Virginia has potentially the most high-quality non-conference slate in the country this year. It may not reflect in Strength of Schedule metrics where the top contests are countered by some easier home buy games. But the top teams on our schedule rival anything other Top 25 quality teams are looking to take on this fall.

UVA will play a guaranteed four non-conference games against teams ranked in the Preseason AP Top 25, at least two of which will be against teams currently in the Top 5. After a three-game home-stand against mid-majors to open the season, UVA will travel to Las Vegas for the Continental Tire Main Event, where we’ll battle Baylor and either Illinois or UCLA. After thanksgiving and another home mid-major buy game, Virginia will travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in the ACC-B1G Ten Challenge. And then, after the exam break, the Hoos will welcome Houston to JPJ for a shot at revenge after the Cougars crushed UVA last November.

Today we’re breaking down these five marquee opponents and talking UVA’s prospects for getting some Quadrant 1 wins in place early in the season.

Projected starters in bold.

Continental Tire Main Event – Game 1: Friday, Nov 18th, 7:00 PM, ESPN2

#5 Baylor

2021-22 Record: 27-7 (14-4); T-1st in Big XII

  • % of 2021-22 Minutes Returning: 48.6%
  • % of 2021-22 Points Returning: 47.3%

Departures

  • PG James Akinjo (Turned Pro)
    • 32 G, 33.1 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 5.8 apg, 30% 3P%
  • PG Mitchell Paul (Graduated)
    • 8 G, 1.9 mpg, 1.1 ppg, 0 apg, 0% 3P%
  • F Kendall Brown (Turned Pro)
    • 34 G, 27 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 34% 3P%
  • F Jeremy Sochan (Turned Pro)
    • 30 G, 25.1 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 30% 3P%
  • PF Matthew Mayer (Transferred to Illinois)
    • 33 G, 22.8 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 41% FG%
  • C Dain Dainja (Transferred to Illinois)
    • 3 G, 3 mpg, 2 ppg, 1 rpg, 50% FG%

Returners

  • G Adam Flagler (RS SR)
    • 31 G, 30.7 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 3 apg, 39% 3P%
  • G LJ Cryer (RS JR)
    • 19 G, 25.9 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 1.7 apg, 47% 3P%
  • G Dale Bonner (SR)
    • 31 G, 17.3 mpg, 3.1 ppg, 1.5 apg, 19% 3P%
  • PF Jordan Turner (JR)
    • 13 G, 6 mpg, 2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 30% FG%
  • F/C Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (RS SR)
    • 25 G, 20.8 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 68% FG%
  • C Flo Thamba (SR+)
    • 34 G, 20.5 mpg, 6.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 55% FG%
  • C Zach Loveday (JR)
    • 12 G, 3.8 mpg, 1 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 44% FG%

Additions

  • G Dantwan Grimes (RS JR Transfer, JUCO)
  • SG Keyonte George (5-star FR)
  • G/F Langston Love (4-star RS FR)
  • F Jalen Bridges (RS JR Transfer, West VIrginia)
    • 33 G, 26.8 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 33% 3P% at West Virginia
  • PF Caleb Lohner (JR Transfer, BYU)
    • 35 G, 23.2 mpg, 7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 42% FG% at BYU
  • C Joshua Ojianwuna (3-star FR)

Game Outlook

Baylor won the 2021 national championship, and followed that up with a Big XII title last year and an NCAAT 1-seed before being upset by UNC in the 2nd round. Four key rotation members do leave, and that’s worth nothing, as it’s the majority of the 7-man lineup they rolled out last postseason. It’s never good to lose your all-conference point guard, but they also see their jumbo wing/forward trio (Matthew Mayer, Jeremy Sochan, and Kendall Brown) all move on as well.

So why are they a Top 5 team coming into this year, aside from having the elite Scott Drew at the helm? Returning all-Big XII 2nd Team guard Adam Flagler is a great start, competent as both a distributor and a shooter. LJ Cryer looks ready to move into a bigger role at the other guard spot as well, and is one of the best shooters in the Big XII, and 5-star rookie Keyontae George is showing up as a lottery pick already in next summer’s mock drafts. They’ll have a system-vet Dale Bonner backing up the guard spots and promising RS Fr Langston Love (a former Top 50 recruit missed last season with an injury) backs up the wing.

