Monday, December 31, 2012

holiday weekend review

I guess Christmas is the Season of Can't Have Nice Things around the UVA basketball program, what with last year's dual transfers and this year's loss to a terrible Old Dominion team.  I'd like to look at the ODU roster and the awful CAA lineup and say ODU is in prime position to rebound from their lousy start, but they went and dropped a home game to Fairfield as their encore to the UVA game.  So that one won't do anything but make the selection committee barf.

The ODU game also sort of illustrates the dangers of over-reliance on KenPom's numbers, something that I'm guilty of from time to time, or more often.  UVA was KenPom's 33rd team in the country going into the two games they played while I was on hiatus, and is now 25th.  If anyone really thinks UVA improved its standing by losing to a (now) 2-11 team and crushing Wofford, they're nuts.  Would anyone ever say there are only 24 teams in the country that should be favored to beat the Hoos on a neutral court?  Shit no, man.  I believe you'd get your ass kicked for saying something like that.  UVA has a very high RPI hill to climb.

To cope, I suggest you remind yourself that the NCAA tournament this season, though apparently well within reach after wins over Wisconsin and Tennessee, was always a little bit of a bonus, and the NIT is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen - this year.  Nor is the NCAA tournament dream destroyed, either.  The ACC season is ahead, and it offers some excellent opportunities to put a patch on the resume, starting with UNC on Sunday.  Keeping in mind also the caveat to every prediction I'll ever make about this team - the one that I mentioned in discussing the Tennessee game.


In the footbally sport, rumors continue to mount that UVA will hire Jon Tenuta to coach the defense.  We'll find out soon, as Tenuta is finishing up his contract with NC State, coaching them in the Music City Bowl today.  A certain segment of the UVA fanbase would be thrilled with that hire; that is the group that barely cares how well the defense performs as long as it blitzes a lot on the way.  I don't know when the last time was that I saw a safety blitz from UVA's defense; I saw at least one today from NC State.  (For what it's worth, the blitz was picked up perfectly and Vanderbilt got a longish completion out of it.)  I'd be happy with a Tenuta hire mainly because if we're going to fire a reasonably successful DC who was a big asset on the recruiting trail, it might as well be for a guy who has a well-established quality reputation, and to boot doesn't want to be a head coach.  If London lasts a long time, Tenuta will too.  And while it's said Tenuta doesn't enjoy recruiting, he at least is a recruiting chip in and of himself.

The final important thing from the hiatus is the discovery of an O-line replacement for the duplicitous Brad Henson, in the form of Eric Smith from Georgia.  I suspect there's an element of cause-and-effect here; Smith's other main suitor was UNC, and it's very possible they might have slowed down on Smith (or pulled their offer entirely) after flipping Henson.  Nevertheless, Smith is a solid replacement.  UVA might well add one more O-lineman after this as well, but the main thing is to get to the big official visit weekend in January without any more decommitments.

Coming up this week: a profile on Smith, a preview of the UNC game (obviously) and a review of sorts of the year 2012 that was.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

season preview: Wake Forest

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Media prediction: 11th of 12

Last season:

Record: 13-18 (4-12); ACC 9 seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 210th of 345

Returning scoring: 60.7%
Returning rebounding: 47.1%
Returning assists: 43.8%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: G C.J. Harris
HM: F Travis McKie
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Codi Miller-McIntyre (Fr.)
SG: C.J. Harris (Sr.)
SF: Travis McKie (Jr.)
PF: Tyler Cavanaugh (Fr.)
PF: Devin Thomas (Fr.)


G Chase Fischer (So.)
G Madison Jones (Fr.)
F Arnaud Adala Moto (Fr.)
F Aaron Rountree (Fr.)

Coach: Jeff Bzdelik (3rd season)

ACC schedule:

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

It's a sad commentary on how bad Wake Forest's supporting cast was last year that C.J. Harris and Travis McKie both got all-ACC consideration (Harris on the 3rd team and McKie getting votes) and Wake was still five games under .500 and 4-12 in the conference.  I mean they had some lousy-assed basketball players, to the point where some of the attrition and graduation they suffered this offseason was addition by subtraction.  Example: Nikita Mescheriakov, an absolute butcher underneath the basket who could not rebound.

What happens when you lose a lot of players like that?  The invasion of the freshmen, that's what.  Harris has never been anything but an outstanding shooter, and McKie is a solid scorer as well plus a near-elite rebounder.  The other extraordinary thing about both: they're the only upperclassmen who play.  There are so many freshmen in the rotation that Wake can go all Fab Five if it wants and still leave one on the bench (not even including the walk-ons.)

The best of that large class is probably point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre.  He hardly ever gets to the free-throw line but otherwise does a nice job balancing scoring with distributing, and has done a passable job running the offense so far.  Coming off the bench in the guard rotation, Wake employs sophomore Chase Fischer, who can pop a three but isn't terribly comfortable inside the arc, and freshman Madison Jones, who is the opposite of that.

Down low, Wake starts two freshman forwards, Devin Thomas and Tyler Cavanaugh.  Thomas is the superior rebounder and defender - he's a good shot-blocker but so far hasn't displayed any offensive chops whatsoever.  Cavanaugh isn't great offensively either, but he's better than Thomas, and earns (and converts) a lot of free throws, which keep his O-rating afloat.  Harris, McKie, and Cavanaugh are all three good at getting to the stripe, which has put Wake in the top ten in the country in free-throw rate.

Two more freshmen come off the bench in the frontcourt, but their roles are more limited than the bench guards.  Arnaud Adala Moto is a decent scorer and rebounder, but has the free-throw skills of a moose; a major liability in a bench player since opposing coaches will have no problem instructing their own bench players to hack away.  You've heard of bench three-point specialists; Aaron Rountree is a bench shot-blocking specialist.  He's ninth on the team in minutes and first on the team in blocked shots, with 15; an average of 4.8 blocks per 40 minutes.

Right now, this just isn't a good team overall.   Teams they've been blown out by include Nebraska and Iona, the latter being a total embarrassment of a game that saw the Deacons fall behind 32-5 to start the game and lose by 26.  But they've also given teams much better than them, including UConn, a real scare.  Are they going to any tournament of any kind, save the automatic ACC one?  No.  But I do think they'll improve somewhat as the year goes on, and be good for a couple surprises in the ACC season.

Monday, December 24, 2012

season preview: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Hokies
Media prediction: 10th of 12

Last season:

Record: 16-17 (4-12); ACC 10 seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 90th of 345

Returning scoring: 63.1%
Returning rebounding: 56.8%
Returning assists: 64.0%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: G Erick Green
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: F Dorian Finney-Smith

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Erick Green (Sr.)
SG: Robert Brown (So.)
SF: Jarell Eddie (Jr.)
F: C.J. Barksdale (So.)
F: Cadarian Raines (rJr.)


F Marshall Wood (Fr.)
F Joey van Zegeren (rFr.)
G Will Johnston (So.)
G Marquis Rankin (So.)

Coach: James Johnson (1st season)

ACC schedule:

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

It's a new era of Tech basketball, with no Seth Greenberg to kick around anymore.  I don't even want to kick him around anymore.  It was fun until Tech dicked him around during the firing process.  I have a tough time hating on people that Tech dicks around.  (Although I still think the ESPN segments where he talks about what it takes to get to the NCAA tournament are some of the best unintentional humor that network has ever put out.)

One thing that hasn't changed: Tech still runs a thin lineup onto the court and depends a lot on one player's creation skills.  You've probably heard by now about Erick Green and his prodigious scoring; he's currently second in the country in scoring, just a tenth of a point behind some guy from Lehigh or some place like that.  Green isn't ballhogging Terrell Stoglin-style, though; he also has a 31.5% assist rate and only an 11% turnover rate; the guy's legit.  Remarkably consistent, too; he's scored between 21 and 28 points in every VT game so far this year.

Also dangerous offensively is wingman Jarell Eddie, a career 40% three-point shooter and Tech's most dangerous threat from beyond the arc.  Eddie can score a few different ways himself; he and shooting guard Robert Brown are Tech's other double-digit scorers.  Besides Green and Brown, though, Tech hardly ever plays any other guards.  Will Johnston and Marquis Rankin are the only other guards that get regular time, and they haven't even played every game.  Both are largely invisible on the court in their limited minutes, and it's not uncommon to see Green playing 37, 38, 39 minutes in a game.

