With just four days to go before basketball season is finally here, we’re taking a look at Virginia's ACC schedule. The ACC is a meat grinder and demands the best of a team night in and night out. This season, Virginia has eight games against teams at least "receiving votes" in the preseason AP poll. Fortunately, the schedule doesn’t include any of the dreaded Saturday to Monday back to backs, so at least timing-wise it looks manageable. Virginia faces off in a home and home with rivals Virginia Tech and Louisville, and in the rotation this season will also be two games apiece with Georgia Tech and Syracuse. The home games are reasonable with ACC favorites North Carolina and Notre Dame coming to Charlottesville. Road trips to Duke and Miami will be a challenge, but not impossible. How does the rest of the schedule figure to shake out? Let’s take a look.
Boston College - 12/30: Up first on the ACC slate for Virginia are the Boston College Eagles. While BC won't be at the bottom of the ACC standings like they were last season, they won't be competing with the top half of the league either. Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman are legit ACC players and capable of leading the Eagles to closer to the Top 10 in the league. Regardless it's a nice tune up at home before ACC really heats up and Virginia gets the win.
@ Virginia Tech - 1/03: There is no time to ease into conference play as a date with Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum is never an easy task. Buzz Williams has his best team yet in Blacksburg led by Chris Clarke, Ahmed Hill, and Justin Robinson. They're good enough to crack the top third of the league if they can stay consistent. One of the issues with the Hokies is that they look like world beaters one night, then out of their opponents league the next. Unfortunately for Virginia, they always get up for this one, especially in Blacksburg. I think the Hoos are still gelling at this point in the season and Virginia Tech is just too tough at home.
North Carolina - 1/06: Following the rivalry game is a couple days off before a home date with North Carolina. The defending National Champions return Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, and Seventh Woods. However replacing Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, and Kenedy Meeks won't be easy. It will be a chance for the Hoos to make an early season statement and I think it's an early season game against a top flight opponent the Hoos are able to grab.
Syracuse - 1/09: Normally a stretch of UNC followed by Syracuse would be a curse from the scheduling gods, but Jim Boeheim's team is a shell of the squad that took down the Hoos in the Elite Eight just two seasons ago. Tyus Battle is really the only player of note as the Orange are still really young. While any time before the final buzzer sounds is too early to call a win over Syracuse, I think the Hoos get another W here and run their ACC record to 3-1.
NC State - 1/14: The major addition for NC State is the hiring of Kevin Keatts. Keatts is a significant upgrade over Mark Gottfried. Gottfried could win on the recruiting trail, but despite having more talent than most of their opponents couldn't turn that into wins. Keatts inherits a roster with talent and he could have them competing in the top half of the ACC. Abdul-Malik Abu will lead the Wold Pack and while the NCAA Tournament may be a stretch, they will be too good to lose ten of their final eleven games like they did a season ago. It's the third home game in a row for Virginia, Keatts will have his guys playing tough, but I think Virginia get's another one.
@ Georgia Tech - 1/18: This game looked a lot more daunting until it was announced that Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson have been suspended indefinitely while the NCAA looks into potential rules violations involving impermissible benefits. The Yellow Jackets were a big surprise last year, and the pair along with Ben Lammers figured to have Georgia Tech competing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. It's unclear how long the suspension will last, but if these two aren't in uniform, I like for Virginia to get another win.
@ Wake Forest - 1/21: Head Coach Danny Manning has the Demon Deacons headed in the right direction, but the loss of John Collins will be too much to overcome. Bryant Crawford is a solid point guard, but probably not good enough to carry this team to a better record (9-9) than they had a season ago. I'm getting a little worried with how many wins I'm predicting thus far, but I still like the Hoos to get the W on the road
Clemson - 1/23: Jaron "Pack Line Kryptonite" Blossomgame is gone, and all the Hoos rejoice. No, seriously, I still have nightmares about that dude. Much like Wake Forest having to replace Collins, expect a steep drop from Clemson having to replace Blossomgame. It's going to be a tough year for Clemson who will now be led by Donte Grantham and Gabe Devoe and I like another Virginia victory in this spot.
@ Duke - 1/27: As much as it pains me to say this, Duke is going to be really good this year. This sets up to be the most talented freshman class the Blue Devils have ever had and they return Grayson Allen who whether you love him or hate him (ok, nevermind, everyone hates him) is still a really good college player. The only thing standing in their way is lack of leadership from Allen and the freshmen class taking some time to adjust as a team. By the end of January, they should have most of that figured out, and I just don't see the Hoos picking up that elusive win in Cameron Indoor.
