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Wednesday, November 6th

Syracuse Orange

Syracuse, NY

The Carrier Dome will surely be rocking to open the season as the Orange welcome the national champions. Can Syracuse grab a big win right off the bat? Virginia has questions marks, but so does ‘Cuse after losing key pieces in Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, Oshae Brissett, and Paschal Chukwu. Guard Buddy Boeheim and forwards Marek Dolezaj and Elijah Hughes are among their top returners. Last year, UVa’s run to the national title felt charmed at times, and the lone meeting between these teams had that feel as well. Virginia was down 34-32 at the half in the Carrier Dome but went on to tie a school record with 18 3-pointers, blowing out the Orange in the second half for a 79-53 victory. Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome just could not miss. It was getting ridiculous at one point. But none of the guys who contributed to the behind-the-arc barrage will be playing in this game. This is a very tough opener for a team that will be trying to find its way with a fresh batch of players, leaders, and scorers. If this game was in the middle of the year after a bunch of get-your-feet-wet nonconference matchups, I may feel differently. But I think Syracuse, who benefits from a team summer trip to Europe to iron out kinks, ultimately wins a close game, handing the Wahoos their first season-opening loss since the 2012-13 season (George Mason).

Hoos Lose

Record: 0-1 (0-1)

 

Saturday, December 7th or Sunday, December 8th

North Carolina Tar Heels

Charlottesville

Like UVa, UNC had a lot of turnover in the offseason, losing its own Big Three of Coby White, Luke Maye, and Cameron Johnson. Returner Garrison Brooks will roam in the paint, and among the newcomers are five-star point guard Cole Anthony and five-star forward Armando Bacot, a Richmond native. These rivals played a thriller last season, with Virginia falling behind in the second half before closing on a 12-2 run, punctuated by a pair of Kyle Guy 3s, and UVa won, 69-61. Virginia has won the past four meetings in this series, and Tony Bennett often seems to vex Roy Williams, and the new guys will have had a month to get used to playing with each other. With the Tar Heels needing to find their footing with their own new players, this will be a tough conference road opener for them. I like the Cavaliers to capture the victory in their first ACC home game.

Hoos Win 

Record: 7-2 (1-1)

 

Saturday, January 4th

Virginia Tech Hokies

Charlottesville

Goodbye Justin Robinson. Goodbye Kerry Blackshear Jr. Goodbye Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Goodbye Ahmed Hill. Goodbye Ty Outlaw. Tech is another ACC team that is going to be full of fresh faces, including the coach, Mike Young, who compiled a 299-244 record in 17 seasons at Wofford before replacing Buzz Williams, who took off for Texas A&M. Young’s 2018-19 Terriers team was his best, as they went 30-5 and made the second round of the NCAA tournament. But his first year in Blacksburg is likely to be rough, with a dearth of ACC-level talent present on the roster. Young has already scored a couple wins on the recruiting trail, though, so he has the potential to build the Hokies back up in time. Last year, Virginia lit up Tech at home in a top-10 matchup, 81-59. The game in Blacksburg was much closer, but the Cavaliers held off the Hokies down the stretch, 64-58. Tech is staring at a long road ahead for the 2019-20 campaign, and it’s highly unlikely a win in Charlottesville is in the cards. Virginia should win and probably easily.

Hoos Win

Record: 11-2 (2-1)

 

Tuesday, January 7th or Wednesday, January 8th

Boston College Eagles

Chestnut Hill, MA

With Ky Bowman turning pro and last year's breakout true freshman Wynston Tabbs having to undergo season-ending knee surgery, this probably will be another disappointing season for the Eagles. Forward Nic Popovic is a very solid returner, and USC transfer Derryck Thornton is intriguing at point guard, but it probably won’t be enough for BC to make many waves in the ACC. The Wahoos and Eagles met just once last season, with UVa trouncing BC on the road, 83-56. It may not be that ugly, but I expect Virginia to win up near Beantown again.

Hoos Win

Record: 12-2 (3-1)

 

Saturday, January 11th

Syracuse Orange

Charlottesville

At this point, UVa should be feeling good, and the team should really be starting to gel. It’s very difficult for any team not named Duke to sweep Virginia, and I really don’t think the Orange will have the weapons to do so (and they could of course also lose the opener). The Wahoos get a measure revenge and top the Orange.