The lineup, therefore, is pretty well forward-dominated.  Besides Eddie, Tech starts C.J. Barksdale and Cadarian Raines down low; both are okay, pretty efficient on the offensive end, but contribute less on the glass than you would like.  Raines averages 6.4 boards a game, second on the team, and many are of the offensive variety; Barksdale has been the better shooter so far this year.  Rotating off the bench, the Hokies bring in Dutch transplant Joey van Zegeren, a solid player but a limited contributor.  His minutes are in line to increase significantly, though; VT's leading bench player, freshman forward Marshall Wood, broke his foot last week (in the already-disastrous Georgia Southern game) and is out for the foreseeable future.  By now you know how it is with these foot things; Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon certainly do.

The loss of Wood drops the Hokies to seven available scholarship players (the five starters plus van Zegeren and Rankin; Johnston is a walk-on); you know how that goes, too.  From here on out Tech will be forced to lean hard on their starting five.  That's a talented five players, but they can't afford even the tiniest bout of ill health.  Tech's tournament hopes - and yes, they have them, even after honking one to a really, really bad Georgia Southern team - depend on perfect health.  Their win over Oklahoma State will keep them in the discussion.  And that old saw about the games often being decided by who has the best player on the court - well, in most of their ACC games, Tech will have that player.  So they ought to be able to stay afloat in the conference.  One more turned ankle, though, and things could come crashing down in a hurry.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

season preview: NC State

NC State Wolfpack
Media prediction: 1st of 12

Last season:

Record: 24-13 (9-7); ACC 5 seed
Postseason: NCAA 11 seed; lost in Sweet 16
KenPom: 35th of 345

Returning scoring: 68.1%
Returning rebounding: 67.4%
Returning assists: 65.5%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: F C.J. Leslie
3rd team: G Lorenzo Brown
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Lorenzo Brown (Jr.)
SG: Rodney Purvis (Fr.)
SF: Scott Wood (Sr.)
F: C.J. Leslie (Jr.)
PF: Richard Howell (Sr.)


F T.J. Warren (Fr.)
G Tyler Lewis (Fr.)
C Jordan Vandenberg (rJr.)

Coach: Mark Gottfried (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

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

NC State got a lot of press for their freshman class this year, and unsurprisingly so as all three of them were Burger Boys.  It got to the point where it was probably unfair to the returning veterans.  At least, it seemed that way during the Michigan game.  The freshmen got all the NC State pub; the veterans were just kind of there.  But really, it's the veteran core of this team, which made a Sweet 16 run in the NCAAs last year as a double-digit seed, that's the driving force.

The Pack do most of their work inside.  Only 23% of their shots are from three range, which is 331st in the country.  When you've got two forwards hitting more than two-thirds of their shots (Richard Howell at .675 and freshman T.J. Warren at .682) there's no need to overthink things and get fancy.  Those two are part of an excellent frontcourt rotation that also includes C.J. Leslie (last year's team-leading scorer) and wingman Scott Wood, a historically deadly three-point shooter with a career percentage over 40%.  Wood takes most of NC State's threes, but there are others who shoot just often enough and more than well enough to keep defenses honest.  Howell is also an elite rebounder and Leslie cleans up most of what Howell doesn't get to.

At the point, Lorenzo Brown has a solid well of experience to call upon, and a quality assist rate of 29%.  Brown is a good defender as well, averaging over two steals per game.  Freshman Rodney Purvis starts alongside Brown in the backcourt, although a couple times this year Mark Gottfried has chosen to go really big and start Warren instead.  That gives them a huge starting lineup, since Brown is a 6'5" point guard.  Purvis has been fairly pedestrian so far this year; of the three freshmen, it's really been Warren who's been the best on the court, and it's not even close.

Tyler Lewis is the third of the super-frosh, but he sits at the back end of the very short rotation, and only spells Brown and Purvis for a short time as he apprentices at the point.  Brown hardly comes out of the game; he's averaging nearly 34 minutes.  The Pack will also occasionally unglue big center Jordan Vandenberg from the bench, but not much since the play of the excellent group of forwards makes it kind of moot to have a true center.

That's it for the rotation; it's kind of a short one.  Six players are averaging 26+ minutes a game, and three are in the 30s; the next-closest is Lewis with about 12.  Three guards is a thin way to go about filling out a rotation, so they can't afford even a single injury here.  An injury to a forward would mainly result in more minutes for Vandenberg, but this just isn't a deep team.  Very, very talented, but not deep; injury trouble would derail their very high hopes.

Just how high are they?  Well, they were voted the preseason favorite by the media and the coaches as well, which has to mean something.  The truth is this is an exceedingly difficult team to stop on offense, but they struggle with defense.  Unless Howell or Leslie is on the court, they're not rebounding, and they don't get turnovers.  Their KenPom numbers have them 7th in the country on offense (which is 2nd best in the conference behind Duke) but 119th in the country on defense (4th-worst in the ACC.)  I think their lack of depth and those defensive numbers mean that Duke remains the conference favorite until proven otherwise.  That said, if this team is healthy all year, they won't lose very much, and should be expected to make some deep tournament runs.

Friday, December 21, 2012

game preview: Old Dominion

Date/Time: Saturday, December 22; 5:30

TV: NBC Sports Network

Record against the Monarchs: 9-4

Last meeting: UVA 80, ODU 76; 3/24/08, Charlottesville (CBI 2nd round)

Last game: UVA 75, Morg. St. 57 (12/19); CofC 76, ODU 65 (12/16)

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.7 (#344)
ODU: 66.0 (#223)

UVA: 103.1 (#104)
ODU: 97.9 (#196)

UVA: 87.2 (#14)
ODU: 104.3 (#273)

UVA: .8487 (#33)
ODU: .3425 (#234)

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Teven Jones (3.9 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 2.4 apg)
SG: Paul Jesperson (4.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (14.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.5 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (13.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.0 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (9.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.7 apg)

Old Dominion:

PG: Keenan Palmore (8.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.2 apg)
SG: Donte Hill (10.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.8 apg)
G: Aaron Bacote (7.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.2 apg)
PF: Nick Wright (7.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.7 apg)
C: DeShawn Painter (10.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 0.6)

Time was, scheduling and beating CAA teams was a decent way to keep your RPI looking nice and fresh.  This year, not so much, especially here.  Old Dominion has managed to fall hellaciously short of expectations and probably won't end up fourth in the conference as they were predicted to by the media before the season.  If they do, the CAA is even worse than it looks now.

This game against ODU is part of something called the "Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic" which is not something you can win, it's just a way to try and get schools from the state of Virginia to play each other more often.  And even then it's only two games this year and two games next and after that they'll see.  UVA comes in with an eight-game winning streak, which is still shorter than ODU's current losing streak, and with any luck I didn't just jinx both of those and they can continue beyond Saturday.

-- UVA on offense

ODU's awful losing streak is probably about 2/3rds on their defense, which is poor.  During those nine games, they've allowed 1.15 points per possession, a terrible number, and that's a stretch that hasn't been filled with good teams.  Teams are hitting on more than 50% of their twos, almost 40% of their threes, which gives ODU's opponents an effective FG% of 55.2%, which in turn is 327th in the country.  Not good.  It'd be worse if ODU's opponents could shoot free throws (a stat, as you might guess, that is totally out of ODU's hands) but they're "allowing" a free-throw percentage of only 64.5.  Decent foul shooting would push their defensive KenPom stat even further into the basement.

It'd be even worse if ODU didn't have a couple of guards able to create turnovers.  Both Keenan Palmore and Donte Hill are getting two steals a game, which if you follow the mathematical logic is better than four points taken off the board for ODU's opponents.  However, the Monarchs don't have good size in the frontcourt.  NC State transfer DeShawn Painter is 6'9", 235, and center Anton Larsen (who sits at the very back end of the rotation with only 12 minutes a game) is 7'0", 240.  That's the full list of rotation players over 220 pounds.  What height they have is mostly of the lanky, skinny variety.  This is where guys like Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins will be salivating; they're almost certainly more athletic than everyone but Painter, and bigger and stronger too.

I didn't have any problems with the effort against Morgan State, but the mental rust from the finals break was plain to see and it resulted in a lot of sloppy play.  ODU's guards are probably good enough to take advantage of a repeat.  But as long as the team got their mind right, the opportunities will be there, probably time and time again.  The Monarchs simply won't be able to guard both Mitchell and Atkins, maybe neither, and scoring should not be too difficult as long as the Hoos take care of the ball.

