With the ACC schedule released, the Virginia men’s basketball team now knows its road to a seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Virginia’s streak of six consecutive trips to the Big Dance ties for eighth nationally with Kentucky, and the defending national champions are hoping to keep the trend alive.
Making the NCAA Tournament is a goal for every college basketball program, but the Cavaliers have higher external expectations following last season’s historic national title.
With a highly touted recruiting class and standouts such as Kihei Clark, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff returning, Virginia returns one of the top rosters in college basketball to go with Tony Bennett’s proven system.
The road to college basketball glory won’t be easy in 2019-20, with Duke, Louisville and North Carolina all expected to field quality teams within the ACC. The conference remains one of the top leagues in college basketball, and UVa faces a challenging schedule.
While every game counts equally in the win column, a few games stand above the rest at first glance.
5. Virginia at Purdue
When: Dec. 4
TV: ESPN or ESPN2
This nonconference matchup features two elite programs that played one of the most exciting games of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Virginia prevailed 80-75 in overtime after Diakite’s buzzer beater sent the game to an extra period. Carsen Edwards’ heroic performance, which resulted in 42 points on 10-of-19 shooting from beyond the arc, wasn’t enough for the Boilermakers to knock off UVa.
It’s a different Purdue team this season with Edwards now a member of the Boston Celtics organization. The Boilermakers have a young roster, with freshmen and sophomores accounting for 10 of the team’s 15 players.
Purdue added High Point grad transfer Jahaad Proctor to help its backcourt production. The second team All-Big South selection averaged 19.2 points per game last season despite battling a shoulder injury. The matchup between Purdue’s 7-footer Matt Haarms and Virginia’s 7-footer Jay Huff makes this game must-watch TV.
4. Virginia at Syracuse
When: Nov. 6
Like the Purdue game, we knew about this matchup weeks ago. Virginia opens its national title defense in a hostile ACC environment. The Cavaliers will showcase this year’s team in a meaningful November conference game on the new ACC Network.
This game should provide insights into how this year’s group will look. Will freshman Casey Morsell start? How will JUCO transfer Tomas Woldetensae perform in his first action in a UVa uniform? There are plenty of questions heading into this season, and answers will start to reveal themselves on Nov. 6.
3. Louisville at Virginia
When: March 7
TV: ESPN or ESPN2 or ESPNU
Louisville features one of the best rosters in the ACC. Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch return, and the Cardinals added Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble, a point guard transfer from St. Joseph’s. Through three full seasons at St. Joe’s, Kimble has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and averages 11.4 points per game. Chris Mack’s team could challenge for the 2019-20 ACC title. In two matchups last season, UVa beat Louisville 64-52 and 73-68.
2. North Carolina at Virginia
When: Dec. 7
North Carolina always fields a competitive group, and the Tar Heels added top point guard recruit Cole Anthony. The Oak Hill Academy product is expected to play significant minutes, and he’ll be joined by a pair of quality mid-major graduate transfers. Justin Pierce comes to UNC from William & Mary, while Christian Keeling hails from Charleston Southern. Those three players offer a stiff test for UVa’s backcourt and wings.
1. Duke at Virginia
When: Feb. 29
TV: ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU)
The Cavaliers beat every team on their schedule at least once in 2019 — except Duke. Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett combined for 57 of Duke’s 72 points when the Blue Devils gutted out a 72-70 win in Durham last season. The duo dropped 44 of their team’s 81 points in an 81-71 triumph in Charlottesville.
The rosters look different this season, but both teams are regarded as top-15 caliber teams heading into 2019.
Duke continues to recruit at a high level, bringing in three of the top-25 recruits on ESPN’s recruiting rankings. The Blue Devils also return Tre Jones at the point guard spot.
Virginia will rely on veteran leaders in a game that could have major ACC ramifications.