Tuesday, January 31, 2012

game preview: Clemson

Date/Time: Tuesday, January 31; 7:00


Record against the Tigers: 67-50

Last matchup: UVA 49, Clemson 47; 2/2/11; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 61, NCSt. 60 (1/28); Clemson 71, WF 60 (1/28)

Opposing blogs: Shakin' the Southland

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.1 (#340)
CU: 64.9 (#254)

UVA: 104.9 (#99)
CU: 100.7 (#165)

UVA: 84.7 (#4)
CU: 93.3 (#52)

UVA: .8992 (#17)
CU: .6862 (#101)

Common opponents:

Winthrop: UVA won 69-48; Clemson won 60-40
Boston College: UVA won 66-49; Clemson lost 59-57
Duke: UVA lost 61-58; Clemson lost 73-66
Miami: UVA won 52-51; Clemson lost 76-73
Georgia Tech: UVA won 70-38; Clemson won 64-62

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (6.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.6 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (3.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.8 apg)


PG: Andre Young (13.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SG: Tanner Smith (11.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.1 apg)
G: T.J. Sapp (4.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.8 apg)
SF: Bryan Narcisse (3.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.5 apg)
PF: Devin Booker (10.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.2 apg)

Last year, UVA beat Clemson by two in a game so ugly I felt it necessary to apologize to the ghost of Naismith.  Our defense held Clemson to 13 points in the first half, and then hung on for dear life in giving up 34 in the second.  But the glacial pace that UVA favors is fine by Clemson, which exists in a group of three other ACC teams vying for the title of second-slowest in the conference.  Those other two: VT and Miami.  Recall the scores of this year's games against those two teams, and suddenly another 49-47 affair seems not just possible, but likely.

Clemson will go into this game without starting power forward Milton Jennings, suspended yesterday for academic suckitude.  This throws an ever-shifting lineup into further disarray; Clemson has started eight different players this year and only two have started every game.  Brad Brownell has continued to tweak through the ACC season.

Conventional wisdom would say that this is naturally a really bad development for a team already struggling to find an identity, and not a very good team at that, with losses to Boston College, Hawaii, and three mediocre-to-poor instate schools.  (And somehow they beat Florida State by 20.  Go figure.)  The closest player they have, size-wise, to Jennings is freshman Bernard Sullivan, who doesn't get much burn at all.  So it will be interesting to see whether they go big or small to adjust the rotation.  But I'm not convinced this isn't a case of addition by subtraction when all's said and done.

-- UVA on offense

This is where Clemson will probably miss Jennings.  Percentage-wise, he's the team's best rebounder and second-best shot-blocker.  Clemson has nobody as athletic as him to fill his spot.  However, they could probably make up for it by filling his minutes with 7'2" center Catalin Baciu.  Baciu is a senior who's frustrated Clemson fans by not living up to a lot of potential, but UVA would have no similarly-sized player and Baciu would be, at worst, a shot-blocking threat in the paint.

There's no doubt that defense is the strength of the Clemson team.  Even with a slightly poor showing against three-pointers (35.7% allowed) and an unlucky 70% free-throw shooting percentage by their opponents, Clemson has one of the better defenses in the country - just outside KenPom's top 50.  That's how you go from losing to Hawaii and Coastal Carolina to beating FSU by 20.

And even without Jennings, the Clemson guards are dangerous.  Their starters could not be more different in size - point guard Andre Young is 5'9" and shooting guard Tanner Smith is 6'5" - but both are equally tough, averaging nearly two steals per game apiece.  Given the Clemson pace, a solid number.  If Clemson goes small, Smith will certainly cross over and guard Joe Harris and let T.J. Sapp (or Rod Hall) take Sammy Zeglinski.  The awesomely-goggled Bryan Narcisse plays bigger than his 6'6", but he's too slow to check Harris on the perimeter.  If Clemson goes big and starts Baciu, then Narcisse will probably draw Harris, which is why the lineup above doesn't include Baciu.

As for who will guard Mike Scott, it will probably be Devin Booker regardless of starting lineup.  The advantage of starting Baciu is that it would provide a good hedge against the dangers of letting Scott work one-on-one, but Booker is solidly built and will at least occasionally be able to get the better of Scott.  Occasionally, I said.

Clemson presents a challenge here, because they're not on their third game in six days and their defense is generally good.  But the loss of Jennings means there will almost always be an exploitable mismatch somewhere.  If tired legs don't affect the shooting and the driving, UVA could hit 65 points, which would be quite a milestone in what's likely to not be a 60-possession game.

-- UVA on defense

This is the part where Clemson won't miss Jennings.  I mean this emphatically.  Despite having played just 60% of Clemson's minutes, Jennings was their highest-usage player and carried a pathetically dismal O-rating of 85.3.  He shouldn't have been hoisting threes, but he occasionally did; he couldn't shoot free throws; and he was a turnover machine.

The Tigers' offense will now run almost exclusively through three people: Smith, Young, and Booker.  All are quality players.  Young has an exceptional O-rating of 122.1, thanks in large part to a very good A/T ratio of almost 3-to-1 and a near-perfect FT%.  Both Young and Smith are good, if not amazing, three-point shooters at about 36% each.  And unlike your stereotypical 6'5" white guy shooting guard, Smith is a very good creater as well, with 4.1 assists per game and a 27.5% assist percentage (again, for the uninitiated, it means that 27.5% of the shots Clemson makes with Smith on the floor are assisted by him.)  These numbers are better even than point guard Young, though Young is better at taking care of the ball.  (In fact, Young is outstanding in this regard.)

When the ball goes inside, Booker is the guy who'll get it.  His shooting percentage is low for a forward, but the truth is Booker typically plays center and has to go against players much taller than he is.  Nobody else is a major threat, unless they start using the Romanian tree, Baciu, who might give us fits considering we don't have anyone that tall.  But essentially, the loss of Jennings means a lot more shots for the much more capable top three, and that's probably addition by subtraction.

That said, Clemson doesn't have anyone unstoppable.  Not by any stretch.  Young, Smith, and Booker are good players, but they'd be better if there was a real go-to guy who could take the emphasis off of them.  At any given time, Clemson will have at least two guys on the court who simply aren't a major threat.  Those guys will knock down a shot here and there, but the reason Clemson isn't going to even sniff the tournament bubble this year is because, in the end, they just don't have the horses.  It wouldn't surprise at all to hold yet another team under 50 points here.

-- Outlook

I'll keep this simple: Clemson is the second-worst team left on the schedule, ahead of only Wake Forest, and the only thing making me nervous about this game is the three-games-in-six-days thing.  In other words, fatigue is our worst enemy.  But that's the midwinter grind and it's a fact of life in basketball.  Gotta get over it.

-- Final score: UVA 61, Clemson 48

Monday, January 30, 2012

untracked is not a word

However, announcers would be using it right now to describe the state of affairs of UVA basketball, and the next time I see one (which will be the first) I'm gonna ask how they'd like to ride a train that got untracked.

Regardless, we know what they mean: things are going the way you want them to.  I do not subscribe to the theory that the Boston College game "was closer than the final score."  You may describe a game like that if it's close at the end and then we hit a whole bunch of free throws brought on by clock-stopping fouls.  When you go on a 22-5 run to seal it up and it's five instead of three only because BC hit a meaningless jumper over our five-foot-something walk-on, it's perfectly fair to accept the final score as a proper one.  Yes, the game was close three-quarters of the way.  But look at it like this: if we'd started the game with a 22-5 run and then the last 30 minutes were dead even, the story would be how UVA "coasted" to an easy win that was never in doubt.  Good teams blow up on bad ones, that's how things go.

That run was essentially the difference between Brick Sammy and Splash Sammy.  That's the Z Factor.  UVA could never have played the NC State game at the relatively frenetic early pace* and actually been in the lead at halftime without Sammy hitting threes.  Likewise, the whole floor opened up against Boston College once Sammy knocked one down.  Suddenly a whole galaxy of offensive options are open to us.  This team is Sweet-16 capable when Sammy Zeglinski hits his jump shots, because he's the guy opponents don't game-plan for.

We're now in the middle of a stretch, starting with the BC game, where we alternate a theoretically easy game with a theoretically difficult one.  So winning the difficult ones are a big deal.  NC State is a difficult one, and you have to be encouraged by a game on the road where:

-- our second-biggest strength - defensive rebounding - wasn't working at all,
-- putting two and two together (the crowd not sounding frighteningly loud on TV plus Tony Bennett's description of the atmosphere as "festive") we come up with the extreme likelihood that our guys were hearing a lot of, um, interesting language from the student section,
-- an intelligent guy like Akil Mitchell calls the State players "borderline dirty" and says it in such a way that he knows he might get in trouble for saying it and doesn't care**

and yet we come out ahead.  Don't care if it makes my heart bruise my ribs from the inside.  Have some beer and settle down in there.  It doesn't get any easier on the road, with the next two trips being to Tallahassee and Chapel Hill, so I'll take 'em where I can get 'em.  Before the conference schedule began, you remember, I split the season's games up into two halves, one of mostly foregone conclusions and the other where the year would be maked or breaked.  The "foregone" half has gone as assumed, and we're 2-1 in the important half.  That means: go 3-2 in the rest of the important half and we're right where we want to be.

