Tuesday, March 31, 2009

after sleeping on it

Yesterday was not an especially productive day at my bill-paying job. Eager for updates after a weekend of rumors, I lurked around the InterWebs at those places most likely to have news when it happened. As the day dragged on, I managed to get closer and closer to convincing myself that soon we were going to be allowed to revel in the news that that much-coveted tutor of basketball, Orlando "Tubby" Smith, would be the head basketball coach at the University of Virginia.

I suspect many of you can tell a similar story.

I left work, and no coach was named. I subjected myself to the usual ritual self-abuse at the gym, went home, fired up the web-surfing machine, and received the same unkind shock the rest of you did, and asked myself the question asked by 90% of the UVA fanbase: "Who the %&$# is Tony Bennett?" Also included in this question-but-no-answer session with myself was, Where the %&$# is Tubby Smith, What the $%&# school does Tony Bennett even coach at, and What the $%&# is Craig Littlepage doing, exactly? I felt like Jay in Dogma, enough so that I figured he could speak more aptly than I could and gave him exactly that opportunity, two posts below. I then opened up post window #2 and began a stream-of-consciousness rant before realizing, one, I still stunk from the gym and two, I'm damn hungry.

So showering is a great place to do some thinking on things when I'm not flexing the golden pipes, and it turns out this is a pretty good way to avoid having to write an I-take-it-all-back post later on. The first realization that came from this thinking cap session actually had its roots in the now-closed poll at right, in which Fran McCaffrey received zero votes. Damn, I thought, if by some off-chance he's hired, he's going to have to start by convincing the faithful that he's the man for the job, which is a sucky way to have to start. Tubby and Capel were the clear winners of that unscientific but probably pretty accurate experiment.

So it's not exactly fair to Tony Bennett to start right off the bat by ripping the hire because I was hoping for and expecting something bigger. Thus, yesterday's post was born. Regardless of anything else, Bennett deserves a solid three years, at the very minimum - coaches can't possibly be fairly judged in any less time unless they're Jim Harrick or Kelvin Sampson. No "Fire Bennett" calls will emanate from this page regardless of how many or how few wins this team wins next year. Littlepage, on the other hand, won't be so lucky.

But therein lies the rub in trying to evaluate exactly what we've got. Bennett has been a head coach for exactly three years. It's not fair to jump to conclusions because his name isn't Tubby Smith, but by the same token there really isn't much to go off of here. But let's give it a crack.

Much is already known about Bennett's style. Defense is his calling card and any number of stathead sites can tell you about his WSU teams' defensive abilities. We'll use KenPom, which says that despite the Cougars' pedestrian record last year, they were 6th in the land in defensive efficiency - points per 100 possessions is his benchmark. That's best in the Pac-10 and better than anyone in the ACC too. They've been turning in similar numbers since before Tony Bennett was even the head coach, but he's been there since 2003 so this stuff has his fingerprints on it no matter what.

Offense, though....hmm. Eeeesh, actually. It wasn't good this year. KenPom has them 120th, and remember, KenPom's numbers are tempo-free - they have nothing to do with the slow pace of play Bennett is reputed to employ. However, comma, when Bennett had experienced players his offense was actually quite good. In 2007 his Wazzu offense was better KenPom-wise than our Singletary-and-Reynolds-led offense, and not one of those WSU guys is an NBAer. It's safe to say that, whether by luck of the draw or by following the advice of other coaches in the country, Littlepage has found a coach who's got the X's and O's side of the game licked.

But can he recruit? The conventional wisdom seems to be that he's managed to bring in quality players to the most desolate outpost in big-major D-I basketball, so yes, he can recruit. I don't buy it. I'm not saying he can't recruit. I'm saying as far as Virginia recruiting goes, he's starting entirely from scratch and has proven practically nothing at all. In his time at WSU he pulled one player from UVA recruiting territory, who liked it so much in Pullman he transferred to St. Bonaventure after two years. If you read ESPN he's done pretty well. WSU's '09 and '08 classes appear solid, the real coup being Klay Thompson from the OC, CA. ESPN's also way high on Mike Harthun, and if you believe them, he picked WSU over Arizona and UCLA. Not so much, really - his actual other offers were from Pepperdine, Montana, and Oregon State. And he's from Medford, Oregon, so Pullman really isn't much of a stretch.

When it comes down to it, Bennett's recruiting at WSU since 2003 has turned up three players that you could legitimately say he brought in against the odds. That'd be Thompson, Chris Matthews (the aforementioned St. B transfer), and David Chadwick out of Charlotte, this year. You could maybe throw in a fourth, Xavier Thames from the Sacramento area. The rest have been a mishmash of guys with offers from Portland State or Evansville, locals, and foreign players. Bennett has signed more foreign players than Americans from east of the Mississippi. He also tends to have the pick of the litter in Spokane, as you'd expect. The '08 recruiting class was solid overall but the '07 class was honestly awful. The success he's had with these sorts of players speaks even better to his in-game skills, but mostly he's been out looking for the under-the-radar types that fit the system.

That's just not going to cut it here. It just isn't, not if we want to get any further than 8-8 or 9-7 every year. It's good enough to beat the Miamis and GTs and NC States of the conference, but do we want to ride the bubble every year or do we want to knock Tobacco Road off their perch? If it's the latter, and I hope it is, then we need major-league talent. Coaching will only get you so far. Pete Gillen and Dave Leitao, for all their faults, went into places like Philly and NYC and DC and brought us major-league talent while competing for it against the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, and Georgetown. Unfortunately it took Leitao a few years to get up to speed, and Leitao had been head coach in urban schools in Boston and Chicago and an assistant at UConn as well. Leitao knew how to recruit these places. Our main recruiting base is Virginia, DC, Maryland, Philly, New Jersey, and to a lesser extent North Carolina and NYC, and sometimes a little farther afield to the Midwest. Tony Bennett is brand-new to these areas. This is the biggest concern. If we don't show well next year or in '10-'11, Bennett is going to find himself in quicksand out in the recruiting circles. If Bennett can maximize the talent he's got on the team right now, which is pretty rough around the edges and extremely young but an embarrassment of riches compared to what he's been working with in Pullman, then he'll have a shot at parlaying that into recruiting success.

The other major concern is that we ain't in Kansas anymore. Figuratively speaking. At risk of sounding like a conference elitist, this is the ACC. The arenas are bigger, the spotlights are brighter, the announcers are louder, the stakes are higher. There are five arenas in the ACC bigger than anything they have in the Pac-10, including ours. It's one thing to make a trip to Pauley Pavilion each year. Certainly, that's tough. It's another to make a trip to Maryland where they hate your guts and Blacksburg where they hate your guts and Cameron where they hate everybody's guts, and the Dean Dome where 21,000 people are watching you. Who hates WSU? UW? Scary. We may not be North Carolina, but by virtue of sharing a conference with them -and Duke and Wake Forest and all the rest - the spotlight shines nearly as bright here as in Chapel Hill. And certainly far brighter than Pullman, Washington. If that's not evident by the million-dollar-plus raise Bennett is getting, then I can't help you.

Those of you who wanted Leitao fired and then complained miserably about this hire, stop it. You have no right to complain, I don't care what you'd been led to believe by Jeff White. By now you have to have noticed the similiarities between Bennett and Leitao. Both preach defense. Both have COY awards under their belt - both in 2007, no less. Both had done well for themselves at schools in a big conference but a tough spot. In all of these respects, though, Bennett has done better than Leitao. Bennett's COY award was a national one. Bennett's defenses were better than ours. Bennett's situation at WSU has got to be harder than Leitao's at DePaul, and yet Bennett did more with less at his pre-UVA stop than did Leitao. By these metrics, Bennett is an improvement.

I'm not yet convinced Bennett is a better hire than Tubby, Capel, Barnes, etc. would have been, though, and I didn't actually want Leitao fired, so I reserve the right to be a little disappointed we didn't get them. All of them are proven coaches with proven track records on the whiteboard and the recruiting trail. Some of them are more than familiar with ACC-land. But I'm warming to Bennett, a process which started about ten seconds after the initial discontented shock, when I learned the answer to that question, Where the $%&# is this guy from? Oh, Washington State? Hm, they've done well for themselves lately. There's no doubt in my mind at least that Bennett is a better hire than some of the other fallbacks that were mentioned like Grant or McCaffrey. UVA fans should keep an open mind on Bennett, a short leash on Littlepage, and above all else, welcome the new coach to Hooville with open arms.

Monday, March 30, 2009

If We Do Not Make The NCAA Tournament In 2010, Craig Littlepage Must Be Fired.

That's the long and short of it right there.

