Yup, next week. Virginia basketball is only a week and change away, which means our focus slowly shifts that direction. Today and next week, we have player previews for your perusal and entertainment. They come with one sizable caveat: there are three scholarship upperclassmen on this team, and younger players are that much harder to figure. Especially the freshmen. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Twelve scholarship players mean we can split it neatly up into six today and six next week. Not a lot to say about the walkons. There is this: with point guard being so ridiculously thin at the moment, Doug Browman could be called on to chip in. Recruited walk-on Justin Miller is also a possibility, but Miller hasn't played competitive basketball in years and the learning curve will be steep. Otherwise, don't expect a major role.
On with the show:
#1 - Jontel Evans - Sr. PG
Fortunately, we start with an easy one to get me in the groove here. Evans is the only scholarship senior, and you know by now what he brings. As the senior point guard, this is basically his team now. Which he'll have to watch from the sideline for at least the first game of the season, as he recovers from a surgically repaired broken foot.
When he returns, the show is his. He'll be a 32-minute player, more in big games. He plays that aggressive and highly effective on-ball defense, and he's become a very physically strong player. He's a better shooter now than he's been given credit for; a .479 percentage on two-pointers is not bad. Mostly that comes from going to the rim; the jump shot is streaky and he doesn't fire from three. Not doing that, and not being a great free throw shooter, prevent him from being a top-flight point guard. A .621 FT% mean that with the game close late, having the ball in his hands can be dicey, but Virginia will have no other choice.
The Hoos won't need Evans to be a go-to scorer, though. His 7.3 ppg from last year are good enough; if he tries to press and do too much in that area, it'll detract from the offense. He's a good facilitator and knows where to find open teammates. What they really need most, though, is his veteran presence and a steady hand on the court. Like Mike Scott did, Evans needs to channel his emotions positively, and it'll translate to team success.
#2 - Paul Jesperson - So. SG
The plan was for Jesperson to redshirt last year, and when the transfers got too heavy and Tony had to take the wraps off, you could see why. Very few of the minutes Jesperson played last year were good ones. He had his moments, including and especially a big-league white-boy-can-jump slam dunk against Duke, in Cameron. That was cool.
Most of the time, though, he was a fish out of water, and it was obvious. And it affected his shot, which was supposed to be his calling card and looked more like a brick machine. The result was an astoundingly bad KenPom O-rating of 68.8. Anything in the 80s and you're talking about an obvious offensive liability; the 60s are, like, incomprehensible.
That makes this a very, very important season for Jesperson. One thing Virginia has in long supply is swingmen. Jesperson has a leg up in that he's seen plenty of minutes, but he needs to put that experience to good use this year. Guys like Evan Nolte and Justin Anderson will eat into his minutes, hard, and eventually push him out of the rotation, if he doesn't at least knock down jump shots, which is what he was recruited to do. The rotation is probably not too settled right now, which gives Jesperson a window of opportunity. If he takes advantage, Virginia will have a guy who can keep defenses honest off the bench, open up space down below with his shot, and chip in some rebounding. There were some encouraging results in this regard during the August trip to Europe, so we'll see.
#4 - Taylor Barnette - Fr. G
Barnette was a late addition to the 2012 recruiting class; Tony Bennett went looking for depth after watching the magical disappearing depth chart of 2012, and found it in a guy who is guaranteed to have his name confused with that of his coach fairly often. Barnette had asked out of a Central Florida commitment, on account of upcoming NCAA banhammer. Anyway, Barnette could play the point some, a possibility being somewhat extensively brought up what with the point guard crunch we have going now. In fact, with Evans and Malcolm Brogdon both very likely to miss the GMU game, and Teven Jones suspended for it, Barnette looks like one of the primary options.
In a perfect world, though - that is, one with point guard options at our disposal - Barnette is a two guard. He's not real likely to make a big splash this season, unless he opens up a surprise can of whoopass on George Mason and sticks at point guard. More likely he takes fringe rotation minutes at most, while the coaches evaluate how best to use him. You can never discount any incoming freshman entirely, but Barnette was toward the back of the rotation in Europe, which is a likely preview of the regular season.
#5 - Teven Jones - Fr. PG
One great way to blow your chance at playing your way into the rotation is to get yourself suspended for the one game where your team is desperate for your services. NOT SMART
Mini-rant out of the way, Jones is of course squarely in the mix for point guard minutes, and it's not like he's blown his whole career since this entire year is an audition for the post-Bub Evans era. Of the candidates, Jones is expected to be one of the better defenders of the bunch, and of course half a year of practice with the team will hopefully prove invaluable when it comes to learning Tony's demanding system.
As far as playing the point, that is probably going to be his biggest hurdle, as he was mainly a two-guard in high school, and didn't play much of a season for Fishburne post-grad. He's a well-rounded offensive player with a solid shot, handle, etc., generally a well-balanced, physical player who sounds awfully like Jontel Evans, Jr. if he lives up to his potential.
#10 - Mike Tobey - Fr. C
I wrote that post almost two years ago. That is why I hate basketball recruiting. Anyway. One theme with a lot of the freshmen like Jones, Barnette, Evan Nolte, etc., is that we can guess and wonder all we want and nobody really knows how many minutes they'll get this season. Not even the coaches, I bet. Not so with Tobey. He's the only guy bigger than 6'8" on the roster. He gonna play.
And the fun truth is that he just oozes potential. He's added almost 20 pounds since we checked in on him with that commitment post, and about five years to his face. He was sixteen at the time and didn't look old enough for a learner's permit. Now he's a legit big man and should open some eyes this season with a scoring touch. Not to overdo the exciteyness, but the big thing for the coaches will be to manage his minutes so he doesn't burn out by mid-February. If he's as good as advertised, the temptation will be to lean on him for 30 a night, because when he comes out the lineup suddenly gets really small inside. Too much of that and you can watch his production spiral down the drain late in the season. Asking a freshman to bang around the middle with the ACC's best big men night in and night out for entire games is asking for it.
Better that he go for about 20 minutes on average. If all goes well, this guy is one of our biggest building blocks. (Yes, literally and figuratively, smart guy.) But not only that, he's one of the most important pieces this season; he's the only center we've got, and there basically is no interior game otherwise since Mike Scott isn't walking through that door. Keep him healthy.
#11 - Evan Nolte - Fr. SF
One of the big-timest recruits Bennett has brought into the program. Period. Nolte comes to us from the hoops hotbed of Atlanta and had offers from some pretty damn good basketball programs. He's one of the tallest players on the team, but he's not a power forward type that you can expect to see banging on the block with post moves. What he is, is a tall scorer. One of the kind of guys that, if he realizes his potential, makes opposing coaches curse the unfairness of it all for making them come up with ways to try and defend him. Nolte brings a shooter's reputation and will just loft it over shorter players' heads.
In Europe this August, though, he displayed the inconsistency you expect out of freshmen. Double digit points one day and a disappearing act the next. He doesn't have a fully-developed arsenal of moves; that will come with time. I think you can expect the Europe trip to be a microcosm of the season; I fully expect a 15-18 point game out of him at some point, as well as a 1-for-9 night sometime in the depths of January. But he'll get every chance to prove himself, because he's the kind of player who can just make a mess of someone's game plan.
Next week: our best player, our ghost, our versatility, our pirated loot, and our X-factors.
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