January 16, 2011

Sweet Sixteen in 2012

Not the Final Four, but I certainly think a trip to the Tourney's second weekend is possible in 2012.

Here's why:

The 1) Jontel Evans as a junior, with another offseason of improving his offensive game under his belt.  Sammy Zeglinski fully healthy, and playing as a senior.  Billy Baron providing depth and offense off of the bench.  Superfrosh Malcolm Brogdon being able to slide in and play some minutes at the point, in a pinch.

The 2) KT Harrell, making the biggest leap forward in a basketball player's career, from his freshman to his sophomore season.  Joe Harris making the same leap.  Freshman Paul Jesperson providing a 6-foot-6 presence as a sniper.  Brogdon filling in when needed.  Zeglinski.

The 3) Joe Harris providing a savvy, sweet-shooting presence on the wing.  Brogdon making his case as Tony Bennett's best recruit at Virginia.  Jesperson.  Harrell if we go small.  Akil Mitchell if we go big.  Options galore.

The 4) Mike Scott in his 5th season of college basketball (6th season out of high school) -- he'll truly be a man amongst boys.  Akil Mitchell and his bounciness, after a year of adding strength and refinement.  Will Regan with a year of polish.  Enter the BEAST, James Johnson.  Freshman Darion Atkins adding another athletic, defensive-minded big body.

The 5) Assane Sene's senior season.  James Johnson adding more beef to the meat pie.  Mike Scott when/if we go small.  Regan?  Atkins?

Next year's team will be loaded with depth.  It will have senior leadership in Scott, Zeglinski, and Sene.  It will be the third season of ingraining Tony Bennett's tough packline defense and precise blocker/mover offense.

Next year's team looks to me like a top-25 outfit.  It looks to me like a team that can finish in the top third of the ACC.  It looks to me like a team capable of getting hot and winning a few games in the NCAA Tournament.

Be bold, Hoo fans.  Proudly declare:

And dare to dream of the Sweet Sixteen, because this team will have more substance than any team since 1995, when we beat Kansas (Jacques Vaughn and Greg Ostertag) to go to the Elite Eight.

Bball Power Rankings -- 1/16/11

At regular intervals this basketball season, I will update the power rankings for all of the players on the basketball team. This is essentially a relative measure of how they've been playing in recent games, coupled with an in-order listing of each player's value to the team moving forward with the season. (I'm only including players that are receiving regular minutes in the games, thus no Mike Scott... even though he was by far our best player before he went down, and no James Johnson... even though I think he's wildly valuable to the program.)

Mu: suddenly, insanely valuable.

#1 -- Mustapha Farrakhan (previous rank: #4)
I know, I know.  It sounds crazy.  But when Mu plays well, we win.  When he doesn't, we lose.  And who is more important to the team right now?  For better or worse, this limited yet mercurial yet oddly explosive player is the straw that stirs the drink for the Hoos.

#2 -- Jontel Evans (previous rank: #3)
With Sammy Z. still playing like he's rusty and not quite at 100%, and with Billy Baron's buns planted firmly on the bench, Bub is our only true point guard.  And he's been a difference maker, too.  When he attacks the basket, good things happen.  And you know he's going to give you A++ level defense, night in, night out.

#3 -- Assane Sene (previous rank: #7)
The Big Key is now our only real option in the frontcourt.  And though he's still foul-prone and makes plenty of mistakes, has anyone improved as much as he has since early November?  He blocks shots, and now he's a reliable rebounder, plays decent defense (when he isn't getting cheap whistles), and is even pitching in with some garbage points.  He works hard, and he's playing well.

#4 -- KT Harrell (previous rank: #5)
KT and Joe Harris should really be tied at #4.  We need them both to score around 10-12 ppg if we want to be truly competitive.  KT has recently been better able to get his own shot, so he gets the slight nod over Harris.  There is a very bright future here, and I'm really enjoying watching this young guy blossom.  He does need to improve from the free throw line, however.

#5 -- Joe Harris (previous rank: #2)
He battled through a shooting slump, now he needs to battle through defenses that are keying on him.  He's struggling a little bit right now, disappearing for long stretches, and picking up too many cheap fouls.  He's playing like a freshman, which is to be expected.  His stroke is still Yoohoo-sweet, and it'll all come together sooner or later.

#6 -- Will Sherrill (previous rank: #6)
He's playing through the pain of a broken leg, and he's playing pretty well, all things considered.  He'll never be a guy you can lean on for points, but he'll chip in a 3 every now and then, and also the occasional layup or stickback.  To me, Sherrill is a living testament to the quality of Tony Bennett's coaching.

#7 -- Akil Mitchell (previous rank: #10)
Mitchell has a golden opportunity to rise up a few more spots on this list, but he's still too erratic at times.  He loses position on defense and he forces up shots off rhythm.  Still, his athleticism and rebounding ability have been invaluable in the absence of Mike Scott.  I hope he can handle 20 minutes per game moving forward, because we need him to factor into the frontcourt mix.