Down low, they’ll look to transfers Jalen Bridges (WVU) and Caleb Lohner (BYU) to replace a lot of lost production at the 4, and Bridges in particular could give Jayden Gardner and BVP fits as a mobile face-up jumbo forward. The 5-man pairing of Thamba and Tchamwa Tchatchoua (the latter of whom was the Big XII DPOY last year before an injury held him out of the postseason) is talented and proven and will both potentially lock down Shedrick and Caffaro as well as terrorize UVA drivers in the lane.

This team is deep, with experience and talent at all five spots. UVA will have to win this one with defense, betting on an experienced Pack Line to gum up a Baylor offense that’s still integrating a lot of new talents at the 3 and 4 spots, trusting Kihei and Reece to slow down Baylor’s two experienced lead guards. Rebounding will be key too of course, as both Thamba and Tchamwa Tchatchoua are elite on the glass, both ends.

Offensively the shots need to fall. Shedrick and Caffaro can’t stretch Baylor’s big men away from the basket, so the lane is going to be kind of crowded. Baylor traditionally defends the perimeter well, but with a rookies and transfers at the 3 and 4, there will be opportunities to get looks for McKneely, Franklin, and BVP from deep as well as Jayden in the midrange.

Both teams will play only home mid-major warm-ups prior to heading to Vegas for this game, though like Virginia, Baylor will play a pair of high-major secret scrimmages prior to the season (LSU and Texas A&M). Hoos tend to play well in these November neutral environments, 2020 Bubbleville not included, and I trust Bennett and Kihei to keep the guys focused in Vegas to treat it as a business trip. Despite the differences in rankings and Baylor’s better success the past couple seasons, cautiously optimistic Hoos can make this one a hard-fought tossup.

 

Continental Tire Main Event – Game 2: Sunday, Nov 20th, Time TBD, ESPN

#23 Illinois

2021-22 Record: 23-10 (15-5); T-1st in B1G Ten

  • % of 2021-22 Minutes Returning: 16.5%
  • % of 2021-22 Points Returning: 14.0%

Departures

  • PG Trent Frazier (Graduated)
    • 31 G, 34.7 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 4.1 apg, 33% 3P%
  • PG Andre Curbelo (Transferred to St John’s)
    • 19 G, 19.3 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 3.2 apg, 18% 3P%
  • G Alfonso Plummer (Graduated)
    • 33 G, 30.2 mpg, 14.6 ppg, 1.1 apg, 41% 3P%
  • G Da’Monte Williams (Graduated)
    • 33 G, 28.8 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, 33% 3P%
  • G/F Brandin Podziemski (Transferred to Santa Clara)
    • 16 G, 4.3 mpg, 1.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 23% 3P%
  • SF Jacob Grandison (Transferred to Duke)
    • 30 G, 25 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 41% 3P%
  • PF Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (Transferred to South Carolina)
    • 24 G, 7.8 mpg, 1.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 47% FG%
  • F/C Omar Payne (Transferred to Jacksonville)
    • 32 G, 7.4 mpg, 1.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 62% FG%
  • C Kofi Cockburn (Turned Pro)
    • 28 G, 30.7 mpg, 20.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 59% FG%

Returners

  • F RJ Melendez (SO)
    • 22 G, 8.5 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 60% 3P%
  • F Luke Goode (SO)
    • 28 G, 8.9 mpg, 2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 37% 3P%
  • F/C Coleman Hawkins (JR)
    • 33 G, 19 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 44% FG%
  • C Brandon Lieb (JR)
    • 10 G, 2.4 mpg, 0.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 80% FG%

Additions

  • PG Skyy Clark (4-star FR)
  • G Jayden Epps (4-star FR)
  • SG Sencire Harris (4-star FR)
  • SF Terrence Shannon (SR Transfer, Texas Tech)
    • 26 G, 25 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 38% 3P% at Texas Tech
  • F Ty Rodgers (4-star FR)
  • PF Matthew Mayer (SR+ Transfer, Baylor)
    • 33 G, 22.8 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 41% FG% at Baylor
  • C Dain Dainja (SO Transfer, Baylor)
    • 3 G, 3 mpg, 2 ppg, 1 rpg, 50% FG% at Baylor

Game Outlook

If the Hoos lose to Baylor, odds are Illinois is who we’ll see in the loser’s bracket. They’re ranked, and are considered one of the B1G contenders in preseason reports, but I have a terrible time figuring out why their ceiling is that high. Yes they won the B1G regular season last year, and that’s meaningful, but nearly everyone of note is gone from that team, returning only one player who played more than 10 mpg or scored more than 4 ppg. Overall the Illini lost 9 of 13 scholarship players from last year’s club. There’s talent in the 7 man recruiting class (four freshmen, three transfers, with transfer wing Terrance Shannon projected as an NBA candidate next year), but it’s not a Duke-like infusion of ready-made stars, and will need time to gel.