-- UVA on defense

Despite the losing streak, Old Dominion hasn't been a complete trainwreck on offense.  I guess if that's the best you can say about them, they're not good, but at least they have a balanced approach.  ODU uses a nine-man rotation, all of whom have started at least three games - it's not a settled starting lineup right now, obviously.  And while their top two scorers - DeShawn Painter and Donte Hill - only have 10.9 and 10.2 ppg, respectively, the Monarchs do spread out the scoring, such that eight of those nine rotation guys score between 5 and 11 points a game.

Painter is the top cat in the Monarch offense, a legitimate scoring power forward (nominally a center, but at 6'9", not really - his game is much more forward than true 5) who can score out to about 15 feet and hits the offensive glass very well.  Hill, though, is mostly a volume scorer.  The reason he's got more points per game than Palmore is because he shoots threes and Palmore doesn't.  Both guards will do their share of the ballhandling, to take a little pressure off of the freshman Palmore.

The rest of the ODU offense is pretty pedestrian.  Freshman wing Aaron Bacote is a decent three-point shooter (really the only real long-ball threat on the team) but is a little on the turnover-prone side.  Nick Wright and Dimitri Batten were much better shooters last year and haven't found the touch this season.  ODU as a team is shooting three-pointers very poorly, and only back-of-the-rotation forward Richard Ross has a shooting percentage worth a second look.  He's shooting .604; nobody else is above .460, and most of the team is below .410.

If ODU is going to shoot three-pointers that badly (that is, 318th in the country), UVA will probably be content to let them.  Down low, only Painter is a threat, and UVA has proven capable of entirely closing down the paint to such players (think Jared Berggren) especially when they're not that worried about the opponents' alternatives.

-- Outlook

Good for the game, not so good for the RPI.  Fortunately, it's a neutral-site game, which won't help in the SOS category but will be a slight bonus (or actually, lack of home-court penalty) for the win.  Assuming, of course, that we do.  I see no reason not to be confident, though.

Final score: UVA 71, ODU 53

Thursday, December 20, 2012

merry christmas

A merry Christmas to everybody!  A Happy New Year to all the world!  This is to announce the start of Christmas sabbatical; since I'm traveling this year, it'll last about a week.  Kinda.  I have scheduled the rest of the ACC basketball previews to pop up at various intervals over the next week, so if opening presents and drinking egg nog and the like bores you, you'll have a little reading material to keep you occupied.  I've also scheduled a game preview of the ODU game to post tomorrow, in time for the game Saturday.

If stuff happens during the next week that's worth an opinion, I'll fire the machine back up on Saturday the 29th.  Last year half the basketball team transferred out while I was sitting around not writing, or at least, it felt like half.  So that was fun.  Otherwise I'll just wait til Monday, New Year's Eve.  Be good this year.

season preview: North Carolina

North Carolina Tar Heels
Media prediction: 3rd of 12

Last season:

Record: 32-6 (14-2); ACC 1 seed
Postseason: NCAA 1 seed; lost in Elite 8
KenPom: 7th of 345

Returning scoring: 30.8%
Returning rebounding: 32.3%
Returning assists: 20.8%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: C Tyler Zeller, F John Henson, F Harrison Barnes
2nd team: G Kendall Marshall
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: F John Henson
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Marcus Paige (Fr.)
SG: Dexter Strickland (Sr.)
SF: Reggie Bullock (Jr.)
F: James Michael McAdoo (So.)
F: Brice Johnson (Fr.)


G P.J. Hairston (So.)
G Leslie McDonald (Jr.)
F Joel James (Fr.)
F J.P. Tokoto (Fr.)
F Desmond Hubert (So.)
G Luke Davis (So.)
F Jackson Simmons (So.)

Coach: Roy Williams (10th season)

ACC schedule:

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

Obviously, UNC is not what they were last year.  It's one of those in-between years for the Heels, I guess.  That's likely to happen when you have four of five starters on the all-ACC team and then they all disappear.  Let's not kid ourselves, though; they're not exactly ready to hit the ACC basement just yet.

There's still plenty of talent, that's why.  In James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock they still have two of the league's better scorers.  Bullock is a ruthlessly efficient scorer and should be getting the ball more, really.  He's a voluminous three-point shooter and quite good at it, and can score close to the rim as well.  McAdoo is a little bit of a volume scorer for now, but has the talent to be a go-to guy and can be awfully tough to stop when he gets going.

Freshman Marcus Paige is more or less the point guard, but UNC really splits the duties between him and Dexter Strickland, who is much more experienced (the only non-walk-on senior on the roster) and therefore a better distributor right now.  It's going to be very hard to replace Kendall Marshall as a facilitator - when he was on the court, nearly half of UNC's baskets were Marshall-assisted, which is astounding - but Strickland is doing pretty well.  Paige isn't taking care of the ball right now.  The one major limitation in Strickland's game is jump shooting.

That covers four of the starting spots.  The fifth is totally up in the air among Desmond Hubert and two freshmen: Brice Johnson and Joel James.  Each brings something different.  Hubert has the most experience and is solid defensively, but lousy on offense.  Seven free throws this year and he's yet to sink a one, just to illustrate the point.  Johnson is the best scorer, with an excellent shooting percentage of .636, but disappears from view when he turns sideways.  James brings battering-ram size to the forward position and is the closest thing UNC has to a true center.

Carolina brings P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald off the bench to round out an excellent four-guard-plus-Bullock rotation.  Both are better three-ball threats than either Paige or Strickland.  The rest of the bench is mainly whichever of the three forwards didn't start, although there are fully twelve players who've played in every game in which they were available.  Roy is still tinkering with that rotation and it'll probably be pared down as time goes by.

It's not easy right now to put a finger on UNC, other than they're not a candidate for a tourney #1 seed.  They have a hole or two in the lineup - no true center, and as a team they don't shoot free throws well.  Roy would say their defense sucks if you caught him in a candid moment, but it's actually pretty good right now, with occasional lapses.  They've had some bad defensive games, but overall they're still just fine - if you hear a media type talking about all the points given up, remember that the mainstream media still thinks "per game" is the end-all and be-all of evaluation, and UNC plays one of the fastest tempos in the country.  The Heels haven't beaten anyone of consequence and have lost every game they've played against a good team, so they're more vulnerable than usual.  But with so many ways to score, they're still dangerous.  It wouldn't surprise me if they failed to meet the media's expectation of being the #3 team in the conference, but don't bet against them either to get a perfectly good tournament seed again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

season preview: Miami

Miami Hurricanes
Media prediction: 5th of 12

Last season:

Record: 20-13 (9-7); ACC 6 seed
Postseason: NIT 2nd round
KenPom: 47th of 345

Returning scoring: 79.7%
Returning rebounding: 85.6%
Returning assists: 82.1%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: F Kenny Kadji
HM: G Durand Scott
Defensive: none
Rookie: G Shane Larkin

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Durand Scott (Sr.)
SG: Shane Larkin (So.)
G: Trey McKinney-Jones (Sr.)
PF: Kenny Kadji (Sr.)
C: Reggie Johnson (Sr.)


G Rion Brown (Jr.)
C Julian Gamble (Sr.)
F Erik Swoope (Jr.)

Coach: Jim Larranaga (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

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

It's not that often you can watch your old coach surprise you by leaving for a different, "better" job, and thus improve your fortunes.  Jim Larranaga, in his first season in Coral Gables after leaving George Mason, led Miami to the first in-conference winning record they've ever had in the ACC, and also their first since 2002.  With the ACC being down as it was last year, their reward was the NIT, but that could change this year.

The Canes have a senior-heavy lineup, and there's a strong now-or-never feeling about the team this year.  They're certainly starting to make the most of it, opening some eyes with a win against Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State.  They've got a very solid frontcourt, but rely heavily on their guards, a unit that Larranaga considers largely interchangeable.  Durand Scott is nominally the point guard (though the ballhandling is shared between any of the guards that might be on the court), and his return, after serving an NCAA suspension for (surprise! it's Miami!) impermissible benefits, has been invaluable.  Scott can take it strong to the rack and is a very active rebounder.  His backcourtmates, Trey McKinney-Jones and the diminutive Shane Larkin, are both excellent scorers and capable ballhandlers as well.

