Thursday, April 21, 2016

bronco's beginnings

A couple years ago, after Tony Bennett's rebuilding plan earned its first ACC banners, I wrote a column on how coaches earn the trust of their teams.  If you do X, then Y will happen.  If you set this screen, we'll score an easy basket; if you skip class, you'll sit on the bench; if you work hard and follow my lead long enough, you'll win championships.  Coaches demand X every day; the more Y happens, the more trust they'll earn with their team, and in Tony's case, Y happened every time.  It turned out to be a popular post, by the way.  Possibly the most well-received I've ever written out of 1800+.

So I was especially, irrationally happy to see this quote from Bronco Mendenhall in a Jeff White article:
"I've asked them to do some things that are pretty extreme, with not wearing Virginia gear and no numbers for practice. But it's interesting, because our team simply seems to want to know what standard it will take for us to have success, and they're trusting me that I'm setting that standard for them, and because of that initial level of trust, they're working really hard and matter of factly believing that if they do this, we'll have success."
(Emphasis mine.)

There it is.  If X, then Y.  I could not be a happier camper.

Such is the subtle, ground-up and ground-out way in which a Program is built.  Bronco has been speaking ever since his initial press conference about building an earn-it culture, where everything from the logo to the right to practice is earned via a series of hurdles....which is another way of saying if X then Y.  What is Bronco doing?  He's accelerating the trust-me process.  The bigger the X's and Y's, the more trust.  Bronco isn't waiting for the little ones, like "block this way and we'll get a first down" - he's putting as many big ones in play as he can, as fast as he can.  Better yet, ones he can exercise absolute control over.  All that stuff about earning the right to practice and doing drills over and over til they're done right and starting the up-downs over if they're not in sync - the discipline aspect is easy to see, but it's not just that.  It's planting the seeds of trust, and of a culture.

Culture will happen whether or not you put any effort into building it, of course.  Which makes it all the more imperative that you work on building it.  Quote number two that has me especially and irrationally excited comes from an Andrea Adelson article on ESPN:
"The locker room is spotless. 'If you would have walked into our locker room before, it might look like a little kids’ room, stuff everywhere,' running back Taquan Mizzell said. Smith chimes in: 'We had a pet mouse. Stuart Little was walking around.'"
Does an immaculate locker room have any outward bearing on whether you score enough touchdowns?  No, and it never will unless you had players literally breaking their ankle on things.  But there's obviously a disciplinary sea change in the works.  Is anyone surprised that Mike London had no problem with his players making a trash pile out of their living space?

Indeed, London was the master of failing to deliver Y.  Like when he promised increased focus on special teams discipline yet allowed a player to keep playing right after directly costing his team three points with a boneheaded play.  Yes, that was in large part a failure of the special teams coach - but do you think Bronco Mendenhall's staff would make that oversight?  We haven't seen them in game action yet, but I'm very confident the answer is no.

That Mizzell quote is telling in how it's said as well as what's said.  The teamwide acceptance of Bronco's methods is actually rather astonishing in its extent.  You have to assume some of the usual attrition is in the cards, but there's a general recognition that Bronco's ways are going to pay dividends.  That's not a complaint about how he makes them pick up after themselves, it's a tacit acceptance that the new is better than the old.  And it's almost like now that there's a little momentum and some visible progress (most notably on the scale) nobody wants to be the first to tap out.

Much of that is Bronco's approach - he's a hard-ass, yes, but more than that he's a velvet hammer.  He is many of the things that Mike London is, and much more that London never was.  The head coach at UVA is still a genuine and likable person who insists that his charges go to class, only now he also prioritizes discipline and recruits linemen.  (Counting transfer Jared Cohen and the likely transfer from Arizona State, five of Bronco's first six commitments play positions neglected by London.)

Almost everything we've seen out of Bronco so far is a vast and screamingly obvious contrast to the things London did poorly, and a huge improvement on all of it.  Talent is not lacking on this football team - it won three ACC games even with zero discipline and coaching that in several aspects was stunningly inept.  Now we have a coach that fills those gaps, gushes about the team's willingness to be coached, and furthermore, perfectly understands what (from this armchair) is the foundation of coaching.  X's and O's are vital, but X's and Y's even more so.  This is the start of something good.

Monday, April 4, 2016

lacrosse bracketology

It's baaaaack.  Even though our lacrosse team isn't.  Well, they sort of are, with some much better output of late.  They've dug themselves deep, though.  More later.

A re-primer on this exercise.  I've done this since 2010, which makes this the seventh year running, and I enjoy it quite a bit.  There's some methodology to it, which is mostly proprietary, but it works.  The NCAA's factors are awfully simplistic: RPI, SOS, top-X RPI wins (top 5, 10, etc.), average RPI of your wins, average RPI of your losses.  Right now, ten conferences get autobids; the ACC is in its last grace period year and will lose its short-lived autobid next year, which is the third season after losing Maryland.  I make some assumptions about those, namely, the team with the best record in each conference.  2-0 is better than 1-0.  Ties are broken using the Laxpower computer rankings, although those don't factor into the seedings.

Here's the initial look for 2016:

This is going to be difficult this year.  Feathers will be ruffled.  Whatever your strongly-held opinion of how a bracket should look, it's almost impossible not to offend it.  Earlier I said that UVA's struggles were reflective of UVA alone, not those of blue-bloods in general.  I'm no longer real convinced of that, not when the Ivy League is dominating the top of the seeding and none of those top teams are Cornell or Princeton.  Or when the A-East has as many teams as the ACC.

On the flip side, you've still got Maryland, Hopkins, and Syracuse, albeit the latter two on the road.  Denver is basically a disguised blue-blood, given who coaches them.  Notre Dame was always kind of a sleeping giant and they're sort of an honorary blue-blood.  But there's plenty of parity this year, and UVA can't get into the tournament just by losing its way through most of an ACC schedule.

Speaking of which, with wins over Hopkins and Penn they're in no way dead meat yet.  But High Point??  That one's going to anchor them down pretty solidly.  Loyola, too.  And RPI doesn't care whether you lose close or big, so narrow losses to Cuse and ND don't help.  The committee may cast a favorable eye on those last two losses, but only as a tiebreaker - it's not going to get them into the conversation if their resume doesn't do it.

From here, I'd say that UVA needs to beat both Carolina and Duke.  Neither are in great shape themselves.  The Hoos could, I suppose, lose them both, then beat Georgetown and pull a Brown miracle out of their ass, but Brown ass miracles are difficult to pull off.  Duke's name doesn't even appear on that whole page, though.  (They're neck and neck with Rutgers, actually.)

Some bullets on the bracket:

-- Right now, a bracketologist has to make some choices between teams with lots of losses but at least one solid win (e.g., Penn) and teams with lots of mostly uninspiring wins (e.g. Stony Brook.)  The committee has made it very clear in the past they prefer the former.

-- Penn is an especially shaky case and I'm not happy about putting them 8th.  But who should I put there instead?  Penn State would be there, but the head-to-head result there is impossible to ignore.  Hopkins?  Stony Brook?  Syracuse?  Maybe Syracuse, but, meh.  This bracket features a lot of similar reactions.

-- The fight for the last spot between Harvard and Hopkins is incredibly close.  No doubt that will shake out later.  But right now, you've got two teams that have piled up losses (mostly to good teams) and also some quality wins.  Both are better resumes than, say, Rutgers, which has piled up wins against awful teams and wouldn't even be on the screen without that Hopkins win.

-- There's good news for teams like UVA and Carolina, though: the likelihood of a bid thief this year is very, very slim.  The Patriot, CAA, MAAC, SoCon, and NEC are all 100% one-bid leagues, no matter who wins them.  (The lack of any threat from the Patriot League is part of the reason why we can say it's too soon to write any requiems for the blue-bloods.  That's normally the league that brings the surprises.)  Navy, Air Force, and Towson are by far the best-positioned teams in their leagues, but if they lose the autobid, they're not getting it back at-large.  Stony Brook is a bit precarious, but they and Albany are light-years ahead of the rest of their league and if one of them were to drop out of the field, they'd be replaced most likely by an ACC team, or Harvard.

Upcoming games that matter:

-- Brown at Penn: Most likely result is to knock Penn out of hosting duties, but not out of the bracket.  I hope Brown really sticks around, though, because there's a lot more bad Brown jokes I haven't written yet.

-- Denver at Villanova: Denver looked invulnerable for a while there, but the Tobacco Road sweep hasn't boosted their resume like it should, and losing to Penn State is a dud.  They need another notch or two, to get their seeding to where it feels like it should be.

-- Ohio State at Johns Hopkins: OSU isn't that scary, but then I wouldn't have said Rutgers is either.  And the Buckeyes did beat Marquette.  Hopkins can't afford another slip-up.

-- Harvard at Cornell: This isn't an elimination game, but the loser - especially if it's Cornell - will be in a very deep hole.

-- Duke at Notre Dame: ACC games always matter.

-- Virginia at North Carolina: Need this one, bad.

-- Maryland at Penn State: This one's for control of the B1G - the winner will have only Hopkins to tangle with.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

i wasn't done reading

I didn't want to have to revisit this, and we're not going to for very long, but I can't really call myself a writer (even an occasional one which is how things are these days) without some kind of reaction to UVA's tourney exit.  It'd be nice if I could just write the other stuff I wanna write and ignore That, but that'd be weird.

We were this damn close to a miniature form of basketball immortality, until the gut punch that looked at first like pure desperation.  There are some armchair coaches floating around on the netz that suggest UVA should've done this or that against the zone, which is stupid because UVA was crushing the zone like a bug.  It doesn't take a genius to see that the press is what won Syracuse the game, and for about five minutes of basketball it threw the Hoos for a totally uncharacteristic loop.

