By Eugene Mulero
This season’s Virginia team is poised to deliver big wins throughout the year as it positions itself for another run at a national title.
The start of the 2020-21 season features several non-conference matchups against Mid-majors with a few high-profile contests against powerhouses in the mix. For Virginia’s men’s basketball squad, the early schedule promises just the right amount of resistance to start the season.
Coach Tony Bennett’s system on both ends of the court is expected to cancel out top playmakers from opposing teams, regardless of the conference.
For the Cavs, this season’s campaign commences against the University of Maine. The two teams will meet Nov. 25 at the so-called Bubbleville campus at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. Maine’s Black Bears, projected to finish near the bottom of the America East Conference, are bound to offer just-the-right amount of pushback. However, Virginia, the clear favorite, is very likely to flex its muscles at the forward and center positions against Maine. Of note, Maine fell by 20 points to the Cavs this time last year.
In a sign of the times, Bubbleville will host myriad games and tournaments in an effort to get the road to March Madness started for both championship favorites, as well as promising contenders. The coronavirus pandemic prompted NCAA league officials to proceed with safety measures to accommodate teams in safe and isolated venues, a situation not unique to college sports. Developments related to the pandemic have the potential of disrupting or even canceling aspects of the season.
The Maine matchup will be followed by a meeting with Florida, also to be held at Bubbleville. In potentially good news for Virginia, a pair of home games soon follows the meeting with the Gators. First for the Cavs is Saint Francis (Pa.) on Dec. 1, then Kent State on Dec. 4.
Saint Francis, a rising force in the Northeast Conference, is expected to display a valiant effort both inside the perimeter and in three-point territory. Junior Myles Thompson, an offensive presence with ball handling skills and versatility in the paint, is capable of ensuring a double-double for the Red Flash. If Thompson is in top form, he might present problems throughout the contest for Virginia’s big men. In Kent State, the Cavs meet a Mid-American Conference darling with promising guards and sound defense. Those games lead to a high-profile meeting with Michigan State.
Soon after facing off against the Spartans, Virginia will host the Colonial Athletic Association’s College of William and Mary on Dec. 12. To be sure, this year’s expectations for the Tribe are low (with the exception of freshman Yuri Covington). For the Cavs, the contest would ideally present a position for players to fine-tune set-up plays, as well as any defensive gaps.
Virginia’s conference outlook will look clearer after the team wraps up its early season schedule with teams displaying an array of talents. To be sure, top teams from coast to coast should keep the Cavs on their radar.
Eugene Mulero is a journalist based in Fairfax, Va.