I’ve got three criteria I consider when evaluating a UVa opponent in the ACC-B1G Challenge.
First off, I want respect in the draw. We’ve won 89 games and advanced to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 over the last three seasons and are commonly slotted in the top 15 of every way-too-early preseason prognostication, and I want to be treated like it. That means landing someone like Michigan State or Michigan, Ohio State, or Indiana — the blue blood programs that ESPN wonks probably would rather pair with someone from Tobacco Road — instead of the run of Northwesterns, Penn States, and Minnesotas that we went on during the Leitao era and the early years of Tony’s tenure.
Second, I want some history. I’m a big fan of a rematch or a rekindling of a recent meeting, or something that gives Len Elmore something to repeat incessantly throughout the broadcast. This means Ohio State, Wisconsin (doubly so with the Bennett connection and intrigue over the possibility of CTB taking that job, though I’m hesitant thanks to the scars from their last visit to JPJ), or Maryland.
Finally, I don’t want to play Maryland. I don’t miss them at all. I don’t want to enter a scenario where a UVa bus full of athletes might have to decamp in College Park. I sports-hate Maryland. Sometimes, I almost wish we’d play them again because I miss rooting against them, but then I remember their home crowd’s antics from our 2014 visit, and I stop.
Ohio State fits the bill. The Buckeyes boast one of college basketball’s name coaches in Thad Matta, have finished Big 10 play over .500 in 10 straight seasons, and while they haven’t advanced past the second round of the NCAAs in three years, they won 70 games in those three seasons and made the NCAA Tournament twice. We just played them last season (a 64-58 Virginia win keyed by six Malcolm threes), and the Buckeyes will return almost everyone (save center Daniel Giddens, who transferred) who played impact minutes in that game, in addition to adding four star center Derek (don’t call me Lawrence) Funderburk. They aren’t Maryland, and playing them might get me on the same podcast as Mark Titus for the second straight season, assuming The Hard Hedge has me back.
The game will take place on November 30th, the third and final day of the Challenge, and should be one of the special nonconference matchups that gets an especially fervent JPJ crowd.
The NBA Draft Combine treated Malcolm well. The Combine focuses primarily on your basic body measurement stuff (body fat measurements, vertical leap, some simple sprints) a handful of shooting drills, and some light scrimmaging, so I wasn’t that worried about him — if he can make 17-footers with Justin Jackson’s hands in his face, he can make them off the bounce in an empty gym, and I feel like his size and strength will make up for his lack of blazing speed — but I was watching with the hope that he’d at least hold his own to maintain the buzz that he’s a lock for the second round with an outside chance of sneaking into the first. I was most worried that he’d either struggle in the sprints against other guards or that his jumper — kinda flat on a good day, needs the spare flat on a bad day — wouldn’t stretch to the NBA three point line, a must for a wing these days (ask Andre Roberson).
He performed well in shooting drills, hitting 21-25 15-footers, 29 of 40 shots taken off the dribble between 15 feet and the college three point line, and soothed my angst over his ability to hit from the NBA three point line by making 13 of his 25 NBA threes and seven of 10 from the corners, which is where he’ll be spending a fair amount of time at the beginning of his career. If he hadn’t been shut out from the top of the key (0-5), his numbers would have been even better, but I don’t see the top of the arc (increasingly the provenance of point guards and trailing bigs in the modern NBA) as Malcolm’s bread and butter going forward.
Physically, he surprised some people. He placed ninth in the agility drill and recorded the best time in the shuttle run, stats that illustrate how well he is able to change direction (and thusly how well he was able to stick with guards one would have assumed would beat him in a race). Those faster guards (and some bigs like Brice Johnson) placed ahead of Malc in the sprints (he was unremarkable at best in the three-quarter court sprint), but he at least held his own in the vertical jump (finishing ahead of guys like Justin Jackson).
He shined the most in the five on five action, though. He scored 17 via two threes and a handful of floaters, moved the ball (he had six assists) and played his usual brand of D. I’m not surprised. I’ve always felt as though Malc will shine best for next level evaluators in a five-on-five setting when you can see everything (getting guys great shots, quarterbacking a defense, his knowledge of cuts and space) that he brings to the table. He probably won’t be a star, but it’s hard for me to believe he can’t help a team.
With the Combine out of the way, workouts are next. Malc worked out in Boston this week, but it’s hard to read much into that since the Celtics have eight picks between number three and number 58 and are doing due diligence on everyone. Fran Fraschilla ID’d him as a perfect fit for Golden State because “he’s perfect for a playoff team with a winning culture, because that’s what he is.” He’s been associated with the Spurs at the end of the first round for the same reasons. I could see Brogs playing the Shaun Livingston role for Golden State if the Warriors don’t pick up his option. The Spurs are more of a question mark, because while Malcolm fits their wholesome, intelligent mold, they need excitement and athleticism more than they need Malcolm.
