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Breaking down Virginia Basketball’s ACC schedule: Part III

The home stretch should let UVA close the regular season with momentum

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Virginia vs Louisville Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, we looked at the first two “stretches” of the Virginia Cavaliers’ ACC schedule. The first one was just the opening 4 games, all winnable games. The second preview featured the next 7 games, which is really the “meat” of the schedule. This includes a home-and-home with Duke and a road game in Chapel Hill. The final two games of the stretch are back-to-back against Duke and UNC with just a single game of rest.

Notre Dame, Feb 16 - After the brutal Duke/UNC back-to-back, the Hoos get a much-needed five-day break before heading to South Bend for the return game against the Irish. As we noted on Wednesday, Notre Dame is going to be an extremely young team this year, but they have a ton of shooters which could cause problems for the Pack Line. That’s more likely to be an issue in South Bend than in Charlottesville, so this game shouldn’t be as tough as the earlier matchup.

@Virginia Tech, Feb 18 - Another quick turnaround for the Hoos, but at least they don’t have to travel far. This is another rematch game, with the Hoos having hosted the Hokies earlier in the year. The Hokies are a very good team this year, ranked #15 in the preseason AP poll.

They have a lot of shooting, they have wing depth and Buzz Williams is a very good coach. As I mentioned in the earlier preview, the Hoos and Hokies have split the season series the past 3 seasons, and there’s a good chance they’ll do so again.

@Louisville, Feb 23 - The Cardinals finished 22-14 last year, and played in the NIT. It was the first season in the wake of Rick Pitino’s firing, and it was the first time since 2006 that the Cardinals didn’t earn a entry into the NCAA tourney. (They didn’t play in the 2016 tourney due to NCAA sanctions, but a 23-8 record with 12 ACC wins certainly would’ve gotten them in otherwise.)

You may recall one of those 14 losses:

Interim head coach David Padgett kept Pitino’s scheme in place for the most part, and Louisville remained one of the fastest paced teams in the nation. The problem was that they simply weren’t very good. Since then they’ve brought in a new head coach, Chris Mack, previously at Xavier. Mack will likely not keep Pitino’s scheme in place, though they’ll still play pretty fast.

Louisville had just two true seniors on the roster last year but lost their top 2 juniors, Ray Spalding and Deng Adel, who both went pro early. Spalding is on the Mavericks and Adel was waived by both the Rockets and Raptors this offseason.

The top returning scorer is V.J. King, who averaged under 9 points per game. He’s expected to be a much bigger part of the offense this year. The other guy who will be counted on to step up his game is sophomore Jordan Nwara.

With the coaching change, Louisville’s recruiting class this year never materialized, but a strong recruiting class from last year remains. Big man Malik Williams will be the defensive stopper inside and 6’2’, 175 lb Darius Perry will step into the starting PG role with Quentin Snider’s graduation. Perry is quick and smart, but isn't much of a threat to shoot.

It’s likely going to be a bit of a down year for the Cardinals, who simply aren’t used to being unranked heading into a season. They’re still dealing with the fallout from Rick Pitino’s actions.

Georgia Tech, Feb 27 - The Yellow Jackets haven’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2010, and this doesn’t seem like the year that streak will end. Last year, they finished 13-19 (6-12 ACC). And that was with first round pick Josh Okogie and 2017 All-ACC center Ben Lammers.

The Ramblin’ Wreck’s leading returning scorer is PG Jose Alvarado, at around 12 points per game. Their top senior, Brandon Alston, also plays PG. And their top recruit, Mike DeVoe, is also a PG. That’s, uh, not good use of resources. At 6’5”, Alston could certainly fit on the wing.

Senior Abdoulaye Gueye is the only real size on the roster, and he’s really not much more than rebounds and blocks. He averaged under 6 points per game in over 20 minutes per game, and was a poor offensive player. Josh Pastnor’s team doesn’t have much front-court or wing depth and the three PG attack isn’t going to improve their 323rd ranked effective FG% from last year. This game, at home, should be a breeze...

Pittsburgh, Mar 2 – But not quite as much of a breeze as this one. The Panthers were 0-18 in the ACC last year. Hey, at least it can’t get worse. Will they be better? Probably. Will they be good enough to move out of the bottom of the ACC? Probably not.

Three of the top players for the Panthers have left via transfer, including two promising freshmen. Ryan Luthur, who missed most of last year with a foot injury, has left for Arizona as a graduate transfer.

The team will be led by sophomore Shamiel Stevenson and senior (JUCO transfer) Jared Wilson-Frame, a pair of wings who complement each other well. Wilson-Frame can shoot, Stevenson can’t. But Stevenson is a big, strong slashing wing and he draws attention away from Wilson-Frame. Pitt really couldn’t do anything right on offense last season, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change much this year.

It won’t be much easier at any point this season than back-to-back home games against Georgia Tech and Pitt.

@Syracuse, Mar 4 – But it does get tough after that stretch. The Orange are pre-season number 16 in the AP Poll. That’s coming off an Elite Eight run last year as an 11-seed. The team last year had no depth. Three players were among the top 7 in the nation in minutes played. For much of the season, Jim Boeheim basically had a six-man rotation. All 6 of those guys return.

The Orange were a terrible offensive team last year, ranking in the bottom 20% of college basketball in pretty much all shooting metrics. The top incoming recruit for Boeheim is Jalen Carey, a combo guard who can score. He’s not a shooter, but he’s certainly a scorer. As far as shooting goes, Boeheim’s own flesh and blood is the savior. Buddy Boeheim is just a three-star recruit, but he’s one of the top shooters in the class and at 6’5”, he’ll be able to get his shot off under pressure. Boeheim isn’t a good athlete for a Division I basketball player, but his size and knowledge of his dad’s zone defense mean he’ll likely get early run. (Nepotism doesn’t hurt, either.) The other newcomer is ECU transfer Elijah Hughes, who also has offensive potential.

Boeheim always seems to get the best out of his players, and guys who stick around tend to get better. If the three newcomers are able to improve the offense without harming the defense, this team could be scary. The added depth, along with a little bit of outside shooting, could make Syracuse a real force this year.

Louisville, Mar 9 - Once again, the Cavaliers get a small break before this game. This time, they get four days off. It’s nice, since the ACC Tournament begins just a couple of days later. (Of course, chances are pretty good that Virginia will get a couple of days off before beginning their ACC Title defense.)

Louisville, because of their style, was never an easy team to play. Mack’s teams have played at a pretty quick pace, but not with the same level of pressure defense. That means that getting them twice in two weeks won’t be as big a deal.

There’s at least four almost automatic wins in this stretch, with home games against Notre Dame, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Louisville. During the same stretch, UNC and Duke face off twice, and Syracuse gets both UNC and Duke as well as a game at Clemson. That could allow Virginia to put some distance between them and the rest of the ACC.

The season tips off in less than two weeks. Stay tuned to Streaking The Lawn for the rest of your season preview.