodges: 39 rec., 456 yards, 6 TDs

VT offense:
224.3 yards/game, 6.23 yards/attempt
103rd of 128 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
232.2 yards/game, 7.12 yards/attempt
75th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

If there's one thing that worries me about VT's offense (and there really is only one) it's the Hokie receivers, who are pretty legit.  Isaiah Ford has looked very good this year, and Bucky Hodges is what people thought Logan Thomas would be as a tight end.

The problem is that Michael Brewer can't find them.  He's had his moments; the BC game would've been a disaster instead of just a basic loss if Brewer hadn't played awfully well.  But that was a blip in the most recent four-game stretch; his 345 yards were one more than he had in the other three combined.  He's not mobile, the O-line isn't great at protecting him, and he tends to be both inaccurate and late with his throws.  Oh, and outside of Ohio State, he hasn't faced a team with more sacks than UVA all year - and few teams with more picks, too.

I'd like to have Brandon Phelps back, it'd set my mind at ease a bit going up against Tech's receivers.  But I have to admit, the secondary played much better against Miami than I'd expected, especially as the game went on.  Ford is good, Hodges is good, but neither are they Sammy Watkins, and it may be a function of the quarterback, but Tech doesn't have that infuriating possession receiver a la Danny Coale on their roster this year.  Long story short here: VT fans are fed up with their offense, and for good reason - and the UVA defense is just the kind to take advantage.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 3
Run defense: 8
Pass defense: 8

Average: 5.75

-- Outlook

What happens when completely resistible force meets immovable object?  Friday's game.  Neither offense has impressed anyone this season, ever.  Both defenses are legitimately damn good.  This game will either be loaded with turnovers, punts, or both.  That'd be about par for the course; neither team has reached 20 points the last two years and it wouldn't surprise at all if that were the case again.  Remember that 2003 game?  UVA won it 35-21.  UVA has scored more than 14 points in this game once since then.  That's another trend that might not be broken - and the Hoos could still win.

In the realm of intangibles, we'd all feel a lot more comfortable, I'm sure, if the game were at home, but Tech hasn't successfully defended Lane Stadium this year against an ACC opponent.  Call me an incorrigible optimist at the end of it all, call me Charlie Brown kicking a football, but with a vulnerable opponent, a little bit of momentum, and a team likely motivated to keep their coach employed, the outlook finally looks good here.

-- Predictions

-- Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins the game.

-- Kevin Parks - or Khalek Shepherd, if Parks doesn't play - breaks out at least one 25-yard run.

-- The teams combine for eight sacks.

-- The teams combine for twelve punts.

-- UVA outgains Tech, both air and ground.

 Final score: UVA 16, VT 10

-- Other ACC games

-- Georgia Tech @ Georgia - 12:00 - The only game in ACC rivalry week where both teams are ranked.

-- Louisville vs. Kentucky - 12:00 - Frankly, we're halfway to an ACC-SEC football challenge by now.

-- Clemson vs. South Carolina - 12:00 - And the ACC would be favored, too.

-- Syracuse @ Boston College - 12:30 - Will have the makings of a decent rivalry as soon as Cuse gets their shit together.

-- NC State @ North Carolina - 12:30 - UNC got carried away in the traditional spray-painting of the trophy after beating Duke last week, and left quite a lot of Carolina blue all over the Duke visitors' locker room.  In defiance of the SACS-COC inquisition, all players received three credits toward an art degree.

-- Florida State vs. Florida - 3:30 - On paper this looks like a Seminole rout, but the Noles haven't been playing real strong football lately.

-- Wake Forest @ Duke - 7:00 - I'm still wondering how a kicker misses all those field goals and then drills a 49-yarder.

-- Pittsburgh @ Miami - 7:00 - On the one hand it'd be nice to see as many bowl-eligible ACC teams as possible, but a Pittsburgh win severely crimps my chances of seeing UVA play in my hometown, so, go Canes.  Interesting, by the way, for the battle between James Conner and Duke Johnson.

Monday, November 24, 2014

acc season sim

I'm going out of town for Thanksgiving, which means a pretty long holiday hiatus, which means if I'm gonna finish a preview of the VT game it's gotta be done tonight, which means if any other content is getting posted tonight it's gotta be short and sweet.  So I figured I'd whip up an old favorite a little early: the ACC season predictor.

This is one of my better spreadsheets, if I do say so myself: I can punch in the KenPom-given probabilities for each game and simulate 10,000 ACC seasons in seconds flat.  The only thing it can't do is the proper tiebreakers; instead, I just tiebreak using the KenPom rankings.  But otherwise it's pretty neato, it spits out each team's chance of landing in a particular seed in the ACC tournament.  Presented without a hell of a lot of comment is this season's first go-round:

I think the main conclusions for now are that there are three main contenders (Duke, Louisville, UVA) and three outside contenders, of which surprisingly Miami is one and Pitt is not.  And that the race for 9th could get very interesting.  9th is a good place to be because you get a bye straight to the 8th team; 10th is not bad either because playing VT is sort of like a bye too.  Drop to 11th, though, and not only does the quality of your opening-round opponent go way up, so does the quality of your next-round opponent.  Naturally, the end result in March won't look much like this, but it's fun to know where things stand anyway.

So, just as a programming note, don't expect anything between now and next week, except for one thing: the VT game preview, which I'll automate to run on Wednesday morning.  Have a very excellent Thanksgiving, and hopefully, an even better Friday night.  If things go well I get to come back and excitedly overanalyze the shit out of East Carolina or Illinois.  If things go even better I'll even get to watch from a Ford Field seat.

Here's the third iteration of the sim:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

a billion dollars and a pony

Thank you to all the thoughtful people who emailed or commented to inquire whether I did, in fact, wake one billion dollars richer this morning.  No.  And no adorable little Shetland adorns my doorstep, either.  But I have my THUNDERDOME game, and I'll happily settle for that.

The London era has been sadly lacking in decisive ass-beatings of ACC opponents.  I'd call this the third, following a 31-13 drubbing of 2-7 Maryland in 2011 and a 33-6 pasting of NC State in 2012.  What it hasn't seemed to lack is wins over Miami.  If not being able to beat Duke, UNC, and VT is a major irritant for UVA fans in the London era, not beating UVA must be getting tiresome for Miami fans in the Al Golden days.

Having become more than used to second half collapses in both wins and losses this year, probably the best part of yesterday was the realization that another one wasn't on the way.  Couldn't even pinpoint when that was, but the Hoos kept scoring and Miami kept not scoring, and I'm guessing the Miami fans watching the game gave up on a Miami comeback long before the UVA fans did.  If UVA's red-zone offense was halfway decent - they scored more field goals than TDs once inside the 20, and Ian Frye's longest kick was from a line of scrimmage at the 5 - this would've looked more like the woodshedding that it was.

So the world turns again.  Only college football has the ability to do that in one short game.  48 hours ago it crossed nobody's mind at all to ask which bowl game we might go to, because how silly.  Now I've found myself considering the possibility in all seriousness.  All of which is to say nothing of who will be the coach next year.  Could one simple game change the fortunes of a career?  Or at least, extend its life support another year?  We'll see, I guess.

But, first, Tech.  Thunderdome looms.  Two teams enter, one team leaves bowl eligible.  With the combination of beating hell out of Miami and Tech's spectacularly pathetic display of offense in Winston-Salem, this looks like the most winnable VT game since basically the last time we won it.  What's surprising is how many VT fans have already conceded it.  Their offense has been godawful this year and the idea of Max Valles and Eli Harold getting their cracks at Michael Brewer makes me giggle like a schoolgirl.  Brewer's stats aren't bad, but he sure doesn't pass the eye test, either.  Let the least bad team win a trip to Shreveport.

Bullety things:

-- Canaan Severin's catch: not bad.  And a 14-point swing in the game, too.  You could see the DB get saucer eyes from 700 miles away, and he had his arms all cradled and ready for that football; had it gotten there, he'd have been five yards downfield with a full head of steam before anyone else could put on the brakes to go that way.  I'm convinced it was ten seconds from being 14-3.  Instead it was a 10-7 lead that was 30-7 before Miami found the scoreboard again.

