Basketball is coming. Basketball is coming. On Friday, basketball is freaking here. We've had fun counting down the days, explaining UVa's philosophies and previewing each of the players. But now the rubber is about to hit the road. Which means it's time for we STL writers to put our names on some season predictions.
Expectations are high for this year's UVa basketball squad. Where do you think they'll finish in the ACC, what do you expect from them in the Big Dance, and who do you think will be the biggest surprise player for the Hoos?
Eric "Oral History" Hobeck
I see them finishing tied with North Carolina for the ACC regular season at 16-2, but holding the tiebreaker for the #1 seed in Washington with the head-to-head win. I also think they'll knock off the Heels in DC in the ACC Tournament. I don't want to be that specific about how they'll do in the NCAAs (I had myself convinced of a national championship after the Notre Dame game last year), but I think they'll at least make the Final Four.
For me, a big surprise will be Evan Nolte. He's highly regarded as a defender in the Pack Line system, but he received some criticism last year for not having much of a three-point shot (just .276 percent). I think he'll make at least one-third of his threes and start at the three more often than not
Brian "The Blogfather" Leung
Being 30 some odd games away from the end of the season, it's hard to say what I expect in the NCAA Tournament. But assuming everyone stays fairly healthy, regular bumps and bruises excepted, I'd be disappointed -- actually disappointed -- with anything less than a Sweet 16 finish. I think Virginia has the talent to make the Final Four, but I wouldn't consider it a letdown season if, for example, the Hoos finished in the Elite 8
Jay "Podcast" Pierce
I expect UVa to win the ACC again this year. While I think the biggest question mark for the Hoos is "Who will replace Anderson in the scoring?," I think there's enough talent to fill those points. Plus, while they'll certainly miss Atkins on the defensive end, there's no reason to expect a huge dropoff with an experienced Gill, Tobey, and Wilkins - and strong reports about Jack Salt. There's more talent on the roster now than there has ever been (under Bennett, at least) and when you consider the relative unknown of the rest of the ACC (with the strong exception of a talented UNC squad), I think the Hoos should be expected to bring another regular season title home. Adding to that, the Out of Conference schedule is TOUGH, so the Hoos will be very prepared for conference play - and they only play Duke and Carolina once, which is never a bad thing.
If all goes according to plan, that should leave UVa as a number 2 seed (with a puncher's chance at a 1) - which should certainly make a final four run a good possibility. Obviously, it's near impossible to confidently predict such things before the season starts - and there's a ton that can go wrong before then, but that should be the goal for the team - so I'll predict they make that goal. UVa in the Final Four. Malcolm Brogdon for ACC POY. As for the surprise player, my head says Jack Salt is the mostly likely candidate - but I'm going to go with a heart pick and hope that Devon Hall breaks out this year. It's crowded at the guard/wing position, but I think Hall's got the athleticism (and hopefully shooting ability) to add something to this team in a big way. He's had plenty of time in the system to get the packline down, so I'd like to see him make a big surprise jump to being a top contributor on the team - even if it's off the bench.
Brian "Facebook" Schwartz
We know that Virginia will be good. Once the team is this good, "expectations" are really difficult to pin down. Only one team will win the NCAA title. One will win the ACC. I expect that UVA will be in position to be this team. Beyond that, it'll come down to how the ball bounces in March. The top of the ACC will be a crap-shoot between UVA, Duke, and UNC, but I say that the Hoos win it again. The team was incredibly consistent during conference play last season, and the team does get a boost not having to play UNC or Duke twice.
What do I expect from them in the Big Dance? Again, predicting the outcome of a single-elimination tournament against other top teams is impossible. UVA played poorly in one game against a Tom Izzo team in March, and pundits judged the season a failure. That's tough. But I expect Virginia to be there with a top-3 seed, and compete to be in the Final Four and beyond.
I know that Anthony Gill had a great season last year and made preseason second-team all-ACC this year. But he is still my "surprise pick," because I think he has the tools to be competing for national awards. If his jumper is a little better and he continues to improve defensively, he could be a household name this season.
Caroline "Keyboard Cat" Darney
I think I'm going to shock everyone and say that Virginia will finish on top of the ACC for the third year in a row (I KNOW RIGHT? ME? OPTIMISTIC?!). UVA has the best chance to repeat due to experience and scheduling, but don't come at me with "unbalanced scheduling" arguments, because where the Hoos have succeeded in the last couple seasons is taking care of business when they need to against the Wakes and Miamis and NC States (unlike some of our Triangle friends). Virginia returns such key players in Gill, Brogdon, Perrantes, and Tobey, combined with the flex factors of Shayok, Nolte, and Wilkins...I think it's going to be a strong, disciplined team. Throw in the unknown entities of Salt and Thompson, and the depth is phenomenal. I want to be in Houston the weekend of 4 April, and I think this team can achieve the Final Four. Honestly, I'd be bummed with anything short of the Elite 8, but I just want them to play well (not like the MSU game last season). I fully expect Malcolm Brogdon to have an All-American type of season, but the big surprise is going to be Tobey. From all of the pre-season articles and media reports, he's got a whole-new mindset to go with his Mike Curtis'd body and smooth shot. I think Tobey is going to put up some ridiculous numbers
Paul "Grumpy Cat" Wiley
You don't get a whole paragraph of happy-optimist Caroline without some wet blanket Wiley as a chaser. I expect this team to be good. VERY good. But losing a first-round NBA draft pick isn't easy to replace, especially in a system that takes some time to learn its nuances. The young guys are going to be major contributors to this program, but this may be something of a gap year. My best guess is that the Hoos are right in the mix for a conference title but lose out on a tiebreaker to UNC or Duke, the two teams that look to have the strongest claims for an outright regular-season crown. Hopefully they'll shake the March Madness demons and make the deep run that their talent and discipline allows; I think that's most likely if we see a more up-tempo offense in 2015-16 than we have the last two years.
