The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball season is rapidly approaching and a manageable non-conference schedule looms ahead. Whereas last year’s slate required the ‘Hoos to step up immediately against some of the nation’s top teams, each of the 2023-24 opponents are extremely beatable. I would be surprised to see UVA run the table in their out-of-conference games and it’s also hard to see them drop more than two.
Overall, the slate consists of six buy games (games against mid major opponents that Virginia is paying to come to Charlottesville), one additional home game, a road game, and three neutral site contests:
vs Tarleton State: Monday, Nov. 6 at 7 pm
After a solid season for head coach Billy Gillespie, the Texans are back down to 219th in Torvik’s preseason projections. They are a pesky, aggressive defensive team that was top five in the country in turnovers forced last year. This was good enough to take down Boston College and nearly Arizona State last November, holding both under 60 points. However, the scoring is going to be difficult to come by, especially with star guard, Freddie Hicks, transferring to Arkansas State. A well-rounded performance would have me feeling good about the Hoos’ after the opener.
vs Florida: Friday, Nov. 10 at 7 pm (Charlotte, NC)
The Gators have had Tony Bennett’s number as has their head coach Todd Golden. Although Florida finished below .500 in Golden’s first year in Gainesville, this year’s squad appears to be significantly more dangerous.
Leading scorer and dominant post presence, Colin Castleton, has graduated, but this opens up an opportunity for the Golden to return to his old identity. Expect a faster-paced offensive attack that wants to get downhill off the bounce and seek open shooters off the catch. This will be a major test to Virginia’s defensive communication early.
vs North Carolina A&T: Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 7 pm
In Division 1 basketball, there is just one team ranked below the Aggies in Torvik. In three games versus high major foes last year, they were 0-3 with an average margin of 38.7 points. NC A&T returns just 10% of the production from that team. Virginia should win this one with ease.
vs Texas Southern: Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7 pm
The Tigers are looking to repeat as SWAC champions for seventh time in eight seasons. Credit to coach Johnny Jones: Texas Southern has a non-conference schedule loaded with road games against New Mexico, Arizona State, Creighton, and Purdue, in addition to Virginia. However, the size is just not there with this team. In UVA’s case, this may be a good game to feed Jordan Minor and Blake Buchanan, if nothing else.
Fort Myers Tip-Off: Monday Nov. 22 - Wednesday Nov. 24
The Cavaliers travel down to the Sunshine State, first to take on a familiar foe in Wisconsin. Expect this to be your typical Cavaliers-Badgers low-scoring affair, with a sprinkle of flashiness. Similar to Ryan Dunn, Wisconsin wing A.J. Storr was not consistent in the stat sheet during his freshman season but showcased his NBA upside and highlight reel plays.
Two days later, the ‘Hoos will take on either SMU or West Virginia. These are clearly the bottom two teams in the bracket. The Mustangs return guard Zhuric Phelps, and should have a solid defense. However, their inefficient offense has them picked seventh in the preseason AAC poll. The Mountaineers have talent but have dealt with constant adversity and instability all offseason from a personnel perspective. At this point, I would still judge Virginia more by how they win/lose as opposed to purely the results.
vs Texas A&M: Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 7:15 pm
This could easily be Virginia’s most difficult test of the non-conference slate. The Aggies were picked 15th in the preseason AP Poll and are even more of an analytic darling. They return three players who should be double digit scorers in Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford, and Henry Coleman III (a couple of familiar names here).
This will be the game where Virginia will have to knock down three-point shots to win. Texas A&M allowed over 45% of total shots against to be beyond the arc (one of the highest rates in the NCAA), which albeit worked against an SEC dominated by interior play. This could also be why the Aggies struggled early on against better outside shooting teams. The opportunities will be there; can the ‘Hoos capitalize?
vs North Carolina Central: Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 7 pm
Virginia took down the Eagles on opening night of last season, 73-61. That team was sneaky and went 10-4 in MEAC play. Their backcourt of Justin Wright and Eric Boone, who combined for 38 points against UVA, have both moved on. This should be another game that the Cavaliers handle with ease.
vs Northeastern: Saturday, Dec. 16 at 6 pm
After the exam break, Bennett’s squad will host yet another opponent that finished outside of Torvik’s top 300 last season. If you are looking for a game for Virginia to hold their opponent to a ridiculously low number, this may be the one. The Huskies are the opposite of Texas A&M, in that they aggressively defend the three-point line and allow a lot of twos. This plays to Reece Beekman’s strength as a ball handler.
at Memphis: Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 7 pm
Penny Hardaway continues to build this Tigers program and now, their talent coincides with an immense amount of experience. Somehow, with just over two weeks until the start of the regular season, we still don’t know whether AAC Player of the Year candidate, DeAndre Williams, will be eligible to play (thanks NCAA!). Furthermore, with their top six projected rotational players being incoming transfers, it is difficult to determine a clear identity for this team right now.
Perhaps, Memphis will pose a unique challenge to the ‘Hoos. Their length and athleticism may cause particular problems to an offensive system like the mover-blocker. Either way, it is too early to get an accurate feel for this matchup.
vs Morgan State: Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 7 pm
The Bears went 14-16 overall and 7-7 in MEAC play last season. Their two leading scorers, who both averaged over 17.5 points per game, have graduated. This should be a spot for the Cavaliers to feel good as they prepare for the grind of ACC play.