Sunday, November 10th
James Madison Dukes
After tipping off the season with a made-for-TV conference date at the Carrier Dome, the Hoos come back to Charlottesville for a more traditional home opener. The Dukes struggled to a 6-12 finish in the Colonial last year, and went only 7-6 in their non-conference slate despite not playing a single power conference team. The good news for the Dukes faithful is that other than the graduation of star senior guard Stuckey Mosley (16.4 ppg), basically everyone of note returns, headlined by junior point guard Matt Lewis (16.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.0 apg). Experience won't be an issue as they enter the year with legitamate hopes of making noise in the CAA. But real deficiencies will remain that will make their chances in JPJ far less exciting; the Dukes ranked 302nd nationally in defense last year, ranking poorly in most every defensive statistical category. Offensively they shot the 3-ball pretty well as a team, led by 3-guard Darius Banks' 49% performance on the year, but struggled in the paint. Otherwise they were fairly mediocre, and depth could be a concern as they saw a number of unhappy players stuck at the end of their bench transfer out (mostly to smaller schools). Head coach Louis Rowe, entering his fourth year in charge, adds five freshman faces to this roster, headlined by VHSL Class 6A player of the year Michael Christmas. Hoos should win this one with its front court, but the Dukes will challenge our young backcourt on both ends.
Record: 1-1 (0-1)
Saturday, November 16th
The Lions return eight of their top nine scorers from last year, headlined by 2nd-Team All-Ivy guard Gabe Stefanini (13.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.1 apg) and bolstered by the return of senior point guard Mike Smith, who boasts a career 15.6 ppg and 4.2 apg stat line but missed most of last year with a torn mensicus. (Side note, as he won't be eligible for a fifth year due to Ivy League rules, expect Smith to be one of the country's hottest grad transfer names next spring.) The Lions finished just 10-18 last year, 5-9 in conference play, but with a stable, veteran roster returning, should be considered a favorite for the league title this year. This will not be the cakewalk many will casually expect, and Columbia will prove a quality early test for a rebuilding Virginia. The Hoos should get the victory in this one, but Columbia is the type of quality mid-major who could provide an early reality check.
Record: 2-1 (0-1)
Tuesday, November 19th
The best player we face in the non-conference portion of the schedule may very well be 6'6" do-everything wing Anthony Lamb, last year's America East Player of the Year who averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks a game in leading the Catamounts to an NCAA Tournament 13 seed. In the last two seasons they've played Kentucky, Louisville, and Florida State to single-digit margins, so they're not afraid to start a fight with a brand name power conference opponent. It's not just Lamb, as Vermont returns six of their top 7 players, losing only one senior out of their core rotation, and add former 4-star grad transfer center Daniel Giddens from Alabama to provide a defensive post prence, as well as Oklahoma State reserve forward Duncan Demuth for depth. Aside from the 6'11" Giddens, they're a small team, with Lamb playing the 4, so Key and Diakite will get to tag team the defensive assignment on him. But the team can't focus on Lamb to the extent they allow his competent supporting cast to get the win. The America East front-runners were solid last year in a number of phases of the game, good shooters from inside (51.6%) and out (35.9%), their defense shut down the paint (allowed only 46.3% on 2's) and controlled the glass (77.8% D-Reb%). Virginia will need a balanced scoring attack to exploit the perimeter and their defense will need to key in on Lamb's supporting cast to get the tough home win here.
Record: 3-1 (0-1)
Saturday, November 23rd
The Hoos open up their play at the Hall of Fame Tipoff event (at the Mohegan Sun) against a UMass team facing some unfortunate turnover this offseason. The A-10 team, entering the third year under head coach Matt McCall, went only 4-14 in conference play last year. To make matters worse, in addition to the graduation of center Rashaan Holloway, the Minutemen saw three of their top five projected returners and three additional role players (six total) transfer out of the program: leading scorer Luwane Pipkins to Providence, forward Jonathan Laurent to Oklahoma State, guard Curtis Cobb to Wagner, Kieran Haywood to Vanguard University of Southern California (?), Tre Wood to LIU, and Unique McLean to St Francis Brooklyn. This program is in disarray. So let's talk about who they'll actually have this fall. Junior 2-guard Carl Pierre will be their unquestioned leader after scoring almost 12 points a game last year. RS junior point guard Keon Clergeot will step into a starting role after showing promise off the bench last year. Sophomore big man Sy Chatman will get promoted as well after proving an efficient (if low volume) scorer and effective shot blocker as a rookie, and he'll pair with former Vanderbilt center Djery Baptiste who had a quiet first year in the A-10. A big freshman class is expected to round out the group. But a mere three weeks into the season, expect this group to be a mess trying to replace so many pieces on the fly. The Hoos should find it relatively easy going in the event's opening round.