Hoos Win 

Record: 13-2 (4-1)

 

Wednesday, January 15th

Florida State Seminoles

Tallahassee, FL

Something interesting always seems to happen when FSU and UVa meet, and I feel like this has turned into a mini-rivalry. The Seminoles are one of the few ACC teams to consistently give the ‘Hoos problems recently. I consider it a plus that these schools are playing a home-and-home series and expect both games to be physical battles. Last year, to open the ACC slate, the Cavs and ‘Noles clashed at JPJ in a top-10 matchup. Virginia absolutely blew Florida State out of the gym, cruising to what surely would have been a 25- to 30-point win before Bennett started liberally substituting. But somewhat curiously, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton left his starters in for a longer period of time, and they played very hard right to the end of the game, even putting Virginia’s walk-ons in a full-court press. They were able to cut the final margin to 65-52. The perhaps overly tough style of play drew boos from the JPJ crowd as the clock expired. I was at this game, and despite the big win, I remember being somewhat bitter and ticked about the way the game ended. But maybe Hamilton just wasn’t happy with his team’s effort for most of the game, and so he pushed his players to finish strong. Well, maybe that momentum carried over to the ACC tournament semifinal game, because FSU defeated UVa, 69-59. It was the Cavaliers’ only loss of the season outside of the Duke setbacks. The Seminoles are losing a lot of players but return key pieces in guard/forward M.J. Walker and guard Trent Forrest. Hamilton’s squads are always tough, long, and strong, and I’m expecting another solid effort out of his guys in Tallahassee. I think FSU pulls out a close victory.

Hoos Lose

Record: 13-3 (4-2)

 

Saturday, January 18th

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Atlanta, GA

The Cavaliers have smacked the Yellow Jackets by an average of 18 points in their past five meetings, and I’m not sure this year’s lone matchup will yield a different result for Tech. The Jackets do have some solid returners in point guard Jose Alvarado, guard/forward Michael Devoe, and forward/center James Banks III, and USC transfer Jordan Usher will have a chance to start in the frontcourt. But the Jackets’ offense was dreadful last season, ranking last in the conference in efficiency, turnovers, and rebounding. With UVa expected to take a step back and the game taking place in Atlanta, it probably won’t be as bad as Virginia’s 81-51 win in Charlottesville last season. But I’m still expecting the Wahoos to take this one.

Hoos Win 

Record: 14-3 (5-2)

 

Monday, January 20th

N.C. State Wolfpack

Charlottesville

In what is expected to be a down year for the ACC, the experienced Wolfpack will have a shot to really make some noise, with key returners in guards Markell Johnson, Braxton Beverly, guard/forward Devon Daniels, forward C.J. Bryce, and forward/center D.J. Funderburk, if he returns from suspension. Coach Kevin Keatts has done well in his first two seasons in Raleigh, making the NCAA tournament in his first campaign before advancing to the NIT quarterfinals last year. State gave Virginia fits for three out of four halves in two 2018-19 meetings. In Raleigh, UVa played one of its sloppiest games but won in overtime, 66-65. Those types of close losses sunk State’s NCAA chances, including two tight ACC defeats to terrible Georgia Tech and Wake Forest teams. The Pack also went down in infamy for only scoring 24 points in a game against Virginia Tech. In the ACC tournament quarterfinals against UVa, the Pack took a 29-27 lead to the break, but Virginia prevailed, 72-52. I expect Virginia to win at home, but this will definitely be a danger spot for the Cavaliers. 

Hoos Win 

Record: 15-3 (6-2)

 

Sunday, January 26th

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Winston-Salem, NC

Wake Forest was very bad last season but has six returners who averaged at least 20 minutes per game, including point guard Brandon Childress and forward Chaundee Brown. The Demon Deacons also get a transfer from UNC Charlotte, guard Andrien White, who averaged 15 points. But Wake’s lone NCAA tournament berth under Danny Manning was three years ago, and even then, it had to sneak into the First Four. In Manning’s other three seasons, the Deacons are a combined 46-79 (.368). There are several problems that need to be overcome before this relatively experienced team can make a jump into the top half of the league. UVa rushed out to a 25-3 lead in Charlottesville last season before cruising to a 68-45 victory. Wake will probably be able to put up a better fight in Winston-Salem, but I’m marking this down as a “W” for the Wahoos. 