Miami also brings good size to the frontcourt.  Forward Kenny Kadji doesn't have blow-you-away talent, but he's 6'11" and does an excellent job keeping defenses honest and away from focusing too much on the guards.  He's a quality scorer and rebounder and can even knock down a three if you fall asleep.  At center, Miami still has the enormous Reggie Johnson, who no longer weighs 300 pounds but still isn't far off.  Johnson, of course, is an absolute load, draws a billion fouls (7.4 per 40 minutes, which makes him 15th in the country) and shoots free throws just well enough to make it worthwhile.  He's rather unrefined offensively, but naturally gathers a whole lot of rebounds since he can practically occupy both sides of the lane himself.

If there's an Achilles heel to this lineup, it's the ever-present depth boogeyman.  Miami had been counting on redshirt freshman guard Bishop Daniels for quality bench minutes, but he left the team just before the weekend - like, four days ago - and that leaves them with just one guard off the bench: junior Rion Brown, who's a definite step down from the starting trio.  Brown is the Canes' sixth man, and led the team in scoring in Scott's suspension absence at the end of last season, but he's been cold-shooting so far this year.  Since he hit on nearly 40% of his threes last season, it probably won't last, but it hasn't been a great start.  Julian Gamble is the first big man off the bench - also a clear step down from the starting unit - and the Canes use so little of Erik Swoope that it's hard to tell anything about him.

Any injuries here will put a major dent in the Canes' tournament hopes.  But for now those hopes are legit.  They have one loss on their resume so far, and the committee will probably overlook it as FGCU is a favorite in their conference and it came without both Scott and Johnson.  The win over MSU is a much bigger deal.  They'll provide a hefty amount of depth themselves to the ACC's reputation and should win enough games in conference play to earn a seed in the 6-10 range.

Monday, December 17, 2012

weekend review

Just small bullets today.  Deprived of bowl preparations, this time of year is so bereft of news and such that I might end up posting a full-blown preview of the Morgan State game on Wednesday.  (On second thought no.  Not that desperate.)  Anyway.

-- It's highly unlikely you missed the fact that the basketball side of the Big East finally snapped and voted to leave the conference.  Things would've been even more entertaining had they been able to vote to dissolve it entirely.  (Realignment is all fun and games when it's going on below you.)  I think the final word on dissolution was they needed two football-school votes, so it's a shame they didn't latch onto this idea before Rutgers left.  (Just to see if anyone could ever top the dick move of voting to dissolve the conference while secretly knowing you have an invite from somewhere else.)

At any rate, what's left is a Conference of Sanity, coming sometime in the future to hoops only, and a spread-out agglomeration of random former CUSA and MWC schools.  And Connecticut, but let's face it, a football program that isn't even old enough for a drivers' license is hard to have a lot of sympathy for.  Does that suck for their hoops program?  Yes, but then, Memphis seemed to do just fine as the one behemoth in CUSA.

As for the ACC, it probably means nothing in the short-term.  The main effect is that now, Notre Dame can't figure out what it's supposed to do if it wants to leave early. (Had the rumored dissolution occurred, it would've quadrupled the weird factor, since in that case ND and Louisville would've been free to jump right in next year.  In which case we would've had to figure out what to do with Maryland, since the B1G would've probably added Rutgers early as well and would've been likely to demand Maryland's freedom too.  But that's all moot now.  The Zombie Big East will carry on without much direction for a little while longer yet.

UConn and Cincinnati are no doubt feeling rather out in the cold right now, but they'll be around if the ACC needs them.  (Let's hope it doesn't.)  Pre-emptive expansion would be a bad idea.  If for some reason the Big Ten decides to add UConn, I'd be furious as a B1G fan but highly relieved as an ACC fan, and the scales, in case you're wondering, would tilt decidedly towards my ACC loyalties.  I don't want to see UVA in the Big Ten, that's why.

-- Rumorz on the LaxPower forum are harbingers of a tough time to be a UVA goalie hopeful.  Dan Marino has (another) broken thumb and Austin Geisler has transferred to High Point.  Geisler is no longer on the roster, so there's your corroboration.  Marino's thumb is newsworthy this time around because there isn't time for it to heal before the preseason, or even perhaps the season itself.  That turns a three-man derby for the starting gig into a one-man derby: Rhody Heller, as the last man standing, is now almost certain to start the season in net.  And he needs to spend the next few weeks lovingly encased in bubble wrap, because after that is nobody who's a solution.

-- It's been almost two years since we had to put up with a decommitment, so the time was ripe.  Losing Brad Henson to North Carolina, though, stings a bit.  More so than any recent decommitment I can think of, going back several years.  Henson was the most highly-sought-after member of the O-line class (obviously) and part of the succession plan at center.  Thinness at the O-line (partly due to Tim Cwalina's unfortunate heart condition) was causing the coaches to pursue a fourth offensive lineman for the class, but now they'll have to make it a priority.  Decommitments are not in and of themselves worth getting worked up over, but Henson's handling of the situation ("two-faced" would not be a complete stretch) left much to be desired.  Contrast that with Tim Harris, who, if he decommits (I don't think he will, but you never know) will at least have been up front about his intentions.

-- Will Stewart at ITA has an excellent article that does a nice job of reading between the lines of the WaPo's behemoth article on Maryland's move to the Big Ten.  Top quote:
"30 years as a career academic administrator at the collegiate level, and Loh admits to knowing almost nothing about athletic conferences, other than 'there are games.' And he’s the driving force behind moving Maryland to the Big Ten."

Admittedly some of the article plays on the emotional pull of historical matchups and tradition and yadda yadda, none of which anyone that makes any decisions gives a shit about.  But here is a guy who used to know nothing about athletic conferences other than "there are games," and now knows nothing about athletic conferences other than "there are games, and some conferences have more money than others."  And he decided exactly what you'd expect someone would decide given no knowledge but that which relates to money, and only that knowledge which Jim Delany deigned to let him in on.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

season preview: Maryland

Maryland Terrapins
Media prediction: 6th of 12

Last season:

Record: 17-15 (6-10); ACC 8 seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 134th of 345

Returning scoring: 36.7%
Returning rebounding: 46.2%
Returning assists: 44.8%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: G Terrell Stoglin
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: G Nick Faust

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Pe'Shon Howard (Jr.)
SG: Nick Faust (So.)
SF: Dez Wells (So.)
PF: James Padgett (Sr.)
C: Alex Len (So.)


G Seth Allen (Fr.)
F Charles Mitchell (Fr.)
F Jake Layman (Fr.)
C Shaquille Cleare (Fr.)
G Logan Aronhalt (Sr.)

Coach: Mark Turgeon (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

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

Maryland is sort of the mystery meat of this year's season so far.  At 9-1, they're improved over last year, and haven't lost to anyone they shouldn't.  Then again, they haven't played anyone they should lose to.  Except for Kentucky to start the season, a game they only lost by three points; then again, nobody's real sure what to expect out of Kentucky, either.

Whatever the quality of this year's Terps team, they're finding their way with a whole new offensive model from last year.  Last year's model involved ballhoggin' Terrell Stoglin, and nobody else.  This year the shots are a little bit better distributed.  Maryland uses a 10-man rotation that sort of involves their holdovers from last year in the starting lineup and most of their freshman (plus one grad-student transfer) off the bench.  Not having Stoglin around has allowed the talents of big center Alex Len to start showing through.  Len is a full 7'1" and one of the best big men in the league, a guy who can score easily and has already blocked a whopping 26 shots.

Maryland's size isn't just about Len, though.  Maryland in fact is one of the biggest teams in the country; KenPom's "effective height" rating places them 3rd in the nation.  Nick Faust and Dez Wells are big, long wingmen that can shoot (mostly; Faust isn't real effective from three) and rebound some, and Maryland gets a good, steady veteran presence from senior power forward James Padgett, who's shooting .651 to start the season.  Rounding out the starting lineup is point guard Pe'Shon Howard, returning from a knee injury that cost him a huge chunk of last year.  Howard's shooting has been garbage so far this year, but he more than makes up for it by not doing it much.  It's rare to find someone with an O-rating over 100 with as poor a FG% as Howard has, but he achieves that with sparkling free-throw shooting and being an outstanding facilitator; an assist rate of 36.7% is 38th in the country and leads to an excellent A/T ratio of 3.2/1.