That's what the real nut-kick is: that was a tactic that should never have worked and wouldn't again.  UVA is the team with Cali-cool at point guard and the most deliberate coach in the game and veterans everywhere within dead-cat-swinging range.  With a big honking lead and less than a quarter to go to the Final Four, this is the team that you'd expect to dribble back around in circles unless a wide-open dunk presented itself without even trying.  Time would roll off the clock and Syracuse would be forced to play the defense they'd been playing all game that wasn't working.

Perhaps Tony expected it, too, placing maybe a bit more trust in his players than was warranted - and this is a team that warrants a metric dumptruck of trust.  Many coaches would've called timeout and settled their charges down a bit.  Refocused the defense - and reminded them that no Cuse basket = no Cuse press.  Tony elected to let them play, let them run, and one imagines he wishes he'd pulled the trigger on a timeout somewhere around the lead dwindling to about seven.

Nut-kick number two is that the First Book of Tony just slammed shut.  I told you it was going to regardless of tourney outcome, I just wish it would've waited another week.  This feels like losing the '14 CWS Final to Vanderbilt.  You're welcome to take that as a mega-positive sign given what happened the following year, but one part of the reason that was so damn cool is that it was so damn unlikely.

Also, because it still featured a lot of players who deserved to hoist something just based on longevity alone.   Many of the best stories - think Nathan Kirby, Kenny Towns - were still there.  Of course, everyone wearing a UVA uniform deserves championships for multitudes of reasons, but the core seniors of this basketball team - Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Nolte - also own like 75% of the deserving-ness, and that was their last chance.  Such are the incredible cruelties of the tournament - if this was football, they'd at least have like a Sugar Bowl championship or something.

Bowl games are cool that way.  You can have your cake and eat it too.  That one time we crushed West Virginia, or held Larry Fitzgerald to like a catch or two, they'll always provide nice fuzzy memories.  Blowing the BlueTurf Bowl to Fresno State elicits a "whatever."  Winning is great.  Losing is not that bad, it's just an exhibition anyway.  Tournaments are different, especially this one.  That Final Four would've lasted forever, but since we got so close and didn't grab it, so will not getting there.  The Second Book of Tony will start in the fall, and the ceiling on it is unlimited, but the last chance to write the First Book is over.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

game preview: Syracuse

Date/Time: Sunday, March 27; 6:09


Record against the Orange: 4-3

Last meeting: UVA 73, SU 65; 1/24/16, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 84, ISU 71 (3/25); SU 63, GU 60 (3/25)


UVA: 61.6 (#351)
SU: 65.3 (#324)

UVA: 119.2 (#8)
SU: 110.7 (#53)

UVA: 91.5 (#4)
SU: 94.8 (#19)

UVA: .9544 (#1)
SU: .8560 (#28)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (10.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.5 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (18.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg)
SG: Devon Hall (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SF: Isaiah Wilkins (4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.8 apg)


PG: Trevor Cooney (12.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SG: Malachi Richardson (13.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.2 apg)
SF: Michael Gbinije (17.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.3 apg)
SF: Tyler Lydon (10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 apg)
PF: Tyler Roberson (9.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.4 apg)

The first five S16 games went by with minimum suspense.  That included UVA, which toyed with the idea of blowing the Iowa State game on a couple occasions but dismissed the idea each time.  UNC was always going to roll Indiana, so that left ND-Wiscy and SU-GU to try and inject a little drama into the proceedings.  They didn't disappoint.  Syracuse spent most of their game looking destined to fall a little short, until the fact that Gonzaga only played six guys caught up to them, and the Cuse snatched up the trip to the E8.  ND did the same thing to Wisconsin, and now the ACC is guaranteed two slots in the Final Four - no more, and no fewer.

For UVA, it means a familiar opponent in a game for the right to put up a banner.  Syracuse's inclusion in the tournament elicited a "WUT" from a CBS talkinghead during the Selection Show upon announcement, and now they're halfway to the big prize.  They've taken a slightly nontraditional route.  Having been the direct beneficiary of possibly the biggest upset in tourney history is lucky but irrelevant - it still means they took care of business when other teams didn't.

The last time these two teams played, it was a closer UVA win than the score indicated, but UVA was scratching its way out of an early-season hole and the chemistry experiment was only just falling into place.  Syracuse ended the year on a 1-5 low note, but three straight wins have erased those memories.  This time of year, everyone who's left is riding high.

-- UVA on offense

All about that 2-3 zone.  Probably no defensive scheme is so well-associated with one team as the Syracuse 2-3 zone.  It can be tough to attack because it's so packed-in, but UVA's familiarity with it can only help.

Like Iowa State, Syracuse is a thin team.  Five starters who play 30+ minutes, and two bench guys, and that's it.  And like Iowa State, this necessitates a minimum of fouling, though the zone and a slow tempo help in that regard.  Syracuse is good at keeping out of foul trouble, with heavy assistance of the above two factors.  They're also "good at free throw defense" - because it's so hard to drive against the zone, most of their fouls are committed on big men.

There are two primary ways to attack the zone: Shoot over top of it, or try to catch them over-rotating and get to the middle near the free-throw line.  UVA used both to good effect in their last win, with 44.4% three-point shooting and 7-for-11 shooting from Anthony Gill.  Gill is a tremendous weapon against the 2-3 because he's at his best when he can face the bucket with a little room, and bull-rush the hoop.  When he gets the ball just under the free-throw line, he's one dribble from the bucket and almost unstoppable.  This is easy to do against the 2-3 because of where the defenders are positioned, especially if the center has been caught on one side of the lane.

Another defining characteristic of the zone is its propensity to give up offensive rebounds.  Players in a zone aren't tracking a particular player, so boxing out is complicated.  Getting in position to do so usually means abandoning your zone.  Over the years, Syracuse's defensive rebounding has ranged from kind of bad to completely horrible.  It's at the latter end of the spectrum this year.  UVA only got four offensive boards in the regular-season game against Cuse, but Mike Tobey has been on a mission lately and recently destroyed ISU, Butler, and Miami on the offensive glass.

And there will be a role for Tobey.  A very big one.  Neither Tyler Roberson or DaJuan Coleman range far from the rim, so Tony will feel free to use Tobey without a concern for matchup problems.  Syracuse doesn't fast-break much and they need to collapse hard on the glass to rebound, so the new Rampage version of Mike Tobey we've seen in postseason play could be in for yet another big game, mucking it up on the offensive glass.  Even in the loss, Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis was a complete wrecking ball, with 19 points and 17 boards.  Using Tobey to bludgeon Cuse into submission will go a long way.

-- UVA on defense

Last time we met, on the JPJ hardwood, Cuse kept things close because Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson went absolutely nuts from three, combining to shoot 11-for-19 from deep.  It's really been only since then that Malcolm Brogdon went ham on the defensive end, and his work on Gbinije this time around will be critical.

I think it's safe to guess that'll be the matchup.  Trevor Cooney is nominally the point guard, but Gbinije has taken over the primary ballhandling role as more of a point forward.  He'll take any shot on the court, and is a tremendously adept passer.  He'll also play almost every minute and make his defender work hard for all of them, so it won't be 100% Malcolm, but still.

Syracuse has a bit of a love affair with shooting the three - 42.5% of their shots are from deep.  That said, only four of their seven guys will ever shoot one.  Gbinije and Tyler Lydon are reasonably dangerous 40% shooters; Cooney and Richardson can get hot but are about average overall.  (Cooney in particular has never been the least bit shy to let them fly, and can look alternately like J.J. Redick or a no-thought brickheaver at any given moment.)

Inside the arc, though, Syracuse is a below-average team.  Cooney and Richardson are both sub-40% shooters from two, and Cuse doesn't have anyone above 60%.  The last time UVA faced a team without a guy shooting 60% from two was the NC State game.  They shot more threes than twos in our last game and kept it close only because of those threes from Richardson and Gbinije.

There's plenty of talent on this team, and they go six deep with high-quality basketball players.  (Franklin Howard is the seventh rotation guy, and he scares nobody.)  And Cuse put up a hell of a fight against Gonzaga and saw their efforts pay off.  They scrapped impressively hard.  But - and you knew this paragraph would have a But - neither do they have anyone who UVA hasn't already figured out how to stop.  There's no Georges Niang running around.  There might not even be an Andrew Chrabascz.  Syracuse's game plan will be to fling away from three and hope they go down.  They might, and that would be a fairly big problem.  But there isn't much other alternative.

-- Outlook

I hate what I'm about to do.  Getting too cocky at this time of year has a way of making you look like an ass, and yes I know I'm not the one on the court but that makes it worse because all I can do is flap my gums and hope someone else makes me look smart.

But here's the deal.  Syracuse is a razor-thin team, and laid it all on the court just to beat an even thinner team that used exactly one sub.  I was nervous to potentially face Gonzaga, because of Wiltjer and Sabonis, but even had they gotten through, Syracuse made them look pretty average.  But they looked pretty average in doing so themselves.

Meanwhile, UVA is locked in, and completely in tune with Tony Bennett.  Tony told them, "Don't tiptoe through this game" before they faced Iowa State, and before the Cyclones could get their wits about them they were down 17-3.

If Syracuse wins, the story will inevitably be about what an incredibly scrappy bunch the Orange are, playing with a chip on their shoulder after being told they didn't belong, and taking it out on the Big Bad in the bracket.  And that could happen.  It's happened before.  But Syracuse feels much more like a team with the needle on E.