Chad Ford and DraftExpress — my favorite purveyors of the inexact science of the mock draft — currently have him rated 37th and 41st, respectively, but Bleacher Report has him 24th, and whispers of an NBA team going for the sure, fully-developed thing in Malcolm instead of reaching for potential were pretty common last week. The keys for him in these workouts will be nailing his threes and looking fast. If he can pull that off — since he can’t magically become two years younger — his chances of being a first rounder grow considerably. If the NBA doesn’t work out for him, he’ll be eligible to run for President in 2028, and if 2016 is any indication of the direction we’re headed, we’ll need him.
Maurice Canady was expected to be our only player drafted this year, and he came off the board today in the sixth round, going 209th overall to Baltimore. With Canady’s selection, we’ve now had someone drafted in 33 straight drafts, even though the streak is hanging by a thread: there’s been just one Cavalier picked in five of the last seven drafts after multiples were selected in seven of eight drafts before that.
I like Canady’s chances in the NFL. He’s faster than we’ve ever given him credit for being (he ran a 4.49 40 at the combine), is physical (148 career tackles), and his struggles in 2015 can be pinned almost entirely on not having a reliable pass rush to throw opposing passing attacks off balance.
The Ravens return only starter Jimmy Smith and backup Tray Walker from their top six corners in 2015 and entered the draft with only five on the roster, so Canady has a chance to catch on in spite of Baltimore drafting another corner (5’9” Tavon Young) two rounds earlier.
SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown had this to say:
Canady is very much a late round flier who shows all of the talent in the world at times, but is also very easily beat at times, especially on the deep ball. We’ll see what he’s made of when he reports to camp, but right now it seems as if his target range is NFL backup.
Despite the lukewarm reaction, they — and their commenters — seemed to be into the pick overall.
In other NFL news, Canaan Severin has a home. An all-time favorite of mine, I was hoping he’d be drafted, but if it wasn’t to be, this is one of the organizations I would have picked for him. His future might be at tight end like Fontel Mines or Tyrone Davis, but I have a hard time seeing a guy with hands like his falling out of the league. Happy for him.
For better or worse, next year’s team is going to be different. The departing seniors are taking 58% of our points, 48% of our rebounds, and 43% of our minutes played when they pack the vans next month .It’s going to be weird watching us and not having Malcolm Brogdon be prominently involved. I don’t remember what that’s like, but I don’t think I liked it as much.
It’s easy to overreact in either direction when you think about next season. It’s really easy — trust me — to get super-hyped about our incoming recruiting class, and perhaps at the expense of guys who’ve been around, soaking up ACC experience and getting built up by Mike Curtis. On the other hand, you can look no further than my 2015 preseason predictions — where I anointed Evan Nolte our starting small forward (he started one game) and called for a breakout year from Mike Tobey as our second starting big — to see the dangers of leaning too hard in the direction of age and experience. The truth is, next year’s team will be a mixture of young and old, and none of us know exactly who will play or how much.
The only guys I’m positive will start and play heavy (think 32-35) minutes are London Perrantes and Austin Nichols.
Perrantes will be the team’s only scholarship (respect to Jeff Jones) senior in 2017, and as the holdover from 89 wins over three years and that culture of success, this will be his team to mold how he sees fit.
LP took major steps forward in 2016, increasing his usage rate from 15.5% to 19.3%, the number of possessions he finished with a shot from 13.8% to 18.2%, and doing so without losing efficiency (his offensive rating of 117.7 was a career-high) or becoming less trusty with the ball (his turnover rate of 18.6% was a career-low). He hit 78 threes at a 48.7% clip, only dipping under 50% in the final weeks of the season. I’ve posited this opinion since last season, but here it is again: London will be our leading scorer next season. He’s got much more of an all-around offensive game than we’ve consistently seen him display in his first three seasons, and I think we’ll see a lot more of it (particularly his nifty array of floaters and pull-ups between the rim and three point line) surface more frequently without as many high profile mouths to feed. He probably won’t hit 48.7% of his threes again without Malcolm and AG to draw the defense, but I could see him scoring 15 points per game.
Getting Nichols was a bigger deal than I feel like our fanbase as a whole has recognized. Adding a five star recruit with two years of eligibility remaining who scored 13.3 points per game and shot 63.7% at the rim while blocking more than three shots (12.5% of opposing tries) per game at a major conference school is cause for celebration. Nichols gives us a Gill-esque interior option on offense (right down to the inconsistent-but-at-least-present jumper) and the best shot blocker we’ve seen in a long time. If London isn’t our leading scorer, he will be, and I think he’ll endear himself to our fans in no time once they actually get to see him on the court.
