Wednesday, February 29, 2012

extended spring break

No publishing today (Tuesday) because I was getting ready for my trip.  Tomorrow (that is, Wednesday) I fly my happy self out of town on the way to sunny Peru.  I've been writing things to keep you occupied til I get back; this week, two game previews will be launched, and there are two column-type posts during next week's hiatus. I didn't get any guest column entries (you make blogger sad) so that's all there is.  If you get cracking and get one to me before, ohh say Sunday night, I might be able to post it, as I'll have my laptop, but I'll be doing things like exploring the sublime peaks of the Andes and the ancient ruins of the Incas, so no promises.

Hasta la vista.  Current-events posting resumes Sunday the 11th.  That is Selection Sunday, so I'll probably have an opinion about how that went.

Monday, February 27, 2012

weekend review

Before we begin our basketball discussion, the prosecution will stipulate to the following items:

-- Stipulated: That had we hit just one of the large number of missed three-pointers, we probably wouldn't even be having this discussion.  Had we hit two, we definitely wouldn't be.

-- Stipulated: That North Carolina is a much larger team, and therefore much less likely to foul; in addition, the numbers prove this, as they are the best team in the country at keeping the opponent off the free-throw line.

-- Stipulated: That John Henson is a floppy douchebag, about which we will certainly have words later on, and as such, is likely to fool a referee into calling fouls which are then unretractable.

-- Stipulated: That complaining about the refereeing is whiny as hell, most of the time.

That said:

Regardless of the above, you cannot tell me that, for example, Akil Mitchell's "moving screen" was caused by UNC's size advantage, or that said size advantage means UNC committed zero such infractions themselves.  You can't tell me that there's such a thing as a foul for boxing out.  There isn't.  There also is no such thing as a technical foul for a blatant flop, but there should be.

Ironically, that flop by Henson - yes, it was a flop even though he didn't actually fall to the ground - might have enlightened the referees.  My working theory is that, in going to the monitor to check if a flagrant foul was called, saw instead why the crowd was hurling boos at them, and backed off for the rest of the game.  The fouls being called were so astoundingly weak that I don't know how you stop doing them.  Don't box out?  Don't set screens?  So I rule out the idea that UVA was playing any less aggressively, especially since UNC didn't suddenly go on a scoring run.

No, I think it's the exact opposite of a coincidence that, after that trip to the monitor, only two fouls were called on UVA for the next 12 minutes.  One of those was with three seconds left in a last-ditch attempt to get the ball back.  Think of that: 15 fouls called in 28 minutes, and 2 (really 1) in the next 12.  The refereeing was so bad that even the refs knew it.  Too late, of course; foul trouble is irreversible.

It's a shame and a half, because the defensive effort was maybe the best of the season.  I mean, what the Hoos did in sticking it to a team that's much bigger and ostensibly a zillion times more talented is beyond impressive.  It was the kind of effort that deserved the recognition that a win would've brought.  The team battled.  Hard.  They were on the verge of being blown out of their own gym and it didn't faze them; they just buckled down and got 'er done.  With the exception of four-star Malcolm Brogdon, every player fielded by UVA was a measly three-star.  With the exception of four-star Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller (who's friggin 7'2"), every player fielded by UNC (that played more than three minutes) was a super-recruit five-star.  That team should blow ours out of the building, every time, and they shouldn't have to flop like Dookies to get it done.

Which brings us to John Henson.  This is the same douchecannon who felt it necessary to throw down a dunk with, like, twelve seconds left in the last game with a 16-point lead.**  He was on the receiving end of at least two of Scott's fouls, both of which he embellished like an Italian soccer player, and when the refs had the temerity to call a foul on him, he earned himself a technical foul.  They didn't call one, but he earned it.  With Greivis Vasquez playing in the League, Henson is officially the heir apparent to the ACC DOY (Douche of the Year) title.

Obviously, though, the refereeing needs to be fixed.  At some point, this independent-contractor model has got to go, in favor of permanent referees.  I don't even care if they hire the same guys. (Except Karl Hess, the Napoleon of refs.)  At least then you'd have better accountability.  The conference bears some blame, too, for promoting, among their refs, an atmosphere of "every little thing is a foul."  The other thing that would be nice: the ability to award a technical foul for exact situations like the one that earned Scott his fourth foul.  I looked in the rulebook; there's no provision for a T for flopping.  There ought to be, and it should say something to the effect that if the referees check the monitor for a flagrant and it turns out that it wasn't even a foul, they have the discretion to award a tech.  Shouldn't that be considered as unsportsmanlike as foul language?

**Typically the response to this is "well you should've played better and then you wouldn't be in that situation," which misses the point. The point is that dick behavior will surface regardless of situation.


The spring sports did their thing, fortunately.  They were so brutally efficient in their work that I only have bullet points:

-- The first bullet isn't a spring sport at all; it's to let you know that the men's swim team joined the women in winning the ACC title.  It was much closer for them - VT made a meet of it - but the good guys prevailed in the end, and by fewer than 100 points.

-- The lacrosse game against Stony Brook was a 12-5 win, which was (I think) largely a function of the fact that Stony Brook lost everyone who was any good.  They've still got that tendency to be nigh-impossible to shake just when you think you're breaking it open, but with less than half the offensive firepower and no Adam Rand on faceoffs.  So it's kind of relative; used to be you couldn't seem to open it up past three goals, and now it's more like the six-goal barrier you have a hard time with.

-- Congrats are in order for Steele Stanwick, who became only the 7th player in ACC history to break 100 goals and 100 assists in a career.  And he topped both in the same game.

-- And even then, a contribution from him in the goals column wasn't necessary for the Hoos to stake themselves to a fairly sizable lead.  I'm glad I'm not a fan of someone else, coming to the realization that UVA can smoke you even without Stanwick on the scoresheet.  Owen Van Arsdale made some nice early contributions to that effect.  He made some freshman mistakes too, that you could see fairly easily, but I bet you that guy is a Tewaaraton finalist at some point in his career.

-- Baseball outscored Monmouth 38-6 over the three-game series.

-- Seriously.  38-6.

-- Freshman catcher Nate Irving has been providing a nice bat, as has Reed Gragnani.  Most of the rest of the freshmen have been playing only sporadically, but when they do, they're hitting such that the future looks very bright indeed.  Even Mitchell Shifflett is 3-for-4 on the season.  But the guy who's been raking in a way that oughta be outlawed?  Jared King.  He's 14-for-27 (.519) with five extra-base hits (including a home run) and 11 RBIs.

-- This weekend will be a four-game series instead of the traditional three, as we host a "tournament" of our own with two games each against Wright State and Seton Hall.  That means a need for a fifth starter.  Either Joel Effertz will go tomorrow to keep him on the weekdays and the fifth starter will take a turn on Sunday, or - more likely - Effertz will be held for the weekend and this fifth guy will go both tomorrow and next Tuesday.

-- Football schedule!  Finally.  Remember when it would come out the first week of February and we'd all be like, "waaaaahh this is late!"  We can blame a couple of the ACC's member schools for the holdup, in doing some last-minute scheduling calisthenics.  Florida State was one of them; it wasn't entirely their fault, as you can place the blame on a certain ex-Big East school that sued Rich Rodriguez because they think contracts are sacred holy grails that must always be followed to the letter, and then sued the Big East because the Big East insisted on holding them to a contract.  In moving to the Big 12, they had to add a conference game and therefore had to buy out their FSU game, sending FSU scrambling.  In case you're wondering, no, Syracuse and Pitt are not on this schedule.  It would be funny if they were, just to watch the Big East try and put a football schedule together with only five teams.  They'll be in the ACC in 2013, though.  Bet on it.

At any rate, you have to like what you see.  No super-long homestands or road stretches, and the bye week in a good, opportune place.  (I hate early-season bye weeks.  Waste of good rest time.)  And a Thursday night home game on the second-to-last week of the year against UNC, which means a little extra rest before the VT game.  A relatively tough OOC schedule is balanced by a favorable ACC one.  I think we're set up for success here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, February 25; 4:00


Record against the Heels: 49-126

Last matchup: UNC 70, UVA 52; 2/11/12; Chapel Hill

Last game: UVA 61, VT 59 (2/21); UNC 86, NCSt. 74 (2/21)

Opposing blogs: Tar Heel Fan, Carolina March

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.4 (#337)
UNC: 73.0 (#8)

UVA: 105.5 (#96)
UNC: 116.0 (#11)

UVA: 85.9 (#6)
UNC: 88.2 (#14)

UVA: .8918 (#22)
UNC: .9432 (#6)

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (7.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (8.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (17.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.2 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (4.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.9 apg)

North Carolina:

PG: Kendall Marshall (7.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 9.8 apg)
SG: Reggie Bullock (8.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 apg)
SF: Harrison Barnes (18.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.0 apg)
PF: John Henson (14.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.4 apg)
C: Tyler Zeller (15.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.0 apg)

Rematch time, and the first of two home-court opportunities to make the tournament bubble nothing but a memory.  Win either this or the FSU game later on this week, and I think it'll be safe to call the Hoos a tournament lock.  Playing for seeding sounds like a really great idea.

