Now that the initial shock of the end of the basketball season may be subsiding, it is time to take a look back at how our players performed, and what they'll need to do going forward. This past weekend, Whitey Reid published a piece "grading" each player on his performance. My first thought was that Whitey is a pretty harsh grader (Paul Jesperson, who was forced to burn his redshirt midway through the season, getting a D is a tough break). While I first sought to correct his misdoings, assigning grades is an impossible exercise. This is mainly because each player entered the season with wildly different expectations.
I'll seek to briefly evaluate how each player performed relative to expectations, while trying to give breaks for assorted adversity, and lay down areas for off-season improvement for returners. (Hint: I am a much more lenient "grader" than Whitey.)
Performance: Above expectations...and most of our wildest dreams
When Mike Scott went down with an ankle injury last season, he began taking mental notes on each player and each team whom he would have the chance to seek revenge on this season. He also had no choice but to spend his time shooting ungodly amounts of jump shots. Both regiments paid off, as Mike was a man on a mission this year with one of the most dependable mid-range jumpers in college basketball. He peaked in the middle of the ACC year with a 9-9 shooting performance against Wake Forest, sparking even more "Mike Scott Mania" at UVA, in which he took on near-mythical status. It's tough to think of any other player as important to their team this season. While I am sure he would love to have that 3-13 shooting performance against UNC back, Scott did plenty to put the Hoos back on the map.
Off-Season Notes: Get drafted...(become best player in NBA?)
Performance: Below expectations, mostly offensively
On offense, Sammy was often a frustrating player this year. A pure three-point shooter, he was inconsistent from behind the arc all year, finishing with a 33.7% 3PT %, a full 5% less than his 2010-2011 campaign. Though we saw flashes of greatness, including a 4-of-5 three-point performance at NC State and a dominant 20 point game in College Park, Sammy's mid-season shooting slump hurt the team. When you lose 7 games by a single bucket, it's tough to not think back to an open shot that bounced out somewhere along the way, and Zeglinski had a few too many of those. At the same time, Zeglinski also really improved his defense and was there to make a hustle play when the team needed one.
Performance: At expectations when healthy
Assane Sene's season was a darn shame. He improved in leaps and bounds last year and seemed ready to put it all together as the ACC season began. While not the most influential on the stat sheet, Sene played outstanding defense; being 7 feet tall helped, but he was also nearly flawless at hedging on screens and being in the right place to help down low. It's too bad that this great team-player's career had to end on a sour note with a suspension for violation of team rules.
Performance: Above expectations
Jontel Evans opened the year as a lock-down defender that was useless on offense. While he still has yet to become any sort of threat shooting the ball, he became much more comfortable getting to the rim off the dribble and creating shots for others. In an offense desperate for scorers not named "Mike Scott," this was vital, especially in UVA's loss to Clemson, in which he made 8 of 11 shots and split every double team the Tigers threw at him. He is obviously fantastic defensively, as noted by his inclusion on the ACC All-Defensive Team.
Off-season Notes: It may be too much to ask to develop a jump shot at this point...but it would help. More pressingly, Jontel must improve his free-throw shooting (62%), to become a better interior threat - this is something that has increased each year. Next season, Jontel will be the team's only senior and default leader; he must develop into a more vocal presence and really embrace this burden.
Performance: Before injury - At expectations. After injury - Below preseason expectations, but above what one may hope to get from a one-handed man.
We saw two Joe Harris's this year. Before his hand injury, we saw a Harris that had developed from a strong jump-shooter to an all-around player. He showed a great interior game, including a sweet floater he used often. Afterwards, he was obviously extremely limited, but earned everyone's respect as a gamer for missing minimal time. His block of a Henson layup using his bandaged hand at JPJ was one of the cooler moments of the year. Joe's defense is underrated, as he quietly shut down nearly everyone he guarded (see: Harrison Barnes's miserable stat lines against us).
Off-season notes: Heal up. Harris regressed a tad from behind the arc, (his % decreasing from 41.7 to 38), and I hope to see him a more dominant shooter next season. If he combines that with an even more polished interior game, I expect him to be one of the ACC's breakout players next season.
Performance: At expectations
To clarify, my expectations for a lightly-recruited second year big men are low. This season, we saw some very good things, but lots of room for improvement. On the plus side, Mitchell showed plenty of offensive potential, culminating in his first career double-double in the ACC tournament. However, he also disappeared for long stretches of games, and struggled to match-up with some of the conference's premier big men. He was thrust into a tough spot this year, but will be counted on next season.
Off-season notes: Without Mike Scott, Akil will be counted on to be more of a banger in the post - he must bulk up a bit to do so, and become more comfortable moving with the ball. Free-throw shooting will be a big emphasis, as will continuing to work on a mid-range jumper, which he attempted at times this year. Most importantly, he'll have to maintain 40 minutes of focus and effort each night. His offseason is one of the team's most important.
Performance: Above expectations
Brogdon's strides throughout his first season were impressive. First of all, he has ice running through his veins, as he never blinked while making clutch free-throws, taking big shots, or defending the final play. Offensively, he showed off some sweet moves off the dribble to get to the rim, and a solid jumper. On defense, he picked up Bennett's system quickly, which led to his early playing time. At home against Maryland, Terrell Stoglin lit up the Hoos for 14 first-half points, but didn't score again after Malcolm became his primary defender. However, the potential for his foot injury to have longer-term implications is cause for concern.
Off-season notes: Tony Bennett spoke about adjustments in posture to correct for Brogdon's "flat-foot" problem; whatever he has to do to stay healthy, he's got to do it! His shot is extremely flat; it will be interesting to see if the staff attempts an overhaul in the off-season.
Performance: Slightly below expectations
It's tough to hope for too much from first-year big men. Atkins got off to a rough start, missing the first five games after a team rules violation, and showed some growing pains as he adjusted to the new level of play. Darion showed plenty of offensive potential, especially when he'd get a chance for a dunk or putback. Defensively, he has great timing and could be a block machine in the future. He has some polishing to do, as he picked up fouls at breakneck speeds, when the game moved just a bit too fast for him at times.
Off-season notes: I think we'll see notable improvements from Darion, as he follows the normal arc for young but athletic players like himself. If he becomes a bit more comfortable moving his feet and staying at home on defense, he could be a force inside next year. He has a ways to go offensively, which is exciting, as he'll surely surprise some people next season.
Performance: At very very low expectations
When early attrition threw Jesperson into the fire in late-December, he was doing his team a great service. I don't think one could overstate the importance of seeing the court right away to get some time and build up confidence against cupcakes, a chance Paul never got. Jesperson's 22.6% three-point shooting didn't reflect his outstanding high school ability; I suspect that we could chalk that up to the lack of opportunities he had this season creating pressure on every shot. On the other side of the ball, Paul's length created matchup problems for opposing offenses.
Off-season notes: Jesperson must develop a better handle, as he turned the ball over too often this season. Actually, I think that 90% of his off-season work should be getting comfortable moving with the ball - the jumper will follow.
Performance: Above expectations
Bennett was faced with maximum adversity, as much of his team either fell to injuries or quit. Still, the Hoos managed to put together winning performances, often against more athletically-gifted teams. After two mediocre defensive years, Virginia's defense is among the nation's elite, where it should stay for a while.
Off-season notes: I think Bennett will think about his management at the ends of games, where the Hoos have struggled. The little things, like calling an extra timeout or pushing to play for an available "two-for-one" opportunity, will help. I also wonder if he'll evaluate how he manages players in foul-trouble, as I think he may be a bit conservative in this department.