If you're reading this, you probably already know what it's about, but just to maintain some pretense of journalistic integrity, here's what I'm talking about. So that being said, please do not take this post as an indictment of our new coach Tony Bennett. I'm not pissed off that we hired Tony Bennett. I welcome him with open arms to the UVA community and as a UVA fan, I wish him nothing but the very very best. ACC and national titles galore, all the money Paul Tudor Jones can shove at him, a statue on the Lawn next to Homer, and seven-foot tall recruits with 4.0 GPAs that fall all over themselves to come to Virginia and stay for four years - five, if the NCAA lets them.

But, again:

If UVA does not make the NCAA tournament in 2010, Craig Littlepage must be fired.

I don't need to tell you that this is the ACC. Basketball is king. Football is great, and success in football is a must, but it's ultimately not what this conference is known for. You have to do well in basketball. I also don't need to tell you about our general suckitude in this area. But I will. Since I showed up on Grounds as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed first year, we have achieved precisely one victory in the NCAA tournament. This puts us even with Virginia Tech and Miami this decade, and that's unacceptable, which is why two coaches have been fired in that time frame. In that time we are 58-86 in regular season ACC play. Also terrible. Being hired at UVA is enough to get Bennett onto the front page of ESPN.com, right above the latest idiocy about Chad Johnson, so it's not like we're a Baylor or a Northwestern struggling to stay afloat in a league that keeps us only because it's tradition. There's visibility here, which is a nice way of saying the whole world can tell we suck. You absolutely cannot fail twice in ACC basketball when it comes to picking coaches.

But, you say, Bennett will have been on the job only a year. Not making the NCAA's in one year can hardly be considered failure. He'll have a team full of sophomores and as likely as not, no recruiting class. I expect this to be a common sentiment. If you feel this way, tell me: what would have been success for Dave Leitao? NCAA? NIT? Or a lesser tournament like the CBI? Myself, I expected that Leitao would have this team back to postseason play, likely in the NIT. Most of the team and pretty much all the important parts were returning. All would be a year older. A solid recruiting class was coming in. Most of the really good players in the ACC (Toney Douglas, Tyrese Rice, Jeff Teague, Tyler Hansbrough, etc.) would be gone, out of eligibility or to the draft early anyway. This was ours for the taking. I didn't agree with Leitao being fired because the results this season actually mildly outperformed expectations and because of this window of opportunity to succeed. The timing was wrong.

But Leitao is now gone, and this is not only the second coach Littlepage has hired but the second time he's gone off the beaten path for it. Hiring Tubby Smith or Jeff Capel would have been the easy route, the safe route, and the one that earned Littlepage a feather in his cap as far as the fanbase was concerned. That's not to scoff at the idea, it's to encourage it. There's a reason they were considered the slam dunk, home run hires. They're excellent coaches and they would have listened to our sales pitch. And they would have brought instant credibility. This is different. This is going to take some convincing. Littlepage is going to sit at that press conference tomorrow and tell us he hired the best coach for the job, just as he did four years ago. Nobody's going to believe it, because the folks considered the best for the job are still coaching at the places they coached at last week. The one person who will believe it, who has to believe it more than anyone else in the world, maybe even more so than Tony Bennett himself, is Craig Littlepage. (If he doesn't, then he's a puppet who needs to go anyway.) So the fate of this basketball team is on Craig Littlepage.

The window, however, is now poised to slam shut. How many transfers will there be? No offense to Tony Bennett, but this is a coaching change. There are always transfers and decommitments. If there are not, then hats off to Tony because he will have managed to pull off an unprecedented sales pitch. What kind of a team will we have next year? Who will wear the uniform? Nobody can say for sure right now. But Bennett no doubt was brought in, at least in large part, because he took a previously pathetic Washington State squad to a shock-the-world kind of tourney season. My baseline expectation for Leitao was the NIT, as mentioned above. If Bennett is not an improvement over that, then Littlepage should be fired for overseeing a full decade of basketball failure at UVA.

We're at a tipping point. The fans wanted Tubby. The fans wanted a splashy hire. They didn't get it. The fans also want a good basketball team. If they don't get that either, support will dry up. Nobody's going to drive an hour from Richmond or 90 minutes from DC or two hours from Hampton Roads or donate any money for a bad basketball team coached by a nobody. Bennett has to be a somebody or this team is going to be at least five years from relevance.

This means he needs to be all in. Not "all in" as in the cheesy motivational slogan employed by Dabo Swinney. Really all in, with a sprinting head start and a cannonball off the high dive. He needs to call the players. Tonight. He needs to call the recruits. Tonight. (Assuming, that is, he is officially no longer employed by Washington State.) He needs a whole wardrobe full of Virginia Cavaliers schwag. He needs to have the Good Ol' Song memorized by tomorrow's press conference. Orange and blue need to be his favorite colors, Thomas Jefferson his favorite President, and Edgar Allan Poe his favorite poet. Coach Bennett needs to be a 'Hoo, not just be employed by the University.

It's the only way to save Craig Littlepage's job.

instead of peanut butter jelly you get this

(not exactly SFW.)


TheSabre poster wahooinflorida dug up this little gem:


That is a private jet flight that as I type is landing at Holman Field in St. Paul, Minnesota, and will take off in half an hour - destination KCHO. Arrival time in Charlottesville is 10 to 6.

The flight is run by Flight Options, a charter jet service. It is this kind of plane.

Adam Gottschalk may have this one right. If all goes well, Tubby Time at UVA could begin as soon as this evening, or perhaps tomorrow.

UPDATE: as of 3:22, the St. Paul-to-Charlottesville flight is no longer listed on the link there. I don't care....there's too much smoke for there not to be a fire. And it doesn't necessarily mean the flight was canceled - it's possible to file a private flight plan.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Remember now. I don't break news. I barely even report it. I basically give you my thoughts on it, hopefully in entertaining fashion, and I don't even do that very well if this afternoon's rumors turn out to have any basis in fact. See, yesterday, I posted this:

This is why I don't know who I think the next coach will be, but I think I know who it won't be: Tubby Smith. I'm sure there's interest on our side - if there were rock solid interest on the other side, this'd be almost a done deal by now. Hell, given the smokescreens, maybe it is - but I doubt it.
Well, if you're a reader of Cavs Corner or TheSabre, you've noticed the boards going nuclear over the Tubby Smith rumormongering today, and the above words now seem a tad silly. Listen, if we do get Tubby Smith, it will not merely be peanut butter jelly time, it will be a Charlottesville celebration the likes of which hasn't been seen since Warrick Dunn ended up one foot shy. This might be all idle speculation, but the Ch/Krises who run the show at the respective sites above and who have actual access to the actual people running the actual show and who don't agree on how to spell Ch/Kris have not in any way made any move to dispel the Tubby rumors. They will only say that they can't confirm anything, either. In a world where denying rumors means not denying rumors at all, actually not denying rumors can be veritable confirmation.

So if you'll forgive me for my doubting ways of yesterday, I offer this new prediction, based on a completely unknown number of degrees of Kevin Bacon between me and the folks making the calls: If the Tubby Smith rumors gain real traction this weekend and by Monday, Tuesday at the latest, the roulette wheel has come up Tubby, then wooooooooooooo. If the weekend passes and the Tubby rumors fizzle, then that'll be the last you hear of them, and Jeff Capel will be the next big thing.

(I really wanted to have a football recruiting update, too, and maybe a little lacrosse sumthin'-sumthin', since it's Hit A Twerp With A Stick Weekend. But we got off of work at beer-thirty today and, kids, don't drink and post, it's not good for you. It was all I could do to not just post TUBBY WOOOO TUBBY and be done with it. And now I'm going to play some Smash Brothers, and maybe get drunk all over again since the Michigan hockey game tickets I bought for tomorrow are now Air Force hockey game tickets (DAMMIT.) If Tubby happens over the weekend I'll be sure to let you know, maybe.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

CIA hired as lead search firm

The reason the UVA Foundation plane hasn't left Charlottesville in nearly a week is because Craig Littlepage is using black helicopters to conduct this coaching search. With the word leaking out that a mystery coaching candidate may or may not have taken a clandestine late-night tour of the JPJA facilities - complete with security cameras being turned off so as not to report any faces - we've officially entered Area 51.

On the one hand you've got Jeff White swearing that an "absolutely impeccable source" assured him there was no such visit. Whitey Reid believes otherwise, and Adam Gottschalk has an "airtight source" that's telling him, yes, the visit took place and not only that, but whoever visited has an official offer in front of him.

Meanwhile, a "reliable source" who is "really plugged in to various big time coaching circles" informs a poster at CavsCorner that Steve Robinson, assistant at UNC, has an offer; another poster, whose sources told him to "shut his mouth" after saying this, is dead-convinced that Jeff Capel is the guy and the rest is just smoke. You've got Rick Barnes spotted at a Charlottesville 7-11, except UT swears he's been in Austin all this time and could not have been the midnight visitor.

