Welcome to our second Roundtable of the season as we wrap the Battle 4 Atlantis, and look ahead to the ACC vs B1G matchup that is Maryland. I'm joined again by Seattle Hoo, MaizeandBlueWahoo, and StLouHoo. Let's get right to it, shall we?
Valentine: We played some better competition in the B4A, though mostly because our first three games were ridiculously under-scheduled. What's your take-away?
StLouHoo: That we're getting there. Totally honest, I hate the Bahamas event. I hate the half empty arenas at most holiday tournaments as it is. But the Bahamas doesn't even happen in a real gym, it's a ballroom with baskets at each end. This event invites sloppy play from good teams each year, and it's bound to drag down the quality of play for the 8 teams there this weekend as well. That we were able to take care of business in that morass of a tournament bodes well for our ability to win ugly when necessary.
Also, Dayton and Wisconsin are better than a lot of people are giving them credit for.
Valentine: I know you and Seattle think that the level of competition we played was beneficial, but I just didn’t see it. I know we can win ugly – we’ve been doing it for years now – but it was an unimpressive slate. We played three games and conceded a total of 156 points, so we’re in midseason form defensively, but as a fan, I’m uninspired by the Daytons and Wisconsins of the world.
Seattle Hoo: Very pleased with the week. The teams we played were excellent preparation for March. Middle Tennessee is the kind of team we can expect to face on the first weekend, and they had a lot of fight in them. They could out-athlete us, so they were a good opening act. Then Dayton came in, and I agree, StLou, they are better than their rep. They had good athletes who also were well-organized and very tough. Those three big men are all legit, especially Obi Toppin who was a 6-2 guard as a junior in high school and is now a 6-9, 220 pound redshirt freshman. Between those guys and Ethan Happ, we got to see how vulnerable our interior defense is. For all the acclaim Wilkins got for his help defense, he was an excellent post defender. Dayton and Wisconsin are potential second-weekend opponents, so the step-up in competition was very helpful.
We’re going to have to outscore some teams on offense. It was encouraging to see how ingrained the ball screens were into everything we did. Whether in Sides or Spread sets, we were making frequent use of ball screens and gaining real proficiency. I also liked how frequently we used the spread motion offense. That one still needs a lot of repetition for the players and coaches to get comfortable with its potentials and keep the motion flowing. I think both these things are here to stay.
My final takeaway is that we’re lucky as shit that Tony’s first fifteen point-guard choices turned him down. I’m not sure any of them would have been as ready to play on day one as was Kihei, and without Kihei, we’re screwed. He’s the only one who can keep quick point guards from getting into the lane at will, and this defense is not as capable of helping and maintaining organization as past teams.
MaizeandBlueWahoo: Probably the top takeaway is that I was actually happiest with the MTSU game, despite it being the "worst" competition of the three. MTSU played their offensive sets at top speed, running all the time (which is different from pushing the pace), and our guys were more than up to the task.
Valentine: The rotation at the 5 is a mess. It took Diakite just 25 minutes in the first two games to log 6 fouls. Is he, or Huff, going to get any playing time here on in?
Maize: Well, Val, for one thing, Diakite isn't really a 5. He's got an inch and three pounds on Braxton Key. So, he and Jack Salt really aren't being asked to do the same thing, even if Diakite happens to be the quote-unquote big man out on the court. That little screen and roll that they've had some success with won't be a Salt thing. You're going to see a lot of him based on matchups more than anything. Diakite's fouls are a real problem, but if he can cut back on those, the rotation is going to be mostly about what Tony wants the offense and defense to do.
StLouHoo: Yes, by virtue of necessity. Mamadi at a minimum. Look, Tony has to play more than 6 guys, and Marco has yet to earn Tony's trust in competitive minutes if the B4A games were any indication. That tells me Mamadi is #7 and Jay #8 in the rotation and they'll each get burn at times, Mamadi nightly and Jay maybe a little more inconsistently.
And if Jack's bad back flares up again? Has to be on Tony's mind, so I think he continues to find ways to get them involved. Recall this time a year ago Hunter was disappearing in competitive games as well before finding his groove in ACC play.
Valentine: The Hunter comp is useful, but only to a degree, I think. Hunter was a redshirt freshman with two seniors in the lineup. Huff’s now second year and the only senior on the team is the offensively mega-challenged Jack Salt. The path to PT seems much more open for Huff.
Seattle Hoo: I have not yet had a chance to review and synthesize my data from the weekend, but my impression from the first run-through is that Huff played better than Diakite and my trust in Huff is much higher than in Diakite. I completely disagree with Tony not playing him against Wisconsin and consider it a huge blunder. I will be looking deeply into Huff’s play before Wednesday, because I thought he played very well against Dayton and in fact was our best big man in that game, but I need to look again a little more carefully to confirm or revise that impression. I don’t like how little we’re using the post on offense and how unaggressive Diakite has been when getting the ball in the post. And on defense, I don’t like how we’re playing ball screens a lot. That slip screen action has been very effective because we’re committing to the hedge before the ballhandler is committing to the screen. It’s a tendency that drives me nuts.
Valentine: Huff played 5 minutes from Dayton. You really thought he was the best big based on 5 minutes? He also got a whopping 7 minutes versus Middle Tennessee. You can look at Huff’s play all you want, and we can all want Huff to play more, but I think this tourney spelled the end of Huff’s effective playing time. Which brings me to my next question.
We played 7 men vs Wisconsin. Is that our rotation? Already?
