Thursday, May 29, 2014

charlottesville regional preview

So approaches one of the best weekends of the year.  It's hard to top Thanksgiving weekend, and the first two rounds of the basketball tournament make a strong case too, but this one has a few huge advantages over the basketball one:

-- Better weather
-- More games
-- UVA always gets to host

I guess not always, but this is, what, like, the fifth year in a row?  It's cool if you lost count.  The last time UVA didn't was 2009, which itself was considered a down year or would have been if it didn't put figurative banners on the outfield fences.

UVA drew a revenge tour of sorts, with Arkansas coming to Charlottesville as a regional 2 seed and South Carolina in the opposite regional.  The Arkansas loss was a while ago - yup, 2009 - and it still stirred the pot on the Sabre boards when some asshole of a Tigers fan pointed out that Drew Smyly was pitching for the Tigers opposite Sean Doolittle, in last years ALDS.  (Who on earth would do that, I wonder.)  And if South Carolina doesn't make it out of their region, the two seed is Maryland.

Here's what the Hoos face at Davenport this fine season:

Arkansas Razorbacks

Conference: SEC
Record: 38-23 (16-14)
RPI: 33


C: Alex Gosser (.273-0-2)
1B: Eric Fisher (.265-9-43)
2B: Brian Anderson (.311-6-49)
3B: Bobby Wernes (.225-0-17)
SS: Michael Bernal (.251-2-18)
LF: Joe Serrano (.299-0-21)
CF: Andrew Benintendi (.282-1-26)
RF: Tyler Spoon (.258-3-36)
DH: Clark Eagan (.311-2-11)

Lineup notes:

-- DH Eagan, a lefty hitter, platoons with the right-handed Krisjon Wilkerson (.255-1-11.)

-- Gosser is a very-late-season replacement for Arkansas's top two catchers, Jake Wise and Blake Baxendale.  Wise is the regular catcher but suffered a concussion a few weeks ago, and Baxendale hurt his hamstring.  Gosser was supposed to be redshirting this year but was forced into action just before the SEC tournament.  It's possible Wise gets back into the game this weekend; he's an utterly horrendous hitter but also a senior at a position where Arkansas otherwise has only freshmen.

Starting rotation:

RHP Chris Oliver (8-4, 2.45, 55 Ks)
RHP Trey Killian (4-8, 2.18, 61 Ks)
LHP Colin Poche (3-1, 3.00, 28 Ks)
RHP Alex Phillips (3-0, 3.52, 17Ks)


LHP Michael Gunn (4-2, 0.84, 31 Ks, 7 saves)
RHP Jacob Stone (4-0, 0.99, 29 Ks)
RHP Zach Jackson (2-2, 1.80, 39 Ks)
LHP Jalen Beeks (5-4, 2.11, 59 Ks)
RHP Jackson Lowery (1-1, 4.55, 30 Ks)
RHP Dominic Taccolini (2-0, 5.81, 16 Ks)

No doubt about it: Arkansas is a team a lot like ours.  Great pitching, good solid fielding, questionable bats.  More questionable than our own, actually, accounting for their middling record in-conference and their ace's poor win total.  Not many bats that you worry about hurting you.

The top name in that regard is 2B Brian Anderson, who brings a very good combination of skills to the plate that has the big leagues reasonably interested.  He can hit for power and average and has decent speed as well.  1B Eric Fisher is more of a boom or bust hitter, with more strikeouts than Anderson and a middling average, but nearly as many total bases.  Other names of some note: CF Andrew Benintendi has 15 SBs in 19 attempts and possesses six more walks than strikeouts (24 to 18); RF Tyler Spoon is only batting .258 but has some pop when he connects, and hasn't made an error all season.

It's the Razorback pitching staff that will carry them, though.  Arkansas will use Saturday pitcher Chris Oliver against Liberty, so, if they're UVA's Saturday opponent, the Hoos will almost certainly face sophomore ace Trey Killian.  Killian isn't an overpowering strikeout pitcher, but he does get his share; he has excellent control and pitches deep into games, averaging 7 innings a start and turning in four CGs this year.

Arkansas also has a very deep bullpen; their top three options (Gunn, Stone, and Jackson) have opponent BAs of .177 or less.  They may add former starter Jalen Beeks there; Beeks held down Sundays for the Razorbacks this year but ran into elbow troubles, scratching him from the rotation and shutting him down the past three weeks.  If he returns it's expected to be in the pen, thinning out the rotation slightly should Arkansas require four or five games.  Colin Poche and Alex Phillips have mainly been weekday starters until Beeks's injury.  Arkansas also tried Dominic Taccolini as a starter near the end of the season, but he got knocked around some.

If UVA plays Arkansas on Saturday, expect a low-scoring affair, obviously.  It's the kind of game that's the reason why Brian O'Connor wants his team to be able to bunt.  Nathan Kirby will pitch for UVA on Saturday, most likely, and Kirby vs. Killian would be a heck of a matchup.

Liberty Flames

Conference: Big South
Record: 41-16 (23-3)
RPI: 30


C: Danny Grauer (.262-7-40)
1B: Alex Close (.324-8-45)
2B: Ryan Seiz (.362-12-42)
3B: Dylan Allen (.258-0-15)
SS: Dalton Britt (.300-0-34)
LF: Nick Lacik (.234-0-20)
CF: Ashton Perritt (.273-2-23)
RF: Will Shepherd (.281-1-23)
DH: Becker Sankey (.222-2-26)

Lineup notes:

-- It's a pretty consistent lineup, the only interloper being OF Andrew Yacyk (.250-4-18) who, when he starts, is generally in left field but can also play right field and first base.

Starting rotation:

RHP Trey Lambert (11-2, 2.10, 66 Ks)
RHP Parker Bean (7-2, 2.71, 77 Ks)
LHP Blake Fulghum (4-3, 3.16, 40 Ks)
LHP Jared Lyons (2-4, 3.29, 55 Ks)


RHP Ashton Perritt (1-2, 1.58, 22 Ks, 12 saves)
LHP Shawn Clowers (9-0, 0.89, 46 Ks)
RHP Matt Marsh (2-0, 0.54, 41 Ks)

Any hope Liberty had of hosting a regional disappeared for good when they couldn't make it through the conference tournament, and the Big South became a two-bid league but Liberty likely dropped at least one regional seed.  This team is still a tough out, though, and ought to provide a good test for Arkansas in the Friday evening game.

You always have to account for mid-major quality of play when looking at mid-major statistics, but it's a little amazing Louisville couldn't find a place for Ryan Seiz, who transferred to Liberty after not being able to get on the field much in two seasons for the Cardinals.  (Then again, Louisville is also hosting a regional, so it's not like they have an unfillable hole in their lineup.)  Seiz is a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy (baseball's Heisman) because he's a fearsome hitter, slugging .612 on the season with 12 homers and 16 doubles.

Liberty also has plenty of power residing in Alex Close (8 HRs) and Danny Grauer (7 HRs.)  Close and Seiz form the heart of the lineup.  Based on the competition level it's probably a safe bet that lesser-hitting players such as Becker Sankey really aren't much of a threat, or that Andrew Yacyk's tendency to swing at every damn pitch will carry over (2 walks, 25 Ks) but overall this still might be a better lineup than Arkansas's; they'll have probably the best two hitters on the field.

The Flames also have a pretty solid pitching staff.  Trey Lambert has been tabbed the starter against Arkansas, meaning UVA would probably face the freshman, Parker Bean.  Bean has pitched well; he doesn't go nearly as deep into the game as Lambert, but misses quite a few more bats.  Should UVA meet Liberty later on, the pitcher may be senior lefty Blake Fulghum, who's made it through with decent numbers despite being pretty hittable.  The bullpen has some excellent players but is short on depth.  Closer Ashton Perritt (who doubles as the Flames' regular center fielder), plus lefty Shawn Clowers and righty long reliever Matt Marsh, have combined to allow 12 ER in over 113 innings of work.  Beyond that, nobody's tossed more than 12 innings this season.

Some might complain that Liberty is too good of a regional 3 seed for the national 3 seed to have in their bracket, but partly this is due to geography (quite a bit, really) and then also, the better 1 seeds are supposed to have good 3 seeds if you follow the S-curve.  Liberty would be a tough out in the second game, but then, Arkansas will find them a tough out first.  It's interesting that this is the second year in a row where the 3 seed has brought a big mashing infielder to Charlottesville (Elon had Ryan Kinsella last year, he of the 20-homer season) and this Liberty-Arkansas game is precisely the advantage handed to the 1 seed.  Someone gotta lose, and if all goes well those two will get nice and familiar with each other.  