Even your humble blogger has his sources. I can now confirm that Craig Littlepage was seen leaving the Minneapolis offices of Tubby Smith. Or maybe he was in Norman, OK. In any case my photographer, dressed as an innocent janitor with a camera hidden in his mop handle, snapped this photo of Littlepage leaving an office. Somewhere.

It's an airtight source, guys, I'm telling you.

So what do I think of all this? It's a good thing I have this blog so I can tell you. The athletic department certainly is expending a lot of effort at creating confusion. I absolutely do think they have people with instructions to tell White one thing and Reid another and Gottschalk another and so on and so forth. Because obviously somebody's source is not so impeccable or airtight as they believe.

With all this effort going on to convince the media that two mutually exclusive things are both in fact true, you'd think - or at least hope - a similar effort is underway to actually, you know, hire a coach. I think you can take this to the bank: that whoever is hired will be significantly richer than they were at their last job. For this reason I think our odds of seeing a coach hired from a big name school are better than the 50/50 that I offered up earlier. That, and a few more coaches from big name schools have entered the equation - namely, Texas' Rick Barnes and LSU's Trent Johnson. Barnes, obviously, has a track record and would be excellent. Johnson, I'm not so sure of. His LSU squad was pretty solid this year but they were basically kings of the mud. Repeatedly thumping the likes of Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas is not remarkably impressive.

Here's the real problem, and the reason for the secrecy. This coaching search is just as much about who wants us as it is about who we want. If we were Kentucky, who I think is about to have a similar vacancy, this wouldn't matter. Kentucky will publicly offer someone, because who is going to publicly turn down Kentucky? And even if they do, Kentucky will still get someone very good who will have no trouble putting aside their indignation over not being the #1 choice, because it's Kentucky. Kentucky doesn't offer you the job, they deign to allow you to have it.

So we'll do the dance about "evaluating" the candidates when really the only thing we're evaluating is their willingness to pull up roots and come to Virginia. Because we're like the guy proposing to his girlfriend on the big screen at the ballpark: when we pop the question, we'd better be damn sure the answer is yes. This is why I don't know who I think the next coach will be, but I think I know who it won't be: Tubby Smith. I'm sure there's interest on our side - if there were rock solid interest on the other side, this'd be almost a done deal by now. Hell, given the smokescreens, maybe it is - but I doubt it.

If the right teams get eliminated this weekend, I think we'll see a little bit of movement. (Go Syracuse.) If not, expect another week of this cloak and dagger shit.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the recruit: Kevin Parks

Finally. Caught up to reality. From here on out I'll be trying to have these out the day of a verbal commit, or the day after if there's something that just can't wait.

Name: Kevin Parks
Position: RB
Hometown: Rowan County, NC
School: West Rowan
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 185

ESPN: 76
Rivals: three stars, 5.6, #56 RB
Scout: NR

I can be a pretty pessimistic sort. I tend to reserve excitement until I see results more often than not. (I didn't used to. My sports fanitude was full of childlike optimism and sunny outlooks no matter how bad reality was. Then Matt Millen jaded the everloving shit outta me by taking that football team to depths previously uncharted by any professional team in any sport, ever.)

But I digress. The point is that this blog has generally taken a wait-and-see attitude toward its teams, except for when it takes the oh-god-we're-doomed attitude.

But not today. This Kevin Parks kid is ri-got-damn-diculous and I cannot WAIT for him to take his first UVA handoff. Partly, I'm dazzled by his stats; who wouldn't be, when he averaged 179 yards a game his junior year and scored 43 touchdowns? That's "forty-three", people. In other words if he ran for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns in a game, he was below average.

He runs well, too. Granted, highlight videos for running backs tend to show them looking good by running through gaping holes, and his are no different. But he plays fast. He scoots. He's clearly way too fast for linebackers to deal with in open space. And his height is probably a blessing because he's stocky and tough to take down by wrapping up high, and too short for a six-foot-plus defender to get down low.

Normally I like to look at the offer list when I can't go by the ratings (or don't trust them) and unfortunately there's nothing there either, because it's way early. Illinois and ECU had offers in, and who else would have offered we can only guess. Parks is solid enough in his commitment and verbaled up early enough that the other teams are looking elsewhere. If he were still uncommitted, by now I think his kitchen table would have offers from most if not all of the North Carolina schools, and probably a few others in the region like Clemson.

So, suffice to say, I think he'll be a good one. I believe if he were six feet tall with the acceleration he has and those blingy stats, he'd be on the Rivals 250 and the ESPN watch list and all that ranking jazz. It's too early to say whether he'll make an immediate impact upon arrival, because we really don't know for sure how Brandon's offense will use running backs and if there's a great big need for them. At least two very good backs will be in front of him on the depth chart when he shows up next year, so this could be some delayed gratification. But there will be gratification. The one silver lining for having to wait so long for him to show up enrolled on Grounds is that we get to see if he'll improve on those numbers during his senior year at West Rowan. 3,000 yards? Maybe. In any case Parks' commitment is a terrific kick-start to the 2010 recruiting season.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the Hopkins game; also, spring practice

So a couple notes from the ongoing spring practices that necessitated some changes to the depth chart:

- Chris Cook will in fact return to corner. The depth at each position remains the same, however, as Rodney McLeod moves to safety. Which is where I kept thinking he was in the first place, so that's helpful.

- Mark Ambrose is effectively retired from football with recurring shoulder troubles, thus freeing up a football scholarship. More in a bit.

- John-Kevin Dolce is more a nose tackle than a linebacker these days. This gives us some needed depth up front. Nose tackle is really what makes the 3-4 go, and tired nose tackles don't draw double teams. This means plenty of rotation, and just three guys at that position probably wasn't going to cut it. Four is a number I like better.

Now: Ambrose. Moving him off the depth chart means you can now count up the names and come up with a total of 89 scholarships promised. 88 if Kyle Long doesn't make it in the fall. The limit, as you know, is 85. How we'll reconcile this I don't know but a hint to the answer can probably be found in the news that Ambrose's career is over. I have, of course, absolutely no knowledge of the actual severity of the injury. The coaches say he can't play any more, and absent other evidence you have to believe them.

But this is pretty similar to what happened with Alabama last year. They had too many scholarships promised out, and lo and behold three or four guys had recurring medical issues and were forced to give up football. All reserves, of course, who barely saw the field. A few recruits didn't qualify. I think it's fair to at least ask a couple questions - rhetorical, because I have no press pass, but questions anyway:

- If Ambrose were a starter, an all-ACC performer even, would his shoulder problems be severe enough to warrant giving up football?
- If we had 83 scholarships promised out instead of 90, would his shoulder problems be severe enough to warrant giving up football?

I suppose you have to assume the coaches know what they're doing. But going all-out with the '09 class and taking so many LOIs seems like playing with fire. Much was made of UNC's recruiting class which was well over the limit of 25, but what's the difference between signing over the single-class limit and signing over the overall limit? There may of course be a perfectly innocuous explanation, like, the coaches saw this shoulder issue coming a mile away and anticipated that once they put on pads, Ambrose wouldn't be able to play. Still, there are 88 or 89 healthy and presumably academically qualified players on that chart. Some of them won't be there on September 1 against W&M. I'd hate to see us have to resort to skeezy tactics to make it fit.

OK! Now that I've got you pissed off at either me or the football program, let's talk lacrosse, and specifically, the win over Hopkins that was first an awesome blowout then a complete abomination then awesome again. My observations:

- I'm pretty amateur at breaking down lacrosse. Very amateur, actually. The number of lacrosse games I've seen on TV can be counted on my hands. So when I can see the gaping holes in the JHU defense and see what's coming before it happens - which usually involved one of our attackmen sliding into the open spot untouched and slamming home a perfect pass - that's when you know shitty defense is being played. Debbie Downer that I am, I liked our offensive effort but I'm pretty sure a middle school Quiz Bowl team could have donned the pads and potted a couple goals against the criminal negligence masquerading as defense that Hopkins was playing in the first quarter. I hope none of our rivals were watching that (they were though) because the clear message regarding how to stop our offense is PLAY ZONE.

- With a name like Steele Stanwick, your life is pretty well cut out for you before you even start. Hotshot lacrosse player at a prestigious East Coast school - check (and if he doesn't live up to the potential he's displayed so far, it'll be the greatest waste of a terrific name since Majestic Mapp landed on his knee funny.) Next up is law school at Georgetown and a feverish, cutthroat race to make partner at a DC or New York firm. Either that or writing paperback courtroom/murder dramas (Firm Fatale by Steele Stanwick), but either way, bigshot lawyers in fancy suits and BMWs are going to be involved. And by the way, I'm still trying to figure out what rathole his second goal (team's sixth) wormed through before it found the back of the net. Guy's a deadeye shot, too.

