Showing posts with label baker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baker. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

why it wasn't so bad after all

Like I said, it's a good thing the Hoos got that win over Boston College on Thursday in the ACC tournament, and followed it up with a scrappy game against Duke. It keeps me from having to write this post in between a ten-game losing streak and the imminent departures of at least one and probably more of our players that were supposed to be top scoring options. I'd've felt like Gandalf in Return of the King: there's about ten thousand billion bad-nasties lined up at the gate with a big fucking battering ram and launching the flaming heads of our dead comrades over the walls just to piss us off, and here I am telling you to stand up and fight dammit. Funny how simply finishing with more points than another team in one simple game changes all of that.

This would only be a little less true had we lost that game, though. What I have now is the ability to say, "See, next year won't be so bad, we can do it without Sylven, we proved it in the tournament." And that's not an unimportant point, so do yourself a favor and file it away for when you inevitably hear that Sylven is going to play in Israel or Spain or the NBDL next year.

But the main thing here is a symphony in two parts. Part 1 is all about the Bad Luck. That comes in a couple flavors. First is the KenPom luck factor. KenPom actually quantifies luck, by calculating the difference between how much a team "should" have won based on his system, and how much they actually did. As with last year, UVA is one of the unluckiest teams in the nation. If you add our luck factor to our actual winning percentage, our record changes from 15-16 to 17-14. Likely good enough for a feel-good trip to the NIT. I believe I wrote something like this last year and suggested this should average out eventually, and obviously it didn't come true, but next year for sure!

But the real proof is in the win-loss column. Bottom line up front: Judiciously add ten points - five baskets - to the right places, and 15-16 (5-11) becomes 18-13 (6-10). Add a single free throw on top of that and it changes to 19-12 (7-9) and a likely NIT bid following an anxious and ultimately disappointing Selection Sunday. For the want of a nail the kingdom was lost; for the want of 11 points, the season was lost. In four games, the ball bounced the wrong way at the wrong time. That's it.

But, you say, everyone gets breaks and bounces. They come, they go, and maybe some of our wins were the same way. Not so. The wins all fall neatly into three categories:

- We dominated.
- We controlled.
- We rallied.

In all cases, even the rallies, we played well enough for a long stretch of time that the game was pretty clearly ours. The first category includes Longwood, Rider, Oral Roberts, Hampton, Miami, and UNC. The second includes NJIT, UTPA, UNC-W, and BC; the third encompasses Cleveland State, UAB, GT, and both NC State games. None of these games were even all that close at the end, and the closest thing to good luck in these games that you can claim is the shitty free-throw shooting on display from some of our opponents, like GT. (They were 3 for 11. Average FT shooting would have given them four or five more points, and we won by 7 after protecting a 12 points lead.)

The losses, on the other hand? Honestly, up until Sylven left, only one of these losses fell anywhere between "really close" and "horrific nasty blowout." That'd be the Miami loss. Otherwise, between (and including) the first Maryland game and the second Maryland game, this team was absurdly uncompetitive (more on that later) and that holds true also for the USF game and the first Wake loss.

But then there's the Auburn game, in which a last-second tip-in did us in. There's Penn State, where we controlled the first half and they controlled the second, and our rally (later in the season to be successful a couple times) fell just short. There's Episode 1 of the Tech series, where we got a little luck in forcing overtime but positively none at all in blowing the lead we'd held the entire game. And there's the Wake game, where Mike Scott's second half was 100% effort and 0% results. The man had six rebounds, three offensive, in the second half and the basket wouldn't open up for any of his putbacks, layups, or even dunks. In an overtime game like that one, just one bucket would have made all the difference.

And then there's Maryland, a team that doesn't do well if profanity isn't being showered onto the court by the student section and saw what we did in the Dean Dome after a blizzard; thus, they took the path of least resistance and postponed the game for snow, against ACC protocol that states if two teams and two refs are in the house, play ball. Suppose we had gotten half the bad bounces going our way instead, and instead of being 14-7 (5-3) at that point, we're 16-5 (6-2). Suppose instead of having to travel from Charlottesville to College Park to Charlottesville to Blacksburg to Charlottesville to College Park to Charlottesville in a week's time, we can eliminate one of those trips and not have to play three games in five nights. Maybe we win one of those games too? Maybe we don't get launched into the death spiral of terrible shooting and one-man-band offenses? I've long since gotten into forbidden what-if, coulda-shoulda-woulda, excuse-making territory, but do consider this: back then I pointed out that if we can't win three games in five nights, then we can forget about ever winning the ACC tournament - that still holds true, but with one important caveat. The ACC tournament only involves one bus ride, not six.

Now about that death spiral. This is Part 2. Remember the rather well-received post, about a month ago, that posited that the drastic improvement between seasons was due to better offense, not better defense? (And isn't hard to believe that all it took was one awful month to change the perception of the season from "best improvement story in the country" to "falling apart like OJ on the witness stand"?)

Well, the fact of the matter is, nothing changed. It was still all about the offense. As good as it was in the first two-thirds of the year, it was that bad and worse in the latter part. Consider the numbers from back then:

- Defense was allowing 93.7 points per 100 possessions.
- Offense was scoring 111 points per 100 possessions.

And now?

- Defense has allowed 94.4 points per 100 possessions.
- Offense has scored 106.7 points per 100 possessions.

That drop on offense moved us from 43rd to 92nd in the country. That's a precipitous fall, especially for just 10 games. The defense got a little worse, too, but by a small enough margin that you can probably explain that just by pointing to the terrible offense, or, more likely, the greatly improved competition. In fact, there were 7 games out of 10 against tournament teams in that stretch, compared with 4 out of 21 prior; the fact that the numbers only got worse by that tiny amount despite the huge boost in quality of competition probably means the defense actually got better.

A little simple algebra will tell you that during that 10-game stretch between that post and the end, the defense allowed 95.9 points per 100 possessions. That's not up to snuff but it's not terrible. New Mexico is a 3-seed (an outlier of one, but still) and they allowed 96.

But the ugly part is the offense. Again with the simple algebra, and we scored 97.7 points per 100. That's OK (again, not real great, but OK ... ish) for the defense. It's completely pathetic for the offense. Arkansas State scored 97.7 on the season and that is good enough for 222nd in the country. The worst ACC team is Florida State at 105.2, and they rank 119th. Remember how unbelievably unwatchable the '08-'09 season was? How jump shots clanged off the rim starting from Day 1 and there was no set rotation? The offense scored 101.5 per 100. That's how bad February 13 through March 12 was on offense: worse than a season that saw us go 10-18 and lose to, what the hell was it, Liberty? I try not to remember that happening. And the BC win is lumped in there too, so the losses had to be even worse than that 97.7 number.

