Thank you Brian for joining us to discuss this Saturday's game (3pm), which involves two teams moving in opposite directions as quickly as a UVA football fan heads for the exits early in the second quarter of another home loss. UVA has found solid footing in the ACC schedule, while VT has struggled with injuries, inconsistency, shaky coaching, and internal strife. Brian, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Let's begin.
GC: Looking over UVA's records since the early 1990s, it seems like the UVA coaches have had pockets of success throughout their tenures, but nobody is ever able to maintain excellence and take the UVA program to the next level. Jeff Jones, Pete Gillen, Dave Levitao all looked like they were on the verge of building something, before fading rapidly. Is there a common denominator here? Do you think Coach Tony Bennett will avoid the same fate?
STL: Fortunately for my psyche, but unfortunately for this Q and A, my Virginia fanhood began at the very tail end of Dave Leitao's tenure, so it's tough for me to attempt to speak to exactly what went wrong before that. But, suffice it to say, UVA basketball hasn't been able to win with any degree of consistency since Ralph Sampson.
However, Wahoo fans are almost universally optimistic about the future under Tony Bennett; not only have the past couple years been encouraging, but the years ahead look bright. Bennett doesn't need to be able to land 5-star recruits (though it would help); he coaches system teams and his system works. There's no evidence that he'll stop being able to recruit players that fit his scheme, and Bennett is a machine at putting out top-20 defenses. He's a perfect fit for the school, and now that the team is composed entirely of his recruits, we look to have a great shot at some sustained success. (In case you couldn't pick up on it, I am a huge Tony Bennett fan).
GC: So, what is keeping the UVA machine down in the rankings right now? The one 35 point loss to Tennessee? Wisconsin-Green Bay? The other three losses are elite level teams, with VCU, Wisconsin, and Duke. UVA is 39th (by votes) in the AP, and 31st (by votes) in the USA Today Coach's Poll. Considering RPI is presently #22, and the 'Hoos have eight money wins in their 14-5 record, how slighted does the UVA fan base feel right now?
STL: Receiving just one vote in the AP Poll was clearly a joke after the start we've had to conference play, especially considering our strong computer rankings (#13 in KenPom). I think the embarrassing Tennessee game has something to do with it, as do some of those early losses to VCU and Wisconsin. The national media was high on the Hoos in the preseason, UVA didn't meet expectations early on, and the voters are taking a while to give the team another chance.
I don't know if UVA fans are terribly offended. "Bemused" may be a better word. For one, lack of appreciation by the media is nothing new (Mike Scott's ACC POY candidacy comes to mind. Pacism is an ugly thing). And, while it would be nice to see that little number next to the team's name, polls at this point, and any point, are completely meaningless. We are saving our complaining for when the Committee snubs us during seeding.
GC: Looking down the barrel at the rest of the ACC schedule, and barring injuries, what do you think this team's ceiling is? Is there any way they collapse and fall out of the NCAAs? What seed do you think they can attain?
STL: Well Vegas does give us 75-1 odds of winning it all!
It's tough to put a "ceiling" when the culmination of the year is a short single elimination tournament, so I wont do it at the risk of you Hokies making fun of me. UVA hasn't won an NCAA tournament
game since Sean Singletary's time (and hasn't advanced to the semifinals of the ACC tourney since 1995). But this is a deep and well-coached team that has the potential to make a run. I would guess we'll be seeded somewhere between 4-7...I'll predict a 5-seed for now.
There's obviously a non-zero chance that something goes terribly wrong and we miss the Dance, but we're in good shape. UVA's strong RPI means that the team would have to finish 11-7 or worse to be in any danger of falling toward the bubble. I think our chances of finishing ACC play out better than 6-6 are, statistically, a lock, though we've had collapses before and injuries happen and we have bad luck and oh god let's stop talking about this.
GC: Joe Harris is just dreamy. Do you know what his favorite color is? And also does he like One Direction?
He is perfect in every way. Not sure about One Direction, but some internet research
reveals that the three artists getting play on his iPad are Drake, Miley Cyrus, and Avicii (OH MY GOD ME TOO)! His celebrity crush is listed here as Rachel McAdams, but in a video feature during the UNC game, he said it was Taylor Swift. Who is it Joe?!?!
GC: What are the odds that Wally Szczerbiak pulls a Tonya Harding on him because he is so much better of a Wally Szczerbiak than Wally Szczerbiak could ever be? If not, do you think Matt Harpring is waiting in line?
STL: The only name I recognize in this question is a figure skater, which is concerning. I hope nobody hurts Joe Harris ever. Heck, he sustained a concussion earlier this year when he collided with Akil Mitchell's knee, and fans will never forgive Mitchell ever. (Kidding, Akil!)
Editor's Note: I find it concerning as well, Brian! Rest assured though that Joe wasn't the first player who looked like he could front a boy band. I also forgot to ask if he liked unicorns. Luckily we play UVA again! Or actually, no, not lucky at all.