UVA hung with UNC last time out for about two-thirds of the game, and then their superior athleticism took over.  That and foul trouble with the referees calling a very, very, obnoxiously tight game.  With UVA forced to back off a smidge on defense lest we be forced to dip into the walk-on ranks, the Heels took full advantage and simultaneously clamped down on defense.  This time, I don't think UVA needs to do much different, with the exception of maybe retraining the refs so they don't call fouls for gentle caresses.

-- UVA on offense

Length in the opponents' backcourt is the #1 thing that's given UVA trouble this year, what with our starting guards being six feet tall on tiptoes and all.  And UNC has plenty of it; they were able to harass our shooters into 3-for-16 shooting from three in the last game.  Only Joe Harris had an acceptable night (2-for-5) and he made zero twos, that being the realm of even taller players in UNC's frontcourt.

Truthfully, it's impressive that we were able to hang despite missing all those threes.  We were much better in this game than I thought we could be from two.  This was due mainly to two things: Jontel Evans developing a driving game, and Mike Scott's jumper.  This is great stuff because if they're working, UNC (or anyone) is essentially powerless to stop it.  Kendall Marshall isn't a top-notch defender, and when he decides to drive, usually even Jontel doesn't know what he's gonna do before he does it.  And Scott's go-to move these days is a thing of beauty.  He catches the ball near the baseline and he's like a cat.  He lulls his defender to sleep.... just kind of swings the ball high to low.... and then quick as lightning, shoots the jumper.  It's nigh-automatic.  You're already dead if he catches the ball in position.

Howeva, UNC is probably happy to let this go on, as long as they're able to block, harass, and generally prevent the three-point shot.  It's pretty obvious that, aside from the occasional Evans or Brogdon drive to the rim, everything in a six-foot radius from the hoop will belong to them.  That's just what all that height will do.  So I reiterate my admonition from the last preview: we've got to make it rain, or else.  That's the great equalizer.  And don't expect a lot of open ones, because it's amazing the kind of close-out a 6'7" defender can have on a (generously listed) 6'1" shooter.  We're talking coming off a screen and hitting, no thinking.

-- UVA on defense

You can't complain much about this aspect of the game last time.  UNC was held to 1.06 points per possession - not a season low, but close, and I just bet it was lower than 1 before they began their second-half run.  Harrison Barnes was almost completely ineffective.  Reggie Bullock was a brick machine from three.  UNC's offense was largely comprised of Tyler Zeller going over the back getting offensive rebounds and putting them back.  At this he was unstoppable.

Unfortunately I know of no way to prevent this.  The refs called every foul in that game except for over-the-back, which would have fouled out Zeller.  (Can't have that.)  And sometimes he was just there, in position, and friggin' tall, and what are you gonna do?  Being half a shade over 5'7" myself, I sympathized with the UVA defenders reaching up and being totally unable to reach the ball.

Can the pack-line at least stop Barnes again?  I think so.  It was designed exactly for guys like him, who do a lot of their best work between the paint and the arc.  Same for Marshall, who thrives on entry passes to scorers like Barnes.  He was "limited" to six assists last time, which is pretty good considering.  UNC will also have P.J. Hairston available, unlike last time, but I don't think that's much of a factor; if somehow you stop UNC's frontcourt, Hairston isn't suddenly gonna be the guy who blows up on you.

If we aren't being hung with fouls for every little thing, we can hang on this end.  We might have to play the kind of basketball that leaves Heels fans blaming ACC refs for allowing assault and battery, but it can be done.  The pack-line is the great equalizer that way.  Find a way to not be murdered on the offensive glass and otherwise follow the same script as last time and this game can and will be close at the end, which is all you can ask for.

-- Outlook

Very often the talk is of "imposing the tempo" and whoever does it best, wins.  Who did it last time?  Both teams.  It was a 66-possession game; our third-fastest of the season and UNC's fourth-slowest.  You could say UVA did a better job because that number is closer to our average than theirs; you could say UNC did because they won by 18 points.  Neither team was really in their comfort zone.

I expect something similar this time.  I expect a closer game, too, despite going into this game with a veritable MASH unit of a roster.  But.... I still don't expect a win.  40 minutes is a long time to try and hang with a team that just has a massive, massive physical advantage.  UNC is just too big.

-- Final score: UNC 69, UVA 61

Weekend note: With the lacrosse team on ESPN3 at noon and this game going on at 4, and beisbol in between, it'll definitely be a Twittish kind of weekend.  Follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for microthoughts on Saturday.  Lax takes on a Stony Brook team that'll be kind of a shadow of its former self, and the baseball team will have game 2 of a weekend series against what looks like a terribly overmatched Monmouth squad - as I type, we're up 17-3 in the opener.

Also, if you're planning on submitting a guest column entry, this weekend would be the perfect time to work on it.  I'll be writing a few things for advance posting, but I can't fill an entire week and a half while I'm in Peru.


Good old RPI.  It's a constant source of headaches, hate, and discontent.  It seems like a simple enough formula, easy to calculate if you've got enough time or a program to do it for you.  And yet the Internet can't even agree on what it looks like.  ESPN thinks UVA is 32nd in it; RealTimeRPI thinks we're 37th.

Either way, that's not really a bubbly RPI, but it's closeish.  It doesn't leave a lot of room for error before you start sweating.  Theoretically, though, if you want to be a 6 seed or better - which I consider the bare minimum cutoff point for being a real, actual contender in the tournament - you would have to be no lower than 24th.  Here's the thing: we easily could be, and it doesn't have anything to do with playing any better.

I took the liberty of calculating our RPI myself, so I could then futz with it some.  The other thing I took was some shortcuts, otherwise this post wouldn't be here til 7 AM tomorrow.  It's late as it is.  But I got a workable estimate, and the conclusions remain valid, as the estimate is actually somewhat conservative.  For brevity's sake I'll sometimes refer to RPI, which is actual, and eRPI, which is my estimate.  ESPN's RPI calculation for UVA is .5967; my estimate is .5908, so it's workable.  (For the record, I know exactly why my estimate is different, too, which lets me at least draw better conclusions.)

OK, so.  You look at our strength of schedule and it's not so hot.  112th to ESPN, 98th to RTR; either way, if you took the top 50 RPI teams, it's well in the bottom quartile.  This is due to two things: a general lack of marquee nonconference teams (outside of Michigan which is really doing us proud) and the presence of some really assy teams at the bottom.  It would look even worse if Drexel hadn't gone on a friggin' tear since New Year's.  Seriously: you rock, Drexel.  Big help.  But I have two major recommendations here, that would set this team up for much better success without actually having to be any better.

1) Don't schedule multiple teams from the MEAC.

Or any other ridiculously bad conference, but really, the MEAC is the main culprit.  Here's the thing: opponents' opponents is one-fourth of the RPI calculation.  I actually went through and tallied them all: there are 726.  Yes, many, many teams are counted twice or more, and that's the thing: of all the conferences in the country, the MEAC has the third-heaviest weight in that section of our RPI, behind the ACC (duh) and the CAA (we played three CAA teams.)

This is because we played both UMES and South Carolina State.  So every team they've played, their record counts twice.  If they both play a team twice, it shows up four times.  Some teams have even more of an impact than that, because other ACC teams play them too.  Of the 726 elements of the opponents' opponents SOS average, Norfolk State is eight of them.  (Thank God for small miracles; Norfolk State has a biggish winning record.)

But MEAC teams, on balance, are lousy.  Really lousy.  If you could remove all MEAC teams from the opponents' opponents SOS portion of the eRPI, it jumps from .5908 to .5920.  Is that a lot?  In real life it's two spots.

Of course, you can never excise the MEAC completely.  It's a near-perfect geographical overlap with the ACC, so ACC teams will always use that conference as a win farm.  As will we.  And if we dropped them from the schedule they'd just be replaced with another team from a lousy conference like the Big South.

Still: I estimate - conservatively, mind you - that if we'd played any other team but a MEAC one, in place of one of the ones we did play, we'd be at least one spot higher in the RPI.  Just by virtue of scheduling, like, Radford instead of UMES.  Schedule, say, Georgia instead, and now you're really talking.  I know there are other scheduling considerations besides wanting an extra spot in the RPI, but keep in mind that the conference's share of tournament dough (and thus, the team's) depends on how far the conference's teams advance.  Is it worth that extra spot if it means a difference in seeding?  Possibly.

2) Don't schedule the complete disasters.

Here's where the money is made, so to speak.  It's a common lament among those paying attention that there are three teams on the schedule (Towson, SC State, UMES) whose combined record is 12-71.  Towson is freakin' one and twenty-nine!  It's even worse than it looks, because the bottom-of-the-barrel teams like to puff up their record by playing D-II squads, and those games don't count in the RPI.  So those three teams are really 11-71 for RPI purposes.  Those games against Longwood we like so much?  Longwood is 10-18, but for RPI purposes, they're 6-18, with four wins against non-D-I schools.

