In just two short weeks, Virginia Basketball will be back in our lives. The Hoos came in at No. 5 in the preseason rankings, their highest ranking to start the season since 1982-83. Conference play, as per usual, is going to be a grind as a poll-leading seven ACC squads made the preseason Top-25.
Coming off of a 17-1 conference season last year, the Hoos are once again one of the favorites for the regular season ACC crown. Beginning today, we’re breaking down the ACC slate, focusing on a couple of different stretches that will define the season.
We’ve broken the schedule down into three sections. Today we look at the beginning section, which includes the opening four games of conference play. Part two—coming Wednesday—looks at the middle part of the schedule, which covers seven games and includes the toughest tests of the season. The final piece will run Friday and also covers seven games, but a little bit of an easier stretch.
Course 1: The Appetizer
Virginia’s ACC slate begins on January 5th, which is the starting date for most of the ACC. Virginia plays four games over 11 days before getting three days off in the middle of the month. The opening slate features home games against FSU and VT, plus road games against BC and Clemson.
No. 17 Florida State, Jan 5 – The Hoos open the ACC slate at home against the Seminoles. The Noles finished 21-12 last year, entering the NCAA tourney as a No. 9 seed and running all the way to the Elite 8 where they fell to Michigan. They return almost the entire roster from last year, including leading scorer Phil Cofer. Cofer was a senior last year, but was given a medical hardship waiver for his sophomore season.
The Noles didn’t bring in much this offseason, but that’s to be expected when you return over 85% of minutes played last year. M.J. Walker, one of the top recruits in the nation last year, was underwhelming as a freshman. He’s big and strong, but took over half his shots from downtown, where he shot just 34%. He’ll have to improve if the Noles will improve on their eighth place finish.
Last year, FSU led by 10 at halftime at home before Virginia tightened the screws defensively and came back to win 59-55. This Noles team might be better than last year’s, but it’s still one that Virginia can handle at home.
@ Boston College, Jan 9 – The Wahoos’ first ACC road game is in Chestnut Hill, MA against the Eagles. BC was 19-16 last year, including home wins over Duke, FSU, and Miami. The Eagles also very nearly knocked off Virginia in Charlottesville, with Virginia eking out a 59-58 win thanks in large part to this block from Isaiah Wilkins:
BC’s backcourt duo of Jerome Robinson and Jordan Chatman combined for 47 points on 29 shots.
Robinson is with the Clippers now, but BC returns most of the rest of the team. The Eagles also return Ky Bowman, their second leading scorer from last year. Bowman is the PG, and while he led the team in assists, he also led the team in FG attempts. Bowman also averaged over six rebounds per game, almost all on the defensive glass. Newcomer Jairus Hamilton is one of the most athletic wings in the nation, so BC will look to run when Bowman grabs those defensive boards.
With Robinson gone, the Eagles are going to have to figure out ways to score consistently in the half court. If they get there, they could be a tournament team. If not, they’ll be NIT bound again. Against the Hoos, who are so good at controlling pace, BC will struggle to score. That should be enough for a Wahoo victory.
@ No. 22 Clemson, Jan 12 - It’s been five years since the Tigers have beaten Tony Bennett’s squad. Last year, Virginia handled Clemson 61-36 (36!) in their regular season matchup, holding the Tigers to just 13 second half points. Virginia also took care of Clemson in the ACC Tournament, but this was a closer game at 64-58. All told, the Tigers finished 25-10 (11-7 ACC).
From that team, Clemson returns 68% of minutes and 65% of points. They also bring in a trio of 4-star prospects (according to ESPN...247sports ranks them all three stars). That group brings in size and athleticism, but not much on offense. Clemson was seventh in the nation last year in defensive efficiency, but just 44th in offense. Losing Gabe DeVoe will hurt the defense, as he was their defensive stopper. Replacing that will really determine if they can repeat their success of year ago.
Like the Hoos, Clemson does it with defense. It’ll be a battle, but the Hoos have more firepower on offense. This will be the toughest of the opening quartet of games.
No. 15 Virginia Tech, Jan 15 - The Hokies provided the Cavaliers with their lone ACC loss last year, a one point OT win in Charlottesville. A big part of why they won was their three point shooting (38%). The Hokies were one of the best shooting teams in the nation, with four high-volume shooters over 39%. Three of those guys return this year, and Buzz Williams has brought in one of the top shooters in the incoming class in Landers Nolley. Nolley, though, may not get much run because he badly needs to gain strength and the Hokies have a lot of wing depth.
The Hokies also return Kerry Blackshear and Chris Clarke on the inside. Both are outstanding defensively and on the glass. Clarke can shoot it a little bit too. PG Justin Robinson is the best player on this team and if the Hokies are going to make noise in the ACC or nationally, it’ll be Robinson who gets them there.
As always, the Hoos and Hokies get a home-and-away. Chances are they’ll split the two games as they’ve done the past three years.
At the end of this stretch, we’ll know a lot more about this Virginia basketball team. If they’re 4-0 or 3-1, they’re contenders for the ACC title. If not, they’re likely not repeating as ACC regular season champs.
We’ll tackle the next part of the schedule on Wednesday. Til then, let us know in the comments
what you think Virginia’s record will be after these four games!