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2018 Virginia Basketball Countdown: A look at the non-conference schedule

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We take a look at who the Hoos play before the ACC grind starts.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at VCU Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Basketball’s 2018 season finally tips off tomorrow (Tuesday) when the Towson visits John Paul Jones Arena, kicking off a twelve-game out-of-conference schedule that spans through New Years Eve.

Here’s a look at who the Cavaliers will meet before ACC play; note that two opponents are still yet to be determined, based on results in the Battle 4 Atlantis November 21st to 23rd. The schedule isn’t without a few major challenges — notably, the Hoos have road matchups with Maryland and South Carolina, and could face a couple tough teams depending on how things shake out in the Bahamas.

That said, the non-conference as a whole is more manageable than the team has faced in recent years, with just three top-100 opponents guaranteed (albeit two on the road, and with opportunities to face two more), and none in the top 25. Over the last five seasons, UVA faced a combined 31 top-100 teams (6.2/season) and 8 top-25 teams (1.6/season) during the out-of-conference.

2018-19 Virginia Out of Conference Schedule

Day Date Opponent Preseason KenPom Rank
Day Date Opponent Preseason KenPom Rank
Tues. Nov. 6 Towson 230
Sun Nov. 11 George Washington 194
Fri. Nov. 16 Coppin State 350
Wed. Nov. 21 Middle Tennessee (N) 154
Thurs Nov. 22 Butler/Dayton (N) 31/100
Fri. Nov. 23 Florida/Oklahoma/Wisconsin/Stanford (N) 19/52/46/105
Wed. Nov. 28 @ Maryland 30
Mon. Dec. 3 Morgan State 343
Sun Dec. 9 VCU 126
Wed. Dec. 19 @ South Carolina 42
Sat Dec. 22 William & Mary 128
Mon. Dec. 31 Marshall 95

Here’s an overview of Virginia’s full schedule, broken down by tier:

Cupcakes:

vs. Towson
vs. George Washington
vs. Coppin State
vs. Morgan State

The Hoos start their season against the Towson Tigers, out of the CAA. After a devastating loss to end last season against a team from Baltimore County, what better way to completely eliminate the pain than to exact exact revenge on another team from Baltimore County, right? RIGHT?!?!

The best of this bunch is George Washington, who are far removed from the squad that beat the Hoos four years back in DC. The Colonials finished last season 7-11 in a diminished A-10 and graduate two senior starters.

The Hoos will also see Coppin State and Morgan State within the season’s’ first month. Both are ranked among the bottom ten teams in the nation by KenPom. Coppin State finished last season dead last in offensive efficiency, and are projected to do the same this year, so get those Packline Pledge checkbooks ready. Also, both are located in Baltimore City, preventing further revenge against Baltimore County teams.

Should-wins:

vs. Middle Tennessee State (Neutral)
vs. VCU
vs. William and Mary
vs. Marshall

A bubble team last season, MTSU lost in the first round of the Conference USA tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament despite a 24-6 (16-2) season. However, they lost their five starters as well as their best scorer off the bench (three to graduation, three to transfer), and head coach Kermit Davis was hired by Ole Miss. This should be a rebuilding season under new coach Nicholas McDevitt, who moved over from UNC-Asheville.

VCU is another squad who likely looked a little tougher when the game was originally scheduled. The Rams gave the Hoos a scare in the Siegel Center last season, where they trailed by three points with under five minutes to go before Virginia salted the game away. They lose center Justin Tillman, who averaged 18 points per game last season, but return four starters including the dangerous De’riante Jenkins.

William & Mary was tops in the nation last season in both three-point percentage and free-throw percentage; they lose their best two long-range shooters, but still return three other players who made over 40% of their threes. However, the Tribe’s issues come on defense. In each of the last five seasons, they have ranked 52nd or better in offensive efficiency but 171st or worse in defense, and this year should show a similar pattern.

Marshall actually accounted for both of MTSU’s conference losses last year. The Thundering Herd, coached by Dan D’Antoni (the older brother of the Houston Rockets coach), went on to win the C-USA Tournament and upset Wichita State as a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Marshall plays at one of the fastest clips in the nation (3rd in average offensive possession length), true to the D’Antoni name. Senior guard Jon Elmore, who used 29% of the team’s possessions and averaged 23 points per game with a 53% eFG%, will be the player to watch.

The Rest of the Battle 4 Atlantis

Two opponents are still TBD. Early season tournaments like these face a trade-off for fans. Do we want the Hoos to have a clear path to some sweet hardware? If so, root for relatively beatable Dayton and Stanford. Looking out for the team’s RPI and hoping for some early signature wins? Then opportunities to beat a Butler team that returns most of its pieces from its NCAA Tournament squad last season, then Florida or Washington (the only team on UVA’s schedule ranked in the preseason AP Top 25) would be better.

Road Showdowns

@ Maryland
@ South Carolina

Virginia has two (non-Battle 4 Atlantis) games against major-conference schools, both on the road.

UVA draws Maryland in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Last season’s Terps underperformed, missing the Big Dance for the first time in four seasons. However, the young squad adds top-25 recruit Jalen Smith, a 6’10 forward, who will pair with Bruno Fernando for one of the more intimidating front-courts the Hoos will face, and in what promises to be a raucous atmosphere. It’s the first matchup between the teams since Virginia beat Maryland 76-65 in the 2014 Challenge.

The Hoos will play South Carolina for the first time since 2002, kicking off a home-and-home matchup. After a surprising Final Four appearance as a 7-seed in 2017, USC took a step back last year, finishing their year 16-15. The Gamecocks under Frank Martin have been one of the country’s better defensive squads, but haven’t always had the offensive firepower to match it.