The bench squad is four frosh and an old guy.  The old guy is Albany transfer Logan Aronholt, your prototypical off-the-bench 3-shooting white guy.  An early season percentage of .581 in that regard will eventually come out of the stratosphere, but right now he and fellow reserve guard Seth Allen, who runs the point in Howard's absence, are the only long-range threats on the roster.  Everyone else brought off the bench is a big.  Jake Layman is tall and skinny as hell, listed at 6'8", 205.  Charles Mitchell is a true power forward and an outstanding rebounder.  Shaquille Cleare backs up Len at center; Cleare's minutes are limited a bit by fouls and the fact that he backs up Alex Len, but he's a load to handle on the offensive end.  When his defense catches up he'll provide a lot of insurance against Len's eventual professional departure.

What Maryland will do in the ACC season might be a little unpredictable, and is not well-informed by recent games against the likes of UMES and Monmouth.  But basketball is a big mans' game, and Maryland is a big, big team.  That should certainly help.  One thing it's helped with already: two-point defense, at which Maryland is so far the best team in the coutnry, allowing two-point shooting of 35.4%.  Without fouling much, too.  Not surprising, since the dreckish teams that Maryland has played so far have a tendency to struggle in recruiting talented bigs.  They could stand to take care of the ball better, and when you turn the ball over too much against this schedule, the ACC will probably eat you up.  But that size should be a great equalizer, and this team will be a tough out.  Their awful OOC schedule has given them no chances to make a tournament statement, so they'll really have to blow away the conference to get a dance invite; they could end up like VT did a few years ago, with a 10-6 record in the conference (or whatever they'll do in 18 games) and a ticket to the NIT.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

specialer teams

Sometimes I sit around all day and wonder what I'm gonna write, and then the world goes "oh fine, here you go."  According to everybody, UVA finally got around to filling some of its self-made coaching staff gaps tonight, or at least, someone figured it out and told everyone tonight.  It would appear the coaching staff is acutely aware of the need to drastically repair the special teams, which is nice because special teams is why this team is not practicing for a bowl game right now.  How can we tell?  They went out and hired a real special teams coach: Jeff Banks, formerly of UTEP.  That staff is scattering a bit with the retirement of Mike Price, and UVA is the beneficiary.  Now we'll have a special teams coach with a position attached to his duties, instead of the other way round.  Banks will coach the running backs as well.  At UTEP he also had the title of "punters coach" but whatever, when you're the special teams coach you're coaching the punters so that's like giving Vincent Brown the adjunct title of "middle linebackers coach" in addition to what he already does.

I took the liberty of distilling a few stats from the last six years to see what kind of a special teams upgrade we'd be getting.  Banks has been on Price's staff since he was hired in 2004, so why only the last six years?  Because that's how far back the cfbstats website goes, and you get much further back than that and wasn't it, like, Ron Prince coaching special teams?  I don't even remember.  And it isn't exactly relevant.  Six years gives us Groh's last three, plus three years of London with Anthony Poindexter's disastrous tenure, and that's good enough.

Punt returning:

UVA - 6.4 ypr; avg. rank 90th
UTEP - 10.8 ypr; avg. rank 45th

Kick returning:

UVA - 20.5 ypr; avg. rank 78th
UTEP - 22.7 ypr; avg. rank 46th

Opponents' punt returns:

UVA - 8.6 ypr; avg. rank 62nd
UTEP - 8.8 ypr; avg. rank 66th

Opponents' kick returns:

UVA - 22.0 ypr; avg. rank 70th
UTEP - 23.0 ypr; avg. rank 83rd

Again, those are cumulative averages from 2007-2012.  This year, of course, was an unmitigated disaster in all respects; in the one area where UVA held a clear advantage over UTEP in the past six years (opponents' kick returns) this last one was totally putrid.  We ranked 123rd out of 124 and were one of only three teams to allow three returns of 90 yards or more.

So, what conclusions can we reliably draw?  Probably none, as usual, but as usual, we'll try anyway.

-- First, the bad.  UTEP's kick coverage has been kind of junky, actually.  This was the first year in the past six that their kick coverage was in the top half of the country.  It's not like ours has been awesome either, but it's generally outperformed UTEP's, and that's even with the pile of donkey feces that our kick coverage was this season.

-- Punt coverage slightly outperformed UTEP's, as well.  But the difference has been slight, aided somewhat by a really nice year in 2008, for whatever reason that was.  (UVA ranked 16th.)  And of course, it went in the tank this year along with the rest of the units.

-- However.  All other things being equal, I argue this: coverage units rely more on athleticism and speed than return units do, and return units rely more on scheme and blocking technique than coverage units do.  The one is never to the exclusion of the other, but coverage units try to create chaos and unpredictability while return units must try and get everything working just right.  Entropy and the odds favor coverage units, and therefore coverage favors athleticism over scheme.  And in the areas where scheme and coaching dominate, Banks's UTEP units killed ours.  Especially in punt returning.  In four of the last six years, UTEP averaged double-digit yardage on a punt return, which is a tremendously difficult thing to do as only about one-quarter to one-third of the nation's teams do that each year.  Their average of 4.4 yards more per return than our results is equally astounding.  The results from the past few years suggest that of all the special teams things Poindexter did badly, punt returns were the worst.

-- The results from the past few years, in fact, suggest that Poindexter really didn't have a clue what he was doing in this area.  Coverage units muddled along on the athleticism that London recruited, except for this year when they bombed spectacularly.  Return units bumblefucked around the field.  Groh's special teams were generally better, but not always.

-- In two of the past three years, Banks had top-ten kick return units, and was 35th in 2012.  And that was with three different returners.  I checked.

One hopes, at the very least, that proper coaching combined with the better athletes that UVA can recruit will bring our special teams to some middling kind of level in 2013.  To be honest, that's all I've wanted for a while.  The last two years have been excruciating whenever they were on the field.  Banks comes highly recommended by most opinions I've seen, however. 

Conspiracy theorists will point to the Washington State connection; that is, Jon Oliver's old stomping grounds.  Banks was there at the same time Oliver was.  Yes, in a role that will be a help in his future tutelage of Alec Vozenilek.  I'm more than inclined to believe the WSU connection here is a pure coincidence; anyone who thinks this bears too many Oliver fingerprints should be reminded that if he were surrounding himself with trusted Wazzu lieutenants they wouldn't be coaching special teams and running backs.

I have not, by the way, included any running backs analysis in this post, and that's on purpose since I don't think there's any statistical way to evaluate a running backs coach.  They don't do much.  RB is not a technique-heavy position and there aren't many of them on the roster, so if I couldn't get my way and have the head coach run special teams for the accountability message, this is the way to go.  There isn't much to distract Banks from the special teams. 

The coaching turnover now looks like this so far:

HC: Mike London --> London
OC: Bill Lazor --> Lazor
DC: Jim Reid --> ???

QB: Bill Lazor --> Lazor
WR: Bill Lazor --> Marques Hagans**
RB: Mike Faragalli --> Jeff Banks
TE: Shawn Moore --> ???
OL: Scott Wachenheim --> Wachenheim

DL: Jeff Hanson --> ???
LB: Vincent Brown --> Brown
CB: Chip West --> West
S: Anthony Poindexter --> Poindexter

ST: Anthony Poindexter --> Jeff Banks
RC: Jeff Hanson --> ???


Assuming Hagans is announced as the other offensive addition to the staff, and he's been out and about on the recruiting trail so this seems like a foregone conclusion, he'll almost certainly get the WRs now that RB has been filled.  Whether he gets the TEs or whether they get assigned back to Wachenheim is a tossup.  By my calculation, and I could easily be wrong but the arrows don't point that way, there are two more coaches to hire: DC and DL.  And does it seem odd we went special teams coach hunting before hiring a defensive coordinator?  Yes.  Could it mean that we've picked one but maybe he's coaching somewhere, like maybe in the Music City Bowl, and can't be announced til that's over with?  That would be nice.

Friday, December 14, 2012

season preview: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Media prediction: 9th of 12

Last season:

Record: 11-20 (4-12); ACC 11 seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 178th of 345

Returning scoring: 80.2%
Returning rebounding: 76.7%
Returning assists: 81.18%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

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

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Mfon Udofia (Sr.)
SG: Brandon Reed (rJr.)
SF: Marcus Georges-Hunt (Fr.)
PF: Robert Carter (Fr.)
C: Daniel Miller (rJr.)


