Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Next Step: Madison Square Garden

Scouting the Spartans:

Let's get this out of the way: Michigan State is better than any team Virginia has played this season. To some, that might not seem like that bold of a statement, as the Spartans are a hugely popular pick to win the National Championship and have been playing incredible basketball recently. However, I think there's a portion of fans who tend to roll their eyes when they hear people go on and on about how good Michigan State is. They are under the impression that MSU is a 4 seed for a reason, injuries or no injuries. They'll be the first ones to remind you that a healthy Spartan squad lost to North Carolina, a team Virginia had little trouble with, by double digits at home. Or that they lost to a mediocre Illinois team (also at home) this very month. While these results should not be ignored, they do not shed light on just how difficult tomorrow night's game will be. I've been watching and analyzing teams on film in write to do these posts and I cannot recall a team ever being more impressive than this Michigan State team, at least since the start of the Big Ten Tournament.

Okay now that I've made that clear, enough gushing over the Spartans. They are great, but nowhere near invincible. While I slightly discounted the Illinois loss above, as they're clearly playing much better basketball than at the start of the month, I have to admit that the outcome is interesting to say the least. Many fans correctly assume that one of the deciding factors in tomorrow's game will be how well Virginia imposes its will on Michigan State and makes them play "Bennett-Ball." It makes one wonder what teams has MSU faced that play a similar style to Virginia's and what did that game look like...

Well, if you take a peek at the KenPom Ratings and focus primarily on Adjusted Tempo and Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, you'll notice that Illinois is pretty darn comparable to UVA in those aspects of the game.

Adjusted Tempo:
Illinois- 329
Virginia- 346

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency:
Illinois- 11
Virginia- 5

So when you look at those numbers and consider that Illinois won a 53-46 game in East Lansing, it makes you feel pretty confident that win or lose, Virginia should be able to make the Spartans play its brand of basketball. Now this is not to say that, "Illinois' style worked and beat MSU. Therefore, Virginia's style will work and beat MSU." The result in the first matchup between the two Big Ten schools, a 78-62 Spartan victory in Champaign, shows how you can not simply look at that March 1 matchup in isolation. However, when you add to it the fact that Columbia and Northwestern were also able to make Michigan State slow it down (though they still lost), you start to feel pretty confident that Tony Bennett's team will be able to dictate the pace of the game.

Illinois was not just similar to Virginia in terms of tempo, but also in terms of defense. Everyone and their mother knows about Virginia's defense. While it is ranked only 5th in KenPom's efficiency, I have absolutely no problem saying UVA is the best defensive team in the country. The closest comparison to Virginia defensively out of Michigan State's opponents would be Ohio State. While the Buckeyes play a more physical, aggressive style of defense than UVA, they're still make it difficult as tough to score. MSU and OSU split their two meetings, which were both extremely close games. In both contests, Ohio State prevented the Spartans from scoring 70 points in regulation. This season, Michigan State played 9 games against top 30 defenses and only broke 70 once, and that was the second game of the year against the youngest team in the country, Kentucky. Interestingly, the Spartans only managed 65 points (and more shockingly allowed 79 when Leslie Mcdonald was still ineligible) points in a home loss to North Carolina, 11 points fewer than Virginia scored against the Tarheels.

The elephant in the room here is that Virginia's offense is SIGNIFICANTLY better than Illinois, Ohio State, Northwestern, and North Carolina. You hear many people compare this team to those of the Dick Bennett days in Wisconsin. While I understand the temptation to make such a comparison, Virginia is simply different from those squads. They're not trying to play slowly and defend hard to keep themselves in games, but rather they're doing it to keep the opponent out of games. Those former teams who tried to dribble the air out of the ball or required that every player touch the ball before anyone could shoot a la Hoosiers did so because they knew they didn't have the talent or offensive firepower to play otherwise. If UVA really wanted to, they could play exactly like Michigan State. Bennett chooses not to because when you insert talent and athletes into his system, it just makes it that much better. When you're facing the best defense in the country, you're already worried about whether you can score. But when you add in the fact that Virginia has incredible offensive efficiency, it makes you task twice as hard. With other Bennett teams, you're thinking about whether you're going to run out of possessions and look up at the scoreboard just to see you lost 53-51. With this team, you're worried that if you go a couple of possessions without a score, you're going to get run out of the gym. In this manner, this UVA team reminds me of some of the recent Alabama football teams. Everyone knows their defense will be great, but they tend to overlook their offense. In 2012-2013, when they beat Notre Dame for the National Championship, their offense was actually pretty damn good. But like this UVA team, its strength was in efficiency not explosiveness. If they got a stop, they'd then slowly march down the field and score. Another stop, same thing. One more, same thing. It got to the point where you had better find a way to score on them early, because once they get 10-14 on the board in the first half, the game becomes out of reach.

In terms of basketball, I actually can't really think of a team that is genuinely similar to Virginia. I think Pittsburgh is the closest, which is why it makes sense that they played UVA tough twice even though I think they are not really near the same level as them, but Virginia is more talented, athletic, and deeper than the Panthers. I mention all of this to point out that if Michigan State assumes that Virginia is just another Ohio State, they're in for a rude awakening.

So now that I have laid out one of the most important factors of the game, how Virginia's style of play will affect Michigan State, let us now turn to the individual matchups.


At point guard, we will see London Perrantes vs. Keith Appling. Following his wrist injury, Appling just has not been the same player as the one that looked like an All American early in the year. It's sad to say this, but he's just a shadow of his former self. While he is still a talented player with great experience and athleticism, I do not expect him to be a big factor in the game, especially offensively. Expect Perrantes to play off him like Virginia did to Jontel Evans for so many years. Appling, who when healthy was a great three point shooter, has made just 2 from behind the arc since his return 11 games ago. By comparison, Perrantes has hit 23 threes in the past 10 games, shooting 64% from behind the arc during that stretch. The key for London is to keep Appling out of the lane and from getting to the rim. If Keith is going to score, it will most likely be close to the basket. Perrantes needs to make sure he limits his opportunities and essentially eliminates him as an offensive threat. On the other end of the floor, London will just need to do exactly what he has been doing: play steady basketball, protect the ball, and knock down shots. Appling is a solid defender, probably slightly above average. Again, I don't think this matchup will decide the game unless something uncharacteristic happens.

While everyone is excited for the main matchup in the post, the one at SG might be just as intriguing. In Malcolm Brogdon and Gary Harris, you have two pretty similar guards that score in a variety of ways. When you watch the two play, it's hard to discern many real difference in their games. They both can get to the rim and finish in traffic, they both have excellent midrange games, and they can both knock down threes. As far as their differences, I would say that Brogdon is bigger and stronger whereas Harris is a bit quicker and a little more skilled. Both are fine defenders, though Brogdon is the better of the two. He will have his work cut out for him, though, as Harris is a really tough cover. He has nice range and gets his shots up quickly, so the most important job Malcolm has will be making sure to contest his jumpers. Harris will have to prevent Brogdon from using his size to get to the rim, as Michigan State tends to be a little slow in help. This should be a really fun matchup. Whichever guy gets the better of the other might be moving onto the Elite 8.