Record: 4-1 (0-1)
Sunday, November 24th
Arizona State Sun Devils OR St John's Red Storm
In the second game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff event, the Hoos will get one of ASU or SJU. We'll look at each.
For St John's, they are starting a new era this year under new head coach Mike Anderson. After St John's lost in a First Four matchup, they replaced Chris Mullin in the job with the veteran Anderson, who spent the last eight years at Arkansas (3 NCAAT appearances) with stints at Missouri and UAB before that. He inherits a roster that often lacked discipline under Mullin but is not devoid of talent. Ball-dominant point guard Shamorie Ponds is gone, as are three of their other top six scorers (forward Marvin Clark graduated, wing Justin Simon started his pro career, and guard Mikey Dixon transferred to Grand Canyon), but they return two elite scoring wings in former 5-star Mustapha Heron (14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 4-star LJ Figueroa (14.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), both upperclassmen. Surrounding them with a competent supporting cast becomes Anderson's task. Transfer point guard Rasheem Dunn (15.4 ppg, 2.3 apg as a sophomore at St Francis NY) is expected to receiver a waiver to play this year (he redshirted at Cleveland State last year), and grad transfer guard Nick Rutherford has starting experience at both Florida Atlantic and Monmouth, though he's more of a passer than a scorer and likely will come off the bench. Their biggest questions are in the paint, where a bunch of new faces will be relied upon. David Caraher is an undersized 4 who scored 16 points and grabbed 7 rebounds a game as a freshman at Houston Baptist two seasons ago, and he'll join with former NCSU commit Ian Steere, JUCO transfer Damien Sears, and inexperienced sophomores Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington to try to cobble together a post rotation. The danger with a team like St Johns is that they'll try to lure UVA into an ugly, sloppy contest, so the Hoos will have to rely on their discipline to out-execute this Big East opponent.
Coming from Tempe, AZ, the Sun Devils are in the 5th year of Bobby Hurley's tenure at the helm, coming off a 1st round NCAAT loss as an 11-seed. Leading scorer Lugentz Dort (16.1 ppg) left for a pro career, and big man Zylan Cheatham (12.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg) has graduated, but back to lead the team is junior point guard Remy Martin (12.9 ppg, 5.0 apg). He is joined by a solid returning supporting cast that includes senior shooting guard Rob Edwards (11 ppg, 38% 3P%), former Top 100 big man Romello White (8.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and junior forward Kimani Lawrence (8.6 ppg). Keep an eye on sophomore Taeshon Cherry to break out; the former top 50 forward showed glimpses of potential as a rookie and should have a bigger opportunity this year. Four star freshman PG Jaelen House also joins the program, as does a trio of junior college transfers to round out the roster. Hurley is a solid coach who's coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and has a talented, veteran crew here that should be considered the favorite to beat St John's. UVA's quest to win its 7th straight holiday tournament (which I think we'll ultimately get) likely goes through the Sun Devils.
Record: 5-1 (0-1)
Wednesday, November 27th
Maine Black Bears
The Hoos welcome the second of three America East opponents to JPJ in this pre-Thanksgiving buy game. But unlike AEC contenders Vermont and Stony Brook, Maine struggled in 2018-19 to a last place finish in the league. They struggled with shooting, with ball security, and in various defensive categories. What's really crushed Maine is outbound transfers: five in 2018 and six this year. Second-year head coach Richard Barron is just trying to put a bandaid on the attrition. They do return a couple of proven rising seniors in forward Andrew Fleming (13.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and guard Sergio El Darwich (10.4 ppg, 3.0 apg), who are joined by junior forward Vilgot Larsson (6.7 ppg) and Texas State transfer Nedeljko Prijovic. But Maine's got a glaring lack of guard experience, and there's no reason to think the Bears will have much of a rotation ironed out in the first month of the season, much less enough to scare an ACC squad on the road. The Hoos won't get many nights to empty the bench this fall, but expect the Maine game to be one of the few.
Record: 6-1 (0-1)
Wednesday, December 4th
West Lafayette, IN
This game needs little introduction, as the powers-that-be at ESPN and the league offices tagged UVA and Purdue to stage a rematch of March's epic Elite Eight contest. Of course, a lot of the stars of that game are now gone, including Purdue's two biggest scorers Carsen Edwards (24.3 ppg) and Ryan Cline (12.0 ppg). Filling the Boilermaker's void as alpha will be graduate transfer Jahaad Proctor who averaged 19.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 3.3 apg last year at High Point (all Big South 2nd-Team). It's some question who will play the Robin to his Batman, however. The 7'3" Matt Haarms is the leading returning scorer, with Grady Eifert (5.5 ppg) and Nojel Eastern (7.5 ppg) the primary returners on the perimeter. They're a bigger team: Eifert and Eastern are both 6'6", and other key returners include Trevion Williams (6'9"), Aaron Wheeler (6'9"), and Evan Boudreaux (6'8"). They'll be looking for more traditional guards to emerge, with rising sophomores Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter, along with 3-star rookies Brandon Newman and Isaiah Thompson, being given the opportunity to compete to play alongside and behind Proctor in the backcourt. This will be an intriguing matchup from a tactical perspective as our depth is similarly in the front court; we could see a lot of size on the court together in this one. Matt Painter will have his team ready to play, and the Hoos may take a hard fought loss in this physical road trip.
