Tough thing about exam/winter breaks is you have too much time to think. With the 14 days between the Green Bay and Northern Iowa games, too many people have too much time to sit around and think about the basketball season to date. And while it hasn’t been the best start ever, the Hoos have not played themselves of anything yet. So in the ‘sprit’ of Christmas, let’s take a look at what has been going on so far.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
Virginia is off to an unimpressive 7-3 start to the season. After starting the year 6-1, the Hoos have dropped the last two games, which has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. But according to most of the pundits, Virginia is still a Tournament worthy team. Why? Short Answer: Virginia has played a strong non-conference schedule and has no ‘bad losses’, which is mainly why the Cavs have a RPI of 43.
The Hoos finished last season with an RPI of 74, largely due to a poor non-conference schedule and a ton of bad losses. Sure the Green Bay loss was unexpected and the VCU loss doesn’t look that great, but playing the top RPI team in the country is not that bad. In fact Virginia is 2-3 against the Top 100 RPI teams in the country, with both wins coming on the road at a neutral site. Yep, those 2 wins in the Corpus Christi Classic were against teams in the Top 70. And while VCU sits at 93 right now, you have to bet they will improve that once conference play starts.
That all adds up to a SOS of 31, and while NSU will bring that down some, Northern Iowa and at Tennessee are in the Top 100. In addition to the RPI, Virginia is in the Top 30 in both the Basketball Power Index (28) and Pomeroy CBR (24). Even ESPN’s Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Hoos as a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Not exactly solidly in, but far enough away from the ‘Last 8’. So while the 7-3 mark is not super impressive, Virginia has not mortally wounded themselves yet.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
Now the Cavaliers still have some non-conference work to do. Virginia gets back in action on Saturday against Northern Iowa, who are fresh off a win against VCU. While the Panthers have been up and down, they are a very dangerous and balanced team with a few great 3-point shooters. After that, the Hoos get Norfolk State at home, an 8-3 team that has played very solidly this year, but against a weaker schedule. NSU will probably win the MEAC, but this should be a solid win for Virginia. Lastly, the Hoos have to travel to Tennessee to play the 6-4 Vols. This will be a very telling game, and probably the most important of the 3. Tennessee didn’t look bad in any of their losses and very stout in their wins. They have a very deep team, just like UVa and don’t turn the ball over much. Add 3 players that are above 40% on 3s and this could turn into a bracket ‘busters’ game. 2-1 would not be tragic, including a loss to Tenn, but it would leave the Hoos without a ‘named’ win on the season.
The Ghost of Christmas Future
So what will the ACC slate hold for the Hoos? Probably about the same outcome, but the players are different. Sure Syracuse, Duke, and UNC look like they will occupy the top 3 spots, but from there, it is a complete toss up. Only Maryland, Miami, and Boston College have more than 3 losses on the season, so that is at least on par with the preseason bottom of the league. Still, teams like FSU, Clemson, even Wake Forest, have stormed out the gate to strong starts. Shoot, even VT has an ACC win already. Virginia will start the year at FSU, Wake, at NCSU, at Duke, which is a daunting open to the conference season. A finish in the top 5 should put the Hoos in the tourney minus no collapses, with 6th or 7th coming down to final RPI and SOS. So good luck Hoos and have a great holiday season.