At the wing is really the only place that I see a mismatch in this game. Joe Harris will likely be matched up with State's Denzel Valentine. Valentine is someone that has not really impressed me much on film. Offensively, he doesn't add much other than a made three here or there or an easy dunk/layup. Against Joe and the Pack-Line, I just can't see him being a factor offensively. You could actually compare his offensive game to Justin Anderson's at the moment, except Valentine doesn't have the wildcard of Justin's dynamic athleticism. And on defense, the mismatch might be even worse. Valentine is big and strong, but also pretty damn slow. He also has a tendency to take plays off and doesn't always go his hardest. Look to see Joe Harris be aggressive from the beginning, running all over the floor without the ball, coming off screens left and right. Valentine won't want to chase him and will likely call for a switch. Ultimately, Izzo might realize that this is indeed a mismatch and put Valentine on Brogdon (which is still a mismatch, though not as bad as one) and Harris on, well, Harris. If not, Joe could be in for a very big night.

Neither team is particularly deep off the bench in the backcourt, though both do have great 6th men. Justin Anderson will play early and often for the Wahoos and will likely matchup with Valentine or even Dawson in the post. As for the Spartans, their 6th man, Travis Trice, is a tiny guard who can really shoot it from deep (45%). Trice isn't a huge threat to drive, so whoever is guarding him has to make sure to stay close to him and contest his shots. One thing to watch with regards to Trice is how he deals with Virginia's size in the backcourt. Even London Perrantes has a good couple of inches on him, so he might find it difficult to shoot over the bigger defenders.


Fans who love good post play are in for a treat with this game. Both teams have talent and depth in the frontcourt and try to use that to wear the opponent down. The most talented player of the bunch is Adreian Payne. Payne is pretty much the poster-child of a Tom Izzo player. He's versatile, experienced, tough, etc. As a neutral fan of the game, I love to watch him play. He can do a little bit of everything with the ball. He has a nice low post game where he uses his big body to back defenders down for easy hook shots near the rim. But where he's really unique is how he shoots the ball like a guard. A lot of bigs can step out and hit deep shots when the defender gives them to him, but Payne actually creates shots for himself as a guard or wing would. This is why it's crucial to be disciplined when guarding Payne, because at any time he can pop out to the three point line and bury it. I expect Payne to play with great passion, as he knows how good of a defender is waiting for him and he does NOT want to be Izzo's first class to miss out on a Final Four appearance. That said, I expect Akil Mitchell will make things difficult for him, at the very least. Mitchell has elite quickness and footwork, which is something Payne probably hasn't seen before and may catch him off guard, on both ends of the floor. I expect Payne to reach double figures, but Mitchell can still claim a win if he makes sure Payne is inefficient. In the ACC Championship Game, Jabari Parker score 20+ yet all anyone could talk about was how Akil's defense won Virginia the game. Another outing like that one and Virginia could be moving on.

The other matchup in the post will likely come between Anthony Gill and Branden Dawson. While Mike Tobey has started every game for a while now, I think there's a chance we will see Gill on the floor to start the game. For one, Gill has been on fire as of late and has pretty much played starter's minutes regardless.  Additionally, rumors are swirling that Tobey broke his thumb in practice sometime. While apparently the injury is a non-story, it might be the perfect cover to slide Gill into the starting lineup and play a bit of gamesmanship by making it seem like Mike is more hurt than he really is. Anyways, AG is going to play a lot, no matter what, and for most of the time, he'll be matched up with MSU's Dawson. For all intents and purposes, you can pretty much call Dawson a clone of Justin Anderson. They're both freak athletes, have great strength, and can defend multiple positions. Oddly enough, despite their similarities, I don't think we'll actually see them guarding each other all that much. Instead, Dawson should be tasked to go against the bigger Anthony Gill, but don't think he's intimidated by AG's size in the least. Dawson is used to being the shorter guy down low and his strength and athleticism makes his height more or less irrelevant. In all honesty, I don't know how this matchup will play out. Dawson has the strength to stand up to AG's aggressive drives, but is that enough from him finishing anyways? I wouldn't be surprised if the pair went for double digits or had relatively quiet games. The key to the matchup, though, will be AG making sure he limits Dawson on the offensive glass. He's one of the best offensive rebounders around and this is not a game where UVA can afford to give the other team second chances.

The rest of Virginia's froncourt includes Atkins, Nolte, and, obviously, Tobey. I think that Tobey will try and do his work on the MSU reserves, as neither Dawson nor Payne is a good matchup for him. I don't necessarily think he'd get abused by Payne or anything, but I don't want to see him matched up on AP for longer than necessary. Offensively, Tobey could do some damage against those reserves. However, Mike has not strung together back to back double digit outings since November. He had 11 on Sunday, will he break the streak?

As for those MSU reserves, they include Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello, and Gavin Schilling. Schilling does not play all that much and I doubt that changes tomorrow night. Kaminski and Costello will see time, as both average about 15 points and 5 rebounds per game. Kaminski is more skilled and has range out to the three point line, whereas Costello is more of a "post presence" type of player and is a solid rebounder. Overall, I don't expect either to make any sort of a significant impact.

As for Atkins and Nolte, it pointless to predict what kind of role they will have because it really changes from game to game. They'll both play at least some, but how long that is depends how well they fit into the flow of the game and how the matchups play out on the floor.


This is going to be a great basketball game. It's been said a lot lately, but it really feels much more like a Final Four game than a Sweet Sixteen game. Just look at the ticket prices. You can get tickets to both Final Four games AND the National Championship Game for less money than the cheapest ticket to tomorrow night's games. Yeah, UConn. Yeah, MSG. But still, this is an enormous game.

Strictly on paper, this one is as they say, "too close to call." Both teams are really good at what they do, so it's hard to either bending to the other's will. You're tempted to say "UVA will impose their will" but then you remember Izzo and how adaptable his teams have been. You're tempted to say "MSU will be too tough in transition and simply has more talent" but then you remember that you've heard that said about countless of UVA's opponents, including the last one, who proved no match for the Hoos. For this reason, I think this one simply comes down to execution. If the teams played 10 times, they might split 5-5, so this game will just be one of those five where the winning team does enough good things to come out on top.

Still, I must admit that the storyline, or rather storylines are a bit intimidating. They've got Tom Izzo, who has certainly has the resume of a champion. They've got Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, who are looking to avoid becoming Izzo's first class to miss out on the Final Four. They're finally healthy and playing like the team they were supposed to be a few months ago. The list goes on...

And yet, why should I turn back now? This team has not just met my expectations for them, but has far surpassed them. After my prediction that UVA would win the regular season title came true, I desperately wanted to show others that "I was right." But I wasn't right. Yeah, I thought we'd win the ACC, but with a record of 14-4 thanks a very favorable schedule. I didn't really believe that this team would be the consensus best team in the ACC. But they were. I was rewarded for my optimism and then some. Why should I throw in the towel now?

As I left the bookstore to walk back across Grounds to my apartment, I thought about the Sweet 16 T-Shirts on display around the store. I had absolutely no desire to purchase one. Not because of the cost. Not because of the design. Rather, there was something terminal about them. Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to diminish the feat of making it this far. If this is as far as we go, I might reconsider and ultimate buy one. But buying the shirt now reminded me of a feeling I had during a golf match in high school. It was the league championships and I was having the round of my life. I had NEVER played like this before. I had always thought I was capable of such a round and even perhaps that I should expect myself to play like that more often. Through the first nine, I was at the right balance between focused and relaxed, not too stressed, not too casual. As I got closer and closer towards the finish, and the rain became steadier and steadier, I began to think about the final score, and about how it would guarantee me All League. That kind of thinking was actually okay, as it made me work harder, realizing how badly I wanted it. But the worst thought that came across my mind was one of satisfaction. Somewhere in the midst of my focus on the finish, I thought to myself, "Man, even if things went south in these last couple of holes, I can still look back on this as the best I've ever played." I don't have to explain to you what happened, but I will point out that my thought couldn't have been further from the truth. The only thing I care about that round is what happened towards the end.