- OMG win faceoffs plz k thx!!! Gaudet did a very good job at this, and frankly if he had only won half, we'd have lost. I think it was Benincasa getting utterly destroyed on that faceoff at the end of the third quarter in which a Hopkins goal ensued approximately three seconds thereafter. Gaudet's going to have to continue his faceoff excellence all season because I don't know if our defense is consistently good enough to withstand a lot of extra possessions for the opposition.

- For a team whose style is pursuing and attacking the ball on defense (I know this because the announcers mentioned it at least eight thousand times, usually in the context of pointing out us getting burned by it) we sure don't do a lot of it when the ball is loose. I need to go back and look at the recording again to find out who that was ambling down the field with the ball like right next to him screaming "PICK ME UP!" and not paying attention to it. As Hopkins fell behind, they became the more desperate team on ground balls and played like it. I want to see a better sense of urgency next time out.

- Maryland is next, on Saturday and on ESPN2. Not the UVA Football Channel. The Deuce. How cool is it that ACC lacrosse is on ESPN2? I wish I was a UVA lacrosse player so it would be legal for me to hit a Twerp with a stick on national TV.

Monday, March 23, 2009

yet another post which was supposed to be about anything else at all is gobbled up by the monster that is a coaching search

Obligatory coaching search tracking results in three links, only two of which have to do with our next coach and one of which is about the past coach.

Minnesotans were no doubt happy to read the column in the Star-Tribune today reassuring them that Tubby Smith expects to stay at Minnesota. I would probably take it as the usual bla bla bla about being happy where you are right until you sign on the dotted line somewhere else, but for the part where Tubby rang up the school president. If we want this coaching search to wrap up quickly, then I think we're all Syracuse fans on Friday night. That or Pitt fans. (Tangent alert: Pitt is the champion in my money bracket, which you can imagine led to some heart palpitations on Friday night when they threatened me with losing to #16 seed ETSU. I would have hated Pitt forever for that.)

And wrap up quickly it had better, because we're not the only school looking for a coach. Arizona's out there looking, as is Alabama, Georgia, and quite possibly Kentucky. Alabama's already looking at VCU's Anthony Grant, which, if that goes through, would remove one of our possible fallback candidates. Craig Littlepage needs to get cracking, but is kind of in a tough spot - if Tubby won't come, unfortunately Candidates 1B and 1C are still in the tournament, and just to spite us will probably meet in the Final Four.

Kentucky, by the way, is interesting. Though we might find ourselves in hot competition for Sean Miller if Billy Gillispie is fired - Miller already plies his trade just 90 minutes from Lexington and would be a natural fit - if we haven't already hired a coach by then, Littlepage would be stupid not to at least give Gillispie a look.

So then there's this, a rather less than flattering look at Dave Leitao and his well-known public disposition that resembled a wolverine with Tourette's syndrome. Actually much of this is not new, especially to anyone within hearing range of Leitao shortly after witnessing the game's 12th defensive breakdown. But I hope we didn't fire the coach because he uses naughty words. There is one troubling aspect to the article:

Hobgood wasn’t alone in his frustrations. A number of former players never made Leitao’s inner circle. One recent Virginia graduate, a starter for Leitao, e-mailed The Daily Progress shortly after the coach’s departure. “Justice served, ha ha,” the player wrote.
This does cause me to soften my stance somewhat, the stance that says Leitao's relationship with his players being too combative was wildly overblown. Soften - but not change. Players do not punt trash cans on their very angry way out of the locker room following the coaching change announcement if they are happy about the firing, as Mike Scott was reported to do.

(Side note: If I could remember whether or not Lars Mikalauskas graduated, I'd suggest maybe he's the phantom emailer above. But that would be rumormongering, and that would be wrong because you can't rumormonger on the InterWebs.)

But it's not like we didn't know what we were getting into, and frankly it's not like Leitao didn't deliver what he promised. This is what Leitao said when he was hired:

“I can tell you that the next time we play a basketball team, these young men will play and fight together like never before. … Whoever plays against us will know that we will fight you for every inch of the floor.”
And Sammy Zeglinski, ibid from the CDP article above:

Added freshman Sammy Zeglinski: “His competitiveness was unmatched. He just really taught me how to compete.”
Maybe Leitao is that hot dog salesman from the commercial: "I sell what I say! Hot dogs." You know, the one where there's no bun. Maybe we got a hot dog without the bun and watery mustard. But I'm still of the opinion that it wouldn't have been long and we'd be back where we wanted to be, with Leitao at the helm. Littlepage better not screw up this coaching hire.

Anyway. If you haven't already done so, do vote in the poll on the right. It's this blog's first foray into the wide world of completely unscientific and statistically insignificant opinion canvassing. Seems like a natural question. The poll ends on Sunday, by which time I hope that most of those candidates aren't already out of the running.

My thoughts on the first lacrosse game that I got to see this season will have to wait, as I'm learning, rapidly, that I have no ability to shut up when it comes to this coaching search. Suffice to say this for now: This team could absolutely coast to the national championship if they could play offense like they did in the first quarter and defense like they did in the fourth and play it for four quarters, every time. But any game in which they play like that third quarter for more than 15 minutes, they'll lose. Badly. Let's just hope they don't do any of that in the NCAAs. By the way, I TiVoed that game so look for it some time in the future in highlight form in the video section.

Friday, March 20, 2009

weekend preview

OK, I intend to make it through an entire post without mentioning a "coaching search." Except for just now.

It's a big weekend for the spring sports with two highly-ranked teams taking on highly-ranked opponents. Lacrosse goes to Baltimore for a tilt against Johns Hopkins. It's on ESPNU in prime time, which means I'll be watching, which means we'll probably lose. Baseball has a big series against Miami at Davenport Field.

Hopkins has played two ranked teams this year and lost to them both - one in ugly fashion. Princeton gave them much more of a beating than the 14-8 final score shows - it was 10-1 at the half and Hopkins was badly outshot. Their other loss is Syracuse, just last week. Last year's game against Hopkins was a 13-12 UVA win in OT and could have been wider but for the Hopkins goaltender who made 17 saves. He was good like that last year. This year his goaltending has been just this side of average.

We haven't lost to Hopkins since 2005 when they dropped us twice en route to the national championship. If that plus me watching the game doesn't suffice to jinx us as thoroughly as possible, then a win should be in the cards this weekend.

That's not really a yardstick game though. The Miami series will be. And frankly, it ought to make Miami fans nervous. Chris Hernandez was Miami's ace last year with an unblemished 11-0 record. He'll face superfrosh Danny Hultzen tonight. Problem for Miami is that Hernandez, other than a very nice opening-day effort against Rutgers, hasn't turned in anything remotely resembling the kind of dominating performances he had last year. Their other two starters this weekend are converted relievers, one doing well and the other ehhhhhh maybe not so good. Danny Gutierrez doesn't let in, like, runs, and has one loss on his record thanks to getting bupkiss for run support against Duke. Iden Nazario has been underwhelmingly average except for his NC State outing, in which he served 'em up on a platter and inflated his ERA to C.J. Nitkowski levels.

This'll be the first real test for both teams. Statistically, we rule. It's not even close. Our pitching and hitting numbers are so far beyond theirs they need binoculars. That's a foolish way to predict a series given the level of competition we've faced thus far though. But, I really like our odds of taking at least one game. Two games would not surprise me, and would confirm our place in the top echelon of the ACC besides. A sweep? Well. Let's not get greedy. Yet.

Football note: Corey Mosley and Ausar Walcott were cleared of their misdemeanor charges from last month's little dustup. So the dream of getting through a whole offseason without Fulmer Cup points is alive.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

the recruit: Hunter Steward

First, though, the daily dose of coaching search craziness. Tubby Smith is emerging as the clear front-runner per both Jeff White and the ACCSJ. The two snippets of interest:

“Nothing else will happen until we talk with Tubby, and he’s obviously busy right now,” one source close to the Virginia search said Thursday. “Obviously, in the meantime, there will be due diligence done on several other coaches.”
And the Smith side of things...

“Four years ago, (Smith) was in a place where he was happy to listen to other programs, especially a school like Virginia, where he already had a comfort level because of (athletic director Craig Littlepage),” a source close to Smith said. “Now he’s happy at Minnesota. I’m not saying he won’t listen, but he likes his current situation. He’s certainly not seeking out other jobs.”
There's no reason not to believe either one of these, frankly. Smith is already pretty well compensated at Minnesota and there isn't a lot more we can do there other than take those incentives he's getting and turn them into guarantees. And given Minnesota's previous level of success it's a safe bet Tubby has already achieved a few of those incentives. Tubby rebuffed us when he was coaching at a place where he wasn't at all appreciated; now he's treated like royalty. In the end I'm not convinced that dangling the chance to coach in the ACC is going to be enough to overcome the awkward timing of it. I think we'll have to eventually turn our attention to Jeff Capel, who is more likely to be lured away. (Rivals $ article.)

