Every year, I like to do a piece on bold predictions. Emphasis is on the "bold." I like to hear people's long shot bets on the year ahead. It has to be more specific and more daring than "UVA will win a lot of games," though preferably stopping short of the simply impossible like "Pittsburgh is going to run the table." I've asked each of our writers to share their thoughts on this topic, with three Bold Predictions for UVA's upcoming year, and three Bold Predictions for the ACC at large.
Bold Predictions for the ACC
1) Over 1/3 of league coaches turn over. Coach K, Buzz, Larranaga, Hamilton, Manning, Pastner: Be it age, scandal, performance, or a desire to get the hell out of Blacksburg, a great deal of turnover among the league's coaches is imminent. I'm predicting it happens this offseason. Here's why for each.
Coach K: He'll turn 72 in February and this could be the last of his historic recruiting classes. What does he have left to prove?
Buzz Williams: This projects to be the best VT basketball team in a generation or two. And after this season, they're going to lose a ton of players. Everyone knows that Buzz interviewed with Ohio State to replace Thad Matta. It's an open secret that he is ready to depart for greener pastures, especially in the midwest. This coaching change is about as sure a thing as the sun rising in the east.
Jim Larranaga: The U is an Adidas school and they've been linked to the FBI corruption probe into college basketball. Larranaga denies all wrong doing but questions persist. He is under contract until the 2023-2024 season after signing a two year extension in April 2018. But he is 69 years old and has been coaching hoops since 1971. I think he'll ride off into the sunset after the season as things continue to look iffy with the feds.
Leonard Hamilton: Hamilton is another coach reaching the end of a storied career. He also began coaching basketball in 1971. Hamilton, who is under contract until the 2019-2020 season after signing an extension in 2017, is also 70 years old. He'll get out while the getting is good so as to enjoy another year of a well earned retirement.
Danny Manning: Manning has no age issues to worry about. Poor job performance, however, will prove insurmountable. In four seasons at Wake, Manning has produced a .429 winning percentage, three losing seasons, one NCAA Tournament berth (a First Four loss), and no better than a 10th place finish in the ACC. This season projects as more of the same for Wake. His buyout could be a problem, though, as he's under contract until the 2024-2025 season after signing a six year extension following the 2017 season. Poor Wake. They'll find a way to move on from Manning.
Josh Pastner: His debut season in Atlanta had Yellow Jacket fans happy. But last season, injuries derailed things and they finished 13-19 overall. Over two seasons, his winning percentage with the Yellow Jackets is .493. Things project to be bleak this season too. And while Pastner was cleared of sexual assault allegations, there were also NCAA violations that led to costly player suspensions. Pastner did sign a 1 year extension in October 2017, so he's under contract until the end of the 2022-2023 season. The buyout may be prohibitive, but after a second consecutive season with results worse than the prior, the administration in Atlanta will realize that Pastner's tenure is DOA and will pull the plug.
2) For the first time since 2012, Duke's recruiting class will finish outside the top 5 in the ACC. Duke's bag man is now the head coach at Pitt. And there's been enough grumbling about favoritism and the real environment within the program in Durham (hint: it's not a brotherhood) in the grassroots that Duke will struggle to sign a recruiting class that compares favorably to recent vintage. See transfers from Derryck Thornton to USC, Jordan Tucker to Oregon, Sean Obi to Maryland, Semi Ojeleye to SMU, Chase Jeter to Arizona, and the nearly constant rumors of a Marques Bolden transfer. Add in the vocal displeasure from Wendell Carter Junior's mother and it's not a good look.
3) Wake loses at home to Charlotte & Ron Sanchez on December 6. Coach Sanchez is going to dust off the UVA game plan and frustrate Wake into submission in this non conference game during his debut season. Wake will still be integrating a host of new players into its rotation, so an early December date will give the 49ers a fighting chance. Only a big game from standout freshman Jaylen Hoard can save the Deacs.
1) Two teams in the Final Four, Duke and UVA; four teams in the Elite Eight, UNC and... wait for it... Clemson. I've always liked Brownell, and I think with four starters returning, he has the right kind of ensemble cast to make some hay in March. I especially like the balance of Marcquise Reed pacing the offense while Elijah Thomas (my runner-up for DPOTY) anchors the defense. This team is rugged, scrappy, and just has that "feel" to it for this season. So even though I picked Virginia Tech and Syracuse ahead of Clemson in the Power Poll, it's the Tigers who I think have the best mix to win in the NCAA Tournament.