By default, there being no other natural lead guards on the roster, it looks as if they’ll start the season with a pair of 4-star freshmen in the backcourt, blue chip Skyy Clark and one of Jayden Epps or Sencire Harris. The only experienced player in their backcourt will likely be the transfer Shannon. There’s a high ceiling for these players, but how ready that talent is to take on the likes of UCLA and then one of UVA or Baylor this early in the season is a giant open question. If UVA’s veteran backcourt can’t handle this much inexperience on both ends of the court, there’s something to worry about.

Matthew Mayer arrives from Baylor to shore up at least one front court position, but there is a massive Kofi Cockburn-sized absence at the 5-spot, and I’m not really sure who Illinois can throw in there. I expect Coleman Hawkins, who saw increased usage late in the year last season, gets the promotion, but the backups question at both the 4 and the 5 remain unanswered, as neither returner Brandon Lieb nor Baylor transfer Dain Dainja have yet to carve out any significant role to date.

Before this tournament, the Illini (like UVA and Baylor) play only a trio of cupcake home games, though do secret-scrimmage Kansas. All the same, if forced to pick a school to go 0-2 in Vegas, as of today I’d go with Illinois.

 

or #8 UCLA

2021-22 Record: 27-8 (15-5); 2nd in Pac-12

  • % of 2021-22 Minutes Returning: 46.6%
  • % of 2021-22 Points Returning: 47.8%

Departures

  • SF Johnny Juzang (Turned Pro)
    • 30 G, 31.8 mpg, 15.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 36% 3P%
  • SF Jules Bernard (Graduated)
    • 35 G, 30.1 mpg, 12.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 34% 3P%
  • SF Jake Kyman (Transferred to Wyoming)
    • 23 G, 8 mpg, 2.4 ppg, 1 rpg, 29% 3P%
  • PF Peyton Watson (Turned Pro)
    • 32 G, 12.7 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 32% FG%
  • F/C Cody Riley (Graduated)
    • 26 G, 21.6 mpg, 7.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 46% FG%
  • C Myles Johnson (Graduated)
    • 35 G, 18.1 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 63% FG%

Returners

  • PG Tyger Campbell (SR)
    • 33 G, 32.4 mpg, 11.9 ppg, 4.3 apg, 41% 3P%
  • G/F Jaylen Clark (JR)
    • 29 G, 18.1 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 26% 3P%
  • G/F David Singleton (SR+)
    • 33 G, 16.7 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 45% 3P%
  • SF Jaime Jaquez (SR)
    • 34 G, 30.5 mpg, 13.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 28% 3P%
  • F/C Kenneth Nwuba (RS SR)
    • 20 G, 6.4 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 67% FG%
  • F/C Mac Etienne (RS SO)
    • 13 G, 11.2 mpg, 2.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 60% FG% in 2020-21

Additions

  • G Will McClendon (4-star RS FR)
  • G Dylan Andrews (4-star FR)
  • SG Amari Bailey (5-star FR)
  • F Abramo Canka (3-star FR)
  • F/C Adem Bona (5-star FR)

Game Outlook

This is an intriguing lineup to watch, with the AP voters putting the Bruins at #8 coming into the season. UCLA is a program I respect with the hiring of Mick Cronin out of Cincinatti a couple seasons ago, as they’ve become a pretty reliable contender every year in the Pac-12 (watch out B1G?). They finished second in the league last year and made a Sweet 16 run out of the 4-seed spot before losing to UNC. Three starters do depart from that squad, but Cronin has recruited well and does a great job of keeping his players around through their careers (understanding some do get drafted early) so the transfer portal has very minimal impact on them, either inbound nor outbound.

Let’s start with two senior starters returning that I absolutely love. First is 5th year point guard Tyger Campbell who, were he a little taller, would be in the NBA right now given his combination of quickness, IQ, and shooting. On his wing he’s got veteran Jaime Jaquez, a three-year starter who can do a little of everything, especially if his shooting rebounds (he shot over 39% from 3 as a sophomore, though it dipped under 30% last year). The likely third backcourt starter is consensus top-10 recruit and probable one-and-done shooting guard Amari Bailey, though Cronin will have a number of other system vets and blue-chip underclassmen to choose from to round out the perimeter rotation. This backcourt is the clear strength of the team and a challenging potential matchup for the Hoos, especially when we have to go to our bench.

