Thursday, May 28, 2015

lake elsinore regional preview

Not-so-fun fact: The last time UVA baseball played in an NCAA regional that was 1) not in Charlottesville and 2) not in the Pacific time zone was 1996.  Every UVA placement in the Brian O'Connor era has either been as a host or in California, except for the one trip to Corvallis, Oregon.  Geographic constraints, I suppose.  You can send three teams on short plane rides, or two teams on bus rides and one team to the opposite coast.  That's how the selection committee thinks, and thus UVA is taking another trip to the desert to face three teams that could practically ride their bikes to the playground.

Last time that happened, though, things went pretty well.  So we'll see.  There's a semi-familiar opponent in San Diego State, last seen futilely throwing Stephen Strasburg at the Hoos' lineup.  UC-Irvine isn't here, but there's another UC-Somebody in their place.  And the Hoos' actual matchup is a fascinating story.  Oh, and if UVA gets past the regional, they won't leave the state, and the #1 overall seed likely awaits.  So the storylines are here, the teams are here, let's see what it all entails.

#1 seed - UCSB Gauchos

Conference: Big West
Record: 40-15 (16-8)
RPI: #20


C: Campbell Wear (.195-1-21)
1B: Robby Nesovic (.344-0-39)
2B: Woody Woodward (.295-0-12)
3B: Peter Maris (.300-2-24)
SS: Clay Fisher (.247-0-18)
LF: Cameron Newell (.380-3-31)
CF: Andrew Calica (.315-1-18)
RF: Luke Swenson (.307-0-29)
DH: Paddy O'Brien (.400-2-18)

SP: Dillon Tate (8-4, 2.08, 100 Ks)
SP: Justin Jacome (7-4, 2.53, 91 Ks)
SP: Shane Bieber (8-4, 2.26, 95 Ks)
SP: Domenic Mazza (6-1, 2.69, 72 Ks)

RP: Robby Nesovic (1-0, 2.70, 13 Ks)
RP: Kyle Nelson (3-1, 0.80, 31 Ks)
RP: Connor Baits (1-0, 4.32, 11 Ks)
RP: Chris Clements (3-0, 2.16, 10 Ks)

Lineup notes: The DH position here is rotated heavily among a few different players, and substituted liberally.  O'Brien is the best hitter of that otherwise not real inspiring group, but Billy Fredrick does have a very patient batting eye, with 18 walks in 72 plate appearances.  Some lineup shuffling was necessary when 1B Dalton Kelly broke his leg in April.

If talking about formidable #1 seeds to try and get past, UVA could hardly have landed in a more favorable regional.  UCSB is a host instead of a 2 seed somewhere because the Big West is legitimately a tough conference; the higher-RPI teams that aren't hosting are in legitimately bad conferences.

Like any 40-win team, UCSB has some high-quality bats in their lineup.  Unlike most #1 seeds, it's not a murderer's row.  The clear best hitter in the lineup is Cameron Newell, the Big West co-POY.  Newell, along with Andrew Calica and Luke Swenson, is part of a very sure-handed outfield; Newell and Calica had zero errors this season and Calica has never committed one in his career.  Calica's a very tough player to put out; he's second on the team in walks and fast on the basepaths with 14 stolen bases against only four times caught.

The top six or seven in the very flexible batting lineup (any Gaucho player might hit in almost any slot, and even Calica, who had a 37-game on-base streak to open the season, has batted as low as eighth) are generally at least solid hitters, but there are some weak points, particularly sub-Mendoza catcher Campbell Wear.  There's not a lot of home run power, though - no Gaucho has more than three - so they bunt and send baserunners frequently.  (Sounds like someone I remember from the last California trip.)

UCSB's real strength is on the mound.  Any one of four starters could take the mound and be a major threat to shut you down.  Dillon Tate is one of the country's elite pitchers and a very likely top-five pick in the upcoming MLB draft, possibly even #1.  (Sounds like someone I remember from the last California trip.)  Tate changes speeds on his fastball, sometimes cranking it up near 96 or 97 or dropping it as low as 91.  His slider is a nasty strikeout pitch, and his well-developed changeup isn't instantly deadly but as a third pitch it's a big reason he's projected so high.

The next two guys on the list are no picnic either.  Justin Jacome and Shane Bieber each pitched very deep into games this year, averaging over 7 1/3 innings per start.  Jacome's control is exquisite, walking just nine batters in 111.1 innings.  Fourth in line is Domenic Mazza, mostly a weekday starter and occasional reliever, but then, weekday starter doesn't mean quite the same as it does in a power conference like the ACC.  Mazza beat fellow regional member USC twice this season.  He'll likely give UCSB an enormous advantage on Sunday this weekend.