Also, a little early baseball bracketology for you. The baseball team remains undefeated after wins over the law firm of Marshall, Canisius, and Wagner, though that's a label they're not likely to keep after this weekend when powerhouse Miami visits. If we somehow do, hey, I hear Omaha's real nice in June. Well, let's put it this way - of the next four ACC series, three are against some powerhouses. We're currently 4-0 in the conference - if by Easter Sunday we're 11-5 with a winning record in that stretch (and Maryland is in there and eminently sweepable) then it'll be an improvement over last year and I'll feel very good about the state of things.

I couldn't let this go, by the way - Bobby Bowden sees that wins record slip-sliding away and is pissing and moaning about it.

''There are different degrees of doing something wrong,'' Bowden said, according to media reports in Florida. "You can go five miles over the speed limit. That's one thing. Or you can go 50 miles over the speed limit, and that's dangerous. ... It just seems like they're killing a flea with a hammer."
Shut up, sir. If you paid any attention to what your players were up to off the field for the past twenty years, you'd be damn familiar with the criminal justice system by now. When you've been caught five or six times going over the speed limit, they start to take away your license. Most people think the penalties were too light - the only ones that think otherwise are in Tallahassee. Whiny Criminoles make me sick.

OK - on to either the last holdover from the '09 football recruiting class or the first for 2010, depending, I think, on summer developments.

Name: Hunter Steward
Position: OT
Hometown: Virginia Beach
School: Kellam
Height: 6'7"
Weight: 300-something

ESPN: 74, #114 OT
Rivals: 5.2, two stars
Scout: two stars

Hunter Steward's first semester of United States schooling must have been really bad. Do you know how many 300-pound offensive tackles there are with the chops to play D-IA football? In 2009 there were about 80 or so. That's not even one per school. About 40 went to BCS programs - even less of a favorable ratio. (And we got three, which is pretty nice.)

So for schools to have been scared off by his grades - early on Steward was getting some looks from UNC and VT - says a lot. Partially that Steward's talents didn't quite measure up to oh say Morgan Moses, who would have been offered a football ride even if his head was filled with marbles and his SAT score was measured in fractions. But whatever Steward was getting was enough to make UNC stop bothering and Al Groh suggest he might benefit from military prep school. Not pretty.

But he righted the ship pretty quick, and I would be surprised if Dad, who moved the family to the States from Canada specifically so Hunter could play football on scholarship, didn't have a little bit to do with that. His grades are now good enough that he is likely to enroll in the fall with the rest of his class. Marshall, the only other I-A school to offer a scholarship, is probably wishing that hadn't happened.

Steward gets piddling grades from the scouting services in part because he didn't have a junior year, when a lot of this evaluation gets done. At least not one in the States. He played defense ($) up in the Great White North and not offense, but picked up on it quick enough to play both ends of the line.

Still, a redshirt year seems in order. His learning curve will be steeper since Canadian football has some nutty differences just to be different. Anyone who blots out the sun the way Steward does is going to get his shot in camp. But the numbers work against him this year. Too many entrenched starters and too many higher-rated guys in the class. Eventually he'll find his way out on the field - Al Groh has always looked to get the biggest linemen he can out there. It probably won't be for a couple years, though.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

spring practice primer

Ten or fifteen years ago, a lot of fans likely didn't even know spring practice existed. Fewer cable channels meant there were only so many cameras, and so the coaches had the chance to conduct some practices while the prying eyes were trained on baseball's Opening Day and the waning days of the NBA and NHL seasons. People know about spring ball now. They know about it good and hard.

But before we get to the spring practice primer, in which I'll offer up my take on what kind of drama we can expect to see position by position, your daily dose of basketball coach rumormongering:

First, we put to rest once and for all the notion that players were disgruntled about playing for Leitao. They're disgruntled now, yes. There will be transfers, you can be sure of that, and some guys we were hoping to count on next year might end up gone. Sylven Landesberg, Jeff Jones, Mike Scott, and Sammy Zeglinski all vowed to stay. Not that I don't believe them, but there's much that will change between now and then. I hope they stay. I won't be surprised if one changes his mind, and I'll be less surprised when - not if - somebody does transfer, or ask out of their LOI.

Another very similar take on the situation. Mike Scott was the source of a quote last year (and I wish I wish I wish I could find the article again but I cannot) that gave ammo to the "players don't like Leitao" camp. This, I believe, refutes that 110%.

Jim Young at the ACC Sports Journal proposes Siena's Fran McCaffrey as a cheaper alternative to the Big Three floating around out there. The four major points:

- Cheaper
- Good resume
- Recruits well
- Knows Littlepage (and Littlepage knows him)

First point, agreed 100% - as I said earlier, it will take megabux to lure the big name we want. But is it really wise to go the cheaper route? I'm not sure fans would be enamored of that idea. This was a pretty bold leap, firing Leitao at a juncture like this, and all kinds of the wrong messages will be sent to the fanbase.

Not that McCaffrey couldn't necessarily do a good job. I think recruiting to a place like Siena is one of the toughest recruiting jobs in all of college. There are no less than 22 D-I schools in the state of New York. At Siena, first you have to identify the players good enough to lead you to a conference championship but not good enough to activate the radars on the big-time programs (you're smack in the middle of Big East-land) or even the medium-time programs (you're also smack in the middle of Atlantic-10-land.) You pretty much have to go to New York City to do this, although McCaffrey has also been able to snag some quality talent out of Philly and DC. Then you have to convince them to go to Siena and not any of the other 21 schools in the state that are also in touch with them, like, say, Iona, all of which are pretty much the same to a basketball-playing kid in NYC. Or for that matter, any of the schools in New Jersey or Pennsylvania or New England, all of which also want in to NYC. In short, you can't really sell Siena. You have to sell you. If McCaffrey can consistently bring conference championship-winning talent to Siena, then I'm on board with the idea that he can recruit to UVA.

So this is not a knock against McCaffrey, but there is more proven talent out there, and it's been made known even at this early juncture that there is a Big Three that the school is interested in. If we hire McCaffrey, it means Littlepage didn't have his ducks properly in a row before pushing Leitao out the door, or failed to close a deal with three separate coaches, and ought to be fired his own self.

Criminitly. This stuff is long enough to be its own post. But we're pressing ahead with spring football, because that starts Saturday and this post is a long time in the making. Position by position, here we go with the position battles, and keep in mind this is for spring practice, which means don't worry about the incoming recruiting class cause they ain't here yet.

Offensive line

Drama: Very low. Four starters (Shields, Cabbell, Pasztor, Barker) return, as do most backups, and the one vacancy at left tackle will be immediately filled by Landon Bradley. Rather than fighting for a spot on the depth chart, these players will be able to focus almost exclusively on continuing to gel as a unit and learning the new blocking schemes that Gregg Brandon brings. This unit will generate the fewest stories during spring practice as long as they stay the hell away from Club 216, but that means they'll also be the biggest reason for our mighty ascendance to glory in the fall.

Running back

Drama: Pretty low. Mikell Simpson appears set as the feature back, as the new offense appears tailor-made for his talents. But he's not durable enough to be a workhorse, so whoever earns the backup job will see his share of carries. Raynard Horne has experience, but Torrey Mack brings the talent and a football-playin', Pro Bowl-sounding kinda name. Sooner or later Mack will be carrying the load and I'm looking forward to that day.

Wide receiver

Drama: Lowish, but mainly because there's room for everyone. There will only be five scholarship receivers on the roster for spring, so they should all see lots of reps. Brandon's offense requires having a big fat load of receivers available and the question is not so much who gets on the field but who's the best at getting open once there.

Tight end

Drama: Low. With Andrew Devlin's move to defensive end, Joe Torchia becomes the starter by default. The main thing will not be whether the tight end's role is reduced in this offense but by how much.


Drama: Astronomically galactic. We don't even know who all the horses are in this race. Does Vic Hall get treated as a cornerback that sometimes lines up under center, or a quarterback that can play defense? Jameel Sewell has earned the staff's trust and the fans' respect by working hard to come back to the team, and his talents appear well-suited for this new offense. Marc Verica still throws that oh-so-nice ball though, and if he shows in spring camp that he knows where the defenders are this time around, the superior passing touch that he brings as compared to Sewell can't be ignored. And how big will Hall's WildCav package be? Expect the paparazzi to be all over this one and for it not to be settled even the tiniest bit by the end of spring practice.

Defensive line

Drama: Medium. A clearcut, good old-fashioned position battle is shaping up between Devlin and Zane Parr at defensive end. Winner starts. Matt Conrath is firmly entrenched on the other side. Nick Jenkins and Nate Collins will likely split the duties at nose tackle just as they did last year, but it'll be interesting to see how much Buddy Ruff can horn in on their fun.


