Tuesday, November 6th
The Towson Tigers were a middle-of-the-pack CAA team last year, finishing 18-14 (8-10) behind the breakout play of sophomore 2nd-team all-CAA guard Zane Martin (19.8 ppg) and the steady veteran play of senior guard Mike Morsell (14.0 ppg, and also the older brother of 2019 Hoo commit Casey Morsell). Head coach Pat Skerry is in his 8th year at the school having won 20+ games on three occasions, has some rebuilding to do, though. Martin jumped to the bigger stage of ... New Mexico (?), while Morsell and three other seniors graduated, and productive PF Justin Gorham (9.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg) transferred to Houston. Gone are their top 6 scorers from last year, making this a total rebuild. A trio of role player veterans will try and pick up the slack, senior wing Jordan McNeil (4.7 ppg), junior PF Dennis Tunstall (2.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg), and senior center Alex Thomas (2.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg). They'll be joined by two JUCOs to paper over the losses, guard Brian Fobbs (26.4 ppg, 12.7 rpg at D-II Genesee where he was a D-II all-American), and lead guard Tobias Howard (13.4 ppg, 4.0 apg for Chipola). The rest of the roster is composed of 6 freshmen. Fobbs may be the only player capable of making a real impact in this game offensively, and the Tigers defense will be a disorganized mess. Virginia will start the season with a comfortable win.
Saturday, November 10th
George Washington Colonials
The Colonials struggled in the A-10 last year, riding a young lineup to a 15-18 (7-11) season. Three seniors depart (and with them any ties to the Nov 2015 upset), including a solid pair of forwards in Yuta Watanabe (16.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Patrick Steeves (9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), but the biggest loss may be the transfer of up-and-coming guard Jair Bolden (11.2 ppg) to South Carolina.
Taking over the reins is former Big South all-freshman transfer PG Armel Potter, who averaged 12.7 points and 3.2 assists as a sophomore at Carleston Southern. Joining him is a pair of returning sophomore guards, point guard Terry Nolan (9 points and 2.5 assists a game) and Bolden's understudy, combo guard Justin Mazzulla (2.6 ppg, 2.0 apg). On the wing we'll likely see transfer DJ Williams, a former class of 2015 4-star recruit who couldn't make a big dent at Illinois and is looking for a fresh start at GW after a redshirt year. The front court will be led by rising junior Arnaldo Toro, a 6'8" 245 lb bruiser who dropped 7.8 ppg and grabbed 6.9 rpg last year, though Salt should be able to contain him. All told GW looks like a team who's a year away from making big waves in the A-10 given the turnover and youth movement they're seeing this season. If Virginia is dialed in, they should have their way with the Colonials.
Coppin State (Home)
Friday, November 16th
Coppin State Eagles
Coppin State ended last year with a 5-27 record, ranked 347th out of 351 in KenPom's final standings. A mid-major powerhouse this isn't. But of our buy games, Coppin State has a small chance to make things interesting because they're going to bring a pretty veteran, senior-laden roster to Charlottesville. Their one big loss is PG Karonn Davis to graduation, who both scored (11.7 ppg) and distributed (4.6 apg). But they bring back four seniors, including wing Lamar Morgan (12 ppg, 5 rpg), and forwards Chad Andrews-Fulton (6.5 ppg, 5 rpg) and Cedric Council (5.6 ppg, 4 rpg). Former Maryland walk-on wing Kent Auslander will have a shot to play a major role as well. But the key to Coppin State's season will be PG Dejuan Clayton, a former all-MEAC Freshman who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, but averaged 10 points and 2 assists in the few games he did play. Virginia should still win this one going away, but don't be surprised if the Eagles don't lie down quickly.
Wednesday, November 21st
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
MTSU has been a Mid-major powerhouse for a few years now, winning at least 25 games for three straight seasons and making the NCAAT twice, notching upset wins each time. Time to be scared? Nope. Head coach Kermit Davis took the P5 leap, moving to Ole Miss, triggering a small but impactful exodus while MTSU brought in new coach Nick McDevitt from UNC-Asheville. On top of three seniors graduating from the rotation (PF Nick King, 21.0 ppg; G Giddy Potts, 13.3 ppg; C Brandon Walters, 10.8 ppg), the Blue Raiders also lost three projected 2018-19 starters to transfer (G Antwain Johnson, 10.3 ppg; G Tyrik Dixon, 4.8 ppg; G/F David Simmons, 4.7 ppg).