The question marks for this UCLA club, however, and the reasons I’m a little skeptical of a preseason Top 10 ranking (though not saying they don’t belong in the rankings at all, or don’t belong ahead of us), is the frontcourt. 5-star rookie Adem Bona certainly looks the part, and has NBA upside, but the Bruins will miss having either of last year’s rotation centers Cody Riley or Myles Johnson around to mentor him. Kenneth Nwuba’s never managed to carve out more than end-of-the-bench minutes and Mac Etienne is coming back from a year off after an ACL tear shut down his sophomore campaign. I absolutely expect the Bruins to go 4-around-1 for long stretches if not entirely this season, but even then the 5-spot will be a roll of the dice out of the gate.

With two 5-star freshmen in their starting lineup, the Hoos should be able to win at least a couple of individual matchups this early in the season before the youngsters round into form (UCLA’s game against Illinois in the opener will be their only power-conference opponent to this point; they’ll secret scrimmage San Diego State). But Campbell is the kind of guard that can outplay even our elite PG defenders Reece and Kihei at times, and a small lineup from the Bruins creates an intriguing Gardner-vs-Jaquez matchup at the 4-spot, one that creates mismatches at both ends.

To win this one (should this matchup occur, of course), the Hoos will need to exploit advantages in size and experience in the post. Floor spacing to create opportunities for UVA’s big men will be critical. This is one I see as more of an even matchup than I think the disparity in rankings would suggest. Both Campbell and Jaquez are arguably better than their counterparts on UVA’s roster, but UVA is used to playing against 5-star wunderkind thanks to annual Duke matchups, giving us some apparent edges as well this early in the season. UCLA’s backcourt bench does look better than ours due to the experience Clark and Singleton bring, but UVA’s got the depth advantage at forward and center. Win or lose I’d love to see this matchup on Day 2 of the event, hopefully in the title game.

 

ACC – B1G Ten Challenge: Tuesday, Nov 29th, 9:30 PM, ESPN

#22 Michigan

2021-22 Record: 19-15 (11-9); T-7th in B1G Ten

  • % of 2021-22 Minutes Returning: 27.8%
  • % of 2021-22 Points Returning: 34.3%

Departures

  • PG DeVante Jones (Graduated)
    • 33 G, 28.8 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 4.6 apg, 34% 3P%
  • PG Zeb Jackson (Transferred to VCU)
    • 4 G, 8.8 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 0.5 apg, 50% 3P%
  • G Eli Brooks (Graduated)
    • 34 G, 36 mpg, 12.8 ppg, 2.9 apg, 39% 3P%
  • G Frankie Collins (Transferred to Arizona State)
    • 31 G, 11 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 1.4 apg, 17% 3P%
  • PF Caleb Houstan (Turned Pro)
    • 34 G, 32 mpg, 10.1 ppg, 4 rpg, 38% FG%
  • PF Brandon Johns Jr (Transferred to VCU)
    • 31 G, 13.3 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 2 rpg, 36% FG%
  • F/C Moussa Diabate (Turned Pro)
    • 32 G, 24.9 mpg, 9 ppg, 6 rpg, 54% FG%

Returners

  • SG Kobe Bufkin (SO)
    • 28 G, 10.6 mpg, 3 ppg, 0.3 apg, 22% 3P%
  • F Jace Howard (JR)
    • 14 G, 4.6 mpg, 1.1 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 14% 3P%
  • PF Terrance Williams (JR)
    • 31 G, 15.1 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 46% FG%
  • C Hunter Dickinson (JR)
    • 32 G, 32.3 mpg, 18.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 56% FG%

Additions

  • PG Jaelin Llewellyn (RS SR Transfer, Princeton)
    • 28 G, 32.5 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 2.5 apg, 39% 3P% at Princeton
  • PG Dug McDaniel (4-star FR)
  • SF Joey Baker (SR+ Transfer, Duke)
    • 34 G, 11.9 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 41% 3P% at Duke
  • SF Isaiah Barnes (4-star RS FR)
  • F Jett Howard (4-star FR)
  • F Youssef Khayat (2-star FR)
  • PF Gregg Glenn (4-star FR)
  • PF Will Tschetter (4-star RS FR)
  • F/C Tarris Reed (4-star FR)

Game Outlook

The Wolverines show up at the back end of the AP Top 25 after making a Sweet 16 run last year, but there are pundits weighing in that it may be too high. Four starters and a couple of key bench guys move on, leaving only one starter and one reserve back from last season’s NCAAT rotation.