Now, I know I already said this once. I said swapping Tristan Spurlock in for the ghost of Mamadi Diane could only result in an offensive boost. Well, maybe it would have, but we never made that swap, did we? But next year we have no choice - we'll be forced to put someone new in the rotation because Baker, Meyinsse, and Landesberg all drop out of it. With six newcomers plus maybe Spurlock if he stays, it's practically unthinkable that we can't find two out of that bunch that are more offensively gifted than Meyinsse (bless his heart, he has all of one move in the post) and Baker (who is decent defensively but has the nasty habit of trying to do something with the ball before figuring out what exactly he should do with it) and smart enough to pick up the defense well enough for Bennett's taste. Sylven's scoring will be tough to replace, and it'll just have to be done by committee. Nobody's going to give us 17 a game. But as you see, it can, and has, been done.

So cheer up, sports fans. Here you have this combination of horrible luck and inexplicably horrible offense, and it still got us five extra wins and a two-place boost in the ACC seeding. And you can't expect that double-dose of horrible to stick around forever, can you? Next year's still going to have its ugly moments, but they'll be slowly disappearing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

crystal ball into the future: BC and beyond

For this post, I consulted the magic 8-ball to find out what the offseason and beyond might look like for Tony Bennett and his squad. "O Magic 8-Ball, will we see any good news at all between now and the tip-off of '10-'11?" Damn thing must be broken, because the only response I ever got back was, "Reply Hazy, Try Again Later."

That ol' thing has been quite the Debbie Downer these days anyway. Will we win the BC game tomorrow? "Outlook Not So Good." Will Sylven Landesberg be sticking around for next year? "My Sources Say No." What about Tristan Spurlock? "Better Not Tell You Now."

The problem with tournaments, now, is that every team but one goes home unhappy. The season will end with a loss, so what's really at stake here is whether the season will end on a one-game losing streak or a ten-gamer. Gee, how uplifting. But I'll tell you right now, a win tomorrow would change the outlook for next season considerably. I doubt it would change much as far as roster makeup goes, and the players that return will be the same ones that played in the tournament game whether it was a win or a loss. But it's all a matter of perspective, see. If we lose, that specter of a ten-game losing streak to end the season will hang over the team all summer long. If we win, the party line will go something like this: "We won that game without Sylven Landesberg and that's how the team will look next season too, but just wait until we add all those talented freshmen to the roster." Which is a decidely rosier outlook.

So how to get that win? It'll be tough. Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because we came close against Maryland without Sylven, we can do the same or better against Boston College, a worse team. There's no doubt in my mind Maryland had game-planned for a week to stop Sylven Landesberg, and that plan had to go right out the window at game time. Maryland had to wing it, which can be a recipe for disaster in the other guy's arena. If there's some real Ewing Theory action going on, I'll believe it when I see it.

Honestly, and harshly, the loss of Calvin Baker for the game likely won't have any effect on our prospects. Here's the weird thing about the BC game from last week: There was actually an effective inside game on offense. This is weird because BC is a bigger team from 1 to 5. I witnessed Sammy Zeglinski try to guard BC's 6'8" forward Joe Trapani, it was comical. Sammy looked like a midget. And yet Mike Scott had 13 points and Jerome Meyinsse had a perfect shooting night on his way to 12, and even Assane Sene's hands looked functional instead of like they were grafted on the wrong arms as usual. The first half was the standard-issue abortion on offense that we've gotten sadly used to, but the second half was actually a competitive basketball game.

And Baker? Didn't get into the game. If I had to guess I'd say that the size disparity had at least a role in that decision, but the point is, Bennett's already game-planned once for BC without Baker, so doing it again isn't going to be a big deal. And where game planning is concerned, we do have one edge. Even though it'll be no surprise to BC that Landesberg is out, it's still something different they have to plan for, whereas on the other hand, we've already seen what they got and it's not changing. Now it's time for the X's and O's wizard to prove his mettle. That's what Bennett was hailed for when he got here. If there was ever a time this season to pull some defensive adjustments out of a hat, it's now. Get that done, and with a little luck maybe the lid will come off the rim for the shooters too, and a win is reachable. It'd be a shame to waste Meyinsse's channeling of the spirit of Jason Rogers and not let it be worth just one simple win.

And it's a win that would be worth its weight in gold on the recruiting trail. How do you spin a ten-game losing streak to recruits? Answer: however you want, but they're still going to Maryland. Tony was able to use the promise of a bright new day last year, and did a marvelous job, but the shine will be gone. Get the win and it's a lot easier to brush the whole season off as a series of unfortunate events.

Whatever happens on the recruiting trail isn't going to do anything for anyone for a while, though. We don't even know who'll be left on this roster come August, let alone a year from August. Let's start with who won't be. Obviously, we lose the seniors - Baker, Meyinsse, and Tat. From a talent perspective, this is no loss, but from the hard work and hustle standpoint, it leaves a big, big leadership gap. Tat is the guy the coaches - both Bennett and Leitao - have put in when they want to make a point to the rest of the team that they're not hustling hard enough, and Meyinsse, besides being Tat's equal in the hard work department, is probably smarter than you and a big character guy to boot.

Then there's Landesberg, and you can go ahead and plan for next season without him. Bennett can talk all he likes about the door being open for his return, but to paraphrase another illustrious basketball coach, Sylven Landesberg is not walking through that door. When a phrase like this shows up on the school's own offical site....

Landesberg, who is unlikely to return to UVa, stopped by JPJ and talked with his teammates Tuesday morning.
....then you know it's over. Period. Jeff White doesn't need sources inside the program, he is the source inside the program, and there's no way something like that gets up there without it being beyond true. So now you know where Billy Baron's scholarship is coming from.

But that wouldn't be the half of it if you go with everything you read. The list of players who at some point or another has been speculated (often baselessly) as being ready to transfer the moment the season is over is long and distinguished. Spurlock, obviously. Jontel Evans. Mike Scott? Jeff Jones? Assane Sene? All names that have been tossed around by people ranging from the media to message board schlocks. I'll be the first to say I don't have a friggin' clue, although this is at least encouraging on the Spurlock front.

