Monday, November 30, 2015

game preview: Ohio State

Date/Time: Tuesday, December 1; 7:30


Record against the Buckeyes: 1-3

Last meeting: UVA 89, OSU 73; 1/25/81, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 80, Leh. 54 (11/25); Mem. 81, OSU 76 (11/27)


UVA: 64.4 (#347)
OSU: 68.3 (#283)

UVA: 115.2 (#5)
OSU: 106.6 (#80)

UVA: 92.0 (#10)
OSU: 98.9 (#92)

UVA: .9299 (#3)
OSU: .7030 (#73)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (10.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.3 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (16.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.2 apg)
SF: Marial Shayok (7.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (12.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.3 apg)
C: Jack Salt (3.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.0 apg)

Ohio State:

PG: JaQuan Lyle (11.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.2 apg)
SG: Jae'Sean Tate (10.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.4 apg)
SF: Keita Bates-Diop (12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Marc Loving (16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C: Daniel Giddens (6.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Yes, yes, yes, I'll get to the elephant in the room.  How could I not?  But that can percolate a little, and there's a big basketball game tomorrow, so this post has a closer expiration date.

The basketball powers that be seem to enjoy having UVA play teams I hate for non-UVA reasons, so here we go into Columbus for our portion of the ACC-B1G Challenge.  Ohio State has had a very nice last decade or so in basketball, with two Final Fours and numerous Sweet Sixteen appearances, but their seven-year tournament streak is already in jeopardy, five games into the season.  Losses to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech do not bolster a tournament resume.

Still, though UVA still shows up well in the early-season KenPom rankings, that's mostly from crushing lousy teams and some preseason carryover.  UVA will have to go back on the road into a difficult environment after playing the last four games in some very friendly confines (the arena in Charleston was decidedly pro-UVA throughout the tournament.)  Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger aren't walking through that door for OSU, but they're not all of a sudden a MEAC team.

-- UVA on offense

The 30-second shot clock has affected the UVA offense in one appreciable way: it's rare now to see London Perrantes walking the ball up the court like he's on a Sunday stroll to nowhere in particular.  UVA now pushes the ball up past halfcourt usually within a couple seconds and then stalls the game to a pokey crawl.  They still rank outside the top 300 in offensive possession length (the shorter, the "better".)

Perrantes has so far been a bit more aggressive in looking for his shot, both at the rim and the arc - not like he considers himself the first option or anything, but he's been getting after it a bit more.  That'll be much harder against OSU, because point guard JaQuan Lyle is not only 6'5", but comes in with a five-star pedigree, too.  Lyle has been anything but aggressive on defense, with only two steals on the season, but he's an obstacle all the same.

OSU is a team with good playable size, and it's shown so far in their interior defense; they've been difficult to score on down low and are one of the top shot-blocking teams in the country in the early going.  Center Daniel Giddens has 16 blocks already - more swats than he has field goals - which is a primary reason for his entry into the starting lineup over Trevor Thompson.  Thompson is no slouch himself - you'll recognize the name, he was last seen as a 210-pound beanpole trying to form some semblance of a backcourt with Joey van Zegeren in Blacksburg.  He transferred to OSU and has re-emerged 40 pounds heavier and a viable rotation member, though he's actually only played about a quarter of the available minutes.

UVA's offense was simply abusive against the last four cream puffs, with the result that almost everyone is shooting over .500 from two and a lot of guys are over .400 from three.  During those four games, UVA scored one-and-one-third points per possession, and even in the loss to GW they scored 68 in 68 possessions.  OSU is certain to slow that pace somewhat, and UVA needs to drop a few more threes in than they did against GW (the Hoos started that game 2-for-14 and found themselves in a hole partly because of it) to keep the large and shotblocky OSU defenders from clogging up the lane.

-- UVA on defense

It's early, so these trends will get tamped down a bit - but OSU's offense is similar to its defense.  Their size means they don't get their shots blocked much, and they shoot well inside.  (The caveat to both this and their defense is that cream puffs, even ones you lose to, are generally undersized.)  OSU also has a few guys who've started the season off hot from behind the arc.

Marc Loving is a tough player to guard, shooting well from both two and three.  The same goes for Keita Bates-Diop, who's only 5-for-18 from three so far, which is a sample size problem more than anything as he shot just fine last year and is OSU's top free-throw shooter too.  Austin Grandstaff - a one-time UVA target on the recruiting circuit - comes off the bench for the specific purpose of three-point shooting and is 8-for-19.

There are a couple glaring red spots, though.  OSU turns the ball over too much, and these are generally unforced errors.  A couple bench players - most prominently Trevor Thompson and backup SG A.J. Harris - are particular culprits.  Worse yet is their free-throw shooting, which doomed them against UTA and wasn't any help in their other losses.  Loving and Bates-Diop - no problem.  Everyone else....whoof.  Giddens and JaeSean Tate are brick factories; both are in the .300s.  JaQuan Lyle has been rotten too.  Those three have combined to shoot more than half of OSU's free throws.

-- Outlook

OSU has good size, and their top two scorers are matchup problems who can score from a lot of different places, inside and outside the arc.  And Daniel Giddens is a legitimately tough center, while JaQuan Lyle has looked so far like a pretty good facilitator of the offense.

That said, OSU has yet to play against anything resembling a decent big man.  They've all been either stiffs or nonexistent.  The one exception is Memphis's Shaq Goodwin, who went completely off on the OSU defense with 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting and nine points from the stripe.  This is a losable game if the defense is still a little too loose for Tony's liking, but OSU's flaws should hold them back enough, and the UVA offense has been clicking - even coming down off the mountain would still put them high above the trees.

Final score: UVA 74, OSU 68

Friday, November 27, 2015

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, November 28; 12:00


Record against the Hokies: 37-54-5

Last meeting: VT 24, UVA 20; 11/28/14, Blacksburg

Last weekend: UVA 42, Duke 34; UNC 30, VT 27

Line: VT by 3.5

As you might have guessed by the utter lack of football content lately, it's been hard to form any emotions or strong opinions about football these days.  Impressively, the players keep plugging.  There's nothing tangible at stake and hasn't been for a while, but they're getting after it.  That whole losing-to-Duke thing was getting really old, so it's nice at least to have that on the resume this year.

It's rivalry week though.  I don't care what anyone says, this is the right week to play this game.  Are the students gone?  Yeah, but most of them can make a day trip anyway.  I made it back from 750 miles away, so the Fairfax mafia can too.  Are people busy with friends and family?  Yeah, but surely a reasonably successful program can scrape up enough fans to fill a stadium.  All we need to do is find a reasonably successful program.

This is the right time for this game because no matter what happens in the season, you still have one last thing to look forward to.  Play this game in October and then what?  Hit the seven-loss mark and look forward to that epic end-of-season clash with Pittsburgh?  No offense to Pitt, but I'm gonna say nah.  Rivalry games are storyline games.

And this one has more than enough to go around.  Frank Beamer is definitely coaching his last ACC game and maybe (if things go just right) his last game ever.  Mike London is almost definitely coaching his last at UVA as well.  These two schools meet for a basketball game on January 4 and both may well have introduced new football coaches by then.  Change is in the air.  Both teams are trying to extend their coach's career - one by going bowling and one by hoping they can stave off a firing.

This latter doesn't seem likely, by the way, even with a win.  Just as the economics made it difficult to fire London last year, they make it even harder to keep him this year.  UVA will have to swallow about a $3.5 million pill, but refusing to do would be the very definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Only two coaches are owed any money after this season: London and Jon Tenuta.  No college football coach ever coaches the last year of his contract - the optics of doing so are prohibitive - so keeping London means extending him, and extending him means doing so for like four years.  Or, I suppose, he could coach the last year of his contract, and UVA can figure out how to convince a whole staff worth of assistant coaches to coach on a one-year contract.  There are those who'll say that the huge number of vacancies this year means that the competition for the right coach is bloody and fierce, and they're not wrong, but the size of the coaching carousel also means lots and lots and lots of assistant-coach vacancies.  Any assistant who chooses a one-year contract working for an obvious lame duck over a longer-term contract on a new staff is too stupid to be placed in charge of mentoring young adults.