Bucknell Bison
Conference: Patriot League
Record: 30-19 (15-5)
RPI: 111


C: Justin Meier (.158-0-10)
1B: Rob Krentzman (.250-1-20)
2B: Joe Ogren (.324-0-28)
3B: Sam Clark (.223-0-15)
SS: Greg Wasikowski (.196-0-6)
LF: Danny Rafferty (.256-0-9)
CF: Brett Smith (.303-0-15)
RF: Anthony Gingerelli (.312-5-27)
DH: Jon Mayer (.229-2-23)

Lineup notes:

-- Those numbers above ought to convey how much Bucknell misses outfielder Corey Furman; he was hitting .388 before an injury ended his season, and he still leads the team in triples with five.

-- There's a lot of interchangeability there; Ogren could play the outfield as well as 2B, in which case Alex O'Neill (.217-0-9) would play second.  Either Mayer or Meier will catch.  Bucknell's other options at DH aren't any better, though.

Starting rotation:

RHP Bryson Hough (8-3, 4.37, 43 Ks)
LHP Dan Weigel (7-5, 2.94, 46 Ks)
RHP Andrew Andreychik (5-4, 3.56, 46 Ks)


RHP Tucker Rekucki (0-1, 3.60, 18 Ks, 6 saves)
LHP Xavier Hammond (3-5, 3.34, 44 Ks)
RHP Max Kra (3-0, 3.19, 16 Ks)
LHP Mike Castellani (3-0, 1.61, 19 Ks)
RHP Tom Hrabchak (1-0, 1.57, 11 Ks)

I should've realized this game was coming; the last time the Patriot League champ wasn't UVA's Friday opponent in Charlottesville was 2010.  In fact, of all the regionals played in Charlottesville in the BOC era (which is also all the regionals UVA's ever hosted) only 2004 and 2010 brought in someone other than the PL champ as the 4 seed.  Bucknell is a relatively familiar opponent, too; UVA's hosted them for weekend series occasionally in the recent past, including 2009 and 2013.

They might also be the weakest PL champ we've faced in recent memory.  Army last year had Chris Rowley to throw at us, who was able to keep the game close.  Bucknell has no such ace pitcher.  UVA is expected to face the righty, Bryson Hough.  They also have an anemic lineup.  There are three .300 hitters in it, which is more than Arkansas can say, but, Patriot League pitching.  And (leaving out Corey Furman) the gap between the third-best hitter (Brett Smith, .303) and the fourth-best (Danny Rafferty, .256) is huge.

UVA will send Artie Lewicki to the mound against Bucknell; Lewicki, since coming back from arm trouble, has breezed past weekday opponents and recorded a 1.99 ERA.  This is the same level of competition, if not worse.  I suspect BOC sees this as sending his third-best pitcher out, which is a terrific luxury; even teams that subscribe to the second-day-ace theory (which is many of them) usually put their Saturday guy on the hill to start things off.  We're casually tossing our weekday guy.


In the big picture, Bucknell is an extremely winnable game, but, it's also absolutely necessary to win, because you don't want to get into a loser's bracket with Arkansas or Liberty, both of whom represent a slightly higher degree of difficulty than the national three seed ought to have earned.  I don't expect much trouble on Friday though.  If UVA is going to lose this regional, it'll happen by losing on Saturday and then failing to claw back.  If (presumably) Kirby gets enough run support on Saturday, though, Brandon Waddell is better than anyone the other three teams can toss out there against us on Sunday.  I don't have a preference between the 2 and 3 seeds, and therefore no Friday evening rooting interest except for the obvious 50-inning game that finishes up with a 24-23 win for someone.  I just hope against hope, as does everyone, that the bats pick this weekend to break out of hibernation.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

weekend review

Let's play a little game.  A little Team A / Team B thing - you know how that goes.  These are baseball teams.

Team A is 43-12, with a 16-11 record in ACC play.  They are ACC tournament champions as a 6 seed.  They had two OOC series, a sweep of Bucknell and then of Fordham/Delaware.  (2 games against the latter, one against the former.)  They also had the usual slate of midweek games ranging from a minimal challenge to straight-up cupcakes.  They have an RPI somewhere in the 16-20 range - it is unfindable at this point but that is a decent guess.

Team B is 36-21, with a 15-14 record in ACC play.  They are ACC tournament runners-up as a 6 seed.  They had three OOC series - a 1-2 loss to Florida and sweeps of Bryant and UMass.  They too had the usual slate of midweek games yada yada.  They have an RPI of 25.

The reason Tim Weiser's name is still mud in UVA baseball circles is because both ended up as regional 2 seeds, but Team A got sent 3,000 miles away to play the #6 seed (and, incidentally, this guy) and Team B got sent about 400 miles to play an unseeded regional host.  It's not entirely fair to the committee to compare teams five years apart, but astute fans with good memories will by now have figured out that Team B is this year's Maryland Terrapins and Team A is the 2009 Hoos.

I don't know that there's much point to all that, except maybe just to segue into the fact that I still hate the ACC tourney format.  If you don't want to get eliminated, fine, don't lose games, there's certainly that point to be made - even so, getting eliminated after losing just one game and not even getting to play the other two, it's just silly is what it is.  Naturally, my interest plummeted when Maryland knocked off FSU on Friday, before UVA's game with UNC, and made anything we did completely moot.  I guess we ended up beating UNC and losing to FSU, for all the good it did anyone.  What is the point of having a regular season?  The ninth seed won the tournament, and did so by beating the sixth seed.  Next year let's just have the tournament in March, invite all 14 teams, crown a winner, and play the rest of the year for NCAA positioning.  Of all the championships the ACC sponsors, baseball is easily the least legitimate.  I want to win it because I want to win ACC championships, but it's not hard to see why many baseball fans consider it a mere freak show, a diversion on the way to what really matters.


-- On the other hand, the ACC gets it right with lacrosse.  Remember how I posited that the autobid did the ACC a lot of good, guaranteeing a sixth team in the NCAA tourney when it was possible that that team might not have gone?  Now you have that same team as NCAA runners-up.  The ACC came in for some ridicule when it had no autobid but held a tourney anyway, which accomplished little but boosting the RPIs of every participant.  Now there's an autobid and it actually matters, too.

(Side note: I'm also aware that Georgia Tech was never getting an at-large bid to the baseball tourney, and therefore in some respects the baseball tourney worked just like it was supposed to.  However, nobody would look at the powerhouse that is ACC lacrosse and say the tourney winner is undeserving of a championship.  On the other hand, the ACC just declared its 9th-best team the champion in baseball.)

-- This weekend produced one lock for FOV Cavalier of the Year nominee (the award process begins shortly!) when Danielle Collins won an individual national title, the first time a ladies' tennis player advanced past the round of 16 in the individual tournament let alone scooped up a trophy.  Brilliant work.

-- I would say the school just announced the extensions and raises handed out to the assistants on the basketball staff, but that's not quite true.  Ritchie McKay, Ron Sanchez, and Jason Williford - all utterly invaluable components of UVA's success lately - all got decent raises and extensions, which is something people had been wondering about.  The interesting part to me isn't the raises themselves, though - it's the fact that the Daily Progress had to FOIA the info out of the department.  McKay's contract ran out in April, so it's a safe bet this whole deal was wrapped up six weeks ago.  It's a small lesson to fans doing a lot of bilateral arm flapping over the lack of announced extension so far for Tony Bennett.  Smart money says it's already done and they're just not bothering to scream it to the heavens.

-- I have an unusually busy schedule the next couple of weeks, so posting will be necessarily light.  There isn't much going on except the baseball tournament anyway.  Of course there will be a preview of the Charlottesville regional** and various other attempts at cogent wordsmithing, but this weekend and next are kind of spilling into the regular week, so it won't be til after that stretch that proper full-time posting returns.

**It's a revenge tour!  Arkansas (sent us home from Omaha in 2009) is in our regional and South Carolina (same, 2011) is the opposite regional 1 seed.  Oklahoma, however, is nowhere to be found; in potentially related news, their coach is former VT coach Pete Hughes.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

the transfer: Darius Thompson

Name: Darius Thompson
Position: PG
Hometown: Murfreesboro, TN
School: Blackman HS / Tennessee
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 181

I would say at this point it's a good idea to dispense with the notion that Tony Bennett cares very much about roster management, in the sense of trying to even out the classes.  Tony will just plug every spot he can and worry about stuff later.  It makes sense; there are so many variables for the future that, why worry about them now when instead you can act on what you can control?

It's in this vein that Tony went all-out in filling the last available scholarship slot, as vacated by Teven Jones, rather than save it for the 2015 class.  Something about birds in the hand.  After App State transfer Devonte Graham headed to Kansas, Tony focused on Ukrainian import Sviatoslav Mikhailyuk and Tennessee transfer Darius Thompson.  Thompson jumped first; Mikhailyuk, shortly thereafter, went to Kansas as well.