We'll finish today's basketball discussion with a little exercise.  You're a basketball coach and your team is down by 1 with eight seconds to go and you have the ball.  Who would you least rather be facing?  Yeah, ditto.

*at one point in the first half the announcers made note of NC State playing a zone defense and suggested they were doing it "to slow Virginia down."  I'll take "wacky basketball" for $400, Alex.  "This school has the politest student section in the ACC."  "What is Maryland?"  Correct!

**and still NC State fans are whining about the refsThey let you take five steps with the ball while trying to inbound it.  99.9% of referees call that traveling, because they know what the rule book says.  Then again, Roger Ayers is the same highly observant rocket scientist that let Louisiana-Lafayette put six guys on the court on the game-winning play.  So.


- In a rare moment of candidness about his lineups, Brian O'Connor told Jeff White about this season's starting rotation, among other lineup revelations.  It comes down to three righties (Branden Kline, Whit Mayberry, and juco addition Joel Effertz) and two lefties (Kyle Crockett and Scott Silverstein.)  Kline and Crockett are locks.  That's Friday-Saturday right there.  If I were guessing right now I'd give Mayberry the solid edge for Sunday.  BOC has talked in the past about being happy to see Mayberry taking no prisoners in attacking the plate, which is the BOC/Karl Kuhn way.  Nibbling gets you banished to batting practice pitcher.  Mayberry does a good job of attacking even without ideal stuff.

I would guess Effertz will land the weekday starter spot.  If Silverstein starts, it leaves us without any remotely proven lefty bullpen options.  (These coaches are not actually the type to obsess over lefty-righty matchups, though.)  Effertz, by the way, comes from the same juco that sent us Cody Winiarski, and spent a year at Arizona before that.

By the way, I can't wait to see if Keith Werman gets any time behind the plate this year.  Cue jokes about the equipment size and the idea that it's a strike if he can reach it.  Humor aside, the Werm is the consummate ballplayer; really, if I told you that a random surprising position player was pulled in for some catcher duty this fall and is now listed as one on the roster, he's one of the least surprising choices.  He could play first base or pitch an inning and I wouldn't bat an eye.

-- The TV schedule for the lacrosse season came out last week, and it's the same as last year with two additions: Stony Brook and Penn both on ESPN3.  (Last year, Stony Brook wasn't on TV at all and Penn was on the UVA video service, which I sure hope returns this spring.)  Otherwise all the usual suspects - three ACC games plus all the marquee matchups.  This is what is known as a step in the right direction.  I don't necessarily care for the TV-driven expansion of the ACC to 14 teams, but I can more than put up with it if it means eventually 100% of UVA lacrosse will be in front of my eyes.  Add that to the seven televised baseball games (plus the ACC tournament) and you have the makings of a quality spring.

Speaking of lacrosse, on Thursday I plan to unveil a KenPom-esque math system for evaluating the college lax teams.  Like KenPom's system for basketball, it is intended to be a tempo-free way of determining the quality of offense and defense each team plays.  Should be fun if you're a math nerd.

-- BC Interruption had an interesting discussion on the future of the ACC basketball schedule, which will almost certainly be 18 games.  The question on the table was: what to do about the permanent rotation buddies?  Currently UVA plays two games every year against VT and Maryland, which is how it ought to be; you can see the rest of the pairings at BCI.  The ACC will discuss going to one permanent buddy (which would certainly pair us with VT) but more likely will go to three.  In BCI's world, we get Syracuse added to the rotation.  I wouldn't exactly be fired up about adding that awesome of a team to the schedule as a guaranteed twice-a-year thing, but then I can understand wanting to make sure the schedule was nice and tough for maximum SOS purposes.  But if you buy the north-middle-south alignment they have (which makes a lot of sense), then the only options to add are BC or the two Big East newcomers.  So.

-- Did I miss something?  It wouldn't be the first time.  Regardless, here is Oday Aboushi on crutches.  I don't know how old the picture is or what - it was tweeted a couple hours ago by Connor McCartin - or if it's an injury that'll last through the spring or anything at all really, but there it is.  If running around in circles and waving your hands in the air is your thing (and let's face it we're UVA football fans so whose thing is that not?) then you are hereby licensed for twenty seconds of that.

-- In the "it's pronounced Jop" department, here is a free throw shot by the erstwhile UVA recruit.  Even Mason Plumlee thinks that's shitty.  The best part is he still got the customary high fives from teammates.

Friday, January 27, 2012

game preview: NC State

Date/Time: Saturday, January 28; 8:00


Record against the Pack: 57-80

Last matchup: UVA 69, NCSt. 58; 3/1/11; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 66, BC 49 (1/26); UNC 74, NCSt. 55 (1/26)

Opposing blogs: Riddick & Reynolds, State Fans Nation, Backing the Pack

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.2 (#340)
NCSt.: 69.5 (#50)

UVA: 104.7 (#101)
NCSt.: 109.6 (#51)

UVA: 84.5 (#4)
NCSt.: 96.2 (#94)

Pythagorean win%:
UVA: .9002 (#20)
NCSt.: .7913 (#58)

Common opponents:

Georgia Tech: UVA won, 70-38; NCSt. lost, 82-71
Boston College: UVA won, 66-49; NCSt. won, 76-62
Miami: UVA won, 52-51; NCSt. won, 78-73

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (6.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.6 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.6 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (3.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.8 apg)

North Carolina State:

PG: Lorenzo Brown (12.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.9 apg)
SG: C.J. Williams (11.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg)
SF: Scott Wood (13.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: C.J. Leslie (12.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 apg)
F: Richard Howell (11.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.2 apg)

I want you all to know how lucky you've been this month, and will continue to be.  Every minute spent writing and blogging and such is a minute not spent playing Skyward Sword.  This is the kind of sacrifice I make for my readers.  It is not a trifling one.  You're welcome.

-- UVA on offense

If you watched last night's game, then you're now well-educated on what needs to happen for UVA's offense to get rolling: Sammy Zeglinski hitting shots.  The difference between Brick Sammy and Splash Sammy is the difference between playing Boston College tight and being unable to shake free, and rolling them with extreme prejudice on a 22-5 run.  It matters little what type of defense other teams run, they will alter it to make sure Mike Scott is double and triple(!!)-teamed when he touches the ball.  (And he scores on triple teams, sometimes.)

NC State's defense is decent but not outstanding, their numbers hurt by a susceptibility to three-pointers.  You know the story there: it doesn't do any good if you can't hit the open ones.  C.J. Leslie has a seven-foot-plus wingspan and thus is likely to draw the primary Mike Scott assignment, but he'll likely have help.  Leslie is a very good shotblocker; Jontel Evans has wisely taken to driving the lane more often lately, so he'll have to keep a weather eye for Leslie's presence.  He'd be well-advised to look for a drive-and-dish if Leslie is in his way.  Additionally, point guard Lorenzo Brown averages two steals a game, something else Evans and whoever is running the point will have to be careful of.

Brown is a big guy for a point guard at 6'5", and the weird thing about the Pack lineup is that he's the smallest guy they run.  (He's also skinny - 186 pounds.)  Everyone in that starting lineup is between 6'5" and 6'8".  NC State's seven-man rotation also includes 6'9" DeShawn Painter and finally, 5'10" Alex Johnson, the only size outlier.  That kind of size could give Evans and Sammy some problems, and Malcolm Brogdon could see extra time.  On the flip side, there aren't any trees down low (other than perhaps the long-armed Leslie) and UVA should be able to find operating room in the frontcourt.

Regardless, though, it comes down to shooting.  Are we in a slump?  The perception is yes.  And that's the worst thing to try and analyze because nothing matters unless you can reliably hit a jump shot.  If the other team thinks you can't, and you don't, then matchups and everything else go out the window.  Winning this game would be a great way for everyone to forget there was ever a shooting issue.

-- UVA on defense

Schematically, this is an interesting match.  Mark Gottfried runs an offense that likes to back-door cut and plays at a high tempo.  UVA wants to slow down (duh) and probably doesn't mind if you back-door cut because that kind of thing relies on the defense being overaggressive on the edges.  UVA's defenders are happy to let you run around on the edges and are already there when you open the back door.

Lorenzo Brown is adept at running the show, with an A/T ratio of better than 2/1 and a whopping 37.5% assist rate.  (Meaning that three out of baskets scored while he's on the floor are assisted by him.)  That rate is pretty consistent with a guy who's tossing backdoor passes for easy layups.  Everyone gets in on the act - all five starters average between 11.5 and 13.5 points a game.