Neither do I know which freshman is going to come in and have the biggest impact. But I do know somebody will. There's practically no choice in the matter. Even if everyone but Landesberg stays, that's only seven members of the rotation left, plus Spurlock. We'll probably have the ACC Freshman of the Year by default; who else has such a big class coming in and so much room for them? If I had to guess, I'd say the complete and utter lack of big-man offense outside of Scott opens up the biggest opportunity for James Johnson and Will Regan. Seems obvious, eh? Don't forget to pack your post game, boys.

So: predictions out of the crystal ball? Well, you just got one easy one: freshmen are going to be huge on this team next year. And that alone fogs up the whole picture. You never know with freshmen. You just never do. Here's another one: The keepers of the faith need to bar the door, because it's going to get worse before it gets better. I don't see us winning tomorrow. And then comes the offseason and a lot of bad news with it. At some point, Landesberg will make the announcement he's gone. Somebody else might also. Recruiting targets will go elsewhere. And then the season will start, and it's pretty hard to see an improvement when your top player departs. There are reasons to think that this season was in fact much better than it looked, and I'll get to them separately. And maybe when I sit down and really hash out the competition and we get a better bead on things, it'll start looking better than it does at the tail end of a huge losing streak. And let's not forget either: Tony Bennett was hired to put a long-term, sustainable stamp on this program, not for instant gratification. That's the most important thing to remember. But for now, the bottom line up front is this: It's hard to see the prospects for next season being any better than they were when Dave Leitao was still the coach.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

argh

Doesn't take long to put an end to one's tournament dreams, does it? I'd say it took just over two minutes of game time - about what it took to lose a three-point lead in Cassell - to slam home the reality that what we have here is just what I called it during the Q&A lead-in to the GT game: a lower-mid-level ACC squad. Capable of beating you if doing things right, but only if for forty consecutive minutes. The hoopsters followed up the loss to Poly with a very balanced effort - crappy defense in the next game and crappy offense in the one following - and the result is that a very different style of bracketology is in the cards for the rest of the year.

I look at this two ways: one, I clearly jinxed the team to hell and back with that post that highlighted the team's offensive improvement; and two, they couldn't have done a better job proving that post correct. Other than the Maryland game (which was still as bad a meltdown on offense as the other four games in this losing streak) nothing has really changed on defense. Honestly. It's as solid (or not solid, whichever you think) as it's ever been this year. But the offense took a dump on the floor and rolled around in it. It's that bad. I could recite a litany of numbers to this effect, but I think the one that really matters is 15-for-81: that's the three-point shooting in these four losses. 18.5%, if you want to know. You'll never win basketball games like that.

What's going on, then?

- As you might have guessed from that statistic, Sammy Zeglinski is just completely ice-cold. Nothing he shoots goes in these days.

- Sylven can't go anywhere on the court without being hounded by two defenders. Obviously nobody is scared of anyone else ever hitting a bucket, and with good reason. Try to set a screen for Sylven and not only does your own defender switch over to him and cut off his lane, but Sylven's guy just drops underneath the screen and finishes the double team. He's also showing a pretty clear reluctance to try anything left-handed, and the defenders are giving it away knowing he won't take it.

- Florida State played pretty good defense, but even when they weren't, the team forgot all their junior-high fundamentals. They pump-faked open shots and then took the shot once the defender had arrived to contest. They drove the lane without any forethought whatsoever. They grabbed offensive rebounds and did the infuriating one-dribble before taking the shot back up. They got careless with the ball and lost the handle on it. They forgot about the shot clock entirely. They passed to phantom teammates. That game was 2009 redux: terrible offense leading to easy buckets for the opposition and making the defense look worse than it actually was.

- We have defensive players and we have offensive players, and the problem is the defensive players can't all be on the court at the same time and the same holds true for the offensive guys. I think Tony Bennett sees this and is awfully limited in his substitutions as a result. There are only three players who are about equally useful on both offense and defense: Scott, Sherill, and Farrakhan - and the latter is such a streaky shooter that he's really a stretch. The rest have gaping holes in their game on one end or the other. Ever see, for example, Sene and Meyinsse on the floor at the same time? Rarely, because you can't pass to either one of them in the post. Try putting Jones and Zeglinski both in the game at once and the perimeter defense is going to collapse miserably. Even Landesberg gets beat more often than he should. Jontel has no jumper and Baker has no handle, and you won't see them share a backcourt much, if ever. So rather than totally give up one end or the other of the court, Bennett pairs an offensive player with a defensive one and the result is predictable - sometimes it works, sometimes it don't. This is actually just fine as long as the offensive players are playing effective offense, but that hasn't happened lately.

There are lots of things we could try here and there to fix this mess and right the ship. Finding the open man when Sylven gets doubled off the screen would be a great start. Not letting Calvin Baker play the point would be another. Four out of five dentists agree, though: hitting your jump shots® is the most effective treatment for Shitty Offense Syndrome. It's amazing how many problems would fix themselves when the jump shots are falling and the defense has to care about that. It sounds overly simplistic, doesn't it? Sometimes that's the way things are.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, no, I'm not going to use the three-games-in-five-days excuse. Was it a factor? Maybe it was. Me, I hope it wasn't, otherwise we can forget about ever winning an ACC tournament.

Remember, now, I made no predictions for this season other than to guarantee an improvement over the 4-12, 11th-place showing from last year. This has been done, so theoretically everything else is gravy, but it sure would suck to end the season on a nine-game losing streak. Make that improvement feel like no improvement at all. There are two games left on the schedule against teams worse off than we are in the ACC standings, and both are on the road but not in the scariest gyms in the world. Winning these games, which happen to be against Miami and Boston College, would do wonders. Two lousy games, that's all we need. That would be good enough for the NIT, which has proven itself happy to take a 7-9 ACC team and doesn't concern itself much with resumes and strength-of-schedule wins and all that jazz that the big tournament cares about.

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Programming note: I am so sowwy for not having anything for you to read yesterday; it was supposed to be the first day of my ACC baseball preview, but circumstances conspired against me. So that gets pushed back to next week, because tomorrow the baseball team kicks off the season with a big series against East Carolina, and I want to do something to actually acknowledge that that exists.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

should we readjust expectations?

So here we are: it's finals week, and that means the basketball team is taking a break, and that means it's a good time to sit down and figure out what the hell. We are 4-4, which incidentally is exactly where we were last year after eight games, only that involved a bare-bones win over USF and a loss that shouldn't ever have happened. It would have been really nice to get one of those four losses back, because Auburn was our last chance at a win over a major-league program outside the ACC. But the plus side is that there aren't any losses to Liberty or teams of a similar caliber.

