What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: Brian Schwartz at Streaking the Lawn, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things Virginia.
1) How surprised were you that the Cavaliers didn't make the NCAA Tournament field? You did well in the ACC (11-7, tied for 4th), won 21 games, and had a lot of love from KenPom. On the other hand, you also seemed to be consistently on the bubble in the "Last Four In" or "First Four Out" categories. Iowa was in much the same boat, although probably a little bit farther out on the bubble. Do you join us in lamenting the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's obsessive reliance on RPI, seemingly above all else?
Surprised? Not really. We felt confident after beating Duke, but then lost 2 of 3 down the stretch (at BC and FSU). The consensus was a first round ACC tourney win over NC State would put us in, but a loss would keep us out, and that's what happened.
While mainly bummed that the team didn't take care of business on the road to finish the year, we are 100% with you on RPI. We don't have to tell you how silly the whole system is; hopefully, we do a better job of gaming it in the future so our respective teams never again end up with the biggest gaps between RPI and reality. I know UVA is good enough to be a tournament team, and I think we should have been selected. However, if ones emphasizes the arbitrary and flawed metrics that the Committee does (RPI, road record, non-conference SOS), the argument becomes tougher.
2) What were the preseason expectations for Virginia heading into this season? Was it NCAA-or-bust this year, or did things unfold along the lines that you all expected?
"NCAA or bust" definitely wasn't our view. Optimistic fans thought we had a shot at the Big Dance this season, but this was a team picked to finish 7th in the ACC this season after losing the great Mike Scott, who did everything for last year's NCAA Tournament team, to the NBA. It would've been quite an accomplishment to return to the tournament with a five-man first-year class, all of whom logged starts this season, and unfortunately we fell just short.
I think a major factor easing the disappointment of the NIT is early excitement about next season. We lose offensively-challenged PG Jontel Evans, but return everyone else; additionally, we have two players who redshirted this year (one transferred in, the other was hurt) who will be major contributors and two fairly promising guards coming in. Look out, ACC.
3) How do you explain Virginia's home/away splits this year? The Cavs are riding a 19-game home winning streak, which includes wins over North Carolina, Duke, and North Carolina State -- that's impressive. On the other hand, the only road wins you had were at Virginia Tech and Maryland and you lost away games to Clemson, Boston College, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech, all of whom finished near the bottom of the league. What gives?
It's pretty tough to figure, and I am sure Hawkeye fans are asking the same question. Home teams did win 69% of ACC games this season, and, considering our youth, I would expect an even more pronounced home-away split. There was probably some bad luck involved (we have road ACC losses by 3,6,4,1, and 2 points). But this is definitely a team that has fed off the crowd at JPJ, while struggling to maintain the same intensity and focus on the road (though we did win at Wisconsin)! Ultimately, that's a big reason why we are playing in the NIT.
Note that our sole home loss was to Delaware in the preliminary round of the Preseason NIT. Thus, we ended up playing Lamar and North Texas at home rather than KSU and Pitt/Michigan at MSG, which brutalized our RPI. Because of that loss, we are once again playing for a shot at MSG. It'd be funny if it weren't so depressing.
4) Iowa fans aren't too familiar with Virginia's roster, so give us a quick breakdown. Who are the best players? Who's a less-heralded guy who could be a difference-maker in the game?
Joe Harris is the man. Despite a bit of a late season swoon after putting up 36 points versus Duke, the major focus of Iowa's defensive game plan will be trying to stop the first team All-ACC junior. Harris shoots 43% from behind the arc, but is also quite athletic and has developed a diverse offensive game. He'll dribble through traffic and draw contact, knock down mid-range jumpers, and use screens perfectly to find his shots.
In the frontcourt, look out for Akil Mitchell, who made third-team All-ACC and should have been on the all-defensive team. He's a consistent inside scorer and one of the conference's better rebounders. Akil will take the majority of the time playing the "5" alongside 6'11" first-year Mike Tobey (who has a pretty advanced offensive game for his age).
Freshman Justin Anderson has had the potential to be an "x-factor" for us this season. He brings a ton of energy and is ultra-athletic. Anderson's playing time has been increasing all year, and he scored a career-high 18 points against St. John's. Fans love the guy. Yes, we play slow, but it's tough to agree with media criticizing the team for being "boring" when Justin is blocking shots and throwing down dunks. He's also the team's best passer.
For completeness, our other two starters will be Jontel Evans and Paul Jesperson. Evans is a senior point guard who plays great defense but isn't much of an offensive threat. Look for Iowa to sag far off of him, as Evans is a decent slasher but has zero ability to hit a jumper. Jesperson is a good defender and a fine three-point shooter (38%), but doesn't play a huge role in the offense.
5) Obligatory realignment question: what are your thoughts about the looming membership shake-ups for the ACC? Will you miss Maryland after they depart? Are you excited about Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Pitt joining next year (and Louisville in 2014)? Nervous? Is the ACC going to become the dominant force in college basketball again?
Will we miss Maryland? Imagine you lived in a nice house but it was infested with rodents. Then one day they decided to pack up and leave (and then paid your family 50 million dollars for your trouble). Would you be upset?
I am not a huge fan of expansion in general - I'd much prefer the "old-school" 9-team ACC. But it looks like this is a necessary evil, and I am glad we have found a sense of stability. We could have done a LOT worse than adding these four programs. And hey, maybe one day we'll end up as conference rivals in the Big Ten! (That is a joke...I hope).
The ACC looks REALLY tough in basketball next season. I would hope that next year's UVA team could compete for a conference title, but it'll be a tall task with Pitt and Cuse in the mix too. I guess that's how you guys feel in the Big Ten. The ACC and B1G should be far and away the two premier conferences next season.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
Through my orange and blue glasses, I don't think we lose this one. I have a ton of respect for this Iowa team, which I think is probably the second-best (yes, after us) in the 32 team field. Because of that, I am really glad we get this one at home, where we are expecting a very spirited crowd, rather than in a potential MSG matchup.
Home-court makes the difference in a 60-56 UVA win. Good luck guys, looking forward to a great game!
Thanks for being a good sport, Brian. You can check out Brian and the rest of the StL crew at Streaking the Lawn. You can also follow him on Twitter at @BSchwartzUVA and StL at @TheUVAFool. The Iowa-Virginia game is in Charlottesville on Wednesday, March 27 at 6:00pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN2.