This is a beatable team if you can hit them.  Easier said than done.  On a 1-to-10 scale for chances of getting out of the regional alive, D1Baseball gave UCSB a 3.  Ouch.  But the Gauchos will have the advantage in any close game, particularly in, say, the sixth inning when you're starting to warm someone up and their starter is still trucking.  This is an evenly-matched regional by a lot of metrics, and UCSB's bats strike fear into nobody.  But it's never a bad idea to bet on the team with all the pitching.

#2 seed - USC Trojans

Conference: Pac-12
Record: 37-19 (18-12)
RPI: #23

C: Garrett Stubbs (.330-1-22)
1B: Jeremy Martinez (.290-1-35)
2B: Dante Flores (.315-5-41)
3B: Blake Lacey (.295-0-34)
SS: Reggie Southall (.230-1-18)
LF: Bobby Stahel (.379-4-31)
CF: Timmy Robinson (.298-6-50)
RF: A.J. Ramirez (.268-8-39)
DH: David Oppenheim (.281-3-24)

SP: Kyle Twomey (7-2, 2.81, 65 Ks)
SP: Mitch Hart (7-3, 3.67, 48 Ks)
RP: Kyle Davis (3-2, 4.23, 43 Ks)

RP: Tyler Gilbert (4-2, 2.97, 62 Ks)
RP: Brent Wheatley (4-3, 3.68, 62 Ks)
RP: Marc Huberman (6-4, 2.37, 48 Ks)
RP: Bernardo Flores (3-1, 3.38, 44 Ks)
RP: Brooks Kriske (2-1, 2.45, 26 Ks)

Lineup notes: This is a very stable lineup with few changes day-to-day, but USC does platoon at shortstop between Southall and Angelo La Bruna.  It's nothing to do with lefty-righty stuff; they're both switch-hitters.  They're just both not that good, is all.

USC is a helluva story.  Picture Duke, post Coach-K, perpetually finishing 10th in the conference and occasionally scraping an NIT bid as a 6-seed, for a decade, and you get an idea of what Trojan baseball has been like.  After uber-legend Rod Dedeaux retired in the '80s after earning more rings than he had fingers to put them, Mike Gillespie (you see how this keeps coming back to times past?) ran the team for another 20+ years, scoring another national title in 1998.  But Gillespie "retired" after missing the tournament three out of four years,** USC hired his son-in-law for whatever reason, and proceeded to disappear.

The Trojans are back, and they'll be UVA's opponent on Friday.  The dominance has passed to their neighbor UCLA, the national #1 seed, but USC is one of a handful of very respectable Pac-12 teams this year, tying for third in the conference with Cal and ASU.  Their lineup hits for average about as well as 1 seed UCSB, but there's more power in it.  Quite a bit more.  A.J. Ramirez only hits .268, but he leads the team in doubles (14) and home runs (8).

The triples leader, though, is Bobby Stahel, an interesting player to watch.  He's got speed and the best bat on the Trojan team.  D1Baseball's regional preview points out that he's made several web-gem diving catches in the outfield, too, and then goes on to say, "he has been in a handful of rundowns, but has been known to get caught sleeping and get doubled up on flyouts as well."  Wheeee basepath adventures.

USC also sports probably the regional's best catcher, which is actually saying something as there's a lot of quality behind the plate in Lake Elsinore.  Garrett Stubbs has cut down over half the baserunners trying to steal on him, an important weapon because most of the teams in this regional are pretty stealy.  That includes USC most of all, as the Trojans have stolen 93 bases this year, about one and a half per game.  Stubbs himself, along with Timmy Robinson, leads the way there - both have 19.  He's also one of USC's only three .300 hitters and their best bunter.

The Trojans almost certainly have the regional's best bullpen (though that's partly a function of UCSB's starting rotation that renders the bullpen halfway moot.)  There's a lot of pitchers they can call on in later innings.  This is the likely reason they've made the interesting choice of Kyle Davis as the Friday starter against UVA - they can hold back Kyle Twomey and Mitch Hart for the later games of the weekend, and quickly yank Davis for a reliever if he gets into trouble.