F Kammeon Holsey (rJr.)
G Chris Bolden (Fr.)
F Jason Morris (Jr.)
G Pierre Jordan (Sr.)
F Julian Royal (So.)

Coach: Brian Gregory (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

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

Another improving team on the rebound, Georgia Tech has been a pleasant ACC surprise so far this year.  They've lost just two games, both of them expected, and pulled off an upset of St. Mary's in their preseason tournament in Anaheim.  GT had an awful season last year, but they return practically every major contributor (only Glen Rice, Jr. departs, after exhausting Brian Gregory's patience), and have the luxury of being able to work in an outstanding freshman class in the areas where they're needed most.

A couple of those freshman have bumped former starters to the bench.  Robert Carter was a five-star recruit, and he's taken over the power forward starting role from veteran Kammeon Holsey, which in turn has helped Holsey blossom as well, since he's playing against backups now.  Holsey has been GT's most efficient offensive player this year, shooting .591 from the field and turning his free-throw deficiency into a strength.  Carter, for his part, has shown well on the glass and takes care of the ball much better than many power forwards, especially freshman ones.  When he improves his shooting and stops hoisting threes he could be a force.

The other freshman in the starting five is wing Marcus Georges-Hunt, who had offers from a long and dizzying list of suitors.  Georges-Hunt is the team's leading scorer; that's not a great accomplishment on a GT team that only has two in double digits (and scorer #2 has exactly 10.0 PPG at the moment) and has built their success on the defensive end, but he's put together a stat line so far that looks like the whole package.  He's a very good all-around player and a strong contender for ACC rookie of the year.

Holdovers include guards Mfon Udofia and Brandon Reed, and center Daniel Miller.  Miller is kind of a stiff with the ball in his hands, but he's a decent passer for a big man and a very difficult presence on the defensive end.  Miller is the team's only major shotblocker, except perhaps for Carter who gets his hands on one here and there.  Udofia was quite possibly the league's worst point guard last year, but with a second year in Gregory's system he's begun to find his way.  His shooting is much improved, and he's a better facilitator too, though he still can't shoot free throws.  There are still better point guards in the league, but GT is starting to be able to rely on Udofia more.

Other than Holsey, GT isn't getting a lot of contributions from the bench; if they were, they might be able to move Reed out of the starting lineup because he's not doing much either.  Chris Bolden has managed to lead the team in three-point attempts despite getting 18 minutes a game, and he's not hitting many.  (One thing Tech still does badly that they also did badly last year is shoot threes.  They stink.)  GT will get some midseason help in the form of the Poole brothers: Stacey Poole is a big guard who transferred from Kentucky after realizing he was never going to unglue his rear from the bench, and his younger brother Solomon Poole hustled up his high school requirements, signed in November, graduated this month, and will join the team and probably be eligible to play in January.  Solomon is a point guard who has a great shot at relegating noncontributing backup PG Pierre Jordan to the bench; Stacey could eat heavily into the minutes at shooting guard since neither Bolden nor Reed are lighting up the court.

Georgia Tech has announced the beginning of their resurgence by finally playing ACC-level defense.  It's been the source of their success so far this year.  The offense..... has a ways to go.  Georges-Hunt is good, Udofia is improved (although "the basketball Reggie Ball" is not necessarily an inapt metaphor), and Holsey and Carter have provided a decent option down low.  But the offense is the worst in the ACC so far.  It's produced a point per possession in only two of GT's eight games this year.  If it doesn't improve, GT will have a really hard time against conference teams that play defense as well or better than they do, which is about half.  I can't see this team in the tournament this year.  It's a process, and GT is on the way, but they'll have to scratch and claw for a .500 ACC record, and the NIT is probably the ceiling.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

the recruit: Taquan Mizzell

Name: Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell
Position: RB
Hometown: Virginia Beach
School: Bayside
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 180

24/7: 95, four stars; #3 APB, VA #4, US #67
ESPN: 84, four stars; #10 RB, VA #6, Atl. #15, US #84
Rivals: 6.1, five stars; #1 APB, VA #2, US #26
Scout: four stars; #29 RB

Other offers: Ohio State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Clemson, Tennessee, North Carolina, UCLA, NC State, Miami, California, Purdue, Illinois, Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Boston College, various others

It's the tao of being a Virginia fan that nothing easy is ever easy.  (I think I just found a new slogan for the blog.)  Take Taquan Mizzell.  Mizzell is a London recruit in the sense that by the time Al Groh left, we just accepted the fact that some kids were Hokies and there was nothing to be done about it.  There was no reciprocal phenomenon.  Now there is, and Smoke is one of those guys.  Tech was never going to get him.  WVU and UNC had a shot, but UVA was the heavy favorite for months.

That didn't mean we got to avoid the usual gastrointestinal pangs over the whole thing.  Made them worse, actually, as Smoke flirted a bit with a few out-of-state schools.  Spring and summer came and nearly went, and every time Mizzell's name was mentioned, diehard recruiting followers had JUST COMMIT ALREADY dancing through their heads.

Fortunately, he finally did.  Thus did Mike London land the best-rated recruit he's ever had.  Smoke is the whole package at running back, and has the potential to be UVA's best since Thomas Jones.  He's got a similar build: not real tall, fairly thick and stocky although not built to be an oxback.  He's got some of the best scat-back explosiveness you'll see, especially for a body built to break tackles.  You watch his highlights and they're what you expect, except for one thing: he gets through the piles at the line of scrimmage before you even realize it.  The only thing he lacks is Usain Bolt's sprinting speed, but it'll still take a pretty fast defensive back - or Manti Te'o at linebacker - to run him down.

Furthermore, Rivals absolutely raves about his pass-catching skills.  He is "the ideal 7x7 back," according to their writers.  (Too bad actual football is played 11 on 11.)  Mizzell went to all sorts of 7x7 camps and proved that linebackers can't cover him.  Fun times.

What this adds up to is this: even though Mizzell is built a lot like Thomas Jones, expect his usage to be more like a Jones of a more recent vintage: Perry.  You know that Perry Jones is a heck of a pass-catcher out of the backfield; he's even been sent deep on a few routes.  He catches screens, slants, wheels, pitchouts, the works, and for some reason, the coaches like to send him plunging into the line like a fullback, too.  In Taquan Mizzell, the coaches have a weapon they can use exactly the way they used Perry Jones.  Only, Mizzell is bigger, faster, and quicker.  What remains to be seen is if he has Jones's running instincts, although I liked those better in 2011 than I did this year.

The other reason Smoke won't be the next Thomas Jones is that the offensive philosophy is different.  Mizzell will not get 334 carries while the next back on the pecking order gets 30.  That's what it took to get Thomas Jones a hair's breadth from 1,800 rushing yards.  (Back then, basically all we had anyway was a freshman Arlen Harris; Antwoine Womack was sitting out the year with whichever one of his many ailments he had at the time.)  Smoke will split work with Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson.  But make no mistake, the work will be there.  If ever there was a recruit less likely to redshirt, I've never seen it.  I don't know what the future holds as far as further running back recruits, but it's unlikely one as good as Smoke will be on his way any time soon.  If all goes well his workload will do nothing but increase as time goes on, and he could well be a three-years-and-out kind of player.  Anyone who ever suggests redshirting Mizzell would do well to remember what happened to VT with Ryan Williams.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

season preview: Florida State

Florida State Seminoles

Media prediction: 4th of 12

Last season:

Record: 25-10 (12-4) - ACC 3rd seed
Postseason: NCAA 3 seed; lost in 2nd round
KenPom: 24th of 345

Returning scoring: 45.9%
Returning rebounding: 33.3%
Returning assists: 31.1%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: G Michael Snaer
3rd team: none
HM: F Bernard James
Defensive: F Bernard James
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Montay Brandon (Fr.)
SG: Ian Miller (Jr.)
G: Michael Snaer (Sr.)
F: Okaro White (Jr.)
C: Kiel Turpin (rJr.)


G Terry Whisnant (So.)
F Terrance Shannon (Jr.)
G Aaron Thomas (Fr.)
G Devin Bookert (Fr.)
C Boris Bojanovsky (Fr.)