Let's say instead of Towson and SC State, we had Northeastern and Coppin State.  Both were sub-mediocre instead of completely rotten last year; both are sub-mediocre instead of completely rotten this year.  In other words, it's possible to foresee who will suck and who won't.  Replace the two worst teams on the schedule with teams we're not really that much less likely to beat, and the result is: eRPI jumps from .5908 to .6052.  That's a real-life change of fifteen spots.  Anyone who thinks we wouldn't beat Coppin State and Northeastern instead: please.

Fifteen spots!  I know there's a lot more to tournament seeding than just the RPI, but still: do you realize that's pretty much the difference between a 50-50 shot to advance to the second round (and then be slaughtered by a #1 seed) and being seeded for the Sweet 16?  How could anyone not want to do that?

I also realize that setting up a basketball schedule is the art of keeping 16 eggs in the air at once.  But dang, man.  I'm not even calling for a home-and-home with Kentucky here.  This is just scheduling for success.


The recruiting board has gone a little while without an update, so here's one for you:

-- Added LB Dorian O'Daniel to yellow.  I didn't add him at first because he could really just pick any school he wants.  But at least he's giving UVA a sniff.  We'll see if there's any staying power here.

-- Added LB Doug Randolph and OL Parker Osterloh to green.  Randolph is technically committed to Stanford, so why green?  Because he gave that commitment to Jim Harbaugh, who happens to coach the 49ers, not Stanford.

-- Moved WR Andre Levrone and LB Buddy Brown from yellow to green.

-- Removed LB Holland Fisher from red (VT commit.)

There was a junior day last weekend and there'll be another one this weekend.  Junior-day season is the time to find out who's really serious about whom.  However, because the class size is limited as compared to the last two, don't expect things to move fast and furious this spring.  It's not necessarily worth it any more to pick the low-hanging fruit unless that's someone you'd take regardless of anything.  We're now recruiting from a position of strength - the "up-and-coming" line is coming true before everyone's eyes - so it doesn't make sense to fill up on the mid-three-stars in March.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

seasonal endgame

I think after a scotch and a decent night's sleep, my heart has finally returned to its resting rate.  Tony Bennett said the team was "leaking oil" at the end of the game, which is an apt description when your available bench has dwindled to six scholarship players and none of them is a real point guard and the only one that can play point is doing so on a bum ankle.  (Thanks for the injury to Malcolm Brogdon, hoops gods!  Screw you!)  This whole season is an oil leak.  This basketball team is the little demolition derby car that could.

It wasn't the curbstomping that we always hope for when playing Virginia Tech, but the score was on the side of good in the end, so it counts.  It's nice to be on the winning end of a poorly reffed game for once.  Paranoid UVA fans (a redundancy if ever I wrote one) are sure to believe that the embarrassing equipment malfunctions at Cassell were a clumsy attempt by a Hokie machine operator to ice the Hoos at the free throw line and give Seth Greenberg extra timeouts, but the play of the game relied on a malfunctioning shot clock and gave us three points courtesy of a Jontel Evans heave off the glass, so it all evens out.

(That wasn't even the fault of the referees.  Believe it or not, they called it correctly.  This is a rule-book find by TheSabre poster Rhino, so credit where credit is due.  Under "duties of the shot-clock operator, the rulebook states:
"This shot-clock horn shall not stop play unless recognized by an official’s whistle. When the shot clock indicates zeros but the shot- clock horn has not sounded, the shot-clock time has not expired."
Emphasis mine. No horn. No red light on the backboard.  At least, not in time.  They're there for a reason - if the referees have to watch the clocks, they can't properly focus on the play on the court, which is their job. If a Hokie complains at you about that play and tries to taint the win, this is your ammo.)

Other things I liked from that game:

-- Paul Jesperson playing real, honest-to-God minutes and playing them well.  His defense was solid, and his rebound and putback for our 61st point was positively crucial.

-- Darion Atkins absolutely skied to make two big blocks.  Wait'll he starts playing 20-25 minutes a game.  Dude always looks pissed off, an excellent trait for a shot-blocker.

-- Malcolm Brogdon getting the game-winning steal on an injured foot/ankle.  How about that: a freshman who's got his head into the scouting report!  That must really warm the cockles of Tony Bennett's heart.

-- The fact that Tech tried to go to Dorenzo Hudson in the first place.  Erick Green is a potential NBAer and had abused the UVA defense on the last two possessions.  Partly because Brogdon has that bum ankle.  Had he drove the lane, I'm sure our defense had been instructed DON'T FOUL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES because the worst possible fate would've been the and-1.

So with that one thankfully behind us, it's finally appropriate to start really delving into the postseason possibilities.  Starting with the Dance.  Lunardi's S-curve has us 30th with 13 teams between us and the bubble - that is, the last four in.  That means 17 between us and Hokieland - the first four out.  Is it safe to say we're playing for seeding at this point?  About 96% safe.  That's the chances of winning at least one of the next three games, per the KenPom odds.  Lose to UNC and FSU but beat Maryland, and I think the committee will not be impressed, but neither will they go I AM VERY DISAPPOINT and punt us.  It's important to note that two of the teams wallowing in Hokieland are NC State and Miami, both of which we done beat and one of which we done beat in their building.  That's going to be on the committee's mind if it ever comes to a choice among the three of us.

But those 17 teams are a nice cushion.  A lot would have to go wrong for the NIT to be in the cards this year.  Things could go wrong, and we're all Virginia fans so it's likely we'll dwell on that for an eternity and a half, but whatever.  30th on the S-curve essentially means an 8 seed, and.... I can't argue with that.  But I don't have to like it; it means we get some damn #1 seed if we make it past a team of theoretically similar prowess.  The goal needs to be a 6-seed or higher.  And that can be accomplished one of two ways: beat someone better than us.  We have two chances to do that, plus the ACCT.

Which brings us to said conference tournament.  The other goal, accomplished purely with wins and losses, is to earn at least a four seed.  (A five seed would be close to the same thing.  It'd mean an opening-round date with probably Georgia Tech, which is terrible, and there's something to be said for momentum.  But in the era since expansion to 12 teams, the 5/12 game winner has only advanced to the semis twice.  And both times, it was the 12 seed.  And with this team, the fewer chances to get hurt, the better.  So you want that four seed.)  NC State and Miami both lost last night, which gives us a one-game lead in the standings, effectively a two-game lead because we got the tiebreaker, thhhppbbttt. 

Now for the good news: they still have to play each other.  That's not really helpful for us getting the fourth seed, because someone has to win, but it's great to help prevent us from falling below the fifth seed, because someone has to lose.  (And yes, seeds 1-3 are officially closed off to us.)  Maryland and Clemson are outside threats, but Clemson plays NC State on Saturday so someone's getting bumped a notch, and obviously we play Maryland so our destiny is in our hands with respect to the Terps.

It's highly possible, plausible, and maybe even likely that we could simply lose to the teams we're supposed to, beat the team we're supposed to, and land in the four spot neat as you please.  That might imply that there's no pressure against UNC and FSU.  I don't think so.  The problem is that a two-game losing streak will cause all the usual overreactions and turn perfectly normal people into total Chicken Littles with a side of Nostradamus, and it'll piss me off because I'll have to spend that week reading about Sammy Zeglinski has lost his confidence according to the idiots with Amateur Psychology degrees from Bullshit State, and I don't want that.  Plus it'll turn Maryland into a must-win game for postseason reasons, and we don't want that either.  Beat either FSU or UNC and a huge weight will be lifted.  Not to mention our tournament seeding.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Tuesday, February 21; 9:00


Record against the Hokies: 81-53

Last matchup: VT 47, UVA 45; 1/22/12; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 71, Md. 44 (2/18); VT 74, GT 73 (2/18)

Opposing blogs: Gobbler Country, The Key Play

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.5 (#335)
VT: 63.0 (#304)

UVA: 104.9 (#105)
VT: 106.5 (#81)

UVA: 85.4 (#5)
VT: 97.0 (#101)

UVA: .8915 (#20)
VT: .7225 (#85)

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (6.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (8.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (17.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (4.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.9 apg)

Virginia Tech:

PG: Erick Green (15.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.9 apg)
SG: Dorenzo Hudson (10.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.7 apg)
SF: Jarell Eddie (9.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.4 apg
F: Dorian Finney-Smith (6.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Cadarian Raines (4.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.5 apg)

Happy Mardi Gras!  As you know, "Mardi Gras" is French for "Fat Tuesday."  Here in Detroit we don't have all-out Carnival-type celebrations like in New Orleans or Rio or such, but we do take "Fat Tuesday" literally: today is known as Paczki Day, and for those of you in the 100% of the population that thinks Polish is a language designed to make non-native speakers crazy, I'll reinforce that notion and inform you the word is pronounced "poonchkey."  Yes, with an N.  Paczki (the word is plural) are basically jelly donuts on steroids.  LOTS of steroids.  The kind that would make Barry Bonds go "whoa man, ease off on that stuff."  They're like little calorie A-bombs about twice the size of your average Dunkin Donuts jelly donut.  They don't have to be filled with jelly, of course; could be lemon, or custard, or whatever, and they're almost always either glazed or powdered.  If you can't go to New Orleans and drink six Hand Grenades and throw beads at bewbs and wake up face-down on a piss-encrusted streetcurb, going to a Polish bakery and getting yourself a giant sugar explosion is the next best thing.

