Tonight, the No. 9 Virginia men’s basketball kicks off its toughest stretch of the regular season. The Hoos are playing three of the next four games on the road, starting with tonight’s (February 10) game at Georgia Tech. After GT, Virginia hosts North Carolina before hitting the road for games at Florida State and Duke.
It’s hard to be too disappointed in the start of the 2020-21 season. Losses to San Francisco and Gonzaga were not ideal, but Virginia has a 13-3 record and currently sits atop the ACC at 9-1. Virginia’s huge win over Clemson has lost a little of its luster after the Tigers decided to lose to just about everyone by 20 in subsequent games to GT, Florida State, and Duke.
Even with the record, it’s impossible to ignore the simple fact that Virginia’s best win is against Clemson, KenPom’s No. 47 team. This is a team that is good on paper and (usually) good on the court, but there are no really exciting wins to point to at this juncture. The middle of the ACC is actually better than it was last year, but really only Virginia and Florida State have emerged as really good teams. With fewer opportunities to pick up top-10 — or even top-20 — wins, these games against the upper half of the ACC mean more.
If the Cavaliers want to boost their resume, now is the time. Georgia Tech is a good team, especially at home. The Jackets are a perfect 5-0 at home in conference play this season, including a 17-point come-from-behind win over Notre Dame in their last game. Virginia escaped with a two-point win in Charlottesville, bolstered by 22 points from Sam Hauser and 18 points from Jay Huff. The Yellow Jackets shot a feisty 60% from three in the first matchup as Jose Alvarado scored 20 in the loss.
After GT, there’s North Carolina (hopefully). The Tar Heels had to cancel Monday night’s game against Miami after video surfaced of some players partying without masks after their win over Duke. It’s still uncertain if UNC will have to postpone any more games as a result, or if the offending players will be available for the game.
Regardless, don’t sleep on UNC. The Tar Heels are playing better now than at the beginning of the season, and they have a bonafide point guard in freshman Caleb Love and return the stellar Garrison Brooks in the front court. UNC is strong — as per usual — on the offensive boards, something that the Hoos struggled with at times in wins against NC State and Pittsburgh.
The test of the season is without a doubt Virginia’s game on February 15 against Florida State. FSU is the only other ACC team in KenPom’s top 20 and is one of the three ACC teams ranked in the top-25. The Noles have been on a COVID pause, but have a tune-up game against Wake Forest before hosting the Hoos.
Then comes Duke. Yes, Duke is very bad this year. Regardless, a win in Cameron Indoor — fans or no fans — is still important. At this point, a loss at Duke could be considered a bad loss, even thought the Blue Devils have a lot of young talent.
We are going to learn a lot about the Cavaliers over the next 10 days. It is important to see low turnover numbers, strong rebounding, and consistent offense. Virginia isn’t a finished product, and that’s fine at this point of the season. You don’t want to peak too early. That said, we need to see Virginia get a couple wins in this stretch to help define its season.
The Hoos and Jackets tip off at 7pm tonight, and it will be broadcast on regional sports networks or ACCNX.