When NC State doesn't get the ball down low, they look for Scott Wood on the perimeter.  74% of his shots are three-point shots - higher, even, than Sammy's rate.  And he's hitting better than 44%.  That will be Joe Harris's assignment, and it's a tough one - Harris must do it without fouling, because Wood is a perfect 48-of-48 shooting free throws.  Except for C.J. Leslie, nobody in the Wolfies' seven-man rotation is worse than a 70% free-throw shooter.

Oh - and NC State also happens to be an excellent offensive-rebounding team.  About the only thing they don't do well is get to the line, and they can be a little cavalier with the ball - the Pack are slightly below average nationally in both categories.  But this is a tough matchup in general - a good test for our defense.  Their well-roundedness is a strength - anyone in the starting lineup can hurt you, and what they do well, they do very well.  In UVA's favor is the scheme matchup and the fact that NC State isn't deep; once they start substituting past the top six, they're taking offense off the floor.

-- Outlook

All of that, plus the fact that this is on the road, plus the Wolfies' good win-loss record, would tend to make this one of our tougher matchups.  To ease your mind some, double-check their resume.  They haven't done all that well when faced with quality competition - the best game they got is a win over 13-7 Texas.  They're 4-2 in the ACC, but they ought to be 5-1; losing to GT is a bad sign.  The Hoos are going into a tough atmosphere, but they've proven the road doesn't faze** them.  Expect a really close one.  Our record streak is likely to be broken, but, ever the optimist, it's time for another winning streak.

-- Final score: UVA 65, NC State 62

**If I make no other mark on humanity through this little blog of mine, I at least will make sure everyone remembers not to write "phase" when they mean "faze."  TWO DIFFERENT WORDS DAMMIT

Thursday, January 26, 2012

game preview: Boston College

Date/Time: Thursday, January 26; 9:00


Record against the Eagles: 7-6

Last matchup: BC 63, UVA 44; 2/26/11; Charlottesville

Last game: VT 47, UVA 45 (1/22); Wake 71, BC 56 (1/21)

Opposing blogs: BC Interruption

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.2 (#339)
BC: 66.3 (#199)

UVA: 104.8 (#95)
BC: 91.8 (#292)

UVA: 84.1 (#4)
BC: 101.4 (#185)

Pythagorean win%:
UVA: .9046 (#16)
BC: .2655 (#262)

Common opponents:

Virginia Tech: UVA lost, 47-45; BC won, 61-59

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (5.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (9.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (3.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.7 apg)

Boston College:

PG: Jordan Daniels (5.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SG: Matt Humphrey (9.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 apg)
G: Lonnie Jackson (7.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.6 apg)
F: Ryan Anderson (9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.0 apg)
C: Dennis Clifford (9.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.1 apg)

Another stretch begins today of many games in little time, and this one's an even crunchier stretch with a game tonight, Saturday evening, and then Tuesday evening.  Three in six days.  A fine time to be missing our center with a broken foot, and, potentially, our #2 scorer with the flu.

Hopefully, BC is the cure to what ails ya.  One of the worst BCS-conference basketball teams in the whole country visits the JPJA tonight, so despite the depth issues and the injuries and all, UVA has to get a win - an easy one - or else face a bottomless well of doubts about the season's direction.  Right now the Hoos are getting a favorable narrative from the media - despite an ugly loss on Sunday, the line about UVA in Yahoo's bracketology is one about how our losses are only by a combined eight points.  UVA might not be in any bracket projections if they can't shake the shooting problems from Sunday and dispatch a terrible team with prejudice.

-- UVA on offense

Usually when I'm trying to find out how to beat a team, one thing I typically do is check out their losses and see if there's a pattern in how other teams did it.  With BC it's the other way around: how on earth did anyone lose to them?  The answer generally lies in their defense.  BC's offense would be below-average in at least 30 of 34 conferences, but their defense - while not ACC-level - has its moments.

BC will have the luxury, at least at first, of attempting to guard Mike Scott with one guy, because Assane Sene's absence means 7-footer Dennis Clifford can shadow Scott.  Scott's favorite move, the Sheed Wallace turnaround jumped, probably won't make it to the basket against a seven-foot defender, so we'll have to hope Scott can bang him around in the post.

On the perimeter, however, BC can be worked on.  Actually, their three-point defense is just to the good side of average, but it's the steals - or complete lack thereof - that I like.  They hardly get any.  Georgia Tech was another team I pointed this out about, and it played into our hands nicely as the Hoos only had eight turnovers.  BC is even worse, ranking 324th in the country at steals percentage.  Point guard Jordan Daniels is a midget at 5'8", 153, a good sign as our point guards typically are bothered more by size than by quickness.  This'd be a good game to give Malcolm Brogdon minutes at the point and force one of BC's bigger guards to defend him out there; in fact if I were Bennett I'd start the game that way just to mess with Steve Donahue and see what he does to counter.

Big-picture-wise, BC's defense has actually been improving (somewhat), so it'd be a mistake to judge it by the early-season games.  In ACC play they've allowed just fewer than a point a possession, which is actually better than their performance early on against the likes of Holy Cross and Rhode Island.  (Of course, the Hokies didn't have Erick Green when they played BC.)  Donahue likes to mix a little zone defense in now and again, even including a 1-3-1 sometimes.  Given the way UVA has been shooting threes of late, I wouldn't be surprised to see an early dose of the 2-3, to force the Hoos to find their range.

-- UVA on defense

Freshmen are stuffed into every nook and corner of the BC basketball program, and Donahue needed years at Cornell before his offense caught on and started really producing, so it's little wonder that the Eagles are so bad at it.  Not one player has a double-digit scoring average; not one player has an O-rating of over 100.  (Though the former is slightly unfair, as there are four players less than half a point away from 10.)

The most dangerous player will probably be Dennis Clifford.  I would say Lonnie Jackson, because he's got the team's best O-rating at 98.2 and is the only consistent three-point shooter, but Clifford presents a matchup problem because he's seven feet and heavily involved in the offense, and of course, no Sene.

Still, this end of the floor is major strength against major weakness.  Whether by design, incompetence, or both, BC is a terrible offensive rebounding team, and you know by now that the Hoos are an elite one on the defensive glass.  BC's offensive rebounding is just 23%, which ranks 342nd of 345 D-I teams.  (Even Tony Bennett's get-the-hell-away-from-the-rebound-and-play-some-damn-defense style has resulted in a slightly better than average rebounding percentage on offense.)  Not only that, but I look forward to unleashing Jontel Evans.  The Eagles have two options at point guard: the aforementioned midget, or Gabe Moton and his astronomical 30% turnover rate.  Evans is bigger than Daniels (who is a freshman besides) and probably just as quick, and he should be able to harass either one of these guys til they hop the train to Turnover City.

BC's well-roundedness is a strength, but if everything is playing out as it should, UVA has a comfort level and plenty of experience in playing a truly nasty, odious defense to try and score on.  That bodes very ill for an extremely green, freshman-laden team trying to run a complex offense on the road.  The 1-2 record in the last three games might be worrisome, but keep in mind the defense hasn't been the issue at all.

-- Outlook

One slot behind Boston College in KenPom's rankings, you'll find High Point.  One slot above: Pepperdine.  I would tell you who's just below BC in the Sagarin list, but you'll start having bad flashbacks and I don't want you to get your heart rate up.  (Hint: they're on the West Coast.)  In other words, theoretically this game should be easier than a lot of our nonconference ones.

It's a bad state of affairs in the ACC when that's true, but then again, funny things happen in the ACC.  But then, remember what I wrote earlier about defense: it's much less susceptible to inconsistency than offense.  This should be a good back-on-track kind of game, and hopefully after one win streak failed to launch, the second try will be a go.

-- Final score: UVA 63, BC 43

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

the recruit: Divante Walker

Name: Divante Walker
Position: CB
Hometown: Virginia Beach
School: Salem
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 160

24/7: 83; three stars; #89 ATH; VA #32
ESPN: 71; two stars; #186 RB; Atlantic #284; VA #61
Rivals: 5.3; two stars
Scout: N/R

Other offers: instate I-AAs only

Almost a year ago to the day since Divante Walker committed on Sunday, UVA took Mason Thomas's commitment, a surprise since Thomas's entire profile (what there was of it) screamed I-AA and nobody had ever heard his name and UVA's in the same sentence.  The more things change.  Like Thomas, Walker was an uncommitted recruit (this year, he was the only one) at UVA's Verbally Committed Recruit Extravaganza and All-Weekend Party, so he was surrounded by a bunch of guys saying "you're coming too, right?"

Walker is a little bit different though, which means a little bit more optimism.  For one thing, he was first-team all-region as selected by the coaches, and made the Virginian-Pilot's first-team all-Tidewater as well.  (Thomas was only second-team in the district.)  Walker got these honors on the strength of his work at running back, where he totaled nearly 1,400 yards rushing.  One recruiting site offers a really high rating for a guy who had no other I-A offers; in fact, 24/7 has him higher-rated than guys like Sean Karl (BC and Syracuse offers), Kye Morgan (Illinois, Cincy, BC), and Demeitre Brim, who Wisconsin and Miami tried to pull away from a UVA commitment.  To them he's the #32 prospect in the state, and that's still not as optimistic as it gets; Doug Doughty ranks him 28th, ahead of four UVA commits and three Tech ones.