-- Alright, the goose thing was funny, but for my money the real humor was the announcers' inability to speak for laughing so hard.  Flat-out lost it is what they did.

-- I think there were more Miami fans in Scott Stadium than there would've been for a Miami home game.

-- No, I'm not giving out a free pass for 12 men on the field for the punt just because we won.  This is the sort of thing that explains why I don't support keeping London even if we finish this season 7-6.  That shit happens all the damn time.  London could fix that if he wanted to.  He just has to properly incentivize Larry Lewis to do it.  But it's clearly not a priority.  Attention to detail still escapes this coaching staff.

-- Admit it: when you watched the first half clock tick down with no timeout being called, "here we go again" was in your brain in neon flashing lights.  But I suspect that one was more on the refs.  London was visibly livid.  And while you really damn well ought to score a touchdown when you're that close to the end zone, I'll say this: Passing on third down was the right call.  Out of timeouts, a failed run play would've meant going to the locker room empty handed.

-- I've been critical, we've all been critical, of Taquan Mizzell, so credit belongs where credit is due for this one: Mizzell ran really well yesterday.  And Khalek Shepherd did a nice job as the workhorse when Parks went out of the game.  He doesn't have the beef to be a piledriver, but he ran awfully damn hard.

-- Bowl talk in all seriousness: The ACC splits up its bowls into four groups.  The first group is three or four bowls, depending, believe it or not, on whether the Big Ten puts a team into the Orange Bowl.  (If they do, an ACC team goes to the Citrus Bowl.)  We don't have to worry about this.  The second group is called Tier 1, a group of four bowls (ex-Tire, Sun, Pinstripe, and either Music City or ex-Gator) that don't have a pecking order and just have to figure it out amongst themselves who they'll invite.  If UVA wins this Friday, there's a very, very slim chance we could slide into one of those, but it'd be unlikely.

The next group is Tier II: the Military, Independence, and ex-Motor City, in that order.  A 6-6 UVA team would be 97% likely to land in one of these.  East Carolina is the clear fourth team in the AAC, which slots them right to the Military; a very safe bet in the event of a UVA win over Tech is a trip to DC to face ECU.  Next most likely, I think, is actually Detroit; this would probably happen if there's no Citrus (50/50 chance of that), and the top 7 slots get filled with FSU, Clemson, GT, Louisville, ND, Duke, and UNC.  And Pitt loses to Miami and doesn't go bowling.  BC might then be the choice of the Military; their fans are still in close enough proximity and they've had a better season.  Miami would be a natural choice for the Independence.  Detroit would be left with the Hoos.  As you can imagine, I'd be all over this.  I even have tickets already.  Won them at a Lions game.

-- Watching Frank Beamer exult over a missed short field goal that meant he didn't just lose 3-0 to the worst team in the ACC - well, the sadness of that display was immediately evident, so I wasn't surprised to see that picture more or less all over Twitterdom.  You want an image of the sorry state of VT football, that's your thousand words right there.  But in absolute fairness to the Hokies, their fanbase is livid over their 5-6 season and at least 80% of them want Beamer out the door right now - and our fanbase is looking at the same 5-6 record (except with a way worse last four years) and the majority is either supportive or at least accepting of the idea of keeping London around as a reward.  That too is a statement.

Prediction summary:

-- UVA allows at least three sacks.

-- And throws at least two picks.

-- Duke Johnson is held reasonably in check, averaging no more than 5.5 yards a carry.

-- Kaaya throws at least three passes of 30 yards or more.  Precisely zilch of these came true.  Also I picked the game's outcome as badly as possible.

Stats on the season:

20-for-54 on specifics (37%)
6-4 straight up (L)
4-4-1 ATS (L)

Friday, November 21, 2014

game preview: Miami

Date/Time: Saturday, November 22; 7:00


Record against the Canes: 5-6

Last meeting: Miami 45, UVA 26; 11/23/13, Miami

Last weekend: UVA bye; FSU 30, Miami 26

Line: Miami by 5.5

Injury report:


OUT: OG Ryan Doull, C Jackson Matteo, CB Demetrious Nicholson, OT Sadiq Olanrewaju, CB Brandon Phelps, OT Jay Whitmire
DOUBTFUL: S Kelvin Rainey, CB Divante Walker
PROBABLE: DE Trent Corney, LB Mark Hall


OUT: OL Taylor Gadbois, OL Alex Gall, PK Matt Goudis, S Rayshawn Jenkins, OL K.C. McDermott, FB Ronnie Regula, WR Rashawn Scott

It feels like ages since I even thought about football.  With the way things are going, I sort of liked it that way.  With only two games left, the season is right up on the brink.  There are some who think Mike London can save his job by winning the next two and going bowling; I'm not convinced of that, but I am convinced it shouldn't be that way.  My view: let's just win the next two and send London off in halfway decent style, and start over next year.  And if we lose this one, then for God's sake at least beat VT.  But, Miami first.

-- UVA run offense vs. Miami run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 165 carries, 669 yards, 4.1 ypc, 4 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 59 carries, 253 yards, 4.3 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
142.0 yards/game, 3.81 yards/attempt
94th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
130.1 yards/game, 3.44 yards/attempt
20th of 128 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

Miami's run defense is sort of averagely good; it's not spectacular, but it gets the job done.  The unit is led by linebacker Denzel Perryman in the middle, an excellent player who's headed for an all-ACC nod of some kind.  Miami rotates three linebackers in the other two spots, which limits the numbers for those guys, but they're all quality players; in fact, second on the team in tackles (after Perryman) is Jermaine Grace, the non-starter of the group.

The D-line doesn't have any big stars on it - Anthony Chickillo tends to get more praise from announcers than a guy with three tackles per game deserves - but it's big, particularly Chickillo.  With UVA's offensive line once again looking thin as rice paper, these guys could be in for big days.  I'd worry about Chickillo as a 280-pound senior DE, but I'd also expect our line to get stacked up more often than not.  (Then again, the last time we saw Steve Fairchild he was abandoning the run game with incredible gusto, so we might not even notice.)

-- UVA pass offense vs. Miami pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 122/204, 59.8%; 8 TDs, 9 INTs, 1,275 yards; 6.25 ypa

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 34 rec., 441 yards, 4 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 33 rec., 190 yards, 0 TDs
Kevin Parks: 28 rec., 166 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
241.5 yards/game, 6.54 yards/attempt
91st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
192.9 yards/game, 5.92 yards/attempt
14th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

Matt Johns hasn't thrown a pass in two of the last three games and wasn't all that good in the third; is it safe to say we've finally settled on a quarterback?  I think so.  Maybe.  Probably.  I think.

At any rate, the story's the same: Lambert has got to stop throwing interceptions.  Hard to do against Miami.  They're very average in terms of actual INTs, but the whole defense, from front to back, gets involved in batting passes down.  Very active hands, everywhere.  And QBs have been avoiding cornerback Ladarius Gunter like the plague.

Miami also brings a very good pass rush from all corners.  The sack leader is linebacker Thurston Armbrister with five, but most of the Canes' 25 sacks are spread out among the whole defense.  It's a bad sign, seeing an inexperienced offensive line trying to protect a quarterback when they can't be entirely sure where the rush is coming from.

All this adds up to an excellent pass defense, one of the best in the country.  By doing nothing spectacularly but everything well, Miami is a top-15 defense against air assaults.  Opposing teams have at times piled up the yards, but it takes a lot of passes to get there.  UVA's short passing game ought to work out OK, but I don't expect a lot of deeper stuff to be real successful.

-- Miami run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Duke Johnson: 185 carries, 1,343 yards, 7.3 ypc, 10 TDs
Joseph Yearby: 75 carries, 455 yards, 6.1 ypc, 1 TD

Miami offense:
197.0 yards/game, 5.55 yards/attempt
14th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
118.6 yards/game, 3.22 yards/attempt
13th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

Duke Johnson.  He's really good.  And lest you think we'll be out of the woods if Johnson hobbles off the field, the Canes have been using Joseph Yearby to good effect as well.  He's one of those hard-to-find short guys with some built-in power, not unlike Kevin Parks but with more speed.  The Miami O-line has been opening holes all season, and Johnson blows through them pretty hard.

