As Virginia basketball continues its free fall into ACC irrelevance, it's probably time to shift away from the contender mindset and prepare for the future. This article is filed a bit late considering the game primarily referenced (Virginia's February 17 loss to FSU, 69-50) in this article took place last week, but some points stood out about the game which merit further thought and consideration.
I want to note that I will be stating the obvious in the text I write below. The Cavaliers are obviously one of the less talented teams in the ACC, and will struggle to contend for the next few seasons. This article will seek to discuss avenues to maximize the current and incoming talent so the Cavaliers can perform well in the short-term. Simply speaking as a fan, I have a general impression of how I want the player-personnel to sort out— it's a lot like designing player roles for a baseball team, where we might want an ideal eight-hitter to hit at a .270 clip with a good OBP and run production—and will outline my ideas below.
I'm going to put my GM hat on for this article and explore our personnel options for the impending years, the upcoming scouting class considered.
Virginia and Florida State, coming into last Wednesday's game, were two teams with different styles and tendencies going in opposite directions. Virginia, becoming heavily reliant on Landesburg and Scott and missing a third scorer, was in the midst of a deep skid from ACC grace, continued with tonight's loss to Miami. Florida State, on the other hand, pulled through a tough ACC stretch to keep a hold on its dancing chances.
I don't admit to knowing much about Florida State's personnel and style of play, but I figure that Toney Douglas' departure has made them a more balanced team, out of necessity. I'm not much of a sabermetrician, but it turns out that statistics don't lie about the balanced nature of Florida State's team: coming into last Wednesday's game, only two starters averaged more than 10.0 PPG, but all starters averaged at least 8.0-ish PPG; the assists tally was fairly distributed too.
Loucks, Dulkys, and Kitchen were all solid with passing the ball, drove as needed, and shot well. Florida State boiled the game down to the fundamentals, at times beating Virginia on simple kick-outs from the driving guards to open shooters. In addition, Alabi provided a good post option when all else failed (despite his foul trouble, if I recall the game correctly).
Virginia, on the other hand, is far too reliant on the Landesburg/Scott tandem on offense. While Virginia's offense is much like Florida State's in its stressing of ball-movement, the Cavalier offense last Wednesday looked too static. This tendency to rely on key players is fine and normal for all teams, but detrimental in the Cavaliers's case because of their death of alternative scoring options and lack of confidence on offense.
As frequently mentioned in common analysis, the Cavaliers need consistent options to compliment Scott and Landesburg to buffer bad nights from either of the players and defeat defensive schemes focused on the scoring tandem. Zeglinski, Jones, and Farrakhan are all good players in their own rights, but all are also woefully erratic.
I'm going to assume that Virginia's defensive excellence holds constant in this analysis. With Tony Bennett at the helm, I expect a solid defense that will hold most opponents to less than 60.0-ish PPG. Offense, consequently, will be the factor that will help Virginia win games and championships, as contrarian as it seems.
Virginia finds itself extremely fortunate that only two players of note will graduate at year's end: Meyinsse and Baker. Coming in are two ESPN100 players: PF James Johnson and SG J.T. Harrell; and three other complimentary players: Regan, Mitchell, and Harris.
For a school of Virginia's reputation (basketball-wise), Tony Bennett has hauled an above-our-league recruiting class. Bennett's first recruiting class alone will both cover losses from graduating players and increase team depth and skill.
In the post, Regan and Johnson have extremely similar playing styles to Mike Scott— they both exhibit solid post play and extended range on the offensive end. Johnson is great on the defensive end as well, and could very well develop into Virginia's low-post cog on defense. Considering Meyinsse is the only substantial post player graduating, Bennett's recruiting haul will improve post play, provide starting competition for Mike Scott, and provide bench competition for Will Sherrill. The addition of Poole (undecided but leaning towards UVA) would further increase depth and add a quality D-I glue player.