The other sites, though, are way down on him, dropping mid-to-low two-star ratings.  Why the huge discrepancy?  I'm willing to bet it's not a coincidence that the optimistic assessments are the ones that think he's 175 pounds (as Doughty does) and the pessimistic ones list him at 157.  Somebody, somewhere, made a typo, and it spread, and I don't know which it's supposed to be.

Truthfully, I don't believe either.  It's probably in the middle.  He doesn't look like 175 pounds in his pictures at all.  On the other hand, I'm 5'7" and can't get down to 157 to save my life.  Walker is 5'10" or 11", if he weighs 157 pounds he's got no muscle and is strong like mosquito, which would explain all the low ratings.

The problem with those accolades, of course, is that Walker won't be playing RB for us.  At this point there's no need for yet another small back.  There is a need for athletic bodies with cornerback experience, so toss Walker into that very large mix of incoming freshmen.  Walker will redshirt because he's not 175 pounds, and after that.....well, the cornerback shuffle in this class will sort itself out somehow.  Walker has a little bit of a disadvantage because he's not as fast as C.J. Moore, not a pure corner who played the position every day like Kelvin Rainey, probably not quite as athletic as Maurice Canady, and not as big as Wil Wahee.  Yes, the deck is stacked a little bit against him, but it'll be interesting to see who comes out of that big spin cycle on top.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2013 recruiting board

It's time to unveil next year's recruiting board.  It is below for your perusal.

By now you probably know the drill.  A prospect on here has to be listed as offered by UVA on at least two or three of the major recruiting sites.  (Two will probably do if it's a prospect close to home, in Virginia or Maryland - or if those two sites are Rivals and 24/7, the more thorough of the four big ones.  Others require three.)  Not any ol' prospect goes on the board - I do have space limitations.  They don't make it if:

- They're only listed by one site, or only two if one is only semi-trustworthy.
- The size of the offer pile means UVA doesn't seem to rate a second thought.

Even the guys in red (as of now, January) it's conceivable, albeit unlikely by my guess, that they could choose UVA.

Grains of salt are issued standard to every reader.  One reader requested, when the 2011 class was signed, to see the original 2011 board, for comparison's sake.  To see how the various colors on the original listing played out.  I didn't have that, but I decided to keep the original 2012 board (and have kept this one separate too) and you'll get to feast your eyes on it next week during the February 1 Signstravaganza.  Sneak hint: of the four colored sections, this is the breakdown:

- 2 of 4 blue prospects committed to UVA
- 2 of 7 green prospects etc.
- 0 of 9 and 0 of 7 yellow and red etc. etc.

For the non-math-majors, that makes four of an original 27 prospects that ended up committed.  I spent a lot of last year just adding guys directly to the committed section, because that's the way the year went.  At least half the class went straight to orange without passing Go or any other color.  Hence the salt.

In a likely futile attempt to fix that, I tightened up my internal criteria for starting off blue or green and made the yellow section pretty huge as a result.  Therefore the dominance of yellow and red shouldn't frighten you.  In fact I think 2013 will be an absolutely magnificent year for Mike London on the recruiting trail.  We have lots of things going for us:

- It's an odd year, which for some reason have always been better.  This means nothing, but still.
- A breakout season on the field; the results of a particular season always seem to manifest themselves most with that year's juniors.  Unlike the seniors, they're only just beginning to form their impressions.
- Mike London.
- Iron balls, as evidenced in the much-talked-about letter that the staff sent to juniors around the state that read, as paraphrased, "By the time you get this, we will have already upset Georgia Tech.  By the way, come play at Virginia."

So it should be a fun recruiting season.  Keep your hands and arms inside the carpet.

Latest updates:

-- Moved OG Brad Henson and CB Hipolito Corporan to maroon.

-- Added OT Eric Smith and LB Connor Wingo-Reeves to orange.

Monday, January 23, 2012

the home court rims are supposed to be bigger

I would like to begin this week's posting efforts by pointing out that when I write game predictions, I don't take into account the possibility of the rim actively working to block our shots.  I'm sure I've never seen a game in which so many layups, free throws, and jump shots rimmed in and out of the basket.  Layups!  All Akil Mitchell had to do was drop the ball in the rim!

The too-obvious assertion was that we missed Assane Sene's defense, sitting out the first of six weeks' worth of games with a broken ankle.  I can think of a time or two when VT scorers took the ball unabated to the rack, and Sene might've had a thing or two to say about that, sure, but the fact is: 47 points!  Tech was held to about .85 points per possession, which is right in line with the season average.  We might've missed Sene's offense

Despite having too many turnovers, including one by Joe Harris that looked like something out of a certain Miami game last year, I can't be too upset with the execution.  It's just frustrating as hell to watch layups circle around the inside of the rim and circle right back out.  12 turnovers are too many, but even a below-average shooting night would've offered a comfortable win.

I'm often critical of Seth Greenberg's coaching, but you have to give Fester credit for a few things last night.  Once he figured out he could take away Mike Scott because he didn't care if Jontel Evans was shooting, that's exactly what he did.  VT normally plays a more aggressive defense on the perimeter, because they think they have better athletes than you and they want to force you into turnovers and turn them into transition buckets.  Instead it looked like playing basketball in the mirror, with the interior denied.  Shit, if you're gonna shoot 1-for-14 from three-point range, teams will be happy to watch you do it.

That was so bad I don't even wanna talk about the GT game any more.  It's like that happened in October.  That's how quickly you go from "on a roll" to "oh man, I know Boston College is terrible and we really should win, but actually we have to otherwise everyone will be legitimately questioning this team's ability to do anything right."  In other words, don't lose to Boston College.

Unfortunately, thanks to the two Christmastime transfer, this is the team we got and there's no other options.  If Sammy Zeglinski happens to be struggling with his shot, which wouldn't you know it he is, the number of people we can turn to are awfully limited.  With Sene hurt and the bottom of the net suddenly requiring a treasure map to find, we sure could use another big man and another shooter, the latter if for no other reason than to see if he's got a shot on a night when nobody else seems to.  Big man and a shooter, where can we find.... oh dammit, they left.

At any rate, no need to panic.  Vent, yes, don't panic.  I mean, how many other teams can play offense like that, shoot 1-for-14 from three and 32% overall, and lose by two?  Only if you play nice defense.  As big of a pisser as that game was, it teaches this lesson: that's why Tony Bennett emphasizes defense the way he does.  Because you can go into shooting slumps, but there's essentially no such thing as a defensive slump.  On defense, you are what you are and it's unlikely you'll see any inconsistency from game to game.  Which means you can always fall back on that while you work on that offense.  Which combined with the fact that Selection Sunday is seven weeks away, is encouraging.


I went back and forth and back and forth again on whether or not to make any mention at all of Joe Paterno's untimely passing.  I don't really dig on politicking and philosophizing here on what should be a sports-only escape.  Obviously I have decided to do so this time.  If the death of any 85-year-old can be considered untimely, that would be it.  Not even half a year ago (not even a third of a year ago) they were interviewing him weekly wondering when he'd be back on the field and not in the coaching box, as if that was the most important question that could possibly answered in all of football.  His health went downhill like that, and it's not surprising - even Paterno himself was afraid that he'd be one of those guys who immersed himself in his job and literally couldn't survive without it.  His fears came true.  Yes, he was getting treatment, but I don't think he actually fought his lung cancer one iota.

Thanks to a certain former defensive coordinator of his, we are not having the lionization ceremonies we expected we would on this occasion.  Opinions range from "Paterno was still a great man" to "Paterno enabled and permitted children to raped, fuck him."  As best I can tell, the general narrative and opinion lands about three-quarters of the way to the "great man" side; this is healthy.  There are two things that can be said about Paterno's life right now, both of which are true:

- He affected more people in a positive way than almost anybody in this country.
- He did less than he could've and (in hindsight) should've to stop a serial child rapist.

It is not right to forget either.  It is especially wrong to forget the former.  In fact, it is dangerous to do so.

If you remove the good from Paterno's life and call him evil because he allowed the perpetuation of evil, then the lesson is this: evil things are done by evil people.  But people aren't black and white like that.  And to make things more complicated, nobody (except people with warped minds) sees themselves as evil.  Good Lord, even Jerry Sandusky doesn't.  And because we think we are generally good people, we associate ourselves with others who we think are good people.

So if you remove the good from Paterno's life, because a thing that bad be can't be done or tolerated by someone good, then he's an evil person.  But if you do that, you cloud your eyes - just like Joe Paterno clouded his.  Jerry Sandusky, why, he's this good guy I've known all my life who works his tail off and does all these charitable things and is loyally devoted to his wife and family.  To forcibly ignore all the good things Paterno did - well, in a way, that's how Sandusky was let off the hook time and again.  Because in the end Paterno couldn't see, even through Coke-bottle glasses, how good and evil could exist in one person simultaneously.  Because he believed that evil things are done by evil people - not the good ones that he knows. 