Drama: Pretty bloody high. There are a lot of open spots but a lot more dogs in this fight. Denzel Burrell is the lone returning starter, but his platoon-mate from last year Aaron Clark is healthy these days. Cam Johnson also got on the field last year as a true freshman and looked like he belonged. John-Kevin Dolce will probably continue in his role as a pass-rush specialist on the outside. On the inside, Darren Childs probably has the inside track on a starting spot by virtue of having playing experience. Steve Greer, Darnell Carter, and Terrence Fells-Danzer are in the mix on the inside as well. The pundits will point to our freshly rebuilt linebacking corps as a reason to count us out again this year, but there's enough competition to keep the talent level high here and not face too much of a drop-off. This one should be more fun to watch than the quarterback battle, mainly because we can never seem to escape quarterback controversy and we'll be saturated with it ad exhaustium all summer.


Drama: Dependent on Vic Hall's role with the offense. Ras-I Dowling is a future first-round pick and has one spot locked the hell down. Opposite him, Chase Minnifield and Rodney McLeod both have a lot of talent as well and the more quarterback Hall plays, the more starting time is at stake in that battle.


Drama: Medium, but less if Chris Cook ends up here. Which I think he will because Minnifield and McLeod are very promising cornerback talents and the current official roster lists only four safeties. One of whom is pretty strictly a special-teams guy and another of whom is a scout-teamer. Corey Mosley is locked in, and Cook would probably be locked in opposite him. If not, it's probably up to Ausar Walcott.


Drama: None, because Jimmy Howell has the spot under control and even if he didn't, it's still the punter.


Drama: More than I'd like there to be. Probably the same three-horse race as last year with Reyering, Randolph, and Hinkebein vying for the spot.

Of the 24 starting spots, figure that on the offense, six of eleven are locked up tight and on defense, just three of eleven. Kicker is open, punter is not. The six on offense are RT Will Barker, RG B.J. Cabbell, C Jack Shields, LG Austin Pasztor, RB Mikell Simpson, and TE Joe Torchia. LT is penciled as Landon Bradley until fall. Wide receiver is more or less an open competition, but labeling anyone "starter" is a formality because there's lots of playing time for everyone. Quarterback is gonna be bloody.

On defense, your three locked-in starters are DE Matt Conrath, CB Ras-I Dowling, and S Corey Mosley. The NT spot is in good hands with the aforementioned platoon, and the other DE spot should hopefully work itself out nice and clean, so the defensive line is in fine shape. The secondary is fine too - most of the battles are between proven and experienced players. As for linebacker, write all the names on little slips of paper and toss 'em in the air. Whichever land face-up are your starters. It's that wide-open. Bob Trott has his work cut out for him.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

more basketball stuff that i wasn't going to post but am anyway

This was going to be Monday's post, but....you know. I swore to myself I'd make this post about other sports and not basketball and specifically not about the basketball coach, but I have no self-control. So, a couple of quick thoughts:

- Anyone who says they don't want Jeff Capel because of his connections to Duke needs to grow the %$&# up and get over themselves. Seriously - that is bullshit. What a horrible thing that we'd hire a guy with a winning background and a successful pedigree. If Duke seriously makes you that ill, you probably need to go be a Carolina fan or something.

- Of the top three names: Capel, Tubby Smith, and Sean Miller - any one of which I'd be very happy with by the way - I think our odds of getting one of them stand at 50/50 at the very best. Capel and Smith are not that far into their own reconstruction projects and believe me, we are a reconstruction project. The building materials are there, but there's a lot of work to be done. Capel is busy working on removing the stain left by Kelvin Sampson (though he did a lot more damage at IU than OU) and Smith is dragging Minnesota out from the dregs of the Big Ten to something beyond respectability and bordering on prominence. Both are gods among men in their towns, especially Smith, and both coach in top-five basketball conferences. And Sean Miller has maintained Xavier's king-of-the-hill status in a high mid-major, such that nobody thinks it's out of place to mention them alongside major-conference stalwarts. If we're going to lure them away it'll be a combination of these three things that does the trick:
  1. Glamour of coaching in the ACC
  2. Sparkling facilities that are still quite new
  3. A humungous wad of cash money that stretches to the moon
And #3 is non-negotiable. Leitao made just over $1 million a year. To bring in one of these guys we might well be forced to triple that - or at the very least make our new coach the richest in the ACC. Roy Williams at UNC makes about $2.6 million when you count incentives and such. That's the kind of money we're probably talking about. I would not be against this, by the way. But with the state of the economy, if we give a new coach that much scratch, look for the university to have to defend itself against more than a few critics.

- Lastly, Littlepage absolutely must succeed with this hire. He called himself a "search committee of one" when announcing Leitao's hire. Firing Leitao this soon (and by the way this should clear up any notions that this was Leitao's idea) is tantamount to admitting a mistake. No mistakes. He might get away with shuffling his feet on the football team, but basketball is what the ACC does. If the basketball team continues to struggle, the next one gone should be Littlepage.

Quick thoughts on the baseball team. So after TFSU got rolled on Friday at Davenport, Chief Osceola did a rain dance to save the weekend from total disaster for the Noles. So we get the series sweep, HA. Small Debbie Downerism: TFSU does not look like the TFSU that went to the CWS last year, and they probably will not return to Omaha. That being said, dude, our bats are for realz. The guy that we beat into submission is basically the Noles' ace, though he is but a freshman. (It's worth noting that TFSU committed an unforgivable five errors leading to mucho unearned runs. But it's not like we didn't go 14-for-38 at the plate for an average of .368. Cause we did.) Three games this week, one of which is a new addition to the schedule, then we can welcome Miami and use our bats to make their pitchers cry.

OK - off to watch the Wings game. Football recruiting board update is ongoing - when it's done and the hockey game is over, it'll be posted. Check back later tonight or tomorrow morning.

EDIT: Recruiting board is updated. The haps are:

- Added the following players to yellow: OT Khamrone Kolb, DE James Kittredge, DT Anthony Ferguson, LB Ty Linton. All received offers.

- Added OT T.J. Leifheit to red. Also got an offer, but it's one of like at least 20, which makes for long odds.

- Moved TE Josh Lovell to red. Hasn't actually got an offer and doesn't seem likely to, but on there for posterity anyway.

- Also moved LB Aramide Olaniyan to red, who hasn't received an offer either. This drives me crazy because Olaniyan was showing some interest in our program and has since received a generous pile of non-UVA offers, including Michigan, Tennessee, and Auburn. If we do offer, maybe he goes back to yellow, but the cat is out of the bag here and the nation is calling.

- Removed OT Marquis Wallace, who committed to West Virginia. Drat.

- Removed RB Marcus Lattimore, which basically ain't happening and was never going to happen.

Also an addendum on Tubby Smith so as to respond to the comment below: the pressure to win at Kentucky is maybe topped by two or three programs around the country, if at all. But it's a different kind of pressure. I think it will take many years of sustained actual success before UVA fans consider it a failure not to have reached the Final Four in any given year. The thing about Tubby is that if he can get Minnesota to the tourney in two years, he can get us there with his eyes closed, and UVA fans realize this. So there would be no talk at all of pressure because he could coast with his usual level of success and be considered just all kinds of godlike. That would work for a solid six years. And Littlepage will bear the brunt of the rage anyway in the event of failure.

Problem with Tubby is that my gut instinct says he's not the kind of guy to uproot himself after such a short time from a place that's embraced him the way Minnesota has. I'd like to be wrong about that.

Monday, March 16, 2009

soapboxing: the Dave Leitao Fired edition

Let's get one thing straight first: Dave Leitao did not resign. Not in your humble blogger's opinion. For a college basketball coach, few jobs are more prestigious or pay better than an ACC head coaching position. You get one of those, you're in like Flynn. What coach alive would go to his boss and say, hey, I don't think I'm earning my paycheck here and I'd like to quit and by the way yes I would like that $2.1 million buyout also? I don't for a minute believe that this was Leitao's idea. So this post is written with that in mind.

And I don't agree with the firing. At all. As I've said repeatedly in the past, Leitao's had to try and deal with having three freshmen playing all the key minutes at all the key positions, as well as the ice-cold shooting touch from players who were supposed to be shooters, and a bunch of players with more minutes than their talent would indicate because of poor play from those that should have been higher on the depth chart.

I'm fully aware of the criticisms, by the way. Leitao's a drill sergeant. He refuses to talk to his players. He can't coach offense. Can't develop players (except for that Singletary guy who managed to become an NBAer under his tutelage.) I'm also fully of the belief that practically all of these are overblown to some extent. Not nonexistent, but overblown. Even in the slamjob WaPo article where Mamadi Diane's father ripped Leitao left right and center, Mo himself seemed to try and back away from those comments.

