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Virginia Basketball: Previewing the Non-Conference Schedule

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Virginia Syracuse Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Cavaliers Basketball tips off in under a week and as usual, the Hoos open the season with a bunch of non-conference games before heading in ACC play. This year, as with many recent years, Virginia does have one earlier conference game, in the middle of non-conference play. The Hoos have nine out of conference games this season, three against major conference opponents. The other six come against low-major conferences, and are games Virginia should expect to win with relative ease.

Navy - Tuesday November 9
2021 Record: 15-3 (12-1 Patriot League), Final KenPom Ranking: 189

The Midshipmen are a veteran team that may cause some problems for the Hoos with all the new faces in Charlottesville. Navy did lose their leader in minutes, points, assists and steals in PG Cam Davis, but the entire rest of the rotation returns.

Navy has little size, allowing Tony Bennett to play around with his rotations without worrying about mismatches. John Carter is the de facto leader now, although 6’8” junior Daniel Deaver may end up leading the team in scoring. Deaver averaged just seven points per game last year, but he is aggressive on the offensive side and he can score.

Although Navy has some veteran talent returning and Virginia will be opening the season with a lot of new faces and new roles, Virginia should not be overly troubled by the Midshipmen.

Radford - Friday November 12
2021 Record: 15-12 (12-6 Big South), Final KenPom Ranking: 243

Radford finished second in the Big South last year, but are picked fifth this season largely due to some personnel losses. They’ve lost their top scorer and assist man in Fah’Mir Ali, along with five other players. There are some youngsters around who should step into bigger roles after those departures. That starts with Xavier Lipscomb, who shot over 40% from downtown and was starting as a freshman by mid-season.

Lipscomb may have to play PG, simply because there isn’t another one on the roster. They have some size and depth on the wings, which may not trouble Virginia much, but should trouble the Big South. And 6’9” 245 lb Lewis Djonkam is one of the top offensive rebounders in the nation and can score inside. He’ll be trouble for Virginia’s thin front court.

Djonkam aside, this team really doesn’t have enough talent to play with the Hoos at JPJ. If Virginia keeps the big man in check, they should have no trouble coming out on top.

Houston - Tuesday November 16
2021 Record: 28-4 (14-3 AAC), Final KenPom Ranking: 5

Virginia gets their first real test in the third game of the season, as they travel to Houston to play the Cougars, who received a two seed in the NCAA tourney last season and reached the final four.

However, there’s not a ton left from that team. Leading scorer Quentin Grimes and PG DeJon Jarreau are both in the NBA now. Leading rebounder Justin Gorham is playing professionally in Germany. Most of the rest of the team returns and there’s an addition that may be recognizable to Virginia fans. Kyler Edwards, who had 12 points in 21 minutes as a freshman off the bench for Texas Tech in the 2019 Championship game, is a graduate transfer for Houston. He’ll take on Grimes’ role. Taze Moore is also a graduate transfer, coming from Cal State Bakersfield and he’ll provide some outside shooting and perimeter defense.

The Cougars don’t have a ton of size and need to find a PG to replace Jarreau. Getting them early on may help, as they try to incorporate new guys into new roles. Of course, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson would likely say the same thing about Virginia.

This will be a very tough matchup on the road. Houston may not be good enough to grab a 2-seed again this year, but they are still good enough to knock off the Wahoos at home. Hopefully, Virginia comes prepared.

Coppin St - Friday November 19
2021 Record: 9-13 (8-4 MEAC), Final KenPom Ranking: 291

The Eagles played at the single fastest (adjusted) tempo in all of college basketball last season, shooting a ton of threes and forcing a lot of steals. It didn’t always work (40 point loss to Virginia Tech), but it was successful other times (10 point loss @Duke). And 8-4 in conference is solid for anybody.

Four of their five starters last season were seniors and have moved on. That’s going to hurt. The lone returner is Nendah Tarke, whose older brother was the leading scorer last season. One other guy to watch out for is Kyle Cardaci, who was fourth on the team in minutes and shot over 40% from three.

They replace all their losses with transfers, either from JUCO or the more standard transfer. There are also a few of last year’s freshmen who should step into bigger roles. They won’t be good, at least not in a national picture. But they should be competitive in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. That said, they really don’t have the talent to play with the Hoos.

Georgia - Monday November 22 - Part of the Legends Classic
2021 Record: 14-12 (7-11 SEC), Final KenPom Ranking: 95

Virginia heads to Newark, NJ for the Legends Classic, where they’ll face Georgia and then either Northwestern and Providence the following night.

The Bulldogs lose their top six scorers from last year’s disappointing team, all to transfers. Most surprising about that is that three of those guys transferred to other SEC teams. That’s strange and possibly troubling if you’re a UGA basketball fan (do those exist?).