That fact may well doom Thompson to a career of being compared to Mikhailyuk, considered a future NBA talent in the making.  Mikhailyuk is just 16 going on 17, and because of his age will have to wait two more years before being draft-eligible, maybe three if the NBA succeeds in boosting the minimum age from 19 to 20.  Thompson, for his part, has played just one year at Tennessee, and so, like Anthony Gill, will sit one year and then have three seasons of eligibility.

Other than the guys on the extreme ends, like London Perrantes and Mike Tobey, I've found it more useful to think of Tony's players not as 1s, 2s, 3s, and so on, but 1.5s, 2.5s, 3.5s, and so on.  Some debate exists as to whether Thompson is a 1 or a 2; he's theoretically too big for a one but theoretically doesn't shoot well enough for the two.  Like so many others, he's a bit of a tweener, occupying the same combo-ish spot that Malcolm Brogdon does.  Thompson does lean more toward the one side of the spectrum than Brogdon.

A little background: Thompson was a late-blooming member of the class of 2013, who snuck into the very back end of the Rivals 150 by the end of the season.  He earned a handful of major offers, largely from teams at the bottom of major conferences - think Auburn, Purdue, Texas A&M. Originally committed to Vanderbilt, he changed his mind a month later and chose Tennessee after another month or so of recruiting.  UVA was sniffing around at the time but either was too late, didn't offer, or both.  Many of the same teams were after him when he decided to leave UT in the wake of Cuonzo Martin's departure; Purdue, for one.

Thompson was one of six players to play in every one of Tennessee's games this past season, mostly as the backup point guard.  Even in playing just under 17 minutes a game - sixth-most on the team - he led the team in steals and was second by just a shade in assists.  His turnover rate was very high but his assist rate was outstanding, especially for a freshman.  It also just so happens that he had the second-highest two-point shooting percentage on the team.  Mainly this is a function of getting to the rim; he didn't shoot many two-point jumpers.  Handily enough, he was also a respectable free-throw shooter at 74.2%.  The black mark on his game: a pitiful 3-point percentage of .195.  Nobody shoots that badly in high school and gets offers from major programs, so the ability to do better is probably there, and a strength of Tony Bennett is balancing shot discipline with the keep-firing mentality that shooters need.

It's those steals that probably intrigued Tony the most, though.  Or really, his defense overall.  He was top 50 in the country in KenPom's steal %age stat, and is reported to have a tremendous wingspan for his size.  He's tall and really, really gangly, but moves well and has potential to be a truly elite on-ball defender, as well as a great denier of passing lanes to the interior.

Thompson will have to sit a year, as mentioned, but barring transfers, that year won't do anything to open up any room in the backcourt.  Only Darion Atkins graduates, and Thompson will start his sophomore year in 2015 with some pretty established players.  Perrantes will be a junior and Brogdon a senior, with Devon Hall and B.J. Stith having a full season to establish their spot on the pecking order.  All but Brogdon will still be around the following year, too.  Playing time for Thompson, then, will be more a function of the result of competition than of waiting out a few graduations.  Working in his favor is that he's more of a point guard than anyone on the roster except Perrantes, and perhaps Hall - though we truly know very, very little about the latter.  That made him much more of a positional need than Mikhailyuk, who would've been in competition with Justin Anderson, Marial Shayok, and to some extent Brogdon and even Evan Nolte and perhaps B.J. Stith for his playing time.  If Thompson's reputation as a defender is true to form, it's very hard to envision him not making it onto the court.  He should be able to carve out a much larger role than, say, Teven Jones ever could; leapfrogging Perrantes would be a much taller task, but Tony's mix-and-match strategy with his ballhandlers will boost his minutes as well.  I wouldn't expect Thompson to ever be among the team's most prolific scorers, but he was a key member of a very talented eventual Sweet 16 team - and is likely to be so again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

this is not really a post

I've been quite busy the past couple days.  So many apologies, but you may have a Darius Thompson post on Thursday night.  I'm not, um, sober enough to write a good one right now.  (I tend to talk about Molson as being some pretty nasty swuzz, and it is, but my actions belie my words sometimes.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

weekend review

Just bullets this week.  I didn't bother springing for a weekend's worth of Wake Forest's version of Cavaliers Live so I saw no baseball.  I'm not even sure if I'll spring for Cavaliers Live itself next year - the production was so utterly amateurish this year that paying $6.95 a month feels like a huge rip-off.  Why pay money to people who can't even be bothered to fix a camera that shakes unstoppably?  But I digress.

-- Baseball just missed the chance to go through the whole season never losing a series, dropping the rubber game against Wake Forest.  Bummer.  And it knocked the Hoos off their #1 ranking perch.  That cements us as the 3 seed in the ACC tournament - and for the record, no 3 seed has ever made the championship game since round-robin pool play began.  (Yes, it's still pool-play instead of the double-elimination they trumpeted - I guess they were too embarrassed to put out a release about the backtrack.)  UVA plays Maryland, UNC or NC State, and then Florida State.  No, there is no Virginia Tech.  Just puttin' that out there.

-- The ACC announced its all-conference teams, and the list of Hoos is extremely long.  Nate Kirby is co-pitcher of the year, and joining him on the first team are Brandon Cogswell, Nick Howard, Joe McCarthy, and Mike Papi.  Nate Irvin, Brandon Waddell, and Daniel Pinero are third team.  But the most interesting of all, I think, is Brian O'Connor's stranglehold on Coach of the Year.  Four times now in the last five seasons.  Impressive.

-- Tack on another ACC championship for the rowing team, their fifth in a row.  Swept all four races.  They aren't the favorite for the national title, but hey, you never know, and regardless they'll score a pile of Director's Cup points.

-- Speaking of NCAA titles, two of three UVA teams survived the weekend.  Women's tennis bowed out in the quarterfinals, but men's tennis is in the semis against top-seeded USC - always a tough team to beat - and women's lax upset 3rd-seeded UNC (woo) to get to the Final Four against 2-seed Syracuse.

-- Probably the most newsworthy event out of Amelia Island last week, besides that already covered last Monday, is the 30-second shot clock experiment that the conference will try.  I have mixed feelings on that.  On the plus side, people assume that a faster-paced game is bad for slowball teams like UVA, but it's really just the opposite.  If it's so hard to score on UVA in 35 seconds, it'll be even harder in 30.  But - the best thing about the college game is that it's different from the NBA game.  That sounds like damnation with faint praise, but it's not.  The shorter the shot clock, the greater the homogenization of styles, and it's that clash of styles that makes the college game so interesting.

-- Former swim & dive head coach Mark Bernardino is no longer unemployed, having found a job as "associate head coach" at South Carolina.  USC-e is a bottom-of-the-barrel program in the SEC and should stand to benefit quite a bit from the presence of such an accomplished coach.  Getting a job is a funny thing to do for a guy who retired; it lends credence to the folks insisting it wasn't his idea to leave.

Friday, May 16, 2014

lacrosse postmortem

I'd've liked to be previewing a Duke game in this space here, but we can't have everything.  Instead, we'll just have to do a retrospective of the season to try and figure out what went down and why.

Certainly it wasn't up to the usual standards.  It wasn't a total disaster, either; 2013 was a total disaster, but when you can register wins over Syracuse, Hopkins, and UNC, well, some measure of dignity has been salvaged.  Even if you also register losses to two of them.

I think first let's cover what went well.  It's not that short of a list, even if you're still steamed about the "first loss in the first round of the tournament since 2007" - according to the official website, which is sort of a dubious salvage-brag when you probably would've broken that streak last year had you even had the chance.

-- Offensive midfield play.  Not too surprisingly, UVA found its share of mismatches with its midfielders.  Ryan Tucker contributed 24 goals and basically can't be left alone because of the cannon he possesses.  Greg Coholan was a nice surprise with 13 goals and 14 assists, several (including the Hopkins OT winner) in clutch situations.  We didn't see the kind of really dynamic and dominant midfield play on offense that we've seen in the past, but it was good enough to win with.

-- Pannell and Cockerton.  James Pannell showed why he was so hyped up and Mark Cockerton turned in a second straight 40-goal season.  And, living up to the expectations of a senior, Cockerton was second on the team in assists with 16, displaying the ability to find teammates when defenses converged on him and made him the focus of their efforts.

-- Faceoff wing play.  A huge turnaround from last season; this is largely on the shoulders of transfer Joseph Lisicky, a guy I wish we could've had for his first three years.  It certainly also helped having a healthy Chris LaPierre, but Lisicky was the real weapon on the wings; he was a groundball machine and UVA "won" a number of faceoffs after losing them because Lisicky remained in pursuit and had a knack for dislodging a recently-claimed groundball from the opponent's clutches.