London and Nichols will be joined in the starting lineup by two wings and a big. Isaiah Wilkins (21 starts), Devon Hall (20), Darius Thompson (10) and Marial Shayok (eight) combined for 49 starts this season, so they’re where I’ll start looking. Wilkins is a lock to start and play a heavy role, but picking two wings is harder than I thought. We saw the advantage of playing three guys with point guard skills at times this year — Devon, Malc, and LP combined for 21 assists against Iowa State, for example — and Darius could pair with Devon and London to give us a semblance of the same approach next season. Marial, however, is a one on one offensive force like no one else on the roster, capable of getting to the basket in what feels like two strides and able to use his long arms to rise over defenders trying to contest. With Malcolm gone, we’re going to need a player capable of bulldozing to the rim, and Marial’s the most likely candidate. I think Marial and Devon (who will need to become more consistently aggressive) will be the choices.
Marial had a rough year, but he gets a pass for (at least) half of it because of the wrist injury and concussion he suffered in December. He rallied in March, posting three double digit scoring efforts and playing heady, aggressive defense. When he’s at his best, he offers three point shooting (40% plus in both seasons on Grounds), a difficult to stop dribble drive attack, and an eye for sharing (12 games of multiple assists, a 13.8% assist rate). He also plays defense like a giant squid, so he’s the guy I’d most like to be stapled to our opponents’ best perimeter guy every night.
Wilkins led the team in defensive box score plus/minus by a tremendous amount, blocking shots (5%), manning up, and defending pick and rolls better than anyone else on the roster. He’s not a great rebounder yet (15.7% DREB, 9.6% OREB) and his place in the offense wavered on a game by game basis, but when he’s on and in rhythm with his teammates, he’s a very good midrange shooter (41.8% on two point Js this season) and passer from the high post (a 12.4% assist rate) who should compliment Nichols well. He’ll be a big piece next year, especially if the jumpers go in a little more and he develops a fake and drive game.
Hall matured tremendously over the course of this season, and having him on the court as the aforementioned third guy with point guard skills (a 15.8% assist rate, solid handles and decisions) really seemed to benefit us as the season went on (I had to choke that sentence out, given how the season ended). He became a sound defender (sticking with some impressive shooters in the NCAAs), and particularly impressed me by skying over bigger guys for defensive boards. He’s most likely to be surpassed by someone else (Darius? Guy?) because of his inconsistency — for everything I love about him, he’s very deferential and tended to disappear for games at a time. Of these three, he has the furthest to go to make a leap as an upperclassman.
Assuming CTB sticks with his preferred nine man rotation, we have to somehow pick four of these eight guys to see limited time:
Darius Thompson, entering his third year in the program and boasting a handful of thunder dunks and big shots to his credit.
Kyle Guy, the 38th-ranked recruit in the country and owner of the most improvisational ability on offense we’ve seen since Sean Singletary.
Jarred Reuter, a ground-bound but sound big man who turned me into a footwork geek in his short stints this season.
Ty Jerome, ranked 44th nationally and the prospective heir apparent to London.
DeAndre Hunter, an explosive wing, PA Player of the Year, and perhaps the most underrated member of this class.
Jack Salt, who started nine games, played in 22, and grabbed 13.9% of offensive rebound chances.
Jay Huff, who will be the best shooter on the team once he sets his bags down.
Mamadi Diakite, a 6’9” shot blocker extraordinaire who spent last season learning the system and having his body be the latest experiment for Mike Curtis.
How all of that shakes out is pretty much impossible to forecast. This is a nice collection of talent, and you can talk yourself in a circle pretty easily. For example: I think Guy and Jerome will both eventually be better than Darius Thompson, but Darius started 10 games last season and was named by CTB in his postseason interview as a pillar of next year’s team. Jarred Reuter lacks the upside of Mamadi Diakite or Jay Huff, but Reuter is a rock of a man, a good high post player, and didn’t hurt us in his time on the court this season. Jack Salt’s debut season looked like he’d walked in to the wrong party for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that the game will always look too fast for him. There are tons of ifs and maybes with this group.
Since being wishy-washy is boring, here’s my call. Darius Thompson is a lock to get minutes. He wasn’t as good on offense (often losing confidence in his shot and disappearing instead of using his athleticism to drive) or defense (where he was more of a gambler than I think we want) as I expected him to be, but overall, his jumper was improved (he made his last five threes of the season and was passable in OOC play) from where it was at UT, and the physical skills are there for him to be a sound defender. Kyle Guy is a lock too, because if you bring a five star player to Grounds, you have to play him — especially when he’s good enough to say things like how he only wants to stay for two years. There’s no one else on the team as potentially dynamic as he is, and a player that can create offense like he can will be afforded opportunities with Malcolm, AG, and Tobey gone. If he was already 185 pounds, I’d call him a threat to start. As it is, I think he’ll play 15-20 minutes per. Reuter is likely to make the cut. While he committed 7.9 fouls per 40 minutes played as a freshman, he paid attention to both the offensive (11.4%) and defensive (15.7%) glass and displayed a deftness around the high post on offense that intrigued at least me. My last rotation guy is DeAndre Hunter. I think Hunter is almost criminally underrated at this point, as I guess the broken leg he suffered in his sophomore year of high school derailed the hype train for good. He’s explosive, he can shoot, and at 6’7” with a frame that has room to grow, I think he could possibly take on some of the Justin Anderson stretch four role that we missed last season.
