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hoops look back, part 2

Friday, April 5, 2013 16:27
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(Before It's News)

We’re gonna skip the baseball preview this week.  In a nutshell, Wake Forest isn’t very good and must be swept, and if we win the first two games then you can find out all about that sweep thing on Monday when the game is on ESPNU.  Nice.  Assuming the weather doesn’t shuffle the schedule like it did for NC State.

Instead we’re gonna pick up where we left off the other day with basketball.  Here is the second half of the season review.

#12 – Joe Harris

In the season preview I said Harris was the guy that needed to step and fill Mike Scott’s shoes as the go-to guy.

Almost too much, really.  As the ACC season went on, Harris seemed to get even better.  In something like four different games, he set personal scoring highs, culminating in a virtuouso performance against Duke.  In that game he scored 36 points and took 41% of the team’s shots.  His shot was falling, and he was able to use his strength – which is plainly much greater than in the past – to get to the rim.  In the crunchiest of crunch times, Harris played the role of point guard, bringing the ball upcourt, initiating the offense, and keeping the ball in his own hands as much as possible – the better to make opposing teams regret fouling and stave off some of those late-game collapses.

After the Duke game, though, it seemed to unravel, leading to speculation of an undisclosed injury.  Even though Harris denies it, it’s possible.  Post-Duke, he shot only 60% from the free throw line after shooting 77.8% up to that point.  I have a different theory: it’s one thing to take over a game and another thing to take over a game when nine other players on the court expect you to.  No doubt the 12.1 points Harris averaged post-Duke had something to do with opponents’ gameplanning.  At the same time, his teammates appeared to use him as a crutch, and looked occasionally lost when it didn’t happen like it once had.

Nothing takes away from the full body of work, though.  Harris had to be the team’s go-to guy, and he accepted the role without hesitation.  He started every game, one of only two players to do so.  And the non-scoring parts of his game aren’t elite, but are probably underrated all the same; he takes care of the ball well and defends without fouling, among other things.  Apologies to Akil Mitchell, but Harris has grown into the marquee member of what was supposed to be Tony Bennett’s foundational class.

Absurdly early prediction for next year: This is Virginia and we can’t have nice things, so Harris will probably tear an ACL two days before the first game of the year.  Morbidness aside, this is Harris’s team.  He’s clearly not comfortable with leadership by superior volume, but it couldn’t be clearer that his teammates trust him.  If his scoring goes down, that’s OK – the ’13-’14 version of this team should have much more diverse scoring options.  But Harris will be the top dog regardless.

#13 – Anthony Gill

I’m sure he was all the coaches asked for in practice.  We’ll have to wait til next year before we get to see how that shakes out in the real thing.

Absurdly early prediction for next year: Actually, if the occasional reports that floated out of practice are to be fully believed, Gill could be a revelation.  Lord knows we could use some frontcourt depth.  If Gill is what he’s cracked up to be, UVA could take Mike Tobey’s skills and the athleticism of Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins and have one of the best frontcourts in the ACC.

#22 – Malcolm Brogdon

It’s actually a testament to the greatly-improving depth on this team that Brogdon missed the whole season and it wasn’t disastrous.  How detrimental his absence was, I don’t think we’ll ever know, but at a minimum it might’ve been nice to have a guy who can get to the rim and/or pull up with a midrange jumper.  Brogdon’s absence with that slow-healing foot injury might well also have opened up a little space on the depth chart for Joe Harris to take over.

Absurdly early prediction for next year: I don’t know if we can call it a guarantee that Brogdon can make it back.  His flat feet probably complicate the recovery somewhat, and broken foot bones can really be a mess for a basketball player.  Hoopsters put more stress on their feet than most other athletes.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas needed two and a half years to finally put his foot problems behind him.  All that said, things are said to be on track.  If Brogdon makes it back, he should be an offensive improvement over Paul Jesperson.  It’s kind of a rare thing that a team does so well with so little scoring out of its 2-guard position, so Brogdon’s return would be awfully welcome.

#23 – Justin Anderson

If Joe Harris was the guy who made the team go, Anderson was the guy who made the team fun to watch.  His athleticism was highly touted as a recruit.  It took a little while for him to figure out how to channel that athleticism into the college game, but when he did, he was the team’s most exciting player.

Let’s get his weaknesses out of the way first: he’s not a great shooter from any but the closest range.  He’s got some work to do as a slashing threat; a lot of his points depended on someone else to get him the ball.  In short, his offensive game is as raw as you’d expect from a freshman.