For this weekend, that means I can stand on very solid ground in predicting that London's days as UVA's head coach are numbered in the single digits.  I'm not going to spend my time chasing rumors about his replacement - and depending on how various teams' postseasons go, that could take a while - but the spectrum of readings about London's impending release are advanced enough to be somewhere between rumor and confirmed fact.  The program and the rivalry will shortly enter a new era.  Given how both have proceeded recently, it's a welcome sight.

-- UVA run offense vs. VT run defense

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 153 carries, 638 yards, 4.2 ypc, 4 TDs
Albert Reid: 57 carries, 257 yards, 4.5 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
134.09 yards/game, 3.84 yards/attempt
101st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
172.55 yards/game, 4.36 yards/attempt
72nd of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

So last week, ACC ref Ron Cherry called an offside penalty on Tech DE Dadi Nicolas, and Nicolas did what anyone would do in that situation: hit Cherry in the arm.  And by "anyone" I really mean no one at all because hitting a referee is as big a taboo as there is in all of sports.  Nicolas wasn't just randomly flailing his arms and didn't realize who was behind him; he actually walked up behind Cherry and angrily whacked him in the outstretched arm (Cherry was signaling "on the defense").

Because Frank Beamer is either an idiot, or thinks we're all idiots, he claimed it was unintentional and suspended Nicolas for 30 minutes.  And because the ACC is full of gutless wonders, they let the suspension stand instead of immediately stepping in and telling Beamer "nuh-uh."  So VT will be missing one of their better run-stoppers for a half - but not the important half.  Great precedent.  Hit a referee, be suspended for basically no time at all.

UVA's running game has settled into an area a notch or two above what it was to start the season.  Back then it was minimally functional - now it's sort of just plain functional.  It strikes fear in the heart of nobody, but at least it moves the ball.  But fortunately, Tech's defense is a tiny shadow of its past self.  The VT D-line has held up well.  Nicolas was much more terrifying last year, but he and Ken Ekanem do a more than passable job of keeping the edges clean.  VT is undersized at tackle, but it doesn't matter too much; Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall, and Woody Baron make for a pretty good rotation in the middle.

The difference is at linebacker, where VT is accustomed to getting good if not great play, and they're not getting it this year.  Hokie fans complain incessantly about Andrew Motuapuaka's play in the middle.  Deon Clarke has done alright, but it's clear the linebacking isn't up to the usual standards.

Still, VT will have the advantage in the trenches and a fresh Nicolas to start the second half, so running the ball will be difficult.  VT can only be said to have truly shut down one team this year (the totally impotent Boston College offense) so there'll be yardage at the end of the day.  It's not likely to move the needle much, though.

-- UVA pass offense vs. VT pass defense

Matt Johns: 229/365, 62.7%; 2,639 yards, 19 TDs, 15 INTs; 7.23 ypa, 132.4 rating

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 68 rec., 671 yards, 4 TDs
Canaan Severin: 51 rec., 713 yards, 7 TDs
T.J. Thorpe: 20 rec., 295 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
244.4 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
68th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
174.0 yards/game, 7.1 yards/attempt
67th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

The yards-per-attempt numbers that I like so much don't tell the story here.  VT is missing Kendall Fuller, who's been out since September.  Without him, opponents have generally avoided Brandon Facyson (who has 10 PBUs and 26 tackles) and gone after Chuck Clark instead.  Clark's not the worst, but he leads the team in tackles, which is partly a function of run support and partly a function of getting thrown at.  A lot.

The real story, though, is still in the numbers.  Tech has only allowed three opponents to complete more than 50% of their passes.  Good for them.  When opponents do complete passes, they average over 14.7 yards per completion.  Bad for them.  To put that in perspective, UNC is the fourth-best passing offense in the country and the second-best non-wacky passing offense in the country (Army and Air Force run goofball offenses where passing is used as a trick play) and they average about 14.5 yards per completion.

In other words, welcome to the wild funland of inconsistent safety play, where VT trusts their free safeties so much they only ever start strong safeties.  (Or rovers, in VT terminology.)  Adonis Alexander is the team leader in picks and he lost his starting job a few weeks ago because he's a wide receiver adventure waiting to happen.

Because of UVA's use-the-pass-game-as-the-run-game approach to offense, that 14.7 is coming down, and Matt Johns probably will complete more than 50% of his passes.  Bypassing the defensive line in this way is probably smart.  Facyson will probably draw Canaan Severin, so with adventureland safety play and the potential for some big gains, T.J. Thorpe could be the game's X-factor.

-- VT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Travon McMillian: 166 carries, 880 yards, 5.3 ypc, 5 TDs
Brenden Motley: 88 carries, 224 yards, 2.5 ypc, 3 TDs

VT offense:
159.09 yards/game, 3.71 yards/attempt
109th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
164.91 yards/game, 4.68 yards/attempt
96th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

The numbers are a little misleading here, too.  VT looks like one of the worst run offenses in the country at first glance.  When they're handing off to Travon McMillian, though, they get a lot more effective all of a sudden.  McMillian started the season at the end of the depth chart, but by the beginning of November he'd shunted aside both Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman and has become the official workhorse back.  With fullback Sam Rogers getting a steady diet of change-of-pace carries, Edmunds and Coleman have all but disappeared.

The stats are also skewed by Brenden Motley, a mobile-ish quarterback who doesn't actually run all that well.  Motley was standing in for Michael Brewer, who returned to the lineup four games ago from a broken collarbone and who never runs anywhere if he can help it.

Neither UVA's D-line nor VT's O-line has been anything like you'd call impressive this year; the thing that matters here is McMillian vs. the linebackers.  McMillian has been very good.  Micah Kiser's 107 tackles say he probably knows what he's doing too.  If the linebackers are on point, McMillian will be bottled up, but that's something most teams have had trouble doing consistently.

-- VT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Michael Brewer: 88/150, 58.7%; 1,122 yards, 10 TDs, 5 INTs; 7.48 ypa, 136.8 rating

Top receivers:
Isaiah Ford: 57 rec., 816 yards, 9 TDs
Cam Phillips: 43 rec., 536 yards, 2 TDs
Bucky Hodges: 33 rec., 458 yards, 6 TD

VT offense:
214.1 yards/game, 7.2 yards/attempt
66th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
256.4 yards/games, 8.2 yards/attempt
110th of 128 (national), 13th of 14 (ACC)

Some teams spread the ball around, getting passes to a lot of different receivers.  Then there's Virginia Tech.  The backs are a small, barely significant part of the passing game.  Backup tight end Ryan Malleck gets a token catch or so each game.  Three guys have 72% of VT's completions.

Those would be receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, and tight end Bucky Hodges.  To be sure, these are three legitimate players.  Particularly Ford, the ACC's receiving yards leader.  Hodges is a difficult mismatch; he's huge, standing 6'7", 241, and your prototypical tough cover as a tight end that nickel corners can barely tackle let alone reach balls thrown high in the air, and who linebackers have a tough time chasing down.

At quarterback, Brewer is....fine.  He doesn't light up the stadium, but he doesn't lose the game by himself, either.  He lets his three main receivers do most of the work and then finds the one that's most open.  If they're open, he can usually find them; if not, he can't throw them open.  He won't make any plays with his feet, either; Brewer is one of the least mobile quarterbacks around.  VT doesn't protect him real well, so Tenuta should be able to pressure him.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 5
Run defense: 4
Pass defense: 4

Average: 4.25

-- Outlook

Stat sheets and past impressions, yes, all well and good; this one's still coming down to intangibles.  These teams are about evenly matched; the difference between them is basically one extra OOC challenge game.  Both have solid quarterbacks, large positional weaknesses that prevent them from contending for anything, and coaches on the way out.