Final score: UVA 72, SU 54

Friday, March 25, 2016

game preview: Iowa State

Date/Time: Friday, March 25; 7:10


Record against the Cyclones: 1-2

Last meeting: ISU 60, UVA 47; 12/30/10, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 77, Butler 69 (3/19); ISU 78, UALR 61 (3/19)


UVA: 61.3 (#351)
ISU: 71.7 (#55)

UVA: 119.2 (#6)
ISU: 120.7 (#2)

UVA: 91.8 (#4)
ISU: 100.2 (#94)

UVA: .9529 (#1)
ISU: .8944 (#16)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (10.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.3 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (18.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)
SG: Devon Hall (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SF: Isaiah Wilkins (4.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.7 apg)

Iowa State:

PG: Monte Morris (13.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.9 apg)
SG: Matt Thomas (10.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 apg)
SF: Abdel Nader (13.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.6 apg)
SF: Georges Niang (20.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)
PF: Jameel McKay (11.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 0.9 apg)

This year's Sweet 16 has a lot of compelling matchups.  You have UNC-IU, two of the most old-money programs in the nation.  Regional games in ND-Wiscy and A&M-OU, the latter of course being a former conference rivalry of sorts.  Virginia and Iowa State wouldn't seem to have much in common.  A few architectural similarities, maybe.

These two programs are both in a very similar place, though.  Fairly or not, these are two teams with a bit of a reputation for underperforming seed expectations.  ISU still can't escape the shadow of their loss to 15-seeded Hampton, and last year was a victim of 14-seeded UAB, both in the first round.  UVA lost to a lower-seeded MSU twice in a row.  Nothing less than the Final Four will match seed expectations for UVA, so there's more pressure on the guys in blue and orange from that perspective.

Both teams can do wonders for their reputations by winning.  ISU has been to the Final Four once - in 1944, with an eight-team field, so, effectively never.  UVA hasn't been in over 30 years.  Neither has been since the expansion to 64 teams.  Both schools are fighting to carve themselves a place in a very difficult conference populated by teams with much more pedigree.  As usual, more is at stake than simply the right to play again later.

-- UVA on offense

The biggest weakness the Cyclones have is lack of depth.  Their five starters are going to be on the court easily over 30 minutes, with only the possible exception of Jameel McKay - and then usually only if he gets into foul trouble.  Losing Naz Mitrou-Long early in the season was a huge blow to their backcout depth, and in the frontcourt they never had any to begin with.

This means they put an emphasis on staying out of foul trouble.  There is no backup point guard, for example.  There just isn't.  Monte Morris gets like two or three minutes' rest at the most.  Probably none at all against UVA.  He's one of the least fouley players in the country out of sheer necessity.  The Cyclones can't be highly aggressive in defending drives to the lane because they can't afford to have starters out for long stretches.

The result is predictable: not a lot of turnovers, and not great two-point defense.  ISU hardly ever sends opponents to the free throw line - only Hofstra's opponents get less of their scoring from free throws.  But the catch to that is if you aggressively drive the rim, they might well let you have it.  At 6'9, 225, McKay is the biggest guy they have, but he's also the first one off the court and there's no way they'll let Georges Niang (the second-biggest guy) pile up fouls by aggressively contesting every drive attempt.

Obviously, that means points in the paint can win us the game.  Put Malcolm Brogdon into Eff-It Mode and let him go to work.  Gill and Tobey, too.  I don't think Tobey will play much because ISU uses a small lineup quite a bit, but he might easily have a game like he did against Butler where it only takes him nine minutes to put ten points on the board.

-- UVA on defense

Of course we have the metaphorical 800-pound gorilla: Georges Niang.  Niang is 6'8" but in practice he's a very big shooting guard.  It's exceedingly rare in college hoops to find a guy that big and as comfortable as he is on the dribble.  Almost everyone chooses to guard him with someone smaller because big guys don't have a prayer of keeping up with him, which means he needs no space at all to get off a shot.  One-handed floaters are a specialty of his.  Tony almost has no choice but to use Malcolm Brogdon on him, just about all day long.  If Brogdon can hound Niang into a bad shooting day, his star will shoot to the top of the sky.

Just as ISU doesn't foul much, they get fouled even less.  Nobody gets a lower percentage of points from the stripe than the Cyclones.  They love the mid-range two - getting all the way to the rim isn't a top priority - and it's not just Niang who's good at hitting them.  ISU's two-point shooting percentage is 4th in the country, and even though the rotation is short, only Jameel McKay is not a threat from deep.  Everyone else on the floor must be paid some attention behind the arc.

Rotation-wise, beefy guard Deonte Burton is first off the bench, but he almost always replaces McKay to create what might as well be a five-guard lineup.  For this reason, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Mike Tobey get the start, while McKay is in, and then pull him when ISU goes small.  Monte Morris, as mentioned, probably never comes out, and is one of the best point guards in the tourney.  Matt Thomas is showing why Tony recruited him so hard (and almost succeeded) - he's a top-notch shooter.  Abdel Nader could take better care of the ball than he does, but he does a good job burning teams who pay too much attention to the stars.

Iowa State games are high-scoring affairs.  They combine efficiency with a high tempo and they're unaccustomed to scoring below 80.  UVA will have a tough time matching their usual defensive brilliance, but anything under 75 points would put them in terrific position.

-- Outlook

Last time the Hoos played Iowa State, it wasn't that long ago.  The First Book of Tony was just beginning and the team wasn't very good yet.  It was a Cyclone blowout.  UVA's leading scorer: K.T. Harrell, with nine.  That wasn't even a good ISU team.  They were 12-2 after that win, and finished 16-16, sinking like a rock in Big 12 play.

Everyone's calling it a clash of styles, and it is.  Iowa State is one of the quickest teams to shoot in the country.  But UVA is stubbornly impossible to speed up.  Even with the new shot clock, UVA hasn't played a 70-possession game since 2012, a 40-point blowout of Seattle.  This is the kind of team the pack-line was designed to keep from running away with the game.

And there's one basic deal here.  One team plays great on one end of the court; the other team plays great on both of them.  UVA can easily lose, if the shooting goes cold or if ISU proves too hard to stop on offense, either of which is very possible.  But the prediction has to stick with the more complete and deeper team.

Final score: UVA 83, ISU 73

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

sweet ain't easy

The Sweet 16 is so easy and so hard at the same time.  All you have to do is win two games in one weekend.  How hard can that be?  Hard enough that 48 teams can't do it, though; following the play-in games, the cruelties of the tournament eliminate three-quarters of the participants in four days.  You get a lot of unhappy press conferences.

Sweet 16s are interesting partly for who's not in them.  The 1 and 2 seeds are viewed as these bracket titans, nigh-impossible to stop on the first weekend.  And why not?  These are teams that lost, like, twice a month at most.  And yet, since the expansion of the tournament to 64 teams, only three tourney fields have failed to knock out at least one 1 or 2 seed in the first weekend.  Those would be 1989, 1995, and 2009.  (And '09 was a really chalky tournament, notable for featuring all four 1, 2, and 3 seeds in the Sweet 16, but the 1/2 seed carnage in 1989's S16 was something to behold.)  This year didn't disappoint in the surprises department, punching out half of its 3 seeds, keeping the 12/5 faith alive, and delivering the 8th-ever 15/2 upset.  The list of teams-not-here is long and distinguished, even if you don't count the names that didn't even make the tourney (UCLA, Georgetown, Marquette).  Kentucky, Michigan State, Arizona - there's a lot of Final Fours represented there.  (30, if you were wondering.)

This is to say that even though UVA was "supposed" to make the Sweet 16, nothing is actually supposed to happen.  Ten of last year's 16 aren't here this year.  And so on and so forth.  It's minor compared to what could still happen, but the last senior class of the First Book of Tony does have something to hang its hat on.

-- Voters for the Wooden Award may or may not have turned in their ballots before the Butler game.  If they waited, what Malcolm Brogdon did to that game might just sway them.  Buddy Hield is a better scorer than Brogdon, so he's the front-runner, but goodness, how many teams in the nation possess a defensive weapon like what UVA unleashed on an unsuspecting Andrew Chrabascz?  24 points for Chrabascz before Brogdon started sitting on him, and zero field goals after.

-- Which itself is only half of the Malcolm Brogdon story.  Last year, right around this time, I was positing that Brogdon could take over games if he wanted to, but didn't because he didn't know he could.  I quote from my own season review: "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."  Well, UVA did lose close games - all of their losses are close - but the contrast between then and now couldn't be plainer.  UVA lost last year in this very same round because 1) they couldn't buy a three and 2) they didn't have anyone to say "eff it I'm goin' deep."  Brogdon has discovered his Eff-It Mode.  This is a guy who plays 39 out of 40 minutes, rarely fouls, destroys your best scorer, and can't be fouled, left any room to shoot a jumper, or successfully guarded by anyone either smaller or bigger than him.

-- This comes to attention partly because the sideline reporter for the Butler game actually asked Tony an intelligent question that elicited an insightful answer (about the Brogdon-on-Chrabascz matchup), which is a huge step up from the usual "tell me how you feel" nonsense.  Combined with the fact that Mike Kryz-that-guy actually gave his own sideline interview, I suspect something in the Official Powerade.

-- Putting Louisville in the bracket would've shuffled the whole thing, changed all the matchups, etc., so it'd be wrong to say, "just think how well the ACC would be doing if Louisville were here too."  But it is legitimate to be impressed that the ACC is 6 of 16 without even giving a chance to one of the top ten KenPom teams in the country.

-- I got my first look at the disappointing lacrosse team this past weekend.  It was not the disaster I expected, obviously, and two incredibly close losses to the top two teams in the ACC are a bummer, but also a clue that there's still a flicker of brilliance, somewhere.  One thing I didn't see was the goaltending that has been the #1 gripe on the boardz.  Matt Barrett was excellent, which you don't even need to have watched any lacrosse to know is a 180 from his previous outings.  It offered slight hope that a tourney berth can be salvaged, but UVA would have to win - oh, probably every game from here on out to make that happen.

