Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the hoops schedule

"[If] the Cavs can play their cards right -- and a decent but not insane nonconference schedule ought to allow for that -- they could easily move into the top five of the league. That generally means a ticket to the Dance."
"I believe that Virginia will be able to compete successfully for an NCAA bid this season."
"All signs point to the Cavs reaping the rewards for that "slow and steady wins the race" approach this season. ... The Cavs haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2007. That could change this year."

There's good news and bad news.  The good news is that it looks like we'll have a pretty good basketball team this year.  Some very promising talent at the guard positions and a frontcourt beast looking to unleash some fury and frustrations on the rest of the ACC.  The bad news is that our plan to sneak up on the world has more or less failed.  Fourth in the media poll and five votes in the coaches' poll, all of which probably came from ACC coaches because let's face it, is someone in the Big West sitting there going, "You know who I think is gonna surprise?  Virginia."  No.

So this season, which tips off in less than three weeks, carries with it the weight of Expectations.  You're probably shuddering and crossing yourself at the very idea, because I think we all know what happens to Virginia teams with Expectations.  (In case you don't: this is the answer.)  Still, I'm going to have some fun with it, because when it comes to basketball, Expectations departed the scene about halfway through the Gillen era and ignored Dave Leitao entirely.

So we're going to approach this season like we haven't approached a season in literally ten years: with the idea that this team should probably make the NCAA tournament, and it would be something of a disappointment if they didn't.  If the development trajectories of our players are on track - and Tony Bennett has some proven player-development chops, so they should be - this is a top-half team in the ACC, maybe good enough to earn a bye in the first round of the ACC tournament.  The season preview for basketball is kind of hodgepodge because of some other sport that's going on right now, but we'll kick it off, like last year, with a look at the opponents on this year's schedule.  (The nonconference opponents only.  ACC opponents have to wait til January so I can 1) cheat and see how they've done so far and 2) not overload myself during football season.)

South Carolina State

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Preseason conference poll: 10th of 13

'10-'11 record: 10-22 (5-11)
'10-'11 postseason: none
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .0736 (9th MEAC, 327th national)

Better or worse: Not like you'd notice
Likelihood of winning: Very, very high

The season tips off with a scrimmage actual game against SC State, which is lousy.  Nothing to see here, really, just one of those games that pays the bills for a program with no resources and inflates your record.  I guess if we were going to get into actual analysis, SC State has to replace their leading scorer (the only one who averaged double figures last year), they like to spread the scoring around some, etc. etc.  Whatever.


Big South Conference

Preseason conference poll: 5th of 11

'10-'11 record: 13-17 (9-9)
'10-'11 postseason: None
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .3155 (5th Big South, 229th national)

Better or worse: Probably a little worse
Likelihood of winning: Still very high

This is technically the first game of the Paradise Jam, but it's being played stateside in the friendly JPJA confines.  The Sleepin' Eagles lose their top two scorers, and while this squad wasn't really too bad defensively last year, as long as the team isn't looking forward too much to their Caribbean trip, we'll see win #2.


Mountain West Conference

Preseason conference poll: 7th of 8

'10-'11 record: 11-22 (1-15)
'10-'11 postseason: None
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .4528 (7th MWC, 173rd national)

Better or worse: Probably about the same
Likelihood of winning: High-ish

This is the first actual game of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, which has the same format as the Maui Invitational we played in last year.  Meaning that there are two games after this one, and the opponent is determined by how we do.  Win and we'll probably get good competition; lose, and we get Norfolk State.  That makes this one of the most important games of the season.  The OOC schedule needs the boost it'd get from playing in the winner's bracket; a neutral-site game against Marquette, the other marquee team in the tourney, would be great for the old RPI.  Fortunately, TCU isn't great.  The MWC has a very clear caste system and TCU is squarely on the bottom rung.  UVA will have to watch out for the combo of Hank Thorns and Garlon Green; Thorns is a semi-familiar name (a former Hokie) who had 7 assists per game last year, and Green is a 6'7" matchup problem who hit on almost 50% of his threes last year.  Also interesting to watch for will be former UVA recruiting target Kyan Anderson, although Thorns gobbles up most of the minutes at the point.  Still, this is a very winnable game, and tournament hopes may hinge upon it.

Wisconsin-Green Bay

Horizon League

Preseason conference poll: 6th of 10

'10-'11 record: 14-18 (8-10)
'10-'11 postseason: none
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .5036 (8th Horizon, 156th national)

Better or worse: Probably worse
Likelihood of winning: High

Tony Bennett's old team!  You know there must be something to it when they specifically announce that we'll be playing Wisconsin-Green Bay instead of letting it just be one of the many bought wins on the schedule.  The challenge here will be: what to do with Green Bay's towering center, Alec Brown.  Brown is 7'1" and preseason second-team all-conference.  As you might guess, he's a block machine, averaging more than two per game last year.  The rest of the team: eh. The Horizon is a reasonably competitive league and Green Bay was reasonably competitive in it, but if you can't chalk this one up as a should-be win, then you have no business thinking tournament.