I am confident that Virginia is not satisfied. They will not make the same mistake I did. If someone beats them, it will be because they played better and nothing else. This team has a goal. This weekend is just another step.

Two feet at a time.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Virginia-Syracuse Game Preview:

This is what I tweeted out in my alcohol induced frustration following the loss to Duke. At the time, Virginia was 12-4, 3-0 in the ACC. As I mentioned in my Pittsburgh Preview, it would be a lie to say that I was 100% confident in this prediction. I knew this team was good, and was certainly capable of proving me right, but I also had memories of getting my hopes up, just to be let down in the end. So for this reason, I was hesitant. But still, I felt that there was something that made this team from other Virginia teams. So, I decide that this team would be the one to break the pattern of disappointment, and tweeted out my bold prediction.

So now I'm one game away from finally being rewarded for my naive optimism. How has it happened? Well, for one, we've been able to take advantage of the easiest conference schedule in the ACC. Is it our fault that we have such an easy draw? Obviously not. We can't help having to play Virginia Tech twice. We can't help it that Notre Dame is a vastly different team without Jerian Grant. We can't help it that Mark Turgeon is a miserable basketball coach. We can't help it that Florida State isn't as good as they were supposed to be. You get the point. Because of all of these factors, we really did luck out with whom we had to face. But why does that even matter? It'd be one thing if we were barely scraping by the mediocre teams in our schedule or if we dropped an easy one or two. If that was the case, then yeah, you could call us fortunate to be in first place. But since we've been dominant pretty much from start to finish, you can no longer call our rise to the top "lucky." If you're Duke or Syracuse, you forfeit your right to complain about SOS when you lose to teams like Clemson, Notre Dame, and Boston College. And I won't even get into how fortunate Syracuse is to even still have a chance to win the league given all of their struggles against mediocre opponents.

Anyways, yes, taking advantage of a favorable draw is one reason why we are where we are. But the other reason is more significant. Virginia is playing for an ACC title tomorrow because they finally found an identity and embraced it. Prior to ACC play, UVA's inconsistency came primarily from a lack of identity. We didn't know what type of team we were and we didn't know what type of team we wanted to be. We turned the ball over at an alarming rate, we had no rhythm on offense, and we were uncharacteristically poor on defense. What we really needed was a game like Tennessee so that we could take everything apart in order to build it back up. That humbling defeat showed us that we did not have enough raw talent to simply show up and win. We still had to play team basketball. This necessarily meant shortening the rotation and guys embracing different role. And as we've seen in ACC play, that's exactly what they've done.

Syracuse on Offense:

The Orange are 22nd in the nation in Adjusted Offense according to's rankings. Much like Virginia, they are a good but not great offensive team. Their biggest weapon is ACC Preseason Player of the Year, CJ Fair. For some reason, Fair has flown somewhat under the radar this season, despite playing very well all year long. He has only scored in single figures twice all season (against St. Francis and Notre Dame). Fair is very aggressive with the ball in his hands and is constantly looking to get himself a shot. Only TJ Warren takes more shots than Fair's 14.7 per game. CJ is most deadly in the midrange game. I'd be willing to bet that over half of his scoring comes from his one dribble midrange pull up shots. The only real downside to his game is that he can be a little to aggressive at times. He turns the ball over 2.5 times per game and has shot the 2nd most three pointers on the team despite only shooting around 25%.

Their next weapon for the Orange is Freshman PG Tyler Ennis. A few weeks ago in my Pittsburgh game preview, instead of writing a paragraph to describe James Robinson's game, I simply wrote "London Perrantes." I probably could have done something similar here, but there are a few differences to point out. First of all, Syracuse relies much more heavily on Ennis to score than Virginia does on Perrantes. For this reason, Ennis shoots the ball twice as much as London does. While Ennis will make you pay if you give him open looks from deep, he primarily does his damage in the lane. He has elite vision like London and makes good decisions with the ball. What separates him from Perrantes, at least for now, is his ability to finish. He has a nifty little floater that he loves to use in the lane. He also is surprisingly good at finishing at the rim for a guy his size. His one vulnerability, which has only really become an issue the past few games, is turnovers. Ennis is averaging over 2 turnovers a game in ACC play, and has committed 11 turnovers in the past 4 games. Against Maryland, he was a bit too lackadaisical with some of his passes. He will not be able to be that casual against Virginia.

Jerami Grant might be the Orange's most talented player. Grant is an elite wing with post size. Even though he's not really a post player, he gets most of his points at the rim. Grant is extremely aggressive and loves to attack the basket. He plays very well alongside Ennis, who feeds him for easy finishes. The biggest question concerning Grant is his health. He has been struggling with back pain and played sparingly in the game against Maryland. If he's fully healthy, Grant will be a problem for Virginia, especially on the glass. Syracuse is one of the best offensive rebound teams around and Grant is a big reason why.

The other main weapon for Syracuse is Trevor Cooney. Simply put, Cooney is a shooter. 72% of his FG attempts this season are from behind the arc. Like most shooters, Cooney is very hot-cold. He's had games where he's been 7-8, 5-6, 5-11, 5-8, 5-9, and 9-12. Those were his "hot" games. His cold ones have been 0-4, 1-5, 2-12, 2-8, 1-6, 2-10. The most interesting thing to note is that he seems to be is a sort of slump. Since his 33 pt 9-12 outing against Notre Dame, Cooney has shot just 11-40 (27%) from three. He isn't much of a threat to score outside of his shot, so if he continues his cold streak or Virginia does a good job closing out on him, the Orange will be in trouble. But if he starts feeling it, there likely won't be anything UVA can do about it.

Those four players make up around 80% of the Orange's scoring. The other 20% is split among Rakeem Christmas, Michael Gbinije, Baye Mousa Keita, and Tyler Roberson. Christmas, Syracuse's starting Center, scores just under six points per game. He isn't the type of guy who's going to take over a game, but you can count on him getting at least a couple buckets around the rim each game. He's a good finisher down low and uses his length and athleticism to create a presence in the paint. Keita is similar to Christmas, but a little less polished. If he's going to score, it's likely going to be on an easy one around the basket. Gbinije is the only backcourt reserve for the Orange. The Petersburg native is active and can give Syracuse some good minutes, but having seen him play for around 7 years now, I don't think he's someone Virginia has to worry about offensively. Roberson has a frame similar to Grant's, but hasn't really be able to establish a role for himself. I don't think we'll see too much of him unless Christmas/Keita/Grant get in foul trouble (more on that below).

As far as matchups go, I think we'll see Virginia start with: Perrantes on Ennis Harris on Cooney Brogdon on Fair Mitchell on Grant Tobey on Christmas When Anderson checks in, I think he'll rotate between Ennis and Fair. Harris will probably see some time on Fair, but I expect Brogdon to check him for most of the game. I know this worries some people, but you have to remember that Brogdon did a great job on TJ Warren earlier in the year (as did Joe). Since Joe is much better at closing out and staying with shooters, I like him on Cooney. When Gill and Atkins check in, they will likely be paired with Christmas or Keita. I really like the matchup of Mitchell on Grant. He can prevent Grant from getting good looks near the rim and can keep him off the glass as well.