Friday, March 18, 2016

game preview: Butler

Date/Time: Saturday, March 19; 7:10


Record against the Bulldogs: 0-0

Last meeting: Never

Last game: UVA 81, HU 45 (3/17); Butler 71, TT 61 (3/17)


UVA: 61.2 (#351)
Butler: 68.9 (#169)

UVA: 118.6 (#9)
Butler: 115.5 (#19)

UVA: 91.7 (#4)
Butler: 101.1 (#116)

UVA: .9505 (#1)
Butler: .8233 (#37)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (11.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.4 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (18.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)
SG: Devon Hall (4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SF: Isaiah Wilkins (4.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.7 apg)


PG: Roosevelt Jones (13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.8 apg)
SG: Kellen Dunham (16.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
SF: Kelan Martin (16.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.1 apg)
PF: Andrew Chrabascz (10.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.0 apg)
PF: Tyler Wideman (7.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.8 apg)

"Survive and advance" doesn't seem like the right phrase for a 31-point stompening, when a 1 seed treats a 16 seed like they're expected to.  But then you look at what happened to Sparty - which you can just bet that I'm completely sick about.  Torn up inside.**  Nothing is granted you at the Dance macabre.

To drive that point home, this reminder: It's nothing but good teams from here on out.  Even if UVA wins and draws Arkansas-Little Rock in the next round, those Trojans will have beaten both the 4 and 5 seeds.

UVA has never played Butler.  Playing them right after Hampton sounds like the most 1% path through the tournament ever; it's too bad there aren't certain other teams in the tourney we could play next.  We could drive our La Salle to our Citadel in the Hamptons and have the Butler waiting for us.

Matchups matter, team attributes matter, and these preview posts exist to discuss them, but the tao of the tournament is always this: the last game never matters.  Two years ago UVA made it to the Sweet 16 by curb-stomping Memphis, which ran counter to all the expectations after they had big trouble with 15-seed Coastal Carolina.  To get back to those heights this year, UVA has to play a whole new game.

-- UVA on offense

The interesting thing about Butler's defense is that there's absolutely nothing interesting about it.  Most of the time, you have some thing or another that the opponent is good at or bad at.  Butler is slightly good at rebounding and slightly good at getting steals, but there's no crazy good rebounder or ball thief driving those numbers.  Kelan Martin is the top board guy, and he's good, not great - and his likely defensive assignment will be Ike Wilkins, so UVA gets a small advantage by pulling him away from the rim a little on that end.  (It should also be noted that point guard Roosevelt Jones crashes the board much harder than any point guard we've seen, which throws off your blocking-out calculus quite a bit because your own point guard isn't going to do that on the offensive end.)

Butler is much bigger than Hampton, which you'd expect from a comparison between Big East and MEAC teams.  They have good size in the backcourt that can match UVA's; where Malcolm Brogdon went down in the post quite a bit on Thursday and even went back-to-the-basket, he probably won't do that Saturday.  They have enough size in the frontcourt, but not a lot of depth; Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler Wideman are the only players over 6'6".  Neither are great rebounders (Wideman is decent, but not great) and a lineup of Gill and Tobey at the same time will likely dominate the boards and get plenty of second chances.

We go back to those interestingly uninteresting stats, though.  The Bulldogs are the biggest "is what they is" team in college basketball.  They were rarely upset (one very tight loss to Marquette on the road) and rarely upset anyone (beat Seton Hall on the road and Purdue at a "neutral site" a few miles from their home court.)  Both those teams are already out of the tournament, and neither of those wins, nor that loss, really made anyone bat more than one eyelash.  Not only that, but Butler rarely allowed more than a point per possession to worse teams, or fewer than a point per to better teams.  It's hard to figure that UVA won't get its share of points as well.

-- UVA on defense

This side of the ball, Butler has a few things to talk about.  Starting with their 3-point shooting, which is just a shade under 40% as a team.  We all know that's the approved way to beat UVA, although it's also worth pointing out that shooting well from three doesn't guarantee you the win; ask Syracuse.

Kellen Dunham and Jordan Gathers are the top distance shooters by percentage, and Butler has one or the other on the floor at all times - though, rarely both.  (If the name Gathers rings an old bell, it should.  Jordan Gathers is the nephew of Loyola Marymount legend Hank Gathers.)  Almost everyone Butler trots out will attempt a three at some point, except for Tyler Wideman and, oddly, point guard Roosevelt Jones.  The only one who's something less than a threat to hit is Tyler Lewis (and if that name rings an old bell, it should too; Lewis is an NC State transfer, playing tournament games in his old home arena.)

Just because Jones doesn't shoot threes doesn't mean he's a pass-first (or pass-only) point guard; he loves to work off the dribble and has shot more twos than anyone on the team by far, including bigs Wideman and Chrabascz - combined.  (Well, almost - they've taken 342 two-pointers, Jones, 338.)  This is where the game will be won or lost.  Everyone knows you beat the pack-line by collapsing it into its natural tendency to try and cut off drives, then kicking to an open three shooter and knocking it down.  But if the pack-line is at its best, you won't even start that drive.  That's what UVA needs to do, because if Jones isn't driving, the threes dry up quite a bit.  I would guess that the game willl start with Brogdon on Dunham, but Tony will put him on Jones to break up Butler's rhythm on offense.

-- Outlook

Butler is solid.  They were 3-1 against OOC tournament teams, but 2-7 against Big East tourney teams.  They take care of the ball, don't foul much, take good shots, etc. - all the hallmarks of a tough out in the tournament - but also don't play great defense, which sooner or later is going to mean their elimination.  Sooner, it says here.  They didn't succeed in beating anyone you'd consider a national title contender, even an outside one.  What they can do well, UVA can do better.  Never say never to an upset, but now isn't the time to call for one.

Final score: UVA 75, Butler 66

**I am not.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

game preview: Hampton

Date/Time: Thursday, March 17; 3:10

TV: truTV

Record against the Pirates: 7-0

Last meeting: UVA 69, HU 40; 11/26/13, Charlottesville

Last game: UNC 61, UVA 57 (3/12); HU 81, SC St. 69 (3/12)


UVA: 61.4 (#351)
HU: 72.2 (#44)

UVA: 118.4 (#9)
HU: 100.0 (#244)

UVA: 91.9 (#4)
HU: 104.8 (#192)

UVA: .9483 (#2)
HU: .3663 (#220)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (11.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.4 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (18.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SG: Devon Hall (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Isaiah Wilkins (4.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.6 apg)


PG: Reginald Johnson (18.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.1 apg)
SG: Lawrence Cooks (8.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
SG: Brian Darden (13.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SF: Quinton Chievous (17.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 2.1 apg)
PF: Dionte Adams (5.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.6 apg)

Last chance.  This is the best senior class for UVA hoops in quite a while.  Three different players in it have won ACC honors of some kind - Player of the Year, DPOY, 6th Man, you name it.  The cruel reality of the NCAA tournament is that hundreds of seniors will end their college careers with a loss, and only a tiny handful can say otherwise.  Whether Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Nolte, and Kirven can avoid the usual fate of seniors remains to be seen, but they're writing the last piece of their legacy regardless.

It's not just the careers of five seniors, though, that are wrapping up.  This is also the last page of the First Book of Tony in the UVA basketball bible.  These guys - Brogdon in particular, way back in August of 2010 - made their commitment very early in the Tony Bennett era.  We're still carrying over from the initial rise to the top.  (And yes, with ACC banners in the ceiling and being ranked at times #1 in the AP poll and in KenPom, it's fair to say UVA has been at the very top of the basketball world.)  This is the final chapter.  When this tourney is over, whether after one, two, or three weeks, the next time the sun rises on UVA basketball it'll be the same author, but a new book.  Hopefully it's more "Harry saves the day and gets rid of Voldemort for now" and less "holy shit, they killed Ned."

-- UVA on offense

Hampton, on the surface, is a respectable defensive team - the stat that really drags down their defensive efficiency is "free throw defense."  I maintain that's not entirely out of one's control - fouling other team's guards will generally result in higher free throw percentages than fouling their bigs - but Hampton's guards aren't very foul-prone.  Their bigs are; maybe they foul lane drivers a lot.  Regardless, Hampton has played solid defense all year long, to just go by the efficiency stats.

Against MEAC competition, that is.  Against bigger fish, their tempo has worked against them and they've been flattened.  Colorado scored 95 in 75 possessions.  SMU rolled up 105 points in just 69 possessions, which is more than 1.5 points per.

Hampton's lineup being essentially a four-guard setup just about all the time, opposing big men tend to have a field day on them, even in losses.  The best comparison is probably Colorado's Josh Scott, one of the Pac-12's best centers and scorer of 21 points and 8 rebounds against Hampton.  UVA has made no secret of their intent to feed the post early and often, and Anthony Gill should be about that productive.

Surprisingly for an up-tempo team, Hampton doesn't pressure a lot on defense, so UVA will have room to work.  Malcolm Brogdon and Devon Hall will both tower over whoever guards them, and outweigh them by 20-30 pounds, too.  Hampton does good work on the boards at both ends, but with the height advantage UVA has at any position you like, there'll be second-chance points, too.  Execute as per usual and the scoreboard will light up.

-- UVA on defense

The Pirates want to push on offense, so one thing that will limit those second chances for UVA is a likely extra emphasis on getting back - more so than usual even for Tony Bennett.  Some teams - like, some we know real well - will pass on a good shot in order to look for a great one.  Hampton just takes what's there and then crashes the offensive glass, hard.  They have three players in the top 300 in offensive rebounding, per KenPom's figuring.