The four guys I left out were all tough calls. I’m just as excited as you are to have Mamadi Diakite in uniform next year, but I can’t ignore that a.) as of his last reported weight, he’s still a collegiate big man that weighs less than 200 pounds, and b.) he started playing basketball in 2011. Coming in to a live college basketball game will be different than anything he’s ever done and will probably be a rude awakening at first. He’s (probably) not going to show up and give us 10, seven, and two blocks in 25 minutes per game.
Jay Huff is in a similar situation physically. He’s good — really good — and has one skill that would really help us, but he would probably benefit from spending a year working on his 195 pound frame, followed by showing up for the season opener in November 2017 at 225 pounds ready to rain threes on people AND take an elbow on the block.
Ty Jerome’s hip is a concern to some, but it should be fine by mid-summer. The issue here is less physical and more a question of available minutes. London Perrantes will be playing big minutes at the point, with few left to season the rook. At the other guard spot, Hall, Thompson, and Guy are all crowding the depth chart. If he doesn’t redshirt, he’ll still have to beat out Guy or one of the returnees to find his way into the rotation. It’s possible — remember, we haven’t seen incoming talent like this — but not super likely.
Jack Salt, bless his heart, was probably the easiest choice to fall out. He’ll play some because he’s 6’11” and we’ll sometimes need his height and physicality against opponents with that kind of size, but his play this season felt like he’s a year away from being a year away from being a consistent contributor.
All I can tell you for sure is that I’m excited to have all 13 of these guys on the roster next season, and that watching this talent come together will be a wild, fun, ride. Sign me up.
The Virginia basketball brand has become nationally significant again over the last half decade, emblematic of hard work, effort, and efficiency on both ends of the court. We’ve won at least 20 games for five straight seasons and at least 29 for the last three, making four NCAA appearances in five seasons after a rough stretch where we finished .500 or worse in four of the seven seasons before that and made just two brief forays into the NCAA Tournament between 2001 and 2011. This team has lived in the top-10 over the last two seasons after having appearances there feel like holidays over the previous decade. It’s become easy to take it for granted now that expectations are higher, and that’s fine, but it’s important to appreciate the ascent to consistent excellence before getting bored with it.
Tony Bennett’s rebuild of Virginia has seen two phases so far: the build, where the five pillars of his philosophy were installed (led by Jontel Evans, who played all four years of his career under CTB and exemplified the endless effort but limited talent of those early teams) and the ascension, where the young men who graduate this May join Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins, and Justin Anderson (and London Perrantes, who they leave behind) as the principal architects of something special. If and when Kyle Guy, Austin Nichols or those who come after them make a run at phase three — planting a V-Sabre flag in the summit — the aforementioned players will be remembered as the ones who laid the groundwork to get them there.
Over their tenure, this group — Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Evan Nolte, Mike Tobey, and Caid Kirven — has seen four NCAA Tournament appearances (including a Sweet Sixteen and our first Elite Eight since 1995), an ACC Tournament championship (and two appearances in the championship game), two ACC regular season titles, and 134 wins (this is giving all of them credit for all five of Malcolm’s seasons). They’ve made individual challenges to the record books and each impressed in their own way: Malcolm is ninth all-time at Virginia in scoring and free throws made, and seventh in three-pointers made. Gill — in three seasons — is 33rd in points, and Mike Tobey is ninth all-time in blocks. Malcolm was a first-team AP All American and ACC Player and Defensive Player of the Year this season and leaves Virginia in the discussion among the best players to ever put on the uniform. Caid played in 43 games but never appeared in a loss, and for the haters, Evan shot 38% on threes (19-50) in his career in the month of March when the stakes were highest.
Tossing aside the numbers, these guys made Virginia basketball fun to root for again. I always throw a fair amount of myself into rooting for this program, but there have been a lot of players over the last 20 years who were either not good at basketball or not good guys, and this particular class comported themselves with pride and humility on and off the floor and were almost always fun to be a fan of. They were the total package, and I always thought they had a chance, regardless of the situation, opponent, or environment. I spend a lot of time watching, reading about, and writing about this program, and not once — not even then — was I embarrassed to be a fan of these young men. That’s saying something, given that even the best of college kids — even your humble narrator once played catch with a juice glass on a sand volleyball court and hid from policemen on horseback under a random person’s front porch in Ocean City, Maryland — can show questionable judgement. This class was tight-knit, funny, and showed the kind of camaraderie that made me really miss playing team sports.
They’ve given me some lifelong memories. I was lucky enough to be working for someone working for the ACC at the 2014 ACC Tournament and was doubly lucky that my boss acknowledged how important that championship game was to me, took over my post as time ran out, and let me out onto the floor to take in the celebration. I won’t soon forget standing 10 feet from the team while they were handed the trophy and cut down the nets, or the big hug I shared with Ted Jeffries, who I had talked to a handful of times during the week.
