Monday, April 20, 2015

hoops in review, part 1

This was promised to you much earlier, but then I realized: if I write this before Justin Anderson makes his decision known, the whole thing will be littered with uncertainty and caveats.  Now we know, so we can get the show on the road.

#0 - Devon Hall - rFr. PG

Preview quote: "UVA's backcourt is fairly young this year, so a good-sized contribution from Hall is more important than it might seem."

This didn't turn out that way, because there was such a quantum leap forward from other players.  Justin Anderson, of course, and London Perrantes also became more of a scorer.  Hall was decidedly the last rotation option in the backcourt, and scored more than three points just three times.  He sat out 11 games entirely, and in ACC action, saw just over five minutes a game - that is, outside a particular stretch late in the season.

That would of course be the stretch that Anderson missed.  Hall didn't play against Pittsburgh, but averaged 15 minutes in five others.  And when London Perrantes was suspended to start the season, Hall got his only start of the year, in game one against JMU.

And that in a nutshell was Hall's role: it was other guys who ran the show, mostly, but when a spot opened up, Hall was counted on for a decent share of the minutes.  Redshirting and then the understudy role probably wasn't what he envisioned to start his career.  But it's hard to say he deserved scads more time; his defense was OK but not outstanding (that said, the point guard isn't asked to be the star of the pack-line) and his offense wasn't as efficient as you'd like.  He showed some flashes at times.  The Wake Forest game - the curbstomping, not the close one - was a particularly excellent showing.  But overall he played about as well as his minutes imply.  Not lousy, or he wouldn't have been the first option to replace a regular in the rotation - but not much to take note of.

Anderson's departure opens up about 28 backcourt minutes.  Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon are just about maxed out, but the competition is still going to be fierce for them.  Darius Thompson joins the fray next year, and it's whispered he brings a quickness and slashing dimension to the team that was lacking this year.  Marial Shayok is due for a big increase too.  Hall will have to work his tail off this offseason if he wants to make a large dent next year.  His role should increase, but it probably won't be til 2016-2017, after this large crop of rising seniors graduates, that he really becomes one of the front-and-center players.

#1 - Justin Anderson - Jr. SF

Preview quote: "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."

I don't know.  Do you think he might've accomplished that?

I guess if going from under 30% to over 45% behind the arc counts.  Anderson actually cooled off as the season went on, because he started up over 60% - after Tennesee State, which he buried with 5-for-5 three-point shooting, he was over 68%, five games in.

That was enough to capture a lot of attention nationwide, but Anderson also gave a few other parts of his game a lift - he became more dependable from the free throw line, he fouled less and played better defense overall (though with fewer circus blocks, unfortunately) and he took better care of the ball.  He singlehandedly answered the question of who would replace Joe Harris's scoring, and became the infectiously enthusiastic face of the whole team.  And then, because We Can't Have Nice Things, he broke his damn hand.

That was really what drove home the point about what he meant to this team.  UVA only lost one game without him, but they weren't easy wins, and three out of his four games after his return were a mess.  He scored zero points in the whole ACC tournament and only defensively-challenged Belmont allowed him to look like his former self.  Anderson's play suffered, and along with it basically the whole offense.

A terrific shame.  Anderson was an exciting player his first two years, but he was a ridiculously athletic curiosity for the most part.  An X-factor, but the game was dominated by others.  This year he took over and became the guy Maryland fans are still pissed off about missing out on.  This is what's most disappointing about Anderson leaving.  The team, actually, will be just fine.  Tony Bennett is working on a nice track record of seeing his players take huge strides in the offseason, and no doubt someone will do the same this year.  Or a couple someones.  In fact, the team might be best off in the long run for this - if Anderson returned, the backcourt would've been incredibly crowded.  Now, some younger guys will get extensive playing time and the baton will be more easily passed off in later years.  But a full year of a guy like Justin Anderson in a starring role would've been some of the best entertainment in all of college hoops.

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

Preview quote: "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."

Well, that was over quick.  Stith didn't redshirt, but he might as well have for all the playing time he got - almost exclusively with the walk-ons at the end of blowouts - and amid a smattering of talk that cracking the rotation might not ever be in the cards, Stith decided to rejoin his father and brother at ODU next year.  We won't get to see the second chapter of a Stith lighting it up in a Virginia uniform after all.

