Tuesday, April 30, 2013

whats the matter?

For weeks now I've been making all sorts of promises about writing a lacrosse season review, so here's the time to make good on that.  We'll see if we can't unearth the secrets behind a losing, NCAA-tournament-less lacrosse season, the first in nearly ten years.


-- Stick skills.  This was about the second or third thing that jumped out at me, but in retrospect, probably the actual most important.  When I can, I watch Michigan games too - the Michigan team that's gone 2-26 in its first two years of existence - and the thing that always strikes me hardest in the contrast between Michigan and UVA (and the teams of a caliber that UVA's accustomed to playing) is their stick skills.  Michigan's just aren't that good; they're often throwing balls off-target or failing to catch the good ones.  It's amazing how much harder it is to play lacrosse when passes are that much less automatic.

This year the contrast was a lot less, and Michigan's didn't get better (much).  Simply put, the offense turned the ball over far too much, without any help from the defense.  Consider the stats: UVA had 62 fewer turnovers than its opposition, but 55 more caused turnovers - which if you juggle the numbers the right way, means UVA had almost as many unforced turnovers as their opponents.  That would be fine if every opponent were a Cornell or a UNC, but there are cupcakes on the schedule too.  If UVA played its top opponents even in the unforced turnover department, the cupcakes should create the margin.  There was no margin - which means far too many unforced turnovers against teams equipped to take advantage.

Two games stick out: both OSU and UNC (the first game) committed just 1 unforced turnover apiece.  Even in games where the opponent had more than we did, we never looked quite that good.  And even against VMI we had 8.  This was part of the reason the offense sputtered.

-- Lack of midfield athleticism.  This was reason number two.  It was a rare sight this year to see anyone beat his defender off the dribble, as it were.  Shamel Bratton used to do this all the time.  In retrospect, guys like Colin Briggs and Brian Carroll could do it too.  Ryan Tucker and Rob Emery disappointed in this regard.  It limited goal-scoring chances mostly to playmaking from the X or fast breaks; generally, a midfielder was only ever able to create when he could catch his defender running at him.

Owen Van Arsdale tends to be sort of a duly appointed scapegoat for the athleticism thing, and it's true he's not the world's most athletic guy, but he's only one of several.  And OVA had the second-most assists on the team after Nick O'Reilly, so it might be said that Dom knows what he's doing by having OVA out there.  Offense came from the attack feeding the mids, but rarely the other way round, and the lack of balance hurt.

-- Poor shooting decisions.  I got awfully frustrated at times when an opposing goalie would prove he could consistently stop a particular type of shot and we just kept on lobbing the same ones in there.  Games that stand out in my memory in this regard: Drexel, Vermont, Ohio State, Bellarmine.  Others, too, I'm sure, but that's what comes to mind.  Typically it was stick-side high - goalies like it when they don't have to move their stick much, and high-to-high stick side is going to get saved eight times out of ten - but in the case of Bellarmine, our attackers often found themselves on the doorstep and tried to toss it lazily into the net as if there wasn't anything in between, and the Bellarmine goalie kept saving them.  Duh.  It bugged me because our radio guys were gushing about the guy's skills (in fairness, he had a damn .662 save percentage this year, which is nasty good) but I wanted to go YES I KNOW IT'S EASY TO LOOK LIKE AN ALL-STAR WHEN THE SHOTS ARE THREE MILES AN HOUR.

I don't know whether the following is a symptom or a cause of the poor season, but UVA's opponents had both a better shooting percentage and SOG percentage than we did.  If you guessed that 2004 was the last time that happened, give yourself a Fig Newton.  Those numbers ended up at .264 and .565, respectively, both of which are the lowest since, yes, 2004, except for the .565, which is the lowest in God only knows how long.

Part of this admittedly may be attributed to the new stall rules, which have encouraged teams to avoid stalling, but I noticed our opponents got more accurate, not less, between last year and this.


-- Goaltending.  I mean, it's hard to leave this out when the stats look so bad.  Dan Marino gave way to Rhody Heller midyear; Marino had a .455 save percentage on the season, Heller .482.  Both are awful numbers.  Marino's injury troubles in the fall might've carried over in his play to the spring.  Austin Geisler, who transferred to High Point and played there this spring, had a .512 save percentage for the Panthers; given the somewhat (not hugely, but somewhat) easier schedule they play, it's hard to tell whether he would've made a difference, but it would've been cool to find out.  You can bet the competition will be reopened in the fall, with incoming freshman Matt Barrett being given as good a shot as any.

The silver lining: Adam Ghitelman had a .497 percentage his freshman year, so Heller - though a redshirt freshman rather than a true one - isn't that far behind that number.

-- End of quarters. Oh gawd.  Talk about frustrating.  UVA played 15 games - therefore 60 quarters - and in 15 of those quarters, the opponent scored with fewer than 20 seconds left.  So on average of once a game, UVA allowed an end-of-quarter goal. 

Then, if we make the safe assumption that it's a coin flip as to whether the good guys or the bad guys have the ball at the end of the quarter, that means were 30 quarters when we were defending, which in turn means the defense allowed a goal half the time.  More than half, if we take into account that nine games were basically out of reach one way or the other by the 30-second mark of the fourth (thus, nine of 60 quarters don't count since killing clock was the concern rather than feverishly trying to score.)

Not to mention that six of these end-of-quarter goals came after UVA had already scored a goal with less than a minute to go.

The Ohio State game was especially egregious.  In the first three quarters, OSU scored with one second left, twelve seconds left, and three seconds left.  This, one week after Cornell had scored the game-winner with 13 seconds to go in the fourth - 26 seconds after UVA had tied it up.  Lesson: not learned.  And Drexel forced overtime (in which UVA fortunately won) with a ten-seconds-left goal in regulation after an eight-seconds-left one before halftime.

Goaltending is partly to blame.  In theory, you ought to be playing it pretty safe at the end of a quarter, so any shots are long ones and should be stoppable.  That happened sometimes.  In reality, the defense did an awful job of playing patient and tended to break down as the attackers got frenetic in trying to score.


You'll notice two things that aren't on this list: faceoffs and injuries.  I'm not sure that .527 is a real accurate assessment of how actually good our faceoff men were, but them's the stats, and I don't think that's where the season's problems really were.  Also, not having Chris LaPierre wasn't the issue.  Shocker might've helped in the midfield-athleticism department, but he's awfully unpolished on offense and probably wouldn't be a major playmaker except to maybe set up some of his own stuff.

Anyway, LaPierre's main strength is as an X-factor when two teams are equal.  He can tilt the balance in your direction, but he's probably not going to solve your problems if you're facing a talent deficit.  Neither can we say that not having top freshman Will McNamara would've helped, because we just don't know.  Ask again next year.

Obviously, not everything was a disaster.  I think Nick O'Reilly could have 50-some assists if he could rely more on his midfielders to be open for shots.  Mark Cockerton isn't notably big, but he plays strong.  Very strong.  Wasn't uncommon to see him bull his way around a defender to score the goal.  And Tanner Scales won the ACC Freshman of the Year award; Scales looked really good on defense and combined with Scott McWilliams to be a turnover-causing terror on the back end.  It's a fitting award, since he inherited Steele Stanwick's #6 - who was the last UVA player to win the award.  The last UVA non-offensive player to win was goalie Tillman Johnson.  Having no way of remembering what number Johnson wore, I looked it up, hoping against hope it was 6.  It was, but upside-down.  Close enough.

So I think there's every reason to believe UVA gets back to the tournament next year; most of these problems aren't chronic.  I'd like to think, for example, that the end-of-quarter issues are the sort of thing that will regress to the mean next year.  This is just one of those things, and at least we have company from Baltimore in the "blue bloods missing the tournament" category.

Monday, April 29, 2013

weekend review

This weekend found me out of town, so I've got very little to offer in terms of cutting-edge insight.  I even forgot to record the lacrosse games, which I guarantee you is why they blew out Maryland in the first round of the ACC tournament.  If the Tivo had been fired up for that one they'd have lost for sure.

The second game, obviously, was rather less recordable, although the offensive effort of 13 goals each game was encouraging.  I promise tomorrow will tease out the full story of the lacrosse season, but I'll leave it at this for today: there's no reason to think we're doomed next year.  2004 was a flaming wreck of a season and the following year saw the Hoos in the final four, with a championship the year after that.  UVA was frustratingly off their game most weekends, but not outclassed most weekends either.

Speaking of frustrating, I said don't let Virginia Tech's top six hitters string hits together and everything would be fine, and they strung hits together and everything was not fine.  So much for crushing the Hokies' Durham dreams.  I remain unperturbed, however.  The Hoos' realistic goal should be third place in the ACC so that they can be in the opposite bracket from UNC, and third is exactly where they sit.  Lest you need reminding that baseball can be a fickle sport with no guarantees in any given weekend, the utterly pathetic BC Eagles (9-35 record, coming into the weekend with 20 straight ACC losses) won their series against Miami.  BC as a team is batting .206(!!) with a .574(!!) OPS, just sayin'.


-- Congratulations are in order for the men's tennis team, ACC champs for the seventh time in the last ten years.  That gives UVA four ACC championships (both swimming teams and women's soccer are the others), which ties us with Florida State for the most.  UVA is the prohibitive favorite to take the rowing title and FSU nearly as favored for softball, which means the race will end tied between the Hoos and Noles unless one of the two wins the baseball championship as well - not out of the question.

-- UVA had just one player taken in the NFL draft: Oday Aboushi, in the fifth round to the most dysfunctional team in the league, or the Jets for short.  Nice for Oday, a Brooklyn native, but hopefully the crap culture around that team doesn't poison his career.  A few seniors also signed post-draft contracts, but most aren't likely to stick.  The guy with the best chance is probably Laroy Reynolds, picked up by the Jags.

-- ESPN has decided to take on the challenge of covering every game in the NCAA baseball tournament.  This is not that easy.  At first blush it might look like fantastic news - no more hoping ours is one of the four regionals that gets a set of cameras - and for the most part it is.  This isn't like covering all 67 games of the hoops tourney, though.