So, cliche as it sounds, it comes down to things like turnovers, wanting it more, making a clutch play, all those things that announcers think every game is about.  VT carried Beamer off the field despite the loss last week; no doubt they'll be motivated to win the last one for him.  UVA, likewise.  VT is pretty good at coming up with wrinkles for the UVA game that surprise the Hoos; UVA, not so much likewise.

Still, UVA is at home, where it so happens they're 4-2, and 3-0 in ACC play.  Tech has a slight edge on paper and a big edge on the sidelines, but....if not now, when?  Mike London shrugged off one demon last week and beat David Cutcliffe.  Why not another one?  Let's go ahead and say the extra motivation is on the good guys' side for once.

Final score: UVA 24, VT 21

-- Rest of the ACC

Miami @ Pittsburgh - Fri. 12:00 - Nothing at stake here anymore except trying to look good for bowl suitors.

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia - 12:00 - 8-3 vs. 3-8 would seem like a pretty lopsided matchup, but GT did beat FSU at home.

Louisville @ Kentucky - 12:00 - UL tries to keep one SEC team out of bowl contention.

Clemson @ South Carolina - 12:00 - The third-best football team in the state of South Carolina stands between Clemson and an undefeated regular season.

Boston College @ Syracuse - 12:30 - Battle for Atlantic un-supremacy.

Duke @ Wake Forest - 12:30 - Wake me when it's over.

North Carolina @ NC State - 3:30 - UNC could set up an ACC CG between 8-0 teams.

Florida State @ Florida - 7:30 - FSU isn't going to the CFP, but they can throw a wrench in the works.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

do not panic

OK, so I think most people reading this probably take a pretty even-keeled approach to UVA sports.  Either because I've trained you to do so or because you decide to read this stuff because my mindset is similar to yours.  (Most assuredly it's the latter, but I like to pretend it's the former and that when I ring a bell, someone somewhere gets glassy-eyed and says "We Can't Have Nice Things," eliciting a dirty look from their spouse.)

So you already know not to panic just because UVA lost to George Washington, but I'm gonna take it a step further and say, don't even fret a little.  Feel free to be annoyed, of course, and to grumble that it puts a ding in the ol' tournament resume, but here's what you shouldn't do under any circumstances: listen to anyone who takes two games of evidence and declares "we don't have this" or " X can't do that" or "Y needs to Z or else" or just about anything that draws a conclusion about how this team will look in March based on two games in November.  One of which was against a horrendous team missing two of its better players.

For one thing, even if there's nobody on the team with a shooter's rep, the vast majority of basketball games will not start off at a 2-for-14 clip from three point range.  Making three of those 12 misses would be highly mediocre and have made the game very different.  Second, the number of times GW got a bucket from a ball bouncing on the rim - sometimes multiple bounces - was obscene.  I can't count the number of flailing prayer-drives the GW players tried that resulted, somehow, in a bucket, and sometimes in a foul too.

Yeah, there's a few things to fix.  Tony won't be so phlegmatic about the result, and he'll have some ideas for his team in practice.  The positioning was a little sloppy, probably a little too far from the rim.  The offense took maybe a couple too many contested early jump shots.  (I'd guess the acceptable number of those is zero.)  It's possible, even likely, the 30-second shot clock is in the players' heads a little.

Tony's kind of a good coach, though, so everyone obviously should believe he can fix things.  And it's that last point that leads me to the main deal here.  Just about every year, I point out that a basketball team is a chemistry experiment, one which has to be rebalanced and retried every season.  You can't ever say exactly what you'll get from your players, not even your seniors and juniors.  Mike Tobey has been a work in progress his whole UVA career, because that's the nature of a skilled big man.  Anthony Gill has to learn to play defense without having a spring-loaded 6'9" spiderman next to him on the block.  Perrantes and Brogdon have to relearn how the offense is going to work without a lion-maned maniac on the floor.  Lots of other guys have to learn what their new, expanded role is.  And this year there's rule changes up the gazoo, and the team has to learn what they can and can't do and how to deal with a faster-paced clock.

This is a veteran team, of course - one with a very high basketball IQ and coached by a damn genius.  A lot of instinct has to be relearned, but that relearning process is partly automatic.  They'll get it without trying to get it.  They're about to embark on a full weekend of basketball - they'll be playing Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.  That's how you get into the comfort zone again.  They did look a little uncomfortable and out of sorts, and I'm sure the incredibly brah-riffic crowd at GW likes to think they had something to do with that, but these players have been to ACC road games before, so, nah.  I think it's much more to do with the new rules environment, and the fact that the chemistry experiment is still percolating.


-- I wish I could get mad at the refereeing, but the simple truth is it's impossible to know right now whether they were following the directives from the NCAA to the letter or whether they were just being ticky-tack.  There weren't a lot of replays of the fouls they called.  I do know that Jim Calhoun expressed his pleasure that they were "letting the teams play" and that was the clear winner for dumb announcer statement of the night.

-- I liked the look of Jack Salt.  If he continues to play that way he should be a regular.  He had a blocked shot and it made an audible slap-thud even in the noisy court.  By the way, students, if one of you doesn't bring a huge cardboard cutout of a salt shaker this year to a game, you're wasting your whole educational experience.

-- I think Malcolm Brogdon started to take seriously the idea of being the takeover guy.  He forced a few drives, and it was honest-to-God working.  But then he sort of stopped.  I still want to see a little more selfishness at the end of tight games, especially when the refs are calling fouls for breathing.

-- Mike Tobey would've been more successful on the block if he didn't start his moves with the idea of a fadeaway hook already in his head.  But I love that he dropped in a three-pointer.  Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

-- The hair this year is something else.  Gill has Jheri curls now.  Darius Thompson has a skunk stripe.  Mike Tobey is trying to look like a trucker instead of a huge 15-year-old, but all he's managed to do is look like a huge 15-year-old trucker.

Friday, November 13, 2015

basketball season preview, part 4: nonconference

No football preview this week.  OK, maybe a little one: Gonna lose.  Instead, on the eve of Basketball Season, which is a long, long time coming, it's time for the yearly look at UVA's OOC slate - which this year is undoubtedly the toughest in a long time.

Morgan State
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

'14-'15 record: 7-24 (5-11)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .1097 (337th)

Conference projections (out of 13):

Media poll: 7th
KenPom: 8th
SI: 7th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 93.1 / 105.3 / .1964 / 311th
SI (Hanner): 95.2 / 108.9 / .2013 / 321st

Chances of winning: 100%

As if Morgan State weren't a bad enough basketball team, they'll be without two of their top players (Cedric Blossom and Rasean Simpson) on Friday, lost to an academic penalty for the first few games of the season.  Blossom was Morgan State's only legit offensive threat, other than maybe shooting specialist Andrew Hampton.

No other returning player for the Bears had an O-rating higher than 91.2 last year, and that's really stretching the limits.  Starting point guard Donte Pretlow is a special kind of lousy, with an astonishing O-rating of 70.9 thanks to his comically poor shooting.  Nobody on this team can shoot free throws let alone contested shots, and they leaned so hard on Blossom last year that nobody else is used to the leadership role on offense.  This is a foregone conclusion.

George Washington
Atlantic-10 Conference

'14-'15 record: 22-13 (10-8)
'14-'15 postseason: NIT second round (5 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .7072 (74th)

Conference projections (out of 14):

Media poll: 4th
KenPom: 4th
SI: 6th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 104.2 / 94.6 / .7512 / 57th
SI (Hanner): 108.2 / 98.1 / .7319 / 70th

Chances of winning: High

A much more interesting test awaits, as UVA goes on the road for the second half of a home-and-home.  In last year's edition, GW led at halftime before the Hoos clamped down and allowed just 16 points in the second half.

GW lost the top scorer from that game; Kethan Savage has transferred to Butler.  But they had only one senior last year and return a lot of dangerous three-point shooters - point guards Joe McDonald and Paul Jorgensen; stretchy mismatch forward Yuta Watanabe; instant heat Nick Griffin, whose job it is to come off the bench and hit threes.  Small forward Patricio Garino isn't a great three-point shooter, but is very, very efficient inside the arc.