This makes for a pretty good matchup for UVA in the first game, as much as a regional three seed could say that.  USC's lineup is good, and if you make a mistake they'll drill it and then steal their way to scoring position, but good pitching should also be able to quiet them down.  Davis allows opposing hitters to bat .297.  It might be fun to let Stahel walk just to see if it's true he comes from the run-til-you're-out school of baserunning, but really, he and Stubbs are the guys you want to send back to the dugout early.  USC won't pinch-hit much, if at all, so a good scouting report on the hitters they send up goes a long way.  A very plausible scenario is for UVA to beat USC on Friday and then lose to Dillon Tate on Saturday, so a possible return game on Sunday with the Trojans can be made easier by jumping on Davis very early and forcing the Trojans to burn some bullpen and neutralize somewhat the huge advantage they have on UVA in that department.

**Gillespie immediately found a job managing in short-season A ball and then went right back to college coaching, so you can read "retired" as "politely kicked out for some dumb reason."

#4 seed - San Diego State Aztecs

Conference: Mountain West
Record: 40-21 (19-10)
RPI: #76

C: Seby Zavala (.283-14-64)
1B: Andrew Brown (.299-1-31)
2B: Alan Trejo (.251-1-16)
3B: Ty France (.346-4-48)
SS: Danny Sheehan (.310-6-45)
LF: Spencer Thornton (.328-2-20)
CF: Steven Pallares (.341-8-47)
RF: Chase Calabuig (.320-1-25)
DH: Justin Wylie (.245-3-16)

SP: Bubba Derby (7-4, 3.35, 122 Ks)
SP: Mark Seyler (9-2, 2.80, 78 Ks)
SP: Marcus Reyes (7-3, 4.20, 45 Ks)
SP: Cody Thompson (4-4, 4.13, 66 Ks)

RP: C.J. Saylor (3-3, 4.86, 42 Ks)
RP: Brian Heldman (3-1, 3.44, 28 Ks)
RP: Brett Seeburger (1-0, 7.01, 26 Ks)
RP: Jacob Erickson (2-1, 3.14, 23 Ks)

Lineup notes: In the MWC tournament, SDSU lost the first game, then made a lineup shuffle that rotated Brown to DH, Wylie in LF, Thornton in RF, Calabuig in CF, and Pallares to 1B.  They kept on winning til they lifted a trophy, and stuck with that lineup the rest of the tourney.  I have no idea whether it'll stick this weekend.

This team, lineup-wise, isn't that different from USC.  Other than the musical chairs noted above, it's a stable lineup with a decent amount of power and solid contact.  Unlike the other three teams in the regional, with Newell, Stahel, and Matt Thaiss, they don't have an obvious elephant in the lineup, but there's good balance at the top and a very solid knack for getting on base.  Bunch of guys with double-digit HBP, and Chase Calabuig, who is not one of them, has 37 walks.

Is it a good enough lineup to touch up UCSB's rotation, though?  Eh....the MWC is a one-bid league, so evaluating their hitting always has to take that into account.  They likely won't get the pleasure of facing Dillon Tate, but we've been over this.  Whoever UCSB throws on Friday is probably better than anyone SDSU faced in-conference.

The Aztecs' pitching, though - eesh.  UCSB has the starters.  USC has the pen.  UVA has - well, some draftable talent, at least a star or two.  SDSU, though, probably has three pitchers you'd really trust in postseason play.  Bubba Derby is one; his 122 strikeouts are more than anyone else in this regional, but he knows how to find the dirt, too.  Mark Seyler is steadier and maybe more effective overall; it was Derby who was rocked in the MWC tourney opener.  Brian Heldman is OK out of the pen.  Jacob Erickson has the lowest ERA among regular relievers, but plunks a batter every four innings.

We've seen worse lineups from #4 seeds, and if they get it together all at once they could at least make it to Sunday.  But a pitching staff like this isn't winning any regionals, ever.


So, what's the strategy for UVA this weekend?  Settle in for story time.  When I was about, oh, 10, 11, or so, I was at summer camp playing some kind of organized tag or capture the flag or obstacle course game, whatever it was.  This camp had a creek at the bottom of a steeply sloped gully of sorts.  During the course of this game I was running pell-mell towards the creek and found myself there before I thought I'd get there, and then found myself sprinting just as fast down the gully.  Bit scary, but I decided my best chance of not tumbling ass over teakettle into the bottom was just to keep running and try to put my foot somewhere safe with each step.  If I tried to stop and go more deliberately, I'd definitely crash.  I ended up still upright at the bottom with enough momentum to get me halfway back up the other side before I had to do any real climbing work.

