With Virginia basketball season closing in rapidly, excitement is growing at a similar rate. Cavalier fans can’t wait to see this year’s group as the program tries to secure its fifth straight NCAA Tournament bid. To get there, the Hoos have to handle a strong schedule once again.
Where could some of the pitfalls be during this year’s campaign? As you read below, remember that this isn’t just a breakdown of tough opponents and strength of schedule. It doesn’t even mention the two rivalry games with Virginia Tech or other big ACC challenges like the regular season finale with Notre Dame after all. Instead, it’s a look at some potentially tricky spots on the schedule.
Let’s get to it.
Early Start Times Early Season
Friday, Nov. 17 @ VCU, 4 p.m. + Sunday, Nov. 19 vs. Monmouth, 1 p.m.
Two early start times within the first two weeks of the season could be challenging. VCU is reloading under new coach Mike Rhoades as the Rams lost four of their top six scorers from a year ago, but the Siegel Center gets loud and could be an early test for younger players stepping into bigger roles. Monmouth, meanwhile, won 27 games last season but lost two games to end an otherwise great season in the NIT. The Hawks were picked third in the MAAC, but a short turnaround from the VCU game on a Sunday afternoon will require a lot of focus and energy against a team that’s well prepared by coach King Rice.
Thanksgiving in Brooklyn
Thursday, Nov. 23 vs. Vanderbilt, 4 p.m. + Friday, Nov. 24 vs. Seton Hall/Rhode Island, 7:30 or 9:45 p.m.
The NIT Season Tip-Off takes UVA to Brooklyn for Thanksgiving. Another early start time of 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day could be a test, particularly against Vanderbilt. The Commodores were in the NCAA Tournament last season with six Top 100 wins. The Hoos will play either Seton Hall or Rhode Island the next day, a pair of teams that also made it into March Madness a year ago. The Pirates have three senior 1,000-point scorers back as starters, including center Angel Delgado, who led the nation in rebounding a year ago. The Rams also can start three seniors and are a threat to win the Atlantic 10.
Regardless, these holiday week tournaments can be tricky in general. Remember the 2014-2015 Virginia team started the season 19-0, but trailed Rutgers 18-17 at the half in the Barclays Center Classic before winning the second half by 20 points.
Monday, Nov. 27 vs. Wisconsin, 9 p.m.
Playing a third game in five days will be a test regardless, but doing it against a Wisconsin team that makes things difficult both mentally and physically will be even tougher. Unlike the opponents in Brooklyn, the Badgers don’t figure to start a senior for what will be their first true road game of the year. Still, junior center Ethan Happ is a handful and he’s started every game in his career to date. Plus, Wisconsin figures to have shooters to challenge the Pack-Line.
Tuesday, Dec. 5 @ West Virginia, 7 p.m. + Saturday, Dec. 16 vs. Davidson, 2 p.m.
If a team hasn’t caught your attention yet, West Virginia probably will. The Mountaineers have finished second to Kansas in back-to-back seasons in the Big 12. They also took UVA through the meat grinder with their press in a 66-57 win in Charlottesville last season. Jevon Carter is back to lead WVU, which has a lot to replace, a suspension (Esa Ahmad) to deal with, and a young interior. Still, this should be a tough test in a challenging environment.
After going through the rest of the exam break without games, the Hoos return from the layoff against a Davidson team that is always a tough cover with Bob McKillop’s offense creating spacing and shooting to challenge your defensive discipline. Five players return that logged at least 16 starts a year ago, including Peyton Aldridge and his 20.5 points per game, but the Wildcats do have to replace scoring dynamo Jack Gibbs after he scored 22.1 points per game. Will the layoff for exams create any big issues in this one?
Another Long Layoff Game, Part I
Saturday, Dec. 30 vs. Boston College, 2 p.m.
The Hoos get conference play started before New Year’s Day again when BC comes to Charlottesville. The Eagles won’t be the most daunting ACC team to come to town after being picked 14th out of 15 teams in the preseason conference rankings. Still, there’s an eight-day layoff before this one so the Hoos will be challenged to be sharp before settling into a more regular routine for most of the league schedule otherwise. Boston College will be in the same boat with a seven-day break before this road trip.
A Tough Stretch
Thursday, Jan. 18 @ Georgia Tech, 8 p.m. + Sunday, Jan. 21 @ Wake Forest, 6 p.m. + Tuesday, Jan. 23 vs. Clemson, 7 p.m., + Saturday, Jan. 27 @ Duke, 2 p.m.
This little segment jumped off the schedule page with four games in nine days with three road trips among them. The first game of the quartet is in Atlanta against GT. The Yellow Jackets made a run to the NIT final in Josh Pastner’s first season. Tech returns Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie, while it also adds a big freshman class. Virginia follows that up with a trip to Wake Forest, a place that it never plays all that well even if a banked in 3-pointer rescued one such trip in recent memory. Yes, the Demon Deacons lose a lot in the frontcourt with both John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou gone, but they have some projected guards with Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods among them.
After that double dip on the road, UVA faces a short turnaround with Clemson coming to Charlottesville just two days later. The Tigers are projected 13th in the ACC as Brad Brownell gets at least one more chance to guide the club. At least the Hoos won’t have to deal with consistent thorn in the side Jaron Blossomgame, who finished his career last season. Following the game with Clemson, the Cavaliers head to Duke and Cameron Indoor Stadium. The preseason ACC favorite is loaded all over the roster and causes scheme challenges for the Pack-Line Defense regardless of who is in those spots. Throw in the fact that is at the end of this tough stretch and this one will be a tall order on the schedule.
Another Long Layoff Game, Part II
Wednesday, Feb. 21 vs. Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.
The second go-round with Pastner’s team comes at the end of an eight-day break between games at an odd time in the schedule. Unlike the choppiness of December with exams and holidays, the team should have found a rhythm at this point so will the days off do some good or cause a rough game on the back end? Either way, the Yellow Jackets have their top three scorers back in Okogie, Lammers, and Tadric Jackson.