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Why Virginia basketball’s ACC schedule sets the ‘Hoos up for success

Weak strength of schedule and a light early run of games provides a golden opportunity for the young Cavaliers

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Virginia vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team enters the 2023-24 season full of unknowns, returning just one starter from last year’s ACC champion roster. The ‘Hoos will need significant contributions from underclassmen as well as transfers taking a step up to a higher level of play, and while stalwart guard Reece Beekman provides at least some consistency, it won’t be surprising to see some growing pains throughout the year.

Fortunately for the Cavaliers, their ACC schedule sets them up for success about as well as possible. Five of Virginia’s six two-game opponents finished outside the top half of the conference, including the three worst teams in the ACC last season. The ‘Hoos also face just two teams in their first 10 games who finished last year with a winning record in the ACC.

There are no free wins in what’s still a strong Power 5 conference, but the Cavaliers have a golden opportunity to take advantage of a soft early schedule in conference play to integrate their new pieces and get rolling before facing the conference’s top teams later in the season.

Breaking down the ACC schedule

A quick ACC basketball schedule primer: Each team plays 20 games in conference play (10 at home and 10 on the road). Since the ACC currently has 15 teams, those 20 games have to be played against 14 different potential opponents — so every team will play six teams twice in a home-and-away series and eight teams just once over the course of the season.

Of those six two-game combinations, or repeats, two occur every year. These are the games against “primary rivals,” which have been set by the ACC to make sure that big conference rivalries are played twice a year. Virginia’s two primary rivals are Virginia Tech and Louisville, so the ‘Hoos will get two games apiece against the Hokies (11th in the conference last season) and Cardinals (a dismal 15th).

The other double matchups the Cavaliers drew aren’t much more challenging. Virginia will play cellar dwellers Georgia Tech (13th) and Notre Dame (14th) twice. The Cavaliers also draw NC State, who put together a surprising tournament-quality team last season but lost loads of perimeter talent to the NBA in Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, and a middling Wake Forest roster.

What about the other juggernauts of the ACC — Duke, North Carolina, and Miami? Or those up-and-coming teams which looked better than expected last season and might build on that success, like Pitt and Clemson? Virginia draws all those teams just once and get Miami, Pitt and UNC at home.

The Cavaliers also drew a particularly easy start to their schedule. Only two of their first 10 ACC games are against teams that finished in the top half of the league last season, and those games are both against NC State. The most challenging games — at Duke, Miami on two days of rest — take place in the back half of the season, so the Cavaliers should have some time to get their legs under them in ACC play.

The full ACC schedule

Saturday, Dec. 2 at Syracuse

Saturday, Dec. 30 at Notre Dame

Wednesday, Jan. 3 vs. Louisville

Saturday, Jan. 6 at NC State

Saturday, Jan. 13 at Wake Forest

Wednesday, Jan. 17 vs. Virginia Tech

Saturday, Jan. 20 at Georgia Tech

Wednesday, Jan. 24 vs. NC State

Saturday, Jan. 27 at Louisville

Wednesday, Jan. 31 vs. Notre Dame

Saturday, Feb. 3 at Clemson

Monday, Feb. 5 vs. Miami

Saturday, Feb. 10 at Florida State

Tuesday, Feb. 13 vs. Pitt

Saturday, Feb. 17 vs. Wake Forest

Monday, Feb. 19 at Virginia Tech

Saturday, Feb. 24 vs. North Carolina

Wednesday, Feb. 28 at Boston College

Saturday, March 2 at Duke

Saturday, March 9 vs. Georgia Tech

Double matchups: Virginia Tech (rival), Louisville (rival), Notre Dame, NC State, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech

Single matchups: Syracuse, Clemson, Miami, Florida State, Pitt, North Carolina, Boston College, Duke