So nothing fancy here.  Miami just wants to line up and let Johnson beat you down, and sends Yearby in to give Johnson a break.  Johnson is one of the toughest guys to tackle in the whole league.  This area of the game, of course, is UVA's one big bright spot, so Miami will find tougher sledding than they're used to; of the three ACC defenses better against the run than UVA, the Canes have only played one, and lost badly.

-- Miami pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Brad Kaaya: 160/267, 59.9%; 22 TDs, 10 INTs, 2,403 yards; 9.00 ypa

Top receivers:
Clive Walford: 33 rec., 522 yards, 7 TDs
Duke Johnson: 25 rec., 310 yards, 2 TDs
Phillip Dorsett: 23 rec., 662 yards, 7 TDs

Miami offense:
245.4 yards/game, 8.76 yards/attempt
9th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
229.2 yards/game, 7.03 yards/attempt
67th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Miami looked like they might be set to let transfer Jake Heaps run the offense, but they couldn't resist going with the true freshman Kaaya in the end, and it's paid off.  Kaaya has looked like a veteran this year - it helps to have such a good ground game opening things up for him, but nevertheless Miami has been able to strike deep and be very efficient overall.

Kaaya relies heavily on Clive Walford, one of the Canes' best receivers and their receptions leader, but the real star of the receiving corps is Phillip Dorsett.  With just 23 catches, Dorsett has piled up 662 yards, giving him an average of almost 29 yards a catch.  I mean holy crap.  Not the kind of player you want to be against when you have two starting cornerbacks sidelined.  Tim Harris got torched a few times earlier this year and Miami will be looking to go after him again.

For UVA, this is an area that's gotten progressively worse throughout the year, and this is not the opponent to fix that.  Johnson is also a pretty big part of the passing game (wouldn't you try and get him the ball in space, with momentum?) and I think UVA can slow that down pretty well, but the deep game is going to burn us several times.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 2.5
Pass offense: 2
Run defense: 5.5
Pass defense: 2.5

Average: 3.125

-- Outlook

I can't think of any good reason to be optimistic here.  UVA is simply overmatched, and badly.  Miami's a better team than its 6-4 record; they'll probably finish 8-4 and look a lot closer to where they should be.  They had a little bit of bad luck on the schedule, having to play two very tough crossovers and losing both.  The Canes are a team with no real weaknesses.  UVA has many.  I was hoping that Miami would win last week and set themselves up for a letdown after taking down huge rival FSU, but now they'll just be pissed off after the way they lost.

-- Predictions

-- UVA allows at least three sacks.

-- And throws at least two picks.

-- Duke Johnson is held reasonably in check, averaging no more than 5.5 yards a carry.

-- Kaaya throws at least three passes of 30 yards or more.

Final score: Miami 31, UVA 10

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Georgia Tech, NC State

UNC 45, Duke 20 - Thursday - With that game, the ACC CG is set: FSU vs. GT.  I think I had GT last in the Coastal.  Go me.

Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest - 12:30 - I'd like for us to beat Miami and VT to lose to Wake to set up the Bowl Eligibility Bowl in Blacksburg.  I'd also like a billion dollars and a pony.

Syracuse @ Pittsburgh - 3:30 - Pitt is also seeing their bowl eligibility hanging by a thread - and has to play Miami next week.

Louisville @ Notre Dame - 3:30 - Fight for Western Division superiority in the ACC.

Boston College @ Florida State - 3:30 - Potential letdown for FSU here, but the talent gap is too big.

Clemson vs. Georgia State - 3:30 - If sanity ruled the world this kind of game would be in September and FSU would be playing Clemson this weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

the recruit: Richard Burney

Name: Richard Burney
Position: TE
Hometown: Chesapeake
School: Hickory
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 230

24/7: 83, three stars; #51 TE, VA #42
ESPN: 72, three stars; #31 TE-Y, VA #48, East #215
Rivals: 5.5, three stars; VA #37
Scout: two stars

Other offers: Cincinnati, Buffalo

Time to get back into the business of recruit profiles after a very basketball-related hiatus.  Richard Burney is a tight end prospect out of the 757, significant because he represents a commitment (perhaps a belated one, but a commitment all the same) to recruit the TE position.  "We need tight ends" is more or less exactly the pitch he was given, too.  He could be yoinked over to the defensive side, as he also pulls double duty as a DE, but if this coaching staff holds on, then I doubt it.

Burney has good prototypical size for a tight end; he's 6'4" or 6'5" depending on where you look, and 6'5" is probably the safer bet because he doesn't seem to have stopped growing yet.  He put on 20 pounds this year; Recruit757 was calling him 210 back in the spring.  Not that he's got NFL-level athleticism right now, but the way he looks in terms of size and usage reminds me of Brandon Pettigrew.

Because of this, he appears to complement nicely with our other TE recruit, Tanner Cowley.  He's actually bigger than Cowley, but looks like the better athlete; Cowley's blocking is better than his pass-catching.  Burney's the other way around.  Though not elite at all, he's got potential.  (On the other hand, ESPN's evaluation says "looks to give some effort as a blocker" which just set a new record for damnation with faintest praise.)

It's unfortunately difficult to get excited over Burney's credentials, though.  His ratings slightly outpace his offers, but not much; ESPN and Scout are really bearish, Rivals is lukewarm, and 24/7 is a notch above that.  There's no injury history or lack of camping to explain away his short offer list; he went to Wisconsin (he's a Badger legacy, actually, his dad played in Madison) and VT and came away empty.  Cincinnati offered, but neither party seemed too excited about the other.

Regardless, he's going to be needed.  We've already gone over that I don't think Mario Nixon is going to see the field, Rob Burns is a ghost, and Zach Swanson is graduating.  There's no reason to think Evan Butts isn't a legitimate option, but he's redshirting, so his skills remain a mystery.  And Cowley is well behind Burney in terms of field-ready size, though there's still nearly a year to go.  I think Burney comes in with a slight lead over Cowley for playing time, and could easily see him on the field next season.  Depends on how many TEs the coaches decide to use.  We're basically looking at four scholarship TEs next year, none of whom have any incumbency in the job.  If there were any four-star prospects coming in they'd probably be thought of as the likely starter, so there's no reason Burney can't at least compete, if not just surprise everyone and win the job.

Monday, November 17, 2014

first impressions

If the Hoos are gonna do anything this year that even remotely resembles last year, it'll take important contributions from freshmen.  We knew that going in; the exciting thing was finding out who could do what, and who would step up the highest.  Tony Bennett likes to keep things under heavy wraps during the fall, so this weekend was our first really good look at how he planned on using these guys and what they could do.

Obvious and screaming caveat about quality of competition remains.  Neither JMU nor NSU provide anything resembling a real test.  We might be able to make better predictions a week from now, with the GW game in the books.  But this post is going to be largely about comparing the freshmen to each other, so this is still plenty useful.

The rotation is the most important thing, and it has very little to do with the competition.  Tony gave us a lot of info after the Norfolk State game.  Still figuring things out, yes, of course - Tony has always used the early part of the season to figure things out, and doing so is a feature, not a bug.  Basketball teams are chemistry experiments, especially with so many new ingredients.  He always manages to have things right by the time an ACC opponent rolls into town.

Second, he mentioned a 10-man rotation, at least for now.  Jack Salt didn't play a minute, even when the bench was emptied, so it don't take a rocket surgeon to riddle that one out.  B.J. Stith got a few minutes, but some of them came with the walk-ons, and the rest of them in that mid-first-half area where the back-end guys go in sometimes.  With a 10-man rotation, and 10 scholarship players getting double-digit minutes and the other one getting a handful, it shouldn't be hard to figure that out either.  Stith is the odd man out of the rotation, at least for now.  He'll almost certainly pick up a bagload of DNP-CDs this year.