2) Jim Larrañaga takes a leave of absence mid-season, amid heat from the FBI, and then abruptly retires. He's crooked, I just know it. "Coach-3" at "University-7" could very well end up being identified as one of the fall guys during this process. Miami, so recently in the wake of the Nevin Shapiro scandal, isn't going to wait long to make a decisive, face-saving move on its 70-year old coach.
3) Leonard Hamilton gets fired / retires under duress. He's just not very good at his job. FSU has consistently had too much talent to just be stuck in middling status in the ACC. The 2018-19 season will be Hamilton's 17th in Tallahassee, he's getting up there in years (he's 70 too!), and his 135-133 record in the ACC falls short of the mark the Seminoles want to pursue.
1) Duke loses in tourney’s first weekend and UNC makes the Final Four (and championship game?). Figured we’d just bunch the North Carolina teams together. Duke is going to be talented, but this just has the makings of a letdown postseason, regardless of their success in ACC play. It’s just asking a lot of a team with potentially four one-and-done’s to pull it all together in the craziest of crazy sports postseasons. Meanwhile, I love UNC’s newcomers and think they have the veterans (specifically Luke Maye and Kenny Williams) to make things interesting with Villanova – that’s my finals prediction.
2) Virginia Tech makes the Sweet 16. The Hokies have only once made the Sweet 16 – in 1967. That changes this year. With legit stars like Justin Robinson and a veteran roster surrounded to surround him (see Chris Clarke and Ty Outlaw), Tech should be able to hang with almost any team in the ACC. Buzz Williams is still one of the more underrated coaches in the ACC in my opinion, and he’ll have his team ready to go this season.
3) Nassir Little will be the conference’s best freshman. Duke has the reputation of being a one-and-done school, so ESPN will focus on the Blue Devils’ loaded class. I think RJ Barrett will win ACC ROY because of it. But Nassir Little will be the best freshman and the league’s top draft pick come next summer. Book it.
1) Coach K is going to win Coach of the Year then at the end of the season... well, that's not for me to say. Having a lot of wings is better than having a couple of big men and weak guards. He has three great talents and Duke will win a lot of games, including a very misleading sweep of UVA.
2) Duke and UNC are going to run away with the ACC regular season, but UVA is going to bounce one of them early in the ACC Tournament. With UVA ravaged by injuries through January and into February, there is no resistance for the evil twin towers of Barad-dur and Orthanc.
3) Three ACC teams will be looking for new coaches in the off-season.
Maize and Blue
1) Syracuse is one of the top three seeds in the ACC tourney. That requires them to knock off someone widely considered a lock for the top three, which is UVA and the obvious two. They have a team that can do it. Tyus Battle can score with anyone in the league and Oshae Brissett is a guy I expect to take a colossal step forward.
2) Duke loses at least two games to teams not named UNC, Virginia, or Syracuse. (And a couple of those games, too.) Look – they have an insanely good freshman class, and that strategy has gotten Kentucky where? Well, what it’s done for the Wildcats is give them boom-or-bust seasons. Final Fours at times, yes – and first-round losses to Robert Morris in the NIT, as well. Duke has finally gone full Kentucky, but without a lot of senior leadership. Or even sophomore leadership. What, you’re expecting Javin DeLaurier to play the part of wizened upperclass guru? This experiment is more likely than not to fail. They’ll blow past most teams on pure talent, and there’s no way of saying right now whether or not they’ll put it together in March. They could; and they might not. But in the depths of January, when the grind finds them on a Wednesday night in some unfriendly arena, they’re going to lose when you least expect it, only you should really be expecting it. There will be “what’s wrong with Duke” stories and rushed courts. It’s frankly only natural when you ride the Freshman Express roller coaster.
3) Boston College hears their name called on Selection Sunday. Jim Christian has them moving in the right direction, and returns a lot of experience. The league’s top eight seems fairly clear; below that is BC and some pretty discombobulated teams. I’m not buying any stock in Louisville or Miami this year, or Notre Dame either; that leaves BC to clean up some of the scraps with a very talented Ky Bowman and a very experienced supporting cast.
1) The wheels will fall off the Miami program. The Hurricanes have felt stitched together the last few years, powered by some high-powered recruits, though Larranaga has struggled to build a consistent, well developed pipeline. Needing transfers to paper over a lack of guard depth and his inability to land a single recruit in the 2018 class, and Miami feels like a program that's fading towards mediocrity and annual bubble status, starting this year.
2) Jairus Hamilton will spark BC to the NCAA Tournament. Hamilton will do the unthinkable and make people forget how big a loss Jerome Robinson was. He'll pair with the vastly underrated PG Ky Bowman to lead a balanced attack, scoring a number of quality wins en route to their first big dance since 2005.
3) This is Krzyzewski's last season. He's getting older. He lost his top recruiter in Jeff Capel. It feels like his peak One-and-Done phase will conclude with this current #1 ranked 2018 class. Rather than suffer the indignity of actually having to coach up 4-stars next year, K will retire next spring. Oh, after he wins yet one more national title.
Bold Predictions for Virginia
1) Final 4 if Key gets the waiver. Key gives the Hoos one thing they're missing at the moment, an experienced asset on the bench. Whether he ultimately starts over Diakite or not, the ability of Key to play ensures that someone coming off the bench has played and succeeded in Power 5 basketball. I think that the Key projects as a plus defender as he gets the defense down. And the coaches will carve out a role in the offense that will maximize his talents within the Hoos' system.
2) Dre wins ACC POY. Dre is going to be a monster this season. Think Mike Scott's 5th year. He's healthy, he's hungry, and he knows how good he can be. He worked hard over the summer and he's out to prove that he's a top 10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Luke Maye and RJ Barrett are the competition. Barrett will experience the freshman roller coaster while trying to find shots along with Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson. Maye finds himself in the same boat with one and done hopeful Nasir Little.
3) Stattmann outscores Mamadi. Throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks here. But Mamadi does find himself in a frontcourt that has some bodies: Jack Salt, Frankie B, and Jay Huff. And then possibly Dre, Braxton Key, and Francisco Caffaro if healthy and not redshirted. And his career high scoring average is only 5.4 PPG (2017-2018). His game career high is only 12 points (achieved three times).
The other thing to consider is Mamadi's propensity to foul. If he's to have the type of season people are expecting, he has to improve by leaps and bounds here. Last season, he was the most foul prone player on the team. Per Sports-Reference.com, Mamadi committed 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Per every 100 possessions, he also committed 9.2 fouls.
Stattmann, on the other, hand doesn't have a ton of competition for backup wing minutes. And he's already turning heads in practice with his ability to score, especially from outside. Defense will be a struggle for Stattman, so we know that Coach Bennett would prefer to keep him anchored to the bench until he was competent on that side of the ball. But he may have no choice, especially if the NCAA sticks it to Braxton Key on the waiver decision.
Once you think it through, you can convince yourself that this prediction may not be so far fetched.
1) We FINALLY play to our seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe. Hopefully.
2) Frankie Badocchi finishes #5 on the team in scoring... and minutes played!
3) We lose not one (Hunter), not two, but THREE guys to NBA early entry. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy leave to chase their dreams.
1) Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and DeAndre Hunter all make first or second team All-ACC. Maybe this isn’t all that original, especially to folks (like myself) focused on UVa hoops. But it begs mentioning that Kyle Guy was the only one of this trio to make the first or second All-ACC team a season ago, receiving the last spot on the first-team. Ty Jerome was placed on the third-team, and while Hunter made the All-Freshman team and won sixth-man of the year, he didn’t even get his name on the honorable mention All-ACC team. All of this is to say Virginia players still fly under the radar in the broader ACC landscape, and placing three players on the first or second team would be a bit of a coup considering the talent teams like Duke and North Carolina are bringing in this season, not to mention the star power across the other 12 conference teams. This is going to be one heck of a Virginia backcourt, and they will get the recognition they deserve.
2) Badocchi is the surprise of the season. I like the Isaiah Wilkins-Badocchi comparison, except I think Badocchi has a lot more upside, both offensively and athletically in general. Expect Badocchi to play an important role this season, as his defensive ability will get him opportunities on the court. Whether as a sub for Diakite as a traditional four or as a small-ball five, Badocchi will have a chance to make an impact in his redshirt freshman season. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people with some Diakite-esque plays.
3) Braxton Key earns ACC sixth man of the year. Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, DeAndre Hunter – Virginia players have brought home a few ACC sixth man of the year awards of late. If Braxton Key gets his hardship waiver, expect him to follow in these guys’ footsteps. Key probably won’t start, but he will play starters minutes, much the way Anthony Gill did his sophomore season in Charlottesville and Hunter a year ago. Able to play physical in the post or stretch the floor in the corners, Key will get his minutes and make an impact.
1) Cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. If it weren't for bad luck, Tony Bennett's Hoos would have had no luck in the NCAA Tournament. That doesn't last forever. This is the year he gets some good luck.
2) The regular season is going to be full of angst because the Hoos are going to lose a lot of ACC games and be a bubble team coming into the home stretch of the season. Why? Injuries. One of the Big Three and one other main rotation player will miss significant time in December and January. Multiple weeks. But first the second guy will come back in early February, then the star will come back in mid-February, and the Hoos will enter the tournament season on a winning streak. They will be a middle seed based on a Saturday game in Brooklyn, and will gel during the NCAAs with the injured players finally rounding into peak form on the second weekend of the NCAAs.
3) Ty Jerome is going to be ACC Player of the Year - UNLESS he happens to be the injured star in the above prediction, in which case Kyle Guy will be ACC Player of the Year.
Maize and Blue
1) Kihei Clark is everyone’s new favorite player by New Year’s. All you need to know is that Ty Jerome flung a ball at his head. That is five-star irritation work right there. Clark has serious potential to be That Guy that the entire conference wants to punch in his stupid face once every minute of his stupid existence, which of course would make him a fan super- favorite at JPJA.
2) The regular season is a major disappointment to Hoo fans; the postseason is not. Frankly, the schedule is crushing. Duke twice. Virginia Tech twice (yes, they’re reasonably good.) UNC, Clemson, Syracuse – all on the road, never at home. UVA’s home-only teams are mostly the dregs – Wake, Pitt, GT, Miami. If the Hoos go through that whole gauntlet 17-1 again, they’ll be #1 in the country easily. Here’s saying they won’t. But if you even remotely believe in the concept of playing with a chip on your shoulder and rising to the occasion after disappointment, this will be a team more than mentally ready for the postseason.
3) We hear less about that thing than you might expect. The players will hear about it from opposing student sections. You will read about it on message boards. It will be prominently featured on March Madness hype videos. The media, however, will lay off it. And that’s because Tony Bennett went into the postgame press conference with the stiffest of stiff upper lips, did not make a scene or act sorry for himself or make a single excuse, and earned from all observers a respectful nod of the head. I mean, Inc. magazine, of all things, wrote about it. The media would rather that event have happened to, like, John Calipari or someone. Even Tom Izzo they could’ve made something out of. There are some coaches they won’t pile on; Tony Bennett is one of them.
1) Clark and Stattmann enable a small-ball lineup. UVA's lineup of death last year featured De'Andre Hunter at the 4-spot, letting him mismatch against all types of big men and exploit zones with his unique combination of size, skill, and athleticism. Guard depth lets this lineup happen, but does Tony trust his bench guards enough to give them enough PT to bump Dre to the 4? I say yes, Kihei Clark and Kody Stattmann each do enough to earn minutes in ACC play alongside Kyle and Ty (maybe matchup dependent as to whether Kihei or Kody is the better play on a given night), letting Dre play at least a decent chunk of the game at his mismatch position.
2) The regular season will be bumpier than we'd like. Part of this is simply an acknowledgement that the ACC is stronger than it was a year ago. GT, Wake, and Pitt all still suck, but almost everyone else has either improved or at least held ground over the last six months. We get no gimme's in our home/away partners: Virginia Tech is peaking, we catch Duke's G-League team twice... at least we get Notre Dame and Louisville during transition years. I also think our lack of depth gets us in trouble in a few games, especially if any of the starters have to miss time. We'll fall victim to a couple upsets that last year we narrowly avoided (the come-from-behind road trips to FSU and Louisville come to mind), so we will instead be keeping our fingers crossed just for the double-bye come ACCT time.
3) Mamadi Diakite becomes a 1st rounder. Dre is the presumed future 1st rounder. Lots of fans and writers have discussed the pro prospects of Kyle and Ty this offseason. But if there's one guy I'm pegging to join Dre on Draft Night next June, it's Mamadi. Diakite is the physically gifted prototype NBA big that is simply due to be a breakout star. A kid who grew up playing soccer and picked up basketball (relatively) late in life, he's had a learning curve to make it at the top level of college basketball. But he's oh so close. And given the long minutes he's slated to play as a starter this year, I see the light coming on, and NBA scouts finally seeing Mamadi as ready for their investment.