#4 - Marial Shayok - Fr. SF

Preview quote: "Shayok's calling card when he came in was his versatility."

Honest, I totally forgot that I'd written that as I watched Shayok this season and thought, "man, this guy can score a lot of different ways."  Versatile was exactly the word for what he did with the ball.  He showed he could get to the rim; he showed he could shoot the three; he showed he could create a few chances for his teammates.  He played a reasonably steady 15 minutes a game - right about average for the fourth guy in the backcourt rotation - and had a higher assist rate than everyone but Perrantes and Brogdon, the team's highest steal rate, and the backcourt's best block rate.  A better block rate than Anderson, in fact, and Anthony Gill as well.

You can't ask for a lot more out of a bench guy, and you can't ask for preseason impressions to turn out much more accurate than that.  Shayok didn't do anything dominatingly well, and he was plagued with occasional freshman inconsistency, but he did a hell of a lot of different things at an ACC level.  Out of a fairly large group of freshmen, Shayok was easily the best.

A guy who can score a lot of different ways is a good bet to find chances to do it more often.  Shayok doesn't have the kind of wild athleticism you see in early draft entrants, and that means Tony Bennett might have hit the sweet spot in recruiting here.  Shayok appears to have a well-developed court sense and has a great chance to be a four-year star for the Hoos.  And for that matter, a three-year starter.

#5 - Darion Atkins - Sr. PF

Preview quote: "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."

Nice preview.  Atkins started 27 games, in fact, including all of them but one after New Year's, and in that one he played 31 minutes.  Oh, and he was one of the most indispensible players on the team.  ACC Defensive POY.  That hook shot I thought he trusted too much became a deadly weapon.  Simply put, he was one of the ACC's best interior forces anywhere.

Atkins got back all the bounce and athleticism he'd lost when the shin splints struck him two years ago.  And he played with a chip on his shoulder, as if making up for lost time and getting revenge on the fates that robbed him of a year and a half of usefulness.  It was so much fun to see him get that redemption and his year in the spotlight that nobody minded a bit when he got a technical for hanging on the rim against VT.  Sometimes you just let a guy have a moment.  This was the player that UVA and Notre Dame fought over in the recruiting wars.

Stories like his are what make college hoops fun.  Now there's a small conundrum.  Before the season the whole fanbase figured that "only" losing Atkins would mean basically the exact same team would come back next year, only a year older and stronger and wiser.  Now he's gotta be replaced.  It won't be easy; whereas Atkins was plausibly seen as very similar to Akil Mitchell, there isn't anyone left in that mold, nor much experience among the candidates.

#10 - Mike Tobey - Jr. C

Preview quote: "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."

There hasn't been a more polarizing UVA basketball player since Sammy Zeglinski.  With Tobey, whether you like his game or not, there's evidence to support your position.  Tobey was only a secondary scorer at best, and his minutes actually dropped from last year.  He's really not useful against teams without big traditional centers, because he's fairly easily beaten on the block by smaller, quicker forwards.  His defense is a little slow and he doesn't appear to be a natural in the pack-line.

On the other hand, he's extremely useful against teams that do have traditional centers, because he's almost always much more skilled than they are, able to guard them with relative ease thanks to the security blanket of the pack-line and his better athleticism, and he has little trouble scoring against slow-footed galoots.  This season was easily his best offensively.  He was much more efficient than last year; he shot free throws as well as most guards, he was a terrific rebounder especially on offense, he made good outlet passes, and he turned the ball over very little.

I think a lot of criticism directed at Tobey - much of it to do with a perceived lack of effort - is unwarranted.  It's not any more valid than the idea that Atkins was disgruntled and unhappy because his face was kinda hangdog all the time.  Amateur psychology.  That and the expectations heaped on him when he was recruited.  If there were no such thing as recruiting analysts, Tobey would catch a lot less flak.  That said, he can be maddening at times.  He needs to find ways to get himself on the court more.  If he does, he's still got it in him to be an all-ACC player.

1 comment:

BostonHoo said...

Spot on, Brendan, for the most part. I think Shayouk is going to have a breakout season next year. But I am still not a Tobey fan. He just does not seem to play with any intensity. Maybe I am just jealous or angry because I have always thought that if I were seven feet tall I could be a star anywhere and Tobey is wasting his opportunity.