The Colonial's weakness is inside, where only Kevin Larsen is a dangerous player.  Other than him, this is a small team, as the 6'8" Watanabe is too skinny at 197 pounds to bang around inside, and freshman Collin Goss is just as much a beanpole.  UVA will have to contend with an array of scorers, but should be able to use a large frontcourt advantage to good effect.

Missouri Valley Conference

'14-'15 record: 9-24 (3-15)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .2787 (270th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 10th
SI: 10th
KenPom: 10th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 92.7 / 99.7 / .3026 / 275th
SI (Hanner): 92.6 / 101.6 / .2787 / 292nd

Chances of winning: Near-lock

Bradley fired coach Geno Ward after last season, and the result was the usual amount of turnover times ten.  The Braves had one senior and a whole bunch of juniors last year, and now they have four players on the roster who aren't freshmen - one of whom is a transfer and has to sit.

That leaves them with their backup shooting guard, two end-of-the-rotation forwards, and ten freshmen who've never set foot on a college court before.  Yikes.  This was a horrendous offensive team last year (and the holdovers were among the worst) and while a new coach and basically new team could change that..... there really isn't much hope of that kind of makeup being able to defeat a veteran Tony Bennett-coached team.

This game is UVA's opener in the Charleston Classic; after a very likely ruthless dispatching of Bradley, UVA would play the winner of Seton Hall and Long Beach State.  Probably Seton Hall, as Long Beach has a lot of minutes to replace from last year and Seton Hall has some dangerous players, like former UVA recruit Sterling Gibbs as well as quality forwards in Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez.  The favorite to come out of the other end of the bracket and hopefully be UVA's opponent in the championship game is Oklahoma State.  UVA is the marquee team in the tournament, though, and the heavy favorite to win it.

Patriot League

'14-'15 record: 16-14 (10-8)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .4201 (196th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 1st
KenPom: 1st
SI: 2nd

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 101.8 / 99.0 / .5801 / 119th
SI (Hanner): 100.6 / 100.0 / .5153 / 166th

Chances of winning: Really, really high

If you're gonna play low-major teams, and you pretty much will have a few on your schedule, this is the way to go - pick one that's the favorite in their conference so they go out and boost your RPI once you've finished beating them.  Like Lehigh.  They've got the build of a giant-killer, with some solid shooters like the teensy Kahron Ross, who had an impressive debut season last year.  But the offense goes first and foremost through center Tim Kempton, the reigning Patriot League POY.  It's hard for low-major teams to find good, skilled centers.  Still, he gives up 35 pounds to Mike Tobey.

Ohio State
Big Ten Conference

'14-'15 record: 24-11 (10-7)
'14-'15 postseason: NCAA 2nd round (10 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .8640 (21st)

Conference projections (out of 14):

Media poll: 8th*
KenPom: 8th
SI: 6th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 106.4 / 93.9 / .8077 / 42nd
SI (Hanner): 112.6 / 95.4 / .8454 / 28th

Chances of winning: Decent

*The Big Ten likes to make sure nobody gets their participation ribbons all in a bunch by getting voted last, and refuses to release anything past a top 3.  In past years the Columbus Dispatch has orchestrated an unofficial poll, which I couldn't find this year and so threw up my hands in failure and just used the Dispatch's own predicted order of finish.

UVA's assigned opponent in the ACC-B1G Challenge is a bit of an unknown quantity.  OSU lost four starters to graduation and the draft, but hopes to soften the blow with a top recruiting class.  That class is led by Jaquan Lyle, trying to fill the scoring shoes of one-and-done guard D'Angelo Russell.  Top holdovers include Jae'Sean Tate, who shot .631 inside the arc last year, and Marc Loving, who shot .461 outside it.  Of the main contributors, however, only Loving will be an upperclassman.  This is a talented but inexperienced team.  Probably one that's more athletic than UVA, and the game is on the road in what's likely to be a full building.  We'll be hoping age and guile beats youth and foolishness.

William & Mary
Colonial Athletic Association

'14-'15 record: 20-13 (12-6)
'14-'15 postseason: NIT 1st round (7 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .5688 (130th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 4th
KenPom: 4th
SI: 5th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 104.3 / 101.4 / .5794 / 121st
SI (Hanner): 108.7 / 108.0 / .5165 / 167th

Chances of winning: Very good, but watch out

Gotta have an instate team somewhere on the OOC schedule, and William & Mary draws the honor this year.  This was an interesting team in the KenPom stats last year, with the 27th-best offense in the country and a defense outside the top 300.  They lose point guard Marcus Thornton, 8th in the country in minutes percentage last year, but return a lot of players who stood out on the stat sheet.

Thornton took a whopping 242 three-point shots last year, amounting to more than seven per game, but the Tribe return their actual best shooter in Daniel Dixon.  Forwards Omar Prewitt and Terry Tarpey can find the bucket with relative ease as well, and Tarpey is also a standout defender and free-throw shooter.  Sean Sheldon is also very, very tough to defend, shooting .641 for the 19th-best two-point percentage in the country.

These guys will definitely be upset-minded, and it's definitely one of the more dangerous games on the schedule....but fortunately, of course, at home.

West Virginia
Big 12 Conference

'14-'15 record: 25-10 (11-7)
'14-'15 postseason: NCAA Sweet 16 (5 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .8346 (26th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 6th
KenPom: 5th
SI: 5th

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 107.5 / 93.1 / .8399 / 28th
SI (Hanner): 110.8 / 94.4 / .8378 / 32nd

Chances of winning: Respectable

Sandwiched around finals break is probably the toughest three-game stretch any major team will play outside its own conference.  West Virginia was a tournament team last year and looks headed right back there this year.  They have to replace Juwan Staten - tough to do, but WVU ran pretty deep last year and didn't rely too heavily on anyone, so they're equipped to do so.

The Mountaineers play a decidedly different brand of hoops that should make for a fun contrast with UVA.  They're one of the more up-tempo teams in the country - but not necessarily on offense.  They like to get a lot of steals.  Point guard Jevon Carter is very, very dangerous in this regard.  West Virginia also likes to hack, hack, hack.  This might actually get worse than last year because Staten and fellow departed senior Gary Browne were two of the more restrained player.  There is a stat called FTA/FGA, which simply tracks free throws divided by field goal attempts; WVU's defense was dead last in the country at 55.5% percent.  In other word, opponents took well over one free throw for every two field goals they tried.

But they were also #1 in steals percentage, which is attributable only partly to Carter.  It's a team effort.  They gamble, and it can cost them in giving up easy buckets, but their opponents also turned the ball over 28% of the time last year.   UVA's methodical offense will be tested.

Big East Conference

'14-'15 record: 33-3 (16-2)
'14-'15 postseason: NCAA 2nd round (1 seed)
'14-'15 KenPom: .9504 (6th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 1st
KenPom: 1st
SI: 1st

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 112.3 / 90.5 / .9233 / 5th
SI (Hanner): 116.9 / 94.6 / .8975 / 8th

Chances of winning: 50/50 at best

The Big East is anything but a chump league, and Villanova ran away with it last year.  The Wildcats - before flaming out in the second round - entered the NCAA tournament as Big East champs with a 32-2 record.

The bad news for them is that their frontcourt will feel the loss of JayVaughn Pinkston, as it leaves them with really only two big men in Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.  These are some pretty darn good players, though.  But it's Nova's incredibly deep backcourt is what gives everyone the idea they might be pretty good.

Even losing Dylan Ennis to transfer, Nova probably won't miss a beat.  Ryan Arcidiacono is back, as are Josh Hart and promising sophomore Phil Booth, both of whom were top-notch shooters last year.  Nova also adds five-star recruit Jalen Brunson to the backcourt.  This is a team with few, if any, question marks, and as difficult a test as you could ask for coming out of the final exam break.

