Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014's top ten

Here we are on New Year's Eve Eve.  Only one sporting event is left us for the year of 2014, and it's unlikely to produce anything truly epic, so it's a good time to join the rush of year-in-review junk and talk about the best of the year.  With the obvious implication that we hope 2015 can beat it senseless - although it'll be tough.

Honorable mention: Coholan gives UVA a win over Johns Hopkins; Justin Anderson's fingertip block against Pitt; UVA takes advantage of Louisville's dropped punt; every Cavalanche ever

#10 - Women's tennis wins first ACC title

We've been expecting the women's team to start filling the trophy case with hardware to match the men a little bit, and this was the year they broke through, winning the ACC title as the #3 seed.  On April 26 they beat second-seeded Miami in a 4-0 rout - the same team to whom they'd lost 5-2 just six days earlier.  The following day the championship was wrapped up, and women's tennis became the 20th Virginia program to claim an ACC title.

#9 - Malcolm Brogdon beats Pittsburgh with a three-pointer

I could make this entirely about basketball if I wanted.  There were plenty of those moments.  This was definitely one of the better ones.  The team, at the time, was 7-1 in the ACC, the lone blemish being a hard-fought loss at Duke, but we still couldn't be real sure what we had.  The Cavalanche was just becoming a thing, but UVA hadn't yet gone on the road and beaten a legitimate team.  Pitt was a legitimate team that played tough defense, and the game bogged down into trench warfare.  UVA spent most of the game trailing, ever so slightly, tied it with three minutes to go, and made a defensive stop with ten seconds left to keep it that way.  9.6 seconds later, Brogdon silenced the raucous arena, and UVA had a signature win that kept alive what ended up being a 13-game win streak.

#8 - 75-26


#7 - Women's soccer makes first national title game

OK, they didn't win it, but let's not let what didn't happen detract from what did.  The team was a regional 2 seed - one of the top 8 teams in the country - so their presence at the College Cup wasn't a complete surprise.  But they were the only non-#1 seed there, and they beat two #1 seeds to get there.  The win over Texas A&M in the semifinal was nice - well-played and mostly dominated by the Hoos - but it was the quarterfinal win over UCLA that was most impressive.  The Lady Hoos went to Los Angeles and snapped a 44-game unbeaten streak for the Bruins.

#6 - The triple-block

There's a lot of moments to choose from in that rematch against Pitt.  The ACC semifinal was just as hard-fought as the first game back in February.  I'd venture to say that the Panthers were the Hoos' worthiest ACC foe.  Nothing, though, sums up UVA's defense better than what happened when Pitt's Cameron Wright thought he had a layup lane.  He did, for a split second.  By the time he left his feet, it was gone, and Darion Atkins, Akil Mitchell, and Justin Anderson were flying in to reject it with more authority than any shot in basketball history has ever seen.

#5 - 15 innings against TCU

At the College World Series, UVA had had only one small hiccup along the way: a Game 1 loss in the super regionals to Maryland.  The Terps were summarily eliminated two days later, though.  After dispatching Ole Miss in a tough CWS opener, UVA faced TCU to try and stay out of the losers' bracket.  It turned into a 15-inning pitchers' battle, with a full nine scoreless innings in a row.  It was the longest game in CWS history.  UVA went down 1-2-3 in every inning after the 9th - until, of course, the last.  The TCU center fielder made a fantastic diving grab on Mike Papi; Brandon Downes threw out a TCU baserunner (on a hit and run!) at third base.  The game ended when UVA manufactured a run out of a Nate Irving double that broke the ice in the bottom of the 15th.  The win put UVA one more win from the CWS final, which they got against Ole Miss four days later.

#4 - Danielle Collins wins national title

A season of firsts for the women's tennis team?  Yup, and none greater than adding a national title to the list.  Collins was seeded 32nd, but went on a six-match tear, knocking off the 2nd and 7th seeds along the way.  This was the only national championship of the academic year, but not the calendar year....

#3 - Men's soccer adds a seventh star

UVA was only the 16 seed in the tournament.  They were 111th in the country in goals per game.  They didn't have the firepower you'd want out of a dominant team - much less than the women had.  So George Gelnovatch changed up the strategy.  He set up a Maginot Line and sent the team to work.  UVA scored more than a single goal just once during the NCAA tournament, and twice went to penalty kicks.  Championship opponent UCLA (Bruin soccer fans must've gotten pretty tired of UVA by the end there) was the more talented team, but UVA dominated the play by swarming, bunkering down and turning back every attempt at the goal.  The announcers complained, UCLA's coach complained, but it was UVA putting the star on the crest after Riggs Lennon slammed the final penalty kick right down the middle.