That's going to be kind of a theme here as we try and decide today whether or not the expectations we (okay, I) had for the basketball team were too high. For every minus, there's a plus. I'd say that's probably par for the course for a rebuilding team learning a new system like ours.

First off, obviously, when I said there was an outside chance we might be interested in the results of Selection Day, obviously that's obviously not going to happen, obviously. Neither is the NIT. So that's some readjustment right there.

What's been going on, as best as my non-coaching eyes can tell, is that we're still getting murdered by the nuances of the pack-line defense. It's not automatic yet. I think it's clear the team has bought into the system and is working feverishly on getting it right, because if you've read about the basics of the defense, you can see it very very clearly on the court. Things like, stay inside the imaginary line, don't switch on screens, don't ever give up the baseline, and put your feet in such and such a place when guarding a player inside the line without the ball. When given just a split second to process his responsibilities, each player gets it right probably at least 85-90% of the time. The problem is, this is basketball, you don't always have that split second, and we're only eight games into using the system so it's not even close to automatic. And when another team runs their offense with enough precision to eliminate that split-second, bad things happen; and because of it we're especially susceptible to the three-ball because the guards haven't figured out how to stay true to the principles of the defense and still get out and contest the three.

On the plus side of the defense is the turnovers. We're getting them and winning the turnover battles. We haven't turned the ball over more than the opposition this season, except for the first game. Especially - and I don't know if this is just me or what - I think we're seeing a significant increase in shot-clock violations by the opposition. The turnovers his defense is causing has to put a smile on Tony Bennett's face.

What else is hurting? Well, the freshmen aren't as ready as we'd hoped. Spurlock hasn't even got up off the bench half the time, and Evans has played in every game, but sometimes just a minute or two. I said before the season Evans would be a big X-factor of sorts - the more he plays, the less we have to rely on guys like Baker for point guard stuff. Evans had a big-time breakthrough against Auburn with 18 minutes, 5 assists, 3 steals, and zero turnovers. And it's no coincidence at all that in the same game, Calvin Baker only played 10 minutes and Mustapha Farrakhan 9, and that we were in a position to win at the end. Right now, those two are ice-cold from the floor, and it's not helping.

Speaking of shooting, it's still a weakness. The hoped-for jump shot from Sylven hasn't quite materialized. He's not an outside threat, and neither are the aforementioned Farrakhan and Baker. HOWEVA! Jeff Jones is well on his way. His shooting is vastly improved. Like, big-time. It's not there every game yet, but any maroon can watch five minutes of any one of our games and realize we're a much, much better team when Jones' shot is falling.

So what about those readjusted expectations? Well, we've lopped off the top end. Any kind of tournament that gets any attention is out. But I made one guarantee, and I'm sticking to it: We'll improve over our 11th-place finish in the ACC. And we were 10-18 last year; I see improvement over that in our future too. The upcoming five-game stretch in between finals and the ACC program is the easiest of the year. Three of those teams are just bottom-of-the-barrel horrible. (That was the idea. We need wins.) Then there's UNC-Wilmington and UAB. Both dangerous. But neither overwhelming. At worst, we come out of this stretch and into the ACC schedule sitting at 7-6. I think 8-5 is more likely, and a five-game win streak to get us to 9-4 isn't a pipe dream. And remember - we won four games last year in an ACC that was stronger than this. So I expect to improve on that, even if only by a little.

Which brings us to what I said should be the two baseline expectations for this team: Improve on 11th place in the ACC, and go to the postseason. Hey, the CBI is the postseason. And I will tell you what: nine more wins (say, four out of five in the remaining OOC sked and five more in the ACC - that's 13-14 if you're keeping track, 13-15 or maybe 14-15 counting the ACC tournament) will get us there.

Addendum: There is one other improvement over last season I forgot to mention, and it's a big one. Last season, not a single one of our wins was broadcasted on TV up here where I could get my highlight-clipping hooks into them. This year, I finally got one. It's not, like, a big important game or anything - it's Cleveland State - but, as much for the practice of making a basketball video as anything, I'll eventually be getting this one up into the videos section.

Monday, November 9, 2009

guess what? it's hoops season!

And that is a blessing and a half. Our season doesn't actually open up til Friday, but in symbolic celebration, I'm once again eschewing the usual weekend review, which is typically very football-heavy, in favor of a leetle something I've been tossing around in my head for a while. (Though I did update the recruiting board so you could look at it with Khalek Shepherd included.)

Anyway, you might be asking yourself - well, no, you're probably not, so I'll ask for you: how come I haven't done any season previews of any teams like I do for football and did last year? To tell you the truth, last year about two weeks ago I slapped myself on the head, having fully intended to do a full set of previews and not having started. So I got cranking and didn't finish for quite a while. And when I got to the end, the season had already started and I found that these things were a lot easier to write when I had the benefit of a few nonconference games to work from. So that's the plan this year. Our last game before the break for finals is December 7; right around there is when the season preview series will kick off. This plan is almost certain to fail miserably given that all the trappings of a football coaching search will probably occupying all our thoughts, but that's life. And this post will serve as our own season preview, though the rest of them won't follow this format.

This format being, I'll go through the roster, roughly in numerical order, and offer up my thoughts on best-case and worst-case scenarios for each player. Oh, and it'll be a two-part series. Without further ado, then:

#0 - Doug Browman
#10 - Tom Jonke
#11 - Thomas Kody
#22 - Will Sherrill

Best-case scenario: Garbage time in a few blowout wins.

Worst-case scenario: Garbage time in a few blowout losses.

Walk-ons, yo. And I don't remember ever having more than three, but such is the way of the Bennett, apparently. Sherrill is the only one with experience on the team, although Jonke is an old team manager and apparently Bennett decided to reward him with a uniform. Which is kinda cool, actually. Now, the real worst-case scenario - no offense to walk-on types - is that we have to actually rely on them for non-garbage minutes. You know you're in serious rebuilding mode when that happens.

#1 - Jontel Evans

Best-case scenario: Is every bit the feisty on-ball defender of his reputation. Backup point guard, but the kind whose minutes don't fluctuate wildly up and down because so do his turnover numbers. Not lighting up the score sheet, but dependable.

Worst-case scenario: Is every bit the freshman that he is. Gets benched midseason for entire games because his decision-making is driving Bennett to distraction.