Pacific-12 Conference

'14-'15 record: 18-15 (7-11)
'14-'15 postseason: none
'14-'15 KenPom: .6047 (113th)

Conference projections (out of 12):

Media poll: 2nd
KenPom: 6th
SI: 2nd

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 106.1 / 94.8 / .7846 / 47th
SI (Hanner): 113.7 / 94.3 / .8719 / 13th

Chances of winning: Pretty decent

Cal is a trendy pick as a breakout team this year.  It's not so much their performance last year and all the great players they return, although Jordan Mathews is a heck of a shooter and this was a tremendous defensive rebounding team last year.  It's more about their recruiting class, with two five-stars in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, both of whom should jump immediately into the starting lineup.

Thus the wild difference between KenPom and the other projections, because KenPom doesn't try to project the effect of incoming freshmen too heavily.  And the media might get a little overexcited about them.  Pundits are looking at Cal to be a tournament team in 2016, but they definitely have to show it - and the UVA game is their big chance to.

Horizon League

'14-'15 record: 16-17 (11-5)
'14-'15 postseason: CIT 1st round
'14-'15 KenPom: .4848 (164th)

Conference projections (out of 10):

Media poll: 2nd
KenPom: 4th
SI: 2nd

National ratings (out of 351):

KenPom: 104.3 / 104.2 / .5032 / 160th
SI (Hanner): 111.3 / 108.4 / .5672 / 139th

Chances of winning: Very high

Oakland is confidently predicted to be one of the Horizon's better teams this year, but that seems like going out on a limb a bit.  Few teams relied so heavily on so few players last year.  Oakland had three different players getting more than 85% of available minutes, two of which are gone.  They do return point guard Kahlil Felder, which is good because they literally don't let anyone else run the point.  Felder was the nation's minutes leader, playing 95.7% of available minutes.  During 12 of Oakland's games he literally never got to sit the bench, and that includes one OT game and one double OT game.  It doesn't include three other OT games where he played over 40 minutes.

He's also a hell of an assist man with an ARate of 39.6%, so there's a good reason Greg Kampe doesn't turn the keys over to anyone else.  Felder has a few good players to find with the ball, including SG/SF Max Hooper and promising rising sophomores Jalen Hayes and Nick Daniels.  Oakland's offense is respectable.  Their defense, however, stinks in all regards, and UVA shouldn't have much trouble scoring in their final reprieve between the three games of doom and the ACC schedule.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

basketball season preview, part 3

Time to round out the players portion of the season preview.  Tomorrow, we move into the very interesting nonconference schedule, and then finally, next week, the ACC itself.  48 hours, man.  48 hours.

#32 - London Perrantes - Jr. PG

Now entering his third year as the unquestioned starter at point guard, Perrantes's sophomore year efficiency stats are a bit interesting.  Compare:


3pt%: .316
2pt%: .394
FT%: .778
ARate: 26.5
TORate: 20.3

Olivier Hanlan:

3pt%: .353
2pt%: .513
FT%: .759
ARate: 29.1
TORate: 15.0

Hanlan was Boston College's do-it-all star, the league's top point guard last year and a draft pick of the Utah Jazz after his junior year.  There's no doubt who was the better player.  But Perrantes finished with an O-rating of 105.0; Hanlan, 107.4.  Very little difference.

It goes to show two things: one, I don't know anything about what goes into a player's O-rating, though I'm rashly assuming that crazy things like shooting and assists and turnovers are involved.  And two, whatever is in the secret sauce, it rates Perrantes's contributions to the offense pretty highly.

Perrantes has a quality to his play that you can spot even if you don't know you're spotting it.  That's what helped drive a narrative last year that was barely borne out on the stat sheet - that Perrantes asserted himself more, shot more, and picked up the scoring pace to help UVA's offense cope with the loss of Justin Anderson.  He didn't do much of that, actually, not so's you'd notice if all you did was peruse stat sheets.  But it looked like he did, and perception is reality.

So far, the Cali-cool image he projects has been a perfect fit with Tony's methodical approach to offense.  There's an ever-so-slight backwards lean that he sometimes projects in pictures of him making the opening pass of the play setup.  Tony hasn't minded him setting an offensive pace that uses all 35 seconds of the shot clock.  But he will now, because that 31st second is a doozy.  With a tad bit more urgency required on the offensive end, Perrantes will have to adjust.  Move a little quicker.  Maybe save some time on the front end by not always walking the ball up the court like a stroll through the gardens.  The adaptability of Perrantes's game will be challenged this year, and because of the way he can project on the flow of the offense, how he responds will set the tone.

Oh, and it'd be cool if he could improve his shooting a little this year, too.  /every critique of every point guard ever.

#33 - Jack Salt - rFr. C

UVa's New Zealand import will get to take the court this year after a redshirt year spent bulking up and getting used to the pace of American basketball.  Salt added 15 pounds, which is bad news for opponents because every report we've ever seen says he likes cracking skulls.

Also, literally every story I've read about him this year - and there are a lot because a yet-to-be-unwrapped 6'11 Kiwi is a curiosity worth finding out about - mentions that he sets brutal screens.  It seems random.  I don't know what to make of this.  It could be bad news in disguise - if he were playing Bad Boys defense with eight nasty streaks or was a sudden scoring revelation, they'd write about that instead.  But it could be secretly really good news - because part of the reason Will Sherrill became a regular player was his diligence in setting screens.

The safest bet is that Mike Tobey is still a very skilled player, much more experienced, and going to take up 95% of the minutes that call for a true center.  It might seem that Salt and Jarred Reuter are competing for the last of the big-man minutes, but I doubt that because Reuter could easily be on the court at the same time as Tobey; Salt never will.  I think whatever meaningful minutes Salt gets will be in cases where Tobey's in foul trouble and the opponent has trotted out a true center of their own.

I also think that even though he won't be seen much, there's major cult-hero potential here.  If he's as powerfully physical as all the reports say, somebody is either going to get whacked on a perfectly legal screen, or have a shot ruthlessly rejected after Salt roots himself into place in the post, and people will notice.  What I'm hoping for is a future where Salt and Reuter are both patrolling the middle like a couple of roughneck bastards and everyone just hates them.  For this year, it'd be cool if we got a few glimpses of that.

#51 - Darius Thompson - rSo. SG

Here's redshirt number two from last year, another Christmas present to open on November 13.  With Malcolm Brogdon in charge, the chances that Thompson breaks into the starting lineup are zilch.  But like Anthony Gill before him, Thompson is a potential really big deal.

Possibly the most athletic player on the team, Thompson brings a slashing, driving threat that's been a little lacking in Tony's tenure.  Truth is, in his year at Tennessee he was a lousy shooter.  Two or three, it didn't matter, he couldn't hit it if it was a jump shot.  But he also took 71% of his shots at the rim....where he also was a lousy shooter at just .369.  And all that was two years ago.  If those numbers improve, and you ought to believe they will to at least some extent, Thompson has the chance to be a tremendous bench scorer and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

Thompson will probably be asked to play the point some, where he'd give opponents a completely different look from Perrantes.  Perrantes is smallish, conservative on defense, and more likely to shoot a jumper than drive.  Thompson will try to use his excellent length and athleticism to jump passing lanes, and look to drive on offense.  Justin Anderson was a tremendously important player because his athleticism scared opponents and forced them to give the rest of the team room to operate.  Thompson can look to partly fill those shoes this year.

#1 - Austin Nichols - Jr. PF
#2 - Justice Bartley - Fr. SG
#24 - Caid Kirven - Sr. PF
#25 - Mamadi Diakite - Fr. SF
#34 - Jeff Jones - Jr. SF

Here's the end of the bench - the walk-ons and redshirts.  UVA will have the most talented non-playing players in the country.  Kirven and Jones are familiar sights at the end of blowouts and do an admirable job of keeping comical scores comical.  Bartley brings a fair amount of talent; he turned down a scholarship at UNLV (that due to his late appearance on the recruiting scene would've had to wait til his sophomore year) in order to study business at UVA.