Why I remember this I don't know.  But this is pretty much how UVA has to approach this regional.  And BOC knows it.  He knows what he's doing with pitching staffs, and remember this is the guy that held Danny Hultzen for Saturday and let Robert Morey try to beat Stephen Strasburg.  He definitely believes in the rule that your ace goes in game 2 no matter what.  Not this year, though.  Connor Jones is throwing against USC, Brandon Waddell, presumably, gets the next call.  BOC has said, more or less, that Josh Sborz goes whenever he's needed.  We're going all out to win the first one and then the next one and so on - no chess matches.  The best chance we have is to go 3-0.  The longer this gets stretched out, the faster our chances swirl the drain.

Bigger-picture, this is a fascinating regional.  The top three seeds have RPIs of 20, 23, and 21.  The teams have a lot in common.  They play the college-ball style to various degrees - bunts and steals.  They all have good catchers who can nullify that game.  All but SDSU have a single big-time hitter surrounded by a solid supporting cast; SDSU just has a bit more balance at the top.  Oh, and the host is the second-farthest team from the stadium site, since they don't have lights of their own.  It'll feel more like a true neutral site, except that orange and blue probably won't be well-represented.  And the prize: a trip across town to play the national #1 seed, barring a wild upset.

And because 2009-all-over-again won't go away, if there is a wild upset, the likely beneficiary, and therefore the likely super-regional host if UVA pulls off this regional .... is Ole Miss.  Somewhere, Tim Weiser is cackling.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

function and dysfunction

Let's tell a tale of two programs.

The baseball team - profiled last week as they kicked off a road sweep of the Tar Heels - has lifted themselves off the NCAA bubble and is looking at a probable 2 seed in the tourney.  They're just about out of contention in the ACC tournament after a bullpen meltdown against Miami - to get to the final they'll need to win out and hope Miami loses out - but even getting where they are now has been a pretty gutty performance.  Especially Tuesday, when they mercy-ruled Georgia Tech right out of Durham.

Sign of a healthy program.  (Figuratively speaking.)  They might've not made the ACC tournament at all.  Then they might've not made the pool play.  Instead, over a four-game stretch, they dominated against supposedly level competition.  The announcers during the UNC series couldn't stop talking about how UVA looked like a team ready for the postseason while UNC looked flat and uncompetitive.

It's a mindset, perpetuated by a coach who knows how, when, and why to push the buttons, and enabled by veterans with expectations.  There will be 16 regional hosts.  UVA will not be one, but one of them will be awfully chagrined to see the Hoos come to town.  And that doesn't mean UVA will be the favorite to come out of whatever regional, but if someone else does, they'll feel just a little like they dodged one.

There are, of course, obstacles, starting with that aforementioned bullpen.  It's thin because there are two starters laid up with injury and thus two guys who, in a four-game (or God forbid, five-game) regional, will be starting when ordinarily they wouldn't have.  The best shot we have is to just go 3-0; if it stretches out against the 1 seed, we'll run out of depth before they do.  But even in a down year, UVA commands respect with its play.


Contrast that to everyone's favorite facepalm inducer.  Remember, the football team went 5-7 last year.  That's bad, but on the surface, it's not that bad.  It's not like, Duke-under-Ted-Roof levels of walking, talking incompetence.  But that's what it feels like.

Normally a team with a pretty good share of upperclassmen coming off a 5-win season would be expected to improve and go bowling.  But if UVA's not picked last again in the Coastal by every observer from Boston to Miami, it'll be an upset.  This is a team that doesn't know how to succeed, coached by someone who just mashes the buttons randomly hoping to land a hit.  As you might've learned from playing Mortal Kombat growing up, that works just often enough to have you keep trying it.  Unless you're going against someone who knows what they're doing.  Then it just becomes a slaughter.

This week the dysfunction came erupting to the surface when two - two! - quarterbacks announced their intention to take the hell off.  One eventually stayed after a meeting with the coaches to "clear the air," or beg him to come back, or whatever.  The aftermath of all this saw two incredibly sobering facts come to light.  I can't take credit for either, but I repeat them here anyway:

-- 2011-2012 was the last time the UVA quarterback who started the last game of one season also started the first game of the next season.  It won't happen this year, making three offseasons in a row UVA has either benched or lost its previous starter.

-- Not one quarterback recruited by Mike London has finished his career at UVA as a quarterback.  Michael Strauss, Mike Rocco, David Watford, Phillip Sims, and Greyson Lambert all transferred out.  Brendan Marshall and Miles Gooch switched positions.  Jake McGee switched positions and transferred out.**  And Corwin Cutler had to be convinced to stay.

