Saturday, January 5th
Florida State Seminoles
FSU always seems to play UVA tough. They are a program that habitually plays to the level of their opponent, and while that means they lose some head scratchers each year, they also put scares into top teams and come away with occasional upsets. This year's iteration lacks the NBA Lottery candidates of past Noles squads, but actually boasts the most balanced, veteran lineup they've had in years. The Noles have actually taken 2 of the last 3 in this series, but expect Virginia to hold serve at home. It'll be a tight one, the last three games in the series have come down to margins of 7, 2, and 4 points.
Wednesday, January 9th
Boston College Eagles
Chestnut Hill, MA
This is a good BC team this year, relatively speaking, with a legit chance to reach .500 in the ACC and make their first NCAAT appearance in ages. And at home in the winter, they'll be hunting the resume-making upset. But while they were able to take UVA to the wire last year behind some serious Jerome Robinson hero-ball (29 points), this year's iteration of BC lacks top-end takeover talent necessary to stands a good chance in this one. Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman are a solid 1-2, but I don't see the rest of the BC roster ready to support them enough to pull off the upset.
Saturday, January 12th
This has the potential to be an interesting game, as Clemson is looking for their first win over UVA in six years, and may have the horses to do so this year. The trio of Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, and Elijah Thomas make Clemson versatile and hard to defend, and there's a lot of continuity with the roster. This will likely come down to the ability for Clemson's role players to step up, and as of today I'd have UVA's more well rounded depth carrying the day, though expect Clemson's defense to keep the final score low.
Tuesday, January 15th
Virginia Tech Hokies
This is quite likely the best team in Virginia Tech history, and given their upset of Virginia on national TV last year, the Hokies will come to Charlottesville ready to battle. The last few years of this rivalry have featured one UVA blowout and one tight contest (the winner varies) each season; up until last year, the UVA blowout happened at home. The biggest X-factor here is going to be the play of VT point guard Justin Robinson, as I'm not sure UVA's got a defender capable of slowing him down one-on-one this season unless Tony elects to go big-on-small with Dre (which frankly would be how I would coach it). If UVA returns from it's 2-game road trip energized, isn't looking ahead to the Saturday showdown at Cameron, and effectively feeds off the home crowd (this will be UVA's first game with the students back from winter break), then Virginia should be able to score effectively on the Hokies and come away with the victory.
Saturday, January 19th
Duke Blue Devils
This is going to be a big time game (obviously), a possible ESPN Game Day destination, and likely prime billing on national TV. To me, this looks like Duke's best team since the 2015 title winners, assuming Tre Jones can be the point guard they've lacked since his brother. Barrett, Reddish, and Zion are a scary trio of scorers, and I'm not certain our defenders are going to be up to the task enough. Big, physical, downhill scorers have always given the pack line fits, especially in the FOM II era, and defending them requires a player to have a unique blend of size, athleticism, and experience. Maybe Mamadi and Hunter are up to that task... a) can they stay out of foul trouble, b) who's the 3rd defender? After that it comes down to our ability to outscore them, and we'll need a 4th scorer to emerge. I'm not comfortable enough to bet on all of those things happening together, not yet.
Tuesday, January 22nd
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
We get a nice chance to recover from the war at Cameron Indoor with this matchup against a Wake team that we're projecting to be NIT-bound at best, too heavily dependent on youngsters after unexpected attrition. This is one of those games where the pack line will simply break an inexperienced, undisciplined team, and UVA will win comfortably.
Saturday, January 26th
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
South Bend, IN
Tony has never lost to Brey in a regular season game, and I'm not certain they do this year either. The Irish have two very good guards in junior point Temple Gibbs and sophomore wing DJ Harvey, but after that they're relying on some low ceiling vets and a big freshman class. Most damning is the lack of an obvious plus threat in the post, whether a true banger like Zach Auguste or Martinas Geben, or a combo forward like Bonzie Colson. Traditionally the Irish are most dangerous when they have an inside game to balance their backcourt, and unless one emerges this year, UVA should take home the road W safely.
