Welcome to our first Hoops Roundtable. I’m joined by Seattle Hoo, MaizeandBlueHoo, and StLouHoo as we dissect the team’s first two games and see what we can glean from soundly defeating a pair of cupcakes at home.
Valentine: First question, gentlemen. What is the most positive takeaway from the first two games?
Seattle Hoo: My most positive takeaway from these first two games is that the players are having fun. My main concern was that they would throw themselves too intently into the mission of redemption and take the joy out of the game for themselves. As hard as they’ve worked, and as intent as they are, they are still able to enjoy the game.
StLouHoo: I'll skip the obvious "Jerome is a man possessed" and "Clark belongs" answers, and say it's that most all of my concerns from game 1 were remedied for game 2. Paint touches, looking aggressively for early shot opportunities, Guy and Mamadi finding some rhythm, better work on the defensive glass. The team showed that some of the rust and maybe nerves vs Towson were an irregularity, and that Tony has the primary rotation (starters plus Clark and Mamadi) focused on the task at hand.
Valentine: So, I'll go with the obvious if you won’t, StLou. This team is Ty Jerome's. It was his team last year, so this is not surprising but with Clark horning himself into the regular rotation, we'll get a chance to see Jerome's range off-ball, and his range has only increased from last year. The entire team has shot earlier in the shot clock, thus far, which indicates that everyone is more comfortable "risking" the early shot. As Coach Bennett looks to snag higher-level recruits, this has to be a positive.
MaizeandBlueHoo: Most positive takeaway is depth, depth, and more depth. We knew the big three of Jerome, Guy, and Hunter would do their thing. They are. What about the rest of the team? Braxton Key had an impressive game against Towson in all phases. Kihei Clark is going to play a lot of minutes. Jack Salt has clearly been working on his post game with the ball. Mamadi Diakite will probably develop in fits and starts, but he's got serious potential to be a completely different player in February than he is right now. Even Jay Huff looks less and less like a baby giraffe. And the funny thing is, none of these guys exactly exploded onto the stat sheet. Diakite's 10 points against GW was as high as any of them got in the scoring department. That's OK. They showed enough to give us a lot of confidence that nobody is really going to shut this offense down completely. Teams are going to spend the whole season playing whack-a-mole.
Seattle Hoo: Let me add one more thing, Valentine, before we move on. The extensive use of high ball screens. I have high hopes of this one continuing. As Bennett said, Ty likes them, and so does Kihei. Our first two opponents defended them poorly and we made them pay. It is something else defenses will have to prepare for, and mitigates the lane-clogging, stultifying aspects of Sides.
Valentine: Conversely, what is you biggest concern after these first two games?
MaizeandBlueHoo: Negatives? Uhh, Jack Salt is our second best free throw shooter right now? I suppose that would be a problem if it becomes a trend. It won't. Small sample size etc. etc. I guess if I have to pick nits from two dismantlings of two seriously overmatched opponents, it's that Marco Anthony hasn't done anything to appear on the list above. He had one big game last year and was otherwise equally as impactful on any given game whether or not he played in it. This year he's been Invisi-baller again despite playing 20% of the minutes he did all of last year, in just the first two games. He hasn't been bad - he just hasn't done anything.
StLouHoo: I've got a few things to choose from here, but basically it boils down to reserves showing why they're only reserves. Mamadi and Huff have continued to struggle with fouls and rebounding, limiting their ability to stay on the floor and exploit their offensive gifts. And Anthony is struggling to get comfortable in his minutes, just lacking confidence in his game. Marco being able to give us plus minutes would go a long way to enabling a large dose of small ball, but it may not be in the cards this year. And Clark's 3-ball, woof. Of course, it's only a young season and there's ample time for improvement, so I'm not panicking yet, but it's something I'm watching.
Seattle Hoo: It’s just too early, Val. I would say that Diakite and Huff still look as foul-prone and weak rebounding as last season, but it’s been two games against over-matched opponents with whistle-happy refs who are busy setting expectations for the season. Honestly, what concerns me most is how good Duke looked and the possibility that this group may actually be able to defend.
Valentine: We’ll give everyone the chance to comment on Duke, if not now, then throughout the season. As for me, I think Huff's still a baby giraffe, MaizeandBlue. He's Shawn Bradley lite at this point, but it's more than just his discomfort with his defensive responsibilities, he's physically awkward. He's got very little in-the-lane bounce and when he runs, it looks like he's landing flat-footed. Again, we knew this already. If he moved better, he would have seen more playing time last year. Having said this, Huff getting regular rotation time, albeit in a couple of cup cake games, is a good thing. He's going to need playing time to get better and he can still be a useful Plan C if the shooting gets cold.
Valentine: OK, third question: What can we discern about our pace of play from this pair of games?
Seattle Hoo and StLouHoo (in unison): We covered this in our first mailbag.
Valentine: Yeah, but until Coach Bennett gets a Final 4 under his belt, this is going to be recurring theme and it’s still what seems to animate Wahoo Nation.