Coach: Leonard Hamilton (11th season)

ACC schedule:

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

Florida State is coming off their first ACC championship in hoops, as the conference's first non-Duke-or-Carolina champ since 2004 (and second since 1996.)   They lost a bunch of talent, but Leonard Hamilton made the case that UNC is always put back on the top no matter how much talent they lose, and FSU has a reasonably well-regarded freshman class, so why should the Noles be any different?  Accordingly, the media voted FSU 4th in the conference - one intrepid soul even picked them to repeat as champions - and they opened the year in the top 25.

Then they lost to South Alabama to start the season, and that thud you heard was the sound of the Noles falling flat on their faces.  They picked it back up with decent wins over BYU and St. Joseph's, but then went right back into thud mode with a loss to Mercer and getting blown out by Florida.  That kind of inconsistency has the fingerprints of freshmen all over it.

Which isn't surprising considering how much talent they lost.  Actually, the starting lineup is still mostly upperclassmen, but the point is now in the hands of two freshmen, starter Montay Brandon and backup Devin Bookert.  At 6'7", Brandon is positively enormous for a point guard.  Both have been turnover-prone so far this year, however, with TO rates above 30% for each.  The Seminoles have thus felt it necessary at times to put Ian Miller at the point; Miller is a solid ballhandler and the only Nole with an assist rate better than his turnover rate.  But a bruised foot that won't heal has sidelined that idea for now, and Miller is out more or less indefinitely.

Miller is likely to be missed more on the defensive end; he's steady, but his scoring can be replaced.  Terry Whisnant steps into the starting lineup with Miller out, and his shooting, although rather limited, has been sparkling this year.  Whisnant's percentages would probably drop with more usage, but right now his O-rating on KenPom is above 140, which is like holy crap.  FSU's top scoring threats, though, are senior guard Michael Snaer and junior forward Okaro White.  Snaer is sort of a smallish wing, and can score in a variety of ways.  White has decent height, but isn't a full-blown power forward the way Bernard James was.  That said, White can also score in a few different ways, including by sneaking out beyond the arc.  FSU hasn't historically been known for explosive scoring, but Snaer and White give them excellent balance and versatility on the offensive end.

If they want that traditional power forward, they call on Terrance Shannon off the bench; Shannon hasn't started a game this year but has played the third-most minutes on the team.  He's a decent scorer but his forte is rebounding, offensive rebounding particularly; Shannon gets a lot of putback buckets.  (FSU has an odd rebounding profile where they're like the 35th-best offensive rebounding team in the country but among the absolute worst at defensive rebounding.)

At center, FSU starts seven-foot juco transfer Kiel Turpin, but he's mainly just a body to put there.  FSU fans are clamoring to see more of 7'3" Slovakian import Boris Bojanovsky, who might be the biggest guy in the league getting regular minutes.  He's 8-for-12 shooting and leads the team in blocks despite being 10th on the team in minutes; he averages one every 12 minutes or so.  Neither stat is surprising considering he could probably dunk the ball flatfooted.

FSU has certainly already ruined their chance at repeating their #3 seed from last year's tournament.  The main culprit there is not scoring, it's that their defense is well off of last year's suffocating standard.  No more chances to put a flower on their OOC resume, either.  Despite the iffy start, however, I wouldn't write them off completely just yet.  They're not to be taken lightly; they have decent depth and good balance.  They don't rebound well on the defensive end, they turn the ball over too much, and they lack a true facilitator for the offense, until the freshmen come around and get on track.  But they've also got lots of ways to score, and have been known to show some flashes of their old selves.  They're the kind of opponent that will take advantage if you sleep on them.  They've got to put together a really good ACC season if they want to avoid dropping to the NIT, but they'll probably do a little giant-killing somewhere along the line.


A couple interesting items in the wake of Louisville's attachment to the ACC.  Some worthwhile reads from the perspective of the runners-up, namely Cincinnati and Connecticut.  Major takeaways: Cincy tried really hard to make the cut, to the extent of trying to fly their president to ACC schools for one-on-one sales pitches with ACC presidents.  And some revealing numbers that compare Louisville and UConn that really highlight why Louisville was the better football option.

The other is that I have been proven remarkably correct in my assessment that the Catholic, basketball-playing side of the Big East would soon look to break away from the conference.  Not that I deserve much credit for it; it's one of the biggest no-brainers there is.  These are schools that don't derive a lot of their value from football.  Basketball is their golden goose, and playing Tulane and SMU on a regular basis is a great way to kill it.

Whether they'll be able to do so is a tricky thing.  They could vote to dissolve the conference; they're not that far from being able to do so, and if it was just those seven against three (UConn, UC, and USF) they could do it.  Alas for sanity, Temple appears to also have a vote, despite being a football-only associate member at the moment.  7 of 11 is not the two-thirds vote they need, assuming each one of them would even go along with the plan and they could vote as one big Catholic bloc.  Sneaky way to get it done: grease the Big 12 skids and get Cincinnati admitted there.

If they dissolve the conference, they would probably re-form it immediately, call it the Big East (the name carries a lot of weight in hoops circles), and invite a few other basketball schools to join and tell football to take a hike.  If they wanted to limit it to Catholic-only schools they could; a sizable chunk of the Atlantic 10 is Catholic, as is most of the MAAC and parts of the NEC and Horizon League.  If they didn't want to limit it, they could open up the rest of the A-10 as a possibility, as well as the CAA.  They'd have lots of nice options to pick from.  As for what would happen to Memphis, SMU, Tulane, etc., well, that would certainly be a nice little sideshow.  One of the realignment truisms is it's all fun and games when it's going on below you.

(The A-10, by the way, is not stupid and knows darn good and well how this would go.  Hence their pre-emptive floating of a 21-team league idea that would include the Big East Catholic bloc.)

They'd have to act quickly if they want to go that route, though; once July 1 rolls around, they lose any semblance of anything resembling the necessary supermajority.  The other option is to do like everyone else and pay the exit fee, which is one thing when you're Louisville and quite another when you're DePaul.

My guess?  One way or another, these seven schools (which are Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Providence, DePaul, and Seton Hall, in case my lack of journalistic standards in identifying them has been confusing) will figure out some way to extract themselves from that mess.  The cleanest way (for them) would be sending Cincy to the Big 12, but one way or another they will figure it out.  At this point it's probably their priority #1.

Monday, December 10, 2012

weekend review

I really must admit to being part of the problem.  The fact that TV money and inertia** are the sole drivers of the landscape of college sports these days is a depressing thought indeed.  Yet I can't help but admit that it has its benefits.  The rapid expansion of TV means watching games that used to be completely inaccessible unless you bought a ticket.

To wit, then, I watched the Hoos take on Mississippi Valley State from the comfort of my computer chair.  (With Army-Navy simultaneously on the television, I might add.  Ah, the 21st century.) I cannot claim, however, to have learned anything especially new or groundbreaking.  That's what happens when you're playing one of the worst defensive teams in the country.  I seriously would bet that the Hoos had more dunks than MVSU had made field goals.  Akil Mitchell came down from what must have been his fourth or fifth one sheepishly smiling, as if to convey a head-shaking disbelief that it was coming that easy all day long. 

(That wasn't even the one where he took an entry pass and made half a post move on a ghost defender before realizing the only thing guarding the basket was a small collection of nitrogen atoms.  I watched that play a couple times to try and figure out why Akil had such an easy path to the rim and as best as I can gather, MVSU's #13 spotted a delicious slice of pie somewhere in an area that had nobody else in it and rushed to guard that instead of the bucket.  Why else he would be running in the direction he was remains an unsolvable mystery and I suspect his coach will learn as much in film review.)

At any rate, I won't tell anyone at Tennessee if you won't, that MVSU outscored them on our floor despite shooting 19% from the field.  Other fun yes-this-was-a-rout-we-get-it stats:

-- Joe Harris failed to score a single field goal.
-- 17 of the Hoos' 28 buckets were assisted.  Harris had six of those assists.
-- MVSU had 11 buckets; three were assisted.  In case you're wondering, an average rate in that regard is about 54%.
-- Teven Jones continues to lead the nation in "contributions to the actual game/contributions on the stat sheet" ratio.  At this point, Doug Browman and Taylor Barnette are not actual answers at the point.  Teven, on the other hand, reminds me quite a bit of the freshman version of Jontel Evans in this respect: I couldn't explain it with numbers the way I like to, but I felt good about the game with the ball in his hands.  The same with Jones.

