Today we bring your Part II of this 3-part series previewing Tony Bennett's 2009-10 campaign. This part takes a look at our out-of-conference schedule and makes a few predictions. Admittedly, I took a couple sips of the Orange Kool-Aid prior to writing this, but nothing too crazy -- no binge drinking here, because binge drinking is never the answer, kids. But I digress. Find out which eight teams I summarily dismissed, after the jump.
Out of Conference
Longwood, South Florida, Rider, Oral Roberts, Stanford, Kentucky (or Cleveland State), Penn State, Auburn, UNC Wilmington, NJIT, Hampton, UAB, and Texas Pan-American. So goes our first thirteen games of the season. Of those thirteen games, only Cleveland State made the tournament last year, and we only maybe might play them. So I would say that our out-of-conference schedule, for the most part, is looking weak.
I know what you’re saying. Penn State won the NIT championship last year! And don’t get me wrong. I am of the camp that the NIT champion is much better than just being the 66th team in the country. But they also lost three seniors, the backbone of their team. And we will not be the ACC’s downfall in the challenge against the Big Ten. Win.
Fans will notice that all of our out-of-conference games are coming at the beginning of the season this year. This differs from Dave Leitao’s approach, as he would usually sneak in an in-state out of conference game in the middle of the ACC schedule, around mid January. I can see the merits in both approaches: Dave’s way allows the boys a little breather in the middle of what is otherwise usually a ruthless stretch. On the other hand, Tony’s method gives the boys as much prep time as possible to fine tune their game, so that they are bringing their absolute A-game come conference time.
Alright, so to get right down to it, Longwood, USF, Rider, Oral Roberts, UNC-W, NJIT, Hampton and Texas Pan-American are all terrible. Go ahead and put those 8 in the W column. They were a combined 95-152, with only Longwood (17-14), Rider (19-13) and Oral Roberts (16-15) posting winning records.
Stanford and Kentucky/Cleveland State will be the first real challenges for UVA, I think. Win both of these, and brace yourselves for a pretty magical season. Stanford has only 2 returners, with Landry Fields (12.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, .498 FG) as the lone starting senior. Last year they made a semifinals run in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), reaching the same place UVA did two years ago. It’ll be tough, but I think that we would be able to win this one.
Then comes the winner of Kentucky/Cleveland State. Let’s be honest here. Kentucky will win that one easily. Kentucky returns three of its starters and also has a new head coach at the helm – none other than John Calipari. We’ve seen what Calipari had done with Memphis and there’s no reason to question whether he’d be able to do the same at Kentucky. Oh and by the way, Kentucky’s Blue Ribbon Analysis has As across the board – backcourt, bench, frontcourt and intangibles. Let’s be conservative and say this is a loss.
In case we lose to Stanford, we would likely play Cleveland State. With all due respect to Cleveland State, they were tied for third in the Horizon League. Cleveland State returns 2 starters this year in guard Norris Cole (13.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and small forward D'Aundray Brown (7.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Cole is good. Very good. In the six games against BCS opponents he shot 46% from the field. Not too shabby. The Vikings are going to be a relatively young team, as they lose four seniors total, and they’re not going to be able to adequately replace Cedric Jackson and J'Nathan Bullock. I predict a win in this case. (Therefore, we’d walk away from Cancun with a 1-1 record either way. If Cleveland State beats Kentucky then clearly I’ve grossly underestimated them and we’ll probably lose in that case, still making it 1-1.)
The last two teams are Auburn and UAB. Auburn went 10-6 in the SEC last year but still didn’t make the tournament because the SEC was flat out terrible. They lose three of their starters, have no frontcourt, but have a decent backcourt. Their freshmen seem like they’re built ready to do get the job done, and this game is on the road. Last year, we lost in Charlottesville 58-56. I question whether we’ll be able to keep up with DeWayne Reed, and so I’m going to stay conservative and call a L here.
Even though UAB went 22-12 last year, 11-5 in a pretty respectable C-USA, they lost four senior starters, and even their coach seems unsure as to their future. "I'm excited about putting this team together, but there's uncertainty," Head Coach Mike Davis said. "I'm just as puzzled as anyone. But I know we're not going to be 12th [in C-USA]; I can tell you that." But UAB is tricky. They used the obscure NCAA rule that says that you can have someone transfer to your school in a graduate program that wasn’t offered in his previous school and immediately play the final year of eligibility. With this, Daves picked up two new experienced guys in Vanderbilt guard George Drake (5.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.2 apg) and Louisiana Tech big man Kenny Cooper (11.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg). They’ve got a lot of decent- to sub-par players next year and ultimately, I just don’t think they’ll be that good. Victory.
With that, I think we’ll finish out the out-of-conference schedule at 11-2. I would love to hear your comments on this.