Michigan will give PG duties to Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn, a three-year starter in the Ivy League with solid career progression as a scorer, even if his assist numbers never jumped off the page. Mid-major point guards often struggle to adapt their first seasons at a high-major level, though. Compounding this backcourt turnover problem is the lack of an experienced 2-guard, as former Top-50 recruit Kobe Bufkin managed to only carve out a 10 mpg role as a freshman, not even getting off the bench in the Sweet 16. Dug McDaniel, a Top 100 recruit, will likely carve out a role behind Llewellyn, with the ability to push Llewellyn to the 2-spot for stretches, but may need a couple months to grow into a starting role this season. Overall, it’s a very thin guard group and I’d hope Reece and Kihei, with McKneely off the bench, can win that head-to-head. Joey Baker taking over the small forward position coming from Duke should provide a competent presence in a bigger role than we’re used to seeing him in.

If there’s anywhere Michigan matches up well, it’s in the front court. All-B1G Ten center Hunter Dickinson may be the best player on the floor in this game, a tough cover for both Papi and Kadin. Junior Terrance Williams, who’d backed up Dickinson last year at the 5 along with Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate at the 4, does look primed for a promotion to starting at the 4-spot. Their backups are all freshmen, to include at the 3-spot, though they’re all well-regarded freshmen and coach Howard has been able to get good performances from his 4-star rookies in recent years.

All in all, though, this is a winnable matchup for the Hoos. Michigan has the edge at the 5, but everywhere else the Virginia experience gives us an advantage or at least no worse than a push. It’ll be our first true road game, however, and that’s a major consideration. On the flip side, we’ll have played better competition in Las Vegas (against Baylor, at least, UM may be better than Illinois if that’s who we get in Game 2 out west), where UM’s holiday tournament foes are just Pittsburgh followed by one of VCU or Arizona State. This should be a great, high profile opportunity for UVA to score a Quad 1 win early in the season.

 

Saturday, Dec 17th, 2:00 PM, ESPN2

#3 Houston

2021-22 Record: 32-6 (15-3); 1st in AAC

  • % of 2021-22 Minutes Returning: 43.8%
  • % of 2021-22 Points Returning: 35.7%

Departures

  • SG Kyler Edwards (Graduated)
    • 37 G, 34.1 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 3.2 apg, 33% 3P%
  • SG Robbie Armbrester (Transferred to Stephen F Austin)
    • 17 G, 3.7 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 0.1 apg, 50% 3P%
  • G/F Taze Moore (Graduated)
    • 36 G, 30.1 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 32% 3P%
  • PF Fabian White (Graduated)
    • 38 G, 27.8 mpg, 12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 49% FG%
  • C Josh Carlton (Graduated)
    • 38 G, 21.7 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 63% FG%

Returners

  • PG Jamal Shead (JR)
    • 38 G, 31 mpg, 10 ppg, 5.8 apg, 30% 3P%
  • G Marcus Sasser (SR)
    • 12 G, 32 mpg, 17.7 ppg, 2.6 apg, 44% 3P%
  • G/F Ramon Walker Jr. (SO)
    • 28 G, 18.5 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 27% 3P%
  • G/F Tramon Mark (JR)
    • 7 G, 20.4 mpg, 10.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 28% 3P%
  • PF J’Wan Roberts (RS JR)
    • 38 G, 16.2 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 63% FG%
  • PF Reggie Chaney (SR+)
    • 37 G, 11.8 mpg, 3.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 71% FG%
  • PF Ja’Vier Francis (SO)
    • 18 G, 4.1 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 64% FG%

Additions

  • PG Mylik Wilson (SR Transfer, Texas Tech)
    • 32 G, 15.2 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 1.7 apg, 17% 3P% at Texas Tech
  • SG Emanuel Sharp (4-star RS FR)
  • F Terrance Arceneaux (4-star FR)
  • PF Jarace Walker (5-star FR)
  • F/C Sadarius Bowser (SR+ Transfer, Charleston Southern)
    • 29 G, 18.1 mpg, 5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 58% FG% at Charleston Southern

Game Outlook

The Cougars lose three starters and a key rotational reserve from the team that pasted us by 20 points in Texas last November, most notably Kyler Edwards who scored 18 against us, and ultimately made a run to the Elite Eight. But head coach Kelvin Sampson has this team right back at the top of college basketball going into the season, debuting at #3 in the AP Top 25.

