The Cavaliers are seven games into the season and are right about where they should be going into Sunday night's contest against the Hokies. A few weeks ago, I suggested that it wouldn't be unreasonable to have the Hoos escape from out-of-conference play with an 11-3 record. Virginia's now 4-3, which would mean a 7-0 finish in this next stretch, after Virginia Tech. All seven remaining OOC games are at home and largely against some lower quality teams. Of these teams, I still see LSU and Iowa State being the two biggest threats, but neither has truly arisen from a test. LSU has two losses - one to No. 19 Memphis and one to Nicholls. Likewise, Iowa State has a loss to Northern Iowa and no quality wins (depending on whether you count a 3-point win over Creighton as quality). Bottom line: 11-3 out of conference record is still on the table.
So with ACC play opening in just a few days (sort of - there's one ACC game followed by a month of "others"), what does it look like for the Cavaliers? You should know that I just took a big swig o' the orange kool-aid.
Virginia Tech Hokies. We play them twice this year, just as we always do. The Hokies return all five starters as well as their top 10 leading scorers -- yes, ten -- which makes up 99% of their points from last season. Plus, they have a potential ACC Player of the Year in Malcolm Delaney. Yet somehow, the Hokies are also only 4-3 on the season, and while their losses have been respectable (No. 3 Kansas State, No. 22 Purdue and unranked-but-perennial-tourney-team UNLV). I'm not sure I buy all the hype, especially after watching the Purdue game, and they have some questionable free throw shooting (as a team, they shoot only 65.7% ). The Hokies have won 5 of the last 6 meetings (Virginia previously had won 12 of the last 15). Prediction: 1-1.
North Carolina Tar Heels. Last year, we crushed the Heels on the road, near the beginning of their epic collapse. This year, we host the Tar Heels in the only matchup between these two teams. The preview for Carolina is easy: Harrison Barnes, Harrison Barnes, Harrison Barnes. But Harrison Barnes is just a freshman, and while he's the second leading scorer on the team, a single freshman does not a good team make. There's still something wrong with Carolina - they've got the talent, they've got the coach, they don't have the wins. Prediction: 1-0.Duke Blue Devils. Of course we get Duke twice. Has Duke done anything wrong yet, this year? They've beaten No. 4 Kansas State and No. 6 Michigan State and they've looked good while doing it. Harrison Barnes, meet Kyrie Irving. Prediction: 0-2.
Boston College Eagles. We get BC twice as well. While we lead the all-tiem series 7-4, Virginia's only beaten them once in the past four tries. The Eagles have a snazzy new coach in Steve Donahue, who led that Cornell team to do things no (Ivy) man could have possibly dreamed. Eagles are 5-2, with losses coming to Yale (!) and Wisconsin. In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, they did manage to hand Indiana their first loss of the season, though it was also Indiana's first away game. I think BC lacks the talent on their roster to be able to get some Ws this year. Prediction: 2-0.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Jackets are somehow 4-3, and I thought they'd be a lot better than that this year. They've lost 3 of their 4 road games, including to Kennesaw State and Northwestern. Georgia Tech has struggled shooting this year, ranking 185th in the country (by comparison, Virginia ranks 174th, but with a Tony Bennett team, this is by design). Their back court is both strong and deep, which, if Virginia continues playing the way we have, may present an issue. Luckily, their inside is weak as well, so this should make for a pretty good matchup. Prediction: 1-1.
Maryland Terrapins. Another twofer. Thank you basketball gods, that Greivis Vasquez has graduated (Wait, a Terrapin graduated?). Without Vasquez, Maryland didn't stand a chance at making the tournament, much less almost pulling off the win over Michigan State last season. The Terrapins lost three of their starters, but still return some some key players, including sophomore Jordan Williams, who averaged just shy of 10 points a game last year, but shot 51.2% from the field. Also, he is 6'10, 260 pounds. Assane Sene comes in at 7'0, but only 239 pounds. This matchup has a good chance of going 0-2 for the Cavaliers, but I just took another hit of the kool-aid, so I won't do it. Prediction: 1-1.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons. We play Wake on the road this year, and by all accounts, they are supposed to be terrible. Sure, they held up their end of the ACC / Big Ten bargain with a 3 point win over ...Iowa (3-4), but what's up with the losses to Stetson, VCU, and Winthrop? Losing four starters on their 20-11 team from last year really hurt the Deacs, who have a new coach in Jeff Bzdelik. Wake Forest has a top-10 5-freshman class, and while they might be a bigger factor come January, for now I can't give them the W. Prediction: 1-0.
Clemson Tigers. Yet another head coaching newbie, a recurring theme in the ACC this year. There's literally very little to say about Clemson's team, in my opinion. They're a standard middle-of-the-pack ACC squad who's undergoing change and an identity crisis. The game is in Charlottesville. Prediction: 1-0.
Miami Hurricanes. Miami didn't play in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge this year, because Miami went 4-12 and finished dead last in the conference last year, despite a 20-13 overall record. I think Miami's going to stay near the bottom of the conference this year. Prediction: 1-0.
Florida St. Seminoles. Here's a team who just has our number. Despite not being very good, Florida State has won 7 of the past 8 contests. The team that went 10-6 in the conference last season loses only 2 starters, has Chris Singleton (ACC Defensive Player of the Year), and is pretty well-balanced all around. The game's in Tallassee, and I don't think it looks good for the 'Hoos. Prediction: 0-1.
N.C. State Wolfpack. Ah. Last, but certainly not least. Head coach Sydney Lowe is on the chopping block and it's not looking good, considering the Pack just blew it in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge with a 87-48 loss to Wisconsin. But don't let that fool you. Star forward Tracy Smith, who averaged 16.5 points per game last season, has been out due to a knee injury and will be back and likely in great shape when the two teams meet in March. Sadly, the prediction here is 0-1, even in Charlottesville.
There you have it. I know I was a little aggressive in the predictions, and it's like I've already forgotten the 40+ loss to Washington and the woeful performance against Wichita State. But I have here a 9-7 season. Coupled with the 11-4 out of conference prediction, I can see the Hoos going 20-11 this season and making it back to the tournament.
I'm all ears to your feedback and potentially overly harsh criticism.