We are hoping, of course, that the bouncyball team will celebrate Mardi Gras in their own style.  This is one of those games that's not really as important on a big-picture level; if we win, the committee will have expected that and award us no points.  This is one of those games that, for reasons you should be all too familiar with, is important just for its own sake.

-- UVA on offense

The main difference between this game and the last will be the near-certain absence of Victor Davila from the Hokies' lineup.  Davila is a credible player on offense, but on defense, they'll miss him dearly.  GT's forward Kammeon Holsey averages 9 points a game; he dropped 18 on VT, a number he hasn't reached since he scored 21 on Delaware State.  Davila is one of the few players this season who's been able to really body up on Mike Scott and deny him the ability to post up, as well as not being so clunky (like most of the 7-footers that've tried to guard him) that he can't defend the midrange jumper.  Yes. Davila had the ability to sometimes even guard Scott one-on-one.  Blasphemy, I know.

Without Davila to worry about, Scott should be poised for another field day.  He'll be guarded by the far-less-experienced Cadarian Raines, or at times, C.J. Barksdale.  Tech will almost certainly try to double him, a move that'll be countered by what Scott revealed in the Maryland post-game interviews: that he's going to be coming off screens himself instead of only setting them.  With Scott being much less stationary and isolated on offense, Tech will find the double-team very hard to execute.  And they have no prayer of guarding him all day with one man.

It's also been since the last Tech game (in fact, the last Tech game was something of a catalyst for this) that Jontel Evans has started being much more aggressive to the rim.  This new tendency could help to exaggerate one of Tech's biggest: their propensity to get into foul trouble.  Tech has been running eight deep even without Davila, so their foul trouble has been mitigated somewhat lately; nevertheless, it remains a weakness.

That cast on Joe Harris's hand has been limiting his minutes, but fortunately, Malcolm Brogdon is picking up the slack nicely.  He's less of an outside threat than a healthy Harris, but more of a slasher.  What we're learning is that the Sammy-vs.-Brogdon debate is silly; things work pretty well with both of them in the game.

The last game against this team was ugly as sin on the offensive end.  Four assists, 12 turnovers, and 1-for-14 shooting from three.  It took maybe the worst offensive performance of the year to lose to Tech, and by two points.  Things will be better than that, especially with a key VT cog out.

-- UVA on defense

No Davila is less of a thing on this end, though.  Davila's a perfectly decent player, but Raines and Barksdale have been getting his minutes, and they're kind of plug-and-go because of how much the VT offense runs through the guards instead.

That means Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson, and to a lesser extent, Jarell Eddie.  Those three take half of Tech's shots, and Green is still the efficient and talented offensemaker he's been.  I bagged on Hudson's three-point shooting last time, and of course he was the guy that hit what essentially was the game-winning three, but he's still only a 31% shooter from there.  Eddie, on the other hand, is that strange breed who's better from three than from two.  He's a tough matchup because he's 6'7"; I'd like to put Zeglinski, one of our best perimeter defenders, on him, but the eight-inch differential is a little much. 

If the Hoos can keep Green from creating in the lane, that'll be the difference-maker on defense.  We can win if we don't, but we can't lose if we do.  Remember, the last time we played these guys was the first game without Assane Sene; the team is much more used to that idea now and has adjusted.  Look what they did to Terrell Stoglin: 4-for-17 shooting.  Green isn't nearly the ballhog that Stoglin is, but frustrating his ability to get into the lane will force Tech to regress to playground mode, which will never succeed against the kind of in-tune, well-coached defense UVA runs.  On the other hand, if Green is allowed the space he needs, he can hurt you in about a thousand different ways.

-- Outlook

Just win, man.  I don't think I can stomach it otherwise.  Fortunately, it took a rock-bottom offensive performance to lose last time; the new wrinkles that've since been developed, and Tech's lack of an antidote to Mike Scott, will be the difference this time.  I think Scott has another 18+ points, and UVA grinds out a workmanlike victory on enemy territory.

-- Final score: UVA 59, VT 53

Monday, February 20, 2012

weekend review

What'd you do this weekend?  Decent time?  I hear you had a little snow down there.  Like four inches or so in Richmond?  (It's cute how you think that's a "snowstorm" down there, although it's been such a weird winter here in Michigan that four inches is at least half the entire winter's total.)  If you're a Virginia fan and only a Virginia fan, it was a halfway decent weekend all things considered, but this kind of weekend is why I highly recommend ardent double-fanhood.  Actually, now that I go to grad school, it's really more like two and a half.  I had a great frickin' weekend, part of which involved going down and watching my grad school beat up on JMU in hoops.

But I'm not here to brag on Michigan's eight(!!!) four-star recruits that committed this weekend, or the weekend sweep in hockey**, or the big win over Ohio State in basketball.  Actually, yes, I kind of want to brag about the Ohio State thing.  That one is germane to UVA hoops, because the win over Michigan is probably the difference between being parked on the tournament bubble, and not.  Michigan is in great position to get at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, and, depending on tiebreakers, the top seed in the B1G tournament.  So having very compellingly beaten them earlier this year gives UVA a Big Thing on which to hang our hat.  (Now you see why I say that if Michigan and UVA ever play each other in something, I root for the team that needs the win more.)

Of course, if you're trying to get to the tournament, it helps to beat the teams you're supposed to.  Maryland is a team we're supposed to beat, and 71-44 is the kind of beating you always want to hang on Maryland.  It's proof that our defense is our Linus blanket.  It's always there, comforting and secure.  The offense can be a ticking time bomb, but lo and behold if Malcolm Brogdon AND Sammy Zeglinski hit a few shots, then this is what happens.  Tony Bennett is starting to find ways to make opponents regret allocating their biggest guy to guard Mike Scott, because those guys aren't used to running through screens at the elbow.

Terrapin football has Randy Edsall, who's fantastically easy to lampoon because (among other reasons) he's being a huge twat about the Danny O'Brien transfer.  (In fairness, Edsall's percentage is pretty good, as he didn't decide to publicly be an ass about the other 23 guys who left in one year.)  VT's Seth Greenberg is a funny guy too.  Unfortunately for the humor section, though, it appears at first glance that Maryland has replaced one classy hoops coach with another.  Mark Turgeon couldn't stop talking about how well Virginia played and refused to use the 36-hour turnaround from Thursday as an excuse.  That said, he did produce an amusing bit of honesty in his post-game interview: "If we put Terrell (Stoglin) on the point, we might go 17 possessions where nobody else touches the ball."

Would that be worse, though?  Maryland had all of three assists on Saturday.  They might still only have three assists with ballhog Stoglin running the point, but they might cut down the turnovers; Maryland had fifteen.  A 1-to-5 A/T ratio will lose you every game.  As expected, Jontel Evans totally abused Nick Faust on the defensive end; Faust had five turnovers and no assists.  Evans is seven inches shorter than Faust, but weighs 13 pounds more, and poor Faust looked like a lanky ninth-grader trying to beat a tornado one-on-one.

Maryland fans fully expect a win in the rematch, naturally, but the truth is that the ACC continues to shake out into the four-tier system I identified two weeks ago.  At 10-2 and now a full three games ahead of the pack are Tobacco Road and FSU.  At 7-5 is the bubble trio of UVA, NC State, and Miami; the main thing keeping us actually off the bubble is that Michigan game as well as a few road wins OOC.  The kids with loaded guns are either 5-7 or 4-8, and the only one of those without a win against a higher-caste team is Maryland.  Then there's the win farms at the bottom, all with 10 losses, where the rest of the league goes to puff up the left side of their W-L column.  Sadly, there aren't any games left against the win farms; only two road tilts against the loaded-gun children and two home games against the high seeds.

**Seriously, wouldn't it be neat to have a varsity hockey team?  We'd be terrible, I don't doubt, but I take a perverse delight in rooting for shitty teams because there aren't any expectations and you can just blow off some steam and enjoy the game without worrying about the consequences of losing.  This is the part of my fanhood that's been carefully honed and developed by the Millen Era of the Detroit Lions.


In the non-revenue world, things went according to plan and then some this weekend.  The ladies wrapped up a fifth straight ACC title in the pool, finishing 233 points ahead of their closest competition.  Four of the 11 teams at the meet didn't score that many points.  Of the 18 swimming events, UVA won 10, and took a 1-2-3 in the 200 backstroke.