Tuesday, January 29th
North Carolina State Wolfpack
If you're a gambler looking for game where UVA might get upset, this one gets my nod. NC State is a confusing team right now, in that they only bring back three players from last year, but they're three really good players. The PG duo of Braxton Beverly and Markell Johnson are excellent as shooters and distributors, and wing Torin Dorn is a high-level scorer. They're joined by four transfers who were all double-digit scorers at their previous schools, and with every month that goes by, this talented collection should continue to gel and improve their chemistry. We get them at the end of what will be a challenging-but-winnable (and potentially confidence-building) January; they play Pitt, @Wake, @ND, @Louisville, and Clemson in the weeks leading up to hosting us. Keatts is a good coach and will have State well prepared, I'll go ahead and call this as our January upset.
Saturday, February 2nd
Miami is a team that's fighting for the NCAA this year. The lone star player on their roster is C Dewan Hernandez (née Huell), and UVA has had success defending teams built around a star big man in the past. Miami's most interesting weapon will be Anthony Lawrence, a modern combo forward who will be dangerous if played at the 4-spot. But their guard depth just isn't as scary, not by ACC standards, anyways. Sophomore PG Chris Lykes, junior gunner Dejan Vasiljevic, and transfers Zach Johnson (graduate) and Anthony Mack (freshman) are solid, but not game changers, and you need game-changing guards to excel in the nation's best hoops conference. Miami is a bubble team at best, and assuming UVA is playing at least B+ basketball here, Hoo fans should be plenty comfortable here.
---------------- Mid-Week Bye ----------------
Saturday, February 9th
Duke Blue Devils
Our second Saturday ESPN clash with Duke this season, another opportunity for that Game Day spotlight. Virginia will get the added benefit of a mini-bye preceding this one (no mid-week game) for a little extra rest and prep, though Duke will also be coming off of relatively soft week prior (hosting St Johns and BC). Unfortunately, we don't see much changing in the circumstances from the first matchup, in that Duke's trio of big, talented wings is exactly the kind of lineup that can out-talent the Pack Line. K has had his teams being extra prepped for Tony Bennett's UVA teams ever since the 2013 floor-rushing, something he clearly took personally. This is the sort of game where he'll have his superstars revved up to play hard in all phases for the full 40 minutes, and UVA will fall short in the national spotlight.
Monday, February 11th
North Carolina Tar Heels
Chapel Hill, NC
Our lone matchup vs the Heels this year comes on a 2-day turnaround after a big home matchup vs Duke. UNC only has to play Miami at home two days prior. With that said, UVA under Tony has had a lot of regular season success against the Heels, only losing once over the last five years, as UVA's transition defense is among the nation's best at taking away Roy's famed secondary break attack. UNC will be more freshmen-dependent than they've been in a long while, with five stars likely starting at the point guard (Coby White) and on the wing (Nassir Little). This will be a good game, but I'm rolling with the good guys in this one. Carolina's only been able best Bennett when he catches the Hoos at inopportune moments (2017 during the offensive collapse, 2016's ACCT Final hours after we'd survived a war with Miami, 2015 trying to work a broken Justin Anderson back into the lineup). But assuming the Hoos come through the Saturday Duke matchup at least in tact, Virginia should be able to go into the Dean Dome and play the way history says they should.
Saturday, February 16th
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
This is a good year to get the Irish twice, with them in a bit of a rebuilding year. My one-liner on the Irish this season is that they're a team that will out-execute a bunch of teams this year, and be out-talented by others. A Tony Bennett-coached squad is at a minimum on par with a Brey-coached team when it comes to execution, and this is a year we've also got the edge on talent. Mike Brey has yet to beat a Tony-coached UVA team in the regular season, and this won't be the year that streak ends. Definitely not at JPJ.
Monday, February 18th
Virginia Tech Hokies
Virginia Tech wants this game like they want no other game on their schedule. Buzz has these contests circled on his calendar every year, and there's no love lost in this rivalry (he even schedules Ritchie McKay's Liberty team as a preseason scrimmage to get extra work in against a Bennett disciple's Pack Line). Tech has the guard play and the shooting to beat us when they get hot, and they've got a deep backcourt rotation with at least 7 guys worthy of time at the point through the small four. On a short turnaround just a week after the brutal Duke/Carolina back-to-back, Virginia could easily be just a little extra ripe for the upset. This game usually comes down to the wire, and in recent years, the late breaks have gone VT's way. This year, we'll bet on the same.