For one thing, basketball never has more than 16 games on in one day, thanks to staggering the games on Thursday/Saturday and Friday/Sunday.  Baseball can't do this; all 16 regionals play Friday through Sunday, or Monday if necessary.  UVA's regional started Saturday last year thanks to Friday rain, which meant a really squashed schedule because they won't play on Tuesday if they can help it.  This means 32 games on Friday and 32 games on Saturday as well, because of the double-elimination format.  They could move half the regionals to a Thursday start, but it still means 32 games on Friday.

ESPN isn't going to turn ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNews, and ESPN Classic all over to nonstop baseball programming, nor are games going to begin at 9 AM, so what this really means is a heavy reliance on ESPN3 and the implementation of an NFL Red Zone-like channel that flips around to find the most interesting games.  It'll be really nice to have live video, but it doesn't necessarily mean it'll be on your 48" screen.

Here's the other benefit of this, though: it means ESPN is taking college baseball very seriously, which happens to be a sport that the ACC does better than most other conferences they cover.  It could mean a little more cash flow into the conference's very willing coffers.

-- An interesting article out of Tallahassee detailing John Swofford's work in keeping the decision-makers at Florida State happy.  It's fun reading about the machinations behind the scenes, but it's also interesting to note that Swoff made a similar road trip to Charlottesville.  And it's also interesting to see the Tallahassee people let slip the "pending" ACC Network.  This should be something to look forward to.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

lacrosse bracketology

The teams don't change this week, only the order.  And you can basically consider the non-seeded teams to be in their places as the 9-16 teams, with only a move one spot upwards or downwards in a couple cases.  It fell into place nicely this week, which means next week, when it counts, it won't.

One autobid was earned this weekend: Lehigh, which knocked off Bucknell for the Patriot League title.  Bucknell made it into the ranks anyway, but they're idle next week and are the likely victim should somebody in, say, the CAA, steal a bid.

For giggles, I included UVA in my factoring this week, even though they proved ineligible with a loss today in the ACC final.  They slide in place between Hopkins and UMass.  In other words, far enough down that you'd have to correct more than one "if only" this season to get the Hoos into the tournament.  From a purely bracketology standpoint it's a relief they didn't beat UNC because it would only have stirred controversy when they didn't get in, and there'd probably be a bunch of UVA fans making us look like spoiled whiners insisting we got screwed.

Last week's games of import:

-- Lehigh 11, Bucknell 5: Both favorites got through the first round with few issues, and Lehigh's win over the Bison was surprisingly dominant to earn the first autobid of the season.

-- North Carolina 16, Virginia 13: The ACC tourney, on the other hand, produced some interesting results.  Maryland's loss to UVA knocked them down a couple pegs on the seeding ladder to the point where hosting a first-round game is no guarantee at all.  UNC, on the other hand, now sports a 4-1 record among its ACC brethren and is an easy choice for #3 - and knocking on Notre Dame's door.

-- Ohio State 14, Fairfield 8: This sets up a very interesting ECAC tourney game between OSU and Loyola, whose RPIs are equal at the moment.  Both are very close to earning hosting duties, and the winners could do it.

-- Yale 11, Harvard 10: Yale would be the last team in if Lehigh were not an autobid team.  Now, it's Penn, who will get their chance to defend that spot against the Elis next week.

-- Loyola 8, Johns Hopkins 4: Solid defensive effort by the Greyhounds keeps them solidly in the tournament (ECAC autobid or not) and puts a final stake into the Hopkins tourney hopes.  The Jays will either join UVA in watching from the sidelines or rival Qatar's World Cup bid for fishiest selection ever.

-- Cornell 17, Princeton 11: There'll be a rematch in the Ivy tournament, but Princeton's RPI is probably unrecoverable at this point.

-- Syracuse 10, Notre Dame 4: At least ND finally has a respectable loss now amirite?  ND's bulletproof resume was put to the test here and passed - meaning, they're still the #2 seed - but the invicibility is gone.  Fortunately for their claim to that seed, UNC is idle next week.  Cornell isn't, though.

Next week's games worth watching:

-- Penn State vs. Massachusetts
-- Drexel vs. Towson: Of the non-favorites in the CAA, Drexel is the most likely to rise up and surprise the Nittany Lions.  This is rare for the CAA, but it'll be a one-bid league if PSU is the champion, a two-bid league otherwise.

-- Villanova vs. Georgetown
-- Syracuse vs. Notre Dame: The Big East tourney is a mess, man.  Somehow, 6-7 Villanova managed the #1 seed, and their opponent will be 6-8 Georgetown, because they won tiebreakers over 11-3 Syracuse and 9-4 St. John's, respectively.  Obviously the likely champ is the winner of the Cuse-ND rematch.  Since one upstart or the other is guaranteed to be in the championship game, however, the possibilities for mischief increase.

-- Denver vs. Fairfield
-- Loyola vs. Ohio State: As mentioned, there's a pretty decent likelihood the winner of the Loyola-OSU matchup gets to host a first-round game.  If either wins this ECAC tourney, they definitely will.

-- Cornell vs. Princeton
-- Yale vs. Penn: The prize for the winner of Yale-Penn might easily be an NCAA berth as well as that trip to the Ivy finals.

There aren't any games of major import outside the tourneys, although Maryland's tilt against Colgate is a chance for them to defend their potential home-field advantage against certain ECAC interlopers.  The A-East, MAAC, and NEC tourneys are happening too, and each will send the winner, no more and no less.

The week's conference tourney schedule is like this: CAA is Wed/Fri, MAAC and Ivy are Fri/Sun, and everyone else is Thu/Sat.  I'll post a midweek bracketology on Thursday, and then, of course, one final one before the selection show on Sunday.

Friday, April 26, 2013

series preview: VT

Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., April 26-28; 5:30, 2:00, 1:00

TV: None

Record against the Hokies: 91-76

Last meeting: UVA 2-1 over VT (8-10, 4-3, 6-5); 3/9-3/11/12, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 16, JMU 8 (4/24); VT 9, VMI 6 (4/23)

Last weekend: UVA 3-0 over FSU (9-2, 2-0, 5-2); VT 2-1 over Md. (9-10, 11-0, 3-2)

National rankings:

(Just for brevity's sake, UVA is #5 in every single poll, and VT is, obviously, unranked.)

Virginia Tech lineup:

C: Mark Zagunis (.323-6-40)
1B: Sean Keselica (.316-4-25)
2B: Brendon Hayden (.201-4-23)
3B: Chad Pinder (.339-4-23)
SS: Alex Perez (.197-1-14)
LF: Tyler Horan (.335-5-32)
CF: Gary Schneider (.336-2-11)
RF: Andrew Rash (.325-7-47)
DH: Chad Morgan (.223-1-12)

Lineup notes: Schneider starts most games, but at times he'll get bumped to right field, and Kyle Wernicki (.229-2-10) will start in center.  Morgan is behind the plate occasionally.  Matt Dauby (.269-0-6) is a top pinch-hitting option, often for the left-handed, light-hitting Perez as Dauby is a right-hander.

Pitching probables:

Friday: LHP Brandon Waddell (3-1, 3.42, 58 K) vs. RHP Brad Markey (3-3, 5.82, 46 K)
Saturday: LHP Scott Silverstein (7-0, 3.00, 48 K) vs. LHP Joe Mantiply (3-0, 3.60, 30 K)
Sunday: RHP Nick Howard (5-3, 2.15, 46 K) vs. RHP Devin Burke (6-3, 3.59, 28 K)

Note: Tech is listing Sunday starter as TBA.  Unless something happened to Devin Burke, that's who they've thrown the last two Sundays.

The Hokies seem to have two kinds of baseball seasons.  In the first kind, they suck.  In the second kind, they suck after carrying high expectations into the year.  This is the latter.  Excellent hitting stats belie a losing ACC record, as their pitching has been spotty and unsettled.  VT isn't actually horrible, but still, at risk of missing out on the ACC tournament, and if that ends up being the case, probably the NCAAs as well.  This was supposed to be a big year for the Hokies, though; whatever happens, they've fallen short of expectations.

-- UVA at bat

Tech has used a few different starting pitchers on weekends this year; one of the few constants is that they keep sending Brad Markey out to get shellacked.  Go to any weekend series, pick the game in which Tech gave up the most runs (there's always an obvious choice) and usually - not always, but usually - the starting pitcher was Markey.  The worst bombing he's taken this year was against UNC, in which he was mercifully pulled in the fourth inning after giving up 12 runs on 12 hits and facing almost eight batters per inning.

For Saturday, Joe Mantiply is a little bit more of a dependable option for the Hokies.  Mantiply is a senior who came in as a soft-tosser with a sub-85 fastball, and has gotten himself up to around 90.  He's generally a pitch-to-contact guy who doesn't overpower, and he's kind of playing with fire this year in allowing a .304 BA.  Devin Burke, if that's who we see on Sunday, is more of a time bomb that can go off on either us or them, depending.  Burke has solid stuff, but walks almost as many as he strikes out and has hit seven batters.  Both he and Markey have tossed complete games, but when Markey goes downhill he gets bombed, and when Burke goes downhill he gets wild.

As bullpen philosophies go, Pete Hughes - Tech's coach - is no Captain Hook.  He likes to let his pitchers go til they're in trouble rather than play chess games, and leans on righties Clark Labitan and Jake Joyce in particular, which means long relief outings for both.  Tech's pen is not thin, but it's not deep either - more or less average.

Worth noting as well: Tech's .959 FP is the worst in the ACC.  No one player is especially the culprit, it's just a slightly less adept glove squad all around.

-- VT at bat

Similar to how you don't get into the UVA lineup if you don't bunt, it seems as if you don't get into the Hokie lineup if you don't hit at least a few home runs.  The lineup has power top to bottom; even light-hitting shortstop Alex Perez, a few points shy of the Mendoza Line and with an OPS that can't find .600 with a map, has a home run to his name.  Andrew Rash has 7 yard shots and Mark Zagunis 6, but that's the upper limit for an individual.  VT is only two shy of GT and UNC for the ACC lead, but without that one particular masher to make you tremble.  It's a group effort.