Human nature doesn't want to let us believe otherwise; that's why it's considered strong and courageous to blow the whistle.  We get a nasty case of cognitive dissonance, which makes it easier to allow ourselves to let JoePa's legacy be one or the other.  But his legacy is most valuable to us as an unadulterated whole.  "It can't happen to me, because I would or wouldn't do X" is a dangerous thought; if it can happen to Joe Paterno, who can't it happen to?

Friday, January 20, 2012

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Sunday, January 22; 6:00


Record against the Hokies: 81-52

Last matchup: UVA 61, VT 54; 2/19/11; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 70, GT 38 (1/19); UNC 82, VT 68 (1/19)

Opposing blogs: Gobbler Country, The Key Play

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.4 (#338)
VT: 64.3 (#280)

UVA: 106.7 (#77)
VT: 107.6 (#62)

UVA: 84.1 (#4)
VT: 94.0 (#62)

Pythagorean win%:
UVA: .9198 (#13)
VT: .8004 (#56)

Common opponents: none

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (5.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (9.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.6 apg)
C: Assane Sene (4.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Virginia Tech:

PG: Erick Green (16.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg)
SG: Dorenzo Hudson (11.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.7 apg)
SF: Jarell Eddie (9.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.1 apg)
F: Dorian Finney-Smith (6.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Victor Davila (6.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.5 apg)

That was fun.  I don't really enjoy beating up on Georgia Tech specifically, but any time you get an ACC game that looks like Somalia State, you have to enjoy it.  I can't remember UVA beating an ACC team like that, ever.  Some old-timer who used to be a brontosaurus hunter back in the day can probably tell us a story about the time Ralph Sampson did something or other, but semi-recent history has nothing quite like that.

So UVA is now "on a roll" and hoping to keep it that way on Sunday when the other Tech shows up.  The only negative from the GT game was Assane Sene rolling his ankle and spending the second half in warmups.  Whether he'll play on Sunday probably won't be known til someone strolls out to take the opening tip, but if he's going to miss time, this is the place to do it - VT doesn't use a center and the next opponent, Boston College, is Boston College.

-- UVA on offense

The 38 points scored by GT got all the attention, but what shouldn't be overlooked is that UVA scored almost 1.2 points per possession - on the road.  It was the fourth-best performance of the year in that regard, and far and away the best opponent we've inflicted it on - the only three games that topped it were Winthrop, Seattle, and Longwood.

If Sene plays, he could be a weapon in this game, as Tech's starting lineup features nobody over 6'8".  They simply do not have a center.  If Victor Davila, the largest man in the Tech starting lineup, is assigned to Sene, then that probably leaves Jarell Eddie or Dorian Finney-Smith - both athletic but kind of skinny - to try their hand at guarding Mike Scott.  Or does Davila, a better defender in general, take Scott?  Either way, UVA will have a very exploitable matchup advantage in the frontcourt.  Tech may try out 6'9" Cadarian Raines in the starting lineup instead.  IF Sene is healthy enough to play.

If not, you'll probably see Akil Mitchell take his place in the starting lineup, and UVA will still be bigger than Tech, but otherwise rather similarly put-together.  It doesn't negate the problem of trying to decide whether to defend Scott with someone who's either slower or much less powerful.

This is a matchup of two teams that defend the three-pointer at a nationally awesome level.  Specifically, UVA is 2nd and VT is 4th in the country at defending threes.  And we haven't been shooting them too well lately, so long-distance opportunities will be tough to come by.  Tech is simply athletic enough at all positions to consistently shut down opponent three-pointers, and Finney-Smith is long-armed dude.  It's likely that Joe Harris will be his assignment, and that's a tough deal for Joey Hoops, because his game is based on being just quick enough to get past bigger players guarding him and tall enough to hit threes over guards.  Finney-Smith out-athletes Harris by a ton and presents a tough barrier to try and shoot over.

No, the way to attack the Hokies is inside-out.  Mike Scott is a guy that few teams in the ACC are prepared to deal with, VT among the least of all.  And you know they'll foul.  Tech is undisciplined and it shows in their foul totals, as by the end of the game, at least one of their bigs is always in foul trouble.  Against Wake, it was Eddie; Raines fouled out of the FSU game, and Finney-Smith from the UNC game.  Against BC, guard Marquis Rankin fouled out, and no fewer than three other players finished with four.  This despite the relatively slow pace that VT employs.  Not only do they foul, they might be the one team against whom we look to crash the offensive boards.  Tony Bennett emphasizes getting back on defense over the offensive glass, of course, but Tech is so bad at defensive rebounding we might end up with a bunch of boards on this end just by accident.  UNC actually outrebounded them in this area, with more offensive boards than Tech had defensive.  That is hard to do.  Against ACC competition, VT has been allowing opponents 40% of their offensive boards.  By working the ball inside and letting Mike Scott be Mike Scott, putback opportunities should be there for the taking. UVA should look to pound, pound, pound inside, take advantage of the inevitable fouls, and get our threes, to employ a galactically overused phrase, the old-fashioned way.

EDIT - so much for the seven-foot mismatch, as Sene will be out six weeks (GGGGGRRRHHHGGGRHRHRHR) with a broken ankle.  "Virginia" is ancient Latin for "we can't ever have nice things around here."

-- UVA on defense

Let me go off-topic for a second.  Here is a short list of teams for you to peruse:

Holy Cross
Boston University

What do these teams have in common, besides being bad at basketball?  They all beat Boston College by at least 14 points.  In the case of Holy Cross, which plays in the Patriot League, it was a 22-point beatdown.  You don't want to know the UMass score if you like the ACC.  And this is to say nothing of the double-OT loss to 3-16 Rhode Island.

And to illustrate just how important Erick Green is to the VT offense, the Hokies lost to BC without him.

Green is simply an excellent, highly efficient player.  KenPom gives him an offensive rating of 120.9.  He's got a shooting percentage of .484, 40% from three-land, a solid A/T ratio, and a FT% of .885.  He can hurt you a lot of ways.  Jarell Eddie is even better from downtown; this season, he's over 50% in that regard.  Those two, plus Dorenzo Hudson, are guys you just don't want to send to the line, either, because they're nigh-automatic.

Unfortunately for Tech, a lot of their offensive efficiency gets eaten up by Hudson, a brute-force volume-scorer who shoots a ton of threes and hits only 27% of them.  Hudson actually came off the bench for the first time this season against Carolina, in favor of freshman Robert Brown, but Brown isn't much of an improvement.  He and fellow freshman Finney-Smith are combining to make only 35% of their shots.

Part of the reason Tech is so maddeningly (to their fans - or enjoyably to us) streaky is that they like to bomb from three; any one of five players is liable to give it a try.  Only Eddie and Green are much good at it.  Outside of transition, their other preferred scoring method is to slash at the hoop and either beat you with athleticism, or draw a foul, or both.  The top four scorers are all guard-types (with Eddie being listed as "G/F"); the bigs like Raines and Davila are well down the list.

Not to be forgotten is Finney-Smith - he "looks lost" on offense, to quote Gobbler Country, and appears to be hitting a freshman wall of sorts, but what he can definitely do is crash the offensive boards.  Nobody else is really noteworthy in this regard one way or the other, but Finney-Smith's nose for the ball is an asset.  He has pulled in 11.2% of available boards on offense alone, and is by far VT's leading rebounder overall.  UVA, of course, is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation - third-best at defensive rebounding after the GT game, in fact - but Finney-Smith will be a challenge.

-- Outlook

On paper, VT looks like a team that can really hurt you.  Despite losses to two horrible ACC teams and an 0-4 start in the conference, their KenPom numbers still look decent.  They have viable scorers and play perfectly acceptable defense.  On paper.

But they play the games on a court made of hardwood, and Tech's season is on the brink at the moment.  No tournament bid is likely coming, and they're teetering on the edge of blowing even any shot at the NIT.  They were looking good against UNC, taking a 44-36 lead, and then UNC remembered how to play basketball and blew them out.  Tech plays an undisciplined, freelancing style, good at out-athleting inferior teams but generally unable to break down a determined, patient effort or a really well-executed system.  And what looked like a challenger for non-Tobacco Road supremacy in the ACC is now staring over a ledge and wondering where the bottom is; Tech fans are wondering about an 0-7 start, and even 0-9 is not implausible.  The arena will be sold out and loud, and UVA is a confident bunch.  This is no time to slow our roll, and I don't think the Hokies will be able to.