When my son was not even two during the summer of ’14, he’d ask to watch basketball with me, unaware that it was out of season. My go-to was the ACC Tourney final, and we probably watched it — cheering for Virginia — 10 times that summer. He attended games regularly during 2014-2015, and he made it all the way through the Senior Day win over Virginia Tech (having a blast the whole way).
This era of Virginia hoops helped me keep in touch with one of my best friends. Adulthood makes friendships tough to maintain from a distance, but reactionary texts with Will about hoops proceeded to take left turns into life, fatherhood, and pretty much everything. Chest-bumping him into the aisle after (I think) that big London Perrantes three in the ACC regular season title-winning win over Syracuse in 2014 will be a joke of ours forever.
Malcolm Brogdon has been playing basketball at Virginia since before my wife was pregnant with our son, which feels like an eternity. He’s been so steady and so consistent for so long that it’s hard to imagine Virginia basketball without him. There’s this sanctified example of what a student-athlete should be, and Malcolm is the living and breathing embodiment of it: he’s immensely gifted in the classroom and on the court, smart, ambitious, and humble, and respects the game, his teammates, and his opponents.
He burst onto the scene as our sixth man as a freshman, giving us glimpses of his potential (16 points and five boards against Michigan, 14 points and lockdown defense on Terrell Stoglin against Maryland) before being shut down with a foot injury. The injury would wipe out his entire 2012-2013 season, but he used it to develop his upper body and his jump shot, and things were on when he returned. It’s hard to put together a list of five memorable performances like I did for Joe or Akil — after all, he was remarkably consistent, scoring in double figures in 92 of 108 games over his last three seasons — but here ‘goes:
1.) February 18th, 2012: Virginia 71, Maryland 44. Terrell Stoglin was tearing up the ACC as a waterbug type, scoring almost 22 points per game. Malcolm took the assignment for much of the meaningful part of this one and helped hold Stoglin to 4-17 shooting (and an 0-8 mark on twos) and added 14 points on six shots in a dominant win. This would be his last meaningful outing of the season, as his foot would soon start acting up.
2.) February 2nd, 2014: Virginia 48, Pittsburgh 45. 16 of our 48 points and this:
3.) March 16th, 2014: Virginia 72, Duke 63 Akil made headlines for his defense on Jabari Parker and Joe Harris is lodged in peoples’ memories for that big late three, but Malc played workmanlike defense on Rodney Hood (4-12) and led us in scoring (23), powering us through a handful of dicey stretches with midrange jumpers and dives to the rim en route to our first ACC Championship in almost 30 years.
4.) March 13th, 2015: North Carolina 71, Virginia 67 We lost, but that’s incidental, as this was the first sighting of the Malcolm Brogdon that we saw with more frequency this year — the one with the will to put the team on his back. Brogdon scored 22 second half points, making eight straight baskets down the stretch to rally us to within a point.
5.) February 27th, 2016: Virginia 79, North Carolina 74 This was a showdown between Player of the Year finalists, and Malcolm (26 points) won it decisively, setting the tone early by scoring 17 of our first 29, amping the team and crowd to a level that wouldn’t let us lose.
Anthony Gill was a big get. Committing to us over Ohio State, he wowed me first by putting on a credible Mike Scott impression — handling the ball, popping jumpers, being mobile — at the 2012 scrimmage for season ticket holders. In the year between that scrimmage and his first appearance in a game, the coaching staff refined him, turning him from a big with perimeter tendencies to a guy who played as though drawn to the rim by a magnet. In his first year, he took almost as many free throws (153) as shot attempts (189), providing a bruising presence down low and an offensive alternative to Akil Mitchell on the front line. In three years at Virginia, he shot 70%, 70.8%, and 69.7% at the rim, averaged 8.6, 11.6, and 13.8 points per game, and grabbed 8.6%, 15.5%, and 10.6% of available offensive boards. All in all, he scored in double digits in 55 of 71 games over his last two seasons, providing a steady stream of effort around the rim.
My favorite thing about AG was his spirit. His sense of humor and ceaseless positivity gave this team a jolt of nonconformity and energy that it needed sometimes when the monotone steadiness of the coach and best player got to be too much. Here are five AG performances to remember:
1.) November 29th, 2013: Virginia 76, SMU 73 The first sighting of AG, the unstoppable force: he scored 12 of his 19 points in a brief second half stretch, serving as one of our only reliable sources of offense in a narrow win over a good SMU team in Corpus Christi.
2.) March 16th, 2014: Virginia 72, Duke 63 AG was too much for Duke around the rim in the ACC Tourney final, grabbing three offensive rebounds and attempting 17 free throws. His line (12 points, seven rebounds, 1-6 from the floor, 10-17 from the line) wasn’t awesome, but his effort and intensity were a big part in our controlling the interior and getting to cut down the nets.
3.) December 30th, 2014: Virginia 83, Davidson 72 Davidson gave us a fight (they lead 36-31 at the half), but AG (25 points, 13 boards) ended up being way too much for the Wildcats’ overmatched interior. I feel like either this game or the next one on the list saw the widest selection of his offensive repertoire.