We now head into the dreary, gaping maw of finals week; games resume a week from Wednesday, against Morgan State.

**Inertia, in the sense that the only reason some schools are in Big Five conferences is because they always have been.  For example, if the SEC could start all over, and was even given the limitation that they could only choose schools in states in their current footprint, would Mississippi State make the cut?  Would Indiana make the Big Ten's?  Iowa State the Big 12's?  I sort of doubt it.  If you really threw all the schools into the air and told them to form new conferences, limit 12, quite a few schools currently in power conferences would no longer be there after the shuffle.  And before you ask, is Virginia one of those schools?  No, for the same reason that the SEC would be loath to let Vanderbilt go anywhere.


Last week's profile of Zach Bradshaw elicited a pleasantly surprising response from a knowledgeable source on the subject: Zach's father.  He offered a few follow-up comments and clarifications on the post, bulleted and printed here in their near-entirety (minus a few tiny snippets I was asked to leave out.)

- I have followed Micah Kiser a bit as he plays in MD and am looking forward to watch them play together. Their skill sets will complement each other. I haven’t seen Smith play but it looks like a great group of LBs in the same class.
- PSU actually offered as an OLB. UVa was interested as both H-Back/TE type or OLB but we all eventually settled on OLB. Michigan, South Carolina had offered as WR; NWU as Super Back (H-Back). I think OLB or H-Back will be his most natural position.
- I attribute his lukewarm ratings to two factors (1) we did not hit the combine or camp circuit much opting to spend our time visiting schools instead. (2) Zach does many things very well rather than just a few things exceptionally well. He was rated by Rivals as a WR, Scout as an LB, 247 as an ATH. For us the ratings didn’t matter as much as the feedback from the college coaching staffs. Hopefully, his versatility and work ethic will help him get on the field.
- He weighed ~ 210 lbs before the season started and dropped some during the course of the year. He has gained most of it back and hopefully will be between 215 and 220 before he reports this summer. As you described, he has a big frame that can support added weight. PSU projected him to ultimately play at ~ 235 lbs and like UVa saw him as a “space” OLB.
- He did actually punt this year J Actually, he snapped in some situations if they needed him for his cover skills (center can’t be hit on release from LOS) but mostly punted.
- It will be interesting to see if he plays special teams as a freshmen or red shirts. We haven’t really had any conversation about it with the UVa coaches. The advice we’ve been given from several college coaching staffs is – come to camp in the summer prepared to fight for a starting job.
So there you go: he does punt, among everything else.  Many thanks to Mr. Bradshaw for offering up impressions from the inside.  I believe that officially makes this one of the most accurate recruiting profiles I've ever done.  There's only one left for this season, assuming the class is finished, and I think you know which one it is.  I won't keep you waiting much longer for it.
Speaking of recruiting, it's just about time to retire the 2013 recruiting board.  You remember that, don't you?  UVA's top targets that were left on it have committed elsewhere, and right now the focus is mainly on putting up fences to keep the wolves out of 2013, and working on relationships for 2014.  That board will go up in about five weeks.  As for the rest of 2013, I think it's likely that no other commitments occur.  For propriety's sake, here are the changes - mainly so that I can look back later and recreate the evolution of the board if I need to:
-- Removed DT Tevin Montgomery from blue (committed to BC.)
-- Removed WR DaeSean Hamilton from green (committed to Penn State.)
-- Removed CB Priest Willis from yellow.  He took an official visit to UVA last weekend; since that visit didn't cause any changes that would cause me to move him up, you can probably forget it.
-- Removed WR Brian Lemelle, LB Marcel Ngachie, and CBs Calvin Jones and Ryheem Lockley from red.
-- Changed LB LaChaston Smith to an early enrollment status. 
Let us hope we can go a second straight year without seeing any decommitments.

Always the last to produce such things, UVA finally released the lacrosse schedule today.  I know better than to wait on pins and needles for it, because it doesn't change much from year to year. The standard opponents are present, and in the standard order. Ohio State returns for a third season, so it would appear likely they'll be added to the list of usual opponents for the time being. The Hoos will venture outside Charlottesville just five times this year, until the NCAA tournament begins: three away games (Stony Brook, Syracuse, Duke), one "neutral site" game that's really an away game (Hopkins at the home of the Baltimore Ravens) and the ACC tourney in Chapel Hill. The only change to the schedule: the home-and-neutral with Penn is over, the Quakers replaced with Bellarmine.
The NCAA quarterfinals are hosted this year in an interesting place: Indianapolis, at Lucas Oil Field. I can't remember when the NCAA put its quarters in an NFL stadium rather than a host school's home field. The Final Four is in Philly.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

season preview: Duke

Duke Blue Devils

Media prediction: 2nd of 12

Last season:

Record: 27-7 (13-3) - ACC 2 seed
Postseason: NCAA 2 seed; lost in first round
KenPom: 20th of 345

Returning scoring: 70.1%
Returning rebounding: 67.6%
Returning assists: 78.3%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: G Austin Rivers
2nd team: none
3rd team: G Seth Curry
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: G Austin Rivers

(italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Quinn Cook (So.)
SG: Seth Curry (Sr.)
G: Rasheed Sulaimon (Fr.)
PF: Ryan Kelly (Sr.)
C: Mason Plumlee (Sr.)


G Tyler Thornton (Jr.)
F Amile Jefferson (Fr.)
F Josh Hairston (Jr.)

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (33rd season)

ACC schedule:

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

Yeah, Duke is still Duke.  It was fun watching them go down in flames against Lehigh last year, but they don't ever really go away.  And they've put together an impressive season-opening run that should serve notice that they have no intention of giving up the title of gold standard any time soon.  Their win over Kentucky has lost a little after a couple more Wildcat losses, but if you think Kentucky's not making the tourney you're nuts.  Quality wins over Minnesota, Louisville, and Ohio State have given Duke one of the best starts to a season they've had in ages.

This Duke team is getting back to what Duke has been successful with in the past.  Three seniors are pacing the Blue Devils, an improvement in their situation over letting one-and-done Austin Rivers run the show.  There's still something to be said for senior leadership, and these are familiar faces.  Mason Plumlee has blossomed into a seriously unstoppable force down low; he's shooting an incredible .654 from the field, rebounds everything, blocks shots, shoots free throws, and is basically the early front-runner for ACC POY.  Seth Curry knows about 100 ways to score and is dangerous from everywhere on the court.  Ryan Kelly blocks even more shots than Plumlee, because he's 6'11" and is rarely asked to guard anyone anywhere near that tall.  Kelly has a small forward's game in a center's body, which isn't really fair.

Point guard Quinn Cook was thought of as a potential one-and-done candidate, but he's come back to run the offense for a second year, and is doing a nice job of it.  He's added the three-point shot to his game; this season so far he's made just three fewer threes than he did all of last season, and in fewer than half the attempts.  Duke rounds out their starting lineup with freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, who has actually taken more shots than anyone else on the team, but is fitting in better than Rivers did.  Partly because the show doesn't revolve around him the way it did Rivers.  Sulaimon is a less efficient player than the rest of his lineupmates, but it's not like he's bad, he just looks that way compared to the fairly star-studded lineup around him.

This would be the part where I tell you about Duke's unfairly deep bench from which they rotate guys in and out with little drop-off in play, but they don't have one.  Besides Tyler Thornton, who is essentially a three-point specialist (and who barely averages two shots a game despite getting 22 minutes) nobody else off the bench is averaging double-digit minutes.  Forwards Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson only get spot minutes, meaning Duke is mainly rolling with a six-man rotation.  The rotation might open up a bit when Marshall "I Have No Ambition To Get Out From The Shadows Of My Brothers" Plumlee returns from a stress fracture in his foot, suffered in October practice.  Right now, though, big brother Mason almost never comes out of the game.

So a little foul trouble could go a long way in playing Duke, but nobody's been able to make that happen yet.  And yes, obviously an injury would make a big dent, and they might wear down at that rate etc. etc., but even if Seth Curry's leg falls off or Ryan Kelly gets hit by a tank, they've got more than enough talent to carry them to a win on any given night.  They'll be favorites in their every game this year, the likely top seed in the ACC tourney, and their November-December success has probably locked them up a #1 seed already, assuming they don't lay a massive turd in the ACC season.