(Tangent: I don't mind this, by the way.  Most everyone's instinct is to say that if he's not going to give us meaningful minutes, he should redshirt, end of discussion.  Yes, it makes sense to want that fifth year out of him, but keep in mind this, too: basketball players transfer at the drop of a hat, and always think they should be playing.  Most programs try to keep everyone happy by juggling 13 players, and sometimes that works and usually it doesn't, and players leave.  Coaches tend to over-promise when they're recruiting.  Tony's never anything but up front with these guys, and doesn't redshirt anyone who's not OK with it.  If someone tells him they don't want to redshirt and they'll take their chances with whatever minutes Tony dishes out, and Tony redshirts them anyway, well.... five years is better than four, but four is better than two.)

So that leaves three newcomers to the rotation: Hall, Shayok, and Wilkins.  Hall appears to be following the lead of London Perrantes a bit, by which I mean he looks for his own shot about as often and at similar times.  But I think there are signs he'll be considered the superior defender by season's end.  One of those signs is probably the "5" in the JMU game steals column.  He's more aggressive than Perrantes, who's one of the team's more conservative defenders.  Getting five steals while only fouling once, that's outstanding.

Shayok, now.  Main thing I thought he showed off was an ability to score a lot of different ways.  He wasn't afraid to launch a three, and he looked comfortable going to the rim too.  "Versatile" was the word on him, and he looked it.  Everyone from Tony on down warned against falling in love with the three-ball after the NSU game, but the fact is, it's nice to know they might actually be able to shoot it.

Shayok looked pretty good on defense, too, but so far my favorite of the three main newcomers is Wilkins.  And defense, of course, is the reason.  Wilkins shot down two NSU attempts in one possession, but that wasn't my favorite play - an NSU player attempting to drive met with a Wilkins shot-block without Wilkins even having to move his feet.  Yes, it was my imagination, but I swear I saw Wilkins give the guy a "really?" look before tossing the shot back where it came from.  This is to say nothing of his JMU stat line, one which made the Swiss Army knife characterization look awfully prescient.  Wilkins could be a big piece of the replacement puzzle for Akil Mitchell.

The missing link in all this analysis is that nothing the Dukes or Spartans did was able to expose any real weaknesses on these guys.  It's easy and unfair to get swept away in expectations.  But the truth is, Tony was able to use his freshmen and not see a scary-looking drop in quality of play.  That's reassuring.  Shayok and Wilkins looked the best of the bunch, but they all looked like they belonged.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 hoops preview: ACC overview

The final post before basketball season opens for really reals.  First I refer you to two other posts: one from a couple weeks ago detailing the players of the ACC, and then, last year's post of this very kind so that I don't have to repeat my methodology.

To start, here's the average ranking given by each of the three ratings systems - TeamRankings, Dan Hanner, and KenPom.  This isn't poll-style, these are the averages of the national rankings, ordered top to bottom.

1) Duke -- 3.0
2) Louisville -- 3.7
3) Virginia -- 8.7
4) North Carolina -- 18.7
4) Syracuse -- 18.7
6) Pittsburgh -- 23.7
7) Florida State -- 42.7
8) Notre Dame -- 57.7
9) Miami -- 58.0
10) NC State -- 61.0
11) Clemson -- 71.3
12) Georgia Tech -- 111.0
13) Wake Forest -- 114.0
14) Boston College -- 123.7
15) Virginia Tech -- 148.7

-- It seems pretty clear who the raters think are the league's top three contenders, followed by a second tier who have at least an outside shot.  It's also pretty cool that UNC is one of the latter and not the former.

-- Both Duke and Louisville are picked by one system as the nation's top team.

-- There's an obvious and huge drop-off after #6, and again after #11 - as with last year, the league sorts out into some pretty clear levels.  These averages weren't perfect as far as predicting the exact finish order, but who would expect that?  They did succeed pretty well at getting the tiers right, with only a couple errors - ND being the largest, in no small part because of Jerian Grant's suspension.

-- It's still a pretty imprecise science.  Hanner has ND and Miami at 34 and 39, respectively; TeamRankings, 69 and 78.

-- In case you're curious, VT isn't quite the total disaster they were last year; Hanner has them 13th in the ACC.  (Frankly, I think Buzz Williams will win them a few games.)

So, who has the easiest schedule?  Well, we'll use the same methodology as last year, and....

1) Virginia -- 65.38
2) Clemson -- 63.72
3) Florida State -- 63.67
4) Miami -- 63.25
5) Syracuse -- 62.31
6) Notre Dame -- 61.79
7) Duke -- 61.17
8) Pittsburgh -- 56.93
9) Georgia Tech -- 56.50
10) North Carolina -- 55.32
11) NC State -- 55.23
12) Louisville -- 52.92
13) Wake Forest -- 51.04
14) Virginia Tech -- 47.57
15) Boston College -- 47.56

Yup.  I suppose we should prepare ourselves for another year of "unbalanced schedule" whining.  If Maryland were still here it'd be even easier - the number for UVA would be up over 68.

You expect this to line up sort of from best to worst teams, based on not getting to play oneself, so Louisville's placement so far down is notable.  They have UVA, Pitt, and UNC twice (plus Miami, so none of the really junky teams) and Syracuse on the road.  Florida State could also be sneaky good.  Meanwhile, calling UNC a top-ten team, as the polls do, probably means they're overrated - a tough schedule and a bit off the ratings pace.

At any rate, it's easy to see why we should be optimistic.  The schedule works in our favor again, if piling up wins is your thing.  Wake and VT twice, as well as NC State - three teams in the bottom half of the league and two of the three worst.  Duke at home, as well as Pitt and FSU.  Add in all the returning talent, brilliant coaching, and the numbers all tell you what you already know:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2014 hoops preview: OOC schedule

Hoops preview continues with the usual study of the out-of-conference opponents.  Ahead of time I'll spill this one secret: it's a darn solid schedule.  A couple notes: KenPom is KenPom, and Hanner is Dan Hanner, who used to provide comprehensive preseason rankings for ESPN and has now taken his talents to SI.  Hanner doesn't actually provide a pythagorean win percentage the way KenPom does, but he has offensive and defensive efficiency in the same format,

James Madison
Colonial Athletic Association

'13-'14 record: 11-20 (6-10)
'13-'14 postseason: None
'13-'14 KenPom: .2864 (8th of 9 CAA, 265th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 10)

Preseason poll: 5th
ESPN: 7th
SI: 8th
KenPom: 7th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .4098 (221st)
Hanner: .3689 (254th)

Chances of winning: Extremely high

This is a team in shambles.  JMU has no seniors, got slammed by transfers during the offseason, and of the players that did return, two will still miss the UVA game, having been suspended about a month ago.  One is top scorer Andre Nation, who's far and away JMU's best player when on the court, but he can't seem to stay out of the doghouse.  Throw in the suspension of Tom Vodanovich, the transfer of Taylor Bessick, and the graduation of Andrey Semenov, and JMU will also be awfully light on experienced big men.  Add in the horrendous three-point shooting, and things do not look bright.  Those preaseason ratings assume Nation will be around - he won't, not for a while - and the Dukes are much more likely to finish closer to the more pessimistic projections.  Even without London Perrantes and Evan Nolte, both suspended for the opener, and even playing this game on the road, the Hoos should roll.

Norfolk State
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

'13-'14 record: 19-15 (11-5)
'13-'14 postseason: CIT 1st round
'13-'14 KenPom: .3104 (4th of 13 MEAC, 253rd of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 13)

Preseason poll: 4th
ESPN: 3rd
SI: 10th
KenPom: 4th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .2864 (278th)
Hanner: .1468 (339th)

Chances of winning: Near-lock

I approve, by the way, of going on the road to play JMU.  Road wins help your RPI the same whether it's Duke or Somalia State, so boosting your RPI by taking an hour-long bus ride to play a team who doesn't have a snowball's chance, that's an easy decision.  For teams like Norfolk State, a roadshow would make even more sense.  Take the game to a neutral site like Scope - an easy pitch for Norfolk State - and get out in front of the fans (and, not coincidentally, recruits) around the state.  If, say, you happen to be recruiting a future five-star player, and that future five-star player happens to go to school about a 15-minute walk from said neutral-site arena, this hypothetical kind of game could only help.

