Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 hoops preview: players, part 1

yeeessssssssss it's that time

you know my name now.

What a difference a really ridiculously good year makes.  Last season we kicked this off by taking note of some of the various preseason projections for UVA, and I added about ten exclamation points to the one that had UVA 11th in the season.  Now you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone putting the Hoos that low.  About the only thing that's the same is that UVA is still predicted fourth in the conference by the preseason media poll, but the rest of the contenders had to rise a lot higher in the rankings for that not to look silly.

There's not a lot of roster turnover from the team that won the completely undisputed and unshared ACC championship.  Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell have graduated, sent on their way in perfect style and now trying to carve out a niche in the NBA.  Mike Scott's done it, so you'd be a fool to bet against them.  Teven Jones transferred out; initially he was headed to Appalachian State, but would've lost a year of eligibility, so he resurfaced at Tarleton State, out in East Bum, Texas.  He'll be thirty miles past the middle of nowhere, but Tarleton State has a really highly-ranked D-II program, and probably will be even better for his arrival.

Replacing them on the roster are four freshmen and a transfer, finally filling out the quota of 13 scholarship players.  Darius Thompson, who played a year for Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee and then transferred up our way when Martin left, is taking his mandatory redshirt year, which leaves 12 eligible guys.  This means some hard decisions; Tony prefers a rotation of about nine or ten, and that tenth guy tends to get squeezed out as the season goes on.  He also prefers to put off redshirt decisions (or at least, put off telling us about them) to the last minute, so this preview is going to speak of all four freshman as if they'll play, but with the understanding that maybe two of them actually will.

And as always, you're going to have to wait til later to get the whole thing.  First half today.

#0 - Devon Hall - rFr. PG

One newcomer we know for sure about though: Devon Hall will be on the court.  This is the kinda cool thing about establishing a pattern of redshirting incoming freshmen, which by the way is awfully rare in basketball.  You get your new wave of freshmen, but you also get an infusion of brand-new talent who knows the ropes a little bit.

This team is quickly becoming the property of London Perrantes, who came in as the surprise second point guard after Hall looked like the handpicked one.  Perrantes made himself damn well indispensible last year while Hall sat.  But there's an obvious role for Hall now, and interestingly it's mainly to do with losing Harris.

Ever since Malcolm Brogdon set foot on the court, the deal with him has been, "ok, he can run the point, but how can we find a way for him not to?"  With Harris gone, Brogdon has to shoulder the lead scorer's role.  Simply put, Brogdon is going to be the go-to guy, a role which he started to ease into last year (how about that shot at Pitt?) and which he'll be better at if he's not concerned with playing backup point.  While Bennett doesn't make it a point to have a dedicated, rigidly-defined point guard, the ideal situation is if Hall's and Perrantes's minutes percentages add up to just about 100.

The scouting report on Hall was that he was very much a pass-first point guard.  I wonder how well that's stood up over time.  Hall will basically be backing up Perrantes, which means he'll see a lot of time playing with and against second units.  It's one thing to look to set up your teammates if you're looking inside to Anthony Gill or outside to Brogdon.  It might be different if you have less of a scoring contingent on the floor and are facing off against other second-stringers.  I don't know that I have a lot of concrete reason to say this, but I think Hall will be encouraged to find his shot.  He's going to have a big size advantage against most other 1's that defend him, and he won't give up much in the quickness department.  It's always interesting when you put the offense in the hands of someone new, but if Hall can be a scoring punch off the bench, UVA's depth would be really scary.  Doesn't have to be much.  A steady four, five points a game would do it.  UVA's backcourt is fairly young this year, so a good-sized contribution from Hall is more important than it might seem.