And how about a sport that gets hardly any love around here, because I don't really know anything about it?  I refer of course to wrestling, which polished off its regular season at 11-1 in dual meets, the best record in the history of UVA rasslin'.  For the next-best record, you have to go back to 1974.  Wrestling coach Steve Garland is a member of the Craig Littlepage Hired Me coaching fraternity that includes guys like Brian O'Connor, and he directs the latest up-and-coming program in the school's repertoire.  It would be a terrific thing to get really good at wrestling, because wrestling is one of only two sports where Virginia Tech has the better program.**  (Guess who is responsible for the lone blemish?)  Getting to the point where we have forced VT to second-place status in the state (or worse) in every sport is the ultimate goal, and to take the rasslin' title from them would be a great next step. The team won a surprise ACC title two years ago and might just do it again this year, too.

**Football is obviously the other - for now.  There might be more but this is the kind of claim I can make without much fear that I'll be corrected by a Hokie, since in Blacksburg, sports are divided into two categories: football and money leeches.


The baseball team could've started off a little better.  The weekend in South Carolina finished up 1-1-1 thanks to a rainout, and I hate ties because it's this little -1 that'll hang off the end of the record all year like a little vestigial appendix.  The loss was to Boston College, which took a surprise 3-0 record home.  Even Coastal Carolina had trouble, and that school is sort of the Butler of mid-major baseball, minus any final four appearances.

It really drives home the issues facing the team this year, though.  The winning runs scored by Boston College came from two passed balls by catcher Nate Irving, followed by a Branden Kline mistake that ended up on the wrong side of the fence.  In years past, the bats might have overcome that issue, but the hitting this year is still three-quarters potential.  The bats waited til the CCU game to break out, instead.  I'm going to write off the tie against JMU as a product of playing in rain that would've washed out 90% of baseball games much sooner than it eventually did.  The fielding is what let the team down and gave up a 4-2 lead, but you can't draw any conclusions from that when the ball is sopping wet.

And speaking of things that we expected to look better: 9-8 over Drexel might've caused a few raised eyebrows, too.  I mean, shouldn't we beat them by more than one goal?  Is there something wrong with the offense that caused the output to be limited to nine goals?

Well, no.  This is exactly why I started doing lacrosse efficiency stats.  See, last year, UVA averaged more than 35 offensive possessions per game, the second-most in the country.  And we scored on 35% of those possessions.  Against Drexel we had only 26 OPs.  And that wasn't the fault of lousy faceoff work (won 12 of 21) or bad clearing (13 of 15.)  Nope, it was just a slow-paced game.  60 offensive possessions and 68-70 total is your average lacrosse game; this one had only 49 OPs and 52 total.  It was just a very slow-paced game.

In that light, the offensive production was just fine.  UVA's O-rating for the game was 16.81; last year's total was 16.64.  Drexel's excellent goalie, Mark Manos, saved only five of 14 shots on net.  We got nine goals from seven players, and better yet, seven assists from six players.  And not a single point from Steele Stanwick, either.  Owen Van Arsdale was the offensive star, and two goals came from Rob Emery, too.  Young'uns.  UVA was badly outshot, 41-24, but it hardly mattered; we did a much better job of getting our shots on net, and Rob Fortunato saved 11 of 19 SOG.

Could I fret a little about the defense?  Yeah, I could.  Eight goals is a little too many.  Drexel's O-rating (and our D-rating) was 15.81, rather above the D-I average of about 14.10.  But there are too many positives to come out of this game to get all worried.  Ryan Benincasa was excellent on faceoffs (and freshman Mick Parks held his own), and there was only one penalty called on the Hoos the whole game.  Plus a huge ground-ball advantage for UVA as well.  The world will probably look at the 9-8 final score and a few of them will conclude Virginia is overrated.  Not to worry: a deep dive into the refreshing tempo-free pool should give you all the peace of mind you need.


Small bullets:

-- The multi-year scholarship rule barely survived an override vote.  This is proof only that the rule for D-I membership needs to be tightened; it's out of hand when a school like Chicago State, which has the bare minimum of required sports and sucks at all of them, has an equivalent vote to the Texases and Ohio States and such of the world, which have nine-figure budgets.  The requirements for D-I membership were established ages ago; it's only a natural consequence of expanding economies and populations that more and more schools would be able to meet them.  And of course, the more FGCUs and Nebraska-Omahas and Presbyterians that make the leap, the more they'll be able to outvote the schools that help keep their budgets afloat.  There are two reasons they don't tighten up the requirements and split up D-I: one, some of the conferences would be torn asunder as half their schools failed to make the grade.  I think we'd all survive, though.  Number two: none of the HBCU's would make the cut, and such a move would have Al Sharpton up in the NCAA's grill faster than you can say "race card."

Oh, and #3: any move toward such a split would instantly be massively downvoted, because we're this close to having the FGCUs and Chicago States in charge of this thing.

Anyway, the multi-year scholarship thing is a great thing.  Schools that complain that multi-year schollies would be used as a recruiting tool are stupid.  That's the point.  They benefit the athlete, which is the point of the whole "college sport" thing.  That's like arguing City Council should award the contract to the highest bidder instead of the lowest, because if they don't, the city will have more money to spend elsewhere, and that would be bad.  It's such logic-defying argument it renders one speechless, which might've been the point.

-- Want to write a guest post?  This is my attempt to make the site not a barren wasteland during my spring break in Peru, and your chance to get your opinion out there.  Read here for details.  A week and a half or so is the deadline.

Friday, February 17, 2012

game preview: Maryland

Date/Time: Saturday, February 18; 1:00


Record against the Terps: 69-106

Last matchup: UVA 74, Md. 60

Last game: Clemson 60, UVA 48 (2/14); Md. 81, BC 65 (2/16)

Opposing blogs: Testudo Times

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.3 (#339)
Md.: 67.2 (#125)

UVA: 104.5 (#112)
Md.: 104.5 (#110)

UVA: 86.2 (#8)
Md.: 100.3 (#159)

UVA: .8778 (#23)
Md.: .6028 (#127)

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (6.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (8.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (4.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.9 apg)


PG: Nick Faust (7.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 apg)
SG: Terrell Stoglin (21.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg)
G: Sean Mosley (10.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.9 apg)
F: James Padgett (8.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.6 apg)
F: Ashton Pankey (5.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.4 apg)

You can tell the basketball gods are just being dickheads this year.  Why else would they grant us the gift of Mike Scott and his basketball perfection, and then one by one, pick off his supporting cast like a Michael Crichton novel?  What should be a perfectly good season marking the revival of UVA basketball is morphing before our eyes into the Nightmare on Emmet Street.  It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest anymore if Jontel Evans were eaten by a tyrannosaurus this week.

-- UVA on offense

Look.  Let's just hope Joe Harris's hand is feeling better.  That's all there is.

-- UVA on defense

It's not just UVA that's had to deal with injury, although our playable depth has taken much more of a hit because of it.  That said, Maryland completely lacks a point guard anymore, thanks to Pe'Shon Howard's ACL injury last week.

That leaves them with Nick Faust, and sometimes, Terrell Stoglin, running the point.  That's a two-headed problem for Maryland; Stoglin is a great, great scorer, but has a tendency to think he's playing one-on-one on the playground.  He can win those battles more often than not; then again, how he'll do in that regard against Jontel Evans is another story.  Stoglin might be a ballhog - he has the 16th-highest usage rate in the country at a whopping 32% - but even so, Maryland is generally at their best with the ball in his hands.  So if Evans forces him to pass, it's a win.

That said, Faust is thoroughly unequipped to run the point; he's a freshman who ought to be playing small forward.  He turns the ball over way too much (as did Howard, truthfully) and doesn't shoot it well.  (And if he has to defend Jontel Evans as well, it'll be a laugher, though I think Stoglin generally will instead.)

So Maryland will be working at a big disadvantage there.  They can help nullify it with Alex Len, a seven-footer who's shooting almost 60% on the year.  Len's story is well-known, and he's still working his way into the rotation.  He's not a 25-30 mpg guy just yet.  But he's a guy Maryland can use to swing them a few buckets if they get into a drought.

Harris - if he's playing - will draw as his defensive assignment Sean Mosley, as Sammy Zeglinski will be watching Stoglin most of the time.  Mosley is a senior who's been around for seven or eight years, and he can fill it from three and is generally a solid player and floor leader.  Mosley can go off if you let him, but he can also be shut down.  (Some of that depends on the whims of Maryland's lousy point guards.)  And really, it's Mosley you want to keep off the scoreboard.  Stoglin will get his - his season low is 13 if you remove the outlier that is the Alabama game - but there's little correlation between his scoring and the outcome.  Much more so with Mosley.

-- Outlook

I don't know whether to be optimistic or pessimistic with this game.  I really don't.  On the one hand, the defense is still basically as good as it ever was, Clemson disaster or no, injuries or no.  On the other hand, how in the hell are we gonna score if Sammy's only good for 1-for-5 every game and Joey Hoops is reduced to a shell of his past self by a broken hand?  On the one hand, Maryland's a disaster at the point and not stellar on defense; on the other, they've got multidimensional scoring and have that seven-footer that we don't.  This game is at home and Maryland hasn't beaten a team with a winning record in conference play, so I guess I'll turn on my optimistic side a little.  But there's no margin for error, either within this game or from a seasonwide perspective.