GC: Who is the 2nd most important player the Hokies need to contain outside of Joe Harris on Saturday?
: I'll go with redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon
, who leads the team in minutes played and has become increasingly important to keeping the offense flowing. After a slow start to the season, Brogdon has really settled into his role, averaging 14.5 ppg in ACC play and doing so efficiently. He's been our main threat to get to the rim off the dribble, and the emergence of this facet of his game has opened things up for the rest of the team as well. He's also a decent three-point shooter, a pretty good rebounder, and a 90% FT shooter (a lone bright spot on a team that's struggled from the line this year). Hokie fans may also remember him grabbing the last second steal, sealing UVA's 61-59 win in Blacksburg in 2012.
GC: What is your opinion on Justin Anderson? He was a VT lean and then a MD lean, and ultimately chose UVA. At times he looks exciting, but then in the same motion he does something dumb. His shot selection appears sketchy. Is he as mercurial as he appears. Could he make or break your season in the Spring? How important IS he truly?
STL: Anderson was actually a UMD commit until Gary Williams retired and Tony Bennett snagged him. Thank goodness. He is the kinda guy that Wahoo fans love, and other fans will hate; obviously, I'm in the former category.
I'd have to disagree with "he does something dumb," because I can't think of any recent instances of boneheaded play. Justin is the definition of an "energy guy" off the bench. He's a freak athlete that flies around the gym, diving for balls and calling for alley-oops. But he also is a heady, team-oriented player that Tony Bennett seems to have reigned in enough to fit his system, while also giving him the freedom to do his thing on offense. I think the freedom to sometimes take an ill-advised mid-range jumper when he's feeling it is important to the flow of his game.
Justin's biggest impact is on the defensive side of the ball, where he often takes on the opponent's best player, whether he's a point guard or a center (he held Alex Len
to 9 points in College Park last year despite giving up 7 inches).
I don't think Anderson's role allows him to be a guy that I would circle as making or breaking the season, at least compared to the Joe Harrises or Akil Mitchells of the world. But he has the potential to make a significant impact, whether he's igniting the team with a big dunk or coming in to guard an opponent who can't miss.
Editor's Note: Something dumb refers to the sketchy shot selection and usage rate of Anderson. He makes just 41.6% from the field and has the highest turnover rate on the team in almost 100 less total minutes than Brogdon. He reminds me of a shorter Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks). I felt I needed to clarify because the original question was lazy.
GC: UVA owns the series vs the Hokies, but not so much since they became twice a year dance partners in the ACC, only leading 11-8 since 2005. Of course that included two blowout losses last season, as Bennett completely befuddled Jame Johnson's patented Run Around and Play offense. Be honest, do you envision more of the same this Saturday? Another 20-ish point UVA victory?
STL: Yeah, I think we'll win, and 20-ish points seems to be a fair estimate. I do think the Hokies will come out playing hard, and hang in for the first part of the game. Five of VPI's six ACC games were decided by under 10 points, and the other was a game against Syracuse that was close into the second half. Tech's a decent three-point shooting team, and I suspect the Hokies will play the three-point lottery early and often.
So, I think UVA doesn't grab a giant lead early, as we did against FSU (twice), Wake, and NC State. It may be closer to the UNC win, when the teams battled for the first 15 minutes, before the Hoos took control before halftime.
Anything could happen. The 2012 game at JPJ, when an 0-4 VT team beat a red-hot Virginia squad in a weird 47-45 game, is fresh in my mind. But yeah, we'll win, and since I am terrified about this game being close for too long, please don't let it be close.
I'll call it 70-48 UVA.
Editor's Note: In the Q&A I completed for Streaking the Lawn yesterday, I had picked 67-45 UVA. You can view it on Streaking the Lawn tomorrow.
GC: Did you know that our two guard is a walk-on, and our PG is likely to play 40 minutes again because we have no back-court depth? Does that change your stance?
STL: Did I say 20ish points? That should read 40ish.
Editor's Note: It might.
GC: With the football schedule just released, does Mike London even make it to the Black Friday rivalry game? Do you believe in the power of "The Decade of Dominance" and it's ability to sustain through another generation of middle schoolers?
STL: I am truly embarrassed to struggle so mightily against a school with one of the weakest athletics departments in any major conference (yes, I am about to play the "empty trophy case" card). I do think London coaches this game, not because he did such a good job, but because we'll probably wait until after the season to sack him. Maybe we'll win this one, maybe we'll lose, but you guys best enjoy it while it lasts. These things are cyclical, and one day we'll be back in the driver's seat in the football side of this rivalry. Hopefully that day is during my lifetime.
Final Editor's Note: Yes, a lifetime might be described as a cycle in it's own right.
Good luck to UVA the rest of the season. Though I doubt they'll need it because they are superbly coached and they are finding the right talent for the system. Since I primarily cover the basketball team, at least for this season, I am supremely jealous of what's going on in Charlottesville with the basketball program.