4.) December 8th, 2015: Virginia 70, West Virginia 54 20 points, 12 boards, and a handful of monster dunks in a dominant run that put away a good West Virginia team in Madison Square Garden. He was just too fast, too quick, too strong, and too good for the Mountaineer defenders.
5.) December 19th, 2015: Virginia 86, Villanova 75 22 points on nine shots and seven rebounds (three offensive) in a great win over the eventual national champs. Daniel Ochefu didn’t want any.
Mike Tobey had it tough. Seven footers with his skills are rare birds, and every year, people eagerly anticipated his first appearance with the hope that this would be the season he “put it all together” and started crushing all comers. He never became Ralph Sampson (or even Jamal Sampson), but he did slowly and steadily improve over his four seasons and was better than his haters gave him credit for.
The issues standing between Mike Tobey and world domination were twofold: first, Mike Tobey is not mean. Some guys have a passion for competition raging inside of them. MT doesn’t. Second, Tobey is a lumbering (admit it) seven footer in a basketball landscape that is quickly trending toward smaller lineups full of perimeter players. He wasn’t so much a poor defender as he was unplayable physically against schedules full of 6’8” forwards with decent handles and passable three point shots. Despite all this, he gave us a lot: he blocked five percent of opposing shots for his career, grabbed 21.6% and then 23.2% of defensive rebounds after Akil Mitchell graduated and left him some to grab, and despite an infuriating habit of bringing the ball down around the basket, he shot over 62% at the goal in three of his four seasons, capped off by a 75% mark this past season. Let’s not be mistaken: I know Tobey never fulfilled his potential, but I also think time will be kind to him as a key component of some very good teams.
1.) January 29th, 2013: Virginia 58, NC State 55 This was the NC State of C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, and I remember this being one of the more physical games that I can remember seeing at JPJ. Tobey played 20 minutes and hung steady, scoring 13 points, grabbing seven boards, and hanging with the bigger, stronger Wolfpack.
2.) March 1st, 2014: Virginia 75, Syracuse 56 11 points and eight rebounds (five offensive) in the win that secured the ACC regular season.
3.) December 21st, 2014: Virginia 76, Harvard 27 I thought he was going to score 50 in this one. Tobey scored all 15 of his points in the first half and ended the game with 10 boards as well, finishing with a double double in a ridiculous rout of a Harvard team that most expected to at least be competitive.
4.) March 5th, 2016: Virginia 68, Louisville 46 The game of his life: MT scored 15 and added 20 (!!!) rebounds in a Senior Day demolition of Louisville in front of an ecstatic crowd. It was straight out of Disney’s made-for-TV production studio.
5.) March 25th, 2016: Virginia 84, Iowa State 71 A career-high 18 points and seven boards (four offensive) in the last win of the era. Tobey carved up Iowa State’s bigs in just 20 minutes on the court.
After Evan started his Virginia career by making 42% of his first 90 three point tries, I thought he was going to go down in Cavalier lore as the next great bomber. Circumstance changed his plans — Malcolm’s return from injury and Justin’s maturation into a Transformer dented his minutes, and he never found his rhythm again — and he’ll end up most memorable for me as a consummate teammate: always positive, always ready, and always sound. His shooting fell off a cliff after that start — he shot 54 of 180 over his last three-plus seasons (29.3%) — but he made his mark instead as someone who knew the offense and defense cold, made the extra pass, and found ways to contribute. He had a knack for popping up in March after being left for dead by the fanbase: he scored 14 points in the first two games of the 2014 NCAAs after scoring nine total in his previous eight appearances, he hit three threes against FSU in the 2015 ACC Tournament, and he made half of his 14 three point tries in March of 2016.
1.) January 6th, 2012: Virginia 61, UNC 52 We were tied at 40 when the freshman Nolte drained consecutive threes to give us a lead (46-40) that we wouldn’t relinquish.
2.) November 29, 2013: Virginia 76, SMU 73 Evan hit 3-3 threes (including a big one to more than double our lead with just over a minute left) and scored 11 points.
3.) March 21st, 2014: Virginia 70, Coastal Carolina 59 Evan had played just six minutes in the ACC Tournament and hadn’t made more than one basket in a month a half, so his eight points on 3-4 shooting were a welcome spark in what was an otherwise lackadaisical NCAA Tournament win.
4.) March 12, 2015: Virginia 58, FSU 44 Evan made three of four threes and scored 11 points, the last time he’d go for double digits in a Virginia uniform. It was the best game of his revival as Justin Anderson’s stand-in.
5.) February 3rd, 2016: Virginia 61, Boston College 47
And the crowd goes wild…
I don’t know much about Caid Kirven beyond him living on The Lawn, being an excellent student, and lasting four years as a walk-on, which doesn’t seem to happen all that often in the college hoops landscape. Kirven held down the post for the Green Machine for four years, inspired a fan club, and appeared beloved by his coaches and teammates. That’s good enough for me. In addition — perhaps speaking to our success over this period — Kirven appeared in 43 games over four season, and didn’t once appear in a loss. That’s right: Caid Kirven’s career record was 43-0. Maybe he should have played more.