Louisville - 1/31: By January 31st, we should have a pretty clear idea of how Louisville has adjusted to life sans Rick Pitino and with an FBI investigation still casting a shadow over the program. It almost saddened me to see Pitino fired as he seemed increasingly flummoxed by playing Virginia, and a date with Louisville was as close to a guaranteed quality for the Hoos as they come. Brian Bowen whose "recruitment" led to the firing of Pitino might actually be able to play. The FBI has cleared him of wrongdoing leaving his eligibility to Louisville. So expect him to suit up for David Padgett's team and along with Quentin Snider and Deng Adel the Cardinals will be in the mix for ACC supremacy. Regardless, I still like the Hoos at home in this one.
@ Syracuse - 2/03: Call me crazy, but I think UVA takes the return game in the Carrier Dome. How the mighty have fallen...I just don't see Syracuse being a very good ball club this year.
@ Florida State - 2/7: From one end of ACC country to the other, the Hoos face back to back road games, the second of which comes against the Florida State Seminoles. Leonard Hamilton's team will be a far cry from the one that earned a three seed in last year's NCAA Tournament. Losing Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Jonathan Isaac, and Dwayne Bacon (and his 29 points on 6-9 from three, not that I'm bitter) will be a tall order. Terrance Mann, Trent Forrest, and CJ Walker are talented, but not nearly as talented as the trio they're set to replace. While FSU will be down and likely finish in the bottom half of the league, Tallahassee is a tough place to play. Coming off another long road trip, I don't have a good feeling about this game. It's the one game on the year, the Hoos will drop that will leave us fans scratching our heads.
Virginia Tech - 2/10: Virginia has fared pretty well in their home matchups with the Hokies and I don't see anything different in this one. An interesting side note to Virginia and Virginia Tech this season. Should the two teams meet as ranked opponents, it would be the first time that has occurred since 1995.
@ Miami - 2/13: The Hurricanes come into the year with their most talented roster in years led by senior Ja'Quan Newton and rising star Bruce Brown. The Hoos struggled o score against the Hurricanes last year, as evidenced by their 54-48 overtime loss at home on “Malcolm Brogdon Appreciation Night”. Keep an eye on the Hurricanes off the court, as head coach Jim Larranaga's name has been connected to the FBI investigation. He and his legal team are cooperating with the investigation and believe he will be exonerated, but the situation bears monitoring. Should he be on the sidelines and his team remain intact, I fear the Hoos will fall in this one.
Georgia Tech - 2/21: Georgia Tech joins Syracuse as Virginia's home and home opponents for this season. Just as they did in Atlanta, I like for Virginia to take care of business in this home matchup.
@ Pittsburgh - 2/24: Talk about team with pieces to replace. For Pitt this season, it's not just a matter of replacing Jamel Artis and Michael Young. Kevin Stallings must replace virtually an entire team as they return just three players from a season ago. Add to that their most "experienced" player, Ryan Luther, logged just 19.3 minutes per game. It will be dificult for the Panthers to stay out of the ACC basement, and despite Pitt being a tough place to play, I like the Hoos on the road.
@ Louisville - 3/01: Virginia was Pitino's kryptonite, but I figure Padgett is able to figure something out here. Unless Louisville has been banned from postseason play by this point in the year, I think the Cardinals pick up the return game on their home court.
Notre Dame - 3/03: The Fighting Irish are led this season by Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, two of the best players in the ACC. This game could have huge bearing on ACC Tournament seeding and perhaps even NCAA Tournament seeding. It will be an emotional day for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, and I think the Hoos can send them out a winner.
If you've been keeping track at home that's a 13-5 ACC record which would have been good enough for second in the conference a season ago. It's not unrealistic for this squad, who despite being picked to finish sixth in the ACC, can surprise a lot of people. It's going to take development by the returning players and for Nigel Johnson, Jay Huff, and Deandre Hunter to be as good or better than advertised. Can they do it? Sure. But there are still a lot of "ifs" in this team's equation. It all tips off Friday November 10th against UNC Greensboro. Follow along all week as we wrap up our 2017-2018 Virginia Basketball Countdown and finally let the season begin.