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.


pezhoo said...

These are fantastic. I didn't think I could get more excited. That exam break in December is going to seem like an eternity.

Anonymous said...

Love the fact that Cory Alexander went all-homer on his pick (Malcolm Brogdon for POY to go with UVA winning it all ... to my surprise, there were a few other ESPN folks that picked UVA, Eamonn Brennan being one, off the top).