As for coaching offense, there's no denying it stunk, but the players couldn't shoot. They just could not shoot. Shooting is something you teach to 6th-graders. By the time you get to college, you can either shoot or you can't. Leitao didn't come in to practice with a Shot Sucker and suck the ability to hit a three-pointer out of guys who previously could. The inability to hit a jump shot doomed the offense from the get-go. Unless Leitao actively coaches poor shooting techniques - unlikely, as his DePaul squads improved their shooting while he was there - he's not the primary culprit in the poor offensive performance.

I'd have liked to see a postseason-or-bust ultimatum given to Leitao for next season. The pieces are there for us to take a tremendous leap. Sylven Landesberg returns, or at least was going to when last asked. He's not so happy about the firing and while I still think he stays (his game isn't quite NBA-ready yet and he could really help his draft position with another year or two of seasoning) it wouldn't surprise me if he at least had a second thought or two. The kids have been through the gauntlet once and will be veterans. I expect Zeglinski to still be up-and-down at the point, but more up than down instead of vice versa like we saw this year. So many ACC teams will be rebuilding in '09-'10 and we won't be.

Leitao ought to have been given the chance to see it through. Because the question for me is, other than a couple unimportant nonconference losses, what about this year failed to meet expectations? I'd love to see the answer to that. What couldn't we see coming? Would 12-16 instead of 10-18 have been enough to save Leitao's job? Was this supposed to be a team good enough for the NIT? No. 4-12 is about what we guessed we might see once we decided to be honest with ourselves. If that's bad enough to fire the coach, then it should have happened before the season. If the difference is we weren't supposed to lose to Liberty and Auburn, then it should have happened then. After a bad season that was supposed to be bad but before one with realistic expectations of improvement is not the time to fire the coach.

But, he's fired and that's that. So where do we go? For starters we have to do damage control with the current players, who are "kind of in a haze." Not a good reaction if you're hoping to avoid transfers and/or leaps to the NBA. Second, we have to do damage control with Tristan Spurlock, whose relationship with this staff went back a looooong way. Jontel Evans is likely to stay but Spurlock is the prize of the class. They've signed their LOI's, of course, but they can always request a release. Third, we have to do damage control with the 2010 recruits. I'd like to think we looked good for the services of Eric Atkins and Mychal Parker. All in all though I think our recruiting just got sent to jail without passing Go or collecting $200. Fail to roll doubles on the first try as we do our coaching search, and we're in trouble.

Speaking of coaching searches....yes, we're going to have to put ourselves through that. The top three names bandied about today are Jeff Capel of Oklahoma, Tubby Smith of Minnesota, and Sean Miller of Xavier. The common thread there is that all three of them are coaching in the tournament and the NCAA says hands off until they're done. That's well and good - we want coaches who can get to the tournament after all - but the problem is that Craig Littlepage has just done something rather impetuous and needs to hit a quick grand slam with this hire or be known as the guy who sent UVA basketball into a decade-long downward spiral with his coaching hire-and-fire patterns. And of those three, I think the only one we have a real shot at is Tubby. It's well known that it wouldn't be the first time we'd talked with the man. Not only that, but his Minnesota squad, which he's done an admirable job of resurrecting, is the lowest-ranked and the likely earliest exit. Capel and Miller head up a 2-seed and 4-seed, respectively; at first glance I'd have to say they'd both be crazy to leave for a reconstruction job, ACC or not. Oklahoma is a relative newcomer to the powerhouse game, but to many eyes Xavier would be considered a bigger-time program than we would despite the conference affiliations; Xavier's been to eight NCAA tournaments this decade and two Elite Eights, and it's not all Sean Miller's doing.

To my mind, the best-case, pie-in-the-sky scenario would be for Texas to dispatch Minnesota on Thursday, freeing up UVA's reps to go have a chat with Tubby Smith the very next day and get a deal done by the end of next week. If Tubby really is the guy they want, would we be willing to wait if Minnesota upsets the Dookies and makes it to the Sweet 16 for another week of tournament play? That's why Littlepage makes the big bux. If no Tubby, then my best guess is we'll be forced to take another chance on a coach from a lower-profile school (and by "another" I mean "DePaul is not a big-time high-profile place I don't care if they are in the Big East.") Perhaps Siena's Fran McCaffrey or BYU's Dave Rose, though I'm just tossing out names of coaches who've brought success to their programs and not out of any real connection with the ACC or the state of Virginia.

Regardless, one last word remains: Thanks. As in, thanks Coach Leitao for your service to the University. In my opinion Leitao's a stand-up guy - let's not forget his trips to the war zone to entertain the troops, nor the fact that he worked his tail off for four years for this team. It should have been more than four years, but it's water under the bridge now. Time to roll up the sleeves and get busy rumormongering and tracking plane flights.

regular programming will be pre-empted today

By this. Several places including the trustworthy folks at TheSabre are confirming that Dave Leitao is outski as coach. Fired, that is, along with the entire staff.

This blog exists as my megaphone for thoughts on the haps in UVA sports, so when I get home from pays-my-bills work, soapboxes will be mounted. The baseball/lax/football recruiting mumblings I'd planned for today are just going to have to wait. Sit tight: Coaching Search Mode is about to kick into high gear.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

basketblogpoll ballot #6

I had the damndest time sorting out two principles that I go by when figuring out my ballots. What are they? I'm gonna make you read to find out. [/Rivals]

1 Louisville 1
2 Memphis 2
3 North Carolina 2
4 Pittsburgh 1
5 Duke 1
6 Connecticut 1
7 Michigan St.
8 Missouri 2
9 Kansas 1
10 Syracuse 12
11 Gonzaga 2
12 Oklahoma 3
13 Florida St. 4
14 Villanova
15 Wake Forest 3
16 Purdue
17 Arizona St. 6
18 Marquette 2
19 Washington 8
20 Utah St.
21 UCLA 3
22 Temple
23 Utah 1
24 Illinois 1
25 Xavier 10
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Louisiana St. (#19), Brigham Young (#20), Clemson (#21).

See, I've been ranking the past few weeks by giving priority to teams doing well in their conference, because the autobid is what it's all about. Hence teams like Xavier and LSU, once kings of the mud in weaker conferences, tended to be ranked above middling teams in better ones (Clemson, UCLA, for example.)

So you'd think that conference champions after the tournaments would vault above those who faltered. And some did. But you know me: I don't think a tournament (AKA playoff) settles things. In fact the outcomes of these high-profile conference tournaments, in which the top seeds generally fared piss-poorly, are going straight into the ammo cache when it's time for me to rail against having a playoff in college football. You can't tell me that UNC, MSU, and LSU weren't pretty clearly the best teams in their conference all year - yet they're denied the right to be called conference champion because of the artificial construct at the end which says that the outcome of one game supersedes the outcomes of dozens.

Anyway, it left me with some dilemmas. What to do with so many of these teams that were brushed aside all year without a thought and suddenly snagged an autobid over other teams in their conference that were once ballot stalwarts? I dealt with it different ways in different conferences:

- The SEC got the boot. Entirely. Sucky conference, really. The conference commissioners will be rooting hard for Mississippi State in this afternoon's game because it's the only way in hell that conference will be more than a two-bid league. Other two-bid leagues: Horizon, Missouri Valley, West Coast. There's nothing about the SEC's performance this year that separates them from the high mid-majors. I dropped LSU from my ballot and didn't look back.

- The A-10 champion is Temple. Xavier earns a bat to the face for losing to them in the tournament. Xavier's got nice wins and all over Memphis and Missouri, which is why I repented and let them stay in the top 25 in the first place. I almost dropped them entirely for flubbing a mid-major league they have no business losing.

- Similar treatment in the Pac-10. Washington and UCLA dropped, again for flubbing a league they shouldn't have lost. ASU gets a little bit of a boost as they've now knocked off U-Dub once and UCLA twice. Still no USC though. A regular season that mediocre doesn't cancel out the tournament run.

- Louisville and Memphis are 1-2 for being pretty much the only top seeded teams to really act like it. They'll be among the few teams that can hang both regular-season and tournament banners in the roof. And most of the rest are, like, Cal State-Northridge and Morgan State, so it's the kind of bonus that's rare to be found in top-25 balloting.

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, March 11, 2009

game preview: Boston College

#11 Virginia (10-17, 4-12) vs. #6 Boston College (21-10, 9-7)

Possible starters:


PG - Sammy Zeglinski (8.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.1 apg)
SG - Calvin Baker (8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF - Sylven Landesberg (16.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.7 apg)
PF - Mike Scott (10.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 0.8 apg)
C - Assane Sene (2.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg)


PG - Tyrese Rice (17.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.4 apg)
SG - Rakim Sanders (12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.6 apg)
SF - Corey Raji (9.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF - Joe Trapani (13.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C - Josh Southern (5.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Part of the reason I've blown off writing a couple of these game previews is because trying to guess at who's going to be in our starting lineup is a complete waste of time. Not only because one is likely to be wrong by at least two, if not three or four, but starting sometimes means you get to play the first couple minutes then glue your ass to the bench for the next 38. All but two of the players on our roster (John Brandenburg and Will Sherrill are the unlucky two) have started at least one game, which is the smallest number since I don't know when because online records don't go back far enough.