Saturday, February 23rd
We play Louisville twice in our last five games, and this first one is a road trip immediately following a tough road game in Blacksburg. Louisville projects to be a bubble team at the moment, with just enough talent in place to paper over the transition to a new coach until Mack's players start arriving in a year or two. For this season, four transfers figure into the math alongside a few solid returners at the 3-5 spots in wing VJ King, small 4 Jordan Nwora, and big man Malik Williams. The grad transfer guards are question marks, as is the front court depth. We catch the Cards at the tail end of a brutal February slate; in the 3 weeks prior to our matchup, they go: UNC, @VT, @FSU, Duke, Clemson, @Cuse. We could be the 7th straight ranked team they face, and I think we capitalize on potential fatigue to take the first game of the series.
Wednesday, February 27th
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
After three punishing road games in two weeks, the Hoos return to face one of the ACC's likely bottom feeders. Georgia Tech will roll out a lineup dominated by freshmen and sophomores this year, with PG Jose Alvarado the only thing close to a proven commodity. The young talent could have a bright future, but likely a difficult present, and a road trip to JPJ as the season closes down (once they're likely out of postseason contention) is the last thing they need. Virginia should have little trouble breaking GT's will in this one.
Saturday, March 2nd
Pitt will likely be somewhat better than last year's 0-18, but only incrementally, and not enough to make a big difference this current season. Jared Wilson-Frame is the only returner who looked like an ACC starter last year, and the crop of newcomers is unlikely to yield a lot of positive results this year, even if the freshmen have long term upside. Capel is starting a long-term rebuild, and is going to get pasted every time they face one of ACC heavyweights like UVA. It probably won't be quite the embarrassment as last year, when we held them to a single digit first half, but the game won't be in question in the second half.
Monday, March 4th
This is probably Jim Boeheim's last, best team as he enters the closing portion of his career (for real this time). Everyone of consequence returns from last year's Sweet 16 team, one that finished 5th nationally defensively, and adds some quality depth to the backcourt. While Tony has the upper hand record-wise over Syracuse, the games have most always been tight, well contested affairs, and this should be no exception, both teams conceivably highly ranked when this is played. Cuse's zone will rival UVA's as the conference's most suffocating this year, so expect this one to be a low-scoring affair. UVA had success using Hunter in the middle of the zone last year (15 points in each contest), but we'll need a 3rd guard to emerge so Hunter can do so from the four-spot. As of now, I think Cuse's big wings (Brissett and Battle) make an extra play or two down the stretch to steal the win.
Saturday, March 9th
We get Louisville's closing shot after they get a mini-bye, and this game could largely come down to team motivations, who's left with what to play for. I'll never forget UVA losing to an inferior Maryland team in 2014 once the ACC 1-seed was locked up. Louisville could very well be playing for an NCAAT spot at this point, with a UVA upset being the resume-maker they need, and Chris Mack the right coach to motivate them to do it. With that said, if UVA is fully functioning still by March, and fully engaged in this game, we'll be the better team on the floor, and should continue our dominance of our Kentucky rival.
Last year I picked UVA to go 26-4 (15-3), which many considered ambitious but proved to be selling the team short. This year, though tempted to give the team more credit, I also have to give credit to an improved top of the ACC. Duke, Carolina, Syracuse, VT, and FSU are all improved over last year and all legitimate threats to UVA's regular season dominance over the ACC. I still believe UVA's starting 5 is the best in the league, but other teams have benches I trust more than ours at the moment, and at the end of the day, over a 4 month campaign, players #6-10 have to be factored in. This goes double if any of the starters are forced to miss any time, which is a very real risk in a physical game. There's no shame in the Hoos "only" finishing 13-5 in conference, which in most any year is enough to earn a high seed in both the ACC and the NCAA Tournaments. And let's be honest, so long as they're firing on all cylinders come March, what happens in January and February is in many ways secondary. Oh, and in 2016, when UVA was moments from the Final Four, what did they finish? 24-6 (13-5).