-- Final score: UVA 57, Md. 55

Thursday, February 16, 2012

season preview: lacrosse

Now that you know all there is to know about the opponents, what about the good guys?  Follow me on an incredible journey through space and time as I break down the UVA lacrosse team.


I'd like to do this separately, but that doesn't look like it'll be possible.  Dom Starsia's planning a sort of seven guys for six spots musical chairs rotation for the offense.  In some years past it'd be possible to separate the attackmen from the midfielders and have a set 1st and 2nd line and everything, but not this year.

It obviously starts with Tewaaraton winner Steele Stanwick.  As a freshman, Stanwick came across as a sniper; a guy who could find the tiniest holes between goalie and pipe and place the ball exactly in that spot.  He didn't take the most shots or have the biggest role, but he was the most efficient guy out there, scoring 36 goals on just 81 shots.  That was 2009, also known as Danny Glading's and Garrett Billings's senior year.  So as good as he was, he was still a bit overshadowed.  His offensive game has blossomed since then, and he makes his teammates better every step of the way; either by drawing a ton of defensive attention to himself or simply using that sniper's ability to make a pinpoint pass.  He and Chris Bocklet are the two constants on the attack; Bocklet is a perfect finishing complement to Stanwick's playmaking.  44 goals last year says it all.

The constants at midfield, if I read Dom's interviews right, are Colin Briggs and sophomore Rob Emery.  Briggs is the top producer out there, but Emery is a savvy player; so much so that announcers in 2011 kept referring to him as a freshman (which he was) and I kept swearing to myself he was a sophomore.  Nope.  He is now, though.

Now, I'll tell you why these guys must be pretty good: they're starting to edge aside Matt White.  And that's no easy task; White is a smart player and a sharpshooter who led the team in putting shots on net at 81.8% last year.  60% of his shots - 60 percent! - were goals.  White is a junior who's done nothing but produce since he stepped on the field as a freshman.  And yet.... there's a new face in town.  Owen Van Arsdale - yes he's the son of Dom's #2 man Marc - has been making waves since the fall.  Dom had a video interview and smiled exactly once: when talking about Van Arsdale.  Couldn't keep that one in.  OVA will play on the attack, which is why White is kind of getting a little bit bumped.

So you've got Stanwick and Bocklet leading the way, and Emery and Briggs at midfield.  Van Arsdale is the secret weapon as the third attackman, White is probably the third midfielder for now (which, truthfully, is out of position - I think he goes back to attack next year.)  The seventh guy is Mark Cockerton, who the coaches will make some time for on the first line.  I think you'll also see Cockerton out there on a second line at times with Matt Kugler and Pat Harbeson.

The missing name from this equation is Nick O'Reilly, who looked like he was headed toward playing a significant and useful role this year until he was suspended for the season.  Lord knows what he did to merit that, but I'm not sure I want to.  But you can see why UVA is being voted #1.  This is the reason right here.  This whole section.  Stanwick to Bocklet.  That kind of thing.  Throw in Colin Briggs, Matt White, a freshman apparently good enough to displace Matt White and give Dom the grins, and it looks like a fun year on offense.


The good news is that we have veterans at close-in defense.  I don't know how good they really are, but they're veterans and that's something.  There's no Ken Clausen type, if you're wondering.  But the starting three of Matt Lovejoy, Harry Prevas, and Scott McWilliams were all starters last year too - just not all at once.

Prevas is newest to the lineup, having been the replacement for Lovejoy when Lovejoy went down with a season-ending injury against Maryland last year.  That started off a little rocky, but I think you'd agree that as the season got closer to its dramatic finish, the defense gelled and it looked like a solid unit.  It will miss, of course, the very active leadership style of Bray Malphrus, so even though all three of these guys have starting experience, there'll be some more work to do to reach true cohesiveness.

Leadership is really the biggest question; Lovejoy is a senior but has never had to be the leader of the defense.  Now he'll be asked to take on the Rob Pannells of the world.  It's possible that McWilliams could graduate to the top role by season's end, however; he has the pedigree of a top defenseman.  But Lovejoy has to be the voice to start the year.

The midfield portion of the defense took a big hit when Blake Riley went down in the fall with a torn Achilles tendon.  That sucked.  Riley had been really coming into his own during the last half of the season, and his signature play was the takeaway against Bucknell in overtime; Riley aggressively took advantage of a slip by the Bison ballcarrier and stole the ball, gaining possession to set up the game-winner.  Bobby Hill will be his replacement at SSDM.  The other short-stick defender, of course, is the wickedly athletic Chris LaPierre.  That gives us an element on defense that other teams simply don't have.  Finally, at LSM you have the capable but unspectacular Chris Clements.  (Then again, it's not like LSM is a spectacular kind of position.  Probably the absolute least glamorous on the whole team, actually.)

Overall, the biggest challenge for this unit will be leadership.  Who's going to step up and take charge of the defense?  Malphrus was a natural.  We lost him to graduation, and we lost four-year starter Adam Ghitelman from the crease, too; that's a lot of vocal leadership that's moved on to other places.  I don't think this defense will be considered one of the elite, but the talent is there.  As long as the cohesiveness develops, it's good enough to win a title.


After four years of the same guy, it's really going to take some getting used to, not seeing #8 in the crease anymore.  Rob Fortunato will inherit the job.  Fortunato made one start last year, against Drexel when Ghitelman was suspended, and played a solid game.  Ghitelman wasn't the world's greatest shot-stopper - solid, yes, but at times inconsistent, and not one of the elite - and I don't think there'll be much of a step down when it comes to the basic task of getting between the ball and the net.

That said, there's the defensive-quarterback aspect as mentioned above, and then there's this: for the last four years UVA has been the best clearing team in the country.  And that usually started with Ghitelman, who had terrific instincts and almost always made outstanding clearing passes.  Sometimes halfway up the field to set up a break.  Hell, the dude scored a goal himself once, and loved his adventuresome forays out into the open field.  We're not likely to get that with Fortunato.

And we'd better hope he's worth his salt in the crease, too, because the depth chart behind him is thoroughly untested.  Conor McGee - a transfer from Michigan's club team before last season - is probably not the answer, and neither Austin Geisler nor true freshman Rhody Heller have ever set foot on the playing field.  We'll learn the pecking order during the VMI game if that game is anything like any of its previous incarnations, but its best if Fortunato hangs on to the job all season.


From Dom Starsia's video interview: "We're not going to dominate, but I hope we can be competitive."  That is scientifically known as "not exactly a ringing endorsement."

So yes, it sounds like the old haunt is going to be back.  Ryan Benincasa is the only holdover from last year's faceoff group, unless you count LaPierre who didn't do well.  (Partly because he didn't have the benefit of having himself on the wing.)  Benincasa will be the primary faceoff guy, but the special part is he's dealing with a little bit of a hamstring thing and who knows if he's really ready?  LaPierre took 36 faceoffs last year, and his role will probably expand this year; after him, it's freshmen.  Tom Kelly has disappeared from the roster.  I have no idea where to, even though it's my job to know.  So it'll be interesting to see how much those freshmen - Mick Parks and Ryan Tucker - get into the rotation. 

I've just spent a lot of words to tell you that this version of UVA lacrosse is basically the same as most others.  An offense that keeps other coaches up at night and the rest of the team having the possibility of being anything from solid to shaky.  There's no doubt that they'll figure out ways to score goals.  As with every season, the national championship is the goal; those hopes rest mainly on the defense.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

the lacrosse schedule 2012

This weekend - it's just full of surprises and awesomeness, this weekend - is also the beginning of lacrosse season.  Only a few days away, which means we're only a few days from Saturdays mattering again, Quint Kessenich showing up everywhere, and having 15 seconds' worth of some trite-ass alt-rock song jammed into your head by ESPN's power drill, over and over, week after week.  (My bet for this year?  Dark Horses by Switchfoot.  It's not cool to be the favorite, no; the in thing these days is to be disrespected, and that song really captures the spirit of the thing.) UVA begins its title defense as it has for the last ten years: against Drexel.  If you're not ready for the season just yet, it's only four days away, so here's something to help you with that:

Now that you're good and hyped up, let's see who we'll be forging this title defense against. Spoiler alert: it's the exact same teams as last year. Here's a guide to the format:

Conference: The abbreviated name of the association of teams to which this particular lacrosse program belongs
Preseason rank: In the Inside Lacrosse media poll and USILA coaches' poll, respectively
2011 computer: LaxPower's final 2011 computer ranking
2011 record: Obvious
2011 tournament: Obvious
Last season: What we did to them or they did to us

2011 O-rating: My KenPomish calculation for this team's offensive prowess last year**
2011 D-rating: My KenPomish calculation for this team's defensive prowss last year

What you need to know about that calculation, by the way: it's an attempt to provide a tempo-free calculation of how good a team is on offense or defense, the same way Ken Pomeroy does for basketball only - for now - cruder.  (Much.)  If you want a more detailed explanation it can be found here; the quick and dirty is that the number represents how many goals a team would score (or allow) in a 100-possession lacrosse game.  It is not strength-of-schedule adjusted.  For the numbers to make much sense, you should know:

- the weighted average O-rating from last year is 14.16, and the range is from 19.01 (Stony Brook) to 7.81 (Mercer)
- the weighted average D-rating from last year is 14.06, and the range is from 10.68 (Notre Dame) to 22.70 (Wagner).
- UVA's O and D numbers were 16.64 (11th) and 13.90 (33rd).  Again: not SOS-adjusted.  Oh, and we're #1 in both polls, so there's that for comparison too.