Overall, though, VT gets their offensive contributions primarily from six players.  The rest are pretty bad.  And it's a free-swinging bunch; Perez leads the team with 29 walks, but the team total is only 142, almost 100 fewer than UVA.  If Perez drew walks at a rate more like his teammates, his OPS would be in the exceedingly lame .400 range.  Only Zagunis can also be said to be reasonably patient.

For this reason, Zagunis is probably the Hokies' top hitter.  That and he's their top basestealer at 15-for-18.  Which is odd for a catcher.  In all, six hitters are above .300, and then nobody else is above .230 except for the singles-hitting (and mostly pinch-hitting) Matt Dauby.  Perez and Brendon Hayden sit right around .200.

Obviously, then, as long as UVA can prevent the top six guys in the order from stringing anything together, they'll be fine.  Crummy 7-8-9 hitting and the aforementioned inconsistent pitching are the reasons VT has struggled to keep its head above water in the ACC this year.

One final thing for our fielders: since UVA's last visit, Tech installed one of those all-artificial surfaces that includes the infield, which is now just brown-painted fieldturf.  I would hate that for sliding, myself, but it'll also give the infielders something to think about.

-- Outlook

One nice thing these days about UVA-VT hoops matchups is you generally know UVA will be the better-coached, more-disciplined team.  The same applies here.  Tech's free-swinging, fielding-sometimes-optional nature is basically the antithesis of Brian O'Connor baseball.  UVA should win this series.  If Tech's bats get hot at the right time, they'll take a game, and if they get on fire all weekend and their pitching puts together more than one find-the-plate day, they could conceivably win two games.  Unlikely, though; UVA should expect a series win and aim for the sweep.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

recruiting board update

Straight to that, and then a couple more interesting conference realignment links.  I like conference realignment links much better now that the theme is "ding dong the witch is dead."

-- Moved DT Chris Nelson from orange to maroon.  I think we can all agree that Nelson's decommitment is best for all involved, and not much of a surprise.  Other schools surely have been reminding Nelson how hard UVA is working on Andrew Brown and Derrick Nnadi... and then Nelson goes to the spring game and sees it with his own eyes.  Still gets listed in the world's ugliest colors, though.

-- Moved ATH Travon McMillian from green to red.  McMillian seems to be mainly looking at schools where he can play quarterback, and is probably not far from calling Blacksburg his future home.

-- Moved WR Cameron Phillips from yellow to blue.  UVA in a top three + he's from DeMatha = blue.

-- Moved DE J.J. Jackson from blue to orange.  Jackson is a linebacker-DE tweener, and we sure could use some of that DE action in this class.

-- Removed DB C.J. Reavis (VT) from yellow.

-- Removed QB William Crest (WVU) from red.

-- Added ATH Jeffery Farrar to yellow.

-- Added TE Devin Pike to green.

Now for that conference realignment stuff.  First is a recap, of sorts, of the madcap adventures that the whole sordid mess took us through.  "College sports' dumbest gold rush," they call it, and all I want to know is, why limit it to college sports?  Can you think of any such three-year saga that left everyone this much dumber?  The scary thing is, if you consider the beginning of the realignment era to be December 2009, when the Big Ten said "WE'RE EXPANDING!" most of this blog's existence overlaps with realignment's glory days.  Except in the past tense, the only time I want to talk about realignment again is if it makes Johns Hopkins an ACC associate member.  And that's lacrosse anyway, where realignment is actually kind of fun.  (I guess you could also count me rooting for my grad school - Detroit - to find a way up and out of the Horizon, like to the A-10 or something, but that's a little bit outside the realm of this blog.)

Next we have - from a Nebraska source - a realignment report card.  To spoil the surprise, it's the ACC that comes out at the head of the class.  Strange, isn't it?  After all, the ACC had reams of people lined up to deliver its eulogy.  Not really, though.

Consider the realignment carousel, minus all the rumors that turned out false.  No FSU and Clemson to the Big 12, no UVA, UNC, and GT to the Big Ten, no VT and NC State to the SEC.  No doom scenarios, because none of it ever happened.  Just the facts, ma'am.  Also, leave out for a second our UVA bias (we lost a rivalry game) and look at it from the perspective of any other ACC school, or even an outsider (hence the Nebraska take.)

Here's what the ACC did:

-- Destroyed one of its two biggest rival conferences in hoops and re-asserted its superiority there.
-- Snagged the one school that everybody wanted, including "Machiavelli Jim" Delany.
-- Traded an underperforming school drowning in red ink for one that just won the hoops national title and the Sugar Bowl to boot.

Of all the schools even mentioned in realignment rumors, let alone the ones that actually moved, the ACC got the top prize.  Better than Texas.  (At the risk of inflating the heads of an already full-of-itself fanbase, it's true.  Texas brings baggage.)  The Big Ten has wanted Notre Dame forever and DeLoss Dodds was working his ass off to try and hook up the Irish with his Longhorns.  Rutgers is a poor-ass substitute.

Meanwhile the Pac-12's additions are enormous duds.  The SEC got into Texas, so they got what they wanted basically, and they can't complain about how this went down.  The Big Ten got Nebraska, which is a great fit, and two schools that are looking at a lot of mediocrity for the next decade.  The Big 12 got half-eaten, and the Big East exploded, with fascinating results (unless you're a UConn or Cincy fan - the latter must be looking around and wondering how did they get back into the same conference they were in 10 years ago.)  Does the high grade mean the ACC came out the strongest conference of the whole gang?  Nope.  But it does mean the conference brass did a fantastic job navigating these waters.  Swoff might be a punching bag at times, but this is a job well done.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

boring is the new exciting

"ACC Announces Grant of Media Rights" admittedly doesn't sound like the world's most exciting news release.  It's got all the pizzazz of calling the new college football playoff the "College Football Playoff."**  It sounds like one of those things that you just glaze over upon processing it and then wander off to play some Farmville or something.

If the self-proclaimed experts are right, it's the most exciting and positively thrilling thing to happen in the ACC since the carousel first started turning.

It's basically being treated as a big wall around the conference that prevents anyone from leaving, now and forever, or at least until 2027 when the grant (and not at all coincidentally, the deal with ESPN) expires.  The basic idea is that every school's media rights now belong to the ACC - and don't go with it if it goes to a new conference.  So it's not so much a wall as it is a poison pill; if a school goes to the Big Ten, it's worthless to the Big Ten because neither the school nor the Big Ten have access to the media rights.

Of course, if it's so damn foolproof, you wonder why they didn't come up with this years ago, like, maybe when they were voting on a jillion-dollar exit fee.  Other conferences already have such a thing, why not us?  Well, we do now, at least.  It probably took a while to hash out; my guess would be that some of the bright people who run this show started getting this bright idea shortly after Maryland decided to bounce.

I'll tell you what else it does: last week I passed along some rumblings of a future ACC Network that could be announced soonish.  This seems like the perfect precursor.  I wouldn't call it confirmation of such, per se, but it's walking like a duck and quacking like a duck.

Even if not, it goes a long way in solving the prisoners' dilemma that the ACC presidents have been facing.  If President A felt like he could believe President B when President B put on his serious face and verbally affirmed his commitment to the conference, Wallace Loh put a permanent end to that kind of collegial trust.  So every president knows they'll all get the best deal by staying put, but they don't want to be the nice guy while someone else rats and takes the spoils.  How do you divine the intentions of the other guy?  Well, you put forth an agreement like this.

It's not perfect, of course.  I mean, it doesn't actually prevent anyone from leaving if they really felt like it was in their interest and another conference really wanted that school.  There are those who've so fully convinced themselves that the ACC is gonna fall apart any day now that they're not willing to believe the mounting pile of evidence that it's not.  You can tell who they are by who says something about how lawyers can take apart anything they like.  Which is true, more or less, as is the point that such an agreement has never been tested in the courts and there's a first time for everything.  Still, this is a contract, and contracts are pretty darn enforceable.

What I'm hoping is that it doesn't effect video services like Cavaliers Live.  I like Cavaliers Live.  I want to watch a whole bunch of baseball and lacrosse dammit.  So I hope completely signing over our media rights to the conference doesn't take that away; even so, if I had to trade Cavaliers Live for an ACC that never lost another member, I'd take that and call myself ahead on the deal.

This Brave New ACC, by the way, with four new members, is still rounding into form, particularly with last week's Notre Dame Schedule announcement.  About five weeks ago, I wrote, " Let's place our bets on 2015 being the first year of UVA's involvement in the Notre Dame series."  And lo it came to pass, and better yet it's a home game.  Good thing too because now we have Boise State, UCLA, and Notre Dame on the nonconference sked for that year.  Let's hope we're awesome by then.

Finally, this isn't precisely Brave New ACC stuff, but it is some sweet sweet basketball schedule action, in the form of being told who we'll play and where next year.  Specifically, our two-game opponents are VT and Maryland, which is obvious, and FSU and ND, which is new.  I wonder if the roughly four-hour trip from my house to South Bend is worth it for a basketball game.

**Please tell me no actual consultants were paid in the creation of that name.  It looks to me like this is basically their attempt to say, "SEE LOOK ITS A PLAYOFF NOW STOP BUGGING US."

tar heel follies

This doesn't qualify as today's post.  I promised something on the ACC media rights deal and you'll get it.  But this was too good to pass up.  Background: Jaason Lewis is a 2015 recruit from Ocean Lakes who has a UNC offer and decided to commit to it yesterday.  UNC decided not to accept.  Not smart, really, so I had to whip up something to stick the needle into the Heels here:

UNC is the only school in the world that's so insecure about their selectivity that they have to flaunt it.  Clumsy application of that selectivity might've cost them a recruit - or several - and certainly will require a fair amount of damage control.  Brilliant.

weekend review

So it's been kind of a crap spring so far, relatively speaking.  It's much colder than last year's, I've had all this damn work to do, and worst of all from the actual perspective of the blog, the lacrosse team has stunk up the joint.  We've been spoiled, man - I've gotten used to spring being the season when being a UVA fan is at its peak.  Weekend reviews speak of glorious triumphs on two fields at once.