Syracuse on Defense:

As everyone knows, Syracuse runs a 2-3 zone. Boeheim recruits specifically for this zone, as he always has smart guards that know how to get in the passing lanes and long, athletic bigs who alter shots inside and grab rebounds. That's true of this year's team, as Ennis and Cooney frequently cut off passing lanes to get steals, and Fair, Grant, and Christmas use their length to affect shots inside. There's no one way to beating Syracuse's zone, or any zone for that matter. The easiest way is to simply shoot over top of it, but it's also the most predictable and high risk option. The most effective way is to move the ball like hell around the perimeter and get touches at the high and low post. UVA has used a number of different looks against the zone this season.

Against Notre Dame in South Bend, UVA had Perrantes at the top of the key, Brogdon and Harris on the wings, Tobey/Gill at the high post, and Mitchell running the baseline. This is pretty much what Duke did at the Carrier Dome, putting Parker in Mitchell's role on the baseline. In my opinion, this is the best way to attack Syracuse, especially with Gill at the high post. Feed Gill the ball, have him drive and draw 1-2 of the bottom three and there will be a lane to get Akil the ball. Another way we can play the zone is by starting with two bigs in the high post. We did this against ND in the second game. This allows us to aggressively screen the top of the zone and force the entire zone to over-rotate. For example, say Perrantes feeds the ball from the top of the key to Brogdon on the right wing. As soon as the pass is made, Mitchell dives to the low post/baseline. Gill either sets a ball screen or delays and screens the far side of the zone. The latter strategy is my favorite, as it allows for a swing pass. This pass is risky, but if it gets through, the defense is in a really poor spot.

It's hard to describe this in words, but basically this strategy is all about forcing the top of the zone towards one end of the floor then skipping it across to make them recover. The more the ball moves the more the zone has to work. UVA has the right personnel to attack a zone. A steady PG at the top of the key, two wings who can drive and shoot, bigs who are threats to shoot from the elbow, and athletic guys who can finish down low. It will be tough, but if Virginia can be aggressive without turning the ball over, they will have some success offensively.


As a Virginia fan, I'm weirdly confident about this game. I don't see a scenario where we play well and lose. That said, UVA must go out and put together a good game of basketball. While both defenses will have the advantage over the opposing offenses, I think Syracuse will have a bit more trouble scoring than Virginia will. Also, I think Syracuse will struggle to stay out of foul trouble. Virginia is a fairly big and aggressive team in the post, and Syracuse really on has two natural post players, both of whom struggle with fouls. If Christmas and/or Keita pick up some early ones, the Orange will be in trouble.

Ultimately, I think the combination of Virginia's defense, the home crowd, and Syracuse's lack of depth will tip UVA over the edge. If UVA hits shots and protects the ball, it will likely win the ACC.

That sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?

Thank You Seniors:

In Joe Harris' first two starts as a Virginia Cavalier, his team was outscored 187-123. Joe's two good individual performances, 12-20 shooting from the floor and 6-11 from three, were overshadowed by the team's complete inability to play the kind of basketball Tony Bennett demands. After losing the first game of its daunting road trip to Stanford, Virginia traveled to Maui and prepared to face the 13th ranked Washington Huskies. I remember sitting in my first year dorm room getting ready to watch this game. I had always been a Virginia basketball fan, but now that I was actually a student at UVA, it was different. I felt a kind of bond with the team, especially with the first year players. Two of my good friends from high school lived on the same hall as the first year's on the basketball team, and I remember thinking how cool it was hearing them talk about playing Fifa with them, getting late night food, etc. When you're younger, you tend to idolize the players of you favorite college team the same way you would with your favorite professional athletes. But once you actually step foot onto a college campus, you realize that it's much more like cheering for your high school team. These guys go to the same classes, eat at the same places, and go to the same parties as you do. It's completely cliché to say this, but the players really are just your typical college kids. 

Anyways, a few minutes before the start of the Washington game, I left my room at Humphreys and crossed the quad towards the Castle to grab some food. As I waited in line for my Cyclops burger, I saw on the television across the room that the game had just tipped off. When I checked out, things were looking good. We seemed to be trading baskets with the highly ranked and highly favored Huskies. However, by the time I had finished eating my burger in my dorm room, that was no longer the case. After the first TV timeout, Washington blew the doors open. To this day, that game remains the most dominating performance I have ever seen in a Virginia game. The worst part about it was that it wasn't that we were just having an off night. Rather, it looked like we didn't belong on the same court as Washington. Granted, we were a young a young team, but still, Washington just looked to be on a completely different level of talent, athleticism, and physicality. The final score was 106-63.

Somehow we were able to respond from that performance and blow out a decent Oklahoma team, as well as play competitively against a solid Wichita State squad. Still, as Virginia left Maui and headed for Minnesota on the next stop of the road trip, hopes weren't exactly high. While I was optimistic heading into the Washington game, I fully expected a beatdown at Minnesota. However, thanks to a 24 point night from Joe Harris (a number that he would top until February of last year), Virginia left the Barn with what would be its best win of the year. 

Looking back, I think that the Washington and Minnesota games were crucial to Joe's development as a player. That road trip essentially established his role as a starter for the rest of the season. You could look at his game and tell that he was likely going to be "the guy" for the next four years.

Akil Mitchell's ascension to his position as a team leader took a bit longer. I can remember going to an open practice at JPJ my first year, a few weeks before the start of the season. Around that time, rumors had been going around that one of the six freshmen would redshirt. Nearly all Virginia fans assumed that Akil Mitchell was the clear redshirt candidate on the roster. He was an essentially unknown recruit with an extremely raw offensive game and a lanky frame, thus, giving him an extra year to develop seemed to make sense. However, after watching that practice, I posted on The Sabre that it wouldn't surprise me if James Johnson was that rumored redshirt candidate. Johnson looked lost on both ends and seemed nowhere close to contributing. Mitchell, on the other hand, looked relatively comfortable. Though he was indeed raw, he was active on both ends of the floor and looked to have great potential as a rebounder and defender. Still, during the early parts of his first year, while I admired his hustle, I never really imagined him to be anything other than an energy guy off the bench. That changed during the Carolina game. While he didn't make much of an impact on the box score, Akil was still able to stand out. I remember being extremely impressed with his defense and rebounding against what was without question the best frontcourt in the country, featuring Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes. It was this game that made me wonder whether Mitchell's potential was higher than I had initially imagined. 

The next year, Mitchell erased any doubts as to whether he would ever develop into an ACC starter. While he still wasn't exactly prominent on offense, his role was essential to the team's success. Perhaps the play I will remember and admire the most of Akil's entire career was his crucial putback dunk at Cameron Indoor. You can always see how Akil plays with an little bit of a chip on his shoulder against the Carolina schools and I think this play is a fantastic example of that. It was the type of purely athletic play Duke and UNC fans expect their guys to make, so it was extra special to see it happen to them for a change. While Virginia ultimately lost the game, that play seemed to signify how that performance was not a fluke, and that teams like Duke should count on Virginia being around for the long haul. 

Obviously, Akil showed his potential to everyone last season. We all knew that he could be one of the best defenders and rebounders in the league, but still few thought that he would ever develop into a reliable offensive weapon, but that's exactly what he did. Mitchell scored in double figures in 14 of 18 ACC games, earning himself a spot on the 3rd team All ACC. The biggest travesty was that he was left off of the ACC All Defensive team. With the emergence of KJ McDaniels, it looks like Akil will graduate without a Defensive Player of the Year award (though he's a lock for All Defensive Team). Still, he will go down as one of the best defenders in Virginia basketball history.