We'll see if Matt Johns can last two more years.  Nobody else left on the roster has ever thrown a college pass.

It's not really worth wasting much more time on the whole situation.  I had plans for a much longer diatribe, but there's no point anymore.  Either you already know Mike London is a complete drooling bungler when it comes to the subject of developing and managing quarterbacks, or you've got denial issues sort of the way Hitler insisted the war was still winnable in April 1945.  Some men you just can't reach.

Cutler's about-face doesn't really fix anything.  It's certainly helpful.  Johns has two years, free and clear, to do something with the job, after which Cutler will be badly needed if he fends off Nick Johns and Sonny Abramson.  Patience on Cutler's part gives him a chance to be The Future.  Assuming any or all of them stick around, which is no guarantee.  But Cutler is essentially a tool in the toolbox.  For a man who needs an instruction manual for a hammer, that's not much use.  Cutler stays, but so does the dysfunction, until the broom finally comes out.

**That might not be fair since he was never really recruited as a QB, but hey, while we're piling on, let's just point out that the only really good tight end London recruited did in fact transfer, which is not exactly a sign of a healthy program.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

what the hell happened

That title could easily refer to the lacrosse debacle Sunday, but truth is, figuring that out would be a waste of words.  The same things that were wrong with UVA lacrosse all season (including, by the way, a seeming lack of interest from the coaching staff in fixing fundamental mistakes) were also wrong on Sunday, plus Matt Barrett made less than one save.  Barrett had been keeping the Hoos in games all season.  When headstands from the goalie were absent, the whole house of cards plopped to the ground ignominiously.

Nope, this is about baseball, which I've set a record for not talking about this year.  It's a little harder to follow this year because I refused to fork out real money for the amateurish production that is Cavaliers Live.  On the occasions when they've been on real TV, it's been painful to watch.  A team that was comfortably in the preseason top five now is not even a lock to be top ten in the 14-team conference - which would put them outside the ACC tournament.

It's very flattering that UVA has the kind of program where as long as you return enough players, your replacements are assumed to be good enough to carry you to the elite ranks again.  All the same, given the questions faced by the bullpen and the outfield this preseason, ultra-lofty expectations probably shouldn't have been thrust onto this team.  A top-25 selection would've made sense.

Once the injury bug got its hooks into this team, though, it never let go.  And it kept on biting during the season.  Joe McCarthy and Nathan Kirby are arguably the team's biggest star power.  McCarthy missed a huge chunk of the season with a back injury and has not at all returned to form since picking up a bat again.  Kirby was humming along very nicely (though not quite dominant, which was contributing a bit to the team's swoon) when his lats said "screw you buddy" and shut him down for the season.  Add John LaPrise - a .348 hitter last year - to that mix.  What that left us was just four of last year's starters - counting the pitching rotation - that didn't either get hurt or go pro.  Kenny Towns, Daniel Pinero, Brandon Waddell, and Josh Sborz.  That's it.

And then all the replacements got hurt, too.  Jack Gerstenmaier was on track for a starting job until his hamstring said nah.  Derek Casey had settled very nicely into the weekday starter's role when that went south on him, too.  Casey, in fact, was slated to move into the weekend job with Kirby just recently out of the lineup, and his start against Longwood on a Tuesday was supposed to be a shortish one so he could be ready that Sunday.  Ernie Clement, the usual starter at second base, missed a handful of games, and Matt Thaiss hasn't been able to help out with the catching, being limited to playing first base by a wonky hip.  (That said, Thaiss has been unquestionably the MVP at the plate this year.)

Here's the wacky little secret, though: This team isn't hitting that much worse than last year.  Last year's team?  Not overwhelming at the plate.  Good enough to win in front of the absurdly good pitching that propped it up.  It really feels like they're hitting worse, and maybe the better pitching in the postseason takes your numbers down some.  (That said, that's not really the case last year, not so's you'd notice.)

But, runs per game in 2015 is 5.39; in 2014 it was 5.48.  This year's slash line: .273/.360/.381.  Last year: .280/.375/.377.  Those aren't real differences.  A real difference would be as compared to 2013, where the bats pushed across 10.9 runs a game and batted .312/.408/.463.

Thing is, 2013 had that amazing hitting and decent pitching.  2014 had amazing pitching and decent hitting.  Both were enough to carry the team a long, long way.  This team has decent hitting and decent pitching.  Add a dash of not being so good in the clutch - real big surprise for a team relying much more heavily than usual on freshmen - and you get a team whose record is.... decent.