Evans is going to be one of the absolute most critically important guys on the team this year. No exaggeration. This team will be at its most effective if Baker and Landesberg don't have to pick up all kinds of minutes at the 1 because we don't have a decent backup point guard. Quality play - or not - from Evans is going to be one of the biggest factors making up the difference between scratching and clawing for the CBI or - in my wildest fantasies - having Selection Day matter. We don't need Evans to score in double digits all the time, and he won't whether or not he's getting significant minutes. We just need him to play nasty defense and put the ball in the right person's hands at the right time on offense.

#2 - Mustapha Farrakhan

Best-case scenario: Reliable three-point shooter off the bench.

Worst-case scenario: Carbon copy of last year.

Mu is one of those guys who no offense but if he's in the starting lineup too frequently, we're in trouble. He had a couple really spectacular games last year. In just 12 minutes against Virginia Poly in January, he bombed home 17 points and shot 4-of-5 from three-land. Very nicely done. That's the kind of thing that earns you major minutes the next game, which he got against UNC (led the team with 27, actually) and proceeded to hoist up 15 shots, only four of which found their way through. Eww. Story of the season for Farrakhan. He had a few other really good games, but too many of them ended up with lines like 1-for-5 or 0-for-7 and spawned a chicken-or-the-egg debate about whether his ridiculously inconsistent shooting was the result of his ridiculously inconsistent spot in the rotation, or vice versa.

He actually was second on the team in 3PT%, however, behind the maddening Jamil Tucker. If he can kind of harness those same numbers and improve his two-point shooting (it can't be too hard to improve on .347 - that's awful) and play with some consistency, he'll be extremely useful as a guy who can rotate in, knock down a shot or two, and generally ensure that the offense doesn't go off a cliff when the starters go out. I have confidence that Bennett's rotations will be less magic-8-ball-inspired than Leitao's were last year ("Should Mustapha play tonight?" "Outlook not so good.") and we'll find out if consistent minutes = consistent shooting, or if Farrakhan shoots his way right out of the rotation entirely.

#4 - Calvin Baker

Best-case scenario: Quality veteran leadership from the two, and a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. Learns when to take the shot and when not to.

Worst-case scenario: Pressed into point-guard duty and continues to play the position as a CAA-level player.

The first year after Baker's transfer from William & Mary, he was sort of a pleasant surprise. The second year, last year, the flaws in his game seemed more apparent, along with the reason he wasn't an ACC player in the first place. But the basic fact is, we pretty much know what we're getting with Baker. About eight points a game, three assists, and a couple rebounds. His stats didn't really change from year to year. What changed was his percentages. He seemingly forgot how to shoot and his shooting percentages, both from two and from three, plummeted. What really changed was his position. Forced to play a lot of point guard after Sean Singletary graduated, Baker didn't really prove himself the man for that job, hoisting up some majorly ill-advised shots at times and passing up good ones.

Calvin's one of the team's undisputed leaders and generally one of the more fundamentally sound players, and he's going to get his minutes. But we will have a much better team - and Baker will be a much better player - if he is manning the two on the second unit rather than the one. We'll need his scoring and leadership, but we can live without his point-guard decision-making.

#5 - Assane Sene

Best-case scenario: Big-time rebounder, scary shot-blocker, provider of a little bit of timely big-man offense. Also, fouls less.

Worst-case scenario: Can't overcome whatever academic and/or disciplinary problems led to his suspension and stays in the doghouse all season. Transfers.

We have, like, kiddie-pool depth in the frontcourt, so the news that Sene would be suspended for the first three games of the season was not happy time. We really could have used John Brandenburg this year - Sene is now the only guy we have that's legitimately a big man and a center. No, Meyinsse is not a center, he's a 4 pressed into 5 duty. Along with Evans, Sene will be critical to our success. With Sene, we have a center. Without him, we have a lineup that's charitably described as "small-ball." The last thing we need is him in the doghouse, and the second-to-last thing we need is him in constant foul trouble like he was last year. When he's not on the bench with too many fouls, he's an offense-altering shot blocker and a pretty good rebounder, and in the latter department he should only improve. But he is also one of the biggest enigmas, and outside of the two freshmen, I don't think anyone knows where his development is leading him right now. With as few options as we have in the frontcourt, the answer to that question is program-altering.

#12 - Jamil Tucker

Best-case scenario: Figures out the non-shooting aspects of the game enough to provide steady rotation minutes and become an indispensable scorer.

Worst-case scenario: Doesn't bother. Gets benched.

Jamil Tucker is maddening. Other than Landesberg, he was the only guy last season who consistently, game in and game out, could fill up the bucket. He was the top three-point shooter last year and one of only three on the team to top a .400 shooting percentage - a very respectable .442, actually. But his defense makes you go RRRGH and for a guy his size, he shows very little interest in rebounding. When people say they want to see improved fundamentals from this team, Tucker is the guy they're thinking of most. Neither Bennett nor Leitao suffer non-defense-playing fools gladly, which is why an offensively starved team last year kept one of its most offensively productive players on the bench so much. Bennett will do the same if Tucker refuses to defend. We will be very much improved on offense this year if Tucker earns himself a lot of meaningful minutes, because his ability to score isn't in question. But Bennett's not going to let Tucker slough off the other end of the floor, and guys like Baker and Spurlock will absorb his minutes. Tucker's probably too good on offense to shut entirely out of the rotation, but don't let yourself be surprised if Bennett does it anyway should Tucker continue ignoring everything about basketball but scoring.

#13 - Sammy Zeglinski

Best-case scenario: Puts the starting point guard job on lockdown. Is first-half Sammy from last year.

Worst-case scenario: Puts starting point guard job up for grabs. Is second-half Sammy from last year.

Last year, this team looked fairly respectable early, in part because Sammy was proving himself a very pleasant surprise. He didn't look like a freshman who'd just missed almost a full year because of an ankle injury. He ran the point smoothly, and shot the ball well. In two moral-victory losses in hostile arenas, he really gave everyone hope that we'd be respectable going forward. Something traumatic and scary must have happened during final exams, though, because after that break, his shot was gone, and a month or so later, so was his starting gig (though he still saw significant minutes off the bench.) He had his moments; the win over Clemson was a gem as far as Z was concerned - 6-for-6 from the field, 15 points, 6 assists, it was brilliant. Mostly, though, Sammy was a freshman point guard and it showed during the ACC half of the season.

Myself, I think we'll see improvement this season. Now that Sammy's got a full season of bringing the ball up the court against ACC competition, my guess is we'll see a lot more of Good Sammy this year. Bad Sammy won't disappear, but as Tony Bennett works his magic and Z's conditioning improves, his development curve will go the other way this year, which is to say, the way it's supposed to. He'll be the default starter at the point this year, and we're going to have to get ready to live or die by his play because, basically, he's what we got.