For the most part, Hampton's starting guards are volume scorers.  Brian Darden is a low-percentage, high-volume shooter whose efficiency numbers are saved mainly by his almost impeccable free-throw shooting.  Reginald Johnson can get to the rim fairly well and gets fouled all the time, but he's a senior whose career three-point shooting is under 30%.  Doesn't stop him from shooting - he's launched 173 of them this year.

Hampton's biggest offensive threat - besides their propensity to try and beat you down the court - is the interior games of their biggishes, Quinton Chievous and Dionte Adams.  Chievous gets some putbacks, shoots 63% from two, and mainly eschews the jumpers - though he will at times shoot a three and very, very occasionally make one.  He's much more of a threat down low - but you can save a lot of points by fouling him, because he misses more free throws than he makes.  Hampton's biggest guy is 6'8", 250 Jervon Pressley, who's a shot-blocker but a liability on offense.

Conventional wisdom says you beat UVA by shooting threes, as aptly demonstrated by UVA's 1-3 stretch in January where the winning opponents (VT, GT, FSU) combined to make more than they missed, and UVA's only win (Miami) couldn't buy one.  Hampton cannot shoot threes.

-- Outlook

After the last couple years, in which both Coastal Carolina and Belmont put a scare on the Hoos and threatened to list them among the all-time tournament upsets, I ought to be highly cautious.  It's hard, though, when the opposing offense is so badly geared to succeed against one of the nation's best defenses.  One day, somewhere, a 16 seed will beat a 1, but there's no point ever trying to predict it.

Final score: UVA 82, HU 63

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

green and white elephant in the room

The #1 thing that makes sports interesting is the suspense.  That's kind of what makes anything interesting, really, but sports are better than movies or books at producing it.  Suspense, not action, is what keeps us interested, otherwise hockey would be a fifty billion dollar business and baseball would've never left the semi-pro ranks.**  ESPN finally realized this by no longer showing you which draft prospect was on the phone during a particular pick and everybody said thank you, why did you even start that in the first place?  (Because as a media entity, their first instinct is to scoop rather than entertain.)

So I should be all kinds of pissed off at the narcissistic attention whore who decided to leak the bracket early.  But I'm not.  Because, facing the prospect of a bloated two-hour selection show "featuring more analysis and interviews" (and as a totally unintentional consequence, more ads) I just decided to extend my Tivo-enabled middle finger to CBS.  I taped the thing, stayed off the internets, started watching an hour late, and zipped through everything that looked unrelated to an actual bracket or a few discussion bones about my teams.  It took 45 minutes.  It was wonderful.  CBS can lard up the show all it likes with inane blabber and money grabs, but I'm not going to look at any of it unless they put it back to an hour, tops.  Just the matchups, ma'am.  Don't care what some guy in a suit thinks about them.

And as a bonus, the bracket leak embarrassed CBS and called attention to the fact that people don't actually want to put up with their shit.

Now for the bracket itself.  It sucks.  Mainly because of Chicago.  And who UVA will play in Chicago, if they earn their way there.  Chicago attracts Purdue and MSU grads like you wouldn't believe.  The committee handed the #1 seed two road games blocking the way to the Final Four.  It's no wonder the whole world is picking MSU to get there instead.  Well, that and they've beaten us the last two years and Tom Izzo is postseason gold.  The pundits love this, though - it's the really easy way out from picking all #1 seeds to make the FF.

Of course, UVA-MSU requires each team to win three games - but MSU is a near-lock to hold up its end of the bargain.  Conventional wisdom is that Seton Hall has the best chance to knock them off before then, but Seton Hall has to get past Gonzaga and most likely 3-seed Utah - though Utah isn't much of a 3-seed.  And besides the fact that MSU won the last two games, now they come into the tournament as the top three-point shooting team in the country.

It sets up perfectly for them, really - Chicago, a fairly easy path to at least the E8, and the lifeblood of every Sparty in existence: DIZREZPEKT.  Putting UVA #1 over them is actually a fairly easy decision for two reasons: the ACC is by every metric a tougher conference than the B1G, and MSU's strength of schedule is middling while UVA's is elite.  The main argument against it is "well UVA isn't a conference champion," which given that both teams were 13-5 in the regular season and made the conference championship game, basically boils down to "we beat the #4 team in the conference but you lost to #1."  It would've been maybe a good idea for them not to put four sub-300 teams in KenPom's rankings on their OOC.  But despite the logic, you'll never get a Sparty to believe their 2 seed is anything but ACC bias (even though their AD is like the #2 guy on the committee) and disrespect on a galactic scale, which is exactly how they like it.

All we can do is hope UVA gets to that E8 game in Chicago and then brings the single best game they've ever played in the Tony Bennett era.

**I'm not trashing baseball.  I love baseball.  It's like 250 little mini-dramas - at least one every pitch - rolled into one beautiful sunny afternoon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

a look around

We have a slight pause between the regular season and postseason, so it's time to take stock of how things are going in UVA's major sports.

Basketball, obviously, is pretty much the way it's been since Joe Harris knocked on Tony Bennett's front door a couple years ago.  The team could literally take a collective dump at center court on Thursday and then stagger off the court smashed on Wild Turkey, and they'd still be a three seed at the barest of minimums.  Since theydo actually plan on trying to win a basketball game (against either Clemson or Georgia Tech), the only drama left when it comes to tournament seeding is: 1 or 2?

Right now they're Joe Lunardi's third #1.  (And in a bracket that sets them up on a potential crash course with Buddy Hield, which would be excellent theater.)  That said, Michigan State and Xavier are strong candidates to take that 1 seed with strong tourney runs - and let's face it, MSU has to be considered the massive favorite in the B1G tourney just because of Izzo and their evil vampire nature.  (Come to think of it, I would consider them the massive favorite in the NCAA, too, without a powerhouse team in the bracket to apply the stake to the heart.)  UVA would be at risk of dropping to a 2 seed if they didn't make it to the ACC championship game on Saturday - but would be close to a lock for a 1 if they did.

Attention must be paid to Malcolm Brogdon, opening up a new door in ACC history with the never-before-seen feat of winning ACC POY and DPOY in the same year.  The two awards are clearly linked to each other, though, because the conference's two leading scorers are Tobacco Roadies.  In other words, Brogdon isn't POY without being DPOY.  The interesting thing is that the POY vote wasn't all that close, and his defensive stats don't really stand out.  He's not a machine for either blocks or steals, which is usually how you win DPOY.  You have to actually pay attention to UVA games to know Brogdon's value on defense - which is to say, UVA has become must-see TV for ACC journalists.  Quite likely, they noticed how Brandon Ingram stopped lighting up the scoreboard when Brogdon was assigned to him.

The ACC tournament sets up well for UVA.  The other side of the bracket has the conference's top three offenses (UNC, Duke, Notre Dame); the only top team in the conference that UVA didn't beat (Duke) didn't earn a double bye and needs to take their thin lineup through a gauntlet.  That said, it's a shame Louisville isn't involved - it'd be tougher to get through, but man, six teams like the ACC has at the top, plus some danger mice like Clemson and VT, would make for an ACC tourney for the ages.  Or really, just the way things should be every year.

Speaking of Louisville, though - are we liking this new tradition of going out on Senior Day and bombing some highly-ranked but temporarily hapless opponent back to the Stone Age with Dick Vitale in attendance?**  And capping it with a three-pointer from a senior walk-on causing the roof to blow off the place? Senior Days don't get better than that.  And I've been sticking up for Mike Tobey all year - I think he gets slapped with expectations and standards that are different from everyone else's, and unfairly criticized as a result - and it was therefore doubly awesome to see him own every square inch of the interior.  And since Thomas Rogers's cherry-on-top three against Syracuse two years ago is still my favorite UVA basketball moment of all time, watching the rerun starring Caid Kirven was like hearing a favorite song on the radio that the DJ never plays.  I could watch that show over and over.

**Don't underestimate the presence of Vitale.  First of all, I don't give a shit what anyone says, I like the guy, a lot.  And second, on the same day that Duke and Carolina were playing at Cameron, ESPN put UVA in the prime-time slot and sent Dickie V to Charlottesville.  UVA-Louisville trumped Duke-UNC.  How about that?


March 10 is approaching quickly enough that you might read this afterwards.  It's significant in this context for one thing: six years ago, it was the day that Mike London picked up his first two commitments of his first full recruiting class.  That would be David Dean and Clifton Richardson.  Bronco Mendenhall is unlikely to beat that pace, which, of course, is fine.  Mendenhall has really cranked up the offer cannon, and hardly a day goes by without a new one going out.  He's already held two junior days, both of which were highly attended.

I don't think that all these offers are actually, like, offers.  Bronco's not going to be one to tell you you have an offer when really you don't, but he's got to get out front of the relevance train, and there are ways to let a guy claim an offer while making sure he knows he's got to continue to earn it.  There's a feeling-out process going on.  An offer that goes out might be to see if the interest is mutual, or to keep UVA in the game while Bronco continues to evaluate.  Or a combination of the two.

Meanwhile, the feeling-out process is both ways.  There's clearly interest in what Bronco is putting together, but no prospect could ever be faulted for doing his homework.  Mike London was more familiar to everyone locally.  Nearly all his 2011 class was from Virginia or Maryland, and he was already a somewhat known quantity to the recruits he was talking to.  Now we have guys who either were not hearing from UVA before, or had been but under a totally different regime.  It's encouraging that the combined junior day attendance (between the two that've been held so far) was around 50.  Should we be surprised that the process is taking a little bit of time to ramp up?  Not remotely.


And finally, our beloved spring sports....are showing the rust something fierce.  The baseball team is already loaded down with long-term injuries just a couple weeks into the season, and the bullpen has blown a few leads.  And the lacrosse team....pfff.

