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.


pezhoo said...

NCAA committee = jerks. There is no way they didn't discuss the obvious when preparing the bracket. C'mon Tony, solve the riddle.

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