The top returner is P.J. Horne, who previously played for the Hokies and never had much success against Virginia. Speaking of Virginia, a familiar name will be present for the Bulldogs. Jabri Abdur-Rahim, the highly touted freshman who had trouble seeing the floor for the Hoos last season transferred to Georgia. Horne can shoot, and Jabri is a talented scorer who seemed to struggle with Tony Bennett’s defense and rigid schemes.

Additionally, there are a number of JUCO guys and a few graduate transfers, Jailyn Ingram (FAU), Braelen Bridges (Illinois-Chicago), Aaron Cook (Gonzaga) and Noah Bauman (USC). Can that group find some cohesion and become a part of the SEC conversation? Probably not. Could they get hot and knock off Virginia on a neutral court? Possibly.

Lehigh - Friday November 26
2021 Record: 4-11 (4-10 Patriot League), Final KenPom Ranking: 334

An unusual twist during this era of college basketball, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks return almost the entirety of last year’s squad. The only impact player from last year that isn’t on the roster anymore is Ben Li, dubbed the “Chinese Zion Williamson”. He is playing professionally in China now.

This team couldn’t shoot, though not from lack of trying. They were one of the most three point happy teams in the nation, but also one of the worst at shooting the three. That made them one of the worst offensive teams. Bear in mind that their schedule was entirely within the Patriot League, so this wasn’t just Power-5 schools beating up on the low-major. It was just a bad team.

They do have some size, and should be strong on the glass. They’ll also press and push in transition to get easy buckets, since they struggle in the half-court. Having guys return is a double-edged sword. It’s good to have continuity, but it may block better players. Lehigh may improve this season, and it would be hard not to. But they still can’t play with the big boys.

Iowa - Monday November 29 - ACC/Big Ten Challenge
2021 Record: 22-9 (14-6, Big Ten), Final KenPom Ranking: 7

Virginia’s opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this year will be the Hawkeyes, who will not have 2021 National POY Luke Garza (now in the NBA). They will, however, have Jordan Bohanan back, their PG and one of the top shooters in the nation. Bohanan is entering his sixth season at Iowa, and actually faced Virginia way back in 2016 in the Emerald Coast Classic, scoring six points on eight shots in 23 minutes.

The Hawkeyes have two sets of brothers, the McCaffreys and the Murrays. Keegan Murray is possibly the best player on the team. Losing Garza hurts, because he was a beast inside and also often initiated the offense. But the Hawkeyes have plenty of frontcourt depth, which may give Virginia some trouble. On the other hand, the Hawkeyes do not have much perimeter depth behind Bohanan, so they’ll need guys to step up there.

This game won’t be easy, but it’s in Charlottesville and this Hawkeye team likely isn’t as good as they’ve been the past few years.

JMU - Tuesday December 7
2021 Record: 13-7 (8-2 CAA), Final KenPom Ranking: 177

This game comes after the ACC opener against Pitt as Virginia heads into their exam break. These two teams last played in 2019, a 31 point win for the Wahoos. Three Wahoos remain from that game (Kody Stattman, Kihei Clark and Jayden Nixon), but just one JMU player remains despite having six freshmen see minutes in that game.

JMU’s leading scorer in that game was Matt Lewis, who averaged 20 points per game last season and saw some time with the Timberwolves during the summer. He is the first JMU basketball player to sign with an NBA team in 30 years. Replacing Lewis is going to be very difficult.

The Dukes are going to play fast. They don’t have any true size, with no players over 6’8”. Two interior players are 6’8” Julien Wooden and 6’7” Justin Amadi. Amadi is the real interior presence, a very good interior scorer, rebounder and defender who can also knock down an outside shot (3/3 from downtown last year).

Vado Morse is the leading returning scorer. He’s a volume scorer, who shot just 41% from the field and 35% from three in averaging 14 points per game. He’ll play both guard spots, and he’ll see a lot of both Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark. This is another game which Virginia should win with ease.

Fairleigh Dickinson - Saturday December 18
2021 Record: 9-15 (8-10 NEC), Final KenPom Ranking: 299

The Hoos finish their out of conference season against the Knights of Fairleigh Dicksinson, one of the teams on the schedule, at least based on KenPom’s preseason rankings. Last year’s 9-15 team was led by a pair of seniors, Jahlil Jekins on the outside and Elyjah Williams on the inside. Both are gone now.

The leader now is Brandon Rush (no relation that I can find to the former NBA player of the same name), who averaged 14 points per game last season, shooting over 40% from downtown. Over half his shots came from behind the arc, but he’s going to have to do more this year. Sophomore Joe Munden, Jr also shot over 40% from three and impressed defensively. Munden is likely the best player on the roster this year.

Those two seniors from last year’s squad were both very good, which makes their 9-15 record surprising. There is very little chance FDU improves following the departure of those two. Virginia should not be troubled by the Knights.

Following this game, Virginia moves in full-time conference play. Stay tuned for our conference preview, coming soon.