After taking some heat over a soft out-of-conference slate last season, Tony Bennett has bolstered this year's schedule. Not only do the Hoos get some marquee matchups with teams that should be ranked, but they do a good job of avoiding the "RPI-killer" cupcakes that hurt computer numbers. Remember, according to the RPI, beating the #1 team in the nation and the #300 team in the nation is treated approximately the same as beating two #150 teams, though the first feat is undoubtedly more impressive. The idea, therefore, is to load up on games against those mediocre teams, who we will most likely beat, and avoid the real bottom of the barrel.
First, below is a quick run down of what the schedule looks like, with last season's final KenPom ranking noted. Then, we'll take a closer game-by-game look.
Virginia 2012-2013 Out-of-Conference Basketball Schedule
|Date||Opponent||Time||2011-2012 KenPom ranking|
|Fri.||Nov. 9||at George Mason||7:00 PM||106|
|Mon.||Nov. 12||Fairfield||7:00 PM||100|
|Tue.||Nov. 13||Delaware/Penn||7:00 PM||166 / 137|
|Wed.||Nov. 21||Preseason NIT Semifinal (Kansas State?)||7:00 PM or 9:30 PM||22?|
|Fri.||Nov. 23||Preseason NIT Final (Michigan / Pitt?)||2:30 PM or 4:30 PM||29/63?|
|Wed.||Nov. 28||at Wisconsin||7:00 PM||5|
|Sat.||Dec. 1||Green Bay||TBD||180|
|Sat.||Dec. 8||Mississippi Valley State||TBD||257|
|Wed.||Dec. 19||Morgan State||TBD||268|
|Sat.||Dec. 22||vs. Old Dominion (Richmond)||TBD||99|
The Most Important Games of the Season - The NIT Season Tip-Off:
If the Hoos want to be considered for the NCAA Tournament come March, there are no single games more important than the early season matchups against Fairfield and then (hopefully) the winner of Delaware vs. Penn at JPJ. How could this be? First, Fairfield and Delaware are both solid teams with the potential to show up as top-100 RPI wins at the end of the season. But more important is the implications, as both games are part of the first-round of the Preseason NIT.
With wins in these two preliminary games, the Hoos would head to Madison Square Garden for two more games, most likely against Kansas State, Michigan, and/or Pitt. This would give the Hoos two chances at marquee out-of-conference wins, while still boosting RPI if the games ended up as "good losses." As a bonus, the team would pick up the more intangible benefits of matchups in the World's Most Famous Arena and national TV coverage.
However, if UVA fails to advance from its initial pod, it would be stuck with two consolation matchups against the likes of Alabama-Huntsville, Robert Morris, Fordham, and IUPUI. While not all of the teams are complete cupcakes, some are (IUPUI). Alabama-Huntsville, as a D-II team, wouldn't count in RPI calculations, but wouldn't show as a win either. The missed opportunity would sting most of all.
Bottom line: The Hoos need to make the most of their preseason tournament experience.
@ Wisconsin: We all know that UVA plays slow, coming in at 338 out of 345 in KenPom's adjusted tempo rankings. The Badgers are, you guessed it, number 345. This "first to 40 points wins" game promises to be a thriller for the non-pacists of the world. The Badgers are ranked 21st in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, and a the opportunity to somehow grab a win in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge on national TV at the raucous Kohl Center would automatically put the Hoos on the map.
vs. Tennessee: The Vols also return a strong squad, checking in with the 33rd most votes in the coaches poll (and will come in ranked if they manage to win at Georgetown the week prior). Tennessee finished the 2011-2012 season just outside of the NCAA Tournament, but return an impressive front court of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Tennessee will be the only major conference non-ACC opponent that Wahoo fans will see at John Paul Jones Arena.
The Hoos take on a pair of tough CAA opponents away from JPJ, and each provides a chance for a resume-building win.
Virginia easily handled Paul Hewitt's George Mason squad at home last season. The final was 68-48, though the Patriots had no chance of breaking the pack line defense. However, UVA has some factors against it this year. The matchup is on November 9th, the season's first, and it's on the road in Fairfax, VA. Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon are both unlikely to be back in playing shape. And the defense is unlikely to be the finely-tuned machine that we'll expect come January. This is a "should win," but the circumstances are not the best.
UVA will also play Old Dominion at the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic in Richmond. The Monarchs fell short of the NIT last year and lost a couple of key pieces, so are unlikely to challenge for a return to the NCAA Tournament; however, there is a good chance they qualify as a top-100 RPI win (hopefully) when all is said and done.
They are unavoidable - Morgan State and Wofford are this year's notably....less impressive schedule fillers. The good news is that last year, their RPIs were 287 and 177 respectively. Seattle (RPI 278) could be part of this group too, but after the RedHawks took the Hoos down to the wire the past two seasons, they deserve some pause. Compare that to last season, when 3 teams with RPIs worse than 300 visited Charlottesville. Obviously, there is a great deal of uncertainty predicting future team strengths, but it looks like Tony Bennett did a strong job of scheduling for success.
Mississippi Valley State and on the road at Wisconsin - Green Bay are games that will raise anybody's eyebrows, though they pose a slightly higher level of competition than the group above.
The Hoos face a diverse out-of-conference group that is highlighted by their appearance in the Preseason NIT and a shot at Wisconsin. It's inevitable that there's a "bad loss" sitting in there somewhere, but it is imperative that this does not come in the qualifying rounds for Madison Square Garden. Independent of out-of-conference performance, Tony Bennett and his staff did a good job of smart scheduling that will keep the Hoos looking good from an SOS perspective if the team is in position to challenge for an NCAA (or NIT) spot come March.