A big reason for that is that Houston gets back two great players who were injury-limited last season (imagine what they could’ve done in the postseason if at full strength) but have all-conference upsides. Marcus Sasser was all-AAC in the 2020-21 season, and was the team’s leading scorer in December (he dropped 19 on us) before a toe injury ended his season. Similarly, Tramon Mark was looking improved in his sophomore campaign, averaging double digits, before a shoulder surgery capped him at only 7 games played (he didn’t play against us). Both players are seemingly healthy and motivated going into this season, and pair with veteran PG Jamal Shead to create one of the most dynamic backcourts in the country. The guards should also have minimal dropoff going to their bench with Texas Tech transfer Mylik Wilson available up top and returner Ramon Walker and the redshirted 4-star Emanuel Sharp on the wing.

If UVA is going to pull off a revenge win, it’ll have to make the most of experience advantages down low. The graduations of Fabian White and Josh Carlon are monumental, and while J’Wan Roberts looks ready to take over one forward spot, they’re putting a lot on 5-star freshman (and projected one-and-done) big man Jarace Walker at the other. They’ll need career reserve Reggie Chaney to take on a bigger role, as Charleston Southern transfer Sadarius Bowser looks like rotational depth at best at first glance, or ultimately coach Sampson may elect to go smaller. Something to watch.

Playing Houston in late December means Sasser and Mark should have each shaken off their rust and the rookies (especially Walker) will be up to speed. Houston will scrimmage Texas and Duke as well before playing a tough non-conference slate that includes Oregon (away), St Mary’s (neutral), and Alabama, so they’ll arrive battle-tested. Even at home in JPJ, this could turn out to be UVA’s toughest game of the season. This Houston team may be better than anyone in the ACC.

Summary Thoughts

None of these games were scheduled by Tony Bennett this offseason, per se. The Holiday Tournament pairings are largely done by the networks and conferences, and while Duke and UNC get shipped off to PK85 and other similar blue blood events, it’s a nice show of respect that the powers that be slotted us in this prestige Vegas bracket. The same goes for the long-overdue main event slotting in the ACC – B1G Challenge, getting the prime ESPN time slot against one of the B1G’s most high-profile programs. And of course, the Houston home-and-home was scheduled well over a year ago.

Which is to say, it’s hard to read into the schedule as some sort of “show of confidence” from Bennett to this roster; it’s not as if he scheduled it on purpose because he felt this year’s Hoos are worthy of this kind of championship-level testing.

On the flip side, tough, you know Bennett loves this. Never one to shy away from playing a tough non-conference slate, Bennett knows his bigger goals include hanging both ACC and NCAAT banners, and battle-testing this Virginia lineup against the best of the best in November and December will hopefully pay dividends after Christmas.

With that said, we’re not looking at these games only to prepare the Hoos for conference play. We want to see some big Virginia wins here as well. We want to see a new Holiday Tournament banner. We want to do our part to help the ACC win the Challenge. We want payback against UH.

Looking at these rosters and matchups now, it feels like a 2-2 kind of result to me. Baylor has a little more Day-1 ready upside than I think this Hoo team is ready to handle and we lose a close on there. Two days later, we’ll get a decisive consolation win over Illinois. I also think our B1G success will continue in Ann Arbor, where UVA’s perimeter outplays the Wolverines, before the Hoos come up short again against Houston, though this time in much more competitive fashion.

This isn’t to disrespect UVA; both Baylor and Houston deserve their Top 5 rankings and will in high likelihood be playing for spots in the Final Four towards the end of March. If the Hoos finish this slate 2-2, I’ll be just fine, as all of these teams should make the Dance, be Quad-1 wins on our resume, and prepare us well for league play.

And I want to clarify there isn’t a game in here I don’t think UVA can win. The edges I give Baylor and Houston as of today are very much 55/45 kinds of contests, and I won’t be at all surprised to see UVA get wins that I’m not yet betting on.

Either way, mark your calendars. These aren’t games we want to miss.