-- Groundballs and caused-turnovers.  UVA led the country in groundballs per game and was top five in CTs.  Pace has something to do with that, but this is not to take away from the tenacity the Hoos showed.  Syracuse fans walked away from that game disgusted with the dominance their team allowed that evening when the ball hit the ground.  Whatever the reason for losing, you can't fault these two pure-effort stats.

Obviously, though, a few things didn't go so hot.  These are....

-- Goaltending.  You knew it was going to start here.  Matt Barrett finished with a pretty abysmal .467 save percentage.  I have neither the memory nor the knowledge of defensive schemes to go back and find out how screwed he might've been by defensive breakdowns, but I sure do recall a few.  Later on in the season there were fewer shoulda-had-thats, but it was a really rough start to the year for Barrett and that pretty much set the tone.

-- Faceoff play - kinda.  As a team, the percentage was underwater at 47.2%.  Mick Parks, though, went .511, his third straight year over .500.  Parks's winning percentage is fattened up only a little on crummy teams; he was very average against Mount St. Mary's and Richmond, and acquitted himself well in games such as UNC and Syracuse.  The real bug was that too many losses were direct and clean, while the wins often relied on the wings.  UNC's FOGO, R.G. Keenan, scored once in each game, mere seconds after winning a faceoff.

-- Offensive X.  Owen Van Arsdale led the team with 27 assists, which isn't bad in and of itself, and OVA had some pretty solid plays at times.  But those 27 assists are the lowest number to lead the team since Ben Rubeor and Danny Glading shared the lead with 22, back in 2007.  Any doubt that, if either of them had been forced to carry the playmaking load on their own, they'd have easily surpassed 30 at least?  And they also had Garrett Billings helping out too.  (On a similar note, go back one more year to the 2006 championship team, and nobody there had 27 assists, either - but five players had over 20.  Bloody hell, it's easy sometimes to forget what a friggin' unstoppable machine that team was.)  Anyway.  OVA is a favorite whipping boy because he's a coach's son, and sometimes the criticism is unfair and sometimes there's truth in it.  He possesses a very stoppable shot (team's second highest SOG% but one of the lowest scoring percentages) and defenses just didn't respect his abilities much.  It held the offense back some.  They don't keep track of minutes played, but I'm willing to bet Ryan Lukacovic was a more efficient playmaker in terms of points per 60 minutes.

-- Clearing.  UVA has racked up quite a reputation for being the best damn clearing team in the country.  Last year was their fourth in a row over 90%, a D-I record.  This year - forget it.  National average is 85.9%; UVA checked in at 85.1%.  Below average is not something you associate with UVA's clearing game.  The Hoos were 275 of 323; getting to 90% would've meant at least 291 successes.  Think we could've used one extra offensive possession per game?  (On the plus side, the ride was brilliant; opponents cleared only 76.9%, second-best in the country.  File that one with the effort stats above.)


How do things look next season?  There's a decent-sized hit coming in the graduation department: UVA loses Mark Cockerton, Rob Emery, and Pat Harbeson from the offense; Joseph Lisicky, Scott McWilliams, Bobby Hill, Blake Riley, and Chris LaPierre from the defense.  The offense is probably replaceable.  Tyler German, Greg Coholan, and Zed Williams should be more than adequate to fill the midfield holes.  Ryan Lukacovic will be asked to take on a very large role, and Starsia talked up Joe French and A.J. Fish before the season.  There's always the freshman class, and the possibility that Will McNamara comes back too.**  Cockerton was a heckuva player who didn't get the team success he deserved as an upperclassman (though he does have a ring from his freshman year to keep him company) but his production should be replaceable.

On defense, though, that's a huge bodyslam to the SSDM ranks.  Ryan Tucker is a really versatile two-way guy but I hate when he has to play defense - I'd rather he focus on offense.  Carlson Millikin got into most games this year (12 of 16.)  After that - woof.  Nobody knows.  I'm less worried about the poles; you can build around Tanner Scales and Greg Danseglio.  Matt Barrett's improvement in the second half of the year is an encouraging sign, especially considering that's the tough part of the season.  I do expect an uptick in goalie play.

It's fair to make the case that this year was just a step in a longer-than-usual rebuilding process.  Why it's taken longer than usual is a discussion for another day; we're certainly used to instant re-gratification, and it'd be real nice if we got back to that as the long-term trend kthxbai.  But the offense bounced back from a weak showing last year and should continue to be strong.  It's up to the defense not to derail the process.

**This is already the subject of heavy speculation and will continue to be until we learn anything one way or the other.  McNamara was a super-recruit but missed 2013 with injury and left school "for personal reasons" this year; Starsia left the door wide open for his return, though, and hinted at the possibility in his season-ending interview with Jeff White.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

schedule for losers

We're back on the scheduling warpath, except this time I'm turning off my creative side and re-engaging the portion of my brain devoted to tearing down shitty ideas.

The trendy phrase du jour is "schedule for success."  I'll say it right up front so you don't have any illusions: I hate that dumbass euphemism and find it enormously offensive.  Euphemism: [yoo-fuh-miz-uhm] (noun); 1. the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.  The expression "thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt" in this case is probably "schedule like a pissy little weiner because we're lowering our standards."

The argument in favor of "schedule for success" (SFS from here on out, to save my typing fingers the effort) goes more or less like this:

"You need to win to build up your program, and it doesn't matter who you beat.  If you win, you go to bowl games, which gives you extra practice that is vital, perhaps even indispensible.  Recruits only care about the number of wins, and by going to bowl games again and again they will be convinced your program is on the upswing.  This is how programs like Virginia Tech, Duke, and Wake Forest have found success.  What we should be doing is scheduling as many easy games as possible so that all we have to do is win two ACC games and we'll be bowling; nobody will care whether the wins come against Idaho or Alabama." 

The goal is to never schedule a team with a pulse; one FCS team and three MAC-snacks, or some Sun Belt teams.  The more the program resembles Eastern Michigan, the better.

All of these are actual arguments used in favor of SFS.  You'll have to trust me on that.  I've done my share of attempting to argue the opposite, so I know.

Now for why the argument sucks:

-- It's based on totally false premises.  It is claimed that VT and Frank Beamer SFSed, early on Beamer's tenure, which helped them take that step toward respectability.  They never did!  Here are the combined records of VT's opponents in Beamer's first eight years:

1987: 77-50
1988: 86-41
1989: 68-56
1990: 75-47
1991: 77-49
1992: 71-51
1993: 60-62
1994: 63-61

Only one combined losing record, and that just barely.  In 1987 they played two undefeated teams (Miami and Syracuse) and three with double-digit wins (also Clemson.)  In 1988, five teams with double-digit wins.  In fact, until 1993, they never played fewer than two such teams - and remember, they were independent until 1991, and entirely in charge of their own schedule.  Multiple times they would play Florida State, Clemson, Miami, South Carolina (a perfectly good team at the time), Syracuse (ditto), NC State (also ditto), and of course, a UVA team in George Welsh's prime.  In 1991 - five years into Beamer's tenure, mind you, with plenty of time to have scheduled these after his hiring - their OOC included Oklahoma, FSU, NC State, South Carolina, and UVA.  Scheduling for success?  You're kidding, right?

As for Wake Forest and Duke, they have largely SFSed, it's true; both have played the same junky schedules for over 20 years, with absolutely no correlation to success or failure.  In the last 25 years, Wake has played Navy 11 times, Vanderbilt 12 times, Army 8 times, and a I-AA team more often than not, and their win-loss record has gone up and down independently of their quite consistent OOC schedule.  Their recruiting, on the other hand, has stayed consistent, independent of that oscillating record; they have been a near-perfect fixture at the very basement of the conference.  That Orange Bowl trip didn't seem to help matters.  The same has been true for Duke, who did not schedule their way into the ACC CG last year because you can't get there based on playing Memphis.

I will admit that Wake Forest did somewhat schedule their way into winning seasons in Jim Grobe's early years - and failed to go bowling one year despite a qualifying 6-win season.  Back then there weren't enough bowls to go around, and Wake was passed up - perhaps because their crap schedule failed to convince any bowl organizers they'd be competitive.

-- There's no proof of any of the claims.  Admittedly it is hard to quantify the value of the extra bowl practices, and I'll stipulate to the idea that they certainly can't hurt.  That said, no evidence whatsoever exists for their efficacy, either.  If the 15 practices are so great, why did we go 4-8 after going to the Peach Bowl.  If Al Groh's program benefitted so greatly from 75 extra practices (by going bowling every year from 2002-2006) why did it crash and burn so spectacularly afterwards?  You could argue that, well, the coach matters, and extra practices only help if the coach is competent, to which I reply: exactly.