So this weekend was pretty refreshing.  Even if the lacrosse game ultimately meant very little in the grand scheme, hey, at least it was a Senior Day win, and it was nice to watch the ball go in the net for once.  Nobody's scored 12 goals on Bellarmine all year, not even likely #1 seed Denver.  A few bullets on that game:

-- Mark Cockerton scored four goals, but the game's MVP is Tyler German, who won two out of every three of his faceoffs.  Mick Parks was absent for personal (not disciplinary) reasons, and might find his seat taken when he gets back.  German was only 5-for-14 coming in, but certainly deserves a few shots against Maryland next weekend.

-- Also, while we're on the subject of faceoffs, anyone who didn't enjoy watching Thompson Brown truck his opponent on the garbage-time faceoff he took must not actually like lacrosse.

-- I'll touch on this more when the season's over and I write a seasonal postmortem, but one thing I've gotten tired of is watching our shooters try the same shot over and over with the same result, which is usually a save.  I lost track of how many times our guys were on the doorstep and tried to lob the ball into the net as if there were no goalie, which was a failed strategy every time.

-- I was incredibly surprised to see UVA credited with 23-of-24 on clearing attempts.  We had to be worse than that.  Had to be.

-- Maybe the best thing of all was scoring a goal with three seconds left in the third quarter after watching every team all year do that to us.


Baseball brought the brooms to Davenport this weekend and knocked Florida State off their top-5 perch.  Before the series I wrote a Sabre post that said something to the effect of: if the team could simply go .500 in the rest of their ACC games and win all the nonconference ones, they'd be in the conversation for a top-8 national seed in the tournament and a near-certain regional host.  That'd have put them at 41-14 plus whatever happened in the ACC tourney.  Now they've swept a team that they could've easily dropped two games to.  It's not a stretch to say they could win their next ten in a row and be 45-6 going into the Carolina series.

That said, finals break is before the Duke series.  At the moment, Duke is in the 9th slot overall in the ACC, with VT in the 8th slot, a mere one game ahead.  Duke has Maryland this coming weekend, so the odds are decent that they'll pull ahead of the Hokies.  So just to be dicks I think we should sweep VT and then activate our secret powers of post-finals suckery to get swept by Duke.  Just for a laugh at the Hokies' expense.  And as a public service - to spare ACC tournament viewers the agony of the eyes.

Yet more bullets from the weekend:

-- It's pretty amazing how we're 36-5 and we don't even have any good players.  The ACC media has not yet seen fit to award even one single player of the week honor (or pitcher) to a Cavalier.

-- It's time to put some padding on the wall next to the right-field bullpen.  Past time, really.  Joe McCarthy jammed his finger (that's not, like, Kevin Ware-gruesome, but you click on that link, you'll see a finger going a direction it weren't ever meant to) catching a foul ball, and slammed his elbow on the cement top in the process.  And later, FSU's right fielder Jameis Winston nearly broke his kneecap sliding into it in another foul ball attempt.  Winston happens to be FSU's selection for starting quarterback in the fall - we'd have looked like a bunch of assholes if he missed the year because of our brick wall.  I seem to recall an Irvine player taking a hard run at that wall as well, and coming out rather the worse for the encounter.  Let's get some padding there before someone breaks their skull open.

-- Winston, by the way, is one of the least comfortable-looking players I've ever seen patrol an outfield.  When Derek Fisher hit his three-run triple, I swear Winston ran right past the spot where the ball eventually landed.

-- Pretty much every pitcher we ran out to the mound had themselves a really nice weekend.  Scott Silverstein pitched seven innings of shutout ball and FSU was held to one hit in a game for the first time since 1998.  Nick Howard was wild for two innings and then got himself together - and that's the kind of thing pitching coaches love.  They know you'll be off your game sometimes.  If you can get back on, mid-contest, that's the mental makeup they're looking for.  I'm awfully surprised at the impotence of FSU's bats, though.  Much credit goes to our pitchers, but you have to cast an eye at the FSU bats as well, who might've hit two or three balls hard all weekend.  So many of their hits were Texas Leaguers or choppers that slithered just past the infielders.

-- Kyle Crockett's instructions for his trip to the plate on Sunday (necessitated by the lineup shifts following McCarthy's injury removal) basically boiled down to this: Just keep the bat on your shoulder unless they're all fastballs, in which case I guess sure why not try a swing just for giggles.  He will probably never let his teammates forget the resulting base hit.

-- The following batter was Brandon Downes, and the strategy looked awfully odd.  Downes was still bunting with two strikes.  My guess: The coaches decided that even a foul-bunt strikeout or allowing the out at third was preferable to the possibility of Crockett having to try and slide to break up a double play.  As it turned out, the out at third is what happened, and at that point, Crockett was moved up a base and he wasn't going to be caught up in any double plays.  Good thing he didn't have to slide into home, though.


I'll do a recruiting board update later, but yes, J.J. Jackson committed to basically take Chris Nelson's spot - which, assuming we can land Andrew Brown, is a good positional tradeoff because Jackson plays a position of much greater need.  The coaches were dead serious about trying to land Jackson even though his offer list sucks, so they must like something.

Even more interesting, really, are these two Monday developments: the post-spring depth chart and the ACC's media rights thingy.  The depth chart doesn't change too many of my post-spring impressions, but does leave a few surprises.  The list of position switches that I can see:

-- Pablo Alvarez from the bottom of the secondary depth chart to the bottom of the WR depth chart.  This is a likely indication that Alvarez isn't to be counted on for contributions.  Injuries played a major role in that.

-- Luke Bowanko to LG and walk-on Jackson Matteo to center.  That's the top surprise right there, and somewhat related is Sean Cascarano sticking at RG while Conner Davis moves to the second string and Jay Whitmire has the RT job.  (And Cody Wallace now backs up Whitmire instead of a guard.)  This Matteo thing could either be really good or really bad.  A walk-on freshman beats out a senior for one of the most important positions on the line.  I could see that turning out very badly, as Matteo hasn't played a single down of college football.  It's just as possible that Matteo is a minor prodigy with a talent for the nuances of the center position that Bowanko never had; center is a tricky thing to master.  This brings us the potential to have four years of the same center, which is the kind of continuity that coaches salivate over.

-- Kelvin Rainey at safety is also interesting.  As is Wil Wahee at second string corner.  After Matteo, the next thing people are talking about - in this case putting up a whiny fuss about, more than anything else - is Maurice Canady backing up Drequan Hoskey.  Even if the crowd that thinks he's the second coming are correct, being the third cornerback is like being the third wide receiver.  He'll have plenty of time on the field.

Part two of the weekend review runs tomorrow, as the brave new ACC - which includes the first wave of Notre Dame games - deserves its own post.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

lacrosse bracketology

Things are starting to settle in, with little change from last week.  The main difference is that Villanova is gone, so this is a pretty good look at a no-surprises bracket.  If this were the final entry before the selection show, I'd feel pretty confident in going 16-for-16, too (although that's getting to be less and less impressive every year since it now involves calling just eight at-large teams.)  Yale, the ninth at-large team, is a pretty fair distance ahead of the 10th team (Drexel) but also clearly behind Bucknell and Syracuse for the tourney bid, for both metrics and common-opponent reasons.  (Yale has lost to Cornell, Princeton, and St. John's, all of which Syracuse beat.)

I am clearly proven wrong in my assertion that the Patriot League is definitely one-bid-only, as Bucknell does seem to have the chops to make it in.  In fact, they're the 7th at-large team, ahead of Syracuse, whose silly loss to Hobart is painful but not devastating.  Lehigh, however, will probably miss out if they don't get the autobid.  Bucknell still might, depending on how conference tourneys go.

Things are a touch deceiving this week, especially as far as Albany goes - they're not so well positioned as to actually be the 10th seed in the tourney, but they're close enough that it's justifiable to bump them up a couple notches for travel's sake.

Finally, Denver gets to keep the #1 seed even though they lost to Fairfield this week because if it's a question of bad losses, they have a way to go to match Notre Dame in that department.  (OK, Hofstra don't look that bad, but the only reason for that is because they beat ND in the first place.)  ND has the wins to insulate them from any challenges to second seed and the losses to keep them out of first.

Games from last week:

-- Princeton 14, Harvard 6: Princeton clinches a spot in the Ivy tourney, but there's still work to be done if they want to rescue their very slim tournament hopes.  Both of these teams could still play spoiler, though.

-- Maryland 8, Yale 7: This moved Maryland up some in the pecking order.  The RPI and schedule boost from playing the Terps keeps Yale hanging around, though.

-- Notre Dame 13, Villanova 9: It was 6-6 after three quarters, but ND probably put an end to Nova's presence in the bracket once and for all.

Games for next week:

-- Lehigh vs. Colgate
-- Bucknell vs. Army: This is the Patriot League tourney.  If anyone other than Bucknell wins, it could have bubble ramifications.

-- Maryland vs. Virginia
-- North Carolina vs. Duke: The ACC tourney is next week as well.  Maryland, UNC, and Duke are a triangle of doom, so this will help put them in order.

-- Fairfield at Ohio State: This isn't the ECAC tourney, but it'll set it up.  Denver will play Michigan, and barring the biggest lax upset of the decade, will earn the #1 seed with Loyola being #2.  Fairfield and OSU, though, are both 4-2, so the winner gets the three seed.  The upshot is that, given OSU's and Loyola's position on the ladder, the ECAC seeding will go a long way toward determining the final look.  Who wins matters, but who plays who also matters.

-- Yale at Harvard: Believe it or not, Penn is a huge Yale fan in this game.  Why?  As much as it would be nice to have a bubble team out of the way, it would be even nicer to actually get to play in the Ivy tournament.  Penn lost to Harvard, so if the Crimson pull off the upset, they'll usurp Penn's spot in the tourney.  Which would be awfully deleterious to their NCAA hopes.