You can find the full spectrum of numbers at the detailed explanation above.

**Eventually I'll come up with a better name than that, but the best I got so far is LER for Lax Efficiency Rating, and that doesn't excite.

Anyway, on to the opponents:

Drexel - Sat., February 18 - Away
Conference: CAA
Preseason rank: 20th/20th
2011 computer: 16th
2011 record: 8-6 (3-3 CAA)
2011 tournament: N/A
Last season: W, 12-9

2011 O-rating: 17.82 (5th)
2011 D-rating: 14.76 (43rd)

Drexel has been just on the cusp of the NCAA tournament for what seems like forever.  But they've never made it.  Nevertheless, they always play us tough, especially in recent years.  In fact, the last time we tried to defend a national title (2007) they beat us.  They make an excellent season opener because they're usually good so as to snap the team into game form right away, but not, like, Syracuse-good.

The Dragons have three long-time starters on defense - all seniors - in Dana Wilber, Frank Tufano, and Brian Teuber, and a quality senior goalie: Mark Manos.  Manos is the best of the bunch, though; Drexel allowed UVA 31 shots on net last year - more than one every two minutes (to say nothing of how many actual shots we had - and Manos saved an incredible 19 of them.  Despite the experience, it's not a great defense.  The primary danger on offense will be playmaking attackman Robert Church, although all three attackers return for Drexel as well.  Church is joined by Nick Trizano and finisher Brendan Glynn.  Once again it'll be a difficult offense to stop; if they find some replacement midfielders to join Kyle Bergman on the first line they could be explosive.

VMI - Tuesday, February 21 - Home
Conference: MAAC
Preseason rank: NR/NR
2011 computer: 57th
2011 record: 2-11 (0-6 MAAC)
2011 tournament: N/A
Last season: W, 22-6

2011 O-rating: 12.53 (47th)
2011 D-rating: 17.00 (57th)

VMI is always positively terrible, but you have to give them this: they're the only other team in the state to have the guts to have a men's lax team, let alone play us a game.  VMI's only wins last year came against Mercer and the now-defunct Presbyterian.  The reason they have an O-rating as high as 47th is because they're always ridiculously good at faceoffs; I can't help but attribute this to the fact that VMI cadets do a ton of hand-to-hand combat training.  If they didn't have that going for them, things would look even worse.  This is typically the game where we learn exactly what the goalie depth chart looks like, because the third guy almost always gets in by the end of the game.  That means we could have our first Austin Geisler sighting of his career.

Stony Brook - Saturday, February 25 - Home
Conference: America East
Preseason rank: NR/NR
2011 computer: 9th
2011 record: 10-4 (5-0 AE)
2011 tournament: N/A
Last season: W, 11-10 (OT)

2011 O-rating: 19.01 (1st)
2011 D-rating: 13.63 (30th)

The first televised game of the year - this one's on ESPN3 - which represents one more step out of the Dark Ages, as we didn't get to see the SB game in previous seasons.   Stony Brook was upset by Hartford in last year's America East tournament and lost out on the autobid, graduated 11 seniors, and then lost their coach to the Navy job, so they're no longer the favorite in their conference.

Among those 11 seniors were their top four scorers, starting goalie, and two of three starting defensemen, so the Seawolves have a lot of holes to fill.  Stony Brook didn't come cheaply by that #1 offensive rating.  They only dropped to sixth when I made some crude attempt at applying a SOS filter, and no team held them to fewer than eight goals.  They have some big shoes to fill on the offensive end.  You rarely know what to expect from a roster so full of new names, especially with a new coach, but it's likely Stony Brook won't present the same threat they have in years past.

Oh, in case you're wondering: Adam Rand graduated too.  So we might just win two or three faceoffs.

Mount St. Mary's - Tuesday, February 28 - Away
Conference: Northeast
Preseason rank: NR/NR
2011 computer: 36th
2011 record: 9-6 (4-1 NEC)
2011 tournament: N/A
Last season: W, 22-6

2011 O-rating: 18.01 (4th)
2011 D-rating: 15.43 (47th)

This is why I want to add a good SOS filter to the efficiency ratings, by the way.  These guys aren't the 4th-best offensive team in the nation.

That said, they did have three 30-goal scorers last season: a reasonably fearsome attack lineup of Andrew Scalley, Brett Schmidt, and Cody Lehrer.  In fact, all six offensive starters return, meaning the Mount will probably appear near the top of the offensive rankings again.  But they have to redo the whole defense, most of which graduated, including their starting goalie, so the bottom line is that MSM games could be awfully fun to watch this year.  Hope you like goals.

It's a pity for that group of explosive goal-scorers that the Mount is once again ineligible for the NCAA tournament.  Well, that's not 100% true; they could be an at-large pick.  The NEC played its first full season of games last year (it's the newest conference on the lacrosse scene thanks to having a sixth member, Bryant) and the conference tournament winner won't be autobidded to the NCAA tournament until next season.  But they'll definitely win some games.  This is part of the reason why UVA is always a tournament fixture: smart scheduling.  We really have no less of a chance to beat MSM than we do, say, Wagner, but MSM is a nice RPI boost because they're the best of a lousy bunch.

Syracuse - Sunday, March 4 - Home
Conference: Big East
Preseason rank: 7th/8th
2011 computer: 5th
2011 record: 15-2 (6-0 BE)
2011 tournament: #1 seed; lost to Maryland in quarterfinal
Last season: L, 12-10

2011 O-rating: 14.81 (20th)
2011 D-rating: 10.79 (2nd)

Yes, that's another reason I want to have a good SOS filter - kind of.  No, Syracuse shouldn't necessarily be as low as 20th.  Yes, they ought not to be near the top, because they were an excellent defensive team, but prone to offensive collapses.  Hence the tournament loss: 6-5 to Maryland.  And the 5-4 regular season win over Villanova.

However, they're awfully hard to score on.  Brian Megill is one of only six D-I defenders to be named to the Tewaaraton watch list, so the anticipated battle between him and Steele Stanwick ought to be something.  And there are two other watch listers on this team, too, one of whom (JoJo Marasco) is a reasonable outside shot to win it.  The other, attackman Tim Desko, missed the second half of last season and has otherwise been overshadowed up til now by guys like Stephen Keogh, so he's a legitimate X-factor for the Orange.

Syracuse lost too many players to graduation - including Keogh and excellent goalie John Galloway - for the poll voters to give them a top five spot.  But they're still Syracuse.  By virtue of winning by a single goal in 2010, that same margin became the all-time goal margin in the UVA-Cuse rivalry.  Cuse took the lead by one goal with a two-goal win last year in the Carrier Dome.  So you know what's up when it's time to play these guys.

Vermont - Tuesday, March 6 - Home
Conference: America East
Preseason rank: NR/NR
2011 computer: 31st
2011 record: 6-9 (1-4 AE)
2011 tournament: N/A
Last season: W, 14-6

2011 O-rating: 12.92 (45th)
2011 D-rating: 13.54 (27th)

Yeah, I wouldn't worry.  But I hope you liked the cupcakes because this is the last one on the schedule - as if playing Syracuse wasn't enough of a reminder that cupcake season is over.  Vermont doesn't present a major offensive threat, although Geoff Worley's terrific mustache probably scores a few postgame points If You Know What I Mean.

Cornell - Saturday, March 10 - Baltimore, MD
Conference: Ivy League
Preseason rank: 4th/3rd
2011 computer: 1st
2011 record: 14-3 (6-0 Ivy)
2011 tournament: #2 seed; eliminated in quarterfinal by Virginia
Last season: W, 11-9; W, 13-9

2011 O-rating: 16.83 (9th)
2011 D-rating: 11.76 (7th)

Ever been to the Cornell athletics web site?  If you never have, do so, and hover your mouse over the bear logo.  It rumbles.  That's a nice touch.  I just wanted to share that.

This has great potential to be the year's most interesting matchup.  For one, this is where Connor English ended up transferring after being squeezed out of playing time.  For another, it'll be the highly anticipated match between Tewaaraton winner Steele Stanwick, and the guy that a lot of people thought should've won it, Rob Pannell.  And I wouldn't have had a complaint if he had; 42 goals and 47 assists, man.  That's nuts.  The debate essentially came down to whether the voters should value the regular season or the postseason more; postseason won.  Cornell also brings back Roy Lang and 40-goal scorer Steve Mock; much respect is due their offensive capabilities.

