We are SO close. Just eight days stand between us and the beginning of the 2016-2017 Virginia Basketball season. Last year, the Hoos finished the ACC regular season in second place, one game behind North Carolina. Virginia returned to the Elite Eight for the first time in what seemed like forever, but having the Final Four in their grasp made even that finish seem like not enough.
This season, Virginia was picked to finish third in the ACC behind Duke and UNC, and are projected as a two-seed in the (very, very) early Bracketology predictions.
So, where will the Hoos land in the ACC this year? What would you consider a successful season? Our staff weighs in...
Will: Color me a Homer, but I think UVa wins the regular season. Duke is too young, and while they will certainly be good, and are a favorite to cut down the nets at the end of the season, I don't think they will fully be ready for the ACC grind. They'll have a few stumbling blocks with a possibility of injuries taking their toll as well. UNC comes in second because I think they are going to have to rely too much on Seventh Woods. The top recruit out of Columbia, SC is not a true point, but rumor is he is going to play a good amount to at least start the season. Could spell trouble for the Heels.
I am not one to say UVa has to make the Final Four for it to be a successful season. I think the tournament is too much of a crap shoot to place so much on it. I think the Hoos end up at the same place they did last season, in the Elite Eight, and I think that would be a successful season. Sure, LP and company have a great system that obviously works, I am just a little concerned about a true "playmaker" that when the game is on the line, he can get the ball and score at will, which is what I think it takes sometimes.
Brian 3: I'm always puzzled by the need for someone who can "score at will". If such a player existed, wouldn't you give him the ball EVERY time down the court?
Hobeck: I think UVa is going to finish a game ahead of Duke and win the regular season outright at 14-4 or maybe 15-3. In the postseason, I'd be really surprised if they didn't at least get to the ACC tourney semis, and as hard as it is to think about matchups more than four months in advance, another berth in the final probably isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Like Will said, the NCAA tourney is a crapshoot, but a Sweet 16 is certainly within reach for a team with a senior point guard and elite interior talent. I can't really say now whether that would be successful, since we don't know what this team looks like in game situations against good teams both in and out of conference. I could potentially see this team getting to Glendale if the first-years can gel enough by then, but again, so much of that depends on the kind of draw they get.
Ellis: I think UVa finishes third in the ACC. I agree that Duke will have some growing pains but that roster has a freakish amount of talent and I think they figure it out by conference play and win the league with Syracuse coming in second. Despite losing Malachi Richardson the Orange are deep and experienced and I think that pays off in the regular season. I agree with Will/Eric that tournament predictions are impossible, it's too driven by matchups, who gets hot, and health at the time. That being said this is certainly a team with Sweet 16/Elite 8 potential, though I think the ceiling is lower than what we saw from the 2013/14 & 2015/16 squads.
Pierce: Matt took all my answers, because I also have the Hoos finishing the regular season behind Duke and Cuse. I think they'll find a few growing-pains type of games that keep them from the top of the conference in the loss column, but it won't really matter. I like UVa to challenge for - and win - the ACCT title and secure another top-two NCAAT seed. With all that being said, I won't be shocked if the team trends a little more to the middle of the ACC pack.
However, going with my sub-confident optimism, if they do work out as a top-two seed, then playing for a shot at the Final Four should be the goal, obviously. While March matchups and such are impossible to predict, as my colleagues noted - this program's recent regular season success with a mixed bag of (and certainly "disappointing" overall) tournament success makes future NCAAT success paramount. Maybe the Hoos face Michigan State again. Maybe they run into a streaking mid major and shoot cold for the first time all year when it matters most. Who knows what will happen in March, but I think it's fair to say definitively: Seasons that don't come with a Sweet Sixteen (or higher especially when they achieve favorable seeding) cannot be considered successes anymore in Charlottesville.
It's big-boy basketball from here on out - as we've always hoped it would be. That comes with big-boy expectations.
Ellis: I agree with the heightened expectations, but I think UVa fans have actually been a bit spoiled with the recent spate of regular season success. Obviously this time hasn't made a final four or won a title, but the list of schools with a top-two seed in each of the last three tournaments is: UVa, Villanova, Kansas. It's ridiculously hard to finish that high consistently. Also, in those three years the Hoos got an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16, Villanova won a title, but Kansas only got a single Elite Eight and two exits in the round of 32. So at least we're not last in underperforming our seed
Pierce: True, but Kansas has the historical significance (and recent enough National Title) to rely on in its prestige. This isn't like what football expectations are (rightfully). We want UVa basketball to be the literal best and they are aspiring for that goal - that realistic goal. You cannot pursue that realistically though if you develop the reputation for swooning in March.
Oddly, it's Villanova, to me, that draws the best comparison. Jay Wright was ridiculed over recent years for his team's (lack of) work in the tournament. Nova was a team that recruited to its system - and probably had more star-recruit power than UVa will tend to get, but I'd say it's a negligible difference . Point being - you can establish a program with a set identity, succeed at an elite level consistently in the regular season, and still be seen as an underachieving great program, which is the best-case scenario for this UVa program until they get the Final Four monkey off their back.
Not that I mean you need that to occur this season - but I don't want the fans/program to be happy with "we don't always under-preform!"
This has steered a little far from "What are your predictions for UVa this year?" Maybe that and "what is 'success?'" are two different roundtables...
Danny: I think UVA will finish 3rd or 4th in the ACC, behind Duke, UNC, and a team like Louisville or Syracuse. After losing the leadership of Brogdon, Gill, and Tobey, there is bound to be a drop-off, albeit not a big one. The top 10 preseason ranking and predicting a 1st round bye in the ACC tourney would be a huge success just a couple years ago, which shows how far this program has come. As far as how deep they will go, I could see the Hoos making the Sweet 16 and a possible return to the Elite Eight. I do not expect them to make the Final Four or win the ACC Tournament in what would be considering a rebuilding year. A successful year would be to continue the same level of excellence while building on expectations for the future with the new top recruiting class. I do not have the same level of expectations as last year or next year, but will be ecstatic if they surpass them this season.
Caroline: I think Virginia will end up in a tie for second with UNC, behind Duke, and get the benefit of the tie-breaker. It’s so hard to predict this team after losing Malcolm Brogdon. The other graduates were obviously huge, but I think we come a lot closer to replacing them (especially defensively) with guys like Nichols and Diakite (and Huff and Hunter). As far as success, I think a trip to the Sweet 16 will be a good step for this squad. I do agree with my compatriots here regarding how sustained success affects your expectations...if UVA makes the Sweet 16, it’s no longer a blind dream to hope they make the Elite Eight, and so on and so forth. This team has a high, high ceiling if the young players reach their potential.
What is your take? Leave a comment below!