Friday, November 13, 2015

basketball season preview, part 4: nonconference

No football preview this week.  OK, maybe a little one: Gonna lose.  Instead, on the eve of Basketball Season, which is a long, long time coming, it's time for the yearly look at UVA's OOC slate - which this year is undoubtedly the toughest in a long time.

Morgan State
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

'14-'15 record: 7-24 (5-11)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .1097 (337th)

Conference projections (out of 13):

Media poll: 7th
KenPom: 8th
SI: 7th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 93.1 / 105.3 / .1964 / 311th
SI (Hanner): 95.2 / 108.9 / .2013 / 321st

Chances of winning: 100%

As if Morgan State weren't a bad enough basketball team, they'll be without two of their top players (Cedric Blossom and Rasean Simpson) on Friday, lost to an academic penalty for the first few games of the season.  Blossom was Morgan State's only legit offensive threat, other than maybe shooting specialist Andrew Hampton.

No other returning player for the Bears had an O-rating higher than 91.2 last year, and that's really stretching the limits.  Starting point guard Donte Pretlow is a special kind of lousy, with an astonishing O-rating of 70.9 thanks to his comically poor shooting.  Nobody on this team can shoot free throws let alone contested shots, and they leaned so hard on Blossom last year that nobody else is used to the leadership role on offense.  This is a foregone conclusion.

George Washington
Atlantic-10 Conference

'14-'15 record: 22-13 (10-8)
'14-'15 postseason: NIT second round (5 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .7072 (74th)

Conference projections (out of 14):

Media poll: 4th
KenPom: 4th
SI: 6th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 104.2 / 94.6 / .7512 / 57th
SI (Hanner): 108.2 / 98.1 / .7319 / 70th

Chances of winning: High

A much more interesting test awaits, as UVA goes on the road for the second half of a home-and-home.  In last year's edition, GW led at halftime before the Hoos clamped down and allowed just 16 points in the second half.

GW lost the top scorer from that game; Kethan Savage has transferred to Butler.  But they had only one senior last year and return a lot of dangerous three-point shooters - point guards Joe McDonald and Paul Jorgensen; stretchy mismatch forward Yuta Watanabe; instant heat Nick Griffin, whose job it is to come off the bench and hit threes.  Small forward Patricio Garino isn't a great three-point shooter, but is very, very efficient inside the arc.

The Colonial's weakness is inside, where only Kevin Larsen is a dangerous player.  Other than him, this is a small team, as the 6'8" Watanabe is too skinny at 197 pounds to bang around inside, and freshman Collin Goss is just as much a beanpole.  UVA will have to contend with an array of scorers, but should be able to use a large frontcourt advantage to good effect.

Missouri Valley Conference

'14-'15 record: 9-24 (3-15)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .2787 (270th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 10th
SI: 10th
KenPom: 10th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 92.7 / 99.7 / .3026 / 275th
SI (Hanner): 92.6 / 101.6 / .2787 / 292nd

Chances of winning: Near-lock

Bradley fired coach Geno Ward after last season, and the result was the usual amount of turnover times ten.  The Braves had one senior and a whole bunch of juniors last year, and now they have four players on the roster who aren't freshmen - one of whom is a transfer and has to sit.

That leaves them with their backup shooting guard, two end-of-the-rotation forwards, and ten freshmen who've never set foot on a college court before.  Yikes.  This was a horrendous offensive team last year (and the holdovers were among the worst) and while a new coach and basically new team could change that..... there really isn't much hope of that kind of makeup being able to defeat a veteran Tony Bennett-coached team.

This game is UVA's opener in the Charleston Classic; after a very likely ruthless dispatching of Bradley, UVA would play the winner of Seton Hall and Long Beach State.  Probably Seton Hall, as Long Beach has a lot of minutes to replace from last year and Seton Hall has some dangerous players, like former UVA recruit Sterling Gibbs as well as quality forwards in Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez.  The favorite to come out of the other end of the bracket and hopefully be UVA's opponent in the championship game is Oklahoma State.  UVA is the marquee team in the tournament, though, and the heavy favorite to win it.