It's interesting, actually, that a lot of the reaction to the loss to High Point was not "Virginia is really losing their dominance" but "The blue bloods are really losing their dominance."  I think that's a little bit of a confirmation bias thing.  Most people want there to be more parity in lacrosse, and many are rooting for the "blue-bloods" to lose their hegemony even if they're a fan of a blue-blood.  They just don't want it to be their blue-blood.  And parity in the game is slowly increasing.

But it's really coming more at the expense of the middle tier than the top.  ACC teams are having a fairly tough time this year, and Hopkins has been vexing their fans for a while now, same way UVA has.  But that's nothing compared to how the older middle-tier teams are looking.  Teams like Georgetown, Delaware, St. John's, UMass - formerly tough wins under any circumstance, and now complete pushovers.  Sure, it's not a good sign for lacrosse royalty that teams like Cornell and UVA are no longer powerhouses, but the real brunt of the power shift has been felt further down.

Which means that UVA's struggles - some bad losses and some ugly wins - are more about UVA than the tide of change.  Because let's face it: If Dom Starsia is gently steered toward retirement, which he probably should be if the season continues the way it started, you're nuts if you think the job would have any trouble attracting qualified candidates.

And if you think a 9-4 baseball team is any reason for panic, you learned nothing last year.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, February 27; 6:30


Record against the Heels: 52-129

Last meeting: UNC 71, UVA 67; 3/13/15; Greensboro, NC (ACC tournament)

Last game: Miami 64, UVA 61 (2/22); UNC 80, NCSt. 68 (2/24)


UVA: 61.5 (#351)
UNC: 72.3 (#47)

UVA: 117.7 (#11)
UNC: 119.8 (#5)

UVA: 92.7 (#9)
UNC: 95.7 (#32)

UVA: .9397 (#3)
UNC: .9298 (#6)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.4 apg)
SG: Devon Hall (4.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.8 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.6 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.4 apg)

North Carolina:

PG: Joel Berry (11.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.9 apg)
SG: Marcus Paige (12.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SF: Justin Jackson (12.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg)
PF: Brice Johnson (17.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Kennedy Meeks (10.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.2 apg)

I brought it to my own attention that I haven't done a single preview of an ACC game all year.  So why not start with the biggest regular season game we've got?

There's a lot at stake here, in terms of ACC seeding.  A top four slot, of course, is the goal, in the hopes that a few of the teams 5-9 or so get taken out early.  The conference is so damn wrapped up on itself, though, that it's going to be all but impossible to avoid tiebreaker entanglements.  There's a fair chance that teams 3-6 are in a four-way tie at 11-5 after this weekend - in fact, that happenstance mainly hinges on UVA beating Carolina.  And if that happens, then 1-2 will also be tied at 12-4.  UVA has collected wins over every team in the top six except Duke and UNC; one of those can still be rectified.  If they get it, they'll be close to bulletproof in any tiebreaker scenario you can concoct.

If not, they'll have to scratch and claw and hope for a few things to shake out correctly.  Even at 12-6, the chances of the coveted double bye would be slim.  With GameDay in town and Bronco Mendenhall hosting a very big junior day, it'll be a big-time atmosphere in Charlottesville; that'll help, and a potentially shorthanded UVA team will need every bit of help it can get.

-- UVA on offense

Lately I've been trying to decide the answer to a chicken-egg question: Is Malcolm Brogdon dominating games because his teammates are suddenly not much help, or are they not much help because they're getting out of the way of a completely en fuego Brogdon?  One clue might be those elbow step-back jumpers he was beating Miami over the head with.  Darius Thompson had the opportunity to try the same thing on more than one occasion and passed on it.  Then Brogdon would go out and do it again.  It was almost as if he was trying to convince Thompson it was possible.

Anthony Gill's one-handers haven't been falling lately, which isn't helping.  I've always thought those are really tough shots - you have to be a smashmouth post presence and then immediately switch to a soft touch.  I'm hoping to see Kennedy Meeks guarding him Saturday, because Meeks isn't quick enough to regularly stop Gill.  I don't think Roy Williams has checked out that much, though.  The much more likely scenario is to see Brice Johnson on Gill and Meeks on Tobey; Meeks's bulk will give Tobey trouble, and Johnson has two inches on Gill.  Both would be forced further from the basket than they'd like to be.  They can hit the jumper (I'm not sure Tobey takes jumpers, though - he's more or less decided to resurrect the set shot) but obviously that's too low-percentage to rely on.

I'm also sure we'll see Justin Jackson on Brogdon, which is interesting.  Jackson has three inches on Brogdon, and step-back mid-range jumpers would be hard to pull off.  Brogdon's much beefier and stronger, though.  I'm always wishing Brogdon would go harder at his defenders and just knock them around a bit - probably no more so than in this game.

Thing is, though, UNC should be better on defense than it is.  They're not bad, but they're not really as good as they should be given their frontcourth depth and overall athleticism.  Johnson is a helluva rebounder on defense, but nobody else really is.  Jackson in particular is pretty much indifferent to the glass.  The Hoos should have plenty of second chances on offense, especially if they shoot enough threes.  Shooting threes is always a good way to increase your offensive rebounds anyway, but UNC's guards basically only take whatever comes to them.

Essentially, though, this will have to be more than the Malcolm Brogdon Show.  I'm very happy to see him take over like this, because I've been asking for it.  But UVA won't win too many games, and zero against Carolina, if he's the only one scoring in double digits.

-- UVA on defense

This Carolina team is no different than any Carolina team under Roy Williams.  Simple formula: Recruit a bunch of horses and let them run.  There isn't a lot of definition to a player's role.  Wing Justin Jackson handles the ball so much that KenPom's normally reliable algorithm pegs him as the point guard.

The offense is predicated on driving at the rim.  The Heels want to try and finish there, which they do well, or pull up for a jumper.  When they shoot threes, which isn't often because they don't have a sharpshooter, it's almost always a drive and kick.  Practically every single one of their made threes is assisted.  But they're one of the most skewed teams in the country toward two-pointers - only ODU and Navy are more so.  They're simply more athletic than just about everyone they play, so they use it.

This is where Isaiah Wilkins and Evan Nolte would come in handy.  Wilkins provides the athleticism needed to keep up on the interior.  Nolte is a plodder, but he makes up for it with almost picture-perfect positioning and excellent rotating.

Still, the pack-line is designed to stop precisely this kind of matchup.  ESPN put out a laughable preview of the game online, with keys to the game like "play good defense."  One of them was on the money, though: UNC needs to hit the threes they get from kicking the ball back out.  If the pack-line is on point, there'll be a lot of opportunities like that.  Guys like Joel Berry and Marcus Paige are OK, but far from automatic.

An all-in rebounding effort is crucial, too.  Yes, that's barely a step above "score more points," but Carolina has their bigs crash the offensive boards hard and depends on the athleticism of their backcourt (which doesn't crash) to stop transition chances.  When one of the guards drives the lane, the bigs follow and try to clean up putbacks.

This is the kind of matchup that makes college ball so much fun.  Given a nice oval track, the UNC race cars would love to do laps at 200 mph all day.  UVA prefers offroading it.  It's the race track vs. the mud pit.  Everything is based on whether the Hoos can bog down the Carolina offense, or if UNC can just run past the sand traps.

-- Outlook

The Hoos will need more than to make a mess of the UNC offense, though; they'll have to score some of their own, too.  Hard to do against the size and quickness advantages UNC will have, but the Heels are held back by a bit of an indifference on defense and a massive indifference to rebounding.  Boston College is in the bottom ten offenses in the whole country and still scored just shy of a point per possession.

It helps a bit too that Roy Williams is kinda checking out, as the Duke game so amply demonstrated.  His in-game coaching skills have always been, eh, a bit north of mediocre at best, but his give-a-shit levels are in rapid decline.  A close game gives a major advantage to Tony and Sons.

And close is what it's almost dead certain to be.  Against the ACC's six-team top tier, Carolina is 1-3.  That makes this a huge game for them as much as UVA - they'll still be tied for the ACC lead if they lose, but they would have zero margin for error because the tiebreakers would be hell on them.  And they're 5-4 on the road, having been incapable of putting close road games away against good teams - Northern Iowa and Texas both came up big too.

The tangibles, then, are close, with strengths and weaknesses for both teams, and a few more of the latter for the Hoos if they have to play without Wilkins or Nolte.  The intangibles all swing to the right side.  In the Dean Dome, even though that's not one of the ACC's tougher buildings, I'd have a very hard time giving UVA the edge.  At home, with a crowd that started the day fired up and will have all day to get nice and lubricated.... well, a loss isn't inconceivable, but too many of the intangible percentages are on our side to predict one.

Final score: UVA 68, UNC 64

Thursday, February 18, 2016

up and down and back up

For a long time it's been my biggest bone of complaint about basketball, that there's no such thing as traveling if you're driving at the rim.  Want to take three, four steps, and stick the ball on your hip or cradle it in your elbow?  These may have been literally the precise behaviors that James Naismith intended to leave out of his new indoor game, but in the name of Excitement it makes no difference.  Take what you need.  Any defender attempting to stop you from doing the single most illegal thing in all of basketball will be called for a foul, so run all you like.

(If you're diving for a loose ball, however, make sure to keep your feet up in the air, opponents' jawbones be damned, lest the prize for winning the loose ball scramble be a traveling violation.)

In this context it's not at all surprising the refs, inside Cameron Indoor Home Cookin' Stadium, allowed Grayson Allen to take three or four steps, hop up and down, throw a shoulder into his defender for good measure, and only then heave up a shot that somehow found the bottom.  Forget the idea that refs swallow their whistles on the final play of a game - this is something they let go all the time.

