February 9, 2015

Silver Linings!

Before we dive into Justin Anderson's injury, let's not lose sight of the fact that on Saturday night, we beat a very good Louisville team.  They were 19-3 (7-2 ACC), ranked #9 and were #13 in the RPI.  Most importantly, a loss to the Cardinals would have dumped us into a first-place scrum with them atop the ACC, with two losses (with each of Duke, Notre Dame, and UNC with three losses).  Instead, we're alone in first place, two games better than the three-loss riffraff in the loss column.  Huge.

Now on the the injury.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia head coach Tony Bennett announced late Saturday (Feb. 7) that junior guard Justin Anderson (Montross, Va.) has a fractured finger on his left hand and will undergo surgery on Sunday (Feb. 8). Anderson is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with the injury.

Anderson suffered the injury in the first half of No. 3 Virginia’s 52-47 win over No. 9 Louisville. He ranks second on the team in scoring at 13.4 points per game. Virginia (21-1, 9-1 ACC) returns to action at NC State on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Let's talk about the 4-6 weeks, shall we?  A quick (and hopefully obvious) schedule breakdown...

February 7 -- Virginia 52, Louisville 47; Justin Anderson injured
~~~ February 8 -- Surgery on Justin's broken finger ~~~
February 11 -- @ NC State
February 14 -- Wake Forest
February 16 -- Pittsburgh
February 22 -- Florida State
February 25 -- @ Wake Forest
February 28 -- Virginia Tech
March 2 -- @ Syracuse
March 7 -- @ Louisville
~~~ March 8 -- Four weeks since surgery ~~~
March 10 -- ACC Tournament Opening Day
March 11 -- ACC Tournament Second Round
March 12 -- ACC Tournament Quarterfinals (top four seeds receive a bye to this stage)
March 13 -- ACC Tournament Semifinals
March 14 -- ACC Tournament Championship
~~~ March 15 -- Five weeks since surgery ~~~
March 15 -- Selection Sunday
March 17-18 -- NCAA Tournament Play-In
March 19-20 -- NCAA Tournament Round of 64
~~~ March 22 -- Six weeks since surgery ~~~
March 21-22 -- NCAA Tournament Round of 32
March 26-27 -- Sweet Sixteen
March 28-29 -- Elite Eight
April 4 -- Final Four
April 6 -- Championship Game

Okay dudes, I'm not going to try to spin this as a good thing.  It's not a good thing.  But I do see some very specific silver linings to the injury.

Silver Linining #1: This is now Malcolm Brogdon's team.
Maybe Justin Anderson is this team's heart... but Malcolm Brogdon is its soul.  And its brain.  Other guys will step up to take Justin's time and try to replace his production, but Brog is the one who will take the reins of this team fully.  And I look forward to seeing a Virginia team that plays even MORE cerebral and controlled basketball, in the image of its leader and tone-setter.  (Plus, more low post offense and less perimeter shooting, in general.  That's what "cerebral" looks like.)

Silver Lining #2: Justin gets to hit the reset button.
Brog just overtook Justin as the team's top scorer, but it's not because of the half Justin missed against Louisville... it's because Justin had been in a horrible slump since the Clemson game on January 13.  You could tell, the form on his newly-rebuilt jumper was out of whack, for whatever reason.  He was drifting.  As a result, he was shooting 32.7% (including just 28% from three) during the most recent six-game run.  The problem with that is that Justin was still taking shots -- 52 of 'em across six (really, five-and-a-half) games, 9.5 shots per game.  On a team - and in an offense - built on efficiency, Justin Anderson had become an inefficient shooter.  Maybe even a teensy bit of a black hole.  Now don't get me wrong -- his defense, hustle, athleticism, energy, those will be impossible to replace.  But I think we can potentially find a bit more efficiency in our offense with him out of the lineup for now.  And after his 4-6 weeks, here's hoping he comes back to the team on fire like he began the season, when he was hitting 60% of his threes.

Silver Lining #3: Opportunity knocks.
While Justin is out, I'm sure Evan Nolte will start at the 3 against traditional lineups, while Marial Shayok will start against 3-guard looks.  These two guys have a golden opportunity to shoot their way out of their funks.  If we can get either - or both! - of them straightened out prior to tournament time, then this is an improved team.  But don't stop there.  Justin Anderson was playing 30 minutes per game.  No way Nolte (12 mpg) and Shayok (15 mpg) each take 15 additional minutes.  Instead of shrinking the bench, I bet Tony Bennett goes the other direction and extends it.  Here's how I see it shaking out...
  • Evan Nolte -- from 12 minutes to 20 minutes
  • Marial Shayok -- from 15 to 20
  • Isaiah Wilkins -- from 10 to 15
That still leaves 12 minutes, right?  How about Devon Hall and... drumroll... B.J. Stith splitting those right down the middle?  In so doing, we would effectively give four shooters (Nolte, Shayok, Hall, Stith) an opportunity to find their shot before we roll into tournament time.  Want to know how the #3 team in the nation can get better?  It's by identifying additional threats from the perimeter, that's how.

Time to step the fuck up, Tommy Bahama.

As bad as he's played this season (which really boils down to his 21.6% three-point shooting), we know Evan Nolte has hero potential.  Maybe he's hit the so-called "freshman wall," but we've seen Shayok bury a handful of key threes.  (Remember the stepback against Notre Dame?  That was cold-blooded.)  Devon Hall has made some shots.  B.J. Stith might be the best pure shooter on the team.  So, ultimately, I don't see it as a bad thing that we get to explore these four guys in a bit more depth over the next four to six weeks.  Maybe a weapon (or weapons) will emerge?

Silver Lining #4: An adrenaline surge in March, when we'll need it the most.
Justin is returning to action, and he's returning this season.  Think the team might be excited when he gets back?  You see my point.

Silver Lining #5: Delay the NBA?
I think the slump did more to delay Justin's jump to the professional ranks than this injury is going to, but think about it --- the last time scouts saw him, he was mired in a sub-35% shooting slump, and now there's no chance for him to shoot out of that slump.  I wish no ill on Justin, but I do wish for UVA to win a freaking national championship, and our best shot at that is going to come in April 2016, when Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Nolte... and Justin Anderson... are seniors.

Add it up, and while this injury really sucks, there are silver linings!