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2014-2015 Virginia Women's Basketball Season Preview

What can we expect from Joanne Boyle's fourth season at the helm of the Virginia women's basketball program? Which players will contribute and what does the schedule look like? Let's find out!

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, we took a general look at the players that will make up the 2014-2015 Virginia Women's Basketball roster.

Now we're going to look at all the parts of the upcoming season and what we might be able to expect.

The Team

If you haven't read the article introducing all of the players, go ahead and do so now.

I'll wait.

Back? OK good. Now what did you notice by looking at all of those players? Not a lot of seniors (only two). A lot of freshmen (four). One player with a lot of experience (Imovbioh) and lots of players with moderate experience (basically the rest of the non-freshman roster).

So what does that mean? A lot of unknowns.

One can reasonably conclude that Sarah Imovbioh will be the starting center for as long as she can stay healthy and out of foul trouble. She's not a natural center - she's shorter than most centers she plays against - but she's capable and she's easily the most experienced player on the roster.

I think its also safe to say that Faith Randolph will be a starter at the 2, 3 or 4 depending on what size lineup Boyle goes with. She's had consistent production and is one of the most experienced players of those remaining after Imovbioh.

Beyond that? Without seeing what the pre-season practices have looked like, I think its impossible to say. Breyana Mason and Tiffany Suarez seem to have a leg up when it comes to the remaining guard positions (keep in mind that this is a guard heavy roster, so it wouldn't be unusual to see three or even four players listed as "guards" on the roster in the game at one time). But the new players on the roster - Venson in particular - are going to fight for playing time. After all, being a returner on a squad that had a losing record last year isn't necessarily a positive bullet point on your CV.

The Pack-Line Knows No Gender Barriers

That's right. The Virginia Women's Basketball team will be running Tony Bennett's Pack-Line Defense this season.

Joanne Boyle, tired of having opposing teams walk all over the Cavaliers in their normal 1-2-2 defense, decided it was time for a change. Luckily she had one of the masters of defense in the men's game close enough she could probably just yell for him.

This decision is kind of an interesting one, for several reasons. I don't believe Virginia has ever played against a team that employs the pack-line. I'm guessing the rest of the ACC hasn't either. Tony Bennett's sister runs it at Northern Illinois. So maybe Illinois has seen it. I'm not sure who else runs it. That could be an advantage the first time through - offenses won't have any experience running against it.

Another reason its interesting is that this clearly is a long-term project. Even the men's team, taught by Tony Bennett himself, took several years to get the hang of it. It would be unrealistic to expect the women's team to fully pick it up and perfect it this year or even next year.

Regardless, they've got some of the best instruction they can get on the subject matter and we've already seen the impact the scheme can have... so this could eventually turn out to be a terrific move.

The Schedule

The first thing you need to know about this schedule is potentially the most important:

No Maryland.

I'll wait for the applause to die down...

This is important for two reasons: 1) Maryland sucks. 2) Maryland beat us fairly regularly so I'm happy to have them off the schedule.

But what about the rest of the schedule?

First thing to notice is that Virginia is ranked #10 (out of 15) in the ACC Pre-Season Poll and #9 in the ACC Coaches' Poll. So we're somewhere in the middle, but there are a lot of teams ahead of us:

Blue Ribbon Panel Preseason Poll

1. Notre Dame (835 points, 38 first place votes)
2. Duke (733, 1 first place vote)
3. Louisville (724, 2 first place votes)
4. North Carolina (707)
5. Florida State (545)
6. Syracuse (536)
7. Georgia Tech (508)
8. Miami (421)
9. NC State (407)
10. Virginia (334)
11. Wake Forest (295)
12. Virginia Tech (184)
13. Boston College (178)
14. Clemson (169)
15. Pittsburgh (144)

Coaches' Preseason Poll

1. Notre Dame (223 points, 14 first place votes)
2. Duke (196, 1 first place vote)
3. Louisville (194)
4. North Carolina (193)
5. Florida State (152)
6. Syracuse (149)
7. Georgia Tech (136)
8. Miami (117)
9. Virginia (98)
10. NC State (87)
11. Wake Forest (82)
12. Virginia Tech (54)
13. Clemson (44)
14. Pittsburgh (43)
15. Boston College (32)

The second thing to notice is that five ACC teams in both the AP Pre-Season Top 25 and USA Today Coaches' Pre-Season Top 25. Three of them are in the top 12 -  #3 Notre Dame, #7 Duke and #11/12 Louisville. North Carolina and Syracuse are the other two ranked teams. Two others - N.C. State and Florida State - both received votes in the polls.