There's no defense against this.  Conceding the shot isn't an option for a competitor, obviously.  Stand your ground and try to defend it, and they'll whistle the foul, because when bodies collide the defender is considered to be at fault 90% of the time.  It's the whole reason Duke mastered the flop in the first place - doing your most spectacular Jenga tower impression is the only way to gain any sympathy from the refs.  I really wish Marial Shayok had flailed his way to the floor on that play - the reaction from the Cameron crowd to an offensive foul call would've been the single most precious thing in basketball history.

Therefore don't be so surprised when every pundit who throws in a comment about the play qualifies it with "might" and "maybe."  It was traveling, just as most drives to the rim are traveling; what they mean is it "might" have actually been egregious enough to call.  Sort of like how whether or not you get pulled over for driving 79 in a 70 depends on what kind of mood the cop was in when he left the house this morning.  Such is the state of basketball, when even the rare and always-called form of traveling - that is, up-and-down - is ignored.

Thanks to the fact that Roy Williams just isn't even trying anymore, the ACC race is tight like drum, and UVA could realistically win the whole thing or fall out of the top four.  Most of the top six has three games left against someone else in the top six.  Again - this is how the ACC looks when the basketball world is right and good.  And I'll say it right now, before it sounds like sour grapes: the regular season title is nice, and you can put it on a banner, but it's not the ACC championship.  It's something you can point to if you don't win the tournament, but if you do come out with that tourney title, you'll just about forget whether or not you won the regular season - especially if you didn't.

And right now, UVA is one of about ten teams that has as good a chance as any other to win the national title.  Can't ask for more than that.

Monday, February 8, 2016

road sweet road

This was a rotten weekend to be a Panther.  The Super Bowl did not go their way, the NHL's Florida Panthers lost on Saturday, and so, believe it or not, did most D-I basketball teams of that nickname.

In the case of the Pittsburgh variety, it was cruelly done.  Malcolm Brogdon returned to the building where two years ago he shanked the hopes and dreams of a raucous crowd with a buzzer-beating three, and this time gave them no reason to stay excited for that long.  Brogdon put 21 points on the board and extended his team's winning streak to six.

This is what a top-ten team is supposed to do, repeatedly.  I also did say, a little while ago, that the ACC is supposed to be this minefield of obstacles, and those two statements don't seem to jibe at first glance.  But you're not one of the top teams in the conference if you keep stepping on the mines.  And if and when you do rise to the top, as UVA has been doing the last couple weeks, you become that top-ten team.  I recall, in the days B.T. (Before Tony), even when UVA had a good team, the elite teams (mainly the Tobacco Road ones) would still come in, generate a lot of buzz around Grounds, and then generally bomb us back to the stone age.

Life on the other side of those trenches is pretty good.  For two successive weekends now, an opponent of perfectly good standing in the conference has welcomed UVA to their gym, packed the house and legitimately fired up the crowd, and then skulked out with welts on their backside.  UVA hadn't held an ACC opponent under a point-per-possession all year, until they did so at Louisville, and now rides a three-game streak of doing so.  That's twice, in case you lost count, in someone else's full and very loud gymnasium.  Should they shut up three road crowds in a row, it would be the most satisfying road win of all time.

Actually, this is just the right week to really get the chemistry perfected.  VT visits on Tuesday and then the Hoos are in Durham on Saturday.  Getting it right against Clemson is fine, but not every win is created equal.  A couple months ago I prematurely declared the chemistry experiment finished, and UVA ready to open up with both guns.  They were not.  This time around, with the defense much more locked in, they just might be.


-- One reason I have legitimate hope for the chemistry this time around is the play of the bench in the second half.  During a roughly five minute run with all of UVA's stars on the bench (Brogdon, Gill, Perrantes) UVA stretched the lead against most of Pitt's starters.  I was even leery of seeing them subbed back out - sometimes you just roll with what's working - but the starters came back in nice and fresh and picked up right where the subs left off.

-- I don't think I've ever seen UVA be the beneficiary of such a clearly bullshit call as the offensive goaltending the refs (with Jamie Luckie in charge, natch) slapped on Pitt.  Not only was the ball four inches off the rim, it was part way below it.

-- The Louisville game was even worse in the refs department.  The crowd was clearly pissed, and they mostly had a right to be, except that they were getting their fair share of nonsense calls too.

-- I still can't decide whether Ike Wilkins should develop his big-man game or small-man game.  Is he a really big frontcourt player who can post up and guard down low, or is he a smallish stretch power forward?  Where he plays on defense strongly suggests the latter - but then, look at all the jump shots he makes, or that pass to Gill for the dunk on a fast break.  Evan Nolte has at times been used on both sides of that equation, and Wilkins probably will over the next couple years, too.

-- I'm not very wild about the three-game football series with ODU that UVA just announced.  You can put me in the camp that says we have very little to gain and a great deal to lose.  Lose just one of those games and you hand ODU a great reason to keep all those Tidewater players right where they are.  It's not like we should need to play a game in Norfolk to establish a recruiting presence there.  That series doesn't start til Bronco's third season, though, so hopefully the team has a culture change well on the way by then.  And if I still lived five minutes from the ODU campus, which I did, ten years ago, I'd be all about the idea.  As I'm sure 757 Hoos are right now.  It's not all bad, but I think there are better scheduling ideas out there.

Monday, January 25, 2016

it's supposed to be this way

Yeah, I know, I get it: losing at basketball to VT is crap, and will always be crap regardless of any extenuating circumstance at all.  Also, there were higher expectations for this season than to start it off 2-3 in the ACC with losses in what should've been the easier road games on the slate.  Also also, despite the Tony = Defense label they've earned over the past few years, this team has yet to hold an ACC opponent under 1 point per possession.

I could go on.  Rocky start to January, is the point.  I mean, we're a bit spoiled here.  4-3 in the ACC is not the worst thing that can happen to your basketball team.  Dave Leitao won four ACC games in all of 2009.  Last year UVA won as many ACC games as Leitao won in '06, '08, and '09 combined, so falling short of that standard is something you should kinda expect every so often.

Still, by the standards set the past two years, it's a rocky start, and there are more than a few reasons for it.  And yet I can't help but enjoy it.  Why?  Cause this is the ACC's rightful way of life.

Dean Smith (I think) is credited with saying that every road win in the ACC is an upset.  He wasn't aw-shucksing his team.  He was talking about the ACC as he knew it - and how it should be.  Certain teams in the ACC's history have had less trouble than others in winning on the road, of course, and Smith coached one of them.  But the NFL and its "any given Sunday" mantra have had nothing on ACC basketball.

At least for the longest time.  The early part of this decade was rough on the conference and its reputation for being a powerhouse and an impossible gauntlet of competition.  In 1998, Florida State went 6-10 in the conference, lost in the first round, and made the NCAA tournament anyway - and promptly justified the committee's faith by upsetting #5 TCU (27-5, by the way) in the first round.  That's conference respect.  Fast forward to 2013, when UVA can go 11-7 in the conference, beat eventual 5-seed Wisconsin on the road, and hit the bricks for the NIT.  That's, just, ouch.

A winning record used to be a punched ticket.  A losing record could still get you in.  Maryland went 7-9 in conference play in 2004 and wound up a four seed.  Back when ships were wood and men were iron, the conference schedule was a minefield and conference tournament seeding was completely wide open.

That sort of abruptly stopped in 2011; since that season, six teams with winning ACC records have been left out of the tourney.  '11 BC and VT; '12 Miami; '13 UVA; '14 Clemson; '15 Miami.  I don't mind saying that UVA's meteoric rise has coincided with an ACC that provided a path to do so.  Simply put, some games were gimmes if you were good enough, which would've been unthinkable in the past.

Now take a look at the state of the league this year.  Boston College is pathetic and will stay that way all year, but they're one of only three teams under a KenPom pythag rating of 0.7.  The last time that count was so small was 2010, when it was zero.  And keep in mind, the league didn't expand to 15 until 2014, meaning that for three years the league had fewer teams than it does now, and yet more bad teams.  In 2013, six teams (half the league!) were under 0.7, which surely didn't help UVA's cause any on Selection Sunday.  And four, including 9-9 FSU (ranked just below Wright State in the national ranks), were under 0.6.  Just last year, you still had seven teams (again, almost half the league) under that 0.7 mark.

In an environment like that, is it any wonder UVA kept blowing fools out?  Oh, sure, the occasional good team got drop-kicked into tomorrow as well, just ask Syracuse on senior night, but for the most part, UVA blew out the bad teams and played the good ones pretty close.

Now, suddenly, the ACC is back to being a deathtrap on any particular night.  UVA's record is frankly bizarre.  Four wins against teams with a combined 18-11 conference record - including three who sit at 5-2.  Three losses, against teams with a combined 7-13 conference record.  All road losses and home wins.  You can find examples of this all over the place, like NC State's blowout of Pitt despite the former being 1-6 and the latter being 5-2.

It's tough to have top-to-bottom excellence in a league with 15 teams, but the ACC is close - only two teams you could call gimme games, and I'd better be careful about saying that too strongly because UVA plays one of them on the road Tuesday.  Joey Brackets has eight ACC teams in the field and two more on the cusp.  ACC basketball is good again, in all the right ways.

Me, I love it.  It assuredly means more losses for UVA, but the wins are a bit more meaningful.  And the race will be the best it's been in a long time.  I'd sure like to see the Hoos tighten up on defense and stop throwing silly skip passes that don't have a snowball's chance of reaching their target, but I'm also planning on enjoying the tightened-up competition.  It's the ACC as God intended.

Monday, January 18, 2016

bronco's defense

Greetings and happy new year and happy unbirthday and all that.  It's been a while since I punched anything into this box, but I needed a bit of time to work on the analysis I have today.  If I'd known the basketball team was going to go to hell in a handbasket I might've saved the analysis for later.