And because you can never get enough of it, remember this?
Record: 6-2 (0-1)
Wednesday, December 18th
Stony Brook Seawolves
Stony Brook finished 2nd in the America East conference with a 12-4 conference record (right behind Vermont, right ahead of UMBC), but do have some turnover to deal with in their hunt to get over the hump as a conference contender. Their hopes were dealt a blow when AEC 1st-teamer Akwasi Yeboah (16.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) grad transferred to Rutgers, but aside from the graduation of point guard Jaron Cornish (9.4 ppg, 3.6 apg), the rest of the core rotation returns. That includes junior AEC 3rd-team wing Elijah Olaniyi (12.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg), all-freshman-team guard Miles Latimer (10.6 ppg, 39% 3P%), conference 6th man of the year Andrew Garcia (9.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), and conference DPOY center Jeff Otchere (2.4 blocks a game). Further bolstering their lineup, guard Makale Foreman (10.2 ppg, 38% 3P% in 2018 at UT-Chattanooga) comes off his transfer redshirt to provide a fairly impressive starting lineup for a mid-major. Head coach Jeff Boals coached the Seawolves into a pretty tenacious half-court defense that ranked 18th nationally in 3P% defense and 40th nationally in 2P% defense; Otchere's presence in the paint really frees up their guards to pressure the perimeter and while they didn't force a ton of TOs, they made life miserable for shooters. This team should contend with Vermont for the AEC title and even if it looks unimpressive from a name-recognition perspective, expect a win here to at least look good to the computers.
Record: 8-2 (1-1)
Sunday, December 22nd
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Hoos welcome the SEC foe to Charlottesville on the back end of a home-and-home which UVA opened with a 69-52 win last year in Columbia, SC. 1st Team All-SEC big man Chris Silva (15.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and SEC 6th Man of the Year Hassani Gravett (11.4 ppg) have both graduated along with solid point guard Tre Campbell (7.2 ppg, 2.7 apg). Big man Felipe Haase (6.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) also chose to transfer. But the Gamecocks return one of the SEC's brightest young stars in Canadian wing AJ Lawson (13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg), fresh off making the SEC's all-freshman team. South Carolina's fortunes will depend on coach Frank Martin, now a couple years removed from his surprising 2017 Final Four appearance, finding complementary pieces to put around his young star. A pair of transfers will likely step into big roles: grad transfer big man Micaiah Henry comes from Tennessee Tech after averaging 9.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 1.8 blocks, and redshirt junior guard Jair Bolden comes off his redshirt year after averaging over 11 ppg at George Washington two years ago. Otherwise it's a young team with 10 underclassmen, none other than Lawson coming with much of a pedigree. Martin is a good coach and will have them playing tough defense; his more experienced teams are always one of the toughest D's in the SEC, and this game could ultimately be a rock fight a few days before Christmas. I think the Hoos escape a tough one here.
Record: 9-2 (1-1)
Sunday, December 29th
The Patriot League middleweights have finished their conference play within a couple games of .500, positive or negative, for the last six years under head coach Ed DeChellis (in his 9th year at Annapolis after 8 years at Penn State). They lost their top two scorers from last year to graduation (big man George Kiernan at 12.4 ppg and 5.3 rpg, point guard Hasan Abdullah at 10.1 ppg and 4.4 apg) while two young reserves (Josiah Strong - 3.1 ppg, Danny Ogele - 3.2 ppg) also left the program. The do return a trio of 8-10 ppg scorers (guards Cam Davis and John Carter, big man Evan Wieck) to maintain some continuity and provide experience. Navy is what you'd expect a service academy program to be: small, disciplined, and energetic. DeChellis coaches them to be one of the nation's better rebounding clubs, never mind their size deficit, and they crash the glass at both ends hard, ranking in the Top 100 nationally on both ends each of the last four years. What limits them is their shooting, ranking in the bottom 25% nationally in three point shooting each of the last four seasons, and in their ability to defend the paint. One other stat to note, despite struggling to generate turnovers last year, DeChellis has historically coached the Midshipmen to be a high-pressure club, finishing as high as 6th nationally in defensive TO% in 2017.
Record: 10-2 (1-1)