-- Loyola at Johns Hopkins: It would be just like Hopkins to make a mess of the bubble by winning this one.  I know Yale wouldn't like it much.

-- Princeton vs. Cornell: An almost identical game in terms of the possible effect on the bubble.

-- Syracuse vs. Notre Dame: The Domers could threaten to take the #1 seed with a win, and if Syracuse loses it probably wouldn't damage them too much....unless something happens in one of the two above games.

Friday, April 19, 2013

series preview: Florida State

Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., April 19-21; 6:00, 4:00, 1:00

TV: Cavaliers Live

Record against the Seminoles: 20-48

Last meeting: UVA 7, FSU 0; 5/26/12, Greensboro, NC (ACC tournament)

Last game: UVA 10, ODU 9 (4/17); FSU 2, USA 0 (4/16)

Last weekend: GT 2-1 over UVA (1-2, 7-2, 2-3); FSU 3-0 over Duke (16-2, 8-5, 8-3)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #7, FSU #6
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #9, FSU #6
Perfect Game: UVA #7, FSU #6
Coaches: UVA #8, FSU #6
Composite: UVA #7, FSU #6

Florida State lineup:

C: Stephen McGee (.277-5-31)
1B: John Nogowski (.284-0-23)
2B: John Sansone (.255-1-19)
SS: Giovanny Alfonzo (.243-0-16)
3B: Jose Brizuela (.359-3-31)
LF: D.J. Stewart (.317-4-33)
CF: Seth Miller (.284-0-13)
RF: Brett Knief (.340-0-8)
DH: Marcus Davis (.295-7-30)

Lineup notes: First base is generally a platoon between the right-handed Nogowski and left-handed Casey Smit (.341-0-3).  The Noles essentially have four starting outfielders: Stewart, Miller, Knief, and Davis.  Stewart and Davis play every day; the other two might come off the bench at times. Stewart might play any of the three OF positions, and Davis DHes when he's not in left field.  Miller and Knief are strictly RF and CF, respectively.  FSU will also use Jameis Winston (.282-0-2) as a DH.

Pitching probables:

Fri: LHP Brandon Waddell (2-1, 3.65, 55 K) vs. RHP Luke Weaver (4-0, 1.40, 51 K)
Sat: LHP Scott Silverstein (6-0, 3.42, 42 K) vs. LHP Brandon Leibrandt (5-3, 4.89, 39 K)
Sun: RHP Nick Howard (4-3, 2.27, 42 K) vs. RHP Scott Sitz (7-0, 1.04, 40 K)

Florida State doesn't have any shortage of motivation for the season.  Before the season began, one of their players - Steven Spradling - broke more bones than you can count on your fingers in a skydiving accident that could've killed him.  Last month, outfielder Josh Delph was diagnosed with meningoencephalitis, which is a serious brain thing that also could've killed him.  (He does appear to have a good outlook, however.)  Three other players have regular injuries that are forcing them to sit the season, including former starting shortshop Justin Gonzalez and 12-2 (in 2012) starter Mike Compton.

They're still pretty good, though.  One shudders to think how fearsome that rotation would be with Compton, and they roll pretty deep in the hitting department.  This is Perfect Game's national series of the week, and both teams carry identical 13-5 records in conference play - although only one of us, and it's not UVA, has had the benefit of playing the utterly putrid BC Eagles.

-- UVA at bat

FSU has a solid lineup, but it's their pitching that's taken them this far.  Friday starter Luke Weaver is a tall, lanky right-hander who didn't start the season as the Friday guy, but moved gradually upward in the pecking order.  Weaver really was Mike Compton's replacement in the starting rotation.  Brandon Leibrandt and Scott Sitz have been a great deal more hittable this year.  Leibrandt is a slow-throwing lefty who might have been caught up to a little bit by the league after a solid freshman season; Sitz is a righty with the weirdest stat line ever.  A 1.04 ERA, you'd consider that pretty good, but Sitz has allowed 23 runs, with only 6 of them earned.  Where Leibrandt has tended watch his opposing starter pitch shutouts (he started the Noles' 6-0 loss to Miami and their 10-0 loss to GT), apparently Sitz gets no help whatsoever from his fielders?  That plus a .270 opposing BA is probably a recipe for big spike in that ERA; this weekend would be a good time to start.

It's the bullpen, though, that's the real concern.  FSU has six relievers with double-digit innings pitched, all but one with an ERA below 3 and three of them with opposing BAs below the Mendoza line.  Closer Robby Coles has allowed 2 runs in 22 2/3 innings, for an 0.79 ERA, and only 11 hits in that time as well.  UVA's nonconference games of late have involved digging deep holes and then trying to smash our way out of them; that's not going to work here.  FSU has a bullpen that's basically inexhaustible for the weekend, as long as they can get 5-6 innings out of their starters, and a good mix of righties and lefties too.  It's as good a pen as there is in the ACC, including UNC's and our own.

On a fielding note, FSU ranges from good to excellent with the glove, with one exception: 3B Jose Brizuela's 13 errors in 104 chances give him a fielding percentage of only .875.  Seth Miller has a very good outfield arm, with 7 assists.

-- FSU at bat

One nice thing about FSU's lineup is that it's constructed so that they can't get all their best bats into it at once.  Marcus Davis and D.J. Stewart are everyday outfielders (or in Davis's case, sometimes DH) and with good reason.  Davis is an excellent power hitter, slugging .561 with 14 doubles and 7 homers among his 39 hits.  Stewart is a good line drive hitter with some speed as well, and he too can clear the fence at times.  Seth Miller, on the other hand, is steady but unspectacular.  Brett Knief has done a fine job filling in for Josh Delph, hitting for a good average, if in limited time so far.

With the exception of Jose Brizuela, the infield is much more light-hitting.  Brizuela happens to be outstanding; he's batting .359, and his 70 total bases are just a smidge below Davis's 74.  Brizuela usually hits in the five-hole behind catcher Stephen McGee, who's found some power this year after being a back-of-the-order guy in 2012.  Stewart is the #2 guy and Davis bats 3rd.

The rest of the infield is comparatively pedestrian, especially the light-hitting middle infielders Sansone and Alfonzo.  Top-to-bottom, the FSU lineup is not quite as scary as Georgia Tech's - and the UVA pitchers did an excellent job against the Jackets.  The 2-3-4-5 spots are a minefield, though.  And though FSU's not a small-ball team by any stretch, they'll send just about any of their runners if they decide they want a stolen base.  That's a pretty rare thing for the Noles, though, and with lefties going on Friday and Saturday, we probably don't have to worry about that quite as much.

-- Outlook

Short and sweet - this should be just the same as the GT series: no sweep for either team and close games all weekend.  Despite Scott Sitz's gaudy-ass stats, I think UVA has a slight edge in the starting rotation, FSU has a slight edge in the bullpen, and the lineups are about even.  I guess if you held a gun to my head and made me choose I'd say UVA has the slightly better lineup too since our 8 and 9 slots are better.  But it's a small edge.  These two teams are very, very close.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

answers from spring

The spring game has come and gone, and now spring practice as well.  The football team got to break in its fancy new practice facility, which is a vast improvement over walkthroughs on the JPJA floor.  You'd think we'd have some answers as to how things might look in the fall, and it so happens we just might.  I've been taking notes, and as usual here's what I think:


-- Quarterback, sort of.  Just having something resembling a depth chart at this stage of the game is an improvement over the past.  At the beginning of spring practice it was clear that Phillip Sims had somehow worked his way to the bottom of it.  Mike London made noises about how nothing's decided this is just a guide of sorts blah blah blah, but it became clear pretty quickly that Sims was being sent a message.  David Watford and Greyson Lambert more or less split the first-team quarterback duties, and one starts to get the sense that Watford has a slight leg up on Lambert.  And that Sims hasn't done anything to move out of the doldrums; his 8-for-18 spring game performance was something less than impressive.

-- Defensive line should be pretty sweet.  The age-old question of whether we should rejoice or jump off a bridge when one unit dominates the other naturally applies.  However, there's good reason to believe the D-line was showing off for real.  David Dean in particular came in for high praise from all corners - including, most importantly, the coaches - and there's a good chance he becomes the disruptive three-tech we thought we'd get out of Chris Brathwaite.  (For whom, praise be, the door is not closed for a return.  It looks like he'll be trying to follow in the footsteps of Jameel Sewell.)

-- Wide receiver should also be in good shape.  Good things are being said about the second line.  Dominique Terrell had a Jeff White article devoted to his good work, CavsCorner had a flowery one about E.J. Scott, and Adrian Gamble is getting noticed too.

-- We do seem to have a starting linebacker corps.  And Henry Coley in particular is stepping into the leadership gap left when Steve Greer and Laroy Reynolds graduated.  Coley had a little disciplinary hiccup last year, and it's nice to see that seems to be resolved.  Occasionally I've seen a couple hyperactive imaginations worrying that Coley's entrenchment at middle linebacker means Kwontie Moore is a bust, to which I say piffle: Coley has two years of experience on Moore.  And Demeitre Brim is moving quickly to secure the strongside spot.  UVA's front seven will not be among the most-hyped in the conference when the season begins, but it could have some eyes open and looking their way by November.


-- We heard precious little out of the running back realm that was especially useful.  Even if we had, Taquan Mizzell is still showing up in the fall ready to scramble whatever pecking order has been established.  Even so, I was hoping to hear what that pecking order might have been, and specifically, where Clifton Richardson fits.  In the pre-spring depth chart he's third, and didn't appear to make a strong upward move.

-- It's all well and good to know sort of where the quarterbacks stand, but we still don't have a starter.

-- The O-line.  This is the real question mark.  It would be getting a lot more attention if we had a settled quarterback situation.  I think the running game in particular is the most at risk, because the interior of the line is the least secure.  And David Watford may have an advantage at quarterback partly because he can scramble out of the way of incoming pass rushers much better than either Sims or Lambert.