But I digress.  Norfolk State.  There's a funny outlier in those projections, and I suspect it's because Hanner's ratings don't take transfers into account as much as a human poll voter might.  NSU lost six sizable contributors to graduation, including very talented scorer Pendarvis Williams, and brought in a number of transfers to help fill those gaps.  Where their scoring will come from now is anyone's guess, though.  They do get back their point guard, Jamal Fuentes, and PF RaShid Gaston is a heck of a rebounder.

South Carolina State
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

'13-'14 record: 9-21 (5-11)
'13-'14 postseason: None
'13-'14 KenPom: .0926 (13th of 13 MEAC, 345th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 13)

Preseason poll: 12th
ESPN: 12th
SI: 8th
KenPom: 11th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .1293 (339th)
Hanner: .1862 (323rd)

Chances of winning: Lock

Presenting the worst team on the schedule.  The MEAC is a really bad conference and SC State made a habit of getting blown out by their conference-mates last year.  They couldn't shoot a lick, turned the ball over constantly, and lost to graduation almost everyone with an O-rating that was even approaching halfway decent.  The only thing that kept them from being KenPom's worst offense in the country was their offensive rebounding; the Bulldogs crash the glass awfully hard.  Of course that meant transition opportunities for their opponents, but hey.  Featuring wing Devin Joint in the offense more than they did last year could help, but if this team scores 50 on Tony Bennett's pack-line, it'd be a major upset.

George Washington
Atlantic-10 Conference

'13-'14 record: 24-9 (11-5)
'13-'14 postseason: NCAA 9 seed; lost in 1st round
'13-'14 KenPom: .7845 (5th of 13 A-10, 47th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 14)

Preseason poll: 2nd
ESPN: 3rd
SI: 4th
KenPom: 4th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .7403 (62nd)
Hanner: .7330 (62nd)

Chances of winning: Good, but no guarantees

Interesting matchup, considering that this is the might-have-been from last year's tournament; GW played Memphis fairly tight in a well-matched 8/9 game that the Colonials made interesting at the end.  They've got a good shot at getting back to this year's tourney, too.  A couple high scorers are gone, but GW spread the scoring around so much that they should be able to absorb the losses just fine.  Center Kevin Larsen is a load inside, and he and wing Patricio Garino are very efficient interior scorers.  Kethan Savage can really get to the rim as well, and has a pretty good midrange game.  Point guard Joe McDonald does a nice job running the show.  Garino was a first-team selection to the preseason all-conference team, and Savage, third team.

GW plays good defense too.  If they have a weakness, it's outside shooting, as over three-fifths of their attempts have graduated, and even more of their makes.  Along with that goes free-throw shooting; they weren't much last year and the leftover players were the ones bringing them down.  Still, the Colonials are well-rounded with good depth, and are easily the biggest test of the early season.

Tennessee State
Ohio Valley Conference

'13-'14 record: 5-25 (4-12)
'13-'14 postseason: None
'13-'14 KenPom: .2371 (9th of 12 OVC, 260th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 12)

Preseason poll: tied for last
ESPN: 12th
SI: 12th
KenPom: 11th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .2058 (311th)
Hanner: .1306 (346th)

Chances of winning: Massive

Another team that Hanner puts at the very dreggy bottom of the country due largely to roster losses; the thing about Tennessee State, though, is that everyone else basically agrees.  Exactly one scholarship player returns after a coaching change: undersized shooting guard Jay Harris, who doesn't shoot well at all but at least takes care of the ball.  The rest of the team is jucos and freshmen.  All that turnover makes it pointless to look at what they did last year, although the five-win season certainly seems repeatable.

La Salle
Atlantic-10 Conference

'13-'14 record: 15-16 (7-9)
'13-'14 postseason: None
'13-'14 KenPom: .6226 (10th of 13 A-10, 105th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 14)

Preseason poll: 7th
ESPN: 7th
SI: 7th
KenPom: 8th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .6387 (101st)
Hanner: .6557 (98th)

Chances of winning: Good to very good

If you do enough digging, you can find me on record saying I'd like for our OOC schedules to feature more teams from conferences like the A-10.  (And actually, George Washington is one of the teams I had most in mind.)  I'm getting my wish this year for sure; this is the second of four A-10 teams.  This is the first round of a mini-tournament in Brooklyn, so depending on the outcome of this one, we'll play either Rutgers or Vanderbilt the next day.  So, probably Vanderbilt, though they're not what they were a few years ago.

La Salle made a deep tourney run a couple years ago, but the A-10 got awfully tough last year and the Explorers couldn't keep up.  Almost every backcourt minute from last year is gone, so La Salle will be a much more interior-oriented team this year.  Jerrell Wright and Sam Zack are excellent rebounders and provide a challenge up front, and Wright is a beefy guy who's tough to guard.  Auburn transfer Jordan Price, once a biggish name as a recruit, is going to have to pick up a lot of backcourt slack, though.  La Salle simply won't be able to duplicate the scoring they once got on the perimeter.

Big Ten Conference

'13-'14 record: 17-15 (9-9)
'13-'14 postseason: None
'13-'14 KenPom: .7972 (6th of 15 ACC, 40th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 14)

Preseason poll: 10th
ESPN: 8th
SI: 6th
KenPom: 7th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .8190 (33rd)
Hanner: .8198 (33rd)

Chances of winning: Decent

You just know those assholes at ESPN marked this game down for the ACC/B1G Challenge the moment the Twerps announced their move to the Big Ten, and told the conferences to schedule it.  Don't give the defending ACC champs a top-tier opponent or anything.

Maryland got slammed with transfers over the offseason, losing familiar names like Seth Allen, Nick Faust, and Shaq Cleare.  Five players in all left for different pastures.  Maryland may not have Evan Smotrycz for the UVA game, either, as he'll be nearing the end of his recovery time for a broken foot.  The team is being rebuilt around Smotrycz, plus veterans Dez Wells and Jake Layman, who are being surrounded with one of the country's more highly-regarded recruiting classes.  The class is highlighted by shooting guards Romelo Trimble and Dion Wiley, top-10 or -12 at their position, both.

The game is dangerous since it's on the road, I guess giving the legendarily rude Maryland student section a chance to shake newspapers that say B1G on them or something.  UVA should still be favored, though.

Atlantic-10 Conference

'13-'14 record: 26-9 (12-4)
'13-'14 postseason: NCAA 5 seed; lost in 1st round
'13-'14 KenPom: .8865 (1st of 13 A-10, 17th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 14)

Preseason poll: 1st
ESPN: 1st
SI: 1st
KenPom: 1st

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .8650 (17th)
Hanner: .8640 (18th)

Chances of winning: Tossup

The second tough road challenge in a row for UVA, and both the last road game of the OOC and last game before the dreaded finals break.  VCU is no longer a novelty; they're unanimously considered the class of a tough conference and a top-25 team.  They'll bring mostly the same team that beat UVA on its own home court last year.  Treveon Graham could be one of the nation's highest-scoring players, given the pace at which VCU prefers, and Briante Weber is only a decent scorer but led the country in steals percentage.  A little more time to gel than we had last year should be a big help, but being on the road (even only an hour away) against an almost certain tournament team like this one makes this the toughest test of the OOC schedule.

Cleveland State
Horizon League

'13-'14 record: 21-12 (12-4)
'13-'14 postseason: CIT 1st round
'13-'14 KenPom: .6818 (2nd of 9 HL, 88th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 9)

Preseason poll: 2nd
ESPN: 2nd
SI: 2nd
KenPom: 2nd

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .6809 (89th)
Hanner: .6503 (103rd)

Chances of winning: Very good

That Viking is peering over the wall to see if Will Sherrill is gone yet.  Sherrill used Cleveland State as a springboard to a full-fledged spot in the rotation, way back in Tony's first year, mercilessly raining threes on them in Cancun, Mexico.  He's not suiting up any more, but CSU also has a few losses of their own that they'll have to overcome if they want to live up to their rep as "league favorite if not for Green Bay."  Prolific scorer Bryn Forbes transferred on up to Michigan State, and incredibly efficient sharpshooter Jon Harris graduated.  Cleveland State still returns a lot of points per game, but not that much efficiency, and could underperform because of it.