MTSU will now be led by inbound transfer Antonio Green, a junior guard who averaged 17 points for UT-Rio Grande Valley, and junior college (and former Missouri State) guard Darnell Butler. Behind them are the only two returners from last year's rotation, big man Karl Gamble (MTSU's leading returning scorer at just 3.9 ppg) and forward James Hawthorne (2.2 ppg), while 4 low-ranked incoming freshmen round out a roster with only 9 eligible players. This will be a low-effort warmup for the Hoos in their first game in the islands.
Thursday, November 22nd
Battle 4 Atlantis Game 2 (Butler or Dayton)
Butler spent last offseason recovering from the last minute defection of coach Chris Holtmann to Ohio State, and under new coach LaVall Jordan, rode red-hot senior Kelan Martin (21.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, unanimous 1st team all-Big East) to a 21-14 (9-9 in the BE) record and 10-seed NCAAT berth. But without graduated seniors Martin and big man Tyler Wideman (9.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and no major additions (Duke transfer Jordan Tucker won't be eligible until the second semester), Butler will be working to reestablish itself this fall. Their entire backcourt returns, led by do-everything PG Kamar Baldwin (15.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.2 apg), and flanked by steady senior guard Paul Jorgensen (10.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.5 apg) and junior sharpshooter Sean McDermott (7.5 ppg, 43% 3P%). After those 3, however, Butler has few weapons that can seriously challenge the Hoos, especially in the post, and Virginia should be able to beat the Bulldogs in a physical battle.
Dayton is entering year 2 of the Anthony Grant era (formerly of Alabama / VCU) with Archie Miller off at IU. The Flyers struggled last year, going 14-17 (8-10). But Dayton returns four of its top five scorers from last year (losing only guard Darrell Davis to graduation). All-A-10 3rd teamer Josh Cunningham, a 6'7" combo forward who scored 15.6 ppg and grabbed 8.4 rpg will be the Flyers' focal point yet again with 2-guard Trey Landers (11.3 ppg) and PG Jalen Crutcher (9.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) sharing the load. 4-star freshman Duane Cohill will be an early threat off the bench as well, though Dayton has no real post presence and will struggle in the paint all year. Expect them to make a game of things with Butler in Round 1, but not have the horses to hang with UVA should they meet in Round 2.
Friday, November 23rd
Battle 4 Atlantis Game 3 (Florida / Wisconsin / Oklahoma / Stanford)
All four of these Power 5 programs have respectable pedigrees, though none are expected to be powerhouses this year. Florida is probably the best of the bunch, under solid HC Mike White, returning four proven starters in guard Ke'Vaugh Allen, wing Jalen Hudson, and posts Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes, though there's minimal proven depth behind them. The Gators do have an excellent freshman class coming in with a four-star guard trio of Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, and Keyontae Johnson.
Wisconsin is the most likely to beat Florida in the opening rounds with the return of all-B1G center Ethan Happ and almost every other rotation player, though this roster only managed to go 15-18 last year, and will need maturation from a number of players to reach their potential this year.
Oklahoma is a giant question mark in the wake of the Trae Young experiment, with no superstars left as obvious candidates to step into his shoes. Two double-digit scorers return in guard Christian James (11.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and forward Brady Manek (10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), but will be looking to two grad transfers in the backcourt (Aaron Calixte from Maine and Miles Reynolds from Pacific) and a JuCo on the wing (Kur Kuath from Salt Lake CC). They won't be young (five seniors and a couple of juniors in the main rotation), but chemistry will be a worry this early in the year.
Stanford's prospects for this season dipped when all-Pac-12 big man Reid Travis grad-transferred to Kentucky, putting the Cardinal into "youth movement" mode. Third year coach Jerod Haase has brought in good 2017 and 2018 classes, starting with last year's conference all-freshman teamer PG Daejon Davis (10.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.8 apg), and will see former four star underclassmen Kezie Okpala, Cormac Ryan, Brice Wills, and Jaiden Delaire join the rotation. They welcome back wing Marcus Sheffield from an injury redshirt year, who will lend a veteran presence to a young roster.
There isn't a team in this group that Virginia shouldn't beat, though each have enough talent to be able to score an upset if their shots are falling. Even without any other ranked squads in the Bahamas, Virginia will have to work (in games 2 and 3, at least) to leave with it's sixth straight holiday tournament trophy. To be fair, three games in three days is the sort of scenario that could expose UVA's lack of depth, wearing down by the third day, and a deeper Florida squad could score the upset.