I’ll let Tony Bennett take it from here (from the Daily Progress):
“He just has a great voice, this goodness about him,” Bennett said. “He enjoys life. He’s kind of fun-loving and just so likable. He works so hard. He will do whatever you ask him to make the team better. He’ll stand down or he’ll do tough things — banging our guys around. He’ll play defense for two straight hours and never take one shot. If it helps the team, he’ll do it. And he’s always encouraging.”
Brogdon said Kirven embodies “servanthood,” one of the pillars of the program.
“He never asks for anything,” Brogdon said. “He just comes in and works.
“Usually, he defends the bigs in post-move drills, but then when the guards practice their finishing at the other end, Caid runs down to the other end of the court and puts on the gloves that makes his arms longer and he jumps and just tries to block every shot. Then he goes and plays offense against us.”
1.) November 19th, 2013: Virginia 67, Navy 42 The first basket.
2.) November 26th, 2013: Virginia 69, Hampton 40 The second one. I was surprised he scored before T-Rog, and was doubly surprised he cracked the box score twice before Rogers did.
3.) November 25th, 2014: Virginia 79, Tennessee State 36 This one saw a basket, a career-high three boards, and a career-high tying five minutes.
4.) November 25th, 2015: Virginia 80, Lehigh 54 The first basket of fourth year.
Last time we made the Elite Eight, I was an 11 year old kid who thought that there was no greater low post scorer in college hoops than Junior Burrough and practiced Curtis Staples’ lightning fast release in my driveway. It’s been a minute.
I didn’t skip writing on ISU and delay this preview because I’m not excited. Trust me: the Elite Eight was the achievable benchmark I set for this team this year as to not feel like I was getting carried away and something we haven’t done in so, so, long, so I’m so happy. This means a ton for the program, the fourth years, and the coach. I delayed because I’m on vacation out of state in a house with seven other adults and five kids, and finding time to gather my thoughts has been nearly impossible. It’s also my anniversary, so here I am, kicking it at the keyboard at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.
Iowa State was a clinic in Virginia basketball. We scored 1.22 points per possession, notched 26 assists on 32 baskets, and shot 56%. I mentioned that the interior would be key, and Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey combined for 41 points and 15 rebounds, with Tobey continuing the dominant run he’s been on since Senior Night and AG continuing his rampage through the NCAAs (20.3 ppg, 71.8% shooting). The starters, Tobey, and Shayok all played at least 20 minutes and four of them scored in double digits and all seven produced at least five points.
Defensively, the Cyclones scored about a point per possession (1.04), but no one other than Niang (30 points, a ton of acquired respect from this writer) ever got going, and letting us get out to a 15 point lead before the 10 minute mark was a bad sign, as the lead never dipped under 10 the rest of the way.
What we saw on Friday night was an example of the advantage we have on the court under Tony Bennett: our disciplined, nuanced approach can be overwhelming to teams that play a more freewheeling style of basketball. If you’re not used to it, it catches you off guard and it can be difficult to adjust in time. Our next opponent (and both potential opponents after that) are used to it.
Syracuse has been on an unlikely run, sneaking into the NCAAs after exiting the ACC Tournament empty-handed as one of the worst at-large teams in history before benefitting from Middle Tennessee’s upset of Michigan State and Utah’s early exit to advance past 15th-seeded MTSU and the 11th-seeded ‘Zags. They’ve made it this far though, and so overlooking them feels like it’d be a mistake.
We’re 3-0 against Syracuse since the Orange joined the ACC, with wins by 19, 12, and eight points. We’ve shot a combined 54% on twos and have logged assists on 65.7% (50 of 76) of our baskets, and while we’ve occasionally been turnover-prone to start (20 total in the 2015 game, most in the first half), we generally haven’t had issue finding offensive success against them. London Perrantes has been the key, scoring in double figures in the two most recent meetings and dealing 24 assists to just seven turnovers in his career against ‘Cuse. His vision has been the key to finding seams in the zone, and his accuracy from distance has been a nice method to exploit them.
In the first meeting this season, we got 53 of our 73 from Malcolm (21), AG (16 and eight boards), and London (16 and seven assists) and took advantage of Syracuse’s lack of depth (Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije scored 47 of their 65) to win with relative ease. Only a late flurry of threes from Gbinije and Richardson (they made eight for the game) made the proceedings a little uncomfortable.
The keys for success for us are simple: be patient on offense but seize opportunities (especially with Isaiah and/or Malcolm operating as facilitators at the elbow extended — Mike and AG could do some serious damage from the high/low in this one), contest three point tries (there are going to be many — threes make up 42.5% of ‘Cuse’s shot attempts and they’re taking 20.3 per game in the NCAAs), and keep Tyler Roberson off of the offensive glass, where he grabs 14.8% for the season and just pulled in nine against Gonzaga’s twin towers. I think the key with the threes will be to push Richardson and Gbinije out a step or two further behind the arc than they’re used to, and to assign someone like Devon to Trevor Cooney to keep his irrational confidence heaves from suddenly making sense.