AP Preseason Top 25

1. Connecticut (35)
2. South Carolina
3. Notre Dame
4. Tennessee
5. Texas A&M
6. Stanford
7. Duke
8. Baylor
9. Texas
10. Maryland
11. Kentucky
12. Louisville
13. North Carolina
14. Michigan St
15. California
16. Nebraska
17. West Virginia
18. Depaul
19. Iowa
20. Oregon St
21. Oklahoma St.
22. Dayton
23. UCLA
24. Rutgers
24. Syracuse

USA Today Coaches' Preseason Poll

1. Connecticut (32)
2. South Carolina
3. Notre Dame
4. Tennessee
5. Texas A&M
6. Stanford
7. Duke
8. Maryland
9. Baylor
10. Kentucky
11. Louisville
12. Texas
13. North Carolina
14. California
15. Michigan St
16. Nebraska
17. West Virginia
18. Depaul
19. Iowa
20. Oklahoma St
21. Oregon St
22. Dayton
23. UCLA
24. LSU
25. Syracuse

Alright, so we've seen what some of our competition looks like rankings-wise, so what does the actual schedule look like?

Day Date Opponent Time TV
Fri. Nov. 14  
Sun. Nov. 16 RADFORD 1 p.m.
Thu. Nov. 20 at Xavier 7 p.m.
Sun. Nov. 23 AUBURN 2 p.m.
Fri. Nov. 28 vs. Toledo TBA
Sun. Nov. 30 vs. Florida International/Arizona TBA
Wed. Dec. 3 at Illinois TBA
Sat. Dec. 6 DELAWARE STATE 2 p.m.
Tue. Dec. 16 LONGWOOD 7 p.m.
Fri. Dec. 19 SAINT MARY'S 7 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 21 HOWARD 6 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 28 DAVIDSON 2:30 p.m.
Mon. Dec. 29 DREXEL/MIAMI (OHIO) 7 p.m.
Sun. Jan. 4 at Virginia Tech TBA
Thu. Jan. 8 WAKE FOREST 7 p.m.
Sun. Jan. 11 at Syracuse 1 p.m.
Thu. Jan. 15 BOSTON COLLEGE 7 p.m.
Sun. Jan. 18 at Louisville 3 p.m. RSN
Wed. Jan. 21 at Miami TBA
Sun. Jan. 25 GEORGIA TECH 2 p.m.
Thu. Jan. 29 NC STATE 7 p.m.
Sun. Feb. 1 at Clemson 2 p.m. ESPN3
Thu. Feb. 5 at Notre Dame 7 p.m. ESPN3
Thu. Feb. 12 DUKE 7 p.m.
Sun. Feb. 15 FLORIDA STATE 1 p.m. RSN
Thu. Feb. 19 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
Sun. Feb. 22 VIRGINIA TECH 1 p.m.
Thu. Feb. 26 at North Carolina 7 p.m. RSN
Sun. Mar. 1 LOUISVILLE 1 p.m. RSN

I actually quite like how the schedule sets up. The non-conference slate has some quality teams - Ohio State, Xavier, Auburn, Illinois - but no ranked teams. Given how the roster and the starting five are somewhat of an unknown, and how we're installing a brand new defense, that's a good way to have the season start. We're not necessarily better or worse than any of those teams, so its a good way to get used to things before we head into the ACC schedule.

Speaking of the ACC schedule...

On the bright side, Virginia Tech - ranked below us in the ACC polls is one of our home/away partners. And we only get Duke, UNC, Syracuse and Notre Dame once. Also, some of the teams right with us in the middle of the pack - N.C. State, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech have to come to JPJ for the only matchup of the season.

On the not-so-bright side, Louisville - ranked in the top-15 - is our other home/away partner.

Much like what I liked about the overall schedule, the ACC schedule is a little light on the front end. Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College are three of the first four opponents. The fourth is Syracuse - the lowest-ranked of the ranked teams. That'll give us a taste of what its like against the top tier and on the road.

The Expectations

This is... complicated.

We've looked at all of the components of a season that would normally make up predictions. And two of the three (the roster and off-season changes) just scream question marks.

This team isn't likely to blow the doors off the ACC and bust into the upper echelon... yet. Maybe next year, with Imovbioh back for a fifth year and some of the younger players solidified in their position and the pack-line a little better understood. But that's not to say this team will do poorly. I'm just not sure yet how far these pieces can take us this season.

One thing I'll say I'm confident on: We'll get back to having a winning record. I'm thinking we'll go something like 10-3 in the non-conference slate. Then we'll follow that up with 8-8 in the ACC slate for a final record of 18-11. That will reverse the trend of the past three years under Joanne Boyle and give her some more time to implement the defense and groom these very talented recruiting classes she's brought in.