And of course, the redshirts.  Nichols is coming off a season where he was one of the top ten shot blockers in the country (efficiency stats) and a starter at Memphis - possibly the top prize of the transfer circuit this summer.  Diakite was planning on playing a prep year, but UVA convinced him to essentially prep under Tony Bennett instead.  By some accounts he's the second-best athlete on the team and UVA is redshirting him just because they can.  They'll stay in the shadows for a year and then help cushion the blow of losing four rotation seniors after this season.

Monday, November 9, 2015

basketball season preview, part 2

Moving on with the second third of the UVA roster, including its two biggest stars.

#13 - Anthony Gill - Sr. PF

Nothing in life is guaranteed, so you're allowed to be nervous about whether this coming season can be as brilliant as the last two.  But you're not allowed to be worried about whether a healthy UVA squad will still be a winning team.  Anthony Gill is half the reason.

Gill is a brute force of nature in the post, and unguardable by the average ACC big man.  It takes a hell of an athlete to keep him in check, because he's one of the most powerfully strong basketball players in the country.  It's fortunate that he's a respectable free-throw shooter, because he draws a ton of fouls.  He averaged almost five free throws a game last year, and that's even with opponents finally realizing that hacking him isn't much of a strategy.  Gill is also a tremendous force on the offensive boards, which, combined with Mike Tobey doing the same, is an incredibly potent weapon - it lets Tony Bennett have his cake and eat it too, with stifling transition defense and second-chance points.

Simply put, Gill is the focal point of the frontcourt and one of the ACC's top players.  He's not a flashy defender like his predecessors Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins, but regardless he's going to draw the top assignments on both ends of the floor.  He'll have to fight double-teams on offense and take on everyone's best in the post on defense.  Even though he moved into the starting lineup last year, this is still an extra step of responsibility for him.  Worry all you like about that, but your dose of Xanax for that is that the rest of the ACC has to figure out what the hell to do with him.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - Sr. SG

Heart and soul of this team, sure - but every team has a heart and soul, or at least, most of the good ones.  (We could all name a few soulless teams.)  Malcolm Brogdon's a bit more than that.  With apologies to Joe Harris, whose journey from Chelan to ACC champion embodied Virginia's rise to the scene, Brogdon is the quintessential Tony Bennett recruit and player.  He doesn't just fit the mold, he is the mold.  Much of this was encapsulated in a Sports Illustrated article that went way, way in depth into what makes Brogdon tick.  His family collects advanced degrees like Halloween candy, and Brogdon himself is unselfish and almost fanatically dedicated to improvement - both on the court and off it.  Never has Tony Bennett betrayed more truth about his move from Wazzu to UVA than when he simply says, "I came to Virginia to be able to recruit players like Malcolm."

Brogdon has enough skills as a ballhandler, enough quicks, enough hops, but unlike most star guards in the sport, none of these are elite qualities.  Where he stands out is - like Gill - his strength.  Brogdon is big for a college guard and probably the most physically strong backcourt player in the nation.  This means he, too, draws a lot of fouls, and his near-elite free-throw shooting makes opponents pay for it.  He's more of an average three-point shooter than his free-throw shooting would suggest, but he's good enough you have to respect it, and he fearlessly shoots two-point jumpers as well - which is nominally a very inefficient shot that Brogdon turns into one of his best.  And on the other end, his on-ball defense is simply terrific - partly because of his strength and partly because he's taken all of Tony's coaching to heart.

Now that he's a senior, what he can do best to help his team is to demand the ball in crunch time and go full-speed angry bull at the rim.  Brogdon lacks much deception in his ballhandling, but he's better than he thinks he is at slashing and driving.  Because, quite simply, he can shoot through whatever you swing at him, and draw and-1s with ease.  Maddeningly, he didn't fully realize this even up through the last game of the year; if he had, the MSU game would've ended up a lot different.  When he figures out that it would take Bill Laimbeer to stop him from scoring in the lane, he'll routinely swing close games his way.

#21 - Isaiah Wilkins - So. PF

Marial Shayok is the player whose second-year improvement I'm most excited to see, but Isaiah Wilkins's improvement is the most critical to the success of the team.  Indisputable, that.  UVA has a tremendously experienced frontcourt just with Gill and Tobey alone, but it won't be a deep frontcourt without Wilkins.

In last year's season opener, Wilkins was all the rage - eight points, five boards, three assists, two blocks, and two steals.  Unfortunately, there was no repeat performance, though in large part because of the emergence of Darion Atkins.  Offensively, Wilkins struggled the rest of the way, and he was clearly a step slower than the veterans in the complicated defense.

Best-case, Wilkins can be the player he was against JMU.  He's got potential to be a terrific shot-blocker, and he's put on a few pounds which should help his defense as well as keep him from getting shoved out of the lane on offense.  He can shoot the occasional three - in fact he was two-for-three last year - so in an ideal world he's a matchup nightmare, able to stretch the floor and be comfortable on the outside and yet do all the dirty work required of a big man.  We've seen him do all of that, but only in flashes.

How consistently he's able to play like a true power forward will help to dictate usage elsewhere.  It's a problem if Wilkins isn't putting it together, because it means playing Mike Tobey in less-than-ideal matchups.  It's too much to expect for him (yet) to be the high-flying defender that Mitchell and Atkins were, because he's only a sophomore.  But take that JMU performance and turn it into 12-15 minutes a night of that, and UVA's frontcourt instantly becomes one of the most formidable in the conference.

#31 - Jarred Reuter - Fr. PF

Not much is expected of Reuter this year.  He'll be at the back of the bigs rotation.  It's not likely he'll redshirt - Tony is limited to eleven scholarship players because of the commitment to redshirt Mamadi Diakite and the requirement to redshirt Austin Nichols.  Reuter should get some minutes mainly to spell the starters, probably those ones in the first half about two-thirds of the way through where we usually see the back-of-the-rotation players.  Some games he might not play at all.

He won't be counted on to generate offense.  Reuter's game is to bang and crash down low.  Just rebound, occasionally put a hammer on someone trying to score, and set good screens.  As time goes on we'll see how his game develops, but for now, this team doesn't yet need him to play a featured role.  Some contributions here and there on defense and a few bruised opponents is all he'll need to make his mark.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

game preview: Miami

Date/Time: Saturday, November 7; 3:00


Record against the Canes: 6-6

Last meeting: UVA 30, Miami 13; 11/22/14, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 27, GT 21; Miami 30, Duke 27

Line: Miami by 7

Last week I realized: I was only 6/7ths right on what this football season feels like.  Sunday through Friday, I'm pining for basketball season.  I want it now.  Saturdays....well, UVA botched yet another onside kick last week and the stream of four-letter words that involuntarily exited my mouth were all the proof I needed that on game day, it still matters.

UVA catches a second straight team coming off an emotional win, and one even more in the spotlight than the last one.  If you believe in football psychology, and yeah, it's not foolproof but there's something to it, then another favorable matchup awaits.  Interestingly, disaster though Mike London's tenure has been, the dude owns Miami, with a 4-1 record against the Canes.

-- UVA run offense vs. Miami run defense

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 104 carries, 446 yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 TDs
Daniel Hamm: 46 carries, 211 yards, 4.6 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
138.88 yards/game, 3.94 yards/attempt
92nd of 128 (national); 9th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
200.25 yards/game, 5.22 yards/attempt
113th of 128 (national); 14th of 14 (ACC)

Fun fact: Six of the top seven run defenses in the ACC are Atlantic teams.  The other Atlantic team is 8th.  In other words, the bottom six run defenses all reside in the Coastal.  UVA is 11th, and this week ends a three-game stretch against the only worse teams in the rankings.  It so happens Miami is the worst of the worst.

This isn't from a suspect game here and there.  The Canes are legitimately horrible at stopping the run.  The Clemson game - the last straw for Al Golden - was a total bloodbath.  Clemson ran the ball 63 times and piled up 416 yards.  Gaudy numbers like that abound.  FSU's Dalvin Cook by himself racked up 222 yards.  It doesn't matter whether Miami won the game or lost it; FBS opponents have moved the ball on the ground, and the good ones have done whatever they want.