That's Part 1. Part 2: tomorrow. Oh look, I stopped just before I got to the number one honcho. That's what they call a cliffhanger, isn't it? Actually, we just basically happen to be halfway through the roster if you count all those walk-ons as one player. But still. Tune in tomorrow to see what I think of Sylven Landesberg (hot tip: he's pretty good) and also, our prize recruit.

Friday, March 13, 2009

basketball season autopsy, part 2

First up, apologies: I always try to post at least once each weekday and let you know when I won't be. Yesterday I spent some time going over the sabermetric stats I talked about earlier. Apologies again to those who were hoping to see it added, but it's not a worthwhile endeavour. Two reasons for that. One, sample size: this stuff is designed for a 162-game MLB season, and the typical college ballplayer won't rack up that many til his junior year. Maybe. Two, the weirdness of nonconference schedules throws this stuff out of whack. The teams in the majors aren't that different from each other in terms of talent, but when we play Coppin State and beat them 27-1 (a real actual score from last year), the statistics go bonkers. It might be worth revisiting after the season is over and using only stats from ACC games, but that's a lot of extra work, and again: sample size.

Anyway, the basketball season. It's over, thank heavens for that. The other day I rambled about things that went right and things that didn't go wrong, which was a thinly-veiled way of saying it's not Dave Leitao's fault entirely. Actually, I don't think it was veiled at all. But on with the show. Today, I tell you what I think the problems were this year and then, what we're looking at for next year. What went wrong?

1. Three freshmen in the starting lineup. Look, I don't care if one of them turns out to be ACC Rookie of the Year (oh wait he did), the ACC is not, has never been, and hopefully never will be a league where you can have the majority of your lineup be freshmen and that is a recipe for success. It just ain't happening. Sammy Zeglinski will be a fine point guard in time, but he could have had a big scarlet F for Freshman on his back and it wouldn't have been any more obvious. He'd play well in some games - in fact, quality play from Z was a common thread in our wins - and others he'd shoot 1-for-5 and dish out no assists to go along with his three turnovers.

Not only the freshmen, but I've touched on this before: guys might have a certain class listed on the roster, but they carried so much extra responsibility as compared to years past that they really are more like a year behind what it says. Calvin Baker, case in point. He's officially a junior but he spent a year sitting out as per transfer regulations and before that was at William & Mary, a far cry from the ACC. He's a sophomore, basically, but with only one more year of eligibility. Mustapha Farrakhan is technically a sophomore, but figure this: the Ken Pom player ratings call him a "significant contributor" to the team based on how much he was involved in the offense; last year he had such a non-role he wasn't even listed - not even enough to qualify as "nearly invisible". A sophomore playing a freshman's role.

2. Mamadi Diane and Tunji Soroye's injuries. This is two problems in one. Before the season I figured we could at least make a return trip to the CBI, because we'd have some senior leadership in key roles. Mo on offense, Tunji on defense. Not having them made the above problem that much worse. Diane ought to have been a starter - in place of Baker, if I'd had my say. Without him, Baker (effectively a sophomore) and Mike Scott (actually a sophomore) were the graybeards in the "typical" starting lineup - who were they turning to for leadership in the huddle?

Plus, for three years Diane was a rock-solid dependable player and it was the threat of his outside shooting that opened up more than a couple driving lanes for Sean Singletary. That disappeared completely this year and had a direct effect on the offense in particular. Teams respected the jump-shooting abilities of absolutely nobody on the roster. Nobody. And with good reason. Give us Diane's jump shot back and at the very, very least the Liberty debacle never happens - Diane played 27 minutes and shot 0-for-6. And who knows what the offense might have produced if anybody at all could have hit a shot from outside the paint somewhere? That was Diane's role, but his foot took away his shot.

3. So yeah....the shooting. It....was....awful. Coaches, especially ours, like to preach that defense begets offense. Play solid defense and the offense will come. That goes in reverse too, as we learned. Not only is missing shots counterproductive to the scoring effort, it leads to no respect for your shooters on that end and transition buckets on the other end. We were, FYI, the 278th best 3-point shooting team in the country, tied with the following States: Central Connecticut, South Carolina-Up-, and Kennesaw. Somewhere, in some gym or court, somebody is informing some no-game-havin' playground hack that he shoots like Kennesaw State. This is the #1 problem that has to be fixed for next year.

4. Extreme strength of schedule. No matter whose ranking system you use, ours was one of the nastiest schedules in the country. The RPI says the nastiest. That's right - according to the official rack-and-stack fancy number tool that the selection committee uses, of 343 teams in Division I basketball we had the hardest schedule in the land. A small part of that comes with the territory of being one of the worst teams in the ACC, since everyone gets to play you and you do not. Then again, of the other bottom five teams in the conference, we got only one crack at three of them, and as a bonus we got to be UNC's chew toy twice.

And then there's the schedule we gave ourselves. Games against Xavier and Syracuse and halfway decent mid-majors like Radford and VMI are great if you think you need a little extra oomph in the selection committee room. They are also great for racking up losses if you play a ton of freshmen, effectively lost your seniors to injury, and can't shoot.

So......ja. These are the four things, more or less in order, that I think doomed the season. Not that you can't put your finger on a myriad of other silly little problems, but I think most of those stemmed from these.

Ah, but next year.....next year, I truly and honestly see things getting better. Much better. The only question mark is the shooting, since most of the same people who couldn't shoot this year will return next year to also not shoot. But the ACC is poised to take a huge hit next year in the talent department. Check out who's all leaving:

Tyrese Rice (BC)
K.C. Rivers (Clemson)
Greg Paulus (Duke)
Toney Douglas (FSU)
Alade Aminu (GT)
Lewis Clinch (GT)
Jack McClinton (Miami)
Tyler Hansbrough (UNC)
Danny Green (UNC)
Courtney Fells (NCSt)
A.D. Vassallo (VT)

And you figure there will be early entries of course....Wake's Jeff Teague is almost certainly thinking about it, and perhaps his teammate Al-Farouq Aminu. Ty Lawson and Gerald Henderson project to the first round too, if they go. That's a lot of leading scorers. The Dukes and UNCs of the world will always know they can replace these guys, but what about Miami? FSU? VT? The difference is that they think they can replace them.