Everything will get ten times more complex when the rubber hits the road in September, of course.  But if I were to break things down as simple as possible, here in April, I'd say this: The defense has the bodies and the talent to be very good, and it depends on how well they take to Jon Tenuta's schemes.  And how often they blitz into a screen pass.  The offense depends on the line, and secondarily on the quarterback.  Quarterback is going to get the attention, and let's hope the line doesn't because poor play will be much more readily apparent than quality play.  But the offense will have the weapons it needs; we'll see if the line can let them shine.


Just a couple things I thought shouldn't wait til Monday.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an excellent interview with George Adeosun.  Refreshingly honest and insightful.  And Joe Lunardi's "I need to justify my existence for the other ten months out of the year" early bracketology has UVA a four seed.  This means absolutely nothing for next year's tourney but is interesting in the sense that we know the hoops team should do very well next year, but it's a little surprising to see the media powers-that-be thinking so highly of them as well.  Much more surprising than Chris Nelson's decommitment, anyway.  Dude visited damn near every school in Florida in the last two months.  Nelson will probably land on his feet, and I do appreciate that he decided to get it over with rather than holding a spot until the last minute before committing elsewhere.  UVA will be fine, as long as they snag Andrew Brown and/or Derrick Nnadi.

Monday, April 15, 2013

weekend review

I didn't preview the Duke lacrosse game, but an astute comment on the GT post predicted it better than I would have:
I see UVa plays Duke today in lacrosse. I have no doubt we'll beat them, because I have years of experience as a Virginia fan to draw on. It's like in 2002 when the basketball team was totally sucking, then had the nerve to beat Duke just to remind you how badly they were underachieving.
That's the sort of thing that it really does take years of watching UVA sports to think of.  There was only one problem with it: the laxing Hoos found an even more ridiculously Virginia way to let the game play out.  Fail at scoring goals all season, then wait until we play the one team we can't beat to score an enormous flood of them, and still lose by three.  Absolutely fascinating.  Insert the appropriate Anchorman quote here, you know the one.  I really think that has to stand close to "beat top-five Florida State and then score five points at North Carolina" in the Stupid Losses Zone.

This was a game of runs, with the pendulum making several swings between delivering and receiving the ass-beating.  UVA's 13-9 lead ended up being a rather false hope, as Duke scored 10 of the next 11 goals.  Truthfully, the game wasn't as close as the score: UVA was beaten in the shots-on-goal category 35-24, at faceoffs 23-15, total shots 55-40, and cleared only 75% of their opportunities.  I'm beginning to think the only way to find out why Duke always brings out the worst in our defense is to kidnap an assistant coach and torture the answers out of him, but then again I've been reading Game of Thrones lately so my ideas might be a little darker than normal.

UVA has now left itself only one thread of hope for making the NCAA tournament: win all of the next three games.  That's the only way to earn the.500-or-better record the NCAA requires for at-large teams.  And I don't even think that would do it, really.  Of course, at this point if you're still thinking NCAA tournament, there's nothing I can say to shoot down your very misplaced optimism except that your efforts might be better spent finding a team with a golden horseshoe jammed up its ass, like Ohio State football.


That golden horseshoe team certainly isn't UVA baseball, at least not this weekend.  UVA dominated the Saturday game behind some ridiculously good pitching from Scott Silverstein, who gave up two hits - one of them of the extremely cheap variety - in seven innings, and struck out nine.  I don't trust Silverstein's reconstructed shoulder enough to think that we can always get that kind of performance, but that was one of the better lineups UVA will face or has faced in ACC play.  If he can dominate them he can certainly work some magic on the rest of the conference too.  Given the reputation Silverstein had coming out of high school, file that one under "what could've been" and repeat the UVA mantra, which as always is: "we can't have nice things."

This is not to say that the rest of the pitching was poor, of course: that GT lineup only scored seven runs in the three games.  Brandon Waddell had a nervous-looking start on Friday but then settled down beautifully, and UVA lost 2-1.  Truthfully, I think third-base coach Kevin McMullen ran us right out of that one by sending Derek Fisher home from second on a single to left, whereupon he was cut down at the plate. 

My usual philosophy on sending runners is that coaches should be hyper-aggressive with two outs, and send all 50/50 or even 40/60 chances (because your chances of scoring if you hold the runner are essentially equal to the batting average of the next hitter) but exercise a great deal of caution with less than two outs.  Which was the case with Fisher.  Holding a runner on a grounder (which is what the single was) isn't even cautious, it's just smart: a grounder can and will be charged and the outfielder can come up firing.  It's different if the OF has to go side-to-side to get the ball, and if he's going glove side then you send him without hesitation, but a grounder straight at him is going to get you nailed.  With one out and runners at the corners you have a lot of tools in your toolbox to get that runner home, and Reed Gragnani (the next hitter) is a senior who can be counted on to know the value of a fly ball.  Since the score was 2-1 at that time and the rest of the game saw mostly quiet bats, it turned out to be one of the key plays in the loss.

On Sunday....well, GT basically tossed the dice and won, letting the rain finish up their 3-2 win.  Not a bad strategy when you know your bullpen is just about cashed.  Everyone knew going in that UVA had the deeper pen than GT, which I'm sure played no part whatsoever in the decision not to fit in a doubleheader on Saturday.  The point that UVA certainly had the chance not to let in three runs and the chance to score more than two is stipulated to.  That said, sometimes you lose a series and you're glad to have pulled one win out of it and you hope that team ends up in the opposite bracket of the ACC tournament.  This series left no reason to fear the Jackets should we see them again sometime.


-- UVA says goodbye today to Paul Jesperson, who made known his intent to transfer out.  Flash back to a couple weeks ago when I projected that Malcolm Brogdon's return to the rotation would almost certainly take a huge chunk out of Jesperson's minutes; a transfer is not all that surprising.  And Jesperson surely has a better idea than you or I about Brogdon's readiness.  We were set to have a full complement of 13 scholarship players next year, but being one short won't kill us until "we can't have nice things" starts to take hold.

The real scholarship logjam is next year's sophomore contingent, which runs seven deep and which Jesperson was not part of.  This is kind of a problem.  It's one that'll probably sort itself out in some fashion, since there's three seasons before they all graduate, but it's still worth keeping an eye on.  There are now three open spots for the year when that group will be seniors (2015-2016) which, if you fill them all up, means you only return six players the next year, plus your recruiting class.  As it would be unwise (not to mention awfully damn tough) to take a seven-man class and repeat the cycle, you see the issue.  I usually scoff at the idea of a mid-career redshirt for a non-injured, non-just-transferred player, because it's exceedingly rare in football and even more so in hoops, but you can see where such a thing would be useful if we could pull it off.  A transfer is the more likely result of that logjam.

At any rate, we do wish Jesperson the best.  Dude made some sacrifices and did everything the right way, and the silver lining for him is that the redshirt year he couldn't take will now come in handy.

-- Very interesting potential development today in the suggestion of an ACC Network that would be announced before next football season.  Whether that means it would actually start right up broadcasting ACC football in 2013, I'm not sure, and I rather doubt it because it takes a while to get it onto all of the potential carriers.  Presumably also they mean a real ACC Network patterned after the BTN and other copycats, and not just a Raycom-like entity calling itself the ACC Network only when it's broadcasting an ACC contest.

The potential benefit to the ACC covers a wide range of possibilities.  I doubt that the foreseeable future would see such a network turn into the money tree that the BTN has been.  For one thing, Big Ten schools are ginormous and have a much larger potential viewership base.  For another, this appears to be in concert with ESPN, which owns ACC broadcast rights from top to bottom.  The BTN is in concert with Fox instead, which means the B1G can play the two entities off against each other.  Having ESPN running the show simply means having the same entity stretching its own reach, and potentially monopolizing content.  How much money would actually flow into ACC coffers is anyone's guess.

However.  Consider Florida State and Clemson, which some people seem to think have half a foot in either the Big 12 or SEC.  The SEC is out of the question for now and the foreseeable future thanks to the blockading efforts of UF, UGA, and USCe, and the only network in the Big 12 is the Longhorn Network.  Which doesn't send a dime anywhere but Austin, Texas.  Say what you will but when one conference has a conference network and one has nothing but a special arrangement for the most arrogant school in the conference, the appeal of one vs. the other is plain to see.

Plus, as one of the posters in that thread points out, an ACC Network might not match the BTN but is likely to be considerably better than any SEC Network.  An SEC network would never get the premier football matchups, and the SEC, relative to the other power conferences, is a basketball wasteland.  And doesn't play lacrosse.  An SEC network could broadcast baseball and have some success there....but outside of that and Mississippi State/Kentucky football games, wouldn't have a lot of interesting programming.  The ACC network would have ten times the appeal in the winter season, and lacrosse in the spring.

I can't vouch one bit for the past veracity of the Syracuse message board poster that that links to, but the folks there seem to take what he says at face value and the Sabre poster who put it there (which is where I found it) swears the guy's legit.  It has very believable vibes, and I'm nothing if not a sucker for believable people telling me everything will be ok in re: the ACC.  It'll be interesting to see the reaction when (or, I suppose, if) it becomes official.


A recruiting board update is necessary.

-- Added DE J.J. Jackson to blue.  Not highly recruited at the moment but it seems the UVA coaches are dead serious.

-- Added S Kiy Hester to yellow.  Even within the various strata on the recruiting board there are layers of optimism (Connor Strachan, for example, is more of a bluish-green while Bentley Spain is more of a yellowish-green) and Hester is sort of a reddish-yellow.  Still, taking the time to visit Charlottesville is a notable indicator of interest.

-- Moved CB Christopher Murphy from yellow to red.  Getting too much interest to be higher until he does something like visit UVA.

-- Removed QB Caleb Henderson (UNC) and OT Sam Mustipher (ND) from red.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

lacrosse bracketology

Hey, look who I told you wouldn't be out of commission too long if they took care of business, and took care of business:

 Yup, it's the Orange.  A midweek win over Cornell lifted Syracuse into the bracket, and far enough up that they're actually assigned hosting duties.  Hopkins's win over Maryland probably helped as well.  Hopkins themselves, on the other hand - still scuffling.  The Hopkins article about the win over the Terps claims the win gave them "new life" but no, it didn't really.  I guess I wouldn't count them totally out, since they have Loyola in a couple weeks, but I don't see it happening in the end.