-- Final score: UVA 68, VT 56

Thursday, January 19, 2012

game preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: Thursday, January 19; 8:00

TV: ACC Network, ESPN3

History against the Jackets: 33-38

Last matchup: UVA 62, GT 56; 2/23/11; Atlanta

Last game: Duke 61, UVA 58 (1/12); Md. 61, GT 50 (1/15)

Opposing blogs: From The Rumble Seat

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.5 (#338)
GT: 66.2 (#211)

UVA: 105.0 (#99)
GT: 100.3 (#178)

UVA: 85.9 (#6)
GT: 94.0 (#65)

Pythagorean win%:
UVA: .8875 (#25)
GT: .6618 (#113)

(Explanation of KenPom stats: "Tempo" number is number of offensive possessions per game. "Offense" and "Defense" numbers are points scored/allowed per 100 possessions. All numbers are adjusted, using the magic KenPom formula; therefore they are not actual, but projections of predicted results against an average team on a neutral court.)

Common opponents:

LSU - UVA won 57-52 (A); GT lost 59-50 (N)
Duke - UVA lost 61-58 (A); GT lost 81-74 (H)

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (5.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.6 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (9.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.9 apg)

SF: Joe Harris (12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)
C: Assane Sene (5.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Georgia Tech:

PG: Mfon Udofia (10.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg)
SG: Brandon Reed (7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.2 apg)
SF: Glen Rice, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
PF: Kammeon Holsey (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.8 apg)
C: Daniel Miller (8.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.8 apg)

We're finally at the end of a maddening stretch of going two weeks with only two games to show for it.  This is annoying because 1) we don't get to watch any damn hoops and 2) you know it's gonna catch up to us at some point.  This week is when it catches up, as UVA has three games in eight days.  The highly anticipated, sold-out matchup with VT is on Sunday (which means you get the rare sighting of back-to-back game previews out of me) and then next Thursday is Boston College.  It'll be nice to finally catch up to the rest of the ACC, as we're the only team who has yet to play three games, while some have four.

Georgia Tech is very literally in a rebuilding year; this game will be played at the downtown home of the Atlanta Hawks instead of on campus, as the Alexander Memorial Coliseum has been razed for a total renovation.  Since we don't visit the sleepy Conte Forum in Boston this year, it might be the easiest road game of the season in terms of atmosphere.

-- UVA on offense

Georgia Tech hasn't played to the level expected of an ACC team this year, but their defense mostly isn't to blame.  Thanks to a team blocked-shot percentage of 16.2 (that is, they block 16 percent of opponents' shots), which is 9th in the country, they're allowing opponents a shooting percentage of just 41.8% from two-point range.  This is mostly the result of the presence of block machine Daniel Miller, who gets almost three per game.  Miller is 6'11" and a stocky 258 pounds, making him very likely to shut down Assane Sene if that is his assignment.  If guarding Mike Scott, it could be an awfully fun battle.  Scott's Sheed Wallace fadeaways will be the key to winning that one, as even Mike Scott will have a tough time backing down a guy as big as Miller.

However, GT does not do well in the causing-turnovers department.  Combined with their propensity to turn the ball over themselves, that should set up a decent advantage for UVA, which does a solid job of taking care of the ball.  Point guards, if they're pretty good at defense, should get their share of steals, but Mfon Udofia has only nine - just three more than Assane Sene.  Expect UVA's veteran guards to be able to keep the turnovers to a minimum here.

GT's size at guard may give UVA some trouble.  They don't have any short guys.  Udofia is the smallest at 6'2", and Rice and Jason Morris both stand 6'5", meaning there won't be size mismatches to exploit in the backcourt.  A big lineup that includes Scott, Sene, and Akil Mitchell might be fun, as GT doesn't have a deep frontcourt, but I suspect that would be getting too cute.  The way to beat Tech will simply be patience and taking advantage of the fastbreak opportunities that will appear when they turn it over.

-- UVA on defense

Here's where UVA has a sizable advantage, as Tech's offense leaves something to be desired.  FTRS suggested in the Q&A session that if you shut down Udofia at point, you've shut down Rice as well.  That's good news for UVA fans; Udofia's A/T ratio is a lousy .89/1.  Combine that with Jontel Evans's on-ball skills, and Udofia could be in for a long night.  Four of Tech's players, in fact, average over two turnovers a game, and the team averages 11 assists to 15 TOs.

GT gets their scoring primarily from six rotation guys; the rest of the team just eats up minutes.  Those are the five starters plus Jason Morris, who starts his share of games himself and is more like a fifth-and-a-half man than a true sixth.  When I wrote the season preview, the seventh-best scorer was Nick Foreman; now he's down to 1.5 ppg and the next-highest (after sixth-place Brandon Reed) is Julian Royal with 3.7 ppg.  Reed has 7.8, so the gap is quite large.  The truth is that any time one of the six scorers are off the floor, GT is playing four-on-five on offense.

And nobody but Rice and Miller are very efficient.  Rice is a legitimate star, who'd probably have better numbers if he had better teammates, although even he has trouble from three-point range.  Miller can be a bit rough; his FG% is low for a center, but he shoots free throws quite well.  On the flip side, power forward Holsey has a tremendous shooting percentage of .639, but his offensive efficiency is being dragged down by his anchoresque free-throw shooting.  It's worse than Mason Plumlee's - Holsey shoots just .415 from the charity stripe, so when I say anchoresque I mean it's like he's tossing anchors at the backboard.  Teams are figuring this out, too, which is hurting his shooting percentage.  In the last four games, he's taken 25% of his shot attempts on the season (about right, since that's four of GT's 17 games) but 40% of his season's free-throw attempts.

The other thing GT does poorly is shoot threes.  This was a theme from last year, and it's not changed.  The guy with the most attempts (Reed) is also the team's worst shot at .279 from behind the arc.  Rice has the most makes (20 for 60) which is still only 1 make per game.

These kind of tendencies mean that the way to play GT is to take the pack-line principles to extremes.  Pack it in tight, take away any chance of dribble-driving and dare them to shoot threes, and play the ball aggressively.  Holsey can be safely fouled if he gets the ball in the paint with a lane to the hoop.  Miller will be a load, but I would have no problems with overrotating to double him if it means leaving a guard open for a three; I'll take my chances.

-- Outlook

There's a reason I always caveat my final-score predictions in the Q&A sessions.  I have something more of a respect for the GT defense than I did before.  But my thoughts on their anemic offense haven't changed a bit.  It does have the capability of exploding, as NC State found out; then again, NC State's defense is kind of poor.  Certainly among the poorer ones in the ACC.  The last time GT faced a defense as tough as UVA's, they were scoring 48 points against Alabama.

So I expect UVA to handle the Jackets, in one of those games that make ACC purists claw their faces and go "oh god what did you do to my beloved conference."  UVA is favored by 3.5 in Vegas and by four by KenPom, but this one ought to be easier than that.

-- Final score: UVA 58, GT 49

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

the recruit: Canaan Severin

Name: Canaan Severin
Position: WR
Hometown: Marlboro, MA
School: Worcester Academy
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 210

24/7: 93; four stars; #26 WR; MA #3; US #216
ESPN: 77; three stars; #97 ATH; MA #4; Atlantic #119
Rivals: 5.8; four stars; #22 WR; MA #4
Scout: three stars; #50 WR

Other offers: Penn State, Boston College, Michigan State, Missouri, Iowa, NC State, Purdue, Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, a few smaller ones

And so we come to the temporary end of this series for 2012; Canaan Severin was the most recent recruit to commit to UVA, and he did so way back in September.  It's been that kind of recruiting year.  There may be one or two more commits on the way, but the bulk of the class is basically done.

Severin is my favorite kind of recruit.  Following recruiting is a lot more fun when they follow a path like his.  He started out (from our perspective) as no more or less of a name than a lot of others, and UVA was in a large pile of worthwhile offers.  Virginia stayed in the mix every time the offers were narrowed, all the way to a top three of UVA, PSU, and BC, and there was actually a little drama in the decision.  In fact, he chose UVA less than a week after visiting Penn State.  From the perspective of this site's recruiting board, Severin was added in February to the yellow section, moved up to green in June, blue in August, and orange in September.  So he's a guy we got to follow for a while, and with a happy ending to the story.

Oh, and he's pretty good too.  His game has positives and negatives and both are pretty glaring, which translated to some disparity in his recruiting rankings between the sites.  Let's get the negatives out of the way.  First, he's kind of slow for a receiver.  Everyone that evaluates him makes a point of saying he's a very good athlete, but Scout registers him at 4.7 in the 40.  That would be pretty good for, say, a linebacker, but if you're going to be ranked as one of the top 250 or whatever, the sites want to see that blazing 4.5, 4.4 stuff.  Second, on defense he's a little bit of a tweener - too slow for safety and not big enough for linebacker.  No, we don't care because he's not going to play defense for us, but the recruiting sites aren't in the business of predicting a player's ultimate position, only projecting it.