Perhaps the thing that stands out the most about our three seniors is that I am just incredibly proud to be a part of the same graduating class as them. I have friends at other schools who are fans of their players on the court, but aren't exactly proud of them off it. That isn't the case with these three guys. Joe, Thomas, and Akil and three guys who have really embraced UVA. They're not isolated from the rest of the community, but rather they're immersed in it. As I said earlier, they're essentially the same as the rest of the students, except for the fact that they're tall and good at basketball. While what they have done to the program in terms of taking it from a team that lose by 43 to Washington to one that will play for an ACC Championship tomorrow is amazing. But I think when we look back at their time here, we'll say that their biggest impact was their ability to unite the team with the rest of the school, fans, and community. Yeah, you could say that fans flock to winning teams. But there's just something special about this team that I first noticed last year. The bond between those on the court and those in the stands is palpably real. 

We don't love this team because of it's dunks, blocks, made threes, or even its wins. We love this team simply because it is this team. And for that, we can thank Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell, and Thomas Rogers. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Mini-Winning Streak:

Truth be told, I'm going to miss this rivalry. Maryland fans are nothing if not entertaining. There are few things more satisfying than beating the Terps in basketball. Thankfully, Virginia has been able to do just the past couple of years. Not only have the outcomes of the recent games been satisfying, but the ways in which Virginia has been able to beat its "quasi-rival" (neither fanbase likes to admit that the other is actually their rival) have been as well.

In 2011, just a few weeks after losing to the Terps at JPJ by over 20 points, the Wahoos waltzed in to the Comcast Center and earned a fairly easy 74-60 victory.

The following year, thanks to a barrage of threes by Terrell Stoglin and Nick Faust, #22 Virginia found its tied at 33 with Maryland at the half. What happened next was downright hilarious. UVA scored the first 14 points of the second half and never looked back, only allowing 13 second half points to the Terps in a 71-44 blowout.

Later in the year, in the final regular season game, Virginia entered the Comcast Center desperately needing a win. UVA had lost 5 of its past 8 games (though 4 of which to ranked teams) and witnessed its once certain NCAA tournament hopes dwindle by the day. On top of that, the Hoos were also badly physically depleted. Center Assane Sene was done for the year with an injury ankle. Malcolm Brogdon wasn't likely to play any time soon after breaking his foot. Second leading scorer, Joe Harris, had been playing with a cast on his left hand after breaking it a few weeks prior. Simply put, what was a limited rotation to begin with had become unbelievably limited. UVA had to lean heavily on the best player in the ACC, Mike Scott, as well as hope for production from Harris despite his injury, and for Sammy Zeglinski to have a hot shooting hand (which was far from a given). If Mike Scott didn't bring his A game, or got in foul trouble, Virginia was going to lose. Thankfully, Scott brought his A+ game to the Comcast Center that day, going for 35 points on 11-20 shooting and 11 rebounds to propel his team to an overtime victory and effectively clinch an NCAA berth.

In the first meeting last year, Tony Bennett's squad went to Maryland looking for a road rebound. Exactly a week prior, Virginia had thrown its momentum from beating a ranked NCSU team away by laying an egg in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. That game represented the fifth "inexplicable" loss away from JPJ, the others being to George Mason, Old Dominion, Wake Forest, and Clemson. The narrative of UVA as a good team only within the cozy confines of the John Paul Jones Arena had emerged and people were seriously wondering whether the team's impressive win at Wisconsin was a major fluke. Because of these factors, not many people had much confidence in Virginia's ability to go into College Park and leave with a win. Well, that's exactly what they did. The most surprising thing was that they did it fairly easily, using hot shooting to drop an uncharacteristic 80 points on the Terps to win by 11.

Tonight's Game:

The situation entering the regular season finale in Charlottesville closely mirrored the one in College Park two years ago. Virginia was a depleted team, though not as severely as in 2012, that needed a win to bolster its chances of making the tournament. Having defeated Maryland on their home court with relative easy, most fans, including myself, were confident that Virginia would get the win it needed on Senior Day. However, that confidence dissipated quickly, as the Terps surged out to a 31-14 lead. Maryland was hitting shots and making it hard on defense while Virginia was doing just about the exact opposite. The first of many momentum-changers came when Justin Anderson drained a three pointer at the first half buzzer to cut the deficit to a more manageable 13 points. Roughly 18 minutes later, Virginia knotted the game at 52, only to see Dez Well hit a go ahead floater with 26 seconds remaining. UVA was able to tie the game in dramatic fashion, as Justin Anderson fed a tricky pass to Mike Tobey, who layed it in with his left hand over Maryland Center and future lottery pick, Alex Len. Virginia carried the momentum into overtime, emerging with another crucial overtime victory over the Terps.

So now here we are. What's the story going into Maryland's final trip to JPJ? Well, first off, there's just that. Barring any future scheduled non-conference matchups, this will be the last time the Hoos host the Terps. Since the arena's opening in 2006, Virginia is 5-2 against Maryland at JPJ (UVA is 45-41 all time at home). As I have pointed out above, the Wahoos have one the series' past five games, though Maryland leads all time, 106-73. In the past five years or so, the theme has been either overtime or a blowout. Only one game since 2009 has been decided by single digits in regulation.

The narrative surrounding this particular matchup focuses on whether Virginia will continue its dominant play or will Maryland build upon an impressive showing against Florida State and earn a spot on the tournament bubble. Two very relevant things to note about the matchup are that Virginia is very good at home against ACC foes (the last unranked ACC team to win in JPJ was VT on January 22, 2012) and Maryland is not very good on the road (their last victory over a ranked team on the road was at UNC on January 19, the Terps are 2-5 on the road this year, with the two wins coming against ACC bottom-dwellers Boston College and Virginia Tech).

The Backcourt:

A lot of factors seem to play into Virginia's hand, but Maryland is still a dangerous team that could win a game like this if they can knock down shots. While their frontcourt is nothing to ignore, the Terps' strength is in their guard play. Maryland's two leading scorers are their two starting guards, Seth Allen and Dez Wells. If those two don't produce points, Maryland won't win. Allen is a crafty point guard who can do a little bit of everything (sorry for the cliches, but that's the best way to describe him). After missing the first twelve games of the season with a foot injury, Allen has been working on shaking off the rust, much like Malcolm Brogdon earlier in the year. Before Saturday, Allen had been largely inconsistent, going for 18 in one game only to follow it up with a single point in the next. However, if Saturday's performance against FSU is any indication, he may well have overcome the rust. Against the Noles, Allen scored 32 points on 11-15 from the field, and 7-10 from deep. While that outing may have been a case of a player playing out of his mind, it gives a glimpse into his potential as a shooter and scorer. Since there really isn't another good matchup for London Perrantes in Maryland's backcout, expect to see the Freshman try and slow Allen down tonight. In some ways, Allen's game is similar to that of Nic Moore of SMU. While Moore scored 17 points on Perrantes in their meeting earlier in the year, London's defense was still impressive. He made him earn everything and prevented him from truly going off. Moore is a step quicker than Allen, and a more consistent shooter, so this matchup is slightly better for London. I still expect Allen to have some success, but Perrantes and the rest of the defense will make him work for it.

Maryland's other main backcourt threat is Dez Wells. Wells is a big, physical wing who thrives on attacking. While he is capable of pulling up for jumpers, he's most deadly slashing to the basket and finishing. While Wells is an elite slasher, he's the type of player the Pack Line is designed to slow down. Like Allen, it's probably going to score. The key for Virginia will be twofold. First, they must contest his shots and prevent him from getting looks near the basket. Second, they have to frustrate him and make him turn the ball over. Wells' aggression is a double edged sword. While it allows him to blow by defenders and get to the rim, he often finds himself in too deep, limiting his options. This is one of the main reasons why he averages nearly three turnovers a game. While he did a great job limiting his turnovers against UVA last year, he still struggled with poor shot selection, as he shot just 27% in Charlottesville. Look for Virginia to use a combination of Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, and Justin Anderson to make things difficult on the offensive end.