#8 -- Sammy Zeglinski (previous rank: n/a)
Once he's back in a groove, he'll settle in among the top five on this list.  But for now, the shot isn't falling with any regularity, his ballhandling is jittery, and his defense is a step slow.  He's bringing leadership and intangibles to the team, but those things aren't enough to win games in the grind of the ACC.

#9 -- Will Regan (previous rank: #9)
Big Woody has definitely had his moments lately.  But those moments are too few and far between, and too punctuated with bad footwork on defense and poor decisions with the ball on offense.  Once he gains some strength and decides to go up strong without screwing around, he'll be a legit role player for a winning team.  For now, he's a work in progress with diminishing minutes with which to progress.

#10 -- Billy Baron (previous rank: #8)
With Sammy back, Baron's minutes are gone.  It makes sense; Bennett is a guy who will value experience and defensive intelligence.  I just can't help but wonder if Baron's ability to shoot the rock might help spark some much-needed scoring runs.  I say if Sam's shot continues to brick, Billy should start easing back into some of those minutes he saw at the beginning of the season.

How good is this team right now?

Good enough to hang tough with UNC and Duke, but not good enough to get those wins.  The upcoming schedule (@BC, GT, UMD, @WF) presents some opportunities for wins.  If we exit the month of January on a 2-2 run, I'd feel pretty good.  The goal at this point should be to duplicate last year's 15 wins while building the young nucleus into something that can win more games next year.  Can we win five more this season, and finish with a 6-10 ACC record?  I think so.

One thing I'll be looking for down the stretch is a "signature win" for Tony Bennett.  A win where we beat a superior team on the power of his coaching alone.  Opportunities for that win will come @ Florida State, home against Duke, and home against Virginia Tech... and in the ACC Tournament in March.

Getting Caught Up...

Hello Wahooze...  It's been awhile...

Mike Scott's ankle injury: a blessing in disguise?

With a six-week old in the house, my time is still stretched extremely thin.  I apologize to the readers of Wahooze.  I'll try to get better soon.  For now, a quick list to get us caught up with what's going on...

  • Mike Scott will miss the rest of the season with a second surgery on his ankle.  He'll likely be granted a medical redshirt, and be able to return for a 5th season in 2011-12.  I think this destroys any outside hopes we might have had of a Tournament appearance this year, but aligns the stars for a Sweet Sixteen type of run next year.
  • Speaking of which, Given the influx of new talent (Malcolm Brogdon, Paul Jesperson, Darion Atkins, and BEAST James Johnson), plus a bevy of good returning talent, plus a year of experience for the four freshman who are currently playing, I'm prepared to say NCAA TOURNAMENT OR BUST next season.
  • Of course you saw that Virginia landed a commitment from 4-star cornerback Demetrious Nicholson from Virginia Beach just prior to Christmas.  Rivals lists Nicholson as the 4th-best corner in the nation, and his commitment elevated this year's overall football recruiting class to right around the top-25 nationally.
  • With 24 players in the class (but two enrolling this spring, and thus counting against last year's class, and at least one potentially needing to prep), Coach London is chasing a "Big Four" of remaining prospects to fill out the class.  5-star linebacker Curtis Grant from Richmond, who is down to Virginia, Florida, and Ohio State.  4-star wide receiver Darius Jennings, who is down to Virginia, Ohio State, and Wake Forest.  4-star wide receiver Dominique Terrell, who is down to Virginia, Miami, and West Virginia.  4-star cornerback A.J. Hendy, who is down to Virginia, Iowa, and Maryland.  The belief/hope is that UVA lands at least two of these talented playmakers, and we currently lead the race for Jennings and Terrell, with Hendy being a coin flip.
  • Zane Parr has decided to go to the NFL?  Not sure he'll be drafted, but we wish him well.
  • Jared Green has decided to transfer for his last year of eligibility.  The writing was on the wall that he wasn't going to be invited back to Virginia for his 5th season.
  • I went 7-1 (7-1 ATS) in my last batch of ACC football picks, for the bowl games.  Sadly, I forgot to pick the Boston College game, but who can blame me?  Anyway, my postseason success left me at 81-37 (56-54 ATS) for the season.  That's better than .500!  I'll take it.
  • The ACC looked very ACC-like in the bowl games.  Virginia Tech laid another BCS egg, to further soil the conference's rep amongst the big boys.  Take your shot or clear, (C)Hokies!  At least Florida State and NC State were able to win games against ranked teams.  Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami, BC, and VT all conspired to make the ACC look bad this bowl season.
  • I think Miami (Al Golden) and Maryland (Randy Edsall) made pretty good coaching hires.  Neither guy will really move the needle within those fanbases, but both are quality coaches who will build programs wired for longer-term success.  The ACC is better with these two guys patrolling sidelines.
  • KT Harrell, Joe Harris, and Akil Mitchell are revelations.  And Tony Bennett continues to recruit and coach his ass off.  I'm VERY excited about the future of Virginia basketball.

That's it for now.  I'll be back full-bore as soon as I can manage it.  Thanks for hanging in there with me!