This all puts UVA in a funny place: the bubble.  For both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.  I'm not sure they can make the latter if they miss the former; the Hoos are trying to fend off Wake Forest for the final spot, although the conference is so tight this year that a whole bunch of higher seeds are in play.  (Which don't much matter, because 7 through 10 are all in the same boat.  They'll play one game to try and get to the pool play.)  Should the Hoos win their way into the ACC tourney, they ought to hear good news from the NCAA committee as well - though it'd come in the form of a 3 seed somewhere.  We'll take it.  Freshman experience and all that.  Next year, when the team has to stop putting a bunch of guys in roles they weren't meant to play (all those injuries wreaked absolute havoc on the rotation and bullpen, for example, and not just on the guys who can't go) things should be back to normal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

hoops in review, part 2

The much-coveted hoops review continues with the second half of the roster.

#11 - Evan Nolte - Jr. SF

Preview quote: "Nolte's an interesting case. It's very fair to say that other than the freshmen who we haven't seen at all, he has the least predictable role on the team, and even then, it's not like we don't know what Devon Hall or Jack Salt are here for."

In the preview I labeled Nolte a power forward after some deliberation.  Here he's a small forward.  That about sums things up, really.  Nolte was an odd duck of a player this year, with no particular defined role and lots of minutes regardless.  He was the only player to cross over between the frontcourt and backcourt, playing about a quarter of his minutes as one of two bigs rather than one of three guards.

Those minutes were weirdly situated, too.  Nolte's playing time was circling the drain midseason, with a stretch of four games where he played six or fewer minutes.  He was down to three against UNC.  Then Justin Anderson broke his hand, and Nolte immediately jumped to 24 that very game.  He would play almost two-thirds of his season total minutes in the final one-third of the season, starting every game but the last and regularly topping 30 minutes on the court.

This was to the consternation of quite a few fans.  Nolte's most readily apparent role was to shoot threes, which was supposed to be the thing he did best.  Instead he had a completely horrible year in that area.  The whole deal was eerily reminiscent of Sammy Zeglinski, who caught way more heat than he deserved because he wasn't shooting as well as people thought he should.  (I should've anticipated this.  Nolte also took totally unwarranted heat for his sweet choice of shirt during summer run-from-the-cops shenanigans.)

Me, I get irritated at fans who act as if the only thing that matters is shooting.  Nolte was in the game for so many minutes all of a sudden because he was getting it on the defensive end.  I also wrote before the season that Nolte was due for a big jump in play, and though nothing he did on a stat sheet would've indicated such a leap, his defense was, somehow, outstanding.  They don't hand out defensive all-conference honors for stubbornly staying in front of people, but one thing you hardly ever saw was Nolte getting beat on the ball.  It involved the adoption of a really goofy-looking defensive stance where Nolte made himself much shorter than his 6'8" frame and stuck his hands out palms-forward, but that right there was your leap ahead: on-ball defense and the invisible game.

I don't think we'll see 30 minutes a game for Nolte next year, but then I also don't think he'll shoot under .300 from three again.  It didn't look like there was anything wrong with his shot; they just didn't fall.  But what he did do is establish himself in Tony's mind as a player well within the circle of trust; up til the last month of this season, you'd have wondered about that.  Last year the prediction was that Nolte was one player in danger of seeing his minutes dwindle if he didn't develop a dependable skill set.  Like it or not, he did that.  It showed a bit late, but he did that; next year, as a senior, the minutes will be there.

#13 - Anthony Gill - Jr. PF

Preview quote: "[H]e should find himself in the conversation for some all-ACC recognition if all goes well."

All did go well, and this is the simplest, most straightforward assessment we'll do on the whole team.  Gill moved into the starting lineup this season and had little trouble with the transition.  His efficiency probably exposed some vestiges of pacism among the all-ACC voters; he was KenPom's #7 player in the country (a rating admittedly heavily influenced by team quality - but then, so is all-America voting) but only third-team all-ACC.

Gill was actually UVA's most efficient offensive player, nosing out Justin Anderson.  Like a lot of the players on this team, he's terrifically strong, and he used that muscle to be a terror on the offensive boards; draw copious fouls; and make 58% of his shots.  He was at his best going straight at the rim.  He liked to try fallaway shots as well (especially, and very maddeningly, against MSU) and they weren't nearly as effective as a simple bull-rush at the rim.  Gill has enough quickness to start the move, and then use his strength to finish and/or draw the foul.