Patriot League

'14-'15 record: 16-14 (10-8)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .4201 (196th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 1st
KenPom: 1st
SI: 2nd

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 101.8 / 99.0 / .5801 / 119th
SI (Hanner): 100.6 / 100.0 / .5153 / 166th

Chances of winning: Really, really high

If you're gonna play low-major teams, and you pretty much will have a few on your schedule, this is the way to go - pick one that's the favorite in their conference so they go out and boost your RPI once you've finished beating them.  Like Lehigh.  They've got the build of a giant-killer, with some solid shooters like the teensy Kahron Ross, who had an impressive debut season last year.  But the offense goes first and foremost through center Tim Kempton, the reigning Patriot League POY.  It's hard for low-major teams to find good, skilled centers.  Still, he gives up 35 pounds to Mike Tobey.

Ohio State
Big Ten Conference

'14-'15 record: 24-11 (10-7)
'14-'15 postseason: NCAA 2nd round (10 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .8640 (21st)

Conference projections (out of 14):

Media poll: 8th*
KenPom: 8th
SI: 6th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 106.4 / 93.9 / .8077 / 42nd
SI (Hanner): 112.6 / 95.4 / .8454 / 28th

Chances of winning: Decent

*The Big Ten likes to make sure nobody gets their participation ribbons all in a bunch by getting voted last, and refuses to release anything past a top 3.  In past years the Columbus Dispatch has orchestrated an unofficial poll, which I couldn't find this year and so threw up my hands in failure and just used the Dispatch's own predicted order of finish.

UVA's assigned opponent in the ACC-B1G Challenge is a bit of an unknown quantity.  OSU lost four starters to graduation and the draft, but hopes to soften the blow with a top recruiting class.  That class is led by Jaquan Lyle, trying to fill the scoring shoes of one-and-done guard D'Angelo Russell.  Top holdovers include Jae'Sean Tate, who shot .631 inside the arc last year, and Marc Loving, who shot .461 outside it.  Of the main contributors, however, only Loving will be an upperclassman.  This is a talented but inexperienced team.  Probably one that's more athletic than UVA, and the game is on the road in what's likely to be a full building.  We'll be hoping age and guile beats youth and foolishness.

William & Mary
Colonial Athletic Association

'14-'15 record: 20-13 (12-6)
'14-'15 postseason: NIT 1st round (7 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .5688 (130th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 4th
KenPom: 4th
SI: 5th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 104.3 / 101.4 / .5794 / 121st
SI (Hanner): 108.7 / 108.0 / .5165 / 167th

Chances of winning: Very good, but watch out

Gotta have an instate team somewhere on the OOC schedule, and William & Mary draws the honor this year.  This was an interesting team in the KenPom stats last year, with the 27th-best offense in the country and a defense outside the top 300.  They lose point guard Marcus Thornton, 8th in the country in minutes percentage last year, but return a lot of players who stood out on the stat sheet.

Thornton took a whopping 242 three-point shots last year, amounting to more than seven per game, but the Tribe return their actual best shooter in Daniel Dixon.  Forwards Omar Prewitt and Terry Tarpey can find the bucket with relative ease as well, and Tarpey is also a standout defender and free-throw shooter.  Sean Sheldon is also very, very tough to defend, shooting .641 for the 19th-best two-point percentage in the country.

These guys will definitely be upset-minded, and it's definitely one of the more dangerous games on the schedule....but fortunately, of course, at home.

West Virginia
Big 12 Conference

'14-'15 record: 25-10 (11-7)
'14-'15 postseason: NCAA Sweet 16 (5 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .8346 (26th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 6th
KenPom: 5th
SI: 5th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 107.5 / 93.1 / .8399 / 28th
SI (Hanner): 110.8 / 94.4 / .8378 / 32nd

Chances of winning: Respectable

Sandwiched around finals break is probably the toughest three-game stretch any major team will play outside its own conference.  West Virginia was a tournament team last year and looks headed right back there this year.  They have to replace Juwan Staten - tough to do, but WVU ran pretty deep last year and didn't rely too heavily on anyone, so they're equipped to do so.

