Monday, January 12, 2015

pack-line rising

The week 9 AP rankings didn't change much from the week before.  The top 5 was static; you have to go to 13th before you find anyone who'd moved so much as three spaces, and 17th before you found anyone moving more than that (Iowa State dropped 8 spots for losing to South Carolina.)

That was last week.  This week is week 10.  And because there's nothing quite so humbling as the midwinter conference grind, and because the grind apparently got an early start this year, not a single team in the rankings is where they were last week.  Except Kentucky, and not even them exactly, because as the ESPN headline put it, "Virginia lands two of Kentucky's No.1 votes."  (And because the word "lands" is most often used in recruiting, my heart raced happily for just a quick split second until I finished reading it.)

Well, I'm happy anyway.  Somewhere out there are two writers who think UVA is the best team in the country.  Actually, I'll tell you exactly who: John Feinstein in DC and Zach Osterman of the Indy Star.  (And Marcus Jackson of the News-Gazette in Champaign, IL had the nerve to keep the Hoos in third behind UK and Gonzaga.  Boo this man.)  Osterman explained his vote in a column, which basically sums up as he weights recent results more heavily than most, and UK has been all about the overtime lately.  When the Blogpoll was a thing and I had a vote in it, recency mattered not even a speck (and it still wouldn't with me, resulting in a vote for UK), but it's also at least a little bit compelling to say, look, this is the ranking for this week, and this week, this is the team playing the very best basketball.

Further UVA awesominity: The Hoos are eight thousandths of a point out of first in the KenPom ranks, a gap small enough that it could disappear just by one of Kentucky's opponents having a bad game.  ESPN's Jeff Goodman asked various coaches who they like between UK, UVA, and Duke, and one asshole anonymous coach responded, "Kentucky over Virginia?  Please.  Talent level isn't even close.  Zero Virginia guys would start for Kentucky."  KenPom would disagree there, too; of his top ten players in the country, three are UVA's.  And three are Kentucky's.  Wait, no, recount: it's just two.  Hold on a sec, it's actually just one.  Oops, wrong again: the truth as of right now is that Kentucky has zero of the nation's KenPom-top-ten players.  UVA's so unathletic.

So the ascension continues.  How did this happen?  Exact same way the Hoos earned a pair of 1 seeds last year.  Choke yourself if you said "unbalanced schedule."  Taking care of business when other teams do not.  Top ten teams kept running into bug zappers this weekend.  Duke, Arizona, Wisconsin, Louisville - it was a top-ten bloodbath.  Kentucky was thisclose to being on that list.  UVA - well, it was close, too, but not, like overtime-close, and it was on the road, and the opponent was ranked, and so on and etc.  Give another round of applause to Mike Curtis, I'd say, but save the biggest cheer for Tony Bennett and his "play every game the same" mantra, because that's what you're seeing play out.


-- In a strange way, I think I'm going to miss Karl Hess, exiled from ACC games as a result of saying something kinda dumb to a fan, but also, supposedly, "accumulated incidents."  I'd brush that last one aside as the ACC's attempt to leak something that put them less on the spot for the decision, if it were any ref but King Karl.  Hess made all his assignments a game of referee Russian roulette, but sports are less interesting with fewer villains to kick around.

-- I'm sure a lot of folks saw the study about referee bias that concluded ACC refs - football ones, not basketball - are biased toward home teams and "long-time conference members such as Duke and North Carolina."  I wonder if UVA is a "long-time conference member" in that context, or if you have to reside in the state of North Carolina.  At any rate, they picked the wrong sport.  I'm sure everyone loves to hear that the refs love Duke, but might raise an eyebrow about finding that it's a football study.  I'd like to see one for basketball - not that they haven't happened, as exampled by this one from a few years ago concluding that hoops refs do indeed favor home teams and call make-up fouls - but I don't know that anyone's really studied ACC hoops long-term.

-- Sort of a boilerplate article on UVA's 2016 commitment Kyle Guy, but one thing stuck out: "Interestingly, the 6-foot-2 Guy said he has been deluged with letters from Virginia Tech and Notre Dame since choosing Virginia."  Notre Dame, I kind of understand; Guy is from Indiana.  But I find it adorable that Buzz is of the opinion that Guy can be convinced to make that switch.

-- This week has been something of a microcosm of the football team's struggles.  Since 2015 began, UVA has lost three defensive ends: Max Valles to the NFL (ok, he's technically a linebacker, but still), and former commits Brandon Wilson and Rasool Clemons - the former to Indiana and the latter to the fact that he and academic qualification are a long way from becoming acquainted.  How have they been replaced?  With wide receivers!  Warren Craft is the latest commitment, yet another result of Mike London's incessant digging for unmolded instate athletes, and UVA also announced the incoming transfer of T.J. Thorpe from UNC (like, ten minutes after I hit "publish" last week.)  Actually, Thorpe, if healthy, does have the potential to add a bit of a different dimension to the offense, for one year at any rate.  Regardless, next year UVA will have eight wide receivers with some kind of on-field experience, and three such defensive ends.  Or, put another way, if London succeeds in landing Gary Jennings (who he's pursuing with all expedience and urgency) he'll have as many scholarship WRs on the roster as scholarship D-linemen.

-- Per Coaching Search, UVA is bringing back Dave Borbely to coach the offensive line.  Borbely was Al Groh's last O-line coach before his removal, and memory is hazy but I don't recall being unhappy with the job he was doing.  Borbely put a few linemen in the NFL, to be sure.  Maybe, if London pulls off the comeback of the ages and sticks around long term, Borbely can remind him that he used to have a few more players under his purview than he has now.


I told you KenPom loves him some UVA, and the proof is in the season simulations:

That's UVA with a 91.8% chance to snag the top seed.  KenPom gives the Hoos a 95% chance or better in seven of the remaining fifteen games, and the toughest remaining game from this vantage point is the last one: the road match against Louisville, where UVA has a 60% chance of pulling out a win.  UVA also has an awfully significant chance of going undefeated: 12.3%.

That's what the math says, anyway.  Keep in mind the arbitrariness of the tiebreaker: UVA wins all ties against everyone for having the highest KenPom rating, because I don't have a way to make a spreadsheet remember who beat whom.  In the ten thousand different seasons that go into this, I doubt that 9,178 of them actually featured UVA beating Duke and earning that tiebreaker.  It's probably closer to 8,000, since KenPom is giving Duke a probably-too-low 20% chance of winning at the JPJ.  So take this with many grains of salt.  Even so, even if the simulator is more than 40 percentage points off and it's a coinflip as to whether UVA earns the #1 seed or not, that's still what you'd call "heavily favored."

You can find all three of the sims so far piled up at the original post.


pezhoo said...

That sim thing, with our chances of finishing first in the ACC around 91%, it's like it's not even real. We are three games in. That's the sort of thing I see in a video game that I go downstairs to play after losing to UNC at home seven after giving up a 15 point lead. I feel like Alice in Wonderland.

Anonymous said...

At this moment, UVA is #1 in KenPom! But by a mere .0002, so better screencap that goodness while it lasts.

Anonymous said...

Feels like the Hoos are breaking through into common awareness, if you look at ESPN, cbssports and especially at Grantland. The Grantland pieces this week feel especially like breaking through, in that it's not merely about knowing we're good and ranked, but why, and how it relates to deeper movements within the sport. Which is great and overdue, but also distinctly feels like everyone's starting to listen to my favorite underground band. I liked the pack-line before the pack-line was cool.