On the perimeter, Harrell will provide an immediate impact to the Cavaliers's offense and defense. I'll refrain myself from signaling his superstar potential, but he is an amazing player. Harrell should compliment Landesburg as a complete perimeter scoring option, driving and shooting. Assuming Landesburg can maintain a consistent jump shot, the Harrell/Landesburg combination could be extremely dangerous. Bench-wise, Harris is a wiry wing that plays a lot like Zeglinski, and Mitchell is a seemingly solid role player.
If Tristan Spurlock improves enough on defense to merit more substantial playing time (which could be a huge brick wall since he looked lost in the scrap minutes against FSU), another multi-dimensional offensive threat is added to the field. Furthermore, if one-dimensional players like Jontel Evans can develop their weak spots (for Jontel, some sort of shot), Virginia will be an even more complete and formidable team.
In my aforementioned analysis, I'm assuming that all of the recruits will play to their scouting reports and have impacts. I understand that this assumption isn't reasonable, but I concurrently am not expecting our recruits to have one-and-done impacts. Bennett's recruits are all solid, and should provide immediate contributions.
Anyways, my vision of the Virginia offense presents a typical 3G/2F starting lineup. Assuming Spurlock earns a starting spot, I see Harrell and Landesburg taking the other two guard spots. Offensively, this presents an ideal situation since all of the three guards are creative and can score; the three guards play just as much like small forwards, adding variety to the Cavalier offense.
Considering Virginia does not possess a true point guard, I see little issue with leaving players such as Evans and Zeglinski on the bench. Certain game matchups leaving room for starting lineup tinkering, but I believe that the Harrell/Landesburg/Spurlock combination provides the most dynamic and formidable basketball lineup. Bennett's offense is an offense that preaches ball movement and good shooting from all players anyways, so the absence of a true point guard isn't terrible.
Spurlock and Landesburg also have shown the ability to handle the ball as well as the current de facto point guard Zeglinski. Having a Harrell/Landesburg/Spurlock lineup provides offensive spontaneity and diversity; while Zeglinski is a really good shooter and has offensive value, he is no Lee Humphrey, and would have more impact as a bench player than as a starter.
Dribble-drive excellence is constant in even the poorest shooting nights, so Virginia's ability to make offense on bad shooting nights will help the team win games, rather than stay in them as they have so often shown this year. The addition of better and more balanced offensive players will obviously improve the team.
In addition, the increased depth will allow us to play more man-to-man defense, which should improve our already solid defensive scheme. Furthermore, considering Bennett's famed wolf-pack defense starts with a man-to-man defense with help-side sluffs, the ability to play more man-to-man will allow Bennett to fully implement his arsenal of defensive tactics.
Overall, we can all feel pretty confident that Virginia's dancing changes have gone by the wayside. The Cavalier's NIT chances have probably fallen hard as well. Nonetheless, with the first batch of recruits Bennett has coming in, Virginia basketball has immediate hope for success. I truly believe that the discovery of the right lineup and demonstration of tactical open-mindedness in Bennett's offensive philosophy will breed success next year.
Despite Virginia's lack of a point guard and true center (Sene doesn't count), Virginia should have enough quality and genuine depth in the other positions to cover and compete next year. I'm absolute certain that Bennett recognizes these deficiencies and will solve then in the 2011 recruiting class.
The Cavalier's current offensive woes can be primarily attributed to a lack of confidence, despite the cries proclaiming lack of talent as the primary reason for the team's fall. The offensive is stagnant, and the players besides Landesburg are afraid of making mistakes (and consequently, plays). The players must recognize that even though they should hold firm to Bennett's offensive philosophy (like they are doing now), they must not be afraid to be creative and make plays (primarily through drives).
Bennett's upcoming recruiting class oozes quality, and this offensive creativity and confidence. Hopefully the filling of the current metaphorical hole by our recruits will make this year's semi-promising season a precursor to greener pastures.