Tuesday, December 19, 2006

ACC Preview #2: Virginia

Team: Virginia
Record: 6-2 (1-0 ACC)

Sean Singletary (80.6% minutes, 1.15 PPWS, 12.4 DRB%, 26.6 A/B%, 2.3 Stl%)
J.R. Reynolds (71.3% minutes, 1.05 PPWS, 10.0 DRB%, 21.4 A/B%)
Mamadi Diane (75.6% minutes, 1.26 PPWS, 6.7 ORB%)
Jason Cain (54.7% minutes, 1.09 PPWS, 14.1 ORB%, 22.8 DRB%, 2.2 Blk%)
Ryan Pettinella (40.0% minutes, 1.12 PPWS, 14.5 ORB%, 13.7 DRB%)

Key Reserves:
Adrian Joseph (59.4% minutes, 1.24 PPWS, 8.9 A/B%, 9.3 ORB%)
Will Harris (42.2% minutes, 0.98 PPWS, 11.9 ORB%, 14.3 DRB%)
Jamil Tucker (21.6% minutes, 0.77 PPWS, 9.2 ORB%, 13.1 DRB%)

Biggest Win:
93-90 over Arizona to open the JPJ.

Worst Loss:
69-80 to Appalachian State in Round 1 of the San Juan Shootout.

Conference Schedule:
Play Twice: NC State, Miami, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Play at Home: Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State
Play on the Road: North Carolina, Clemson, Boston College

I was all set to write in this space about how promising the year looked for the Cavs – about how impressive the Arizona win would look as the year went on, and how the Purdue loss would actually look not so bad as it might initially have seemed (I see Purdue as an upper division Big 10 team, maybe even an NCAA team). Then they had to go and lay a big fat egg against App State this afternoon, and take the wind out of my sails a little bit. The Mountaineers have been playing decent basketball (3-0 in the SoCon), but were 0-3 against the ACC, losing by 30 to Clemson and 32 to Virginia Tech. So needless to say, the UVA loss was surprising.

Nonetheless, I think this year still looks promising for Virginia, and since this is their team preview, I’ll go ahead and tell you why. First, UVA has one of the more experienced teams in the league. Reynolds and Cain are both seniors, and Reynolds has seen a lot of minutes since his first year. Singletary is a junior who has started essentially every game since he got to campus. And Joseph is also a junior who has logged healthy minutes off the bench over his career. In a young ACC, the Cavaliers have conference tested players in the backcourt, in the frontcourt, and off the bench. Second, Dave Leitao has instilled a defense-first mentality in his squad, which helped keep them in games last year, and will help them win games this year. Finally, and I think most importantly, they have one of the easiest schedules in the conference. We’ll talk about that more a little later.

The motor of the Cavaliers is Sean Singletary, their 6’0” point guard. He has been the best player in a blue and orange uniform in every game that he’s suited up for them in 2+ years, and he will be as long as he plays for UVA. This season hasn’t gotten off to as smooth a start as he would like, particularly shooting the ball. Singletary is hitting only 41.3% of his 2s and 30.4% of his 3s, which is not so hot. However, he’s still been a reasonably efficient scorer for them because of his ability to get to and convert from the free throw line. He’s been to the line 65 times in 8 games, and has made 61 attempts. As the season plays out, his free throw shooting is likely to come back to earth a bit, but his shooting from the field is also likely to improve. He’s only had one game this year where he’s hit half his shots (3-for-6 against UMES), and he’s simply too good of a player for that to continue. Singletary has also been turning the ball over a little too much at about 3 per game. Still, his turnovers are usually the result of trying to make plays happen, rather than being careless. And he does definitely make plays happen – he’s recorded assists on 26.6% of the team’s baskets. When you combine that with his 27.1% share of the team’s scoring, he’s responsible for over half the UVA offense.

On the wings, UVA has a triple threat of 1 ½ slashers and 1 ½ chuckers. J.R. Reynolds, a 6’2” shooting guard, is more of a slasher than a shooter. Yes, he takes about 4 three-point shots a game, but they only make up 36% of his total shots. He’ll shoot the three if he’s open, but would prefer to take his man off the bounce to the basket. Like Singletary, he’s effective at getting to the line (50 attempts), but has been uncharacteristically poor from the line this year, converting only 70%. Look for this number to go up as the season wears on, as he’s historically a good free throw shooter. Reynolds has been clutch for UVA over the years, and is equally likely as Singletary to get crucial shots in crunch-time. If Singletary is option 1, Reynolds is option 1A. Mamadi Diane, a 6’5” sophomore, is the ½ slasher ½ shooter in the mix. He started the season on fire – hitting 28 of 43 shots, including 13 of 24 from beyond the arc, for a ridiculous .802 EFG% in his first five games. Since then he’s cooled off considerably – 0 for his last 10 threes and only 8 of 28 overall in the last three games. Diane is certainly not as good as his first five games, but he’s also not as bad as his last three, and will likely settle into being a reliable third option, though not someone who should be the focus of the offense. The last piece to the outside triple threat is 6’7” junior and Trinidad native Adrian Joseph. Joseph has never, in his three years at UVA, met a shot he didn’t like. So far this year he’s taken 33 threes against 23 twos (before the App State game those numbers were 32 and 16, respectively). Unfortunately for the ‘Hoos, though Joseph has been a chucker his entire career, he’s never been a reliable chucker, and that's still true this year. He’s only 12 of 33 from beyond the arc. Surprisingly enough, his 2 point percentage has been stellar (.696) – maybe coach Leitao ought to encourage him to seek the inside game a little more. Joseph had been starting until a few games ago, when the ‘Hoos went bigger and inserted first Soroye, then Pettinella, into the starting lineup. Personally, I like bringing Joseph off the bench – if he gets hot, he’s not afraid to shoot, and instant offense type sixth men are always useful (see, e.g., Vinnie “the Microwave” Johnson). Note to defenders of Joseph – he detests contact; he’s taken 53 shots on the year, but only 3 free throws. Put a body on him and he’ll likely give the ball up.