The #1 and #2 spots are very easy this week.  3 through 7, on the other hand, is a major jumble that needs some sorting out.  The ACC tourney should be useful in that regard, so I'm not too worried.  The surprise there is Penn State, whose resume looks a little dull outside of the win over Denver, but whose metrics are as good as any of the other four competitors.  I think what's helping them is that, other than Michigan, they haven't played anyone dreadful.  The rest of their wins are of at least middling quality, with Denver and some decent ones sprinkled in.

This week's edition brought bad news for Hopkins, but good news for Albany.  Which is that, this week anyway, they would rank at the tail end of the at-larges and would be strong enough to have one if a proper Big East team and not Villanova was earning that conference's autobid.  Their edge over Yale is small but clear.  For now - Yale obviously plays in a much stronger conference.  But whether Albany could earn an at-large is something worth watching.

The other instructive piece about this week's edition is that Loyola is strong enough to earn an at-large bid without an autobid (and should stay that way if they beat Hopkins later on) but that Bucknell is not.  Bucknell's next opponent - Colgate - is not strong enough to lift the Bison there, either.  Both Patriot contenders require the autobid.

Last week's games of note:

-- Syracuse 13, Cornell 12: This hurt some other Ivy League team more than it hurt Cornell.  Cornell is good enough not to have to worry about one loss to a contender, but it waters down the Ivy a bit, and if the Cuse had lost it might be Yale in the last at-large spot.

-- Lehigh 11, Bucknell 7: I guess we'll never know if Bucknell would've been at-large-worthy if they'd won.  What this game did is basically ensure the PL is a one-bid league.

-- Denver 13, Loyola 12: This one went to OT.  Interesting that losing didn't knock Loyola out of the bracket, but Denver is the kind of wicked-good RPI team that makes yours look better win or lose.

-- Johns Hopkins 7, Maryland 4: To be honest, I thought Hopkins would rise higher than they did with a win.

It's also worth noting that Princeton's drop out of the bracket is only partly due to Syracuse and partly due to the fact that they totally honked one at Dartmouth, the perennial worst team in the Ivy League.  Nice going.  That has potential to be seriously ruinous for the Tigers, as if it's not already, because unless Dartmouth also knocks off Penn next week, it'll only be one of Harvard and Princeton in the Ivy tournament.  And wouldn't you know, those two teams play next week.  A real chance Princeton just sunk their season.

Next week's important games:

-- Harvard at Princeton.  Winner likely goes to the Ivy tourney; loser likely does not.  Harvard is completely not a threat to get to the NCAAs, but that doesn't mean they can't take someone down with them.

-- Yale at Maryland.  Unlike the Hop, Yale is knocking on the door.  Maryland would be quite a pelt, and a win might essentially let the Elis replace Princeton (the one we saw last week, not the one we have this week) in the food chain.

-- Villanova at Notre Dame.  Now I'm not here to suggest it's real likely Nova could beat the Irish.  They probably won't.  What's more likely to happen here is that Villanova relinquishes its hold on the autobid, and we get to see what the at-large field looks like without a bid thief running around.

Friday, April 12, 2013

series preview: Georgia Tech

Date/Time: Fri/Sat/Sun, April 12-14; 7:00, 1:00, 1:00


Record against the Jackets: 44-66-2

Last meeting: GT 17, UVA 5; 5/25/12, Greensboro, NC (ACC tournament)

Last game: RU 9, UVA 8 (4/10); GT 7, UGA 5 (4/9)

Last weekend: UVA 3-0 over WF (7-6, 8-6, 9-7); Duke 2-1 over GT (0-2, 2-1, 0-3)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #5, GT #20
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #4, GT #18
NCBWA: UVA #5, GT #19
Perfect Game: UVA #5, GT #19
Coaches: UVA #5, GT #17
Consensus: UVA #5, GT #17

Georgia Tech lineup:

C: Zane Evans (.347-10-41)
1B: A.J. Murray (.288-3-25)
2B: Matt Gonzalez (.371-2-31)
SS: Mott Hyde (.250-0-16)
3B: Sam Dove (.290-2-20)
LF: Dylan Dore (.303-0-4)
CF: Kyle Wren (.387-2-19)
RF: Daniel Palka (.372-8-36)
DH: Brandon Thomas (.439-1-18)

Pitching probables:

Friday: LHP Brandon Waddell (2-0, 3.71, 52 K) vs. RHP Buck Farmer (6-1, 1.47, 64 K)
Saturday: LHP Scott Silverstein (5-0, 3.77, 33 K) vs. RHP Dusty Isaacs (4-2, 3.57, 40 K)
Sunday: RHP Nick Howard (4-2, 2.03, 38 K) vs. RHP Cole Pitts (4-3, 3.43, 26 K)

I promised sporadic updates and boy am I coming through.  I currently have no fewer than six major obligations coming due in the next two weeks for school, one of which is a 15-page, single-spaced paper, of which a little under four are complete thanks to today's efforts.  So we're getting somewhere.  I do crave your indulgence for a little bit here.

Anyway, kind of a big weekend coming up with a three-game series against Georgia Tech.  We have a tough opponent in the Jackets, and on the road too.  GT is three games back of UVA, but with a tougher schedule under their belt so far.  Major tournament positioning is at stake against a team that traditionally hits very well.

-- UVA at bat

Georgia Tech will send a parade of right-handed starters to the hill this weekend, which means we got Derek Fisher back just in time (he had two hits in the Radford game) as it never hurts to have extra left-handed pop in the lineup in such a circumstance.  Especially at Georgia Tech's ballpark, which is a launching pad.  A short right-field foul pole gives way to a very deep power alley in right-center, but left-center only measures 353 feet.

Friday, UVA will face Buck Farmer, a big guy with a good, powerful fastball.  Farmer's been pitching ace-quality stuff this year, and is allowing only a .195 BA against.  Saturday hurler Dusty Isaacs is a junior who's rebounded well from a poor showing last season when his ERA was north of 6.  Much better this year, although he's already plunked seven batters.  Cole Pitts, on Sunday, is more of a contact pitcher who throws a cut fastball and makes use of the fielders behind him rather than trying to overpower hitters.

As with the last time I did a baseball preview (Miami) we face an opponent with a short bullpen.  The top reliever is lefty Jonathan King, with a 4.13 ERA, and they have one more southpaw in Sam Clay.  Occasionally GT will have catcher Zane Evans head to the mound to finish off a game; Evans actually leads the Jackets in saves with three.  Righty Jonathan Roberts is another main option.  Make no mistake, though: the quality of pitching drops considerably when the starters leave the game.  UVA's lineup has been the kind to attack when they smell blood, and big games and innings tend to only get bigger.  A guy like Farmer could give them trouble, so I wouldn't be surprised to see UVA shut down in one game and then explode the next.

-- GT at bat

The potent GT lineup got a major boost this week when Brandon Thomas returned after missing nine games with mono.  Duke is a better team than usual this year, but GT still has no business getting shut out twice and scoring two runs in three games against the Blue Devils; that miserable showing illustrates better than anything else how much they might've missed Thomas.  Hitting .439 is a great way to set the table for the powerful bats behind him.

Which they have plenty of.  The prototypical GT batter is a mashing galoot.  Catcher Zane Evans and right fielder Daniel Palka are each slugging over .600, and have 10 and 8 home runs this year, respectively.  Not bad when the season's only half over.  Both are miles over the .300 mark as well.  Matt Gonzalez and Kyle Wren are .370+ hitters in their own right, and I have to imagine all these numbers were even scarier before the Duke series.  Those two are liable to take off running as well, especially Wren, who attempts a steal roughly one out of every three times he gets on base. 

The only platoon is in left field, where Dylan Dore and Daniel Spingola split time.  Since UVA throws two left-handers, we'll probably see Dore twice and Spingola once.  Both are solid if unspectacular hitters; of course, if either were awe-inspiring, there'd be no platoon.  But the only weak point in the lineup, if you can call it that, is shortstop Mott Hyde.  Hyde is only hitting .250, but he did hit seven homers last year, too, so the truth is that he's underachieving this year rather than that he's simply a light-hitting shortstop.

I worry a little, because the pitching hasn't been exactly dominant in recent weeks.  GT is always a test of your arms and they make you pay for mistakes.  If they get through this lineup relatively unscathed, it would provide a lot of confidence for the upcoming tough stretch.

-- Outlook

Awfully hard to expect a sweep either way.  These are two of the ACC six ranked teams.  UVA did make one of them (NC State) look a little foolish, but the Jackets are a better team than the Pack.  Coming out of Atlanta with a 2-1 series win would really be an outstanding thing, and it'd help put some distance between the top two in the division and the next four.  But we shouldn't be terribly disappointed if one win is all we can scrape.  Expect a high-scoring series either way.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

weekend review

Apologies for there being nothing to read yesterday.  The next two weeks might be a little bit sporadic and spotty as it's more or less crunch time on the road to the old MBA.  In fact at the moment I'm procrastinating on about 20 pages' worth of papers to do this instead.  So it'll be a tad short as well.

Plus, if you're reasonably familiar with stuff I've mentioned in the past, you can probably put two and two together and come up with another reason I wrote nothing yesterday.

Reason #2 why this will be short: nothing happened in the lacrosse game that hasn't happened in the past.  I've got lots of material for an end-of-year post, which will be much sooner than we're accustomed to, that may shed some light on why the wheels came off so badly.  I don't know whether it's a psychological bias on my part or what, but it seems like most of the time, winning generates a lot more analyzable results than losing.  Despite the joke that a really bad team can always find new ways to lose, usually what happens is that the team can't do X, Y, or Z, and as long as they can't, they lose.

