TWO DAYS TIL BASKETBALL. TWO POINTS OF VIEW:
Coming off a second straight ACC regular season championship – and a second straight NCAA tournament earlier-than-expected exit at the hands of Michigan State, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about UVa Hoops’ chances this season. Conversely, there are plenty of reasons to temper expectations coming into the year. While it may be folly to take a hard stance on late season success for a team that has yet to tip off its season, we’ve got the two brightest minds here at Streaking the Lawn to hash out the two sides of the argument: myself and myself arguing with myself.
Point: The 2015-2016 UVa Men’s Basketball team will be better than 2014-2015 UVa Men’s Basketball Team
One does not simply replace the production of a Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins without an established pool of talent, learned system, and superb coaching – OH WAIT WE HAVE ALL OF THAT ON THIS TEAM DON’T WE? Tony Bennett’s got plenty of highly-recruited talented athletes that have bought into this system – all of whom will have another year in the packline system and another year of Mike Curtis’ strength and conditioning program under their belts. Of course, the reigning ACC Defensive POY and the best NBA prospect to come through the program in a generation are not easily replaceable, but take a look at who’s remaining on the roster:
- Anthony Gill – criminally underrated yet often in Best/Most Efficient Player in the Country conversations.
- London Perrantes – objectively one of the most efficient point guards in the country and the coolest, calmest, collectedest dude this side of Chris Pratt.
- Mike Tobey – Another senior big man with offensive touch who happens to be 7 feet tall.
- Evan Nolte – Senior forward known for exceptional hustle plays, a sweet shooting stroke, and making the best faces…of all the faces…in the world.
Isaiah Wilkins – The super soph looking to make the 2nd year leap who could conceivably slide right into the Akil Mitchell/Darion Atkins role at the 4. Oh, and he shoots the ball better already.
OH DID I FORGET MALCOLM BROGDON? Of course not.
- Malcolm Brogdon – 11th year senior. Potential All ACC, POY, whatever the basketball version of the Heisman is. Sharpshooting, uber-defending, sneaky-dunking, unquestioned leader of the team.
Darius Thompson, Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Jack Salt, Jarred Reuter – seriously, this team is STACKED with talent. It’s got depth. It’s got the training. It’s got the benefit of having to defend other teams for a shorter shot clock! For real – the powers that be decided that slow play (good defense) was bad for the game (not as fun as watching dunks), so they shortened the shot clock by five seconds – thereby giving teams who have a hard time finding an open shot against UVa even less time to find said shots. As my friend who replaces correct words with similarly-sounding incorrect words would say: the logic of this bottles the mind.
Let’s not overlook the schedule! Strong out of conference games against GW, WVU, Ohio St, Cal, (Seton Hall or LBSU), and Villanova among others. By the time this team hits the ACC, they will be battle-tested and prepared. Winning even only half of those games sets UVa up for an impressive resume with an exceptionally strong strength of schedule – which sets them up for a favorable tournament seed – which sets them up with an easier route to the Final Four – which sets them up to actually reach said Final Four. As for the ACC slate: while always tough no matter what, the Hoos get the benefit of playing Pitt, Duke, and UNC all only once. That’s absurdly favorable.
Talent. Experience. Mike Curtis’ muscle maxing elixir. Favorable schedule and impressive resume. This team will be better than last year’s – as long as we’re considering the evidence.
Counterpoint: No they won’t.
That’s a very compelling argument you’ve laid out there. I can see why you’re regularly regarded as the brightest and most attractive STL writer. However, I find it curious that you ended it all with a quip about evidence. We’re talking about predictions on future games here, so it would seem to me, the best evidence we have to consider is games that have already occurred.
Let’s see…if the biggest question mark about this team is how to replace Justin Anderson’s outside shooting, athleticism, and charming smile, wouldn’t it be great to see some evidence of how they would perform in such a case? Oh right - there were ALL THOSE GAMES LAST SEASON WE PLAYED WITHOUT HIM: beating NCSU by 4, beating WAKE FOREST BY ONE AT HOME, losing to Louisville, losing to UNC, and yes – I’m aware JA played against Michigan State, but clearly it wasn’t anywhere close to the same caliber of Justin Anderson the team had grown accustomed to. Were Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Perrantes, and Wilkins on all that team? They sure were – and so was Darion Atkins.
Listen, I know there’s plenty of reasons for optimism and plenty of hope for growth – especially in the younger players, but with a team that often struggles to score, the value of Anderson’s shooting cannot be undervalued. If a lot of your wins are coming when you’re scoring 50-60 points, a 6 point swing here and there can mean the difference in many W's or L's. A few more close losses go against the Hoos than before…and there’s no ACC title, a 3, 4, or even 5 seed in the tournament, and a much tougher road to the sweet sixteen or beyond.
In no way shape or form am I suggesting this team won’t be great – but to automatically assume IMPROVEMENT over one of the best seasons in the last 20 years is a huge expectation. Especially considering the big upswing in out of conference schedule competitiveness – while certainly the way I expect us to schedule – there could certainly be a few more L’s on the schedule than the past two seasons. Would that necessarily suggest this team is worse than the previous one? No. But it certainly isn’t supportive to the contrary.
While I appreciate the intellect, charm, and wit pessimistic Pierce brought to this conversation, the conclusion is clear: Championships and World Domination for the Hoos in 2015-2016.