There's also certainly no proof of a recruiting boost for winning games regardless of opponent.  Wake never saw one.  Duke has not seen one.  Besides, the argument supposes that recruits are stupid and don't follow football on TV or know the schedules of the teams that are recruiting them.  If for some reason they don't, the coaches are always pleased to remind them as often as it takes.

-- It's a totally unworkable idea.  Keep in mind that games are usually scheduled anywhere from three to eight years in advance.  We have Illinois lined up for 2021 and 2022.  Doing a thing like putting Oregon on the schedule the way we did last year is extremely rare.

Most of the SFS arguments are made knowing this; the point of view is rather that we should SFS that far in advance.  This despite the fact that we know nothing about how the team will look in 2018 (incidentally, that is the first year we have an open slot on the schedule, therefore the first year we can SFS without mass cancellations.)  The only known players who'll be here in 2018 are the tiny handful of 2015 commits and whichever incoming freshmen will redshirt.  There's obviously no guarantee Mike London will still be here; there's really not even any guarantee his replacement will. 

In other words, SFSers are asking for us to schedule this way not so as to be timed with the early years of a new coach - which is plainly impossible - but to schedule this way all the time.  Arguing to SFS is to go one of two ways: either cancel existing games or don't.  To cancel existing games - well, it can be done, obviously, as it was done to find room for Oregon, but to cancel the whole slate?  And start fresh in 2015?  Not only is it next to impossible to find opponents on such short notice - and that is short notice - we would look like a bunch of freestanding assholes if we wiped out so many contracts unilaterally.  It is kind of important that when our AD goes and meets with other ADs, he has a reasonably trustworthy reputation.  Believe me, it's important.

The other route is not canceling and then simply filling in junk games as we go, which is an explicit admission that we will still suck five years from now and will continue to do so for years after that.  It's a white flag the size of a decade.  It says we can absolutely expect losing records in the conference for a very long time and will need the help of crappy opponents from elsewhere in order to look presentable.  For, like, ten years.  Now that's an attitude we can be proud of!


Now, I'd be a pretty crappy writer if I spent all this time tearing down an idea and didn't offer an alternative.  Rather than "schedule for success", which is not successful and not workable and not useful, we should set a standard and try to meet it.  This doesn't mean I'm in favor of playing the Oregons and Alabamas.  That was not a good idea, last year, and getting blown off the field was probably just what we deserved - or more precisely, what Jon Oliver deserved to watch.  What the schedule should include is one in-state FCS team (if we play FCS teams, in-state ones are the only acceptable option), one MAC-snack or Sun Belt-cake, one respectable Power Five team, and then one of whatever in between.  I'm 100% in favor of scheduling teams like UCLA.  (A game which aggrieves SFSers to no end, forgetting that when we scheduled them, they weren't very good and it kind of was SFSing.  Thus illustrating in a nutshell much of the problem with SFS.  Ball State was supposed to be highly winnable.)  The 2016 schedule comes closest to what I want to see, if it had someone other than Oregon on it.  There's also Richmond, UConn, and Central Michigan.  Fine.  If UCLA was that year instead of Oregon, it'd be just exactly right.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

schedule soapbox again

OK, one last time, this time in detail.  As you're probably aware, the ACC is a 14-team football conference that voted to stick with eight games on the schedule.  (Incidentally, Craig Littlepage was one of the six ADs that prefers nine games.)  As currently constituted, that schedule really blows.  Divisions with a protected crossover was fine-ish for a 12-team conference, but now, we're admitting to our recruits that they'll never get to play Clemson or FSU.  You're not a conference if your players are never playing other teams that are ostensibly in the conference.  (A point I've been making long before David Teel did in the linked column above.)

If the NCAA allows it, and I think they will, the solution is simple: Get rid of these damn divisions, which were gerrymandered in the first place, and play out the season and let the top two teams fight it out in the championship game.

That naturally raises the question of how to set up the schedule rotation.  Again, an easy solution.  Protect three rivalries per team and rotate among the other ten.  That lets you play the same three teams each year and flip-flop the other five.  It couldn't be simpler.  Every recruit would play each other team at least twice and make a road trip to every ACC school, unless they left after three years.  So easy a caveman, or an ACC administrator, can do it.

Now, the weeds.  It brings up a slightly thorny issue, that of, how to arrange the protected rivalries.  The ones you absolutely have to keep are these:

UNC-NC State

And not knowing a lot about the preferences of our Big East wing, I'd also add BC-Cuse and, maybe Cuse-Pitt?

I'm not sure whether the ACC sees them all that way, though.  Here's what I'm afraid of:

This makes sense on a ton of levels.  You box up the southern teams and have them be each other's protected games.  You box up Carolina-land and do the same.  And for the six "northern" teams, everyone in your row and your column is your protected rival.  So we get Pitt, VT, and Louisville.  VT gets UVA, Pitt, and BC.  And so on.  This is neat and tidy and it keeps together a lot of the already-existing rivalries - all seven current cross-division rivalries are maintained.  So is the All Carolina Conference moniker.

It's neat and easy and it's also a big fat middle finger aimed at Charlottesville.  Eight "traditional" ACC teams in the south (or seven, depending on how you feel about FSU) and one of them banished to the Big East.  The South's Oldest Rivalry is poised, in a few years, to become the second-longest-played college game in history.  We (and UNC) had been behind several others, but realignment killed a few ancient games - Texas-Texas A&M, Missouri-Kansas, and Kansas-Nebraska have all fallen victim to greed, and in 2016 UVA-UNC will pass the Border War for second place - tied with Miami of Ohio and Cincinnati and second to Minnesota and Wisconsin.  I don't know if the ACC or the respective ADs care, but I sure do.  So here's a better idea.

If it offends you that VT gets Duke and Wake as forever-rivals, swap NC State and Duke.  There are a few different ways to do it, really.  I'm not picky along those lines.  Just so long as we play UNC and VT, and UNC plays NC State and Duke.  Duke should probably also play Wake, but whatev.  This is how you bring heated regionalism back to the scattered world of realignment, in which eastern teams join midwestern and southwestern conferences, northern teams join southern ones, a team can be a member of both the Southwestern and Southeastern Conferences during its history, and cats lie down with dogs if the dog has a better TV deal.

At any rate, I can't stress enough how important it is for UVA not to be labeled a northern school and sent to go play with the new kids.  Nothing against them.  We just have traditions to uphold, is all.

It turns out that creating a schedule rotation is just as much child's play as the rest of this exercise.  From the perspective of one of the four-team groups, say, what we'll call the Southern pod, they would play three teams from the Central pod and two from the Northern in a given year.  From the perspective of the six-team Central pod, we'd play two teams from each of the others and one of the remaining Central teams.  Our schedule might hypothetically look like so:

As with last time this was done, grayed-out helmets represent road games.  After 2018, go back to the first row again.  There's one problem: I'd really have liked the non-protected games to alternate, instead of being played in two-year chunks.  They can't, though: with an odd number in each "set" of games, it's not possible to alternate like that.  You have two of three home games and two of five, then one of three and three of five; if you alternated the unprotected games like I like to, you get two of three and three of five.  (Or you play one team on the road two years in a row and then at home two years in a row, an idea which clearly and rightfully would be DOA.)

It may be possible to do some scheduling calisthenics to make alternating games happen instead of two-year chunks, and if the ACC pulls that off I'll tip my hat and take back my "uncreative" potshots.  However, when we had 12 teams, we were doing the chunk thing.

(We also had a rotation like a conveyor belt - Team A on the road, Team B at home; Team B on the road, Team C at home; Team C on the road, Team D at home - you get the idea.  I didn't like the conveyor belt and it'd be a terrible idea here, too.)

All this would, of course, be independent of the Notre Dame rotation.  That doesn't need to be weaved into the conference schedule; it's a separate beast entirely. 

The beauty, or ugliness - I don't care which - of this idea is that a nine-game schedule ruins it.  Ruins the whole thing.  I guess you'd have just two protected games and rotate the other seven somehow, probably skipping teams in two-year chunks like the Big Ten used to do when it had 11 teams.  I'm not gonna bother.  Just thinking about it makes me realize - if the ACC goes with this format, I'd prefer to stick with eight games.  Nine games would be for if one day we hit the 16-team mark.

The really good thing here is, I think this actually has a chance of happening.  Quite probably the real thing would have its differences here and there, and I'm legitimately nervous that they'd adopt exactly this format and the protection boxes that stick us in the north.  It's up to Littlepage to make sure that doesn't happen.  But, in any case, I truly think that the ACC wants to ditch the current model, which is not popular, and I truly think they'll have the ability to do so fairly soon.  Here's the best idea they'll ever have.