The rest of Maryland's backcourt includes Nick Faust and Roddy Peters. Faust is talented, but terribly inconsistent, as evidenced by his twelve single digit games paired with his twelve double digit performances. While he is a bit more than this, it's still probably best to call him a shooter. He goes as far as his shot goes. His 15 point outing in Charlottesville last year will surely have the attention of the Virginia staff. Peters is a rookie point guard who had to step in while Allen was out. He too has talent, but his offensive game is relatively raw. He likes to get to the rim, but isn't quite big or strong enough to finish with confidence. Peters is also not a real shooting threat, as his unorthodox shooting motion limits his range significantly. He can still knock down a midrange jumper if you give it to him, but I believe that's a chance Virginia might be willing to take. Overall, I'm not sure how much we'll see of Peters other than is situations where the others need a breather.

The Frontcourt:

In the frontcourt, Maryland has two types of players. They have stretch-4's in Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz, as well as big bodied players like Charles Mitchell, Shaq Cleare, and Damonte Dodd. Jonathan Graham is the team's most "traditional" post player, but I'm not sure how much Virginia will see of him, unless the others really struggle defensively.

Layman is more of a wing than a post player. While I can't stand him when Virginia plays against him, I really respect his game. He's long, athletic, plays with energy, shoots the ball well and knows how to get good looks. While he only shoots 38% from deep, you can't afford to give him an open look.
UVA will need to contest his shots and keep him off the glass. While he may spend some time at the 4, there's a good chance he'll be one the wing with a height advantage. Layman really knows how to rebound so whomever is tasked with blocking him out must be disciplined and diligent.

Smotrycz is similar to Layman, except he's slightly bigger and a step slower. He's not as versatile with the ball in his hands as Jake is. Because of this, he's really only a threat when he can find clean looks. While his shooting numbers are okay, his motion isn't exactly quick, so he needs space to knock down shots. Depending on who he's matched up against, his space could come from a height advantage. If he doesn't have such an advantage, he will struggle to get clean looks. Virginia has a number of options for how to deal with Smotrycz and I'm confident one will work. Also, Evan is a liability on defense, as he struggles with both stronger and more athletic bigs. Any of Virginia's post players would have an advantage against him with the ball in their hands, so we might see Turgeon try and play him more on the wing.

Mitchell and Cleare are both space eaters inside. While neither are huge scoring threats, I think Mitchell is the more gifted offensively. He's deceptively quick and used some nifty moves to his advantage last year. Mitchell is also the better rebounder of the pair, as he's a pretty intelligent player and finds the ball.
Cleare is also strong and will, along with Mitchell, be asked to be a presence down low, get rebounds, draw fouls, and just generally disrupt Virginia's bigs. It will be interesting to see what combinations Virginia uses in the post. In theory, it could be a good matchup for Mike Tobey, as Maryland is big, but not very tall or long. However, Tobey's lack of strength could render him useless against the likes of Mitchell and Cleare. Gill would seem to be the best answer for Maryland's strength, but I also like the possibility of playing Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins together for a bit. The quickness and athleticism of that pair is something Maryland just doesn't have an answer for.


As a team, Maryland thrives on getting the most out of its individual talent. Their offense (except on specifically designed sets) resembles an NBA offense where the guy with the ball is the focal point. The Terps do not move well without the ball and can have a tendency to stand around and wait for the ball-handler to make something happen. While I personally (and unsurprisingly) loathe this style of play, it attracts recruits and gives players like Allen, Wells, Faust, and Layman the freedom to do what they do best.

While Maryland's defensive stats are respectable enough, don't be fooled: the Terps are a poor defensive team. Fore example, we're all well aware of Pittsburgh's lack of offense. Well, the Panthers had no trouble scoring on the Terps, putting up 79 and 83 points in two meetings. Partly due to Turgeon's style and offensive emphasis, his team takes way too many plays off and rarely hustles. I particularly like Virginia's chances of success off of ball screens (or any screen for that matter). If a guy like Akil Mitchell sets a screen for a guard, chances are Maryland's post players will be late to recover. I expect to see Akil look to exploit this advantage, and try and get as many easy dunks as possible.

Also, for the size Maryland has, it isn't a particularly good rebounding team. Still, Virginia has to be diligent on the glass and limit the Terps' 2nd chances.

Ultimately, this is yet another game Virginia should win comfortably. However, unlike with an overmatched Virginia Tech team, the whole "records don't matter in a rivalry game" argument applies to tonight. While the time change and potential for bad weather are bummers, I still expect JPJ to provide Maryland with a hostile swan song. Those in attendance will be eager to see the Hoos continue its winning trend, both in this season and in the series with the Terps. However, Maryland is the type of team that could feed off hostility. So a close game would not necessarily surprise me, especially if Virginia starts the game off like it did on Saturday in Atlanta.

In the end, though, I just have an extremely hard time seeing Maryland winning this game. It's certainly possible, but if they are going to beat UVA, I think it's far more likely it will be in March, after the Hoos' big matchup with Syracuse.

So long Terps. We will miss you dearly.*


Friday, February 7, 2014

Georgia Tech Preview:

Remembering Last Year:

Just a few days after defeating an 18th ranked North Carolina State team to win four games in a row, Virginia held a 57-48 lead over Georgia Tech with under eight minutes left in the game. The Yellow Jackets then went on an 18-3 run to win the game 66-60.

Because of this memory, few Virginia fans are willing to overlook a Georgia Tech team, even one as depleted as this one. The fact that UVA was a much better team than the Jackets didn't matter last year and they might not tomorrow. Even the fact that the Wahoos had pretty much controlled the game for the first thirty minutes or so was proven irrelevant by the atrocious play down the stretch. In many ways, last year's game showed the necessity of playing well for a full forty minutes, no matter the opponent, no matter the location, no matter the score. 

I think the last few minutes of the Boston College game Wednesday night may have been a blessing in disguise. It reminded Virginia's players of that lesson learned in Atlanta a year ago. For a team that has been as hot as the Hoos have been of late, sometimes you need to be humbled and reminded that it won't always be this easy. I'm sure Coach Bennett was saying something along those lines in the locker room following the near collapse against the Eagles. 

Tomorrow's Matchup:

Anyways, I don't expect Bennett's team to come out overconfident or cocky tomorrow. At full health, Georgia Tech is a fairly talented team. In fact, one wonders why they have only made it to the tournament just two times since 2005. They always seem to have above average talent, but never seem to get the kind of results you would expect. The easiest answer to this question is coaching. We all know about Paul Hewitt's tenure at Georgia Tech. In my opinion, he's one of the worst coaches to ever lead a team to the national championship game (that's kind of both a compliment and an insult all in one). Ultimately, the school didn't like the direction the program was heading and opted for Brian Gregory instead. At the time, I think the general consensus was that it was a solid hire. Gregory has been relatively successful at Dayton and seemed to have the potential to do well at a school like Georgia Tech. He's a good recruiter and Atlanta/Georgia is certainly a good place to recruit. 

However, in just two and a half years, I'm beginning to think it's not going to work out for Gregory. While this year's injuries have been unfortunate, his first two teams should have been much better than they actually were. I've gone off on a tangent here so I'll close by saying that while the Jackets have plenty of talent, you never know what you're going to get from them. Unless Gregory finds a way to develop that talent, it's going to stay that way. 