The Mountaineers play a decidedly different brand of hoops that should make for a fun contrast with UVA.  They're one of the more up-tempo teams in the country - but not necessarily on offense.  They like to get a lot of steals.  Point guard Jevon Carter is very, very dangerous in this regard.  West Virginia also likes to hack, hack, hack.  This might actually get worse than last year because Staten and fellow departed senior Gary Browne were two of the more restrained player.  There is a stat called FTA/FGA, which simply tracks free throws divided by field goal attempts; WVU's defense was dead last in the country at 55.5% percent.  In other word, opponents took well over one free throw for every two field goals they tried.

But they were also #1 in steals percentage, which is attributable only partly to Carter.  It's a team effort.  They gamble, and it can cost them in giving up easy buckets, but their opponents also turned the ball over 28% of the time last year.   UVA's methodical offense will be tested.

Big East Conference

'14-'15 record: 33-3 (16-2)
'14-'15 postseason: NCAA 2nd round (1 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .9504 (6th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 1st
KenPom: 1st
SI: 1st

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 112.3 / 90.5 / .9233 / 5th
SI (Hanner): 116.9 / 94.6 / .8975 / 8th

Chances of winning: 50/50 at best

The Big East is anything but a chump league, and Villanova ran away with it last year.  The Wildcats - before flaming out in the second round - entered the NCAA tournament as Big East champs with a 32-2 record.

The bad news for them is that their frontcourt will feel the loss of JayVaughn Pinkston, as it leaves them with really only two big men in Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.  These are some pretty darn good players, though.  But it's Nova's incredibly deep backcourt is what gives everyone the idea they might be pretty good.

Even losing Dylan Ennis to transfer, Nova probably won't miss a beat.  Ryan Arcidiacono is back, as are Josh Hart and promising sophomore Phil Booth, both of whom were top-notch shooters last year.  Nova also adds five-star recruit Jalen Brunson to the backcourt.  This is a team with few, if any, question marks, and as difficult a test as you could ask for coming out of the final exam break.

Pacific-12 Conference

'14-'15 record: 18-15 (7-11)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .6047 (113th)

Conference projections (out of 12):

Media poll: 2nd
KenPom: 6th
SI: 2nd

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 106.1 / 94.8 / .7846 / 47th
SI (Hanner): 113.7 / 94.3 / .8719 / 13th

Chances of winning: Pretty decent

Cal is a trendy pick as a breakout team this year.  It's not so much their performance last year and all the great players they return, although Jordan Mathews is a heck of a shooter and this was a tremendous defensive rebounding team last year.  It's more about their recruiting class, with two five-stars in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, both of whom should jump immediately into the starting lineup.

Thus the wild difference between KenPom and the other projections, because KenPom doesn't try to project the effect of incoming freshmen too heavily.  And the media might get a little overexcited about them.  Pundits are looking at Cal to be a tournament team in 2016, but they definitely have to show it - and the UVA game is their big chance to.

Horizon League

'14-'15 record: 16-17 (11-5)
'14-'15 postseason: CIT 1st round
'14-'15 KenPom: .4848 (164th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 2nd
KenPom: 4th
SI: 2nd

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 104.3 / 104.2 / .5032 / 160th
SI (Hanner): 111.3 / 108.4 / .5672 / 139th

Chances of winning: Very high

Oakland is confidently predicted to be one of the Horizon's better teams this year, but that seems like going out on a limb a bit.  Few teams relied so heavily on so few players last year.  Oakland had three different players getting more than 85% of available minutes, two of which are gone.  They do return point guard Kahlil Felder, which is good because they literally don't let anyone else run the point.  Felder was the nation's minutes leader, playing 95.7% of available minutes.  During 12 of Oakland's games he literally never got to sit the bench, and that includes one OT game and one double OT game.  It doesn't include three other OT games where he played over 40 minutes.

He's also a hell of an assist man with an ARate of 39.6%, so there's a good reason Greg Kampe doesn't turn the keys over to anyone else.  Felder has a few good players to find with the ball, including SG/SF Max Hooper and promising rising sophomores Jalen Hayes and Nick Daniels.  Oakland's offense is respectable.  Their defense, however, stinks in all regards, and UVA shouldn't have much trouble scoring in their final reprieve between the three games of doom and the ACC schedule.

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