Conference play kicks off this afternoon with No. 9 Florida State coming to John Paul Jones Arena to face the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers. As is the case every year, the ACC is a brutal slog for every team, but the Hoos enter the season coming off of a 17-1 mark in the conference in 2017-18 with the regular season and tournament titles.
So I asked the team: With ACC play here, how do you think UVA fares in conference? What will their record be in conference play, and where do they finish? Who are the losses? If you’re so inclined, what are you most confident in and most worried about heading into conference play after the non-con?
Danny: I think UVA will do well in conference play, but come up short of winning the regular season title. The schedule starts off tough with three top #10 teams in the first five games. Then there is another brutal stretch of four ranked teams in six games, three of which are on the road. I cannot see Virginia getting out of that gauntlet with less than four losses. That gets the Hoos to roughly 9-4 with five relatively easy games left. Throw in an unforeseen clunker or a road upset in there and a 14-4 or 13-5 season sounds reasonable. That probably gets UVA a second or third place finish in the ACC behind Duke.
Tiki: Right now, it seems like maybe the ACC is better than last year, but it remains to be seen if that’s actually true. I don’t see why we’d really struggle more than last year. I figure we split with VT and Duke. Although I think we’ll beat Duke at home, I figure we aren’t coming back less than 48 hours later to win @UNC. I also agree with Danny that there may be a poor performance somewhere and we lose a game we shouldn’t. So that’s 4 losses. 14-4 makes sense to me. Probably not enough to win the conference. But definitely enough for a double-bye.
Will: I think UVa does well and ends up winning the regular season again at 14-4. They’ll drop the two of the three toughest road tests (Duke, UNC, and VT), one other road game, and drop one at home to someone. 28-4 is #1 seed quality again and a win or two in the ACCT would solidify that. I think Duke’s freshmen end up at 13-5 or 12-6 just due to the rigors of ACC play and playing in actual away games not at Madison Square Garden.
As for what I am most worried about, it may sound weird to read or write, but it is the depth. UVa has a great starting five of Guy, Jerome, Hunter, Salt/Diakite, and Key/Clark, but we all know the foul trouble Diakite can get in to and while Clark has been a splendid surprise, I am not sure what he’ll be able to do from an offensive standpoint with two hands in ACC play. After that, who do you trust coming off the bench? Key has been great but I think he needs minutes to get going. I am the President of the Jay Huff for Wooden Award Fan Club, but defense runs the show in Charlottesville and who knows. Marco Anthony? Kody Stattmann? Francesco Badocchi? We’ve never seen them in ACC play to know what they really look like under the bright lights.
Ultimately though, I think a shorter bench could be more of a benefit than a detriment. Bennett won’t be trying to rotate everyone in and playing 7-8 in the important games could be great come NCAA Tournament time.
Sayer: Like Will, I like our chances to repeat as ACC regular season champs at around a 14-4 or 15-3 record. Unlike Duke, who has proven to be more beatable that some of the tabloids indicated after their season opening stomping of Kentucky, UVa has experience, which is key to avoiding upsets on the road. Still, we have to wait and see how the Florida State game plays out on Saturday before we can be sure that this team has what it takes to go back-to-back.
Oddly, I’m confident in the team’s ability to score on a consistent basis. Throughout the non-con, the three-headed monster of Guy, Jerome, and Hunter each showed they could lead the Hoos on the offensive end on a given night - that’s crucial for a team whose offense can traditionally go awry.
Pierce: Because I don’t think we’ll ever hear from Matt Ellis again, I will go the pessimistic route and say...12-6 in the ACC. Mainly I’d see it as a combination of regressing to the mean after last year’s exceptional record and a tougher selection of road games for the Hoos. @BC, @Clemson, @VT, @Duke, @ND, @NCSU, @UNC, @LV, @Cuse... I could see a really good team still losing four or even five of those.
The biggest concern I have is about the front court defense if/when Mamadi or Jack get into foul trouble - but I really think my prediction is more about the realistic difficulty of a conference filled with decent-to-great teams. Call it pessimism, but if a few good bounces turn into bad ones I think UVa will lose a few games that it shouldn’t on paper. BUT THEN WE’LL MAKE A RUN IN MARCH WHEN NO ONE IS EXPECTING IT.
Wiley: My two favorite analytics sites—the OG KenPom.com and newcomer BartTorvik.com—predict ACC records of 13-5 and 14-4, respectively. The most “losable” games are road trips to Duke, Virginia Tech, and UNC-Chapel Hill, in that order; Duke’s return visit to JPJ carries the next lowest UVA win likelihood. If those are the four losses (and it seems extremely plausible for them to be), then another regular-season title is out of the question: Duke isn’t losing five ACC games if they’re beating Virginia twice.
And that is 100 percent ok by me. I’ve said all year that I want this season’s squad to fly a little under the radar. No #1 ranking, no chatter about an undefeated regular season or breaking last year’s record number of ACC wins. Take a lump or two during the conference slate, since the next loss is the first one since That Loss. Re-open the wound a little bit when the games don’t REALLY matter, learn to move past it, and use it as fuel going forward. Then come on like an unholy banshee come tournament play and cut down every net between here and Minneapolis.
Ryan: Wow Pierce, I hadn’t looked at the slate of road games strung out like that before. That’s a pretty rough group of games. However, what I love about this team from the non-con is they’re finally outscoring teams as opposed to just suffocating them. Call me crazy but, Virgininia can go toe to toe offensively with just about every team in this league save for Duke, and the defense is still the calling card. I think that’s good enough to go 6-3 on the road with the losses coming @Duke and @VaTech plus one more @NCSU or @UNC. 15-3 will be good for a one game win over Duke for the ACC Regular Season title.