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Virginia Basketball battles challenging conference schedule

Virginia will have their hands full in conference play this season as they face some of the top teams in the country.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Virginia
The Hoos hope to have the same success at JPJ as last season when they went undefeated at home.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One week from today, the Virginia Men’s Basketball team will take the court at UNC-Greensboro to kick off the 2016-2017 season. Earlier this week, we took a look at Virginia’s out of conference schedule, so now, it’s time to check out their daunting ACC schedule.

Based on the preseason AP poll, No. 8 Virginia will face four ranked teams (No. 1 Duke, No. 6 UNC, No. 13 Louisville, and No. 19 Syracuse) as well as five teams also receiving votes (Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Miami). Playing in the ACC is notoriously difficult. Playing in the ACC this season - a season in which the “experts” think 11 teams could be invited to the Big Dance - is going to be the opposite of a cake walk.

A pie run? A cookie sprint?

Nevermind. Let’s check out Virginia’s conference schedule:

12/28 @ Louisville

Starting with a doozie. Virginia ends their out of conference (minus the Villanova game) on the road at Cal on 12/21, then follow it up with a trip to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville to visit with Pitino and his merry band of Cardinals. Last season, the Hoos held the Cards under 50 points in both meetings.

Prediction: Damion Lee, Trey Lewis, and granny-style free throw master Chinanu Onuaku all departed, but the Cards have talent coming in as well as a plethora of returning talent and incoming freshmen. I think Louisville wins in a close one at home.

12/31 vs. Florida State

Happy New Year’s Eve! Make plans in Charlottesville to ring in 2017 as UVA opens their home ACC slate against perennial bruiser FSU, led by Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon. Florida State lost to Valparaiso in the second round of the NIT last year, but the Seminoles should have a good shot at being a tournament team this season. Virginia lost in Tallahassee last season by seven, their biggest defecit in a loss since the Tennessee Turnaround, December 30, 2013 (think about that for a second).

Prediction: Hoos win, and hopefully no one breaks a nose (looking at you, London).

1/04 @ Pitt

Pitt is one of the many enigmas in the ACC this year. They have a new head coach, Kevin Stallings, and return three experienced seniors in Jamel Artis, Michael Young, and Sheldon Jeter. The Petersen Events Center has a reputation as a tough place to play, but doesn’t seem as daunting with all the students home for break.

Prediction: This has the makings of yet another Pitt/UVA rock fight, but I think Virginia wins this by double digits.

1/08 vs. Wake Forest

Hey remember the last time Virginia played Wake forest?

Hopefully it’s not that stressful.

Superstar Bryant Crawford is one to watch, as is the Greek Deac Konstantinos Mitoglou (Tobey is probably still having nightmares about him hitting threes).

Prediction: Wake keeps it close through the first half, but Virginia puts it away with a Cavalanche.

1/14 @ Clemson

The Tigers have a brand new arena, and they still have Jaron Blossomgame, so this one could get interesting.

Prediction: I can see this one remaining close throughout, but Virginia pulls away late for the win.

1/18 @ Boston College

Hi, Boston College.

Prediction: Chesnut Hill is a weird place to play sometimes, but I think the Cavaliers handle business.

1/21 vs. Georgia Tech

Oh, Georgia Tech. Virginia lost by four in Atlanta last year, and I don’t think they have that problem in Charlottesville this year.

Prediction: This will get out of hand quickly. Green Machine sees some time in a Virginia victory.

1/24 @ Notre Dame

This game kicks off what I would call a ‘brutal stretch’ of the schedule, but nine straight games against teams that could finish in the top half of the ACC isn’t a stretch, it’s murderer’s row. Notre Dame loses some talent, but Mike Brey has Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem, and Bonzie Colson returning (as well as Rex Pflueger, which is just fun to say).

Prediction: This one makes me a little uneasy. Road game, random non-conference game against the reigning champion Villanova right after...I think the Hoos lose a close one on the road.

2/01 vs. Virginia Tech

Buzz Williams and the Hokies come to Charlottesville in the first of two matchups between the in-commonwealth rivals. Buzz has Virginia Tech humming ahead of schedule, and seniors Zach LeDay, Seth Allen, and Devin Wilson all return for one final season in Blacksburg.

Prediction: Hoos are just too good at home, but this one is stressful for a bit. Virginia win.

2/04 @ Syracuse

UGH. This one is going to be circled for A LOT of Virginia fans. While the broadcast will be utterly brutal to watch with what I assume will be endless references to THAT game, it should prove to be a pretty good basketball game between (most likely) two ranked teams.

Prediction: Virginia is just the right level of angry in this one and have a manageable lead - that they protect - for the majority of the second half. UVA wins.

2/06 vs. Louisville

Games with Louisville have really been top-notch, including in football. They’ve actually developed into a natural, unforced rivalry (take notes, Maryland).

Prediction: Virginia’s defense steps up against Pitino again and they atone for their loss in Louisville.

2/12 @ Virginia Tech

Yes, again. Already.

Prediction: Now, I am in physical pain saying this, but I think this one is reminiscent of last year’s game as this is basically their Super Bowl. Hokies eke out a close win at home (ew, I feel gross).

2/15 vs. Duke

The preseason No. 1 team in the country travels to John Paul Jones Arena for one of the biggest matchups of the year. Don’t expect the Blue Devils to walk all over the Hoos in this one. It’s a real flop by the scheduling folks that this isn’t a weekend game so Virginia could host GameDay for a third straight year.

Grayson traveled.

Prediction: This will be just an excellent game. Virginia wins a very exciting back-and-forth affair.

2/18 @ North Carolina

Now the schedule is really hitting its stride. Virginia got the best of Carolina in Charlottesville last year, and the Tar Heels returned the favor in the finals of the ACC tournament. Marcus Paige graduated, but unsurprisingly Roy Williams reloaded with talent.

Prediction: Statement win on the road that is huge in ACC race.

2/20 vs. Miami

Miami is one of the many unknowns in the ACC. Jim Larranaga is a fantastic coach, and while the Canes will look different without Angel Rodriguez (man, I’m actually going to miss the Angel/London PG battle), they could cause some problems.

Prediction: Another close game through the half before Virginia pulls away in the second half.

2/25 @ NC State

NC State loses Cat Barber, but gains superstar freshman Dennis Smith, Jr. Expected to win ACC Rookie of the Year, Smith has already assumed a leadership role with the Wolfpack as he represented his team at ACC Media Day. Fellow freshman Omer Yurtseven, a seven-footer from Turkey, will be a challenge down low. Jack Salt might have to earn his keep in this one as the 344 pound Bee Jay Anya will need to be contained in the post.

Prediction: This will be a challenge for Virginia, but one they meet. Clutch win.

2/27 vs. North Carolina

HEY! WE GOT A HOME AND AWAY WITH UNC! North Carolina comes to town for a Big Monday matchup.

Prediction: Hoos sweep the Heels in the regular season in front of a raucous home crowd.

3/04 vs. Pitt

After an utterly brutal stretch of games, hosting Pitt to close out is a welcome respite, even though they are no pushover.

Prediction: Win to close the regular season and keep momentum heading into the ACC tournament.

So, that puts Virginia at 15-3 in the ACC. What do you think happens in conference? Leave your predictions in the comments below!