Inside, the Cavs are led by 6’10” senior Jason Cain, a man whose mustache is held in such esteem, it sponsored its own Assemblage. Cain has progressed nicely over his four years, and has established himself as an effective rebounder and post defender. His rebounding numbers are good for 6th (offensive) and 3rd (defensive) in the conference. However, as an offensive threat, Cain is not an ideal first option in the post. He lacks a reliable scoring move, and is much more effective cleaning up misses than making his own offense. Still, he’s easily Virginia’s most polished post presence (though that may just be damning him with faint praise). 6’9” junior Ryan Pettinella, a transfer from Penn, was inserted into the starting lineup against Hampton and promptly responded with a 14-10 double double in just 24 minutes. He went 6-6 from the field and brought in 5 offensive rebounds. He was also effective against Appalachian, converting 3 of 4 from the field and hauling in 8 boards in 24 minutes. Leitao has been happy with his play all year, particularly on the offensive glass. However, it’s not necessarily a good thing to have a starting center who has zero blocked shots.

6’6” freshman Will Harris has been a mixed bag off the bench. Like Pettinella, he’s been effective on the boards, but he’s taking too many outside shots for his own good. He’s 16 of 29 from 2, but only 2 of 14 from 3. 6’8” freshman Jamil Tucker has also been less than stellar with his shot – 6 for 19 overall. Tucker hasn’t helped out much in any of the other areas, and has accordingly seen his minutes substantially reduced of late. 6’8” freshman Jerome Meyinsse, 6’8” sophomore Laurynas Mikalauskas, and 6’11” junior Tunji Soroye have seen only limited minutes in the post, which is to be expected, as they are all extremely raw. Meyinsse can hopefully develop some polish, but I think that train has left the station now for Soroye. I’ve been personally disappointed to see Lars’ minutes reduced this year, since he is one of the goofiest players in the ACC, which inevitably means he’s a fan favorite. He’ll always have a special place in my heart for pushing Tyler Hansbrough around last year during UVA’s upset of UNC.

The Cavaliers were hurt by the loss of 6’5” freshman Solomon Tat to a groin injury. Tat, who played only in the win over Arizona, would have been ahead of Tucker in the rotation, and probably would have stolen minutes from Harris, Joseph, and Diane as well. I’m not sure what the timetable is on his return, but they’d love to have him back by the time conference season rolls around.

So what does all this add up to for Virginia? Hopefully they leave Puerto Rico 8-2, after which they have a home game against American and a couple tougher non-conference home games against Gonzaga and Stanford. Their OOC schedule finishes with an ultimate bunny in Longwood to give them a break in the middle of the conference season. They should be at least 11-3 non-conference, and have a good shot at going 12-2 with wins over Arizona and Gonzaga. Then there’s the little matter of their conference schedule. The three worst teams in conference this year are likely to be Miami, Wake Forest, and NC State, and Virginia gets each of them twice. They also play the Hokies (underachievers so far) twice, with the only really dangerous double up being the Terps. Anything worse than 6-4 against this part of the schedule would be a disaster, and UVA would really help itself by getting 8 wins in those 10 games. They also get Georgia Tech at home, which is helpful because the home/road split for the Jackets is likely to be significant. And don’t discount the JPJ effect – new arenas tend to bring bigger and more excited crowds, giving UVA more of a home court advantage than it enjoyed in U-Hall. Realistically, Virginia could go 10-6 in conference without beating Duke, UNC, BC, or Clemson. That would stick them at (hopefully) no worse than 21-9 heading into the ACC tournament, and even though their conference schedule was light, there’s no way that 10 ACC wins, and 21 overall, doesn’t bring a tourney bid, particularly with a marquee win like Arizona on the resume. This is the best chance UVA has at an NCAA bid for a while – Reynolds and Cain graduate, and Singletary will likely depart after this year – and I for one hope they capitalize on it. Still, if they do make the tourney, they will not be as good as their record (and probably their seed) looks, and are unlikely to make it past the first round.

No comments: