Up until very recently, I firmly believed that Leitao was rebuilding the Virginia basketball program back to its old heights. Maybe I’m late to this party, but I now am worried about whether Dave Leitao is going to achieve the sort of success at Virginia that we were expecting and that will keep him from being fired eventually. And this worry comes from my own observations of the program and from some recent writings about the team, especially this superb article (sub. req.) by Kris Wright about the offensive struggles.
Virginia’s basketball teams have consistently been poor on offense. Aside from the year that Leitao actually had two consistent scoring threats (the 2007 tandem of Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds), the offense is often best described as being of the pass-around-the-key-til-someone-bricks-a-three variety. Watching the FSU loss, I felt like I was taking in a movie I’d seen for the 10th time, like one of those comedies that TBS ends up showing nonstop. Only I’m not laughing. Supposedly, Leitao is running something called the “motion offense” (sub. req.) that involves something that Virginia’s players don’t do well: moving around! Of course, it’s more than that — poor passing, poor shooting, poor everything at times. But, overall, his players often fail to execute the motion offense’s fundamentals. Thus, this is year four of the Leitao era, and his program still hasn’t established the basics of his own offense. Young players, veteran players, guards, forwards, it doesn’t matter. Virginia’s offense remains stagnate.
My tentative conclusion: something is wrong with the way Leitao is teaching his offense. His players, year after year, simply aren’t getting it.
Further proof can be seen in Leitao’s inconsistent rotations. Ben Allaire has some observations on how the rotation is all over the place. Some of that can be blamed on the players’ inconsistencies or a futile search for a rotation that makes sense. Or perhaps Leitao believes that some players match-up better against different opponents, thus altering playing time accordingly. Or maybe he’s trying to outsmart the other coach with some surprises. Regardless, coaches of successful teams have set rotations that they can count on. Leitao doesn’t have that, and this speaks to the players’ inabilities and inexperience, but perhaps (and this is the “worried” part) also to Leitao’s failings in deploying his offense.
As a result, I wonder if Leitao needs his own Gregg Brandon. Al Groh finally saw the light and decided to bring in a new offensive mastermind to breathe life into an offense that has struggled season after season, regardless of the players, allowing Groh to focus more on his specialty of defense. Sound familiar?
One last related worry: Kris Wright’s article (sub. req.) on this really being year one is concerning. It makes sense: Leitao had success earlier than expected because of Sean and J.R., and the real “year one” is happening now. However, the beauty of having “year one” during the first season of a coach’s tenure is that subsequent improvements build momentum that can lead to sustained growth. Having a few seasons of early success that are interrupted by rebuilding season halts that momentum. In addition, the impression from the outside (recruits, fans, reporters) is that the program is in decline, rather than the other way around. Thus, even if Leitao could figure out the offense (with the help of an expert), I’m officially worried that the out-of-sequence nature of his coaching run might not lend itself to the sort of sustained improvement needed to rebuild the program, or the type of rising goodwill from fans, recruits, and the media that gives a coach the time and tools for that rebuilding.