Midget point guard Charlie Lee would have an O-rating through the roof if he'd stick to shooting jumpers, but top returning scorers Trey Lewis and Anton Grady have a bit of that volume scorer in them.  Plus, Grady's a fouler, as is wing Marlin Mason, in line for a big minutes increase to help replace Forbes.  Cleveland State is a popular pick to do very well in their league, but they're not much of a match for UVA, and I think they're at risk of not living up to those expectations.

Ivy League

'13-'14 record: 27-5 (13-1)
'13-'14 postseason: NCAA 12 seed; lost in 2nd round
'13-'14 KenPom: .8435 (1st of 8 Ivy, 32nd of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 8)

Preseason poll: 1st
ESPN: 1st
SI: 1st
KenPom: 1st

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .8267 (30th)
Hanner: .8294 (30th)

Chances of winning: Respectable

Like VCU, Harvard is the unanimous pick for champions of their conference, and not just because the rest of the Ivy plays at usual Ivy League levels.  You get that privilege when you beat Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament and then return most of your core.

The really notable thing about Harvard is actually their defense; specifically, they're good at defending and getting steals without fouling.  That goes especially for their backcourt combo of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, the latter of whom is the reigning Ivy POY, a big, lanky guard expected to both carry the scoring load and shut down opposing scorers.  The Crimson also get really good all-around play from forward Steve Moundou-Missi, who can rebound a ton and not only draws a lot of fouls, but shoots the resulting free throws very well too.

The other interesting thing is that it's the second might-have-been game of the OOC season; Harvard actually had a short-lived second-half lead (following a furious rally that ended around the seven-minute mark) on Michigan State in their tourney game last year.  It's too bad we don't play the Sleeping Eagles of Winthrop, as we have in years past - that's who Coastal Carolina beat in their Big South championship game.

Atlantic-10 Conference

'13-'14 record: 20-13 (15-1)
'13-'14 postseason: NIT 7 seed; lost in 1st round
'13-'14 KenPom: .5928 (1st of 11 SoCon, 120th of 351 nat'l)

Conference projections: (out of 14)

Preseason poll: 12th
ESPN: 12th
SI: 11th
KenPom: 13th

Preseason ratings: (out of 351)

KenPom: .5483 (139th)
Hanner: .5727 (133rd)

Chances of winning: High

Being the class of the Southern Conference for a very long time earned Davidson an impressive step up in conference affiliation, perhaps the biggest leap of any team in conference realignment.  They also managed to make the move at the most inopportune time: after graduating De'Mon Brooks, who came in just shy of 20 ppg last year.

The A-10 is a tough conference to get ahead in, but the Wildcats might just have a chance.  Guards Tyler Kalinoski and Brian Sullivan are ready to take on the featured roles; it was actually those two, and not Brooks, who performed best in the loss to UVA last year.  Jordan Barham shot .644 from two last year, in relatively limited minutes, and should also be ready to step up some.

That said, Davidson also is going to rely on a long list of freshmen as well, which is partly what causes all the punditry to drop them so low - that, and a defense that isn't what you'd call stout.  If they fix that defense, I think they could move closer to the middle of the conference pack than these projections have them, but the A-10 is a conference that splits its teams between national contender and mid-major statuses, and Davidson is definitively the latter.


The bottom line with this schedule: I like it lots.  The riffraff is kept to a minimum.  You should always include some dreggish guaranteed wins, but I'd only put four or five teams in that category, which is fine.  Then you have a few semi-challenges, and four that I'd call really interesting matchups.  Including (sigh) Maryland.  The reason I'm bitchy about that is that it deprives us of a marquee game, which this schedule lacks.  There's no one to get a hype machine started, which is what something like MSU would've accomplished.  The closest thing to a marquee attention-getter is VCU.

Regardless, a successful run against this schedule will look good come resume time.  Going undefeated against it isn't out of the question; 11-1 or 10-2 would still be just fine for the selection committee.  There are several teams here that will rip through their conference schedules, or at least are expected to, which fluffs up the ol' RPI.  Five of the twelve games (including the Rutgers/Vandy game) are on the road or at neutral sites, accomplishing the same.  We're doing things that I think we should do all the time - go on the road inside the state, play teams from DC and Philly, pick opponents who are beatable by us but not by most teams in their conference.  Bring it the hell on.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 hoops preview: players, part 2

It's a bye week in football, so we get to talk basketball all week long.  Don't act like you're not excited.  I'll have a couple quick things on the FSU game at the end here.  Today we'll continue the series on each player.  Tomorrow, the OOC schedule, and on Wednesday or Thursday, another look back at the ACC itself.  Stuff gets real on Friday, but sadly that game isn't televised, so most of us will have to wait til Sunday to get our first look.

#11 - Evan Nolte - Jr. PF

Nolte's an interesting case.  It's very fair to say that other than the freshmen who we haven't seen at all, he has the least predictable role on the team, and even then, it's not like we don't know what Devon Hall or Jack Salt are here for.

I even hesitated as to whether to call him a power forward or a small forward, but based on his usage during the tourney last year, power forward it is.  Nolte basically spent most of the season living up to the preseason expectations of reduced usage and a hazy role; his minutes were cut down to less than half of what they'd been the year before.  Then the tourney rolled around and all of a sudden it was like he'd never left.  Clutch shots against Coastal, posterization of some Memphis dude, and major-league defensive responsibilities against MSU, in which he looked like he'd been doing this power forward thing all his life.

Did we see a true metamorphosis, or just a well-timed hot streak?  Hard to say.  Nolte is one of the classicest tweeners you'll ever see, and what still remains to be seen as he goes into the second half of his career is whether he's on the good or bad side of that description.  Both his defense and offense are part of that equation.  We know he can shoot from deep, and he'll probably never be a back-to-the-basket player, but he's also flashed an occasional midrange game that would come in awfully handy if he develops it.  And on defense, we know he's not all that quick, but if he can defend in the post a little, he can be one of those really frustrating floor stretchers on the other end.  What he can't do is get knocked around on defense and expect to float to the edges on offense.

We'll see if he's hit the weight room.  Against MSU he played harder than we've seen him play in two years, and the results were a really pleasant surprise.  I think the most likely outcome for Nolte is that it takes him all year to really be comfortable as a banger and as an elder statesman on the team, and that his senior year is when he really hits full bloom.  But Tony has a way of coaxing development out of his players, and you shouldn't be surprised to see that timeline accelerated.  Mark these words: if UVA has another really stratospheric season like last year, it'll be in no small part because Nolte became a whole new ballplayer.

#13 - Anthony Gill - Jr. PF

On a points-per-minute basis, Gill was the most efficient scorer on the team last year, and it's no wonder.  He turned out to be just as advertised from his redshirt season, and usually got to go up against second-stringers, which was never a fair matchup.  Better yet, you could see his defense improve as the season wore on, and his minutes saw a parallel uptick.

The obvious question here is how well he handles the near-certain move to the starting lineup.  He'll be asked to guard all those guys that Akil Mitchell guarded so well last year, and score on them too, in a way that wasn't asked of Mitchell as much.  He's not the athlete Mitchell was, but he's quite a bit stronger, and his defensive style will definitely reflect that.  

It's a really simple equation: all that stuff you did last year, do it against better players.  But Gill is entering his fourth season in a college program, and there's little doubt he can handle it.  He could see up to an extra eight minutes a game (though about five is more likely); we may not see a corresponding increase in all his numbers, but they'll still go up, and he should find himself in the conversation for some all-ACC recognition if all goes well.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - Jr. SG

Pacism is slowly evaporating from national analyses.  Maybe not so slowly now that Tony's choke-you-to-death style has proven capable of elite results.  Proof: Malcolm Brogdon is 22nd in ESPN's countdown of the top 100 players in the country.  "No weaknesses" is their blunt assessment.