Up front, Miami has some occasional playmakers in DEs Trent Harris and Al-Quadin Muhammad, and DT Ufomba Kamalu is a solid space-eater as well.  But the back end of the defense is porous and often out of position.  And worse yet for Miami was the loss of LB Raphael Kirby to a knee injury.  Kirby is the Canes' second-leading tackler even after missing the Duke game, and might still be after this weekend, too, unless Harris has a really big day.

With improved play from a more cohesive offensive line, this is a matchup that actually swings in the Hoos' favor.  Amazing, but true.  Taquan Mizzell has shown he can hit a hole pretty darn quickly when the hole is there, and Daniel Hamm has carried the ball enough now to show that the vision he displayed in his VMI debut last year wasn't just because VMI.  These are backs that can't do much without help, but a little space goes a long way with them.  They should have more than a little space against Miami.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Miami pass defense

Matt Johns: 151/249, 60.6%; 1,755 yards, 13 TDs, 13 INTs; 7.05 ypa, 126.6 rating

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 46 rec., 499 yards, 3 TDs
Canaan Severin: 37 rec., 513 yards, 4 TDs
T.J. Thorpe: 12 rec., 207 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
223.6 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
79th of 128 (national); 10th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
210.1 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
41st of 128 (national); 7th of 14 (ACC)

Miami lacks a true terrorizing playmaker defensive end - or tackle, for that matter - in the pass rush.  Al-Quadin Muhammad has 3 sacks, just a little more than what you'd expect just by sending any old body out there, and that leads the team.  What they do have is 12 guys with at least half a sack.  So while Matt Johns won't have to devote time always knowing where so-and-so is, he will have to keep his head on a swivel.

Where Miami is dangerous is the secondary.  Artie Burns has five picks, Rayshawn Jenkins has three, and Corn Elder, the lucky guy with the ball at the end of the Duke game, has broken up nine passes.  Johns is kind of gunslingery when given the chance, but his skills in that regard are inconsistent.  An interception or two in this game is almost guaranteed.

So I hate to say it, but the short passing game adored by Steve Fairchild is the way to go here.  Miami won't get any pressure at all if the drops are short and the ball is out quick, and since our passing game is sort of a quasi-run game anyway, you might as well attack the opponent where they're weakest.  For UVA to get the ball rolling and sustain some drives, Mizzell will have to get half a zillion touches, and the WRs targeted with great care.

-- Miami run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Joseph Yearby: 126 carries, 641 yards, 5.1 ypc, 5 TDs
Mark Walton: 74 carries, 284 yards, 3.8 ypc, 5 TDs

Miami offense:
123.75 yards/game, 3.79 yards/attempt
103rd of 128 (national); 11th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
163.13 yards/game, 4.55 yards/attempt
81st of 128 (national); 11th of 14 (ACC)

Miami's running back situation is pretty simple: Joseph Yearby is the unquestioned starter, Mark Walton gives him regular breaks.  Trayone Gray comes in at the end of blowouts, and that's about the extent of it.  Miami has tried one tricky thing all year - Stacy Coley on an end-around against VT.

Yearby is easily the better back, but, fact is, most of his best work was done early this year.  Two-thirds of his yards came in the first four games of the year; the latter four, with no decrease in workload, he's averaged less than 3.2 yards a carry.  Walton is sputtering, too; his workload has markedly decreased, and most of his game-high carries are for single-digit yardage.

Neither Yearby nor Walton is really a home-run hitter, in fact.  Miami's run offense the last four games is basically the same minimally-functional assault UVA has featured most of the year.  It's a pretty vanilla attack, too, after last week's yearly dose of head games.  Last week offered some hope; UVA has done a respectable job holding down the middle against opposing run games, because Micah Kiser has been very much up to the task.  Last week was all about the edges, and UVA decisively won the battle there.  In retrospect, Trent Corney was a how-did-I-not-realize-this star of the game.  GT doesn't block, they just try to chop you down - which is one thing Corney is perfectly built to defeat.  If Corney could translate that to fighting off regular blocks, Miami would be in for a long day.  As it is, they'll probably have some stretches of success and some 3rd-and-9s.

-- Miami pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Brad Kaaya: 140/229, 61.1%; 1,846 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs; 8.06 ypa, 141.5 rating

Top receivers:
Rashawn Scott: 37 rec., 502 yards, 4 TDs
Herb Waters: 27 rec., 473 yards, 1 TD
Stacy Coley: 26 rec., 354 yards, 2 TDs

Miami offense:
276.3 yards/game, 7.7 yards/attempt
45th of 128 (national); 5th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
248.8 yards/game, 8.1 yards/attempt
109th of 128 (national); 13th of 14 (ACC)

It's still a mystery whether Brad Kaaya will return from a concussion he suffered against Clemson.  (Though, it's looking more likely that he will.)  His replacement, Malik Rosier, played horribly in relief in that game, but with a week of prep, Rosier was worlds more effective against Duke.  Still, Miami is better off with Kaaya under center.  Kaaya has only thrown two picks all year and was on pace to threaten the 4,000-yard mark for the season, an excellent build on his terrific debut season last year.

UVA will likely have a lot of trouble with Miami's deep stable of receivers.  Both quarterbacks know how to spread the ball around, and the Miami receivers are capable of stretching out the field and going for big chunk plays.  Miami leads the conference in long passing plays of >10 and >20 yards.  They don't go for the whole field at once off of a touchback, but they don't need to because they can get there in a handful of plays anyway, if your coverage is less than effective.

Combine that with excellent quarterback protection, and this is a very dangerous aspect of the game for UVA, which hasn't shown the ability to deal with too much at one time in the passing game.  Even GT burned them for 251 yards and two touchdowns, and that's a simple passing game to defend if you don't get sucked too close to the line of scrimmage.  Miami will make things very difficult, and probably pick up 300+ yards through the air.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 6.5
Pass offense: 4
Run defense: 4
Pass defense: 2

Average: 4.13

-- Outlook

Lot of competing trends here to make this one a difficult game to call.  On the one hand, Mike London has typically had Miami's number - the one team he's consistently beaten.  In fact, until last week, Miami was the only FBS team he'd beaten more than once.  (He's now 2-4 against Georgia Tech, with the other win coming in 2011.)  And Miami is coming off a crazy-ass, emotional win, just as with GT, and this is the least intimidating road environment in all of Power 5 football.

On the other hand, UVA carries a 13-game losing streak to Florida with them, and it's entirely possible Larry Scott has lit a fire under Miami's asses that lasts longer than one week.  Miami's run defense is horrible, but UVA isn't going to Clemson up the score on them regardless, and there's a semi-decent chance the Canes could pile up 400 passing yards.

So which is it - loss or win?  Because UVA football is obnoxious like this, I choose the option that causes the most chaos, consternation, and general uproar among the fanbase: a win.  Put this team at 4-5, and some people will wonder if this team can keep the comeback trail going all the way to a bowl.  Some will declare it's just the usual Charlie Brown and Lucy routine.  Some will chew their fingernails down to the knuckle in fear that too much winning will inspire the front office to extend the coach.  All are legitimate takes.  A loss is simpler - you just remind yourself that the next basketball game is sooner than the next football game.  A win makes a mess, and we still can't have nice things, so a mess it is.

Final score: UVA 28, Miami 21

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Duke @ North Carolina - 12:00 - We're used to it being for basketball supremacy, but now it has the Coastal Conference riding on it too.

Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame - 12:00 - Possibly the best unranked team in the country, Pitt will likely shed that label one way or the other here.

Syracuse @ Louisville - 12:30 - This week we're chock full of games that would be better hoops contests.

NC State @ Boston College - 12:30 - The Pack are looking to get bowl eligible - and if they don't do it here, it's not a stretch to say they might never get there.

Florida State @ Clemson - 3:30 - I've been bitching about this for years and FINALLY they schedule this game for November.  This is Clemson's last legitimate regular season hurdle between them and an undefeated season.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

basketball season preview, part 1

You know you want it.  Here it is.  Tipoff is, as of typing this sentence, 8 days and 21 and a half hours from now.  UVa basketball is a legitimately elite team.  The media and coaches both ranked the Hoos #6 to start the season; one intrepid member of the media poll decided they should be #1.  KenPom starts them off 3rd.  Nobody finds this strange anymore.

