Should Mike Tobey see more time for #2 UVA?
Seven-footer Mike Tobey can carry second-ranked UVA, like he did early in the 76-27 win over Harvard on Dec. 21 when he scored the Cavs’ first nine points to fuel the early run that set the tone for that blowout win.
Tobey, a junior, scored 14 on 6-of-9 shooting in the 89-80 double-OT win at Miami, 11 in each of the Cavs’ wins over N.C. State, 14 points in the win on the road at Maryland, had 13 points and 16 rebounds in the November win over Tennessee State.
But Tobey doesn’t always fit into coach Tony Bennett’s plans. He averages 18.3 minutes per game on the season, but in three of Virginia’s last four games, the wins over #9 Louisville, Wake Forest and Pitt, Tobey didn’t get more than 14 minutes, despite shooting an aggregate 9-of-12 from the field and pulling down eight rebounds (in 41 total minutes).
His numbers suggest that he is effective overall. Tobey scores 7.7 points per game and pulls down 5.3 rebounds per game, shooting 52.4 percent from the field, and 74.5 percent from the line. His offensive efficiency rating (115.8) ranks third on the team (behind Justin Anderson, at 125.2, and Anthony Gill, at 122.3), and he’s the team’s best overall rebounder (second in offensive rebounding percentage, to Gill, and second in defensive rebounding percentage, to Darion Atkins).
And yet frontcourt-mates Gill (24.3 minutes per game) and Atkins (23.0 minutes per game) get more time on the floor, and freshman Isaiah Wilkins (9.5 minutes per game) has been stealing minutes in the post away with his emergence of late.
Why might that be? One thing the analytical stats can’t measure well is how a player fits into a team’s defensive scheme. As effective as Tobey is rebounding and blocking shots (0.8 per game, second on the team), he can still be a liability against quicker fours and fives in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations.
Case in point: Virginia’s 61-60 win over Wake Forest last weekend. Wake has a scary good 6’10” freshman sharpshooter, Dinos Mitoglou, a classic stretch four who ate up Tobey on pick-and-pops, to a point where Bennett only used Tobey for five minutes in the second half against the Demon Deacons, and didn’t use the big man at all in the final 6:12.
Tobey’s +/- for the Wake game was -3, suggesting that his eight points on 3-of-4 shooting in his 14 minutes made up for his deficiencies on defense to some degree.
That +/- statline is an interesting one for Tobey defenders. He was +8 in 13 minutes against Pitt on Monday (four points on 2-of-4 shooting, two rebounds), +3 in 29 minutes in the win at N.C. State last week (11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, nine rebounds), -2 in 13 minutes in the Feb. 7 home win over Louisville (nine points on 4-of-4 shooting, four rebounds), and +15 in 19 minutes in the win at UNC on Feb. 2 (eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, two rebounds).
All told, Tobey is +21 in the past five games, all UVA wins, which the team won by a collective margin of +33.
What do these numbers suggest? This is where conjecture takes over. One could argue that Bennett is managing Tobey’s minutes well considering his defensive liabilities and maximizing his contributions while limiting his exposure to unfavorable defensive matchups. It could also be argued looking at the +/- numbers relative to his overall offensive efficiency and rebounding numbers, in particular, that Tobey has a good bit more to offer Virginia on the offensive end, at a time – with Anderson still out recovering from surgery on a broken finger, when the Cavs need all they can get on the offensive end – and that he might not be the liability defensively that he might seem to be from a simple eye test.
Don’t be surprised to see Tobey get more minutes Sunday night at home against Florida State, given the Seminoles’ height and lack of a stretch four that can force Tobey into those unfavorable matchups with a mobile big on the perimeter.
But then a rematch with Wake Forest looms on Wednesday, and then Virginia Tech is next, in Charlottesville on Saturday, and Buzz Williams forced Bennett to go small in the teams’ first meeting in Blacksburg, going to four- and five-guard lineups to mitigate UVA’s size advantage, in a game in which Tobey played just 13 minutes (four points, 2-of-4 shooting, two rebounds).
In the end, it might be that you just say Bennett has a good problem on his hands. Gill, rated the ninth-best player in the nation by KenPom, is also fighting for minutes in the post, and sometimes finds himself the odd man out depending on matchups and foul issues.
With Atkins serving as this team’s Akil Mitchell, the 2014 graduate who was the Cavs’ defensive stopper in the post, and Wilkins offering solid minutes as a fourth option, the post rotation should be fresh heading into March.
That said, it would be nice to see Tobey in a position to offer his team more minutes and more productivity along the lines of what the numbers seem to suggest he can do.
– Column by Chris Graham