So a lot is expected of him.  With Joe Harris gone, this is Uncle Malcolm's team.  Like Gill, he's entering his fourth year of college ball, and has developed into one of the physically strongest backcourt players in the league, maybe the strongest.  He'll be asked to score from everywhere, with the focus of the defense squarely upon him.  Considering that he made some cameo appearances in KenPom's top ten rating - as in, players in the whole country - there's every reason to expect him to become not just UVA's marquee player, but one of the ACC's as well.  He doesn't wear the right shade of blue, so his path to ACC POY is steeper than for certain others, but first team all-ACC is the expectation.

#21 - Isaiah Wilkins - Fr. PF

Wilkins has a unique challenge among freshmen, in that he has more established players in his way than the rest of them.  Some of them (Stith/Shayok) are in each others' way, others (Hall, Salt) have a defined position with only one other player (albeit a core rotation member) in front.  Wilkins is a power forward, which means that Gill, Atkins, and most likely Nolte are all squarely in front of him in the pecking order.

The good news for him: Jack Salt is a likely redshirt, and Tony's nine-man rotation tends to prefer four backcourt and five frontcourt guys.  Makes sense.  Last year's five-man frontcourt rotation saw three players (Mitchell, Gill, Tobey) get the lions' share of the minutes, and Nolte and Atkins pick up a few each.  Well, now there's 25 of Mitchell's minutes to figure out, and I think you can count on Wilkins getting a few of them.

Probably at first it'll be one of those mid-first-half deals where you toss a guy in where it's not really crunch time and you need to keep your starters fresh.  In his commitment profile I called him a Swiss Army knife of a player; he doesn't blow you away with shooting range or power and strength, but he's athletic, long-armed, and energetic, and should do a nice job on defense as long as he's got the system down enough to be out there.  There's a lot of veteran experience in front of him and he'd have to pull a shocker to start chipping into their playing time significantly this year, but I think there's a little bit of an Akil Mitchell to him, and we know how that turned out.

#32 - London Perrantes - So. PG

The surprise of the season last year, for sure.  It was almost immediately apparent, the effect Perrantes had on the offense when he took it over, and from the beginning it seemed like he belonged - largely because he acted like it.  He didn't even make a single two-point shot in any of the first eight games and he still was making the offense run smoother than it had in a long time.  And even when the offense changed after the Tennessee beatdown, it didn't faze Perrantes or his ability to make it go.

This is Brogdon's team, but with just the one year in the program, Perrantes is assuming a leadership role.  (Though, one does wonder what on earth he did to get suspended for the JMU game.  It's a little reminder that he's still not quite a finished product.)  That leadership should also translate into a little more assertiveness with the ball.  He's obviously a huge piece of the equation, but KenPom's algorithms credit him with the offensive impact of Taylor Barnette because he finishes so few possessions and shoots so little.  Partly that's good - it means limited turnovers - but Perrantes was a .437 three-point shooter last year and ought to fire away a bit more.

He'll also need to improve his game inside the arc; his two-point percentage was an utterly dismal .319 and he wasn't much better at the rim, going just .355.  I don't think he needs to take it to the rack more - the offense doesn't revolve around that - just better.  But the bottom line is, UVA has as veteran a point guard as you'll find in the league - and he's a sophomore.

#33 - Jack Salt - Fr. C

Salt is considered the most likely player to redshirt, which is no surprise at all; he's a center, bigs are always behind the curve as compared to guards, and his New Zealand upbringing means he's had only a smattering of experience against the kind of competition his peers have faced.

So the likely contribution is as a practice body - and an awfully helpful one, because if half the reports of his physicality are true, our bigs will find the games a lot easier than practice.  Reputation has it that Salt seems to think he's playing rugby out there.  I'm OK with giving him a year with the strength and conditioning guys, maybe learn a little bit about what he can get away with.  If by chance he does play this year, I still wouldn't expect much - heavy physicality isn't easily noticed on TV and not that useful in small doses.  But I'm looking forward to the day a couple years down the road when he and Jarred Reuter team up to bludgeon opponents into handing over any and all potential rebounds.


Guessing at the rotation is probably a stupid thing to do, because the season has a way of really messing up predictions like that, but let's do it anyway.  Minutes are in parentheses after the name.


PG - Perrantes (30)
SG - Brogdon (35)
SF - Anderson (25)
PF - Gill (25)
C - Tobey (20)


Hall (13)
Shayok (12)
Atkins (15)
Nolte (15)
Wilkins (5)

That leaves Stith and Salt to redshirt.  It also only adds up to 195 - spread the rest of the minutes around the back of the bench to account for blowouts and such.


Quick bullets on the FSU game:

-- Sending 260-pound Jack English out to play left tackle against Mario Edwards - it's amazing Greyson Lambert didn't get beaten into a fine powder.  Nothing against English - but he's like the 8th-string tackle if we had an ideal roster, a converted tight end, and all in all the unfortunate poster boy for Mike London's abject failure to build an offensive line.

-- I like the fact that there's a wildcat play for David Watford, and kinda want to smack people who think that because he did a lousy job of throwing the football last year, it means he should never get on the field again in any capacity.  I'm more than OK with finding a role for a guy who has probably earned it with attitude.  But do the coaches take into account important details like, I dunno, down and distance, time on the game clock, or any kind of situational detail at all, when they call a play?  Steve Fairchild has designed a good offense but I swear that if he played chess he would draw up these elaborate twenty-move gambits to capture the opposing bishops, and wouldn't save his king from check if the rules didn't require it.  When he plays golf he probably has really nice clubs and drives off the tee exclusively with a sand wedge.

-- All three of Greyson Lambert's touchdown throws were beautimous, but the second one - to Darius Jennings - was really incredible, NFL stuff.  FSU had them all covered well, except that the DB's backs were turned the whole time.  On the throw to Jennings, Lambert spun it off to Jennings's outside shoulder and put it where Jennings could just go down and get it, and the DB, even had he realized the ball was coming, would've had an impossible time trying to twist and break it up.  Levrone's catch was mostly just awesome work by Levrone; the Jennings one was all Lambert.

-- That said, I defended Lambert on the UNC screen pass interception, but I'm not gonna do it for his one pick this time.  The poster child for a throw that should never have been made.

Prediction review:

- No UVA running back tops 50 yards rushing.  Kevin Parks had 43, the most of any Hoo.  Easy prediction to make.

- Both Lambert and Johns toss an interception.  Johns didn't play, so I can't take credit for this one.

- Lambert has better stats across the board - yardage, completion percentage, yards per attempt.  But I sure can for this.

- Winston throws for over 300 yards.  Nope - Winston was limited to 261 yards and a pretty pedestrian (for him) 7.5 yards per throw.  He outplayed Lambert, but - not by much at all.

- Greene absolutely torches the Hoos, with double-digit receptions.  Greene literally had a career day, his 13 receptions being a career high, and that's saying something for the all-time receptions leader at FSU.

Pretty good day on the predictions here, going 3-for-5.  Stats for the season:

20-for-50 on specifics (40%)
6-3 straight up (W)
4-3-1 ATS (L - the Hoos covered when here I thought they'd get blown out.  Nice job taking advantage of turnovers, but otherwise nothing to speak of on offense.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

game preview: Florida State

Date/Time: Saturday, November 8; 6:30


Record against the Noles: 3-14

Last meeting: UVA 14, FSU 13; 11/19/11, Tallahassee

Last weekend: GT 35, UVA 10; FSU 42, UL 31

Line: FSU by 20.5

Injury report:


OUT: DE Trent Corney, LB Mark Hall, C Jackson Matteo, CB Demetrious Nicholson, CB Divante Walker, OT Jay Whitmire, WR Miles Gooch
DOUBTFUL: OG Ryan Doull, OT Michael Mooney

Florida State:

OUT: DB Colin Blake, DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, LB Delvin Purifoy, OL Austin Barron

Hope you enjoyed it the last time these two teams met.  The Hoos won't meet FSU again til 2020 if this stupid scheduling arrangement holds (long enough that it's entirely possible our coach in that game will have replaced a coach we hire this December), and this game isn't likely to provide any memories you'll want to hang on to.  Watching a field goal attempt sail wide after a glacial-paced replay in which UVA was hoping an FSU pass would be ruled complete - that'll probably have to do.

