Men’s Basketball: Holiday Hangover

You would think after a gritty 2 games on the west coast and a bump in the rankings, the Hoos would have had a nice holiday break. But of course, this is Virginia, and when it rains, it pours.

First off, stop scheduling Seattle. For some reason, we just don’t get ready for them, or they really get ready for us. It was so bad, that it took a career-high 33 points from Mike Scott to beat the Redhawks 83-77. The Hoos did not lead at all in the first half, down by as many as 8, all due to Seattle shooting 57.7% on 15 for 26. Virginia swung it around in the 2nd half, and went up by 14 at one point, but the Hoos old nemeses showed up in the Pacific Northwest: the inability to escape the trap.

Wether it is full court pressure or the straight up double trap, for the last 2 years, the Cavs have had problem against teams that apply pressure (see Miami, The University of). Somehow Evans and Z turn into stone and nobody else realize that they need to be moving around so that they can be the recipient of a quick pass to break the press. I will not make a bigger deal than this because we did get the win, but keep your eye on this issue as the season goes along.

Quick note: How clutch was Malcolm Brogdon down the stretch? We harp on free throws and how important they are to Bennett’s offensive plan, but the 1st year going 8 for 9 in the last few minutes to pull away from Seattle. I like his contribution to this team so far.

Well, no sooner than the Hoos arrived back in the Hook did the festivities come to a halt, as first KT Harrell announced that he was transferring, then on Christmas Eve, James Johnson stated he would be looking elsewhere. I’ve been mulling back and forth about what to think about the situation and I have come up the following conclusions:

  1. Tony Bennett is a ‘system’ coach, and those type of coaches are very polarizing. You either like it on don’t. You either fit in or you won’t. And you either buy in, or you ride the bench. This leads to a higher amount of attrition than normal coaches would have.
  2. You have to do three things for Tony to see the floor. Play the ‘pack line’ defense, make your free throws, and nail down your jumpers. You don’t see a ton of dribble drives or Princeton style pick-and-rolls, so players that lived off of that in high school will have issues early. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to use that at UVa, but it must take a backseat to the other items above.
  3. Harrell was a causality of the system. If you lose your jumpshot, you are going to ride the pine. And only shooting in the 30s this season, with 0 made in the last 3 games, you aren’t going to see the floor. Now this will come off bad, but combine that with the ego of the Mr. Basketball of Alabama, and by your 2nd year, your mindset it that you should be seeing the floor.
  4. Johnson was a bit of an enigma. He had the skill sets to be a key interior player, but it seemed he never got it going after redshirting last year. You don’t want to point fingers in this situation, but it sounds like this move was the best for both parties.
  5. The above losses will mean that the Hoos will have to burn Paul Jesperson’s shirt. The 6-6 SF from Wisconsin will be available tomorrow night for the UMES game and should see a good amount of minutes over the next 2 games to get ready for the ACC season.

Conclusion: The transfers wouldn’t hurt so much if it was at the end of the season vs. now, but that’s what happens when a sport spans 2 semesters. But if you are a contributor, someone that plays a role in the rotation, to leave anytime before the end of the season plays to the character of the player.

Okay, enough bad tidings. The good news is that the Hoos got a boost in the polls thanks to Xavier and Illinois having really bad weeks, and find themselves #23 in the AP and #24 in the Coaches. In the next week, the Hoos face their last 3 non-conference opponents; two at home, and a big one on the road. Let’s take a look at who the Hoos have up next.

University of Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (3-9, 0-1 MEAC)

We talked about this one on the podcast last week but, UMES is University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. They are 3-9 so far with wins against Navy, American in OT, and Mercy, a D2 team. They have lost to GW, Tulane, Rice, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, Wyoming, Portland State, Delaware State, and Air Force. The Hawks don’t have one main scorer, but guards Percy Woods, Louis Ball, and center-forward Ron Spencer are their leading scorers, averaging around 10-11 per game. Look for hoos to go to 4 guard set again like they did against Oregon. It is a good change up and Z, Bub, Harris and Brogdon make a deadly shooters gallery, and will let Mike and Assane get some needed rest.

Towson Tigers (0-12, 0-1 CAA)

The Hoos had an RPI of 27 going into the Seattle game and had got bumped down to a 29 even after a win. So what do you think will happen after facing #332 (of 344) Towson Tigers on Friday? I know the matchups are set before the season, and I know no one thought the Tigers were going to be this bad, but this one hurts. Notable losses on the season have been Kansas, Michigan, and Oregon State. They also have some really bad loses against 2-11 UNCG, 1-10 UMBC, and 4-7 Coppin State. Towson likes to go inside to their big men, forwards Robert Nwankwo, Marcus Damas, and small forward Deon Jones. The problem is that they only average 8 assists per game and turn the ball over 20 times, with their PG Kris Walden being the biggest offender. Look for the Hoos to be opportunistic and take an early lead they will not give up.

LSU Tigers (9-3, 0-0 SEC)

If this was a football game, it would be no contest. But the Tigers are not really known for their basketball team as of late. And when the Tigers were 3-3 after a bad loss to South Alabama in OT, talk of next year started up. But somehow they have gone on a tear of late, including a huge win over #10 Marquette last week. They have wins over Nichols State, WKU, GT, Houston, Rutgers, Boise State, Cal-Irvine, North Texas, and soon to be Grambling State (they play on Friday). Losses outside of USA were Coastal Carolina and Northwestern, neither massive upsets. The big if for LSU is 5-9 guard Andre Stringer, who has missed the past four games with some dizziness and fainting issues. When he is in, he’s good for 12ppg-2rpg-2apg-2spg a game, which is a rarity these days in college basketball. If he is not in, then it will be scoring by committee, with C Justin Hamilton, G Ralston Turner, G Anthony Hickey, and F Storm Warren being the main targets.  The Tigers are an all-around good team, but not one area where they are amazing. I guess if you had to pick one area it would be rebounding, where they are 36th in the nation, but thats about it. They will keep it in the 65-75 range, perfect for the Hoos game. This one could go either way, but a win could vault the Hoos inside the top 20 before the ACC stretch.

Hamilton Riley

About Hamilton Riley

Mild mannered contractor by day, sports blogger by insomnia.