#2 - ACC champs in Greensboro

It's never easy when Duke is involved.  But it does make it sweeter.  The Hoos put the cap on a truly magical ACC season by frustrating the Dookies in front of what should've been a partisan Duke crowd and instead was mostly wearing orange.  Akil Mitchell shut down future NBAer Jabari Parker - yes, Parker scored 23 points, but shot 9-for-24.  Coach K managed a technical for throwing a magic marker - perhaps a sign that Duke's special status was wearing off.  Grabbing bragging rights and ownership of the ACC for a season - it'll last forever, immortalized on a JPJA banner.  Later that day, the Hoos would learn they earned a 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.  So why isn't this the best of the best?

#1 - Thomas Rogers hits a three

Because championships are designed to last forever.  But when something so mundane achieves the same immortality, it's more special yet.  The blowout win over Syracuse cemented the regular season ACC title, which is nice, but what it did was give the crowd at the JPJ an excuse to sound like a jet engine.  The game was tied at 42 - then UVA poured it on and poured it in and the crowd, already loud in exhortation, got even louder in celebration.  Dickie V got himself all fired up.  The players had to pry the smiles off their faces in between the whistles.  Tony Bennett was the only stone face in the house (the Cuse faces were droopy), but his glistening eyes betrayed him anyway.  Senior Day at UVA was already the biggest party UVA athletics has seen in decades.

Tony Bennett called time-out to give Joe Harris a moment and to give the bench a little taste of the fun.  Harris hugged everyone on his way off the court and the crowd gave him as much of a cheer as they'd been giving for the last five minutes, which was a lot.  (In the post-game interview, one of the exceedingly rare interesting ones, Tony would frame the moment perfectly as something that Harris, and his senior class, had set out to achieve from day one.)  It looked like the perfect finish.  But the players didn't sit down as play resumed - not one of them.  Maybe they knew.

It was handy, then, not having to leap out of their seats when "the other senior" - the walk-on, the guy you clapped politely for during the pre-game festivities - scored three points.  They were the most meaningless three points of maybe the whole season and still the roof blew off and landed in Crozet and you'd think from watching his teammates that it was the national championship.  As explosively loud as it was in the arena, nobody was yelling louder than the guys in uniform.  Storybook.  UVA might win a national title under Tony Bennett and even that might not match what happened that day - because for all the One Shining Moment maudlinism that the networks put on, it'll be hard to match that three-pointer for What It's Really About.

Your move, 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

the recruit: Olamide Zaccheaus

Name: Olamide Zaccheaus
Position: RB
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
School: St. Joseph's Prep
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 195

24/7: 87, three stars; #54 ATH, PA #14
ESPN: 78, three stars; #70 RB, PA #10, East #83
Rivals: 5.5, three stars; PA #30
Scout: three stars; #93 RB

Other offers: Miami, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Ohio, Temple, Old Dominion

First of all, the tricky part: it's pronounced oh-LAH-ma-day za-KEY-us.  With that covered, let's see what we can do about a scouting report.

The most obvious thing that jumps out of any page on Zacchaeus is his size.  At 5'8", he definitely qualifies as a small running back, and I'm tempted to not believe the 185-195 pound range where he's listed, too.  No big change there for the UVA roster; the Hoos are graduating two other 5'8" backs in Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd.  Zaccheaus, however, looks smaller than either, in girth more than anything.  Parks is much more of a bruiser; Shepherd is a much better comparison.

That said, announcers did tend to really like the cliche about getting lost in the pile when talking about Parks, and if they liked it about him, they'll love it about Zaccheaus.  Huge pet peeve of mine: When a runner meets a defender in the open field and stops short, apparently thinking himself an all-world juker, ready to dazzle the world with the Barry Sanders moves he's about to unleash, and gets tackled from behind.  Or tackled by the defender, who's a lot more athletic than the high school mooks the runner is used to.  Bonus points if the ballcarrier stops just short of the first down and leaves his team with 4th and 1.  Zaccheaus doesn't really have that problem.  His style looks to be a lot more straight ahead, preferring to cut rather than juke, and generally always moving forward.  And he's expert at getting through the trash, and going through rather than trying to go around a scrum. Or at least, that's what happened in the successful runs that became the highlight videos.  There's probably a lesson there.

At any rate, I think it's much smarter running than trying to be Mr. Flash.  Our running game this year wouldn't have been nearly as successful if we didn't have backs who took what was there by going straight forward.  Zaccheaus is reasonably quick and has a pretty good ability to maintain his speed while cutting and changing direction.