UVA is staring down a familiar ACC - one in which Duke and UNC are again the primary threats to world domination and VT is hot garbage but this year will be improvement you guys - and one of the toughest out-of-conference schedules of anyone in the nation.  December kicks off with a trip to Columbus, Ohio, and later a three-game stretch against West Virginia, Villanova, and Cal.  Worthy opponents will also be found in Charleston for the usual preseason tournament, which hopefully culminates in a championship game against Oklahoma State.

The 30-second shot clock this year, down from 35, almost certainly means it'll be much harder for Tony Bennett's famous defense to ring up freak-show scores like 45-26 or 57-28, or hold opponents to eight points in a half.  But it could also mean some larger margins of victory; if you can't score in 35 seconds on this defense, a shorter time limit isn't likely to help.

We'll start off here with a three-part series on the players themselves, which is as per usual except usually it's a two-part series.  Three this year, which you shouldn't read anything into except the fact that it takes a really long time to type this stuff up.  Because his number comes first in the alphabet, we start with....

#0 - Devon Hall - rSo. PG

Life's not easy as the tenth player in Tony's 9.5-man rotation.  You have to have the mindset of a relief pitcher.  Nobody, absolutely nobody, comes out of high school thinking that way.  Devon Hall redshirted, then spent last year bouncing between long stretches on the bench and long stretches on the court.  He started the first game while London Perrantes served a suspension, then saw his minutes vaporize when ACC season rolled around, then jumped right back in when Justin Anderson was hurt near the end of the year, then played zero minutes in all postseason games.

Anderson is in the League now, but the backcourt minutes aren't much less logjammed.  Hall looks once again like the sixth player in the rotation for three spots' worth of minutes.  Much depends on his offseason improvements - more so than anyone else in the backcourt.  Hall wasn't a force on offense last year; he struggled from the free-throw line in limited opportunities, didn't force opponents to account for his outside shooting, and missed too many two-pointers as well.  The offense never ran through him; instead it occasionally ended up in his area.

Anderson averaged about 28 minutes a game, but it's not hard to envision that being taken up by Marial Shayok (maybe ten extra minutes), Darius Thompson (fifteen?) and Evan Nolte, who is after all a senior.  Hall wasn't a standout on defense last year, but he played it well enough to be inserted into the lineup with little hesitation.  He's going to have to show something on offense to nose his way onto the court.  It's a delicate balance between asserting yourself enough and too much, and Hall needs to find it early if he's going to stick in the rotation.  If he can do that, his size will be a real asset and help to make UVA a truly imposing presence with one of the biggest backcourts in the nation.  Otherwise, he'll spend another year picking up the scraps and making it difficult to tell what exactly he does well.

#4 - Marial Shayok - So. SG

College basketball teams have to reinvent themselves a little bit every year.  They lose some unique talents to transfer, graduation, or the draft; new faces arrive; old faces add new talents.  Case in point: Justin Anderson finding a three-point shot.  One of my favorite things about new basketball seasons is finding out how the new rotation meshes, how the chemistry equation sorts out, and most especially, unwrapping the new surprises.  With Tony Bennett the latter is better than ever, because amazing coaching means major offseason improvements.

All that in mind, here's the holdover player I'm most excited to see this year.  Marial Shayok is a big reason why the Devon Hall preview was so pessimistic.  Generally, the upperclassmen are what they are.  Shayok is, potentially, a lot of things.  Last year he came in billed as a very versatile player, and delivered 100% on that promise.  Lot of tools in his toolbox; he's a very skilled defender, and can score a bunch of different ways.

One thing I'd like to see most is either better mid-range shooting, or a lot less of it.  Shayok can hit the three and he's one of the team's best finishers at the rim.  His 62.5% percentage at the rim (according to Hoop-Math) is big-man-esque.  He can achieve a huge boost in efficiency by focusing on the shots with much higher reward potential, or he can level up even more in versatility by improving his mid-range game to, say, 30-35% instead of the ugly 23.5% he shot last year.

Shayok, obviously, isn't Justin Anderson's equal athletically - very few are.  But he's got a great feel for the game.  He's a Swiss Army knife of a basketball player, not easily pigeonholed into a particular position.  His many skills, though, are still raw and undeveloped.  Whichever of those skills he improved most over the offseason will not only help himself find well-deserved playing time, but more importantly, it'll determine what chemistry combinations work best in this year's experiment.

#10 - Mike Tobey - Sr. C

Everyone's favorite enigma, a senior at last and hopefully ready to come blasting out of his shell.  Sort of - because I'm one who maintains there isn't much of a shell, just a talented center developing at about the usual pace for a center.  Tobey has a lot of strong points that show up very loud and clear on a stat sheet - or at least the KenPom kind of sheet.

To start with, he was the third-most efficient player on last year's team, ahead of big names like Brogdon.  This had a lot to do with his very low turnover rate and quality free-throw shooting, two traits it's incredibly difficult to find in a big man.  He was also the team's best rebounder from the efficiency point of view and in fact one of the better ones in the country.

Tobey's detractors want him to "play with more fire," as his game doesn't come off very intense.  You might get a few more blocks that way (and a few more fouls) and he might get to the line a bit more, maybe a little better shooting percentage.  You wouldn't get much extra rebounding, though, because he already does that very well, and his defense wouldn't show it, because he can already neutralize most players his size and isn't quick enough to be a major stopping force against power forwards.

You can make a case, though, that Tobey is the best true center in the ACC.  Other players have a case, too - think Tonye Jekiri of Miami, Landry Nnoko of Clemson - but the thing is, Tobey's best games come against those specific players.  Tobey abuses teams who defend him with other centers - and quickly picks up fouls when he doesn't have other centers to defend against and has to go against power forwards instead.

So if there's anything I want to see out of him in his senior year, it's not "more fire."  He is what he is.  And he doesn't need fire to beat up on other centers on both ends of the court.  Rather, I'd like to see him be able to hang in there longer against players like Zach Auguste, who's not a true center but can bang around inside just enough and out-quick Tobey with the ball.  He's got to be able to contribute more against teams who go relatively small inside, because UVA can't simply answer with Darion Atkins anymore.

#11 - Evan Nolte - Sr. SF

Another enigma - which is sort of weird for a pair of seniors.  Nolte looked like he was on the outs halfway through last year, with only a few token minutes a game.  Then, like Hall, he appeared back in the rotation with a vengeance when Justin got hurt - and unlike Hall, stuck even when Anderson returned.

Before that Louisville game, he was 7-for-35 shooting three pointers.  Horrendous, and a glaring problem, because that's what he was in the game to do.  In the last one-third of the season he was 14-for-41 - much, much better, and there were two consecutive games there where he was 0-for-8, so outside that little blip, he shot 42%.  It lends credence to the idea that you can expect his shot to be much better this year.

Nolte also figured out how to be a very consistent defender, adopting an awkward-looking defensive stance that works like a damn charm.  He will never, ever get a steal out of his on-ball defense, but more power to you if you can recall anyone getting past him once he got down in that duck stance.  He also formed a bridge between frontcourt and backcourt, playing the four on occasion.  While Nolte at the four and Tobey at the five is a combination that will happen exactly never, putting Nolte at power forward is a great way to punish an opponent for going too big - particularly if he's hitting from outside.

I doubt there's much evolution left in Nolte's game.  His defense is fine.  He's not going to light up the stat sheet, but he's far, far from a liability.  He's not going to go with his back to the basket unless someone tries to guard him with a 6'2" shooting guard.  The only real variable here is the three-point shooting, which comes and goes for almost everyone.  If he's hitting, great.  Really great.  If he's not, he needs to keep bombing away until he is.  It would be hard to be worse than he was at the beginning of last year, so just a little regression to the mean is all he really needs.