Meanwhile we won't have to. Landesberg appears likely to stay at least another year, though I think we'll be in for some heartburn every year around this time waiting for his decision. And I thin Tristan Spurlock will bring in a little bit of that shooting we need. While most of the rest of the ACC is going to worry about filling in the holes, we'll be adding on, and we've started the maturing process for next year early. You could see the growth and improvement the team showed as they got rid of some bad habits while the season progressed. This team was too young and inexperienced for the ACC and it was ugly to watch them get schooled night in and night out by much older players who've seen this movie before. Next year that excuse goes away, but hopefully so does the crazy decision-making and the intimidation.

Just, you know, spend some time in the gym with your jump shot, fellas?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

blogpoll roundtable and other assortations

We'll start off with the assortations.

First, a sure sign that a player had a good day on Saturday: not one, but two fluff articles on Darren Childs. Childs did in fact have an excellent day; the highest praise, I think, is this:

Neither Sintim nor Copper had noticed Antonio Appleby limp off with an ankle injury early in the first quarter, and here was Childs, a seldom-used redshirt junior from San Diego, manning Appleby's spot at inside linebacker in the Cavaliers'3-4 defense.
When you can jump on the field and make plays and the starters can't tell the difference? Excellent. Appleby's a fine, fine linebacker, but if he can't play, we'll be alright. It's Dowling you have to worry about.

Yeah, that was our tight end Phillips carrying the ball. No, don't expect that to ever happen again. Seriously. It's for the best.

The RTD's UVA Notes have some interesting bla bla bla about wide receivers and how they're way awesomer than last year, and some other stuff too, but the important - and scariest - tidbit is buried at the bottom: Calvin Baker, fresh off earning his scholarship, may miss the season with that foot injury of his. Ayyyyyy....I don't want to have to see us use Sylven Landesburg at the point, but now Leitao may have no choice. Landesburg is probably the most talented, and certainly the highest rated, recruit that Leitao has brought in, but A) freshman and B) I feel like - without actually having seen him play yet though - his skills are better suited to being left free to score and score without worrying about quarterbacking the offense. Baker is/was the best point guard we have - letting the offense fall to two guys (Landesburg and Sammy Zeglinski) who have next to nil experience running it bodes ill.

Lastly, the Miami game will be at noon on Raycom.

Now, as promised! The fifth Blogpoll Roundtable is up, and following in the tradition established so far this year of a couple of the same teams running the show, it is over at Corn Nation, who blog Nebraska for you.

1. We’re about half way through the season. Has your team met your expectations, wildly exceeded them, or are you about to light the torches and storm your athletic department demanding blood?

Yes. No? Huh. Which season? The one where we looked like a peewee team against Duke, or the one that just happened over the span of three weeks at Scott Stadium? Let's say this: If on August 29 you'd said we'd be 4-3 at this point in the season, I would have said that sounds about right. What's really happened, though, is that the corner pitchfork and torch store sold out early, and now everyone has an unused pitchfork rusting in the corner. Since we are so far 2-for-2 in the rivals department (that would be Maryland and UNC for the uninitiated), I am satisfied for now, and will call my expectations exceeded somewhat, since even before USC, UConn, and Duke happened to us, I did not expect 2-for-2 in the rivals department.

2. In an election year, all sorts of promises will be made, few will be kept. What is one promise or item you thought you could count on that hasn’t come to pass yet this season? Is there still a chance?

This has nothing to do with the chosen affiliation of this blog, but I thought Michigan would be any good at all. Yeesh.

3. Georgia #1... No, USC #1.… No, Oklahoma #1.… No, Texas #1! Who’s the real #1 team, and who do you think will make it to the big BCS National Title game?

Texas and Penn State, which would be a really cool old-school matchup. Texas is #1 and will stay that way: in grand fashion, they've already taken care of the biggest obstacles in their path. Penn State and Alabama both have fairly easy paths to the title (with only Ohio State and LSU, respectively, as bumps in the road) but 'Bama has that SEC CG to play, which will probably be against Florida. Texas has a championship game too but only has to get past whatever bums (sorry, roundtable hosts) the Big 12 North has to sacrifice to them.

4. In only a few weeks, college football fans get to be treated with the obligatory and annual “We Need a Playoff” screaming. Well, you don’t get a playoff, but I’ll let you make one change to the BCS (and no, you can’t cop out and have the BCS commit suicide) to make the world a better place. What is your change?

I refuse to play by the rules here. You get many changes, then the BCS is perfect, and even better, playoff-proof:

- Add the Cotton Bowl and Gator Bowl to make six.
- Affiliate each conference champion with one bowl: ACC with the Orange, SEC with the Sugar, etc. etc. (The Michigan fan in me weeps for the loss of the Big Ten-Pac 10 Rose Bowl, but this is for the good of the game.)
- Have a competition committee seed them, and select and seed six deserving at-large teams to play the conference champs.
- Play three games on New Year's Eve and three on New Year's Day.
- Then have the competition committee select the two most deserving teams from the bowl winners to play for the title one week later.

We can call this one big-ass change if it makes the rules people feel better.

5. Using this year ONLY - no historical references - respond to the statement “The Big 12 is a better conference than the SEC”. There’s nothing sillier than conference wars, but then again, there’s nothing sillier than how SEC fans respond to any challenge to their supremacy. Aim, Fire!

It does not cease to amaze me that the SEC can cannibalize itself and it is called "supremacy"; the ACC can cannibalize itself (and is doing so in spectacular fashion) and it is called "mediocrity". Seriously: Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2? The SEC has yet to do this year what the Big 12 has done: deliver a well-played, hard-fought game between two heavyweight contenders. For a conference that constantly whines about beating each other up and having so many extra hurdles to a national title, you'd think teams like LSU and Georgia would put up a better fight when it's time to throw down with Florida and Alabama instead of getting choke-slammed on national TV.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

introspectivityness

BlogPoll is out. It is here. You should go read it, so you can say you knew it before it was all big and special and everyone jumped on the bandwagon and acted like they'd been there all this time.

Well. When you lose to Duke, people start wondering. When you lose by four touchdowns, and it's your slimmest loss margin all year, they go straight past "wondering" and right to WTFing. It sets off all kinds of historical fact-digging, like, Duke hadn't won an ACC game since 2005. Hadn't won a game by that much since 1998. Etc. etc.