Monday, May 12, 2014

weekend review

Welp.  That's that; another lacrosse season is in the books too early, after a mostly uninspiring performance on Sunday.  It looked so promising to start, with the Hoos giving up faceoff wins but then quickly making Hopkins look like a disjointed JV squad.  And then....

I mean, just... look, I've always considered that rationality is one of my writing strengths, and I know there was like 45+ minutes worth of reasons why we lost, but I just keep on going back to the bad clear that led to Hop's first goal, essentially an empty-netter.  UVA has a reputation as an outstanding clearing team and totally failed to live up to that this year; in some cases they've just completely lost sight of the 30-second time limit, and that's what killed them here.

Matt Barrett was the visible scapegoat because it was his pass that was intercepted, but, feeling compelled to go back to the Tivo for a closer look, I found out exactly how much time he had to clear the ball when he threw that pass: four seconds.  Even if he had channeled Adam Ghitelman and run it there himself, he'd never have made it.  26 seconds had elapsed already thanks mainly to sheer unadulterated laziness, and the real culprit on that clear is Scott McWilliams.  McWilliams floated around the field for nine seconds before tossing the ball (backwards) to Tanner Scales.  Scales returned the ball a few seconds later.... and "half-assed" would be far too generous a term for McWilliams's attempt at catching it.  That's why Barrett had the ball in the first place; he had to retrieve it as it rolled the wrong way.

If some people are saying there's a senior leadership problem on the team, well, that's why.  And this is by no means to pin the loss on McWilliams, whose play these four years has been unequivocally an asset.  You don't lose by six without everyone pitching in.  But there's still the irrational fan in me that wonders how that game might've gone if the Hoos hadn't offered a sportsmanlike hand back to the already punch-drunk Jays.

As a season, it certainly wasn't a total loss.  You expect Virginia lacrosse to accomplish certain things, and beating Syracuse, Hopkins, and UNC (1 outta 2 in the latter instances, anyway) do qualify.  However, after a stretch of four consecutive Final Fours, and missing only two from 2002 to 2011, the natives are rightfully getting restless now that we've missed three in a row.  Folks are talking succession plans.  If Dom Starsia weren't the winningest D-I coach ever, the words being used might be a little more forceful.

As it is, UVA stands in about the same delicate spot that Florida State football did in about 2008 or so.  (And that Penn State managed to botch pretty spectacularly.)  FSU succeeded in dislodging Bobby Bowden after the boosters got antsy and it became clear that 1) they weren't going to get much farther with him and 2) he had no plans to leave.  They had a couple factors helping that process: the academics scandal greased his skids out of town, and they didn't have his son on staff.  FSU is how you want the replacing-a-legend process to go; Penn State is not.  And Tennessee exists as the antithesis of Penn State - the fans managed to get Phil Fulmer replaced and the Vols promptly entered the crapper, from which they have yet to emerge.

I doubt there's any talk of succession in the UVA offices, but it's something that should be quietly going through the heads of the decision makers - not because immediate action is needed, but they still have to be working on a contingency plan.  And that plan can't just be Joe Starsia.  This is too much of a signature program to allow to go stale.  If we're playing for a national title next year - hey, cancel the war.  If we miss out on the quarters again, let alone Memorial Day, well.... it certainly won't stop people wondering how Mike Pressler or Charley Toomey might look on the Klockner sidelines.  Me, I'm nowhere near officially adding my voice to the (still quite small) chorus calling for a change.  I don't want to be Penn State but I definitely don't want to be Tennessee.**  Just considering it something to keep an eye on. 

**A statement made, with that particular emphasis, with consideration only for the on-field aspect of PSU's football succession.


-- Lots of other UVA teams are still running around scooping up Director's Cup points, though:

* Men's and women's tennis are both in the round of 16, about to face Notre Dame and Baylor, respectively.

* Ladies' golf was top-8 at their regional, earning one of 24 spots at the national championship tournament in Tulsa.

* Women's lax faces 3-seeded UNC in the quarterfinals after knocking off Princeton.

This is to say nothing of crew, which still has an ACC title to earn before heading to nationals.

-- Maryland transfer Seth Allen was really digging on UVA, until he took a trip to Blacksburg and found playing time in abundance.  That Buzz Williams is apparently a hell of a recruiter.  Say what you will but he's definitely injected some talent into a moribund program.  Enough to be a real factor in the ACC race?  No, not yet, but they seem to be working hard at leaving the laughingstock label behind.

Williams probably made the case to Allen that UVA wanted him but VT needed him, which is pretty much exactly how things stood.  Allen would've been a luxury, albeit one that would've helped smooth out the roster makeup.  There are plenty of worthy backcourt options already on the roster, though.  Any addition this offseason who would hit the roster this fall is icing on the icing.

-- The ACC is having its annual junketeering trip serious meeting week on Fancy Tropical Resort Island, Florida, during which they usually produce something worth talking about.  This year it's the fact that they'll stick with an eight-game football schedule and follow the SEC's lead in requiring every team to play at least one OOC Power Five conference team, starting in 2017.  That should make the "schedule for success" crowd happy, by which I mean not happy.**  Cue the calls for an annual rivalry game with Indiana from now til forever.

The eight-game schedule vote was surprisingly close, with an 8-6 tally as the margin in favor of staying at eight games instead of nine.  This is acceptable if they also abolish divisions, as will reportedly be discussed.  (It's also reasonable in light of having Notre Dame sorta-kinda on the schedule all the time.)

It's this last point which should be making all the waves.  The fact that the ACC is even bothering to discuss this is a giant flag, pointing in the direction of the August autonomy conference.  (At which the NCAA is widely expected to hand over various powers to the ACC, SEC, B1G, Big 12, and Pac-12 that they didn't have before.)  John Swofford publically lobbied for more flexibility in scheduling; that is, not having to have two divisions in order to play a CCG.  If the ACC is discussing the abolition of divisions, it's likely they have the advance go-ahead from the NCAA to do so and will get it formally in August.  For this reason, they may not necessarily announce anything coming out of Amelia Island, but there's hope yet.

I've already put forth my preferred scheduling model for a 14-team, 8-game league: three protected games and five rotating ones.  You would play teams A, B, C, D, and E in year one and F, G, H, I, and J in year two.  The pitfall, which UVA would have to lobby heavily to avoid, would be the temptation to make all the NC teams each others' protected games - we have to have UNC every year.

**I can't remember whether I've ever expressly made my feelings known on these pages about the "schedule for success" theory, which I despise as both wimpy and totally unworkable, but I'm sure it's worth a full post somewhere along the line.

Friday, May 9, 2014

game preview: Johns Hopkins

Date/Time: Sunday, May 11; 1:00


Record against the Jays: 29-57-1

Last meeting: UVA 11, JHU 10; 3/22/14, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 13, UNC 11 (4/26); LU 13, JHU 10 (5/1)

Rankings: UVA #7/#8, JHU #7/#7

Efficiency stats:

UVA: 47.3% (#42)
JHU: 58.1% (#12)

Clearing (offense):
UVA: 85.5% (#42)
JHU: 83.2% (#53)

Clearing (defense):
UVA: 76.9% (#2)
JHU: 85.6% (#29)

Scoring % (offense):
UVA: 37.1% (#17)
JHU: 37.3% (#15)

Scoring % (defense):
UVA: 34.1% (#36)
JHU: 27.9% (#6)

UVA: 18.09 (#13)
JHU: 18.10 (#12)

UVA: 14.01 (#17)
JHU: 11.34 (#1)

(Ratings are my KenPom-esque measures of efficiency for lacrosse. Numbers are schedule-adjusted. National median is about 15.6.)

I thought with Hopkins's resume, they were a better match for a higher-seeded host, but from the neutral-observer perspective, you'd have to admit this is a picture-perfect game.  Two very old-school rivals with very mixed results on the season, with almost identical poll numbers (tied in one case) and in a "fantastic college lacrosse setting" (I hope that phrase hasn't been trademarked yet by Quint Kessenich.)

UVA won the regular-season matchup, and naturally it was a close one, with Greg Coholan scoring the OT winner.  That was a huge game for the "why is Van Arsdale getting all of Lukacovic's playing time" movement, being as the former was scoreless with two turnovers while the latter had two goals that closed up the 4th-quarter gap UVA faced.

Hopkins is still largely untested, in a way.  A team that's only beaten bad teams and only lost to good ones, you still don't know quite how good they are; only a win over Maryland (and Albany, kinda) breaks the pattern.  They're in the tourney probably on the strength of that Maryland win; it was rather convincing, and their losses weren't blowouts, really.

