No one will deny that Virginia's out of conference schedule last year is pretty much what kept them out of the NCAA Tournament. Rough losses to Delaware and ODU looked worse when coupled with dropping games against ACC bottom dwellers Wake Forest, Clemson, and Georgia Tech. Even the huge victories over NC State, Wisconsin, and Duke weren't enough to overcome the falters.
Well, Coach Bennett and the Cavaliers can't be accused of taking a 'cupcake' route this season. There are, naturally, some tune up games, but the Hoos won't be left out of the Dance for lack of trying this year.
I've broken the 13 non-con competitors into three groups based on the likelihood/necessity of victory. The attached records are from last season (duh).
Must Win: These we have to have. No excuses to not easily take all of these wins, and a loss would do what ODU and Delaware did to us last season.
- James Madison (21-15): This is not only a scary CAA opponent, it's the home opener.
- Navy (8-23): The Midshipmen were last in the Patriot League. That's like being last in the NL East (LOLOL, Miami).
- Liberty (15-21): Close to Thanksgiving...could lead to complacency. Also part of the Corpus Christi Challenge, but played among the friendly confines of JPJ.
- Hampton (14-17): See above. Tryptophan. Corpus Christi Challenge. JPJ.
- Southern Methodist (15-17): Part of the Corpus Christi Challenge, but in Corpus this time (too bad for the team...I've been there. Yikes). If they win, they play either Texas A&M or Missouri State.
- Missouri State (11-22): Let's hope it's Missouri State.
Should Win: These are more challenging teams, but if Virginia wants to be taken seriously as a tournament caliber squad, they need to win most, if not all, of these.
- Davidson (26-8): Played at a neutral site in Charlotte, NC, but that could also benefit the Wahoos as players Anthony Gill and Akil Mitchell will look at this game like a homecoming. Tough matchup for the third game of the season, but regardless of the outcome, the VCU game three days before should help fine tune the 'Hoos.
- Texas A&M (18-15): Not the best record in the SEC, but a little more threatening than some of the others on the schedule. Virginia only plays them if the cards fall correctly in the Corpus Christi Challenge.
- Green Bay (18-16): Again, the Phoenix didn't have the greatest of records in 2012-2013, but it's a legitimate road trip, and against the coach's alma mater. That adds a little stress.
- Northern Iowa (21-15): Ok, this one legitimately worries me. It's close to Christmas break, and the Panthers finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference behind Creighton and Wichita State.
- Norfolk State (21-12): The Hoos defeated the Spartans in the first round of the NIT at JPJ last season in a game that was way too close for comfort. Anderson and Mitchell put up 15 points apiece for Virginia, but the team played sloppy overall, missing 15 free throws and turning the ball over a ghastly 18 times. This years rematch takes place December 23rd, so JPJ won't be so much of a home court advantage as it is a ghost town.
Damn, That'd Be Sweet: These games are winnable for sure, but against some tough competition. Man, do I want to crush all of them though.
- Virginia Commonwealth University (27-9): Not going to lie. This might be my biggest "I want to win this" one for the season. Shaka Smart leads a Rams squad that is preseason ranked in the number 14 range, and has had immense success using their brand of 'HAVOC' defense. The inter-Commonwealth challenge is a doozy, and Shaka Smart has made it well known lately that he thinks the 'other' Virginia schools aren't pulling their weight.
- Wisconsin (23-12): Everyone remembers UVA's 'upset' at the Kohl Center last season. It was epic. Incredible. Unexpected. This year, Virginia is paired with the Badgers again for the ACC/Big 10 challenge, and I don't doubt for a second that it's because they are so evenly matched. The Hoos need to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, and use the home court advantage. I expect JPJ to be rocking on December 4th.
- Tennessee (20-13): The Vols are another rematch for the Hoos from last season. Virginia defeated Tennessee at JPJ in a game that those who are 'anti-pace', or pacist as we call them, use as a perfect example as to why we are boring. The final score was 46-38, and Tennessee will surely be looking to break 40 this time around.