I don't want to get too heavily into the individual matchups, because so much depends upon who plays for Georgia Tech, how often, etc. As a team, they are big, strong, and moderately athletic (hey, that kind of sounds like UVA!). UVA has an edge on the glass, though GT is solid there as well. GT is average defensively and relies on interior scoring on offense. 57.1% of their scoring comes from inside the arc (31st most in the nation). This is mainly because the Jackets are a horrible three point shooting team. Leading up to the Carolina game, many people claimed that Virginia was a bad matchup for the Heels because of their inability to shoot the three ball. Well, GT is even worse than UNC in that category. As a team, the Jackets shoot just over 30% from three. That's good for 309th in the country. The worst three point shooting team to beat Virginia this year is Green Bay (183). The only other teams UVA has faced below 300 in that category are JMU and NCSU, whom the Hoos beat by a combined 51 points. I never really buy into any argument that says "this one reason" is why a game will end up a certain way, but there may be something to this one. Teams that can's shoot from the outside just have a harder time beating a Bennett coached team.

Deciding Factors:

Ultimately, I think the game will be decided based on two factors. First, how well UVA executes on offense will be critical. Regardless of which Jackets actually suit up/are on the floor, I expect Virginia to frustrate them with their defense. Unless someone has an uncharacteristically good night from the three point line, expect Georgia Tech to struggle to put points on the board. Virginia's offense, however, isn't a given. While it has certainly improved from last year and throughout the course of the season, UVA isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut. Execution is essential. I expect Malcolm Brogdon to continue his success, though he will certainly be more challenged than in the last game. The key is for other Virginia players, particularly Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, and at least one post player to show up as well. If Virginia executes and makes shots, it will find itself in a good position to win.

The second factor might be the most deciding one. How UVA comes out of the game will determine how the game will end. If the Hoos storm out of the gates like they have so many times this year, don't expect the Jackets to come surging back. Despite what happened last year, I think it's safe to expect Virginia to hold a lead if they can establish one. If the Hoos can build a double digit lead in the first half, look for Gregory to sit his key players. The Jackets are supposed to lose tomorrow. If they press too hard and force another injury, that would be significantly worse than any kind of a loss. Because of this, I really think the game can be won by halftime. That doesn't UVA won't have to keep playing, but I do think that if faced with a big deficit, Gregory & Co. won't try and force anything.


Like just about every game left on the schedule, this is a game Virginia should win. Given the contrast between Virginia's depth and Georgia Tech's depletion, there's no valid reason why UVA should lose this game. If it somehow does, they won't be able to make excuses. If the Hoos come out with energy, play stifling defense, and execute on offense, they will be able to build a lead that may prove insurmountable. As long as they don't allow the Jackets to hang around late, Virginia should win without much trouble.

Hopefully they actually have learned a lesson from last year's game, along with Wednesday's last few minutes, and don't make me look like a dummy...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mid-Season Grades:

A few days ago, Whitey Reid published this piece in which he assigned each of the players grades for their performances thus far this season. I mostly agree with his grades and the reasoning behind them, but I felt the need to dig a little deeper. Let me elaborate.

As all Virginia fans know, the team that has surged to an 8-1 first half of ACC play is vastly different from the one that finished the out of conference slate with a disappointing record of 9-4. For that reason, I thought it would be a good idea to conduct a similar analysis to Whitey's, however one that accounts for the differences in non-conference and conference play. I looked the players' stats both prior to and during ACC play, gave them a grade for each, and then weighed them together to give each player a grade. Obviously, I also took non-statistical factors into account, as we all know the box score never tells the full story.

Let's see how different my report card is from Whitey's...

Justin Anderson: 
OOC Stats- 8.62 pts (43%, 33%, 69%), 4.4 reb, 1.77 ast, .92 blk, .46 stl, 1.46 to
ACC Stats- 9.44 pts (42%, 25%, 71%), 2.6 reb, 1.22, ast, .66 blk, .33 stl, 1.78 to

OOC Grade- B
ACC Grade- B+

Justin began the year in the starting lineup and, for the most part, struggle to find any sort of consistency. He showed flashes of good play, but never was really able to string together a bunch of good games. For this reason, among others, Tony benched him. Well, actually that's not completely true. While he technically lost his starting job, it was probably because Bennett saw him as a valuable 6th man. Justin has embraced this role and it has paid off, both for him and the team as a whole. It allowed him to have some good games towards the end of OOC play and to carry momentum into the conference schedule, where he has played consistently well (with the exception of a few cold stretches). However, the main reason I gave him such a high grade for ACC play has been his defense. Earlier in the year, Justin played mediocre to solid defense, with the occasional good outing. In ACC play, his defense has been exceptional. He has consistently disrupted opposing guards and wings. While he has struggled a bit offensively as of late, I expect him to pick it up soon.

Total Grade: B

Darion Atkins:
OOC Stats- 4.15 pts (45%, 0%, 42%), 3.77 reb, .70 ast, .92 blk, .31 stl, .92 to
ACC Stats- 2.11 pts (35%, 0%, 63%), 1.22 reb, .11 ast, .33 blk, .22 stl, .44 to

OOC Play- B
ACC Play- C

Two factors make it difficult to give Darion a fair grade. First, he just does not play all that often. Second, when he does play significant minutes, he tends to look pretty solid. After a great first two games, Atkins disappeared. He would occasionally pop up here and there with a decent performance, but more often than not found him self struggling for playing time. There was a time when I was really high on him and wished Bennett would give him more of a chance. I love his activity, athleticism, and feel. That time, however, seemed to have come and passed, as now I tend to get a bit nervous when he's out on the floor. I am still very high on his potential for this year and his senior season, but I think the scarcity of minutes has affected his comfort level when he actually does step out there.

Total Grade: C+

Malcolm Brogdon:
OOC Stats- 9.46 pts (39%, 36%, 91%), 5.38 reb, 1.85 ast, .23 blk, 1.23 stl, 2.07 to
ACC Stats- 15.22 pts (51%, 48%, 88%) 5.22 reb, 2.66 ast, .22 blk, 1.88 stl, 1.11 to

OOC Play- B+
ACC Play- A+

I have to admit that I didn't really buy Coach Bennett's "rusty" excuse for Malcolm's inconsistent play early, but I am completely convinced now. The first few games, Brogdon really struggled at the point guard position. He just was not making smart decisions with the ball and wasn't all that productive, either. Even the switch to his natural role as a shooting guard didn't fix everything. While his play improved, he still was not playing well on a consistent basis. However, it seems that all it really took was for that rust to wear off, as he has been simply perfect in ACC play. Just look at those stats. Keep in mind that even in a down year for the league, the competition is still significantly tougher than the majority of the non-conference slate. And yet, Malcolm has gotten better and better. A week ago I said I was okay with writers leaving him off of their midseason First Team All ACC ballots. He should definitely be on it now. Few (if any) players in the league have been as consistently dominant as Brogdon in league play. I mean, SportsIllustrated wrote this for a reason.