Hoos Win 

Record: 16-3 (7-2)

 

Tuesday, January 28th

Florida State Seminoles

Charlottesville

I detailed the recent history of these teams above and picked the Seminoles to pull out a win in Tallahassee. I expect another tough battle in the rematch, but back at JPJ, I think the Wahoos will keep rolling.

Hoos Win

Record: 17-3 (8-2)

 

Wednesday, February 5th

Clemson Tigers

Charlottesville

Brad Brownell has coached the Tigers for nine seasons. He’s had only one losing season, but also reached the NCAA tournament just twice. Clemson is normally solid, but almost never great. It seems like this could be a similar-type year for the Tigers, who have only one returning starter in forward Aamir Simms and lots of new faces, including four-star freshman guard Al-Amir Dawes and solid transfers in guard/forward Curran Scott (Tulsa) and forward Tevin Mack (Alabama). Last season at Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson was able to keep the score close at halftime, 27-21, and even pulled to within 29-27 early in the second half, but the Cavaliers took over and won, 63-43. The Tigers always struggle on offense, and that is of course tough to overcome when facing UVa. I expect a physical battle for a little while before Virginia takes over down the stretch, as we’ve come to expect with this series.

Hoos Win 

Record: 18-3 (9-2)

 

Saturday, February 8th

Louisville Cardinals

Louisville, KY

In Chris Mack’s second season as coach, the Cardinals are expected to be one of the league’s better teams. Louisville has a great mix of veterans and incoming talent. Center Steven Enoch, guard/forward Dwayne Sutton, and forward Jordan Nwora, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft, are among the team’s most important returners. On top of that, one of the country’s best transfers, point guard Lamarr Kimble, landed at Louisville after averaging 15.6 points last season at Saint Joseph’s. The Cardinals need to learn to finish games better. Last year, they infamously blew 23- and 12-point leads against Duke and Virginia, respectively, at home, and also played very competitively into the second half at JPJ but lost to the ‘Hoos there, too, 73-68. Louisville also led Florida State on the road by 10 before losing by five in overtime. Win one, two, or even all three of those games, and Louisville’s first year with Mack likely results in more than just a 20-14 record and first-round NCAA tournament loss to Minnesota. I think the Cardinals will be better in that area this year and should give the Cavaliers plenty of issues. At the KFC Yum! Center, Louisville wins the first of the season’s two matchups. 

Hoos Lose

Record: 18-4 (9-3)

 

Tuesday, February 11th

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Charlottesville

The good news for Irish fans is Notre Dame is bringing back almost everyone of note. The bad news? The Fighting Irish went just 3-15 and finished last in the ACC in 2018-19. D.J. Harvey transferred to Vanderbilt, but center John Mooney, guards Temple Gibbs and Prentiss Hubb, and forward Rex Pflueger all return. There’s no doubt Notre Dame will improve, but it’s hard to know how much since it was so bad in conference play last season, and the Irish also saw injuries pile up. But Mike Brey has a solid track record, so the team should have a shot at making it back to the Big Dance. UVa faced Notre Dame twice last season, destroying it in South Bend, 82-55, but then played one of its worst games of the season and only defeated the Irish 60-54 at home. Even though Notre Dame should be improved, I’ll take the Cavaliers to capture this win at JPJ.

Hoos Win 

Record: 19-4 (10-3)

 

Saturday, February 15th

North Carolina Tar Heels

Chapel Hill, NC

By mid-February, both of these teams will have had plenty of time to come together with their new players and should be playing well. I think this will be another war in Chapel Hill after last season’s memorable finish between these squads, but I’ll take the Tar Heels to come out on top this time around.

Hoos Lose

Record: 19-5 (10-4)

 

Wednesday, February 19th

Boston College Eagles

Charlottesville

BC put a scare into UVa in Charlottesville two seasons ago, losing by just one, 59-58. Anything can happen in any ACC game, but I’m not picking the Eagles to beat the Cavaliers at JPJ. Virginia bounces back from a tough loss at UNC and rolls.

Hoos Win 

Record: 20-5 (11-4)

 

Saturday, February 22nd

Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh, PA

In first season as coach, Jeff Capel played his younger players the most, meaning the Panthers have plenty of minutes returning in key players such as point guard Xavier Johnson and guard Trey McGowens. Additionally, he has a four-star recruit coming in forward Gerald Drumgoole. But the team did go 14-19 and 3-15 in the ACC, so there’s a long way to go. UVa cruised to a win over Pitt, 73-49, in Charlottesville late last season, the teams’ only meeting. Expect this matchup to be more competitive at the Oakland Zoo, but I got UVa.