One point of confidence: we seem to struggle more with opponents that take threes in bunches when they’re generated off of dribble penetration and a kickout, and ‘Cuse doesn’t have the kind of shifty guard that dives to the rim to look out. It didn’t help much in the first meeting, when Richardson and Gbinije had the cheat codes active, but it should help tonight.
Another one: Syracuse is objectively bad at defensive rebounding (64.9%, 337th of 351 teams in the country). Seven of their last nine foes have grabbed at least 37.5%. With Gill and Tobey operating at their current level and Isaiah Wilkins chipping in four offensive boards in our first three games, second opportunities will be abundant if we want them.
I want us to continue to emphasize Gill and Tobey on offense and play from the inside out — Gill has had success against this ‘Cuse nucleus over the last two seasons (16.5 ppg) and is on an unholy roll anyway — and be careful lobbing the ball around the perimeter, where Gbinije (3.2% steal percentage), Trevor Cooney (2.6%), and Richardson (2.1%) all play the passing lanes hard.
G: London Perrantes – 6’2” jr #32
Trevor Cooney – 6’4” sr #10
Good: 9 assists without a turnover against Iowa State. The slightly worrisome: has scored in double figures just three times in eight March games.
We’ve never fallen victim to a Cooney game: he’s 8-31 from the floor against us in three years. He is feeling it right now, though: 7-14 from the arc and double digits in all three NCAA contests.
G: Malcolm Brogdon – 6’6” sr #15
Malachi Richardson – 6’6” fr #23
My favorite thing about our NCAA run is that Malcolm has had a relatively small offensive share (by his standards), taking just 36 shots. I still feel like we’re going to need a big one from him, so hopefully he’s rested and ready.
Without throwing shade at Gbinije, I think Richardson scares me more than anyone else on their roster. He’s long, athletic, and sort of reminds me of (Dr. Jekyll) J.R. Smith in how he’s fearless to the point of cockiness about finding his shot.
G: Devon Hall – 6’5” so #0
Michael Gbinije – 6’7” sr #0
Dev had seven assists without a turnover against ISU, and carved the token press the Cyclones put on late. As another player with point guard skills (we start 3), he’s valuable against gimmicky Ds.
Gbinije is really good, too. The senior has scored more than 20 in four of his last five and can be a disruptive influence when he slashes from the wing.
F: Anthony Gill – 6’8” sr #13
Tyler Roberson – 6’8” jr #21
AG has been energetic and borderline dominant in the NCAAs, and ‘Cuse is another good matchup for him. I expect another run at a double double.
Roberson has 18 offensive rebounds in three NCAA Tournament games, putting 8 on top of his 9 against Gonzaga.
F: Isaiah Wilkins – 6’7” so #21
Tyler Lydon – 6’8” fr #20
Isaiah’s passing is something I feel like we should use against ‘Cuse — he had some nice looks to set up easy baskets in the first game.
Lydon’s an x-factor. Blocks 6.8% of opposing shots and *can* be a stretch four type (40% on threes for the year).
F: Evan Nolte – 6’8” sr #11
F: Dajuan Coleman – 6’9” sr #32
Evan’s played 7 minutes total in the last two games, but I feel like he’s ready: he’s made 7 of 11 threes since March 5th.
A load. Coleman grabs 11.2% of offensive boards, 18% of defensive boards, and gets to the line more than once for every two shots he takes.
G/F: Marial Shayok – 6’6” so #4
G: Franklin Howard – 6’4” fr #1
Marial’s maximizing the impact of his weird, lengthy body on defense and being aggressive on O. With Tobey, gives us what feels like seven starters.
Has 5 assists in 28 minutes over the last two NCAA tournament games, and has earned a little more trust than he had last time we played.
C: Mike Tobey – 7’0” sr #10
G: Kaleb Joseph – 6’3”so #14
So. Big Mike has 36 points and 15 rebounds in 45 NCAA Tournament minutes. More, please. Much more.
Joseph was Syracuse’s starting point guard last year, and he kind of doesn’t exist anymore. Hasn’t played in ‘Cuse’s last six games.
Verdict: I think we’re deeper, more experienced, and have a tremendous advantage on the inside. More importantly, I can’t pick against this team when we’re playing this well. When we’re on this kind of roll, our success depends on if we show up, be aggressive on offense and make other teams adjust to us instead of having to adjust to them. If it all goes through like it’s supposed to, I think a Final Four is in our future.
If you’re someone who derives comfort from meaningless historical tidbits, here’s one: the last time we made the Elite Eight, we got there by beating a member of the current Big 12. The difference in this year’s game and the 1995 win over Kansas is that we were massive underdogs in ’95, a script that has been […]
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