Not much to overanalyze here, really.  Gill was the offensive centerpiece of the frontcourt, a role he stepped into like a pair of slippers.  Darion Atkins had such a tremendous year that he was the clear focus on defense, but next year that'll probably be Gill too.  He'll be one of the conference's top returning players next year.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - Jr. SG

Preview quote: "[T]here's every reason to expect him to become not just UVA's marquee player, but one of the ACC's as well. ... [F]irst team all-ACC is the expectation."

Mission accomplished.  Brogdon was one of four players to be a unanimous or near-consensus pick for the media's first team (the others were Jahlil Okafor, Jerian Grant, and Rakeem Christmas.)  Brogdon was also on the all-defensive team, making him and Christmas the two best all-around players in the conference.  Scoring is what usually gets you a lot of attention, but Brogdon was rightfully recognized as an elite on-ball defender.  He's really big for a guard, so going around him was difficult, and he's quite probably the strongest guard in the conference.  Best example of his skills: Wake Forest tried to use Codi Miller-McIntyre to break him down one-on-one for the game-winning basket, and Miller-McIntyre never made it past the key.

Offensively, Brogdon is actually even better than he thinks he is.  To be specific, his ballhandling and driving.  He doesn't lack at all for confidence in his jump shot, and in fact has the really maddening habit of shooting them with his toes on the three-point line.  He'll come off a curl, or he'll take a step-back jumper, and it'll be from a distance that might as well be a three if you're gonna shoot from out there, but isn't.  Next year I hope he starts his move six inches further from the basket.

But I digress.  Brogdon doesn't have a lot of deception in his driving game, but he's so strong he doesn't need much.  The guy can finish through a ton of contact.  He has it in him to be that clutch scorer who's there when you absolutely, positively need a bucket, and he's flashed that ability.  If he figures that out, UVA might not lose a close game all year.

#21 - Isaiah Wilkins - Fr. PF

Preview quote: "In his commitment profile I called him a Swiss Army knife of a player; he doesn't blow you away with shooting range or power and strength, but he's athletic, long-armed, and energetic, and should do a nice job on defense as long as he's got the system down enough to be out there."

I think that sums up Wilkins's season awfully well, actually.  He started off against JMU with a game that drew a ton of praise for its all-around contributions: 8 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 19 minutes.  Almost all those numbers were season highs, as it turned out, but Wilkins had far too much depth in front of him to be in for 20 minutes every night.

His usage was a little erratic - he played 14 minutes in a tight one against Notre Dame after sitting the last three completely out, for example.  And his offensive game wasn't well-developed at all.  But he sported - with small-sample-size warnings applying - an 8.7 block percentage, and had 2.7 blocks per 40 minutes.  The fewer the minutes, the worse the extrapolation, so that's a number to be taken with many grains of salt, but even so, he had 18 blocked shots - which was two more than Anthony Gill in less than 1/3 the playing time.

So I think he had a perfectly acceptable year, which I don't mean as damnation with faint praise.  Playing the one spot where a freshman would've had the hardest time standing out, he managed to at least carve a niche.  Tony and the staff are starting to work on a real nice track record developing big men - just look at Mitchell and Atkins - and Wilkins should be due for a big increase in responsibilities next year.

#32 - London Perrantes - So. PG

Preview quote: "The bottom line is, UVA has as veteran a point guard as you'll find in the league - and he's a sophomore."

The narrative was that after the electric scorer and deadly shooter broke his hand and had to sit, the normally pass-first point guard starting take a more assertive role in the scoring department, helping to shore up the business of getting points for the scoreboard.  It sure seemed that way.  It wasn't quite.

Perrantes did do that, a little bit.  He took about two shots more per game post-Justin-injury than he did before it.  But his three-point shooting percentage took a nosedive from last season - which surprised me, because, again, it didn't seem like it.  He made up for it by being a better shooter from two and upping his assists, but the overall numbers picture doesn't line up with the narrative.

Which is why we rely on numbers, but we're not a slave to them.  Point guardery isn't always about the numbers, not even the assists.  Perrantes did assert himself more than last year.  He made himself more visible, more available.  He was more active without the ball.  There wasn't, on the stat sheet, a huge difference in his play from last year, but he developed all the same.

#33 - Jack Salt - Fr. C

Preview quote: "The likely contribution is as a practice body."