Hoos Win

Record: 21-5 (12-4)

 

Wednesday, February 26th

Virginia Tech Hokies

Blacksburg, VA

Even when the Hokies were bad under Buzz, they sometimes gave the Cavaliers all they could handle at Cassell Coliseum, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this one is closer than it should be, but I’ll take the Wahoos to sweep Tech in the regular-season series.

Hoos Win

Record: 22-5 (13-4)

 

Saturday, February 29th

Duke Blue Devils

Charlottesville

The 2018-19 Blue Devils ended up with three NBA draft lottery picks in Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish. This team won’t be quite as talented, but there’s a new crop of talented freshmen incoming, including five-star center Vernon Carey, five-star forward Matthew Hurt, and four-star guard Cassius Stanley. Additionally, point guard Tre Jones decided to stay in school for another year, and he’s a solid all-around player, minus his 3-point shooting, which could be an issue again for these Blue Devils. Also, forwards Javin DeLaurier and Jack White and guard Alex O’Connell will lend a more veteran presence to the team than usual. Duke ended up being a thorn in Virginia’s side last season, beating it 72-70 in Durham when the ‘Hoos couldn’t make their 3s and then again 81-71 at JPJ when the Blue Devils couldn’t miss theirs, a rarity for the Devils. I expect this to be a tight game in a raucous atmosphere, but I’m picking Duke.

Hoos Lose

Record: 22-6 (13-5)

 

Wednesday, March 4th

Miami Hurricanes

Coral Gables, FL

Coach Jim Larranaga experienced his worst season in the ACC last season and his first overall losing record since the 1997-98 campaign at George Mason, his first year at that school. The Hurricanes went only 5-13 in the ACC last year, but should have a better chance of nearing the .500 mark or better in 2019-20. Key returners include point guard Chris Lykes and guard Dejan Vasiljevic. Miami has two four-star guard recruits entering in Harlond Beverly and Isaiah Wong, and a pair of immediately-eligible transfers should help right away in guard/forward Kameron McGusty and center Nysier Brooks. Last year, Miami and UVa played one game in Charlottesville, and along with the Notre Dame game at JPJ, it was one of the more boring and poorly played games by the Cavaliers all season. Ty Jerome sat out with a sore back, no doubt hindering Virginia’s offense, but the Wahoos did enough to win, 56-46. These two schools always seem to play close, defensive games, with an average margin of victory of 7.14 points in the past seven games in the series and that 10-point Virginia win being the most lopsided. If Miami is more like its usual self, I see this as another danger spot for the Cavaliers, who will be coming off a draining game, win or lose, against Duke. The fact that this isn’t a Big Monday matchup helps the ‘Hoos with more time for the turnaround, but I foresee this being a slugfest. The Hurricanes could be desperate for a marquee victory.

Hoos Win 

Record: 23-6 (14-5)

 

Saturday, March 7th

Louisville Cardinals

Charlottesville

With Virginia expected to fall back to the pack a bit and Louisville projected to rise, this game at the end of the regular season could go a long way in determining the pecking order for the final ACC standings and thus the seeding for the league tournament, taking place this season in Greensboro, NC. I liked the Cardinals to snag a win at the KFC Yum! Center, but at JPJ, on a day that will see seniors Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key honored, I like the Cavaliers to pull out a barn burner. 

Hoos Win 

Record: 24-6 (15-5)

 

Summary Thoughts

Our prediction for last season’s ACC record was 13-5, and the team went 16-2. On my personal blog last year, I picked Virginia to go 14-4 in the conference, and I tend to underestimate the team as well just a little, and I’ve tried to have very high expectations the past few seasons. A softer-than-average ACC and my faith in Bennett have me thinking these Cavaliers still won’t lose more than a handful of games in the conference. It wouldn’t surprise me, of course, if UVa wins any of the games I picked as losses, but there are a few contests I identified as victories that could end up as defeats, too. Notably, I mentioned the home game against N.C. State and the road game at Miami as danger spots, but I also see potential potholes in the home games against North Carolina, Florida State, and Louisville. Still, it would be pretty surprising to see this team fall out of the top third of the ACC, and any fan should be happy with a 15-5 ACC record coming off a national championship.

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