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Virginia ranked No. 9 by KenPom in the preseason

Analytics seem to favor the Hoos early.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia vs North Carolina-Wilmington Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Basketball season starts in less than three weeks, and we have another look at how the Hoos could fare in 2017-18.

In stark contrast to the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, where UVA is unranked, in Ken Pomeroy’s newly-released preseason ranking, the Cavaliers are No. 9 and second in the ACC behind No. 6 Duke. His preseason rankings take into account transfers, returning players, and highly-ranked recruits; it’s speculative, but intriguing all the same.

A few takeaways:

Defense, defense, defense

It’s no accident I’m talking about that first. Once again, KenPom looks favorably upon the UVA defense, projecting them to have the most efficient in the country. Since 2011-12, the Hoos’ final defensive efficiency rankings look like this: 5th, 25th, 4th, 2nd, 7th, 2nd. That trend is all but certain to continue again, even with two scholarship seniors on the team and a handful of players as either sophomores or redshirt freshmen expected to play major roles.

A less offensive offense

“Less offensive” in a good way. UVA ranked 50th last year in final offensive efficiency, their lowest since 2013. This preseason, they’re predicted to finish 38th in that category, the lowest of any team in the overall top 20 and third-lowest out of the top 30. The addition of grad transfer Nigel Johnson along with Jay Huff and DeAndre Hunter taking off their redshirts will help lift the Cavaliers’ offensive numbers after an ugly 2016-17.

Slow and steady?

UVA has ranked in the bottom 10 of tempo (average number of possessions) nationally four years running. They were last out of all 351 teams last year, and are predicted to finish there again (scoring around 73 points per game). In reality, they may finish a few spots above that; Johnson’s arrival should mean that the Cavaliers start to push the pace a little bit, or at least start their offense with more than 25 seconds on the shot clock.

A more manageable schedule

Compared to last year, when the Hoos went through a grueling nine-game stretch from late January through mid-February against some of the nation’s best teams, this year’s slate is much more forgiving. No game in the ACC is a cakewalk, but only two back-to-backs stand out: at Duke on Jan. 27 before a home game against Louisville on Jan. 31, and at Louisville on March 1 before the regular season finale at home against Notre Dame on March 3.

Overall, the Cavaliers will play 11 games against preseason top-50 teams, 12 if they go against Seton Hall in the NIT Season Tip-Off on Black Friday. Five top-20 teams are on the schedule: At home, North Carolina on Jan. 6 and Louisville on Jan. 31; on the road, West Virginia on Dec. 6 and the aforementioned road games against Duke and Louisville.

Pomeroy’s ratings project a 22-7 (12-6 ACC) overall record...and forecast a 0.01% chance of an undefeated season.