There's quite a disparity in his guru ratings.  ESPN and 24/7 think he's one of the better players in Pennsylvania and among the top recruits in our class.  Scout and Rivals - far less enthusiastic.  Size probably has something to do with it, and if so, I don't care.  Running back is probably the position where size matters least.  Most important, I think, is instinct, and ability to find the right path downfield.  Competitiveness and attitude help too, more so, I think, than physical attributes.  None of this can be judged too well from the highlights.  As best I can tell, all of those things trend in the right direction for Zaccheaus, but it's hard to tell unless you watch game in and game out and not the handpicked highlight plays.

I'm inclined to lean toward the more positive rankings.  Part of that is a bias toward running backs in general - it's my favorite position on the field and I always want the incoming guys to be the next (insert fun-to-watch RB of choice here.)  But Zaccheaus has a few legit offers, which says to me he'd have more if he weren't short - too many coaches shy away from that kind of thing.  And if he'd hit a few camps; I can't find any evidence of him doing so.  And he's got some football instinct as well - he picked off a pass in the state championship game to seal a second straight title for his St. Joseph's team.

So I think there's a reasonable chance UVA has a bit of a find.  Plus it's about 50/50 as to whether he redshirts, I'd say.  Most of UVA's production at RB is graduating, leaving pretty much just Taquan Mizzell behind.  Daniel Hamm is the most experienced back left, after him; LaChaston Smith has been buried the last two years and Jordan Ellis just redshirted.  Zaccheaus could work his way into that mix, or he could find a role as a kick returner.  We know so little about the options behind Mizzell that it's close to impossible to predict how soon Zaccheaus will see the field - but an optimistic view is the best bet.

Monday, December 22, 2014

crimson fried

Can we all agree that that was bonkers?  I think we can agree that that was bonkers.  London Perrantes sank a pair of free throws, and just over four minutes into the game the score was 11-2, which is officially lopsided.  From then on it was never anything but.  24-4.  39-6.  51-12.  61-19.  The game delved into the realms of the absurd even before then, with Mike Tobey doing all of the scoring without really caring where he had to do it from.

This team - this defense - has turned into a traveling carnival.  Come see the magnificent Antonio Bennettio!  Watch as he performs incredible feats of strength and defensive prowess.  See his amazing illusions.  Watch as he and his assistants hold yet another team under 30 points.  Marvel as they allow just one field goal in a half.  Who will be their next victim?  Step inside the tent and find out!

You can have your Kentucky-UCLA - this is the blowout of the year.  The uneducated rabble will look at the John Wooden pedigree of one team and the Ivy League pedigree of the other and assume otherwise.  But Harvard, before the two blowouts, was the higher-ranked KenPom team.  Wesley Saunders is a more dangerous player than anyone UCLA has.  UCLA was able to fight back some, being outscored by only five in the second half, and not against the Kentucky scrubs, either - the last UK point was scored by Aaron Harrison, the Cats' leading scorer.  Besides, Kentucky allowed three times as many baskets in the first half as UVA did.  So.

Speaking of Harvard being good - check out their D-rating on KenPom.  91.1 - good for #26 in the country.  That's a damn good score that would've been 7th at the end of last season (early-season ratings are always a little more extreme as blowouts are tough to come by in conference play.)  That's the same defense on which UVA just scored nearly 1.3 points per possession.  And that 91.1 is the post-blowout number.

The Hoos have all the fingerprints of an elite, Final Four-contending team, except for a blue-blood name on the jersey front.  They've handled all comers with at worst minor difficulties.  They've gone into any gym they liked and walked out with a big win.  They've bombed really good teams back to the Stone Age.  They have a pair of elite star players - Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill check in at #3 and #4, respectively, on KenPom's POY rankings, behind only Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor and ahead of everyone on the rosters of Kentucky, Louisville, and Arizona.  These Hoos have one game left in the OOC and regardless of the outcome, they've built a top-notch resume already and are almost certain to plow through the ACC with a ruthlessness not seen since.... uh, last year.  Being able to score the way they have is kinda new, and it's letting us recapture some of the wide-eyed wonder from last season, but this team is also, somehow, even better at keeping the ball out of the basket than they were last year.  Fiat Defensio.


-- Cleveland State got off easy, getting beat by a very workmanlike effort from the Hoos.  I took nothing away from that game except this: Anthony Gill wiped away any last vestiges of doubt that he could fully replace Akil Mitchell with a second-half sequence where he hedged hard, about 30 feet from the basket, and recovered all the way under the rim in time contest the eventual shot.  I thought he blocked it at first, but on replay, it was just a two-foot airball.  Still impressive.  Gill is just fine in the learn-the-defense department, I think.

-- Mike Tobey also impressed on defense.  Particularly on one play against Cleveland State in which his man caught the ball very deep in the post and looked ready for a simple layup - and Tobey, somehow, cajoled him into something resembling a monkey rodeo.  Tobey admitted culpability for the one Harvard bucket in the first half, but whatev - that was actually a really well-contested basket.