By contrast, the baseball team has been finding all sorts of interesting ways to win, including three more this weekend.  All involved the long ball and high-scoring games in some fashion, which itself is kind of a new thing for a program that has tended toward station-to-station offense and shutdown pitching to rack up its victories.  Only about halfway through the season, UVA is only six homers shy of the 25 that they've accrued in each of the past two seasons.  (The year before that, 2010, was the final year for the ping-bats, so the comparisons cease to be valid.)  And this latest series was on the road at Wake Forest, so for this weekend at least, the closer fences at Davenport aren't a factor.

It's usually worthy of a headline when a major leaguer homers twice in a game, and it's awfully rare for a UVA player to do it.  Maybe it happens once or twice a season, if that.  So I call it astonishing that Joe McCarthy did exactly that and it was only the third-most interesting home run story of the weekend.  Reed Gragnani's first UVA career home run is an even bigger deal, if you ask me, and it's still only second.  It's Mike Papi taking home the weekend crown with a two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning grand slam to turn a three-run deficit into a one-run lead.  Exactly like you draw it up in your head when you're ten years old.  Put that game on a bigger stage than just a regular-season series against a low-level conference team and it would rival the RALLY TO OMAHA for drama.

This is UVA and we can't have nice things and when we do we can't enjoy them, so we have to talk a bit about the pitching, which I think is in range of reason to worry.  Of the starting pitchers, only Nick Howard had a good outing.  Brandon Waddell gave up six runs and Brian O'Connor had to use up Whit Mayberry in the first game.  Scott Silverstein and Josh Sborz combined for four innings of horror before the bullpen settled it down long enough for Gragnani's eighth-inning tiebreaker.  With Artie Lewicki still a little ways away from returning and a long ways away from being ready to start (think 2014) and Mayberry probably still not yet ready for six innings either, and Trey Oest coming up shaky against VMI during the week, options are very limited if the rotation collapses.  Sborz is still learning his way around a lineup and Nathan Kirby is not happening right now.

So let's just hope there is no collapse.  It's basically sink or swim with what we got.  The solution, if it comes to needing a solution, is probably to keep the starters the way they are and lean on the pen for some long-run innings, and then have the bats do what they have to do.  BOC may be loath to bring Austin Young, Kyle Crockett, or Mayberry forward to take the ball as a starter, but all three are worth three or four good innings a series.  It's not crazy to prefer those be the 6th, 7th, and 8th, instead of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.


Events of the day necessitate a recruiting board update.

-- Moved K Gary Wunderlich from blue to orange.  That would be the event of the day.  Is it a little crazy using a scholarship on a kicker in one of our most limited years yet?  Not when he might be the best rising senior kicker in the country and multiple family members hold UVA degrees.  That he earned three stars on Rivals says something, because kickers don't usually get stars.

-- Moved ATHs M.J. Stewart and Travon McMillian from yellow to green.  I think UVA has a deal of work to do if they want to reel in either of these guys, but they're at least seriously in the conversation.

-- Removed TE Chris Laye (Auburn) and CB D'Andre Payne (Tennessee) from yellow.

-- Added RB Joe Mixon to red.  Would I bet any money on UVA pulling Mixon away from the other coast?  No.  Especially with like 40 other schools trying to do the same.  But there is at least a flicker, and Mixon is talking about waiting all year, which means if the coaches work hard on it they can give themselves a little staying power.

Yes, it remains a much smaller board than it was at this time last year.  Probably had ten more names on it back then.  I don't exactly expect to see a flood of new offers, either.  Slow and steady is the key here, which is why these updates have only been once every two weeks.  The coaches are probably doing almost as much work on the 2015 class as the 2014 one.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

lacrosse bracketology

Presenting this week's effort.  I thought things fell into place reasonably nicely this week, which generally means they'll go haywire again next time.

This week, Notre Dame is a mostly clearcut #1, and Denver a mostly clearcut #2.  ND's win over Denver, of course, is an obvious clincher, but they're close to very close in all metrics but one: average RPI of losses.  The Irish have taken a hit in that respect with Hofstra's collapse and St. John's upset loss to Georgetown.  What does it mean, really?  That in trying to keep the #1 seed, ND's margin for error will be slim.

After that, you have a 3-4-5 of Maryland, Penn, and Duke, made much easier by the head-to-head results.  UNC nudges out Penn State and Cornell for 6th, and PSU and Cornell fortunately have a common opponent: Bucknell.  Which beat Cornell and lost to PSU, making another decision fairly easy.  With one fewer bid thief in the bracket (Drexel), the effects of PSU's win over Bucknell is starting to show through.

Bucknell is an interesting case, by the way.  With strong wins over Cornell, Albany, and Drexel, they should have a strong case for an at-large bid should they stumble in the PL tourney.  But when the committee looks at their numbers, their SOS is badly watered-down because the rest of their wins are all against terrible teams.  That could spell trouble.  (As could a bad loss to Mount St. Mary's.)  Fortunately for them, they haven't played the good teams in the PL yet.  Right now I have them a fair distance outside an at-large bid, but wins the next two weeks could move them up the ladder quickly.

There's a pretty bright line, for now, between Ohio State, the last team in, and Syracuse, the first out.  With a game against Cornell looming this week, Syracuse could close the gap in a hurry.  For now, bringing in OSU and Princeton and leaving the Cuse out is the obvious decision.

The other thing that should help Syracuse: Villanova's eventual fall from grace.  Of course, Nova's win over Syracuse is why they and not Cuse have the autobid right now in the first place.  You have to figure that the Big East will really come down to Notre Dame and Syracuse, and even if ND wins it that'll open a place for Cuse's at-large hopes.

This is a good time as well to take a look at the autobid status of each conference, since we're (very) roughly midway through conference play.

America East: It doesn't look as though there'll be much resistance to Albany's autobid.  The downside for the Danes is that they sit a ways outside at-large status right now and probably don't have the schedule to muster a case should they falter in the A-East tourney.  One-bid league, with that bid very likely to go to Albany.

Big East: Looks like a five-team race for four conference tourney spots, with a sixth team - Providence - having a chance or two to play spoiler.  Two spots will probably go to Notre Dame and Syracuse, leaving St. John's, Georgetown, and Villanova to fight over the final two.  The Johnnies had a disastrous loss to Georgetown this week, but also have a good chance to finish strong at 4-2.  A probable two-bid league (Cuse and ND) with one being a possibility and three not being totally out of the question.

CAA: One of the really interesting races of the year that could have a ripple effect on the rest of the field.  The top four is all but decided: barring a cataclysmic upset somewhere, it'll be Towson, Penn State, Drexel, and Hofstra in some order.  Any could win the CAA tourney - Towson to a lesser degree, but it wouldn't be a total shocker.  If it's anyone but Penn State, though, they will shove someone out of the field, because only PSU has the chops for an at-large.  Penn State has to keep on working hard as well, to make sure they themselves are not the bid thief's victim.  One-bid league if it's Penn State, likely two if the champion is anyone else.

ECAC: Loyola has clinched a tourney spot, and Denver hasn't officially but they might as well have, as they're 4-0 without the benefit of having played woeful Michigan.  Fairfield, Ohio State, and Bellarmine are the main contenders for the final spot, with Bellarmine having a little bit of an inside track.  Only Denver, however, is safely in the NCAA field, with OSU and Loyola working on good cases for at-large inclusion.  If any of those three win the ECAC tournament, which is most likely, it won't upset the national picture much.  If Bellarmine's stingy defense carries them to an autobid (and they can't get in without one) they'll probably just replace one of their conference mates, although it would also make Syracuse rather nervous.  One safe bid with two more pending.

Ivy: I have three of their teams currently in the field, but truth is, none of them should feel 100% comfortable.  Not even Penn.  It looks like a three-team race for the conference title, but Yale could sneak in, too.  The good news for the Ivies is that it's the ECAC teams and Syracuse who are most at risk of losing a spot to a surprise autobid; a Yale win in the Ivy tourney could well mean four Ivy teams in the field.  Likely three bids, however.

MAAC: Jax and Marist have separated from the pack, with their impending game this week being the decider of who at least gets to occupy the autobid spot in bracketology.  Conference tourney will probably include Siena and Detroit as well.  Even if Jacksonville doesn't win it this year, they have a big leg up on their future Atlantic Sun conference-mates, two of which don't exist yet.  Obvious one-bid league.

NEC: This isn't last year where we were saying "man, a couple teams could really compete if they just had an autobid, which they don't."  Now they have an autobid and nobody that can compete.  The two undefeated teams in conference play are 3-8 and 2-8 overall, which says all that needs to be said.  One-bid league whose champion is cruising for a trip to the #1 seed and a quick 15-3 exit.

Patriot: Bucknell appears to be the obvious class of the league, but hasn't played either Lehigh or Colgate.  Even though two tourney spots are clinched (Bucknell and Lehigh) and the autobid will probably come down to them, the intrigue is really yet to come.  We need to find out if Bucknell can earn an at-large if they need it.  One-bid league with a chance of two, if Bucknell can earn and then sustain at-large qualifications and then loses in the championship game.

Last week's games of note:

-- Penn State 13, Drexel 6: Drexel as usual is one of those teams that's good enough to give you a nice boost for beating them and not quite there in making the tournament themselves.  Penn State is the latest beneficiary.

-- North Carolina 10, Virginia 7: Pop.

-- Syracuse 13, Princeton 12: Cuse would probably be in a world of hurt if they hadn't gotten this one.  Really, their first marquee win of the year.  They need more, but this is a good foundation.

And next week's:

-- Cornell at Syracuse: Syracuse still has work to do, and if they win it'll muddy up the waters on the bubble a little bit,

-- Lehigh at Bucknell: Patriot League showdown.  Lehigh is pretty low on the pecking order but, like Drexel, would give Bucknell a solid boost if they won.  The PL itself won't be settled til the tourney.

-- Denver at Loyola: Loyola didn't start out as a major contender but has been clawing its way up the ladder - but are still hanging by a thread if they don't win the autobid.  Obviously this would be a marquee win if they could get it.

-- Johns Hopkins at Maryland: Interesting things could happen if Hopkins pulls off the upset.  I don't think they're close enough to make a big enough dent with just one win, but they still have Loyola, too.