Saturday, January 31, 2009

Meet the Cavaliers

If there's one thing that's marked Dave Leitao's tenure at UVA, it's wildly random and inconsistent player usage. Aside from his top couple guys, he can't seem to figure out a rotation that he likes. During any given game, his players must just have no idea when they're getting in, how long they're staying in, or if they're getting in at all. Some examples: in his last 7 games, Jeff Jones has played 2, 11, 9, 0, 11, 0, and 14 minutes. In his last 7, Mamadi Diane has played 6, 10, 19, 25, 11, 17, 18. Assane Sene has gone 33, 16, 25, 25, 10, and 22 in his last 6. For his last 6, Jamil Tucker has gone 10, 23, 18, 26, 26, and 11. It's a constant process of mixing and matching, and it doesn't seem to be related to on court performance (Jones, for example, scored an efficient 6 points in 11 minutes against UNC, then never saw the court against Maryland).

As a result, Virginia doesn't really play well as a cohesive unit, particularly on the defensive side of the basketball. Virginia's hasn't held a conference opponent under a point per possession, letting teams post offensive ratings of 108.14, 107.03, 114.80, 117.65, and 105.53. It's worse than it looks, actually, as three of those performances were by teams at the bottom of the ACC in offense - FSU, Maryland, and Georgia Tech. Virginia has a very difficult time stopping teams from putting the ball in the hoop, especially from outside, where three ACC teams have shot 50% or better. Virginia also has a very difficult time taking the ball from opponents - they're last in steal rate at just 6.6%. Put it all together, and you get a defense that's currently ranked 10th, and likely to drop further the more they play against the upper offensive half of the conference.

Not that the Cavaliers are great shakes on offense either. Virginia is in the top half of the conference in just one offensive category - offensive rebounding, where they rank 6th. They come in at 10th in total shooting (7th on 2s, 11th on 3s), 9th in turnovers, and 10th in free throw frequency. All this combines together for an offense that has scored less than a point per possession in conference play and ranks 10th in the ACC.

Part of Virginia's struggle is due to a lack of experience. The Cavs start an all-freshman backcourt of Sylven Landesberg and Sammy Zeglinski. Zeglinski has had a particularly rude introduction to ACC play - in 5 games, he's scored just 25 points on 4-10 from 2 and a disastrous 4-24 from 3 (including just 1 of his last 16). He's also been turnover prone, coughing the ball up on a third of his possessions. Add it all up, and you get an offensive rating of 65.16, which is worst in the ACC, and worst by far for anyone who plays at least as many minutes (26/game) as he does. Landesberg has fared better, but has struggled with consistency. He dropped 20 at Virginia Tech, then managed just 2 against UNC and 7 against Maryland before bouncing back for 24 against FSU. He's Virginia's highest usage player and most frequent scorer. He's also a freshman coming into Cameron with 16 turnovers in his last 4 games. Of course, these two were supposed to get some help from Mamadi Diane, a senior wing who was Virginia's second-leading scorer last season. But his game has all but disappeared this year - after combining for 27 in the first two games, he hasn't hit double figures since, and has fallen out of the starting lineup. He has a very poor 82.55 offensive rating, and can no longer hit the broadside of a barn from outside. Last year his 3pt% was .414, this year it's .065. That's not a misprint - he's 2 for 31 on the season.

The backcourt bench has provided occasional sparks, but not reliable contributions. Mustapha Farrakhan (grandson of Louis) will jack up shots with frequency when he's in (27.65% shot rate) but he's hitting just .278 from 2 and is 2 for his last 13 from 3. Jeff Jones' minutes yo-yo has been discussed above, and his performance this year has been largely average. And Calvin Baker has been up and down as well. He had a total of 3 points in 58 minutes against Xavier, Brown, and Virginia Tech, then put up 11 and 16 on UNC and Maryland before dropping back to 6 against FSU.

The frontcourt is only slightly less young than the backcourt. Sophomore Mike Scott has been the Cavs most consistent player. Before the FSU game (2 points, 4 boards, 3 turnovers), he had a seven game run where he scored at least 11 and grabbed at least 5 boards, put up 4 double-doubles, and averaged 14.6 and 9. He does excellent work on the offensive glass - at 18.48% in ACC play, he's the conference's best offensive rebounder by a wide margin. Joining him up front is freshman Assane Sene, who is still extremely raw. He's in the top 10 in both defensive rebounding and shot blocking, but is a non-entity on offense, using just 11.5% of possessions and posting a 79.46 offensive rating. Backing up Scott and Sene is Jerome Meyinsse, who's even less of an offensive threat than Sene, using just 6.46% of possessions in confernce play.

The biggest surprise of the season so far has been the play of Jamil Tucker on the wing. Last season he averaged just 6 points a game in conference - he's doubling that total so far this year, and is actually scoring over a third of UVA's points when he's in the game. He's had highly efficient performances in almost every game, and paces Virginia with a 129.71 offensive rating in just over 21 min/game. Tucker's been propelled thus far by excellent three-point shooting - 10-19 in conference, for .526.

Tomorrow's game has all the ingredients for a blowout. A turnover-prone freshman backcourt making its first trip to Cameron. A relatively non-existent low-post presence aside from Scott, at least on offense. A defense that can't take the ball away and doesn't prevent scores well A coach who destroys player morale by yanking minutes around like they were toys. Barring someone getting ridiculously hot for Virginia, this game should go like many others this season - the offense struggles, and the D gives up a lot of points.

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