-- Merry Christmas.  Nothing is happening until next Tuesday, so rather than a regular Monday post, I'll probably work in some smaller other stuff in between, maybe work on those highlights I keep putting off.  Possibly, for giggles, a preview of Davidson.

Monday, December 15, 2014


National champ-peen-ship, y'all.  I'm long since on the record as admitting I don't get around to watching nearly as much UVA soccer as I'd like.  (I've considered remedying this next year by ignoring football, but that'd be all talk and no action on that front.)  In fact this season I've seen exactly two soccer games: the women's semifinal against Texas A&M and the men's national title against UCLA.  I had to miss the men's semis and women's finals for reasons of State.

It didn't take me long to decide I hated the announcers.  I wasn't even paying attention to them in the A&M game so I have no idea, but it was only about 20 minutes into the UCLA game before I decided the announcing was a zero on a scale of Pam Ward to Keith Jackson.  Their contempt for UVA's game plan was plain as day and got plainer as the first half wore on.  Although I did enjoy their description of the UVA strategy as "cynical."

Guess which strategy UVA went with?

You can't totally fault them, if the idea is that games should always be exciting shootouts.  But UVA came into the game 111th in the country in scoring average.  One-hundred and eleventh, it's not an extra-1 typo.  In only one tournament game did the Hoos score more than once.  UCLA came in with only one tournament game of fewer than three goals.  So it should be no surprise that Gelnovatch decided not to run 'n' gun with the Bruins.  "The beautiful game" it was not, but Gelnovatch isn't paid to entertain the pundits.

And frankly, it worked to almost complete perfection.  Actual perfection would've been a 1-0 win with the one goal probably coming off of some kind of set piece.  You don't counterattack to try and score, because that would expose you; you counterattack with the aim of getting a corner kick.  If it doesn't go in, which it usually doesn't but it's more than worth a try, bunker back down and try again.  I laughed when halftime rolled around and the announcers said UCLA had to be very pleased with the first half and then both coaches said the first 45 went completely UVA's way.  I might've considered it a Bruin domination, if UCLA had generated more than the occasional chance, but UVA's keeper Calle Brown was barely tested.  Owning the possession battle 45 yards out is one thing; it's another thing entirely to dictate the game.  UVA did so without having the ball.

The second half - a little more pressure, the Bruins clearly took their coaching to heart and were less patient, more attacking, but also a great deal more frustrated.  UCLA's Edgar Contreras ought to have been red-carded for a head-butt, but I can't completely fault the refs as the camera was right on it in real time and I still missed it until the replay.  But it was a clear sign that UCLA was used to being able to break down a defense, and UVA's brick wall was getting to them.

The game is likely to attract precisely zero new fans to the game of soccer, but just look at all the bothers I give.  You know I love me some pack-line defense, and so, apparently, does George Gelnovatch.  Tony Bennett wins basketball games 45-26, but he wins basketball games.  At the end of the day, here's the stat that matters most: 21.  And the one that matters second-most is 0.


The first major bit of football attrition hit last week when Eli Harold declared for the draft.  That makes two; David Watford also decided to transfer, but the effect of that will be almost nil.  Except to eliminate bizarre message board posts wondering why he's on the field in any capacity at all, as if not being a good quarterback is the same as not being a good receiver.

UVA dodged a bullet when Max Valles announced that he'd be returning next year, quashing rumors to the contrary.  Smart - Valles would've been going almost entirely on physical attributes.  A year of opening some scouts' eyes would help him.  Harold, though he could benefit from another year, is probably in good shape anyway.  He showed this year that he can defend the run and isn't just a one-dimensional pass rusher.  Once he gets in front of scouts at the combine, he should make an appearance on draft boards and could easily be a second or third round pick; his ceiling, if the workouts look good, would be the low first.

As for our defense, it's a fairly major hit, but there's a long-run silver lining: next year, Harold and the Moores (Michael and Kwontie) would once again have dominated the playing time.  Great, because they'll do well, but no experience for the boatload of guys behind them.  Trent Corney should start off as the third DE, but there's a trio of redshirt freshmen who will get a chance to make a wave or two as well.


And the second major bit of football attrition is on the coaching staff, as Scott Wachenheim is off to VMI to play head coach.  Good for him - it's his first head-coaching gig, though he did have the title of OC and assistant HC at Liberty for a few years.  There can't be a tougher place in the world to win at football than VMI, except maybe the Citadel.  From his perspective, this is definitely striking while the iron is hot - the chances that most of this staff is out of a job next year are awfully high, and you might as well grab a promotion while it's there.  Even if London was on rock-solid ground, I think he'd go anyway, but still.

Wachenheim leaves with one of the most mixed legacies I've ever seen for an assistant coach.  He was vilified at times for the play of the O-line, and I think at least partially deservedly so.  But he leaves on a positive note, having gained a lot of credit for making the O-line not be a total black hole of suck despite being held together with Scotch tape and having to use 260-pound converted DE (or TE or whatever) Jack English as a left tackle.  And I think also deservedly so.

It leaves UVA with two openings to fill, including the impending (or already-occurred) retirement of Tom O'Brien, whose UVA career was basically a dud.  There's an inexplicable level of support for Ron Mattes, who was here like, a year, and performed no miracles.  He'll be here as soon as Bill Musgrave comes back, I'm sure.  A much more likely name, and these tea leaves sure read awfully clearly, thanks to Streaking the Lawn's Tweety account, is current Edmonton Eskimos O-line coach Jonathan Himebauch.


For lack of anything to do in this basketball wilderness, I put together another season sim, since it had been a couple weeks and stuff happened.  You can find it below and on the original season sim post, for easier comparison to the previous version.

NC State and Notre Dame are on the rise; both won an early-season ACC game against Wake and FSU, respectively, and ND has been handling a lot of business as well.  NC State, not so much, but then, Wofford is actually awfully highly-ranked for a SoCon team.

Being as UVA has also been handling business, the Hoos leapfrogged Louisville, which itself didn't exactly fare badly, just not as well as UVA.  Maryland and VCU are both higher-ranked than all but five ACC teams, and UVA crushed both on the road.  It's becoming clear that there's a top three in this league, and as such, the race for the top seed has obvious huge implications.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the recruit: C.J. Stalker

Name: C.J. Stalker
Position: LB
Hometown: West Chester, OH
School: Lakota West
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 225

24/7: 88, three stars; #17 ILB, OH #21
ESPN: 76, three stars; #78 OLB, OH #37, Midwest #87
Rivals: 5.8, four stars; #12 ILB, OH #14
Scout: three stars; #40 ILB

Other offers: West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Massachusetts

To be brutally honest, the spring and summer parade of commitments that almost nobody else had recruited was getting a little worrisome.  It's not much of a way to build a team, and besides, it takes a lot of the fun out of following recruiting.  C.J. Stalker got all that nice and fixed.  From the Cincinnati area, and pursued by most teams in the region, Stalker ended up picking basically the furthest-away (serious) candidate for his services.  And UVA finally gets a linebacker out of Cincinnati after striking out a time or two in the past.

There's a lot of disagreement as to what Stalker's strengths and weaknesses are, which is a bit odd for someone who's been recruited fairly widely.  ESPN says he needs to add strength and bulk.  Rivals called him "big and musclebound."  Most of the services have him as an MLB; ESPN says he's a strong-side guy.  24/7's Jamie Oakes adds extremely admiring words for his football smarts.

This last is believable given Stalker's chosen major: pre-med.  "I want to be an orthopedic surgeon" is something not heard out of many footballr recruits.  To that end, Stalker is enrolling early, joining Grant Polk in that regard.  Early enrollment doesn't guarantee anything in terms of playing time, but in Stalker's case, one wonders.  Thing is, Rivals's assessment of Stalker's stature makes a lot more sense; he looks almost ready to burst out of those already absurdly tight football camp t-shirts.  He probably could add muscle, but he already looks close to college-ready, and that's from this past summer.

Similarly, I think he could play Sam, but then, a smart, high-IQ MLB is priceless for a defense, and since most sources seem to think he's a Mike, I'm forced to agree.  Especially since ESPN's report is kind of contradictory at times.  Your heir apparent at MLB is Micah Kiser, who hasn't seen a lot of field time; this is mainly the fault of Henry Coley, who was more or less indispensible.  But while the LB depth chart looks pretty well filled out, it's mostly full of outside backers.  The three we picked up last year aren't middle guys by any stretch, or at least, they didn't look like it when they came in.  Unless one of them has picked up some new skills, there's not much (other than possibly Jahvoni Simmons, who seems like he could play anywhere) standing between Kiser and Stalker.  Stalker appears close to the field already, physically, and his early enrollment will jump-start his career.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him pushing very hard for playing time right away; he's one of the least likely redshirts in the class.

Monday, December 8, 2014

yearly ordeal

Final Exam Wilderness Journal: Day 2, 8:23 PM - Rations high but spirits already running low.  The prospect of another ten days in this bleak and uninviting terrain has the entire party depressed.  It was thought a brief soccer interlude might raise spirits enough to last the entire journey, but this proved futile.  Scouts report another potential soccer interlude approximately a week's march away, but much of the party is apprehensive, as nobody knows how long it might last or whether it will even provide any relief.  For the next week, however, we have no choice but to trudge on.


Yes, it's that time of year, and it's a little meaner this year than usual.  UVA just finished two very entertaining basketball games in hostile environments, the kind of games that leave you wishing the next one was tomorrow, and instead we gotta wait while the players fill in blue books and scantrons.  The perils of rooting for a school that behaves as a school.

As it turns out, I could easily have waited til after the VCU game to write anything about basketball, because it wasn't too far off a carbon copy of the Maryland one.  UVA held the Havoc-ing Rams to 61 possessions, nine fewer than their usual average of 70.  That actually means the game was 18 possessions shorter than the usual VCU contest.  It's unsurprising that UVA would have more turnovers than usual against VCU, but the clash of styles is a UVA win when the possessions are a lot closer to UVA's average.

If, as I've said, each year's team takes on a new identity of its own, perhaps this year's is the newfound confidence this team exudes.  Twice now the Hoos have gone into enemy gyms, neither of them easy environments, and played as if the place was empty.  Even when Cavalanching hapless opponents last year, they didn't look quite as sure of themselves - it was as if the reason they were excitedly piling on the points was that they weren't sure when they'd get a chance to again.  This year, they play like they know what they can do.  Under a lesser coach this kind of confidence could get out of hand.  Some teams, once they get to this point, look as if they don't mind losing because they assume it'll get fixed in the end, and look surprised when the clock runs out before that happens.

Tony Bennett, on the other hand, pushes a button and that's the end of whatever little run the opponent is making.  UVA saw a double-digit lead erode to four, Tony called time-out, and in just over three minutes it was back up to fourteen again and the game was for all intents and purposes over.  But of course it's more than that - Tony's mantra this offseason ("always thankful, never satisfied") is coming through loud and clear on the court.  This team has no flashy five-star guys, no burger boyz, nobody who got a world of attention for not going to the NBA.**  They're just a bunch of dudes playing ball.  They're still KenPom's #3 team in his rankings, the best team in the country not named Duke or Kentucky.  At this point in the season, I'll take it.

**This could certainly change once Justin Anderson starts getting credit commensurate with his play.  KenPom has him as the 8th best player in the country right now.  It's hard to imagine he can keep shooting .588 from three, but still - he's all over the court, he maintains a very low turnover rate, he makes nice passes, and he's clearly embracing the role of upperclassman and scorer.

-- It's awfully interesting watching the various free throw routines that these guys have developed, mostly over this past summer.  Anthony Gill is the only guy I've ever seen who points his feet sideways.  I keep waiting for the spin to go wrong on Mike Tobey's flip, and the ball go rolling at the ref.  And Anderson's dispensed with the dribble entirely.  But mostly I'm enjoying watching the ball actually go in.

-- The rotation twists and turns took an interesting direction against VCU; Marial Shayok saw just five minutes, Isaiah Wilkins none at all, and Devon Hall, who'd played 1, 2, and 5 minutes the previous three games, got in for 15.  Looked pretty good, too.

-- A few of next year's OOC matchups are already coming out; UVA will play in the 2015 Charleston Classic, a perfectly solid tournament in a great location (not least because UVA is the closest school to the event.)  Oklahoma State seems to be the other marquee team in the event, but actually it's Seton Hall that might deserve the most attention.  The Pirates have several former UVA recruiting targets (Sterling Gibbs, Jaren Sina, Angel Delgado) and an up-and-coming team.  UVA will also head to Madison Square Garden to play West Virginia.  There's also the other end of the home-and-home with George Washington, plus of course a guaranteed Big Ten game (probably Maryland again, knowing our luck.)  I highly approve so far.  It might be nice at some point to take on a Kentucky or a Kansas, but I don't find the OOC schedule lacking without them.

-- Tremendous shame that Morgan Brian's career at UVA ends without a national title.  It would've been more than fitting.

-- The men, though, get their crack in the College Cup next weekend.  UMBC is the surprising opponent, having personally dispatched three of the four seeded teams in their bracket.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

turtle stomping day

I felt like yesterday's game deserved not to wait til Monday for a reaction, then I wondered why.  Trash thrown on the floor, cheers and obscenities hurled at injured players, and whiny Duke-like bitching about the referees that put the home team in the bonus less than three minutes into the second half - in short, there was nothing out of the ordinary for a basketball game night in College Park.

ESPN, the ACC, and the Big Ten conspired to slap UVA in the face with a trip to the most poisonous atmosphere in hoops (although, since my contention is that that decision was made right about the time Maryland announced their departure, they probably did so before UVA was a conference champ) and the Hoos responded like you want a top-ten team to do.  In a game that wasn't as close as the double-digit margin of victory indicated, the Hoos kept their composure perfectly and walked out of the Terrible Customer Service Center with a very big win.

"Composure" truly is the word of the day.  It's a testament either to Justin Anderson's class or good sense that he doesn't stare down the Maryland student section (which is known for never cheering for football or basketball players who decommit from elsewhere in favor of Maryland, because that sort of thing is uncouth) and crotch-grab every time he scores.  It's a testament to Tony Bennett's Zen-like calmness that he didn't pile up eight technicals after watching the Big Ten refs compete to see who could call the ticky-tackest foul.  And it's a testament to Tony's style and the whole team's buy-in that the game might as well have been played in a church for all the team seemed to outwardly care about the environment.

I am, by the way, not interested in hearing about Dez Wells or Evan Smotrycz, the Terps' walking wounded who missed the game.  Neither is at all indispensible on the defensive end - particularly Smotrycz - and UVA turned in their second-best offensive performance of the season, after only the Tennessee State game.  The Hoos dominated the interior scoring game; in fact, other than Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, who took a shot each and missed it (as well as those who never attempted one) every single UVA player shot .500 or better from two.

There's every reason to believe this team will go places.  (Not that there wasn't before, but it's still nice to have confirmation.)  While I don't really believe in the "defense travels" meme, there's still likely to be something to the idea that good defensive teams are also good at consistency - or maybe more specifically, Tony Bennett's team are really good at consistency, because it's a necessary condition of being this damn good at a defensive system.  The ACC is shaping up to have three main contenders.  Being one of them right now is all you can ask for.


-- A butterfly flaps its wings in New York and in College Park, a foul is called.  Possibly the best coaching job of the night was Tony Bennett orchestrating the rotation so that nobody fouled out - even while missing Darion Atkins most of the game and Justin Anderson for a big chunk of it.

-- Not only did Justin Anderson not travel after that rebound (he did in fact dribble a couple times), he was fouled on the play.  The refs just decided that one time to let Jake Layman go over the back without a whistle.  This by the way was after Layman managed to make it from the top of the key to the low block without a single dribble, this in the first half.

-- Which is a better conference - one with three probably-elite teams at the top, an assortment of good to very good ones, and a horrible bottom half?  Or one with one possibly-elite team and a whole huge pack of very good ones?  The results say the latter, I guess - but the way things tend to be defined in the end, which all comes down to tournament performance, the ACC is likely to nose out the Big Ten.  It's worth noting that the B1G has six ranked teams and all but one lost in the Challenge.

Running offense against Kentucky or Louisville is like driving through a tornado — it’s complete chaos, things are flying at you from all angles, and you’re probably crapping your pants as it’s happening. But if you keep your cool and get a little lucky, you can survive. Meanwhile, running offense against Virginia is like driving into a brick wall — you can stay where you are and be perfectly safe, but there’s only one way to get where you want, and that wall isn’t going anywhere.
And the whole rest of it also happens to be exactly the kind of positive press that attracts attention of the best kind.

-- Don't forget that there's soccer this weekend.  The kind of football UVA is good at.  The women are on ESPNU, Friday at 5, and the men on Saturday at 1, on the Georgetown free video site.

Monday, December 1, 2014

how to lose every fan in 10 days

I was prepared for a loss.  I mean, with a Mike London-coached team, that's a given.  You live in Oklahoma, you have a tornado shelter.  You root for a team coached by Mike London, you take nothing for granted in the win column.  I wasn't at all prepared to be slapped upside the face by our own administration.

The idea behind that somewhat controversial countdown clock was simple: X days until we know whether we had a successful season, in which case, good, or we had a bad season but could look forward to a better day ahead with a better coach, in which case, good.  Either way, things were going to look up.

So much for theories.  Leave it to this administration to screw up a good thing.  I suppose they had their reasons and the chances are good that they go beyond the public blather they put out last week.  Maybe it's money, in which case they're being cheap.  Or maybe Craig Littlepage just doesn't have the guts to fire someone he personally likes, until circumstances force him over the edge.**  Regardless of the reason, it makes all this talk about competing for ACC championships just that - empty talk.

A few people theorized that the reason I was asked to take down the old site banner for "copyright reasons" (despite the fact that the picture of Tony Bennett was from his time at Washington State and could not possibly have been owned by the University of Virginia) last year was because of the countdown clock.  I'm not sure that's true, but I'm not sure it's false, either.  Well, there's no clock anymore, and there's not going to be one, and in case the administration really is paying that close of attention to the goings-on at a tiny little 200-readers-a-day blog, here is the exact reason for that: I have less than zero faith anymore in their rational decision-making or the standards they claim to set for the football program.  From where we sit now it's no stretch to imagine they'll let London bumble along and win four to six games for the next ten years.

We've all heard since we were four that actions speak louder than words, and the actions here say that:

-- it's OK to never beat Virginia Tech
-- it's OK to never beat North Carolina
-- it's OK to go 11-29 in conference play
-- it's OK to go bowling once every five years or so, and when you do,
-- it's OK to get your ass kicked
-- it's OK to win one road game in three years

Uncompromised Excellence my ass.  The only thing uncompromised is the rotting stink of a losing atmosphere emanating from the McCue Center.  That's coming through loud and clear.  So is the message that a losing program is acceptable.  Standards have sunk that low.  Teams all around the country fire coaches every year when they don't perform; UVA is happy to keep the one they've got because he's a nice guy.  So we're stuck, for at least one more year, with our offensive-line-neglecting, no-accountability-having, clock-management-fumblefucking, nice guy for a head coach.

Amazingly, there are still apologists for this performance.  A lot of them suit up in uniform on Saturdays, which is understandable considering London's charisma.  You'd think if they wanted to play for and win for their head coach, they'd stop doing incredibly stupid shit like roughing the passer on the Hokies' last-chance drive, or watching the senior captain of the offensive line haul ass downfield on a pass play as if he were an eligible receiver.  But then, the coach doesn't hold them accountable for that kind of thing, and in the game they stay, so why should they ever change?

As for the people in the stands making excuses, you have to admire their creativity.  First it was that the coordinators were all wrong, so they changed them.  Then it was that the team was just too young.  Then it was the fact that we just didn't have an experienced quarterback.  And through it all, the schedule is too hard.  So I guess if we have a senior quarterback leading a team full of seniors, coached by really awesome coordinators, and playing Tulane, Troy, and VMI, we'll win football games.  And in every other year, when adversity reality occurs, well, the head coach can't be blamed for that stuff.  Never mind that the head coach created his own damn adversity by recruiting no offensive linemen and screwing up the quarterback situation beyond recognition.  Never mind that every head coach has some version of these problems.  Most successful head coaches can spell WINNING without being spotted W-I-N-N-I-N.

Now that we've made this very stupid decision, we're basically stuck with it.  I know nobody's all that happy with Steve Fairchild.  Lord knows I was furious at the decision to keep running smack into the middle of the line against VT when it was obvious our offensive line was piteously overmatched.  Hell, I'm sure most people within hearing distance could tell.  But if you fire him now, who do you get?  The rest of the country assumed London would be fired this year, and you can bet they assume he'll be fired next year.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to sign on for what they figure is a one-year gig with a dead-man-walking for a head coach, unless that person is thoroughly unqualified, destitute and begging, or both.  And it's certainly not a good idea to put our quarterbacks through the old three-OCs-in-three-years trick, which is quite likely should Fairchild be shown the door.  The administration has made the decision to ride or die with London - they need to realize that extends to the staff too.

So, next year.  We'll probably go through this whole thing again.  This team is talented enough to win a few games.  There are eight Hoos on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-team all-ACC groupings.  That's more than all but two ACC teams.  (And we go 3-5.)  They're likely going to beat Cuse and W&M, and there are about seven games on the schedule where the opponent is at least beatable enough that the team ought to be able to pull a few wins out of that bunch.  6-6 is an awfully likely outcome.  Bowl game in sunny Shreveport.  And with the shit-for-standards set by this administration, can you say with absolute certainty that that won't earn London an extension?  For the sake of the future, this team needs to either win 10 games or lose 10 games, and nothing in between.  And if you think London is capable of winning 10, look up - I can see the word "gullible" written on your ceiling from here.

**I will offer one possibility that - sort of - exonerates the administration.  Rumors abound that Craig Littlepage will be retiring soon, possibly as soon as this summer.  It's somewhat plausible that Littlepage is thinking in the very long term, and allowing his successor (who had damn well better not be Jon Oliver) to hire a head coach.  If Littlepage hires a coach this winter and then does retire this summer, that coach will have the specter of working for a boss who didn't hire him - which is usually a difficult situation that doesn't work for more than a couple years.  And of course, Littlepage can't just come out and say all this.  If you held a gun to my head, I'd grudgingly admit that I prefer to have a new coach and new AD all at once for the long haul, than to have a new AD come in and be more or less held hostage for a few years with a coach he may or may not want to keep.  But this situation basically depends on Littlepage retiring this summer.  If he doesn't, the whole program is going to be one big ball of dysfunction for years to come.


With the football season over, it's about time to transition this thing to Monday postings.  But I'm probably not going to be 100% strict about it.  What I will do is make sure there's a nice, long column to go up on Monday mornings.  But the possibility exists that things will happen midweek, too.  For example, I fully intend to at least finish writing about the recruiting class of 2015, and I want to write some basketball game previews too, this week especially since there are two pretty big games.  The "new era" of FOV isn't defined in stone yet, but it's going to start happening more or less this week.