Big Ten Conference

Preseason conference poll: no poll yet, but, maybe 3rd or 4th

'10-'11 record: 21-14 (9-9)
'10-'11 postseason: NCAA second round**
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .9022 (5th Big Ten, 25th national)

Better or worse: Probably better.....probably
Likelihood of winning: About 1 in 3

ACC/Big Ten challenge, of course.  Now this is a test.  If Darius Morris had come back for his junior year, Michigan would be one of the prime contenders in the Big Ten and a possible Final Four team.  Not even kidding.  As it is, this is a very talented opponent.  Tim Hardaway, Jr. is the real deal.  It's going to be fun watching Mike Scott and Jordan Morgan go at it in the post, or Joe Harris and Gritty McGritterson (Zack Novak) dueling on the wing.  The combination of Bennett's pack-line defense and John Beilein's 3-bomb offense could make for some intriguing situations.  Will the three-point shooting loosen up the interior, or will UVA turn Michigan into a one-dimensional attack?  Well, I'm getting ahead of myself.  If you know me even a little bit you know this isn't just another game.  Michigan is a couple steps ahead of UVA on Rebuilding Road, so the Wolverines will probably be too much.  But we get them at home, so you never know.  Michigan is primed for a trip to consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time since, I dunno, not that long after the Fab Five was doing their thing, so a win here - reachable but not to be counted on - would be a major feather.

**Just FYI - that's "actual second round" not "actual first round but the NCAA calls it 'second' so all the teams can get precious participation ribbons even if all they did was lose the stupid play-in."  That's the nomenclature we use around here.



Preseason conference poll: N/A

'10-'11 record: 12-19
'10-'11 postseason: None
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .0987 (320th national)

Better or worse: Does it matter?  We'll say better.
Likelihood of winning: Astronomical

I guess we can pretty much count on Longwood to appear here most years.  Why they're even playing D-I, I don't even know.  According to Pomeroy they had the nation's second-worst defense last year, so the end of the bench had better be ready for this one after halftime.

George Mason

Colonial Athletic Association

Preseason conference poll: 2nd of 12

'10-'11 record: 27-7 (16-2)
'10-'11 postseason: NCAA second round
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .8926 (1st CAA, 28th national)

Better or worse: They hired Paul Hewitt. You tell me.
Likelihood of winning: A little better than 50/50.

Ah, George Mason.  Or as it was once known, UVA-Fairfax.  Troof.  Mason was a very, very good team last year and probably would have killed us had we played, which is why a lot of UVA fans are bemoaning the idea of playing them.  Losing to an instate mid-major is bad pub.  However, much like VT, Mason relied very heavily on a six-man rotation, three of whom are up and graduated.  But they remain dangerous.  Ryan Pearson is one of those matchup nightmare types - he hit on better than 51% of his shots last year, including a few threes, and was named to the CAA preaseason first team.  There are still plenty of elements left over from last year's tournament team.  Jim Larranaga is off to Miami, of course, but he's been replaced by Paul Hewitt, which means there's a decent chance that UVA can win simply by coaching circles around the other bench.  Mason is not to be taken lightly, however.  I don't think they'll be as dangerous as last year, but they'll still be tough.


Pacific-12 Conference

Preseason conference poll: no poll yet

'10-'11 record: 21-18 (7-11)
'10-'11 postseason: CBI champions
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .6998 (7th Pac-10, 88th national)

Better or worse: Could go either way
Likelihood of winning: Good-ish

I don't care what people say, I like the pine tree court at Oregon.  And this from someone who despises Oregon's rape of college sports aesthetics.  Anyway, Oregon is a team much like UVA: potentially on the rise but needing to prove it.  They had a surprisingly decent season last year, after looking like they were gonna suck a big one, and then lost a whole bunch of those players.  But they recruited well, and will plug in a whole bunch of transfers too.  This is part 2 of a home-and-home; we had a close game with them last year and then pulled away in the second half.  The bad news is, now we're playing out there.  BUT: last year's game against them was our first without Mike Scott.  Getting Scott back and playing the Ducks early, before they've had a chance to properly mesh, should swing the game in our favor.