Usually, the media is somewhat behind the fans when it comes to calling for the coach's job. This is no different - the Groh Must Go movement was sort of smoldering after 2006 but pretty much had its official coming out party after Wyoming last year, when Beta Bridge sported the message. The GMG proponents then laid low for the rest of the season, because long winning streaks make Fire The Coach guys look kinda dumb when they vocalize that message. But the movement is back, it has loads of new supporters, and it's now officially backed by the media. Paul Woody at the RTD writes what I'm pretty sure is the first real GMG article of the season. I don't necessarily disagree with the premise (the official FOV position, however, is brought to you by Eggo) but I crazy disagree with most of his reasons. Actually, he really only has two specific ones outside of "the team sucks and is getting worse", and these are: losing too many players to academics, and everything related to the Peter Lalich situation. Groh did not suspend Lalich, as Woody claims; it has all the appearances of an administration decision. Groh did not dismiss Lalich as Woody claims; it was definitely an administration decision, and Littlepage said so himself. (It's for this reason that I believe the GMG crowd has likely already got their wish and Littlepage is merely waiting for the opportune moment.)

As for the academic departures, much has been made of these, especially since we could really use a holy terror of a defensive end right now, and Jeffrey Fitzgerald was all set to be just that. I may not exactly know whether or not I want to see Groh fired, but I know this: Never, never, never blame the coach for the academic failures of his players. Woody's reasons for doing so are twofold. One, because he feels the team did not support the players enough in their academics, and two, for recruiting players who don't take their studies seriously in the first place. Listen. You want to keep any shred of standards and still field a competitive team, then you roll the dice every now and again. If you demand a Rhodes scholar before you send out the offer, you become Vanderbilt: a terrific school in far over its head in the SEC, doomed to bottom feed in the standings for all time. (This season notwithstanding.) And if you demand academic qualification at all costs, you become something far, far worse: Florida State.

What's nice to see is the team rallying around the coach, somewhat. At least, Marc Verica is. Verica steps only just a bit outside the typical realm of clichespeak, but any such foray is encouraging:

“It’s unfortunate to see,” Verica said. “I kind of wish people would have your back more, had your coach’s back because this program has done a lot of great things under coach Groh and for things just to be down at this point, to turn your back or to get down on someone, that’s not the right way to handle it.

“It’s easy to access blame and it’s easy to point fingers, but what I do know is that it’s hard to be accountable and to take ownership of things and Coach Groh does that. He is accountable to us; he is accountable to the coaches. He takes ownership of things and so do we.”

In this sense it is a good thing that these last two games have been on the road, because a 31-3 drubbing by Duke would have been received very poorly by 60,000 orange-clad partisans. One can only hope that at least the boos do not rain down on the team upon their entrance on Saturday night; these should be reserved for special occasions such as, "Hey, look, it's Mikey Groh on the big screen!" And, forgotten among the hype, is that "road" thing - we all knew beforehand this team historically plays poorly outside Charlottesville. This is traceable back to the coach too, but it's been balanced out by some terrific games at home.

So booing is not the answer, and fans, please don't. And don't be Mick from Bupkissville, who had a perfectly legitimate question for Groh's radio show, a question I'd love to know the answer to, but prefaced it with a giant Fuck You Coach and a You Suck Coach, causing Groh to ignore the query.

Groh's press conference yesterday betrayed little indication of the rising firestorm surrounding him; few to no questions (that were printed by UVA, anyway) came up about his status. The offensive line was brought up, as reporters tried to phrase questions in such a way as to get Groh to answer one that said "it sucks, doesn't it?" Groh suggests inexperience is a factor, and praises their pass-blocking. Indeed, the pass-blocking has been excellent. One sack per game is a very good number. This suggests to me that inexperience is not a factor at all. They have plenty of experience on the field; they could use some experience with the weight room, because they have yet to get any consistent push off the line of scrimmage.

Lastly, two notes of some import: One, Vic Hall may be replaced as the punt returner. He made terrible decisions in the Duke game, which led me to wonder what kind of decisions he'd make as a quarterback and if perhaps the coaches aren't right after all in playing him where athleticism is required and decision-making is not. Two, congratulations to basketballer Calvin Baker, who has earned himself at least one year of tuition-free attendance at the University.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Soroye not leaving after all; Lars gone

Time for the Monday catch-up. First, the best news. Per the Daily Progress, Tunji Soroye will return and be awarded the scholarship vacated by Will Harris. Soroye is the only really tall (6'10" or above) player on the roster that isn't a freshman, and his defense was sorely missed last season. This means that Calvin Baker will remain a walk-on, at least for this year.

** As I was typing, this happens. Bombshell: Lars Mikalauskas is gone. On the bright side, ummmmmm..... maybe Baker will get that scholarship after all.

Wonderful. Just wonderful. The season just went from pretty bad to a little bit better to a whole hell of a lot worse.

%#&*. Moving on....

Speaking of Will Harris, he has decided to become a Great Dane and play for UAlbany. Best of luck to him there. Of note, remember Keith Friel? I do. Slow, awesome white kid who could do nothing but shoot and get big cheers every time he came in the game. His brother Jeremy is an assistant at Albany. So that's neat.

Looking around the league....

- Virginia Tech's Zach Luckett is suspended from the team for DUI. He will spend time in jail if convicted; whether or not he's still on the team by then is anyone's guess. Since it's his second in just a few years, perhaps iffy.

- NC State has been hit hard by injuries, losing Toney Baker, Clem Johnson, and Donald Bowens. Baker, though talented, is the least of their worries; he'll likely be back at some point this year, and the Pack have two other quality backs. Clem Johnson, in complete defiance of my projections, was on track to start at safety. And Bowens, out with a slight spinal fracture, was their best wide receiver.

- Again in defiance of my projection, Maryland has named Jordan Steffy the starting quarterback.

- Florida state in major NCAA doo-doo? More in a bit.

First, some quickies:
- The kicking is looking better.

- Sean Gottschalk and Staton Jobe are hurting.

Now.....Florida State.

There's almost zero MSM backup on this right now, because the school is being obstreperous about releasing any info. So bear that in mind. Then go read this post over at BuckeyePlanet. Gatorubet is a reliable and excellent poster. The ominous part of the post (for the Seminoles) is the unattributed quote from the AD: "The NCAA may be looking to make an example of us."

This would be something to keep an eye on. Even after FSU announced their self-imposed punishments, all was not kosher in Nole-land. Simply suspending players for a couple games was not going to do it, especially when you then go ahead and schedule Little Debbie and the Keebler Elves to fill those spots on the schedule. The players may be the ones participating but this is an institutional issue, not a player-misconduct issue. The NCAA's catchphrase is "lack of institutional control" and it certainly applies to FSU over the past 16 years or so. This goes beyond lack of control, it is outright institutional enabling. Scholarship slots will almost certainly be lost; a postseason ban is also not out of the question, in the humble opinion of your blogger.