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Virginia Basketball’s 5 most intriguing non-conference games

The Hoos play some interesting matchups, including against nearby foes and former rivals.

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

The 2018-19 Virginia Basketball non-conference schedule has been released, and while the Hoos don’t have an obvious marquee matchup like previous seasons did with the likes of Villanova or West Virginia, it’s a solid start to the season. Virginia plays a very regional schedule with four schools from Maryland (Maryland, Towson, Coppin State, and Morgan State), two from Virginia (VCU and William & Mary), one from DC (GW), one from West Virginia (Marshall), and one from South Carolina (USC).

Virginia is heading to a more prestigious early season tournament in the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they have the potential to face the likes of Butler and one of Florida/Wisconsin/Oklahoma/Stanford.

So, which are the most intriguing matchups of the non-conference schedule?

5. Towson (Tuesday, November 6)

On it’s own, this game isn’t really anything to get excited about. Towson finished last season 18-14 over all and an unimpressive 8-10 in the CAA. They were No. 153 in the final 2018 KenPom rankings and No. 163 in Bart Torvik’s T-Rank. The Tigers come in at No. 274 in Torvik’s 2018-19 preseason rankings (KenPom’s haven’t been released yet), and lost three of their top five scorers to graduation.

On paper (or internet), the Hoos should handle Towson easily. The big intrigue surrounding this game comes with the off-court associations. How will the Hoos fare their first time out after losing in spectacular fashion to UMBC? Lucky for Virginia, this game will be played in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena. But, starting the season against a small Maryland school from the Baltimore area that wears black and gold uniforms that are serious underdogs? That’s intriguing.

4. Battle 4 Atlantis (21-23 November)

Virginia has dominated five straight early season tournaments, winning the Corpus Christi Challenge, Barclay’s Center Classic, Charleston Classic, Emerald Coast Classic, and the NIT Season Tip-Off since the 2013-14 season. This year, the Hoos are having a tropical Thanksgiving as they head to the Bahamas to play in the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis. UVA opens up the event against Middle Tennessee State, and will face Butler or Dayton if they move on.

The other side of the bracket features Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, ad Stanford. While it’s not the star-studded affair full of top-25 teams that maybe Virginia fans were hoping for, there are still some interesting teams in the tournament. Outside of Virginia (No. 7), only Butler (No. 24) is included in ESPN’s ‘way-too-early’ Preseason Top 25.

Regardless, Virginia’s MTSU matchup is nothing to take for granted, and a potential follow-up with Butler would be a good game. If the Hoos make it far enough and face Florida in the finals, it would be nice to get some revenge for the abysmal tournament loss two seasons ago.

Just don’t make us watch another UVA/Wisconsin game. Please, I beg of you.

3. VCU (Sunday, December 9)

VCU is one of two in-commonwealth opponents the Hoos face in the non-con (the other being William & Mary) and has become a stellar rivalry over the past handful of seasons. The Rams won the first matchup on a buzzer beater in Charlottesville back in 2013, but the Hoos have won the last two games (2014 and 2017) by a comfortable margin on the road in Richmond.

This game is the return of a home-and-home after Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers emerged victorious last season, 76-67. VCU trailed by as many as 12 points in the game, but pulled within three at 63-60 with five minutes to play. The Hoos used big three balls from Guy and Ty Jerome to secure the win.

Guy led the way with 29 points on 11-for-20 shooting (5-for-9 from three) in the game, and the Hoos only turned the ball over five times against VCU’s pressure.

2. Marshall (Monday, December 31)

Yes, Marshall is this high up. The Thundering Herd are no joke, and have one of the best players in the country in Jon Elmore. Alongside Elmore (36% from three), Marshall has CJ Burks (37% from three) and Jarrod West (40% from three) can all bang it home from beyond the arc.

As for tempo, the Thundering Herd are aptly named as Marshall likes to get up and down the court. Their adjusted tempo was sixth in the country last season, per KenPom. Their offense? Third in the nation. This is one of those “something’s gotta budge” games, and it should be fun to see the Virginia defense vs. Elmore and the Marshall offense.

1. Maryland (Wednesday, November 28)

Ahhhh, here we go. The Hoos somehow got saddled with returning to College Park to face the Terps in this year’s iteration of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and it’ll be a doozy. Maryland struggled last season, going just 19-13 overall and finishing eighth in the Big Ten at 8-10.

This season, Bart Torvik has the Terps at No. 36, which seems a little ambitious considering they lost Justin Jackson and Kevin Heurter to the NBA draft and Michal Cekovsky to graduation. Bruno Fernando, Anthony Cowan, and Darryl Morsell all return for Mark Turgeon and the Terps, so they’ll have a young group that’s very capable.

The last time the two met up (also at Maryland), Virginia led tip-to-tail and won 76-65 behind 18 points from Malcolm Brogdon and 16 from Justin Anderson. While the game itself will be a tough test, the real intrigue here lies in the relationship between the two schools. No one likes to play at Maryland. That’s just fact. Throw in the certainty of UMBC being brought up in every way possible and we’re guaranteed to see exactly what a “hostile environment” really is.

Which game are you most looking forward to in the non-conference? Leave a comment below!