They hang their hat on their defense.  The offense is of course solid, but limited in some ways.  In net, they have their version of Rob Fortunato in senior Eric Schneider, who sat three years behind Pierce Bassett and stepped out this year to do a very solid job in the crease.  Jack Reilly and John Kelly are big, tough defensemen, although Hopkins isn't especially aggressive on defense; they'll let you make the mistakes on your own.  LSM Michael Pellegrino, despite being fairly small, leads the Hop with 13 caused turnovers.  (In probably related news, Pellegrino is the slightly hotheaded guy who got slammed by James Pannell in the earlier game and then went bonkers a few minutes later, being called for two simultaneous penalties and probably committing twice that many.)  As a team they cause relatively few turnovers and their games, on average, feature over 8 fewer ground balls than UVA's games do; this is only partially pace-related.

The offense largely consists of Wells Stanwick behind the net, passing to fellow attackmen Brandon Benn and Ryan Brown, both of them 30+ goal scorers.  Midfield, though, is middling at best.  Holden Cattoni is a threat from back there, but Rob Guida does most of his scoring against non-contending teams and for the most part there isn't much else to speak of.  The attackmen combo is championship-worthy, and they'll get theirs, but UVA will be content the more the midfielders are firing away.

The other weakness in Hopkins's game is their clear; it hasn't been great.  UVA's has been uncharacteristically crummy, too, but Hopkins has it worse.  That's a bad sign and could be just the edge UVA needs, given that the Hoos' ride has been so good this year.  To balance that out, Hopkins brings a +60% FOGO to the field in Drew Kennedy, so UVA will have to be on top of its game there, which, even that is not usually enough.

All in all it makes for a pretty great matchup for plain old fans of the game.  Both teams have gaping flaws; UVA hasn't been great on defense, the goaltending has been subpar, and the faceoffs are the same as always.  (The defense, though, has been improving.  It's better than it was a month, six weeks ago and has started to show flashes and bursts, here and there, of the near-dominant unit I thought it could be.)  Hopkins has a poor midfield game and hasn't proven they can consistently come through against top competition.  UVA is somewhat better-tested and more proven - that's why the game is in Charlottesville and not Baltimore - and the home field should give a tiny edge too.

Prediction: UVA 10, JHU 8


P.S. To the Redskins fan - and almost definitely UVA fan - who, upon seeing your beloved Skins pick a Stanford linebacker in the second round, blurted, "WHAT?!?!  MORGAN MOSES!" to 25 million people - you win the draft.  And you win it again for getting your wish after all.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

wackjob ideas

A few things we've learned from the past X number of decades of watching college sports is that the people in charge are the least creative people on earth, and that they're totally uninterested in providing what fans want to see unless there's money to be had in doing so.  Otherwise they'll just do whatever makes money or offends the least amount of people they consider stakeholders.  You are not a stakeholder.

What I'd like is for the ACC to find ways to set itself apart.  The conference is starting to get beat at the things it does best - and I'm probably being kind in saying "starting to."  Forces beyond its control are part of that, and its constituent teams could stand to improve at basic skills like hiring good basketball coaches.  But the conference itself could give its teams a boost in ways that make it more fan-friendly as well as attractive to talent.  These are just some ideas kicking around in my head that weren't by themselves worth a full column, and of course, considering the above Paragraph of Cynicism, none will ever be implemented.  But we can dream.

-- Baseball

* First, get the hell rid of the divisions.  If they serve a purpose, I've yet to figure them out.  They imbalance the crap out of the conference: the Atlantic was FSU, Clemson, and junk even before it glommed on 4-20 Notre Dame.  5 of the conference's 7 winning teams, and 4 of the top 5, are in the Coastal.  The #1 team in the whole country is #3 in its own conference because the divisions exist.

* Next, shorten up the ACC tournament.  Why 10 teams have to participate is a mystery to me.  The last five ACC tournaments have been won by the 1, 8, 1, 5, and 6 seeds.  It baffles the mind that we play 30 games over 11 weeks and the 8th-best team is the champion because they happened to pick the right weekend to go 4-0.  The double-elimination format they added was something of an attempt to rectify that (until they apparently went back to the round-robin pools, without telling anyone), but I have a better one.  Bring the top four teams only and have two three-game series (1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and have the winners play once on Sunday for the marbles.  Oh, and since 5 and 6 are likely to be looking to boost their NCAA resumes, bring them in for a "showcase" series - that was a solid idea in lacrosse.  Now you've made sure that an actual good team wins the conference, and not only that but you've assuaged coaches' concerns about using up too much of their pitching staff.  (Which was the reason they - apparently - ditched the double-elimination.)

-- Football

* This goes for all sports, but I put it here just because.  The conference needs to commit to four-year scholarships.  In a way it's an answer to a question that's not being asked yet, because to my knowledge nobody's been given the Chris Garrett treatment.  (Garrett was the LSU quarterback whom Les Miles told to GTFO because he didn't have a scholarship anymore, for no other reason than he didn't want to carry Garrett on the roster.)  Still, it's something you want to get out ahead of.  And not just in football.  The conference should simply require that any athlete offered a full or partial scholarship out of high school will have that deal or better for four years.  Until the rest of the country caught up, it'd be a good recruiting tool.  Especially for a school like UVA, competing for athletes with, in general, better academic profiles than the average bear.

* Fix the schedule.  John Swofford is working on this, I think - in the recent past he's been lobbying the NCAA to loosen up the rules for holding a championship game.  Until they do, we're apparently stuck playing the same seven teams every year and then rotating the other one, because ADs hem and haw when you ask them to sacrifice a home game every other year so we can have a nine-game schedule.  I've already espoused my ideal world if we can possibly add two more football teams to the mix, but that's not happening unless Notre Dame is one of them and Notre Dame doesn't want to be one of them.

Again, I'd get rid of the divisions, if the NCAA lets us, and go to a model similar to basketball where you have three protected games and rotate the other five.  Then play the championship game just between the top two teams.  That'd be a really nice symmetrical model for a 14-team conference that won't go to nine games: you'd play your three games and switch back and forth between one group of five and the other each year.  NC State is three hours away and we've shared a conference with them for over 50 years, and they'll visit Charlottesville less than once a decade under the current plan.  This way they'd visit once every four years.

If we can't even do that, then shuffle the divisions and get rid of the protected crossover so at least we can rotate two games a year.  Only three of the protected crossovers are really worth keeping (GT-Clemson, FSU-Miami, UNC-NC State) and their sanctity can be assured - as well as keeping the intra-division games worth playing, like UVA-VT, UVA-UNC, UNC-Duke, SU-BC - by swapping Pitt and GT for NC State and FSU.  This would require the league to give up on the idea of seeing FSU and Miami in the ACC CG.  Probably too great a sacrifice.

* Sponsor our own bowl game.  Is this legal?  Can we do that?  I dunno, but if we can, we should.  It'd probably be a low-level game like the Military Bowl, but that's OK.  The conference has the bureaucratic infrastructure it needs, in the form of the same people who work on the ACC CG.  They'd have to run out and find sponsors and call it the Weed-Whacker Bowl, but, simply put, a lot of bowl money gets siphoned off by the bowl organizations.  A bowl like the Music City Bowl pays out roughly a million and a half to the conference and probably about that much to its executives.  Not having to pay a whole suite of executives, and generally being able to allocate expenses more efficiently than 40 redundant bowl organizations can, would mean more money for the payouts.  Or, more accurately, the payout to whatever conference we partner with plus the profit we keep for ourselves.

-- Basketball

* I just have one idea here.  And it works great with the 18-game conference schedule.  Instead of permanent rotating games and all that, separate the league into thirds based on the previous year's standings - top five, middle five, bottom five - and the teams you play twice are the teams in your section.  It'd help the lower teams get a boost in the standings and it'd give the higher teams a little shot in the RPI arm, and it'd create a much larger suite of interesting made-for-TV matchups.  Syracuse, UVA, Pitt, Duke, and UNC all playing each other twice - unbalanced schedule, yes, but the ACC should be a gauntlet.  The reason this won't happen, however, is plain: the ghastly and unspeakable possibility that Duke and UNC might only play once in a season.

-- Lacrosse

* Not only do we lose the autobid with five teams (eventually) but we lose the ability to play that blatant RPI booster they called the showcase game.  (I'd guess that next year's ACC tourney will have a 4/5 play-in, but I'll stop short of actually predicting it because it'd mean someone might have to play three games.)  It's time to cajole one of our ten other schools into doing the lacrosse thing.  Famously recalcitrant ADs have been recently replaced at BC and VT.  Louisville already has another team in its own city, and NC State has all kinds of natural rivals all lined up.  I'm even open to using conference money to help a volunteer get off the ground.  Even if the volunteer is in Blacksburg.