And all of that can be worked on.  You can’t teach the athleticism.  Maybe his most exciting play of the year was the reverse alley-oop – a complete accident really, as it just happened that backwards was the easiest way to make that play happen.  Anderson made it look perfectly natural.  He’s a hard worker on defense, too.  The fans like the alley-oops, but the coaches surely loved his work on 7’1″ Alex Len of Maryland, keeping Len away from the basket and neutralizing him as an offensive center despite giving up seven inches.  Anderson’s leaping made for some highlight-reel shot-blocks too; we lost against Iowa to end the year, but his five blocks had to open some eyes.  Some of them looked like clear fouls at full speed, but on the replay, you could see the incredible body control – more than once, Anderson baited a dribbler into a layup and then leaped and twisted at the same time to swat it.  And on the fast break, at top speed.  Those blocks against the Hawkeyes really showed me something, more so than most of Anderson’s other plays.

Plus, he’s a heck of a passer on the break.  That’s why I think he can refine his offensive game so that it’s a deadly danger to the opposition in the halfcourt, too.  He’ll probably always be at his best and most exciting when the bodies are flying at top speed, rather than settled and patient, but I can’t think of a reason why he can’t live up to the five-star potential he brought in.

Absurdly early prediction for next year: I truly see Anderson as a future leader of this team; it started this year as his talkative, magnetic personality started to bloom on the court.  Next year I look for him to fill some of the gap left by Harris’s quieter personality.  If he continues his upward trajectory he should be a double-digit scorer for the Hoos as well.

#25 – Akil Mitchell

This year the media acted like the most-improved player of the year was Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and there could be no argument about this.  What a travesty.  Akil Mitchell went from 4.1 ppg to 13.1 ppg and more than doubled his rebound average.  I dare any media fool to find a bigger improvement than that.

Mitchell has been known for athleticism and excellent defense for his first two seasons.  Offense was not his thing.  Now it is.  Seemingly overnight, Mitchell developed a few post moves, and with Mike Scott off to the NBA, also became UVA’s leadering rebounder, offensively and defensively.  Mitchell was a great finisher on the fast break and the recipient of more than a few oop passes.  He even added almost 20 percentage points to his free throw shooting; he’s no longer a liability on the line.

In many ways he turned out similar to Scott.  He doesn’t have the face-up jumper that Scott abused his defenders with, but there are more similarities than differences in their games.  Even emotionally.  Mitchell is very even-keeled, but he thinks the game should be played a certain way and if an opponent doesn’t, and gets on Mitchell’s bad side, his irritation is evident, and he channels it into his dunks and his defense.  Like Scott, it makes him a more effective player.

Absurdly early prediction for next year: No, we’re not gonna see another 320% increase in Akil’s scoring.  That’d be cool, but no.  In fact, it may not increase at all; as with Harris, the increased diversity of styles and options might cut into his numbers, but not his effectiveness.  We’ve already seen his Great Leap Forward, so all that’s left is further refinement and experience.  But he’ll still be one of the core players, with a role that doesn’t need definition and isn’t at risk of erosion.

#32 – Darion Atkins

Atkins’s shin splints were the biggest shame of the season.  Early on, there was a ton – just a ton – of potential to be tapped, with the synergy between Atkins and Mitchell.  The prospect of having two very athletic (in the words of Tony Bennett, “bouncy”) twin power forwards was exciting.  And Atkins was playing like a man who wanted to earn some playing time.  His top performance was probably the Wisconsin game, where he played 35 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed 7 boards, and blocked two shots.

So when the shin splints kicked in and Atkins couldn’t be effective, it really sucked.  After Christmas he collected nine DNPs, averaged 6.3 minutes in the games he did play in the ACC season, and scored more than 2 points just once.  He was trotted out with a brace on his leg at times when UVA really needed a few minutes out of him thanks to foul trouble, and he gamed through it but the bounce was obviously gone.  Whatever we got out of Atkins in 2013 was just a shell of what we could’ve gotten.

Absurdly early prediction for next year:  Mitchell’s 30 minutes a game are just about written in stone, but after that, the frontcourt rotation is fluid.  It’s hard to see Atkins, Gill, or Mike Tobey out of the rotation (Nolte I put more in the small-forward category) so a four-man rotation sets up pretty well.  The main question will be how Tobey, Atkins, and Gill split the minutes.  Atkins could end up anywhere in the 12-25 range, I would imagine.

*****************************************************

After all that, you really have to be excited about the season to come.  Point guard will be a question mark, but not a crippling one.  Teven Jones has shown he can handle it, and London Perrantes spent his senior year proving that high school wasn’t a competition for him any more.  UVA will have a bunch of guys who can shoot.  That was a huge reason for this year’s success: no longer relying on the hot and cold streaks of one or two shooters.  And the Hoos have a chance to be absolutely dominant down low.  Athleticism, depth – everything has been upgraded, and the talent is such that UVA should be considered a threat to play on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

At From Old Virginia you will find impassioned, monumentally biased coverage of ‘Hoos football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball and lacrosse in the spring, and everything else when the mood strikes me.



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