Which was the case; Salt, as expected, redshirted.  Details on how that year went depend on who you ask.  I've seen reports ranging from "not progressing as hoped" to "Tony absolutely loves what he sees."  With Mike Tobey a senior next year, I think Salt's career will continue to be on a slow start.  But we'll at least get a few chances to see what we have in the big Kiwi.


So, a quick look at the rotation for next year.  The Hoos have to replace about 28 minutes in the frontcourt and 24 minutes in the backcourt.  It's tempting to say we already saw what replacing Justin Anderson will look like, but Tony, like most coaches, had settled into a rotation he liked by the late stages of the season, and simply extended a few players a few minutes each and gave Evan Nolte the rest.  Next year is a bit of a clean slate.  Devon Hall will have a chance to reassert himself, and Darius Thompson (who some reports say is easily the quickest ballhandler on the team and a great candidate to add a slashing dimension that wasn't really there last year) will have every opportunity as well.  And Marial Shayok could see a large boost from his 14.6 minutes as well.  It's a crowded situation.

The bigs don't have it any easier.  Gill is the only one with a guaranteed allotment.  Mike Tobey will play, of course, but he might stick around 17 minutes or he might get ten more.  Wilkins should become more of a regular, and Salt and Jarred Reuter, who even knows?  It's a surprising amount of unknowns for a team that returns most of its players.  The fact that there are so many possibilities is a showcase for the remarkable depth.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

final lacrosse bracketology

Here it is, the final projection for the lacrosse tournament.  The selection show is at 9:00 tonight, so in about four hours we'll see if I'm any good at this.

Some portions are easy.  The play-in games are not difficult to figure at all.  Geography and resumes converge to make them an easy call.  The top five seeds are relatively simple as well; I think I'd be surprised if they were in any other order than that one, and very, very surprised if it was any but those five teams.

The next three seeds are tough.  UVA is certainly one.  Maryland is almost certainly another, despite their late-season swoon.  (Their loss to Hopkins was huge for UVA.  Maryland had a common-opponent edge by having beaten UNC, and they lost that with their loss to Hop.  Throw in a semifinal loss to OSU in the B1G tourney, and there's no longer a strong justification to put them ahead of UVA.)

Cornell had held down the 8 spot for a while, but they're not the Ivy champion.  Yale is.  And when I was trying to figure out the last couple at-large spots and the Ivy League was well-represented among the contenders, I noticed one thing: they'd all beaten Cornell.  Cornell has one marquee win that didn't also beat them: Yale.  Despite that, I broke with my system and gave the final seed to Yale, based on being Ivy champs and also actually having a marquee win OOC (Maryland.)

The committee has some tough work to do on the last two at-large spots.  As I see it there are six plausible contenders: Georgetown, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Ohio State, and Marquette.  Harvard has wins over Yale and Cornell, but too many losses, including bad ones to Penn and Dartmouth.  Out.  Georgetown and Marquette don't have strong enough wins.  Marquette did beat OSU; their next best wins are Villanova and Richmond, neither of which are confused for contenders.  And the Hoyas are basically hanging their hat on two wins over Marquette, plus a win over Loyola.  Both out.

That leaves Princeton, Brown, and OSU for the final two slots.  Brown has a win over Princeton, which is hard to ignore.  But from a simple full-resume standpoint, I think Princeton is marginally the strongest.  They took Yale to the bitter end in the Ivy championship after upsetting Cornell, and they've beaten Yale earlier in the year.  They also have a win over Johns Hopkins.

In comparing Brown to Ohio State, you basically have a team that performed at a steady, decent level all year against a team with huge peaks and valleys.  Brown's best OOC win is Marist.  That's not too inspiring.  They did beat Princeton and Cornell.  But at some point, you just have to accept that the whole Ivy League is a blender that has spent a lot of time beating each other up.  Big OOC wins are important, which is why Yale gets a nod over Cornell and why Princeton gets a nod over Brown.  OSU, on the other hand, has been at times totally inspiring and at others a complete disaster.  The inspiring side (wins over Hop, Maryland, and, very importantly, Denver) outweighs the disastrous side (losses to Detroit and Rutgers and getting shut out by Notre Dame.)

So there ya have it.  If this is how it shakes out, it'll be fascinating for UVA.  A peaking-at-the-right-time UVA could put a stop to Lyle Thompson and Albany, who've inflated their stats against lame A-East competition, and then knock off a UNC team they nearly beat in the regular season to get to Philadelphia.  It's just as plausible to see UVA get rolled by Albany's firepower.  Of course, it's also just as plausible to see UVA get a totally different matchup - Princeton, maybe.  We'll find out at nine.