-- UVA run offense vs. FSU run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 150 carries, 626 yards, 4.2 ypc, 4 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 54 carries, 227 yards, 4.2 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
153.67 yards/game, 4.06 yards/attempt
79th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

FSU defense:
148.0 yards/game, 3.78 yards/attempt
42nd of 128 (national), 7th of 14 (ACC)

If there's anything that derails FSU's championship defense, it'll be just that.  The defense isn't awful, but it's pretty mediocre for a championship contender.  That said, they haven't played an easy schedule.  If you adjust for quality of teams, FSU's defense looks better, and this is the better half of it.  UVA's woes at running up the middle - made worse this week by the likely unavailability of Ryan Doull - don't match up well with DT Eddie Goldman.  (Doull also got bumped to second on the depth chart - a reaction to one play, a referendum on his play in general, or was he already doubtful by Monday when the depth chart came out?)

UVA, in fact, is down to eight healthy non-redshirting O-linemen - and really, seven, since one is a converted tight end weighing in at 260.  Seven!  Not only is that a really bad sign for the running game (which managed to be entirely unproductive against one of the worst run defenses in the country last week) it ups the risk of injury even more as it forces actual starters into action on things like kick protection.

It's probably not likely to matter.  If UVA falls behind early, and that seems a likely proposition, the coaches have shown a willingness to abandon the running game nice and early.  So even against an FSU defense that gives up some yards, this is likely to be an extremely unproductive day for all our ballcarriers.

-- UVA pass offense vs. FSU pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 102/169, 60.4%; 1,055 yards, 5 TDs, 8 INTs; 6.24 ypa

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 31 rec., 176 yards, 0 TDs
Canaan Severin: 30 rec., 385 yards, 3 TDs
Kevin Parks: 24 rec., 139 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
243.9 yards/game, 6.57 yards/attempt
87th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

FSU defense:
240.6 yards/game, 7.05 yards/attempt
72nd of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Probably the thing that FSU lacks the most is a pass rush.  Only 12 sacks all year long, and four of them from Goldman on the interior.  That's a problem to watch for; if Goldman goes against Cody Wallace, there's nothing to like about that matchup.  Otherwise, though, only one other player has more than one sack - Mario Edwards, whose expected development into one of the conference's elite linemen looks stalled out for now.  UVA hasn't been perfect in pass protection, but not bad, and should at least be able to keep their quarterback on his feet most of the time.

Not sure we can say with any clarity who that quarterback will be, though.  Lambert got pulled again last week, and while I'd guess he'll get the call to go back out there, that's no guarantee.  It's not like Matt Johns was all that hot.  The passing game missed Miles Gooch last week more than I expected they would; Keeon Johnson had multiple drops, and the running backs got used as a crutch more than usual.  And of course, turnovers were murder.

FSU has allowed some fairly average quarterbacks to move the ball on them, but most of them still better than our own passing game.  Still, there's a small chance here.  If FSU had an average offense themselves, I'd say it's plausible UVA could move the ball enough to stay in striking distance.  FSU's defense is more athletic than most, so I'm not optimistic that anything involving a running back will work, other than an unexpected screen pass (that said, we call the screen so often that it's rarely unexpected.)  UVA's passing game is at its best when Severin and Jennings are the ones catching the ball; the Hoos' only hope is to get some big plays from those guys.

-- FSU run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Karlos Williams: 98 carries, 470 yards, 4.6 ypc, 7 TDs
Dalvin Cook: 68 carries, 380 yards, 5.6 ypc, 5 TDs

FSU offense:
131.75 yards/game, 4.20 yards/attempt
74th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
119.0 yards/game, 3.26 yards/attempt
17th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

This is a perfect example of why only fools use per-game statistics.  At some point during the game there just might be a graphic calling FSU the 102nd-best running game in the country - as if you win national titles by sucking at running the ball - and they'll neglect to tell you that only four teams run the ball less than FSU does.

This is probably because they know where their weapons are and emphasize them, a novel concept.  They're also working with their backup center after Austin Barron broke his arm a few weeks ago.  Even so, the run game is more than functional.  Karlos Williams is a big guy, very useful in short yardage, and Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender do the change-of-pace thing well.

One thing that isn't a big part of the run game: Jameis Winston.  Though often thought of as a mobile, running quarterback, his mobility is mainly behind the line of scrimmage.  He's cut back on his ballcarrying from last year, and has just a few bonafide runs on the season.

I'm still bullish on the run defense, though, the last bastion of hope on this football team.  It could've looked better last week, but against GT, it has looked much, much worse.  And best of all, you could see visible adjustments in the way they attacked the option.  FSU isn't likely to run wild on Saturday, but then, they're not likely to try.  The Noles will probably just concede this one and use the run only to keep UVA's linebackers honest.

-- FSU pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Jameis Winston: 174/259, 67.2%; 2,279 yards, 16 TDs, 9 INTs; 8.80 ypa

Top receivers:
Rashad Greene: 58 rec., 853 yards, 4 TDs
Nick O'Leary: 33 rec, 364 yards, 2 TDs
Jesus Wilson: 28 rec., 356 yards, 4 TDs

FSU offense:
327.3 yards/game, 8.58 yards/attempt
18th of 128 (national), 3rd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
225.7 yards/game, 6.98 yards/attempt
66th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

They can do that because ol' crab-legs is still slinging the ball around.  Statistically, you'd call this an obvious sophomore slump, although his numbers are down partly because of a mid-year suspension.  Even so, anyone would take it.

His favorite target by far is senior WR Rashad Greene, FSU's all-time receptions leader.  A pretty big accomplishment when the program has turned out guys like Peter Warrick.  Tight end Nick O'Leary and slot guy Jesus Wilson are the major complementary pieces; Travis Rudolph is enough of a threat on the opposite side to open things up even further for Greene.  It's a fairly deep attack, but Winston to Greene is the main story, and it's just plain hard to stop.

Even harder when your cornerback depth takes a hit.  If Brandon Phelps isn't in the game, things could get ugly fast.  Maurice Canady will probably have Greene as his assignment either way, and Canady has been simply awful the past few weeks.  GT's DeAndre Smelter just toyed with him.  Smelter had a big size advantage that Greene doesn't have, but that matters not at all against the league's top receiver.  So, no, not a lot of confidence here.

-- Favorability ratings

UVA run offense: 2
UVA pass offense: 3
UVA run defense: 5.5
UVA pass defense: 1.5

Average: 3

-- Outlook

The ratings are probably charitable.  This game is on the road.  And FSU has specialized in dominating the second half.  That should be a lot of fun considering we haven't seen a UVA second-half touchdown in four games.  Second halves have been nothing short of a complete embarrassment.  FSU has trailed at the half in four of their eight games so far and then come roaring back.  This week, they probably won't be trailing, and it's probably fair to say the fourth quarter will be played relatively close, because the third quarter will be a FEMA disaster zone.

-- Predictions

- No UVA running back tops 50 yards rushing.

- Both Lambert and Johns toss an interception.

- Lambert has better stats across the board - yardage, completion percentage, yards per attempt.

- Winston throws for over 300 yards.

- Greene absolutely torches the Hoos, with double-digit receptions.

Final score: FSU 45, UVA 7

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech

-- Clemson 34, Wake Forest 20 - Thu. - Wake becomes the first ACC team to officially miss the postseason.

-- Duke @ Syracuse - 12:30 - And Cuse probably becomes the second.

-- Georgia Tech @ NC State - 12:30 - Both Duke and GT are on the road against crappy Atlantic opponents, needing a win to keep pace in the Coastal.

-- Louisville @ Boston College - 7:15 - Basically the battle for third place in the Atlantic, for what that's worth.