StLouHoo: Fine. We've seen two UVA's so far. We played at an especially glacial pace vs Towson (56 possessions, we only played two games slower last year), then turned around and played relatively brisk against GW (67 possessions, we only played two games faster last year).
All this tells me is we have it in us to play either way. Which I guess is a step in the right direction.
Seattle Hoo: There is absolutely nothing we can discern about pace of play from these two games, other than that if you expect it to change much from what it has been thus far in Bennett’s career, you must be the kind of person who expects that he’ll treat you differently this time. But if you want indicators, UVA’s Kenpom-adjusted tempo after two games is 65.1. After two games last season it was 65.5.
MaizeandBlueHoo: We're never changing our pace. This is like asking Coach K not to use hair dye.
But I did spot, a couple times, a teensy little half court press. Now that is a new something. This - if my eyes didn't deceive me - is not designed to generate any turnovers or speed up the game. It's there for the same reason we have someone (whose name is Clark) pressuring the ball as it comes upcourt: It bleeds time off the shot clock and takes away just those few seconds from the offense as they get set up. It's a cheap, risk-free way to squeeze even more brutal efficiency out of this defense.
Valentine: We're looking to shoot earlier in the possession and with Clark running his own personal 3/4 press, we're going to play faster than we did last year. If Bennett were to double down on pace of play, and figure out a way to play even slower, I would be OK with that. I'm not going to argue with our results under Bennett. I just admire tactical flexibility and if we have a different look to our offense, this can only make us better.
Valentine: And lastly, what are your impressions on the rest of the ACC thus far?
StLouHoo: Florida State's 20 point beat down of a supposedly-good Florida team on opening night is a good omen. They gave up only 32 points through the first 30 minutes; seeing as how defense was one of my big concerns about their ceiling this year, it's scary if they can bottle that defensive efficiency for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, BC, adjusting to life without do-everything scoring guard Jerome Robinson, struggled to a mere 5 point win at home over KenPom #314 St Francis. The 5/20 3Pt line is worrisome but could be just a cold night, but more worrisome to me was coach Jim Christian's complete lack of trust in his bench. The reserves totaled only 24 minutes and didn't score a single point. BC won't be getting over the hump this year if the bench is that bad.
MaizeandBlueHoo: My biggest takeaway from the ACC so far is that everyone is still undefeated. Even Pitt. Sure, you might say. Two of the three teams the Panthers have played are not even in the KenPom top 300. And you know how Pitt opened their season last year? Losing to #225 Navy. During the OOC part of their schedule they needed OT to beat #238 Mount St. Mary's, and topped #350 Delaware State - yes, D-I's eventual second-worst team - by six points. This year, sure, their SOS so far is junk. But at least they're not losing to those teams.
The rest of the ACC is on a similar track. Nobody looks like a total black hole. The bottom of the conference has improved and the middle of the conference - think Florida State - looks rather dangerous. How much that will continue, I don't know, but I'm confident at least that nobody is going 0-18.
Valentine: Well, since we started this conversation, MaizeandBlue, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech have each picked up a loss, but your point stands.
Seattle Hoo: The Notre Dame loss is shocking but the BC loss does not surprise me. I think people underestimated just how good Jerome Robinson was and how much of BC’s quality directly flowed from Robinson being A LOTTERY PICK player. I never got on the Ky Bowman train this offseason, as he has a history of poor decision-making and thinking he is more of a hero than he really is. As Robin he could get away with it and be successful. As Batman? He’s no Batman. That said, BC will get better because they have a couple good freshmen. As for Notre Dame, even though they have severe talent deficiencies, I never thought they were hurting this much. But they too will get better, as Brey is a good coach and they have freshmen and sophomores who need to contribute a lot.
Florida State, the Cheaters and Duke have all sent statements, as they have had the good fortune of playing teams much better than the cupcake dough UVA has thrown underfoot. And it only gets worse from here, as Coppin State is one of the five worst teams in Division I.
MaizeandBlueHoo: Personally I don't like playing MEAC or SWAC teams. There's no noticeable difference between them and a team from, say, the A-Sun or Big South on your box score, but the MEAC guys put a much bigger ding in your RPI (and will probably do so in NET as well) because of the "opponents' opponents" factor. Are you really gonna beat up less on a #225 team than a #325 team? No. And even if you do play a #325 team, the one from the MEAC will play nothing but hot garbage in their own conference by whatever metric you use, whereas the one from the Big South will at least be playing better teams in conference.
Maybe you gotta spend a little more to bring in a USC-Upstate or something like that, compared to Coppin State, but basketball-wise there's no reason to schedule the MEAC, ever.
Valentine: As for me, I'm impressed that UNC went on the road for their first two cupcake games. You will learn more about yourself on the road than you will at home. We saw on Sunday that the crowd energy is just not going to be there for a GW, and given that we wanted to make as great an impression on Reece Beekman and Keon Johnson, a pair of highly prized 2020 recruits, we may not have made the impact we wanted.
Thanks all. This was fun. We’ll be back on Monday, November 26th, to recap the Battle 4 Atlantis and to preview the ACC v B1G slate, including our game with Traitor Maryland.