Wednesday, November 28th
College Park, MD
Virginia makes a depressing return to College Park as part of the ACC-B1G Challenge, our first trip there since 2014's Challenge which Virginia won 76-65. <Justin chasedown block - 3 pointer highlight> Maryland has been largely treading water in the B1G over the last few years under coach Mark Turgeon's mediocre coaching, despite a string of NBA draft picks coming through, and finished last year 19-13 (8-10 in the B1G), missing out on the postseason entirely. Gone are wings Kevin Huerter (15 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg) and Justin Jackson (9.8 ppg in an injury-plagued year) to the pros, big men Michael Cekovsky (6.4 ppg, 3 rpg) and Jared Nickens (5 ppg) to graduation, and Dion Wiley (6 ppg) to transfer.
The Terps lone good news in the spring was the decision of All-B1G Freshman Bruno Fernando (10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 blkpg) to withdraw from the draft, and he'll join breakout point guard Anthony Cowan (15.8 ppg, 5.1 apg, All-B1G Defensive Team) as leaders of the team. The only other two returners are blue-collar center Ivan Bender who spent most of last season injured, and sophomore shooting guard Darryl Morsell (no relation to Casey). The depth chart is going to be largely populated by freshmen as a result, headlined by 5-star center Jalen "Sticks" Smith, 4-star wing Aaron Wiggins, and 4-star shooting guard Eric Ayala. Wiggins and Smith were both priority Bennett targets, and Wiggins has been impressing over the summer, so expect both of them to potentially start alongside Cowan, Morsell, and Fernando. This Terp squad has some talent and seems devoid of the NBA-focused personalities that have sidetracked previous squads, but they're still young (only one senior and one junior in the rotation) and thin, and Virginia's experience should carry the day, though expect the Terps to make a close game of it.
Monday, December 3rd
Morgan State Bears
Like Coppin State the month prior, Morgan State is another "buy game" MEAC cupcake, finishing last season at 13-19 (7-9), and ranked #324 in KenPom's final rankings. Head coach Todd Bozeman returns for his 13th year at the helm, and has a veteran roster; despite losing his two leading scorers off last year's team, he brings back scorers #3-9, led by PG Martez Cameron (8.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) and SG Stanley Davis (7.4 ppg). He also adds a quality JuCo transfer in 6'8" power forward Victor Curry, who averaged 14.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg at Cleveland State CC, though Curry will be Morgan State's only post presence. The Bears will look to attack the offensive glass to stay in this game, but ultimately, there will simply be too big a gap in talent and size for the Bears to keep up in this one, and a well-disciplined UVA will roll.
Sunday, December 9th
Virginia Commonwealth University Rams
Coaching turnover has had its effect on VCU's roster stability and success, as the rapid succession of Shaka Smart (Texas), Will Wade (LSU), and now Mike Rhoades led the former A-10 powerhouse down to a disappointing 18-15 (9-9) record last year. The youth movement is in full effect as VCU saw a trio of productive seniors graduate (forward Justin Tillman, 18.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg; point guard Jonathan Williams 9 ppg, 6 apg; and wing Khris Lane, 7 ppg, 4 rpg). But thankfully for coach Rhoades, he avoided any significant transfer losses to go with them.
Their 2018-19 lineup starts with a giant question mark. Rhoades started his tenure with a major transfer recruiting coup, bringing two-time All-CUSA first teamer Marcus Evans (19 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.7 apg) with him from Rice. Unfortunately Evans tore an Achilles for the second time this past June, and his readiness for the start of the season is in some question. VCU's top returner is junior G/F De'Riante Jenkins who scored 13 ppg as a high-volume 43% 3-point shooter. He's joined by junior forward Isaac Vann who was VCU's 3rd leading scorer last year at 9.8 ppg. After those three, however, VCU has question marks. The only post presence comes in a pair of low-ceiling sophomores, Sean Mobley and Marcus Santos-Silva, and grad transfer Michael Gilmore (6.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg in 20 games at FGCU last year). VCU's starting back court, if Evans is healthy, is enough to make a game of things, but their lack of quality depth undermine their chances of scoring the road upset here. If Evans isn't 100%, then UVA should be able to put this one away with some time to spare.
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Wednesday, December 19th
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks followed up their breakout 2016-17 Final Four appearance with a disappointing 2017-18, going 17-16 (7-11 in the SEC), and missing the postseason entirely. Two quality seniors depart from last year's time, shooting guard Frank Booker (12.7 ppg, 41% 3-point shooter) and guard Wesley Myers (9.9 ppg, 49% from 3), along with an outbound transfer from the inconsistent Kory Holden, who heads to South Alabama.