A lot of the season will hinge on how goalie A.J. Fiore bounces back from a weak sophomore campaign.  Fiore started immediately as a freshman in 2010 and did pretty well; last year, his save percentage dipped to .504.  If they want to win the national title, Cornell also has to answer a few questions on defense and at the faceoff X; add that to their explosive offense and all in all, the Rumbling Bears are kind of our evil red twin.

Ohio State - Saturday, March 17 - Away
Conference: ECAC
Preseason rank: ARV/ARV
2011 computer: 23rd
2011 record: 8-8 (3-3 ECAC)
2011 tournament: N/A
Last season: W, 14-11

2011 O-rating: 13.78 (33rd)
2011 D-rating: 12.33 (10th)

You know I want to put a hurting on these brutes to prevenge the one they're likely to deliver on my plucky li'l Michigan Wolverines in their first D-I lacrosse season.  14-11 was not sufficient.  Unfortunately, OSU is getting to be sneaky good.  They surprised North Carolina last year, and though their offense is kind of anemic (4-3 win over Detroit, 6-5 over Penn State) the defense is tough.  And all three defensemen are back this year, along with the one guy who can consistently score and create: Logan Schuss, a Canadian.  Albeit more slowly than some teams, Ohio State is helping to lead an uprising of the western schools in the lacrosse world - one which I hope Michigan will join shortly.

Johns Hopkins - Saturday, March 24 - Home
Conference: Independent
Preseason rank: #3/#2
2011 computer: 2nd
2011 record: 13-3
2011 tournament: #3 seed; eliminated in quarterfinal by Denver
Last season: L, 12-11

2011 O-rating: 17.44 (6th)
2011 D-rating: 11.31 (6th)

What's to say, really?  After a brief flirtation with mediocrity a couple years ago, Hopkins is back where they belong.  They're led by their goalie: Pierce Bassett, a junior who, as a freshman, rescued Hopkins's tournament bid when inserted into the starting lineup midway through the season.  Bassett sported a sparkling .570 save percentage last year and is JHU's leading Tewaaraton watch lister.

Hopkins's departure from the tournament last year came as something of a surprise, as they'd had an excellent season.  They swept all three ACC teams, took #1 seed Syracuse to double overtime, and dispatched quality teams like Delaware and Hofstra with relative ease.  And most of that team returns this year; hence the high poll rankings.  Only one piece to the scoring puzzle departed, leaving the Jays with stars like leading scorer Chris Boland and watch-lister John Ranagan.  One loss that will hurt: like UVA, a starting SSDM (Phil Castronova) is out for the season with an injury suffered in the fall.  That said, they're still in great shape defensively with Bassett and all three starting defenders back.

The polls both have UVA on top, then a gap, and three teams jockeying for the next three spots; Hopkins is one; Cornell and Duke are the others.  Hopkins is the last game before the ACC murderer's row begins, and if the polls are to be believed, this game will be as tough as any of the next three.

Maryland - Saturday, March 31 - Away
Conference: ACC
Preseason rank: 8th/7th
2011 computer: 4th
2011 record: 13-5 (1-2 ACC)
2011 tournament: 9th seed; lost in championship
Last season: L, 12-7; W, 9-7 (WHEN IT COUNTED)

2011 O-rating: 17.22 (8th)
2011 D-rating: 11.90 (8th)

Hit A Terp With A Stick Week will be the last week of March, and except for the fact that we have to go play in the swampy quicksand of Byrd Stadium, I'm looking forward to it.  I'll bet the Terps are too.  Last season was a weird one for Maryland; they both beat and lost to all three ACC opponents and were 2-1 against UNC; they won the ACC tournament and made it to the last day of the season, and in between, lost to Colgate.

Maryland is almost all-new for this year.  New uniforms to start; in keeping with the school's new overall look, they'll mirror the football set except there (mercifully) won't be any mustard ones.  (And honestly, they're not that bad, once you put the explosion of wackiness from football season out of your head.)  New defensemen, new LSM, new attackmen, and almost a brand-new coach; it's Tillman's second year.  Who the hell is left?  Goalie Niko Amato, for one; a .583 save percentage last year made him one of the best in the country, and frankly it's a little baffling that he did not make the Tewaaraton watch list.  They also have a top faceoff guy in Curtis Holmes, who did make the list; Holmes won a whopping 63% of his faceoffs last year.  There's a deep midfield and one attackman holdover: Owen Blye, the third-leading scorer on the team last year.

But having to replace so many starters could be painful, especially early in the season; the third game on their docket is Duke.  Maryland got ranked about as low in the preseason polls as you can without losing royalty status; the pollsters appear to expect them to be good but not good.  I don't mind, of course; here's your occasional reminder why we hate them.

North Carolina - Saturday, April 7 - Away
Conference: ACC
Preseason rank: 6th/6th
2011 computer: 10th
2011 record: 10-6 (1-2 ACC)
2011 tournament: 8th seed; eliminated in 1st round by Maryland
Last season: W, 11-10 (OT)

2011 O-rating: 16.46 (12th)
2011 D-rating: 14.15 (37th)

The first thing you need to know is that Billy Bitter is gone.  So I don't know who it is that ESPN's announcers will irrationally fawn over whether or not that player is participating in the game in front of them, but if it's any consolation, Billy's brother Jimmy is a freshman this year at Carolina, so maybe they can carry on a family tradition.

UNC had a very solid, balanced attack last year, with four players scoring 20+ goals; but not much explosiveness, as nobody scored over 30.  The only one of those players that isn't back is Bitter, leaving a three-headed monster at attack of Nicky Galasso, Thomas Wood, and Marcus Holman.  Galasso was the best player the Heels had last year, and he was a freshman; it shouldn't surprise if he starts to put up some Tewaaraton-type numbers as early as this year.

It wasn't a great season for UNC last year; they had to beat Notre Dame at the tail end of the regular season to cement a tournament spot and get off the bubble, but other than that, not much went right against the teams Carolina wants things to go right against.  Expectations are higher this year with a solid group of returning players.

Duke - Friday, April 13 - Home
Conference: ACC
Preseason rank: 2nd/3rd
2011 computer: 8th
2011 record: 14-6 (3-0 ACC)
2011 tournament: #5 seed; eliminated in semifinals by Maryland
Last season: L, 13-11; L, 19-10

2011 O-rating: 17.34 (7th)
2011 D-rating: 12.98 (16th)

You know how it is.  Despite finally getting the streak monkey off our backs a couple years ago, and beating Duke to win the ACC tournament, that mental block is still there; a 19-10 embarrassment that wasn't as close as it looked, in the pouring rain, in last year's ACC tourney.... yeah, Duke is still a problem.

Like Carolina, Duke returns a pretty stacked lineup; only 43-goal scorer Zach Howell is missing.  Robert Rotanz will pick up the slack; he scored four in Duke's season opener against Rutgers - in which they scored 16 goals in all.  Not a bad start.  Duke is a little bit of an isolation team; they scored a lot of goals last year (most in the country, in fact) but only half were assisted; it looks like they'll continue both trends this year as they had only three assists against Rutgers.

I don't need to say much else; Duke's lacrosse team could consist of chipmunks in tiny blue jerseys and we'd still have a tough time until we can reel off a couple straight.  This game will be Senior Night, so extra motivation and so on and etc. and please just crush these fools.

Pennsylvania - Friday, April 27 - Denver, CO
Conference: Ivy League
Preseason rank: 16th/15th
2011 computer: 20th
2011 record: 8-7 (4-2 Ivy)
2011 tournament: 13th seed; eliminated in 1st round by Notre Dame
Last season: W, 11-2

2011 O-rating: 13.33 (39th)
2011 D-rating: 13.34 (26th)

Real mathheads think everything is probabilities, probabilities, probabilities.  I have quite a bit of interest in and sympathy for that view, but this is why I could never be a real mathhead: I remain convinced that last year's game against Penn was the most important of the year.  Real mathheads dismiss streaks as artifacts of probability; flip a coin enough times and it's certain to give you four heads in a row at some point.

Sometimes that's true; sometimes you know better, and in this case, I know better.  Penn came to town with the team smarting from giving up 19 goals to Duke; they retuned their antennae and allowed Penn just two.  They damn near shut Penn out.  Shutouts don't happen in lacrosse.  Even VMI scored six.  You'll never get me to believe anything but that that game regalvanized the team's psyche and launched the NCAA tournament run.  It was huge.  Absolutely huge.

This year, Penn is in the same slot - the week after the ACC tournament - but this time, the game will be part of the Mile High Classic in Denver.  So we'll see how the altitude affects things.  Likelihood of another win is high; Penn is a low-scoring team in the first place, and the only player to top 20 goals last year is gone.  They took advantage of Princeton's terrible season last year; they'll be hard-pressed to keep pace again this year, with two or three fellow Ivies ranked ahead of them, depending who you ask.


Tomorrow, there's no basketball game, and I'm pretty sure there wasn't one last night either, so Spring Preview Bonanza continues with a check on our own lacrosse team.