Severin's size is his biggest positive: he's listed at 210-215 and looks like he could add to that, and he's nice and tall at anywhere from 6'2" to 6'4" depending on which site you ask.  (We'll just say 6'3".)  UVA has a few receivers of similar size on the roster - Miles Gooch, Bobby Smith, Kevin Royal, for example - but you notice I didn't list too many regulars, and only Gooch has athleticism comparable to Severin's.  Smart, too - there was a little chatter about early enrollment which never came to pass, and I think that was more of a deal with his high school's standards than with UVA's.  And he's a little older than the usual recruit - Severin repeated the 10th grade upon transferring to Worcester Academy at the urging of his father.

Part of the reason Severin chose UVA is because our coaches were recruiting him at wide receiver; Penn State kept the possibility of tight end or H-back open, which he wasn't keen on.  So initially at least, that's where he'll be, despite any thoughts you might have about a big guy being moved elsewhere.  He'll have a good chance to come in right away and fill the big-receiver role that's being voided by Matt Snyder.  There'll be some competition in that regard in camp, but Severin comes in on at least an even footing.  None of those aforementioned big receivers saw much of the field, you'll remember (though in Bobby Smith's case, he was hurt,) even though Snyder missed a chunk of the season with a broken foot.  He was just replaced with more Kris Burd.

That means Severin should step right in during the fall and have a chance.  We have a ton of receivers, but Severin's in a niche that's presently unfilled.  Don't look for him to be the kind of guy who gets behind the defense for big yardage; he won't be fast enough.  But he should be able to outmuscle small nickel backs and outmaneuver linebackers for those crucial third-and-sevens.  I don't expect a redshirt year.  I don't expect a 600-yard receiving season right off the bat either, but on the checklist of requirements to contribute right away as a freshman - fills a need, football-mature, athletically capable - Severin fits to a T.  Darius Jennings was the same way, and finished with 20 catches for 238 yards; expectations should be similar for Canaan Severin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

a civil conversation with From The Rumble Seat

It is a thrice-yearly ritual, and a pleasure of course, to swap questions with the Georgia Techers at From The Rumble Seat.  That is the next hoops opponent, so it's that time again.  You probably know the drill by now, and the other half the conversation is found at FTRS.

1. Is life without Paul Hewitt everything you thought it would be? Compare Hewitt and Brian Gregory for us.
Hewitt was a recruiter and a politico in the basketball world. He had more friends outside of Georgia Tech than inside. He recruited well nationally. He wasn't a great regular season coach but really performed in short turnaround settings like tournaments comparatively speaking.
The big difference we've seen with Brian Gregory is that he is a much better in game coach. He doesn't have the accumulated talent or experience of some of Hewitt's better teams yet so it's hard to compare their successes and failures. I think most Tech fans are happy to see a team fighting on every play and playing strong team offense. Also, Brian Gregory won Tech's first game in Athens, Georgia in 13 tries.
2. Being temporarily homeless and playing at the Hawks' arena, what kind of home court advantage will GT enjoy on Thursday?
There won't be much of an advantage, I would venture to say. Duke fans were in force against Tech in the last home game and I'm not sure where the student body even sits in Phillips Arena. If there are more than a few thousands fans, I will surely be impressed.

3. What kind of defense will GT deploy? Is it any good?

Tech uses mostly man defense from what I've seen. We feel like we match up athletically with most teams we've met. Unfortunately, the defense hasn't really limited Georgia Tech. Turnovers and poor shot decisions have really limited this squad. The defense is actually not too bad. We're limiting opponents to 61.5 points per game (5th in ACC) and have the second best field goal defense in the conference at 0.382. Once again, we're just hamstrung by execution on offense.
4. What's the best way to limit Glen Rice, Jr.?

Going back to question 3. If Glen's cohorts are limited, he will be limited. GRJ needs Mfon Udofia, Jason Morris, and Brandon Reed to play well so the defensive focus can be put entirely on him. If Mfon is having a turnover heavy night, GRJ and the rest of the offense will struggle. Glen Rice has been fairly good for us this season but he cannot win in spite of other key players having poor performances. Limit Mfon and you'll limit GRJ.

5. Mike Scott gets the ball in the low post. Who's guarding him? Will Tech see if Holsey can handle him, assign big-ass Daniel Miller to the job, or will Scott see nothing but double-teams til his head spins?
Daniel Miller has been playing the 5 pretty well defensively and Holsey is very athletic 4. I imagine Scott will see a mixture of guys rotating against him. Daniel Miller is leading the team with 2.8 blocks per game. He's 9th in the ACC in total rebounds per game and just behind John Henson in blocks per game.

6. Also you must make a final score prediction. It is the only way.
UVA is playing really well. I see the Cavaliers knocking off Tech in Atlanta by about 12. I'll give the Hoos a 67-55 win.
Time to take this opportunity to point out that Mike Scott made the midseason watch list for the Wooden Award.  Tolja so.  I don't expect that he's the best player in the country, but official confirmation that he's one of the top 25 is nice to see.  He's probably top 15 or so.  Of course, the commentary on the article is still pretty pacist.  Not sure how some of the names mentioned as potential all-Americans got the nod over Scott.  I'll stipulate to one thing: some of those players are on really good teams, surrounded by better players than we have, and their stats would be better if they were the unquestioned top dog the way Scott is.  That said, #EndPacism.
UVA also held steady in this week's coaches poll and moved up a spot (tolja so again) in the media poll, assisted by Louisville's WTFer against Providence and Michigan's ugly loss to Iowa (dammit.)  The next game the Hoos will likely be the underdog in will be the road tilt at Florida State (though it's possible we might be dogs by a point or so at NC State) and thus there's a fair-to-decent chance we exit January at 19-2.  I wouldn't bet on it, because all basketball teams have inexplicably shitty games at one point or another and we're certainly not impervious to that.  Lunardi seems to think the Hoos are in for one or two of those, because he suggests that by season's end, we'll end up in an 8-9 game.  I'm much more optimistic than that, of course, but maybe irrationally so.

Monday, January 16, 2012

too-late review, too-early preview: defense 2011-2012

I did the offense almost two weeks ago.  Did I wait this long for the defense because I'm scatterbrained, or because I wanted the title "too-late" to make sense this time?  A philosophical mystery.

Anyway, reasons #1 and #2, in whatever order, that UVA went 8-4 in the regular season and earned a Peach Bowl bid, are the cohesiveness of the offensive line, and the entire defense fixing itself.  Last year I had serious, and I think legitimate, concerns about Jim Reid.  We went 4-8, the defense took like eight steps backward, and this despite the fact that the 4-3 was pitched as a simple scheme that wouldn't need much if any adjustment time.  Well, this year, we got those eight steps back.  The defense had its stepping-out party against Georgia Tech and then timed its true renaissance to coincide with the emergence of Mike Rocco at quarterback, and the resulting four-game winning streak propelled UVA to its best season in quite some time.  Let's see how these position groups did.


This year.....

The team settled nicely into a six-man rotation that saw each of them earn plenty of time.  Cam Johnson played well enough to earn a Senior Bowl invitation and will get his shot at playing on Sundays.  His four sacks led the team, and that doesn't look like much of a number, but Johnson was rarely blockable one-on-one and his pressure caused plenty of quarterback mistakes.  My lasting impression: watching him ignore a block by Indiana's hapless left tackle and simply absorb the football from quarterback Edwin Wright-Baker.  By osmosis, apparently, because the ball was in the quarterback's hands, and then it wasn't, and there was nothing in between.

Also disruptive: Matt Conrath, another likely draft pick.  Just ask Duke, who was forced to put up with being terrorized by Johnson because they were tired of being terrorized by Conrath.  Nick Jenkins was solid as the one-tech next to Conrath, and Will Hill emerged as a very capable backup.  Bill Schautz also played very well; Schautz didn't have the athleticism of some of his linemates but makes up for it with technical near-perfection.  In Al Groh's last season he really wanted to find a spot on the field for Schautz and talked him up quite a bit in the preseason; we found out why this year.

Next year....

This is one-half of the anxiety over next year's defense, because three seniors - Conrath, Jenkins, and Johnson - all graduate.  All were extremely important players.  At defensive tackle, Hill will be the only player left with significant game experience.  However, Justin Renfrow and Chris Brathwaite showed some promise when they had a chance.  I particularly like the potential of Brathwaite.  Those two will likely have the first shot at replacing Jenkins and Conrath, but don't overlook David Dean, who'll be a redshirt freshman.  Of this year's redshirts, Dean is the one most consistently mentioned for making an impression in practices.

At end, Schautz and Jake Snyder are the top two returnees; Snyder was the third man in the DE rotation this year, so there's a little more experience.  But is there a pass-rush terror in this group?  From here, in January, it doesn't look like it.  Brent Urban will start the season the third guy, and of the three, the big Canuck might be the most likely to get to the quarterback regularly.  Because of the dearth of pass-rushing freaks, look for true freshman Eli Harold to see the field.  Harold was a highly-sought recruit before his senior year on the strength of his potential and blazing athleticism; he rose to the top of the prospect rankings in Virginia (and opened eyes at the Army game) thanks to backing it up with his performance and production this fall.