In that vein of thought, however, I'm nominating Isaiah Wilkins as the breakout player this year. When the young studs were set loose against Wake Forest last year during Perrantes' injury, we saw what UVa basketball at full speed can look like. Wilkins has the athletic prowess to be a disruptive force on defense and create mismatches on offense, especially in the transition game. I want to see him tear the damn rim off once or twice this year, too.
Matt "I travel a lot, so I sent this from my phone" Ellis
Virginia will finish 2nd in the ACC but win the ACC tournament. Hoos make the Elite 8 before losing to Kentucky due to an uncalled travel on a game winning shot by [insert name of Kentucky freshman]. Biggest surprise will be Shayok, I think he starts the majority of game and finishes third on the team in scoring behind Brogdon and Gill
Brian "Mr. Jefferson" Haluska
I agree with Schwartz about the difficulty in making prognostications this far in advance. We know the talent is there, and experience is a big factor in conference regular season races. I'd say Virginia should be a lock for a double bye, and finish #1 or #2 overall in the ACC. In the NCAA Tournament (remember when just making the field was the goal, now 23 months later it's just assumed), I think Virginia gets to the Elite 8, possibly beyond. Biggest surprise will be Jarred Reuter, mostly because everyone is anticipating big things from Shayok and Salt. Reuter came into the program with college size, and is an excellent passer out of the post. I think he will surprise people with how little of a drop off Virginia has when Gill and Tobey exit the game.
Danny "Stats 'n Spreadsheets" Neckel
Call me crazy, but I still think Virginia will win the ACC. This years squad is just as deep and experienced as previous years and while UNC and Duke will be tough again, I still see UVA on top this year. The Hoos could lose out-of-conference games and to Duke and UNC and still win the ACC by dominating the rest of the conference. Keep in mind the Cavaliers have gone 32-2 against non-Duke teams in the ACC regular season the past two seasons. The Big Dance is a different story. Tony Bennett is only 6-5 in the NCAA tournament, so he'll have to go further than he's ever gone before in order to get past the Sweet 16, which I expect UVA to do. However, I do not expect them to make the Final Four though since the tournament is all about who gets hot at the right time, especially with the unknown factor of one-and-dones. The biggest surprise player will be whoever fills in the vacant Justin Anderson spot, since we know what we are getting from the rest of the veteran players, so I will go with Shayok to emerge.
Paul "Tiki's Big Preview" Guttman
Assuming the main players for the Hoos stay relatively healthy, there is no reason why they shouldn't contend for another ACC regular season title. But Duke and UNC will also contend. Regardless, the Hoos will get a top 2 seed in the NCAA which should give them a good shot at the Elite Eight. Anything beyond that is basically luck of the draw.
Biggest surprise is going to be Wilkins. Main reason for this is opportunity. There aren't going to be a ton of minutes available in the backcourt. But Wilkins is going to get a ton of minutes up front. It's almost a given he'll lead the team in blocks. He'll also be significantly upping his averages in both points and boards. He jumps like Atkins but he's as quick as Mitchell was. Also he can shoot it a little bit
Ryan "Upper Deck" Reese
I think the Hoos go 15-3 in conference play which will be good enough for at least a share of the ACC Regular Season Title. From there they will benefit from playing the ACC Tournament in DC as opposed the Tar Heel's home away from home in Greensboro. While I won't go out and predict a Virginia ACC Tournament Title, I will say this year's ACC champ comes from outside the Triangle. I'll echo my fellow writers and say that the NCAA Tournament is a crap shoot that all depends on matchups, but the Hoos will advance at least to the Sweet Sixteen which should be the benchmark for a team this talented. Anything more depends on the breaks. As far as the biggest surprise, I look for big things from Devon Hall. In limited action last year, I liked his ability be an aggressor and get to the rim, something I think London Perrantes doens't often do (though I know he can). His ascension will allow Perrantes to stay fresh, but more importantly give the Hoos another ball handler who can create offense for late in the game.
So there it is, Hoos fans. Bookmark this page and come back in April to revel in our prescience or ridicule our ignorance.