* I don't want an ACC/B1G Challenge in lacrosse, because we don't really need to be giving the Big Ten programs and their massive resources a recruiting tool to use against us - but an ACC/Ivy Challenge, now there's an idea.  Most ACC teams played an Ivy League team or two this year anyway.  Why not formalize it?

-- Website

* I know it's just such a difficult concept to grasp, but fix the shitty thing already.

Monday, May 5, 2014

weekend review

Ah, Selection Sunday.  It's always nice to make an appearance on the show.  The lacrosse one is double fun because I get to find out if I'm any good at making predictions.  This year, I think I did damn well.  Got all 18 teams, 7 of the 8 seeds, the top four exactly right in order as well as #6 and #8, and the only real monkey wrench in the works was Denver's selection as a seeded team instead of the highest non-seed - that threw off some of the other non-seeded picks as well.

All that would be true if Harvard had actually beaten Penn.  The real bracket is eerily similar to the Harvard-beats-Penn prediction I made; too bad Harvard lost and was still selected as an at-large, defying the Hofstra call.  So that ends the streak I was on of perfect at-large selections.  What it means is that a tweak that I made to my ranking system this season, worked really well for the top end of the list but did a poor job picking the last at-large; the old system would've never put Loyola or Penn anywhere near the top four seeds, but would've chosen Harvard without a second glance.  Just another thing to keep in mind for next year.

As for UVA's draw (Hopkins), am I allowed to complain, at the same time, that we should be playing a worse team with a better resume?  No?  Contradictory?  OK then.  Hop is a team that (and I thought rightly so) was widely considered in but at the very low end of the bubble.  They're light on big-time wins, with only Maryland and I guess Albany on their resume as notable victories.  But they're obviously going to be a very tough out.  And if we get past the Jays, Duke is obviously no picnic at all.  Still, a home game is not something you can expect every year when you lose five games.


Speaking of draws, there's also the ACC/B1G Challenge draw to speak of, and like about 98% of UVA fans, I ain't happy.  It's not that I have an aversion to ever playing Maryland again, though I think it's totally understandable if you do.  It's that the ACC champs deserved a better draw than what's likely to be about the 10th-best Big Ten team.  Under no other circumstances would that have ever happened, but you just know the lazy bastards in charge of this stuff penciled in this game before the ink was even dry on Maryland's "we're going Midwest" press release.  So their reward for doing so is a home game against the ACC champs.  And, go ahead and write this one down and hold me to it next year: Maryland will make a return trip to Charlottesville in 2015 for the Challenge.

Some called the game "RPI-destroying" which isn't quite accurate because even if Maryland settles into the Big Ten's second division, they'll still be around .500 on the whole and they'll have the Big Ten as their OOWP.  It's more that we lose the chance to have the RPI bonus that a Wisconsin or a Michigan would've provided.  ESPN and the ACC decided to screw the Hoos in favor of a cheap marketing stunt, and relegated us to a game of regional instead of national interest.  I hope we blast them by 45 and the Louisville-Ohio State game is a 39-32 mockery of basketball.


There's a football depth chart, and it's almost entirely devoid of surprises.  The big news is at quarterback, where we got confirmation of what we'd long suspected: Greyson Lambert is the official starter.  There should be a benefit here, of going through the summer and the fall being able to prepare as the top dog instead of worrying about a competition.  Otherwise I think the only really newsworthy item is the appearance of Miles Gooch above both Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell at one of the WR positions.  I don't think it signals the end of their useful careers at UVA, though; there's now a ton of size all over the place at WR but Jennings and Terrell are still faster than most of those guys and therefore have that to set them apart.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

final lacrosse bracketology

Normally I would wait til the games have all finished up this afternoon, and then pushed out my last best guess, but I'm busy this PM and not sure I'll have the time.  Instead, here's what you get: two brackets.  (This is the power of the spreadsheet toy I made.  Not only can I predict the RPI and related rankings, I can put together two brackets in the time it used to take to do one.)

Here is the prediction if Harvard beats Penn:

And here is the prediction if Penn beats Harvard:

I am of course making the completely bonkers assumption that Duke will not lose to Boston U. this afternoon.  If that happens, ok, well, I guess Duke is the 2 seed or something.

Mostly these predictions are the same, as you'd expect.  Notably, the similarities are:

-- The play-in games
-- Albany at the #3 seed
-- The seed order of Maryland, ND, Cornell, UVA
-- The seed order of Duke and Cuse
-- UVA/Denver, Cornell/UNC

And the main differences:

-- Hofstra is out if Harvard wins.
-- Penn and Loyola swap seeds depending on whether Penn wins or loses.

Do I think the committee would rematch Hopkins and Loyola?  I bet they would, given the chance.  First-round rematches are not taboo and I'll take a stab at the thinking that a rematch so soon would be a little extra ratings juice.

Also note: there are strong arguments for the order of the 5-8 seeds, but almost equally strong ones for shuffling that around entirely.  UVA having beaten both Cuse and Loyola is one of them; the reason I have UVA down at the bottom of that pecking order is that those wins were months ago and recency does matter somewhat.  This is a tougher season than usual, though, for getting the seeds right.  Penn and Loyola aren't airtight 3 and 4 seeds, either.  Last year I got seeds 1 through 5 exactly right; this year, it wouldn't surprise me if I got all eight seeded teams right but the wrong order entirely.  Let's see what happens when the rubber hits the road.  Lot of bitching, probably; the question for me is whether or not I join in.

Friday, May 2, 2014

midweek lacrosse bracketology

After seeing how late the games finished last night - and then not doing anything - I decided not to wait for tonight's Ivy semis to be done before today's bracketology.  Here it is, minus the effect of the Ivies' results tonight:

Syracuse and Duke are very, very firmly ensconced at the top; the only drama will be about which is #1 and which is #2.  The next race is for #3.  Penn and Cornell are heavy contenders (the system just adores Penn, probably a bit irrationally**) and so the winner is going to be in great shape there.

3 through 7 is a dogfight, in fact.  Notre Dame's game against Army, if they win it, will be a nice little secret weapon.  Maryland has Navy, which will hurt their RPI either way.  UVA plays no one at all, and will keep their almost-nation's-best SOS intact.

It's also important to remember: these at-larges are set just about in stone.  The only way they change is if Drexel does not win the CAA; in that case the Harvard-Yale winner will possibly or definitely snag the last at-large.  Possibly if it's Harvard, definitely if it's Yale.

**A little dissertation on Penn: part of the reason they're so very very loved by the system is because they've beaten hardly any sucky teams.  And of their three losses, two are elite-level teams and one is still pretty good.  St. Joseph's is giving them a boost, and their lineup of wins is almost fully comprised of middling-good teams; the only teams they've played that have losing records are Villanova (still not horrible, RPI-wise) and Dartmouth.  Dartmouth drags their RPI down so much that they'd be in a near dead heat with Duke without that game.  This is why RPI takes so much heat.  I try to account for the fact that Penn's best wins are Denver, Yale, and Harvard, and move them down accordingly.  I might not be doing it enough.

The other conference tournaments - the ones that aren't Ivy League - have wrapped up their semifinals, and their matchups are thus:

A-East: Albany vs. Binghamton.  Albany won't get a bid if they lose, so there's no concern about bid thievery.  Fairfield would move up to the main bracket and Binghamton would probably host a play-in.

A-Sun: High Point vs. Richmond.  Regardless of what happens, the winner will be the 18th of 18 teams and packed off on a trip accordingly.

Big East: Denver vs. Rutgers.  The question of whether Denver gets a bid if they lose is one of the top items for debate; I say yes, they do.  That means that bubble teams are rooting desperately for them.  It'd be hard to see Rutgers making this happen, though.

CAA: Drexel vs. Hofstra.  Hofstra is at higher risk than Denver of missing out - they're closer to the bubble and playing a tougher team.  If the Dutchmen do win, Drexel is probably bridesmaided yet again.  The Dragons are rooting for Harvard tonight so that it'll be easier to stay in bidland if they were to lose.

ECAC: Fairfield vs. Air Force.  Fairfield would host a play-in (or else not have to be in the play-ins at all); Air Force would have to hit the road.  Neither has any effect on the at-large landscape.

MAAC: Siena vs. Marist.  Siena would be pulling for Air Force in the ECAC so they can host the play-in; if Fairfield wins, Siena is hitting the road.  Binghamton would have priority over Siena, if there's an A-East upset.

NEC: Hobart vs. Bryant.  Curse you, Hobart, for wrecking the top story of the year.  Bryant has a very clear path to play-in hosting duties now.