#1 - Justin Anderson - Jr. SF

Winning makes UVA basketball fun to watch.  Justin Anderson makes it entertaining.  Anderson is always described as wildly athletic, and he can definitely jump.... but, truth is, he's not jumping out of the gym nor flying out of his shoes.  Anderson is blessed with incredible body control that lets him pull off ridiculous moves that you swear he ripped off of Cirque du Soleil, resulting in highlight-reel blocks, saves, steals, passes, and dunks.  And he plays with an infectious enthusiasm and a Cheshire cat grin.

Anderson basically does everything pretty well.  Even his shot-blocking, while flashy, isn't all the way up the stat charts.  He's simply not always in position to do it, because he's not usually a post defender, and most of his blocks come on breakaways or when he or a teammate is otherwise beat.  Besides that body control, Anderson has an impeccable sense of timing, and a wily ability to bait the opponent into thinking he has a free 'n' clear layup.

He also is a very good passer, a more than adequate and very versatile halfcourt defender, and his two-point shooting percentage was third-best on the team last year (among players who shot enough for a reasonable sample size), largely because he dunks the ball a hell of a lot.  Tremendously efficient shot, the slam dunk.  He rebounds some, shoots a respectable free throw, and generally does a little bit of everything.

Thing is though - now that he's an upperclassman, more is going to be expected than simply doing most things pretty well.  He still could stand to improve his three-point shot, which was at best streaky last year and not too reliable.  He's got to take some part of his game - any part of his game, it really doesn't even matter - up a level or two.  Lockdown defender, star rebounder, improved scoring touch - whatever it is, it'll help.  Basketball teams are fluid things that need a little time to find an identity, and this one can morph its roles to match what Anderson does, as long as he brings something new.  Nobody's quite sure if Anderson is ready for a full-time starting role - he looked awfully good coming off the bench, to the extent of being named the media's choice for ACC 6th-man of the year.  But if he doesn't move into the starting lineup, we're even less sure who would.

#2 - B.J. Stith - Fr. SG

Over three years ago - that's how long ago B.J. Stith committed to UVA.  Remember the Peach Bowl, how long ago that seems?  Now go back almost four more months.  The hoops team featured Sammy Zeglinski and Assane Sene.  And Malcolm Brogdon as a freshman, and jeez he's only a junior now with all his best basketball in front of him and now you know why his teammates like to call him an old-ass man.

So it'd be the apex of cruel irony to make UVA fans wait another year to see a Stith suit up again for the Hoos.  I think Stith is among the more likely freshmen to have a role, though.  When Brogdon comes off the court, there isn't really a backup two guard.  Used to be you could have Harris do that; he could flex easily between the two and three.  I don't think you have that kind of player this year, at least, not one that's easily evident; Anderson's not enough of a shooter.  Playing Stith would give us a great shot at having a four-man rotation in the backcourt that can score with whatever combo is on the floor.

That's the rationale for playing him.  For redshirting him?  Defense.  Nobody ever really knows until the tipoff exactly what Tony is thinking in terms of defense, but Stith's main competition for playing time is Marial Shayok, who by most accounts is the superior defender, and good enough to earn his way onto the court.  If I were handicapping things, I'd tip things ever so slightly in favor of Shayok, which pushes Stith into a redshirt role if he's OK with it.  Tony won't redshirt someone who doesn't want to, but won't go out of his way to put him into games, either.  Stith has a good head on his shoulders and a dad who won't let him screw himself up, so I'll put in a SWAG here and say Stith redshirts.

#4 - Marial Shayok - Fr. SG

Marquette's loss was the state of Virginia's gain; when Buzz Williams bolted for VT, he took a fair amount of his recruiting class with him, but one of his charges found his way to Charlottesville instead.  Shayok definitely adds to the diversity of the team - he's a Sudanese-Canadian, and comes from a basketball family.

He's listed at almost the exact same size as Stith - 6'5", 207 vs. 205 - but there's a clear positional difference.  Stith is a shooting guard, full stop.  Shayok has more versatility, having played everything from the 1 through the 5 in high school.  Despite the size similarities, Shayok is basically more of a three who might grow into a four... but could play some two right now.  He has a chance to be that guy who can flex between positions.  That, along with his reported quick study on defense, has him in line to get on the court early.