Seattle Hoo: It was the rotation I predicted before the season, from knowing Tony and what I had been hearing about Huff and Anthony. Only surprise to me is how big Kihei has become. I knew he would play but not that he would become The Mong00se. Tony said after the Wisconsin game that he needs to develop the bench, which I took to mean Jay Huff. We need to use eight and Huff needs to be part of that. I’d give Anthony a cameo in the first half of every game, too.
StLouHoo: Tony likes 7. The 2013-14 team was basically a seven-man rotation (sorry Darion, Teven, and Evan).
What else is there to say? Despite it being our 3rd game in under 48 hours, and a lot of minutes already logged on our starters’ legs, Tony didn't see fit to put Marco or Jay out there. Speaks volumes.
Maize: It's obvious who's in the Circle of Trust. Tony always shortens the rotation in the biggest games. That doesn't mean the outer edge of the rotation is going to disappear, but that Wisconsin game was pretty much a statement: when the chips are down, that's who's going to play. And it shouldn't be a surprise, really. Marco Anthony hasn't asserted himself at all and Huff still has some ground to make up (albeit much less than last year) to become a trusted defender.
StLouHoo: Also, it’s worth adding for context, I think Tony hates the idea of losing to Wisconsin as much as he hates losing to UNC (different motivators, obviously), and you better believe he's pushing his starters to their limits to maximize his odds to win over his old program.
Valentine: I know that money drives everything in sport, but is the University doing our student-athletes a disservice by scheduling a 3-games in 3-days tournament? The pros don't play 3 games in 3 days, and they are fully formed, grown men. Would the money and exposure have been worth it if Ty Jerome had pulled a muscle in the third game?
Seattle Hoo: Bollocks. It’s a non-issue. We have a big 3-games-in-3-days tournament in March and this is a great dress rehearsal. These kids have grown up playing multiple games a day. It’s not about money. These events are fun for the kids and the fans, expose the team to a variety of playing styles and experiences, let you get a lot of “lab time” at a great point in the season, and the risk of injury is ever-present.
StLouHoo: I think at this point it's business as usual. I get your concern but these tournaments happen all over North America every November and December and I can't really remember any serious incidents of fatigue or injury coming as a result. Frankly, adding a Rest Day just means another day they aren't back on campus.
I do prefer the events that are just two days, for the reasons you mention. But I think the players, who just love you ball as much as possible, probably love it. Reminds them of AAU event weekends.
Maize: I'm with everyone else, Val. You’re outvoted on this one. Big non-issue. Conference tournaments are like that. Or even more so - sometimes teams play four in a row and maybe five if they're lucky. The pros used to play four games in five nights and they play 48-minute games, and their main objection to that was not the games themselves, it was the travel involved. Our guys aren't jetting around the country in between games.
Valentine: StLou called the B4A a “morass” and I look at it and just get the same impression – playing on a temporary floor just makes me nervous. I guess my soccer background is overwhelming my basketball sense. Soccer’s too demanding to play three games in three games and I just assume that it would be the same for basketball. I’ve posed this question in a couple of forums and gotten the same response, so maybe I should just let it drop….
Valentine: So we're traveling to College Park since we drew Maryland in the ACC vs Big Ten challenge. Should I be worried?
StLouHoo: No, Val. A.) Tony owns Turg (one statistically insignificant finale in 2014 aside). B.) Terps really only have six guys they really like, and three of those are true freshmen. C.) They haven't tested themselves against a single Top 100 (per KenPom) team, no defenses ranked better than 140th. I'll get into all the minor details in the game preview, but on paper it looks like a fine matchup for us, assuming we're feeling alright after the big Thanksgiving road trip.
Seattle Hoo: Yes, you should be worried. StLou picked Wisconsin as his loss, but I’ve been concerned about Maryland from the beginning. Maryland, South Carolina and Marshall are the three OOC opponents I’ve had all along as the main loss risks. After watching Maryland against Marshall, that concern is greater than ever. Maryland may only have six guys but that’s all you need to win one game. Those six are really good. Cowan getting into the lane is a huge concern and could unravel our entire defense. Hopefully we will be at full strength, because we’re going to need everybody’s skills.
Maize: Regular season games don't worry me, not even the ones against Duke. This isn't about arrogantly thinking we're better than everyone, but frankly we're at the point now where, whatever matchup problems the enemy presents, 98% of the time we present harder ones.
Valentine: This is the matchup I have wanted since Maryland departed the ACC in the Big Ten money grab. Unlike most fans, I don't hate other teams. I grew up a fan of the ACC long before I went to UVa, and I have too many dear friends, including my father-in-law, who went to Tech to hold any animosity for VT. But Maryland, I now hate Maryland. They should be in the ACC and I should have many happy memories of Buck Williams, Lenny Bias and Juan Dixon competing on ACC hardwoods. Now, I just scorn them. I will always want Maryland, or Michigan State for that matter, in the ACC v B1G or in the NCAAs, so for me this is a game I have long desired.
But this year the game is of greater importance. We had three cupcakes to start the season, and while it was sweet to see Grant Kersey and Austin Katstra draining 3s, we've not had a marquee game yet that would incite the fan in me. Our Jamaica jaunt gave us the easiest slate of games of all the possibilities. And we haven't traveled to someone else's house. This game, with a Maryland team that has not been tested itself, would appear to rectify my concerns. This game will be our 19th ACC game of the year and Clark, and even Key to some degree, will get their baptism into big time college basketball. This game offers big time rewards with correspondingly meaningless risks in that if we lose, maybe we drop out of the Top 10. Big deal. This will be a fun game.