Total Grade: A

Anthony Gill:
OOC Stats- 8.85 pts (72%, 0%, 66%) 3.85 reb, .38 ast, .31 blk, .08 stl, 1.38 to
ACC Stats- 5.22 ptss (47%, 0%, 52%) 4.22 reb, .22 ast, .33 blk, .22 stl, .55 to

OOC Play- B
ACC Play- B

Like Anderson, Anthony Gill is now a bench player after beginning the year in the starting lineup. Virginia fans, myself included, expected great things from the South Carolina transfer, and he certainly didn't disappoint in the opener against JMU (13 pts on 5-5 shooting). However, Gill followed the performance by only scoring 5 points the next two games. His non-conference play was mostly up and down. When he was on, Gill would take control of the game. When he wasn't, he found himself riding the pine. While he hasn't had any real breakout games in conference play, one could argue that what he has done is find a way to contribute on a nightly basis. So while the two looked vastly different, that is why I graded his two halves equally. I will add that I expect him to be a big factor next year after Akil Mitchell graduates. Once he gets the defense down (he looks to be on his way), I think he will make plenty of noise.

Total Grade: B

Joe Harris: 
OOC Stats- 11.07 pts (49%, 39%, 63%), 3.85 reb, 2.15 ast, .15 blk, .70 stl, 1.77 to
ACC Stats- 12 pts (46%, 46%, 70%), 2.22 reb, 2.33 ast, .33 blk, 1.11 stl, .88 to

OOC Play-B+
ACC Play-A-

Prior to the season, I argued that Joe's point total would not drop significantly from last year's average of around 15 per game. I thought that, while there would be more competition for points, there would also be more opportunities for clean looks given the amount of offensive weapons on the team. Well it looks like I might have been wrong after all, but Joe is still having a solid Senior season, despite the criticism he has received. In non-conference play, Joe has a tendency to get overly complacent, and as a result, had nights where he barely made an impact. He did have other games where he looked like last year's version of #SWOON, but it was weird seeing him have two games where he didn't score more than two points. Still, even in OOC play, he shot the ball well and played good basketball. With the rise of Malcolm Brogdon, he has been content scoring 10-12 a game against ACC foes. I think if he really wanted to, he could easily score more, but there's no need. The thing that really stands out about the 2014 version of Joe Harris is his defense. In four years, Joe has transformed from an average at best defender into someone I think merits ACC All Defensive Team consideration.

Total Grade: B+

Teven Jones: 
OOC Stats- .77 pts (15%, 0%, 60%), .23 reb, .31 ast, 0 blk, .15 stl, .08 to
ACC Stats- .44 pts (33%, 0%, 0%), .22 reb, .33 ast, 0 blk, .22 stl, 0 to

Like Whitey, I have to give Teven an N/A. He just hasn't played enough relevant minutes to merit a grade, either good or bad. However, I do like his energy both on the bench both on and off the court. It was fun to see him dunk against the Hokies. I was really happy for him.

Akil Mitchell: 
OOC Stats- 6.07 pts (44%, 0%, 49%), 5.46 reb, 1.38 ast, .38 blk, .92 stl, 1.62 to
ACC Stats- 7.77 pts (55%, 0%, 39%), 8.55 reb, 1.11 ast, .66 blk, 1 stl, .88 to

OOC Play-B
ACC Play-A-

I had high expectations for Akil coming into this season. He was coming off a stellar campaign and had, by all indications, a great summer, despite injuring his hand. I read somewhere that he was more than holding his own against the best post players in the country at the LeBron James Skills Academy. So given all of this, I assumed he would pick up right where he left off a year ago. Well, that didn't exactly happen, as Mitchell played uncharacteristically poor defense, turned the ball over far too often, and wasn't much of an impact offensively in the first couple of games of the season. However, in ACC, Akil has really stepped his game up. He has proven himself to be one of the best interior defenders and rebounders in the nation and has cut his turnovers in half. Now, if he could only knock down some free throws...

Total Grade: B+

Evan Nolte:
OOC Stats- 3.08 pts (35%, 32%, 80%), .5 reb, .33 ast, 0 blk, .5 stl, .42 to
ACC Stats- 2.13 (38%, 42%, 0%), .88 reb, .38 ast, .13 blk, .13 stl, .38 to

I'm not going to give Nolte a grade because of his inconsistent playing time, but I do think Whitey's grade of C was a bit harsh. While technically speaking, Evan has not exactly played well, I love how he's embraced his role. Not many former top 100 recruits would react to a dip in playing time like Evan has. He wants this team to win and he knows that the best way for him to help make that happen is to embrace his role as a situational shooter. I think he can develop into more than that in the years to come, but right now, with this team's depth, that's what they need from him, and that's what he's given them (for the most part).

London Perrantes:
OOC Stats- 3.77 pts (24%, 27%, 86%), 2.15 reb, 3.15 ast, .08 blk, 1 stl, 1.23 to
ACC Stats- 5.22 pts (38%, 38%, 77%), 1.9 reb, 4.7 ast, .11 blk, 1.33 stl, 1 to

OOC Play- B-
ACC Play- A- (4.7 ast/to ratio!)

As many of you know, I was extremely high on London in high school. I loved his film and thought he would be exactly what this team needed. However, I had no idea how long it would take him to be ready to contribute or play significant minutes. In just the second game, I was convinced that he needed to start at point guard. While his early play certainly wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it gave us all a glimpse of what was to come. Once he settled in, he was going to be an ideal floor general for this squad. He struggled mightily with his shot early but has shown improvement since then. Virginia does not need him to score more than a few points this year as long as he continues to play his game. I gave him a harsh grade for OOC mainly because of his shot and defense. However, I'm giving him a B+ for the total grade because I simply can't justify giving him a B.

Total Grade: B+

Mike Tobey:
OOC Stats- 7.08 pts (49%, 0%, 64%), 5.54 reb, .15 ast, 1.23 blk, .38 stl, 1.23 to
ACC Stats- 8.33 pts (41%, 0%, 81%), 4.11 reb, .77 ast, 1.22 blk, .11 stl, 1.33 to

OOC Play- C+
ACC Play- B+

Simply put, it has been an up and down year for Mike. At times, he has looked unguardable, dropped baby hooks and elbow jumpers left and right. Other times, he has a tendency to get cold, take poor shots, and play loose with the ball. Given the competition compared to what he faced this summer, Tobey should have have been more effective in OOC play. However, he appears to be getting at least a bit more comfortable as the season has progressed. I especially like that he is a better rebounder and defender than he was last year. Hopefully, he can continue to improve his consistency on offense, as he can be a real matchup problem when he's feeling it.

Total Grade: B-

Tony Bennett (& Staff):

This year might have been the first time I found myself criticizing Tony Bennett. After the Wisconsin game, I wondered how this team could possibly be that bad offensively. The weapons were there, they just weren't getting open looks, and when they were, they weren't hitting them. I actually felt a little nostalgic of the "let Joe/Mike Scott do everything" offenses of the previous two years. Thankfully, I didn't catch much of the Tennessee game, but afterwards I had the feeling that maybe, just maybe that might wake this passive team and staff up. I didn't think Tony would stand for that kind of loss and would make sure that his team would prove it a fluke. That's what I thought, but I wasn't exactly confident in it actually coming to fruition. Well, it certainly has, as it seems everyone except for Virginia and Tennessee fans have either forgotten about or just don't care about that outcome. Heck, even Jay Bilas wrote the other day about how Tennessee had lost to good teams like Virginia and Xavier (that made me chuckle). If Bennet can make a guy like Bilas not only rank his team 9th in the country, but also think they won a game they lost by 35, he did something right. That still doesn't mean he gets a pass for that game or the other OOC flops.

OOC Play: C- (SMU saved it from being a D+)
ACC Play: A

Total Grade: B+

Ultimately, I was a little nicer to our guys than Whitey was. I tended to weigh the ACC results a bit more, because they count for more and it's tough to penalize an individual when the whole team is playing poorly.