Perfect case in point is the last time we played Boston College. The starting five were Tucker, Scott, Landesberg, Zeglinski, and Diane. Diane played four minutes, and the lineup for the second half consisted of Landesberg and four guys from the bench. Landesberg wound up scoring 32 points, mainly because most of the guys who can score were on the bench and if he hadn't, nobody would have because Jeff Jones was par for the course at 2-for-11 and Solomon Tat is Solomon Tat.

With nothing at stake I really don't expect Leitao to change this attitude he's had all season, which has been to treat playing time as a carrot-and-stick incentive system to play his way. What I'd like to see is for Leitao to identify who are the guys we need to rely on going forward and throw them to the wolves. Tat is a hustling kind of guy but Lord help us if next season he's played anywhere near the minutes he's had this season. Now is the perfect time for our freshmen to get a taste of ACC tournament play and make all the mistakes their freshman selves are capable of, while nobody's expecting anything out of them anyway.

This isn't to say BC is so good it doesn't matter. Quite the contrary, actually - BC is prone to playing a stinker of a game, as we saw in their season finale. Turns out triple-teaming Tyrese Rice is a perfectly workable defensive tactic. The point is, two years from now Sylven Landesberg will be a junior (hopefully) and Assane Sene will also be a junior, and Mike Scott will be a senior and a captain, and with any kind of good luck at all we'll be settling in for a first-round bye in the ACC tournament and playing for seeding in the NCAA's, if not an ACC championship, and this is precisely the game which the future stars of this program will need plenty of experience in if they're going to play the part of battle-hardened veterans leading the team to the kind of success we think we're supposed to have. It'd be different if this was the old 9-team ACC, and we were the patsy 7-seed going up against some juggernaut of a second-seed. I don't think you gain much experience by being the floorwipe. This is the very definition of a game we're supposed to lose but can win, and either way there's great value in it.

As for the game itself, if nothing else inbounding plays will be interesting as I mentioned earlier. BC looked suspiciously like we did all the while they were stumbling through a last-second win over GT. The tricky part though is that BC has discovered they have the supporting cast that nobody expected them to when preseason awards were being handed out. It wasn't superstud Tyrese Rice hitting the game-winning fallaway, it was backcourt-mate Rakim Sanders, and darn if Sanders hasn't become quite a complement to Rice. Instead of being the Tyrese Rice show and no frontcourt, BC turned out to have a pretty solid, well-rounded lineup capable of getting scoring from nearly anyone on the court and picking up the slack when teammates are having a bad game. The best way to beat them is to force them into shooting a lot of threes, because they're not good at it, but for us that's easier said than done because we don't have enough good bigs to counter theirs; and while our on-ball defense is pretty solid for the most part, we don't get the chance to use it as much because our shooting is so bad we give up all sorts of transition buckets.

So winning's a tall order, but fans should keep in mind, the main value of this game is whether or not it helps our players down the road. Leitao will coach to win, of course, but I'd like to see his substitution patterns give a thought to the future, not the present. The present doesn't matter any more.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the basketball season: an autopsy

First thing on the docket is the congratulations that are in order for ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesberg. Truly deserving - and the vote was much less close than I thought it would be. Landesberg is the fourth UVA player to win the award, and all the first two ever did was become UVA's only first overall NBA draft pick, and become UVA's all-time scoring leader. So, no pressure?

Unfortunately that's about three-fourths of the good news for this season. It was not, on the whole, good. 17 losses. In every conference but a select few of the worst (MEAC, for example), 17 regular season losses will land you squarely in the bottom half of the seedings. Whether it's the ACC or the Ivy League, 17 losses sucks. The season is about four months long - in the cutthroat world of the ACC, if you lose just three times a month, your ticket is punched for the bottom half of the conference and you tend to wonder if perhaps a change of head coaches is needed.

So it was a bad season, and you knew this. What you may find it interesting to be reminded of is that, as bad as things looked, we actually outperformed expectations. You'll note we were picked dead last in the preseason poll. A crude but fair way to use the poll to find the media's projection of conference wins is to divide the number of points in the poll by the total number possible (480) and multiply that by 16. That gives us a projected record of 2-14, which actually is what the last-place team got, only it wasn't us. We doubled that win total and did not finish last -take that, pundits.

I'll divide this up into four sections: the pluses, the "non-negatives" (of which there is only one), the minuses (AKA "What Went Wrong") and a premature look at what the future holds. The first two parts are today; the second two are Thursday or Friday otherwise this will turn into some kind of huge postmonster. Without further ado....


- Sylven Landesberg, obviously. There's little need to expand much here. After two games it was evident the kid had major talent; after three, it seemed clear he was taking the reins as the go-to guy. If he stays four years, his #15 is the next number to be retired.

- Timely wins. Entries to the win column were few and far between. After beating Brown on January 7 to move to 7-5, there would be only three more victories in the following two months. But you couldn't have picked a better three to win. A home game romp over Virginia Tech and a season-finale, storybook victory over Maryland to give Mamadi Diane a night to remember. And a stirring home overtime win over Clemson to put an exclamation point on Sean Singletary's ceremony. Sometimes it's not how much you win but who you beat and when.

- Starting to crack the road jinx. Historically, we suck, and I mean suck, outside of Charlottesville. Especially in places like oh say Puerto Rico. Worse than a normal team. Now, we had some awful clunkers on the road, of course, but we had some awful clunkers at home, too. The point here is that going on the road, for once, didn't cause the clunkers, and we had some very good competitive games away from JPJA. Especially early in the season - right after the loss to Liberty would have been a great time for a Pete Gillen team to go to Syracuse and then Minnesota (two teams that are likely to end up in the Dance) and be a floormat. But we played those guys tough and could have beaten Syracuse with a little second-half defense. We went on the road for our first ACC win and played some very gutsy games in other teams' gyms as the season went on.


There's really only one entry here, and his name is Dave Leitao. Most UVA fans have some kind of complaint about Leitao, and most of these fall into one of two categories. 1, he can't coach offense, and 2, he can't develop players. To be bluntly honest, I don't think there's much wrong with the offense that couldn't be fixed by having a couple players that could hit a gotdamn jump shot once in a while. Last in the conference in shooting both beyond and in front of the arc.

As for player development, one of the arguments that he can't develop players properly centers around John Brandenburg, a highly rated four-star recruit. The obvious counter is Assane Sene, a guy most thought would take tons of seasoning and experience before he really became useful. Turns out the guy can defend.

Anyway, the evidence just doesn't stack up. To say that Leitao can't develop players is to suggest that six-foot-nothing Sean Singletary should have been a first-round draft pick. Or maybe that Leitao turned Mamadi Diane from a real threat from outside into a benchwarmer. Or that a lightly-recruited transfer/walk-on from a local mid-major should somehow develop into a stud.

Another sometimes-cited example is Jeff Jones. True, Jones is one fine example of a guy who hasn't lived up to the recruiting ratings. But a guy who can't shoot, can't shoot. A coach can teach a lot of things. He can inspire a guy to play defense and he can teach how to run an offense and where to be, when. He can teach a guard the proper way to come off a screen and he can teach a post player correct footwork techniques. He can teach a point guard how to recognize a trap in a half-court press, and he can instill in his players a sense of when to shoot and when to pass. But if a guy can't shoot, he can't shoot, and two seasons of sub-.370 shooting is enough for me to know, Jeff Jones can't shoot. There's only so much a coach can do. Leitao's task here is not to wave a magic wand and turn Jeff Jones into J.J. Redick. He will have to find a role for Jones that minimizes his bad shots and sets him up for good ones.

I don't blame Dave Leitao for going 10-17. Leitao took what he was given, which was essentially a roll-of-the-dice recruiting pipeline and a superstud backcourt that covered up a lot of flaws, and molded it as best he could into as much success as could reasonably be expected. Pete Gillen didn't leave the cupboard bare, but if he'd had a really quality program to turn over to Leitao, he wouldn't have been let go in the first place. Having Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds around masked a ton of weaknesses and made a lot of players look better than they really were. With them both gone, Leitao is now rebuilding with his own pieces. And it's worth noting the cliff of irrelevance that DePaul has fallen off of in the four years since Leitao left.

In the next installment of this, I'll get down to the heart of the matter: Why We Sucked. And I'll try to guess at what next year might look like, and offer up my opinion on just how long 'Hoos should be patient with Dave Leitao