A large group of freshmen emerges from redshirtland, and there'll be a competition starting in the spring to see who rises on the pecking order.  Having a slight leg up on that competition might be Thompson Brown, who didn't actually redshirt - you'll remember him from the Miami game, chasing down Jacory Harris and forcing him to go to his left, against the grain of his throwing arm.

The story for next year on the D-line is really that even though we lose more talent from the middle, we start in a stronger position there in 2012.  This should be a stout group against the run; it's a smart bunch with guys like Hill and Schautz that know their assignments very well.  The pass rush will be a question mark; it'll be interesting to see how quickly Harold can translate his high school dominance to college success.


This year....

Ausar Walcott had an interesting 2011.  He began the year as the starting weakside linebacker, was  suspended for his role in the JMU party house brouhaha, reinstated and dropped to the very back of the defensive end depth chart, and finally returned to the field as a platooning Sam backer, with Aaron Taliaferro.

Taliaferro had slid over from the middle; neither he nor Steve Greer is very rangy there, but Greer is quicker to diagnose plays and a better tackler.  Greer missed the Peach Bowl; his absence was greatly felt, because he's quite a bit ahead of Henry Coley in his development, and it showed.  On the weakside, Laroy Reynolds took several steps forward in his development over last year, when his overaggressiveness caused a lot of spectacular plays - some by him and some by the offense.  I wouldn't say he looked more comfortable this year (and that's because he was often too comfortable last year) but he clearly had better knowledge of his position.  Reynolds made a perfect linebacker play to help seal the Miami win: he diagnosed the play with lightning speed and shed his block equally quickly to wind up in the backfield, making a tackle for loss on fourth down.

Still, there's a lot of room for improvement with this unit.  It's not very good in pass coverage, and the athleticism must be upgraded.  Reynolds is the only one with much speed.  Taliaferro was only average in this area, and Walcott had to lose some offseason weight - I continue to believe his short-lived move to defensive end was mostly a wake-up call rather than a tactical decision.  And Coley is either not much more athletic than Greer, or he's slower at diagnosing plays.

Next year....

Taliaferro is the only graduating player, so there's a lot of hope for some consistency.  In fact, it looks as though it'll be an all-senior group, with Greer, Reynolds, and Walcott.  Like Schautz, Greer masks his lack of athleticism with smarts, and if Walcott is a diligent worker this offseason in the weight room, the outside backers will be able to cover enough ground to make up for it.

But who are the backups?  Coley is on track to replace Greer after next year, so he's a no-brainer - though he will be having Kwontie Moore breathing down his neck starting in August.  Daquan Romero spent the year as Reynolds's backup on the weak side, but didn't see many plays.  Nevertheless, he's your man.  And on the strong side, Caleb Taylor will be first in line behind Walcott.

That's a young group I just listed.  A very veteran bunch of starters, but a very green bunch of backups.  Burnt offerings to the gods of health are in order.


This year....

Hell, what is there to say about Chase Minnifield that hasn't already been said?  Nobody wanted to throw at him and he still had three interceptions.  I don't mind rehashing his touchdown-saver against FSU, of course, in which he definitely lived up to his name.  It was the play of the season.  The NFL is calling.

His counterpart, Demetrious Nicholson, certainly had some moments this year.  He had no choice - everyone decided to throw at him because when you're offered the choice between picking on the senior who'll be playing in the league next year and picking on the true freshman, 10 out of 10 offensive coordinators choose the latter.  Even Ron Prince knows enough to do that - at least, in between third-and-nine draw plays.  Given that set of circumstances, Nicholson was outstanding.  Oh, sure, he made his share of mistakes, too, but he was far from a disaster.  Believe me: I watched freshman cornerbacks at Michigan coached by Greg Robinson.  I know what a disaster looks like.

Safety was awfully similar, except maddeningly played by seniors instead of freshmen.  Rodney McLeod had three picks against Maryland, and that was cool, and also really annoying because two of them came on fourth down when batting the ball down would've been the better play.  Both safeties, McLeod and Corey Mosley, made a habit of getting burned deep against Duke, but they were also good in run support all season long.  Fans had much complaints about the safeties giving up big plays, which was justified, but I have a nasty feeling we won't know what we had til it's gone.

Next year.....



Of the starters, we get Nicholson back.  Nickel corner Dom Joseph also happens to depart, meaning that someone that we never saw hide or hair of will be the other starter.  The top two candidates would be Brandon Phelps and Drequan Hoskey; I suppose it's not totally fair to say we saw nothing of these two, because Phelps played on special teams and Hoskey made a very, very nice play in the end zone to help preserve the FSU win.

Still, it'll make for some nervous moments.  It probably doesn't matter who wins the battle to start, because you need three cornerbacks.  About four true freshmen will enter in the fall, and in the best-case scenario we'll never see 'em.  But it's likely we will.

Safety is even scarier.  Rijo Walker will replace Mosley at free safety, so it'll be nice to at least have a veteran.  Walker made a crazy-nice interception at Indiana, but we didn't see much more of him as time went on.  Walker's backup, at least nominally, is probably Pablo Alvarez, but this is going to be way up for grabs.  At strong safety, the likely starter is Anthony Harris; again, though, this could be up for grabs with a ton of freshman-type substances vying for a place in the pecking order.

Overall, this defense will be as good as the secondary lets it be.  With three seniors slated to start at linebacker, you have to figure they'll be able to find their way around a football field.  And the defensive line has a lot of playable depth that didn't play this year, meaning we should at least be fine, albeit probably not spectacular.  But how the secondary will be, I can't say, with the possibilities ranging from "pretty good" to "unwatchable," with unwatchable being the more likely.  Only two of the four starters (whoever the starters end up being) have played enough to earn much confidence.

Somebody will have to really break out and surprise people for the defense to be as good or better than it was in 2011.  That's really what it boils down to.  Possible candidates: Chris Brathwaite, Eli Harold, Anthony Harris, among some others.  If I could pick the one I most want it to be, it'd be Harris, so that secondary-induced heart attacks are at a minimum.  My actual pick: Brathwaite, a player I've had an inexplicably good feeling about since he was recruited.  My bet is that Brathwaite leapfrogs Renfrow and starts to make himself a name as a really nasty, disruptive force on the inside.

In any case, this year's defense was a big improvement, and Jim Reid gets a lot of deserving credit as the coordinator.  But this was also a veteran squad, and should have been at least halfway decent.  Next year, if the defense stays pretty good, give Reid and the coaching staff a big pat on the back.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

season preview: Wake Forest

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Media prediction: 11th

Last season:

Record: 8-24 (1-15) - ACC 12th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 251st of 345

Returning scoring: 54.1%
Returning rebounding: 65.7%
Returning assists: 62.2%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Rookie: F Travis McKie
Defensive: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Tony Chennault (So.)
SG: C.J. Harris (Jr.)
SF: Travis McKie (So.)
PF: Nikita Mescheriakov (5Sr.)
C: Ty Walker (Sr.)


G Chase Fischer (Fr.)
C Carson Desrosiers (So.)
G Anthony Fields (Fr.)
F Daniel Green (Fr.)

Coach: Jeff Bzdelik (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, NC State
Once: Florida State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech

Last season, the Deacons turned in the worst year for an ACC team in maybe all of time and space.  Which made it that much more fun to lose to them and be the only team preventing Wake Forest from being the only 0-16 team in ACC history.  This season, Wake Forest is better, but still not actually good.

Wake's offense is highly perimeter-oriented; weirdly, their perimeter guys are shooting around .500 while their bigs (except for Ty Walker, who's recently been inserted into the starting lineup) have lousy shooting percentages.  The offense is basically whatever C.J. Harris and Travis McKie do, with some contribution from point guard Tony Chennault.  Harris and McKie each average better than 17 points a game, can both shoot threes, and statistically are basically the same player except that McKie rebounds and Harris distributes some.

They have fair amount of height - between Walker and Carson Desrosiers, Wake almost always has a seven-footer on the floor - and Desrosiers will even take the occasional three.  But Wake gets precious little offense from the frontcourt.  Power forward Nikita Mescheriakov is brutal offensively, and for all that height, the Deacs don't block many shots, either.  And they're a poor rebounding team.

Obviously, Wake Forest isn't going to the tournament this year.  If there were any doubts about that, losing to Wofford cemented it.  But the Deacons have two games each against Boston College, Clemson, and Georgia Tech, who are fellow bottom-feeders in the ACC, and they might've helped create another bottom-feeder by helping run a train on Virginia Tech, which has now lost to Wake and BC.  With the team being such a two-and-a-half-man show, chances are they'll finish with another losing record.  But Harris and McKie are good enough to play spoiler for some unsuspecting team, and Wake has such a cushy schedule that they can't possibly finish 1-15 again.  There won't be any postseason for this team after the ACC tournament, but they have some potential to be dangerous for teams that can't exploit their soft middle, and at least they're moving in the right direction.