Who do they bring back? Let's start with arguably the best player UVA is going to face in its non-conference slate, all-SEC power forward Chris Silva, who elected to skip a shot at the NBA draft to play out his senior year. The 6'9" 220lb face-up 4 scored 14.3 ppg and grabbed 8.0 rpg, and has an untapped 3-point shot (41% on limited attempts) that make him a well rounded threat in the Jaron Blossomgame vein. Running the point will be senior Hassani Gravett (7.4 ppg, 3.6 apg), a steady floor general though he needs to improve his 3-point shooting (32%) and turnovers (2.3 topg). He'll be backed up by a former Georgetown reserve, grad transfer Tre Campbell. Three other quality rotation players return for South Carolina in big men Maik-Kalev Kotsar (8.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Felipe Haase (5.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and guard Justin Minaya (7.9 ppg, 36% from 3). What hurts South Carolina is that their recruiting has been pretty subpar, with only one 4-star / Top 100 recruit on the roster, freshman Canadian wing AJ Lawson. Interesting factoid: Lawson, along with Domincan Republic forward Alonzo Frink, both had their breakouts in this summer's FIBA Americas U18 that also served has Hoo freshman Francisco Caffaro's coming out party.
South Carolina should take a step forward in the SEC this year, but if Mamadi and Virginia can slow down Silva, South Carolina has few other horses able to carry them. Frank Martin will have them playing tough all the same. Look for Virginia to earn a hard fought win on the road.
Saturday, December 22nd
William and Mary Tribe
The Tribe were the best-shooting team in D-1 last season, ranking first nationally in team 3-point percentage (42.2%), FT% (81%), and second in eFG% (59.5%). Head coach Tony Shaver begins his 16th season in Williamsburg having to replace a sharpshooting guard duo lost to graduation in David Cohn (44% from 3) and Connor Burchfield (50% from 3, 4th nationally), but returns his entire frontcourt led by junior center Nathan Knight. Knight, an all-CAA 2nd teamer last year, was a machine in the low post, scoring 18.5 ppg on 60% shooting, drawing over 6 FTAs a game, grabbing 7.3 rebounds and blocking 2 shots a game. He's joined by all-CAA 3rd teamer forward Justin Pierce, who scored 14.7 ppg, led the Tribe in rebounding (8.6 a game), and shot 42% from range. Wing Matt Milon is the Tribe's 3rd returning double-digit scorer (13.0 ppg, 43% 3P%). The glaring question is who will man the backcourt, with Luke Loewe the solo returning point (only 5 minutes a game logged last year) and two unranked freshmen his only competition. Expect this to potentially be a stiffer test than many would like from a CAA visitor given the quality W&M can roll out at the 3-5, but expect Virginia to exploit the Tribe's lack of veteran ball handling to disrupt their offense, and their defense (ranked a mere 335th by KenPom last year, allowing over 81 ppg) to provide little resistance to our diverse attack.
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Monday, December 31st
Marshall Thundering Herd
Virginia closes its non-conference slate with a drastic clash of styles, as Marshall ran one of the fastest tempos in D-1 last year (74.7 possessions a game, vs UVA's 59.4) under 4th-year head coach Dan D'Antoni (brother of Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni). The Thundering Herd rode that pace to a 25-11 record, a C-USA title, and an NCAA Tournament upset of Wichita State. And they did it without any seniors in the main rotation, only losing one major piece from last year's run (big man Ajdin Penava, 15.6 ppg and 8.5 rpg, who went back to Europe to go pro).
They're led by a pair of all-conference returnees. First teamer guard Jon Elmore did everything, scoring 22.7 ppg, grabbing, 5.8 rpg, and dishing 6.8 apg. Second teamer guard CJ Burks wasn't much worse, with a stat line of 20.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, and 3.1 apg. Both were highly efficient shooters. A number of effective role players return as well, including PG Jarrod West (7.8 ppg, 2.9 apg), senior guard Rondale Watson (7.8 ppg), and soph forward Jansson Williams (5.4 ppg). Marshall is looking to a JuCo transfer to handle the post duties, Ante Sustic, though little of expected of him; their 5-spot will be a glaring weakness all season.
Virginia's defense will need to be on point on New Years Eve. Marshall will come looking to score an upset and have the horses to pull it off. Elmore and Burks, though mid-major, will be one of the best guard tandems we see before ACC play and will give Kyle and Ty a real test. We'll win, but this isn't going to be a game the starters get to spend a lot of time resting.