What I've been wanting to do is quantify BYU's performance on offense and defense during the Bronco Mendenhall years there and compare that to UVA's performance at the same time.  National rankings are nice, but they don't really satisfy.  We need to have a way to take strength of schedule out of the equation.  So I got to thinking about how to do that.

A simple way for defense would be to take a particular game and see if BYU held that team to fewer yards than they typically muster, and on offense, the opposite.  If BYU were to hold a team to 200 passing yards, when that team averages 250, that's a good performance, right?  We could take each opponents averages and then how they performed against BYU, and produce an answer both on a single-game basis and all season as well.

The one problem with that is: maybe that team beat the shit out of BYU and spent the second half running the ball to bleed clock.  In other words, you still need to bring number of attempts into the equation.  This is why it's so maddening when announcers lazily focus on per-game numbers.  You didn't "hold" them to 200 yards if they passed the ball ten times.

So, to get a number that reflects the quality of a team's performance in a game, say for the run game, we take an opponent and divide (game yards / average yards) as well as (game attempts / average attempts).  For the former, a number below 1 is good, and for the latter, a number above 1 is good.  So we take (1 - first number) and (second number - 1) and add those two together, then multiply by 100 just for readability.  The result is that any number above 0 is an indicator of a good game - you held the opponent to a worse day on the ground than they normally have.  Any number below 0, and you let them have a better day than normal.  This is great because it works equally well for evaluating how you did against Kansas or Alabama.

I went back to 2008, which is only as far back as the eminently excellent site goes.  (Because I used data from that site, I excluded I-AA teams; they don't appear and anyway it's not that useful of a data point.)  I wanted all of Bronco's tenure, but we can't have everything.  Eight years of data points is pretty good.  I also did the same for UVA.  A positive score in this metric is good, but we don't really know how good because I don't have all 128 teams' worth of data.  But we do have a comparison to UVA, which is a start.

An example of how this works: In 2015, both BYU and UVA played UCLA.  (We don't have to limit ourselves to common opponents, but it's just handy for an example.)  UCLA averaged 177.6 yards on 35.3 carries in the run game, 288.3 yards on 39.2 attempts in the passing game, and 465.9 yards on 74.5 plays overall.  All numbers are per game.

Against BYU they ran the ball 38 times for 296 yards.  About average on the carries, way too many yards - that's a terrible effort for BYU, and a score of -59.0.  Against UVA, 152 yards on 34 attempts for a moderately positive score of 10.7 for UVA's defense.

However, BYU held them to 106 yards on 23 attempts - both well below average - for a score of 21.9.  UVA scored -27.4 in the pass game by allowing 351 yards on 37 attempts.

In total, BYU allowed 402 yards.  Great, it's less than their 465.9 average - but on 61 plays vs. their 74.5 average.  That means a negative score of -4.4 overall.  For one game, that's close enough to zero to be a pretty neutral number.  UVA allowed 503 yards on 71 plays, for -12.7 overall.  Unsurprisingly, not only did UCLA beat both teams, but the UVA game was 34-16 and the BYU game was close at 24-23.

Got all that?  Let's present the numbers.  A couple notes: "Total" means the total for the season when you add everything up and treat the season as one game; "average" means each game averaged, so that each game weights the number the same.  Positive and negative games should be self-evident.

Run Defense

Pass defense

Total defense

Takeaways from this:

-- UVA's defense hasn't been bad, mostly.  Most years, UVA has positive scores.  More positive games than negative.

-- But it hasn't been exceptional.  UVA racks up 46 positive games and 42 negative ones, in terms of total defense.  The positive numbers are mostly small ones.

-- There's not a lot of separation between defensive coordinators.  Al Groh was in charge the first two years of this analysis.  Jim Reid was 2010-2012, and Jon Tenuta 2013-2015.  Reid had one really awful year in 2010 and Tenuta one really good one in 2014, and other than that the two DCs are hard to distinguish.  Tenuta was an upgrade over Reid, I think that's fair to conclude, but his 2015 pass defense stunk.  Not as bad as Reid's 2010 run defense.  We don't have a lot of reference points, but the ones we do have say 2010 was just unbelievable in its suckitude.

-- Even so, BYU has been much better.  2008 and 2014 are the only years where UVA had a better defense.  And even then, BYU's pass defense was better than ours in 2014, because it's not like BYU had a bad defense.  Consistently, they've been the better team on defense without a doubt.  They rack up 63 positive games against 35 negative ones - fewer negative games than UVA despite playing 10 more games that counted in this analysis.  (They went to a hell of a lot more bowl games and don't make as much of a habit of playing FCS teams.)

-- BYU tends to win its best defensive performances; UVA tends to waste them.  As you'll see below, the single best defensive game UVA has played in the past eight years was also notorious for some of Mike London's absolute stupidest decisions.

Ergo I think we can safely conclude what we already figured: Bronco Mendenhall is a definite upgrade.  We'll see about offense later - and it should be less time now that I have the technique refined a bit.

Just for fun (and some reference points), here are the five worst and best performances by each team:

Run defense (worst):


-71.1 (2011 vs. Utah - L, 54-10)
-67.4 (2011 vs. Idaho - W, 42-7)**
-59.0 (2015 vs. UCLA - L, 24-23)
-58.5 (2009 vs. Florida State - L, 54-28)
-45.7 (2008 vs. San Diego State - W, 41-12)


-71.0 (2010 vs. Eastern Michigan - W, 48-21)
-68.1 (2010 vs. Duke - L, 55-48)
-67.7 (2011 vs. Florida State - W, 14-13)
-61.5 (2012 vs. Georgia Tech - L, 56-20)
-57.6 (2015 vs. Louisville - L, 38-31)

Pass defense (worst):


-71.6 (2014 vs. Utah State - L, 35-20)
-59.3 (2010 vs. Utah State - L, 31-16)
-57.3 (2015 vs. Missouri - L, 20-16)
-49.9 (2014 vs. Boise State - L, 55-30)
-37.0 (2013 vs. Houston - W, 47-46)


-58.1 (2010 vs. North Carolina - L, 44-10)
-41.0 (2010 vs. Maryland - L, 42-23)
-36.4 (2011 vs. Miami - W, 28-21)
-29.5 (2008 vs. Connecticut - L, 45-10)
-29.0 (2013 vs. Georgia Tech - L, 35-25)

Total defense (worst):


-43.4 (2011 vs. Texas - L, 17-16)
-25.6 (2008 vs. Washington - W, 28-27)
-25.2 (2015 vs. Missouri - L, 20-16)
-24.5 (2014 vs. Boise State - L, 55-30)
-23.7 (2015 vs. East Carolina - W, 45-38)


-48.0 (2012 vs. Georgia Tech - L, 56-20)
-42.2 (2008 vs. Connecticut - L, 45-10)
-35.7 (2010 vs. North Carolina - L, 44-10)
-31.4 (2013 vs. Georgia Tech - L, 35-25)
-29.2 (2011 vs. Auburn - L, 43-24)

Run defense (best):


93.4 (2012 vs. Washington State - W, 30-6)
59.0 (2010 vs. UNLV - W, 55-7)
57.5 (2012 vs. Utah - L, 24-21)
53.6 (2012 vs. New Mexico State - W, 50-14)
52.1 (2013 vs. Houston - W, 47-46)


94.3 (2013 vs. Pittsburgh - L, 14-3)
89.5 (2014 vs. Kent State - W, 45-13)
75.7 (2012 vs. Maryland - L, 27-20)
67.4 (2008 vs. Clemson - L, 13-3)
59.2 (2011 vs. Duke - W, 31-21)

Pass defense (best):


86.9 (2009 vs. Air Force - W, 38-21)
69.5 (2008 vs. Air Force - W, 38-24)
59.6 (2013 vs. Middle Tennessee - W, 37-10)
58.4 (2013 vs. Utah State - W, 31-14)
57.2 (2014 vs. Middle Tennessee - W, 27-7)


57.2 (2012 vs. Virginia Tech - L, 17-14)
50.1 (2014 vs. Louisville - W, 23-21)
50.0 (2009 vs. North Carolina - W, 16-3)
45.6 (2011 vs. Georgia Tech - W, 24-21)
41.5 (2012 vs. NC State - W, 33-6)

Total defense (best):


52.8 (2013 vs. Middle Tennessee - W, 37-10)
42.0 (2014 vs. Middle Tennessee - W, 27-7)
40.4 (2011 vs. New Mexico State - W, 42-7)
39.9 (2012 vs. Utah State - W, 6-3)
39.5 (2010 vs. UNLV - W, 55-7)


50.4 (2012 vs. Virginia Tech - L, 17-14)***
48.1 (2008 vs. Clemson - L, 13-3)
45.6 (2013 vs. Pittsburgh - L, 14-3)
36.2 (2012 vs. NC State - W, 33-6)
35.5 (2013 vs. BYU - W, 19-16)

**Sometimes these scores ain't the best for predicting actual outcomes.  UVA played Idaho that same year and, you'll recall, escaped by the skin of their teeth, 21-20.  This despite having all positive numbers in this scoring metric for that game.  BYU did play excellent pass defense that game, and we haven't looked at the offense yet, but the real explanation, of course, is the special teams and turnovers - you might recall that game as being a particularly nasty example.

*** This was the game where Mike London wisely chose to use his two timeouts to freeze the wheelin' dealin, weed-stealin' Cody Journell instead of to save time for his offense, which was smart because it deflected the criticism from his idiotic decision to try and drive 90 yards for the game-winning score against a howling wind instead of playing for overtime where both teams would've had the same wind conditions.  I mean, it didn't work in that we lost the game, but nobody remembers Mike Rocco trying to throw a 5-yard out pattern across the field which of course got picked off because hurricane.  Brilliant decision-making from start to finish.  One imagines Bronco Mendenhall has more coaching acumen than to do any of that stuff.