That's a lot to ask for a freshman, true.  But when's the last time you saw Tony put an unprepared player on the court?  (Hint: No.)  Shayok's calling card when he came in was his versatility; I think if he's in the rotation more than a few minutes here and there, that in itself is proof of his ability to guard multiple positions.

#5 - Darion Atkins - Sr. PF

Only one senior on the team this year, and here he is.  I don't want to say Atkins had a disappointing season last year, but he did end up in the back end of the rotation.  (I do not think it's an attitude problem, as some do suggest; Atkins projects that image with his facial expressions, but - that's just sort of how he looks, all the time.)  His peak so far has been the beginning of his sophomore year when he and Mitchell were forming an eye-opening combo of tremendously athletic power forwards that gave teams absolute fits trying to score on them.

Unfortunately, Atkins developed shin splints, which, even when he did play, robbed him of that bounciness, and he looked crushingly average the rest of the way.  Last year, he got overtaken, mostly by Anthony Gill, who proved the far superior scorer and a good enough defender.

Now, though, there's no Mitchell.  He'll be the hardest player to replace too, no offense to Harris.  Mitchell quarterbacked the defense and was never out of position.  Atkins probably won't start many games, if at all, and isn't a huge scoring threat.  He probably trusts his hook shot a little too much.  All the same, helping to replace Mitchell is exactly what he needs to do.  Atkins has it in him to be a very good shotblocker, and his offensive rebounding didn't get enough credit last year.  If he can carry that over to consistent double-digit minutes every game, he'll be giving us exactly what we need out of him.

#10 - Mike Tobey - Jr. C

Speaking of guys who need to step up.  This is a big, big year for Tobey.  It would be really unfair to say he's underperformed, but he's also been quite a tease.  His game isn't inconsistent.  It's just that when he's scoring, he looks smooth and skilled for a big man; when he's not, the same game looks soft and unassertive.  It's easy to forget - he's young for his age, to coin a Yogi Berra-ism, and his development is pretty much exactly how it should be.  In many respects he's been the victim of his own expectations.

Doesn't let him off the hook to keep on developing, though.  10 points a game is not too much to ask, and it'd be great news for our offense: a consistent scoring source that wasn't there last year.  Malcolm Brogdon told ESPN's Andy Katz that the team is going to look inside more, and that's basically code for getting more out of Tobey than 6.4 ppg.

This is doable.  Not only does Tobey have very good range for a big, and isn't a hopeless mess at the line like many bigs, his offensive rebounding last year was just shy of elite.  He takes care of the ball well, and is also the team's best shot-blocker.  He was a starter last year, but was only seventh in minutes; I don't at all expect that to be the case this year.  Just getting him on the court for eight more minutes a game will boost his numbers and his impact.  Keep him on the development curve at the same time and he's got a chance to open a lot of eyes in the ACC this year.


Game preview as normal tomorrow, and then special weekend-ish continuations of the hoops season preview.  Touch not the dial.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent preview so far. I could not be more excited for the season!

That said, I am interested to see just how many growing pains there are going to be as the team takes on a new identity. My absolute worst case scenario would be Malcolm trying too hard to play up to expectations and forcing his game (i.e. taking too many of those long-range twos he occasionally fell in love with last season), Darion getting frustrated with his playing time and/or absence from the starting line-up in his final year and failing to provide the kind of leadership we could really use from our sole fourth year, London's foot problem flaring back up and/or him enduring a small sophomore slump, and Tobey again failing to be consistent and continuing to let his frustration get the better of him at times resulting in more stupid retaliatory fouls.

I don't really see that scenario playing out because Tony is such a ridiculously fantastic coach, but they are just things I worry about. And you know, we are Virginia fans, so irrational worrying is kind of what we do. Just needed to get it out now so I can sit back and enjoy the season.