Preseason conference poll: N/A

'10-'11 record: 11-20
'10-'11 postseason: none
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .2164 (265th national)

Better or worse: Better
Likelihood of winning: High, I HOPE

Hey, you know what would be a good idea?  Actually winning this game.  Seriously: that wasn't cool, last year.  Not cool at all.  Seattle returns most of their core, so they look like a team at least somewhat on the rise, but there shouldn't even have been any way they were in our league last year let alone this year.  Somehow I doubt the team has forgotten; Mike Scott most of all, since all he could do was stew on the bench.

Maryland-Eastern Shore

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Preseason conference poll: 12th of 13

'10-'11 record: 9-22 (5-11)\
'10-'11 postseason: none
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .0512 (10th MEAC, 337th national)

Better or worse: Makes no difference
Likelihood of a win: Highest of any game on the schedule

Savannah State and NC Central have been D-I members for less than five years each and are brand-new MEAC members this year.  Both were picked higher than UMES in their media poll.  Blow them out of the gym and let's move on.


Colonial Athletic Association

Preseason conference poll: 12th of 12

'10-'11 record: 4-26 (0-18)
'10-'11 postseason: none
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .2246 (12th CAA, 262nd national)

Better or worse: Can't get much worse
Likelihood of winning: Very high

Towson may share a conference with quality basketball schools like ODU, George Mason, Drexel, etc., but they're still in a totally different universe.  Only two players that stepped on the floor from last year's team (which played completely terrible defense) will return - the rest of the roster is dudes who redshirted, dudes who transferred in and are sitting out a year, juco transfers, and freshmen.  Don't expect this to be a competitive game.


Southeastern Conference

Preseason conference poll: 9th of 12

'10-'11 record: 11-21 (3-13)
'10-'11 postseason: none
'10-'11 Pomeroy: .3183 (12th SEC, 227th national)

Better or worse: Better
Likelihood of winning: Good

The third home-and-home that we're finishing up.  LSU was pretty much horrible last year, and we beat them in our place, but they have a ton of continuity from last year and they added seven-foot transfer Justin Hamilton.  You'll remember that Tony Bennett tried like hell to bring Hamilton to UVA; he chose LSU instead and is eligible this year.  Nobody on this team can shoot threes, so they're not well-equipped to take advantage of what has been a weakness of ours in the past; still, they're a good road challenge that, if all goes well, ought to be a nice point in our favor come tournament time.


One thing you'll notice missing from this schedule is any games that I gave up on already.  That's partly a function of us being better and partly a function of having no teams staring us in the face like Washington last year.  Here's a breakdown:


SC State


Wisconsin-Green Bay


George Mason

The last category there is in order of toughness from "easiest" to hardest.  There's two more games I didn't profile; those'd be the rest of the Paradise Jam.  If we don't fall flat against TCU, we'll almost certainly get Drexel, which adds another yardstick game on one side or the other of George Mason on the difficulty scale.  Get past Drexel and we probably get Marquette; if not, Drake or Ole Miss.  Marquette would be a yardstick game; Drake and Ole Miss would go with LSU and them.

In order to go to the tournament, we'll need to go better than 10-4 against this group; ask Seth Greenberg how it goes if you only beat the pinatas on the schedule and fall flat against the good teams.  I think one win against the yardsticks gets us to the bubble, and then we have to make our statements in the ACC.  Two wins and we're a high-bubble or play-in team; three yardstick wins and taking care of business in the conference gets us to the promised land.  It's not impossible, although not bloody likely, that we could go undefeated against this OOC schedule.  If we did, we'd be flying pretty high.

Assuming our upward trajectory continues steadily, you'd like to see a little bit harder of a schedule in following years.  Sweet 16 teams, Final Four teams, they'd handle a schedule like this with no problem.  It's got its challenges but it's not a schedule of doom, either.

Here's the ACC schedule, in order of media poll prediction, and number of games against each in parentheses:

1. North Carolina (2)
2. Duke (1)
3. Florida State (2)
5. Miami (1)
6. Virginia Tech (2)
7. Clemson (2)
8. NC State (1)
9. Maryland (2)
10. Georgia Tech (1)
11. Wake Forest (1)
12. Boston College (1)

As you can see, not a schedule that screams "great success."  Two games each against UNC and FSU, and Duke on the road.  That could be five losses right there, if things go badly.  One game each against the bottom three teams.  No letdowns against the Marylands and NC States and Clemsons of the world are allowed, because there's not much margin for error.  Could we go 9-7 in the conference and 11-3 outside and get into the tournament at 20-10, plus whatever happens in the ACC tourney?  Is that an NCAA resume?  Possibly.  Well, probably, but this is why we're no shoo-in.  But c'mon - it'll be fun to have that much riding on each and every game this year.  Embrace the bubbliness.

No comments: