Last winter offered the best of times in Charlottesville and the worst of times in Blacksburg…two college towns that celebrate each other’s pain and shortcomings.  Two towns that look down on the other instead of banding together against Tobacco Road.  Two schools that should be playing their final regular season game against one another–especially now that Maryland has left the league.  Cavaliers-Louisville March 7th at the KFC Yum Center get your blood boiling?  Me neither.

 

Virginia tries to build off a dream season.  The Cavaliers increased its ACC and overall wins each season under coach Tony Bennett-but I don’t think anybody thought there was a 30-win, 18-ACC victory campaign in the Cavaliers last year.  It became a weekly bit–“Virginia is off to its best conference start since…1995…1983…1981” as the season progressed…wrapping up with the school’s first outright regular season crown since 1981 and the program’s first ACC tournament title since 1976.  Even with their Regional Semifinal loss to Michigan State, last winter was one they’ll be looking back at for years.

 

UVa starts the season ranked 9th nationally…and returns seven of their top nine scorers from last year.  While they’ll miss the Akil Mitchell’s rebounding (a team high 7.0 boards per game) and Joe Harris’ outside shooting (paced the team with 72 threes–hitting 40% from outside the arc)…they’ll miss their leadership as well.  Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon looks to build off a successful first season in orange and blue…will 6-foot-11 junior Mike Tobey fill the vacuum left by Mitchell?  Can sophomore London Perrantes be the floor general necessary for an offense that focuses more on quality than quantity?  He’s sitting out the regular season opener (along with junior forward Evan Nolte) due to violating team rules over the summer.

 

Much was made last winter that Virginia faced Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse just once during the regular season… but you can only control your non-league schedule.  An ambitious and representative non-conference slate begins at James Madison November 14th…and includes dates with 2014 NCAA Tournament teams VCU and George Washington.  There’s even a December duel with #25 Harvard.  While UVa plays the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Orange just once this winter–they do face preseason #8 Louisville twice.  Who’s ready for rivalry week with the Cardinals?

 

 

Virginia Tech tries to climb out of the wreckage that was the two-year tenure of James Johnson: 22 wins and 41 losses with a 6-30 mark in the ACC.  A very difficult situation that began with the surprise spring firing of Seth Greenberg that had the school scrambling for a coach during the worst possible time of year to be searching for a coach.  Was Johnson the right guy to guide the Hokies?  Ideally, no–but he was the best choice of a less than ideal candidate pool.  It’s tough to pull the plug on a coach this early– Johnson’s just the fifth ACC mens basketball coach to last less than three years–and the first in 40 years:  Press Maravich left NC State to take the LSU job, Jack Murdock was an interim coach at Wake Forest, Frank Fellows was moved out of Maryland to make room for Lefty Driesell, and Duke’s Neil McGeachy was unable to survive a 10-16 season that included blowing an 8 point lead in the final 17 seconds at North Carolina.

 

The buzz this fall in Blacksburg?  Curly can coach.  First year Hokies coach Buzz Williams comes to Virginia Tech after posting a 139-69 record over six years at Marquette–his final season the only year in which he didn’t guide the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament.  Marquette reached the Sweet Sixteen three straight years– bouncing 3rd seed Syracuse in 2011 and top seed Miami two years later.  He takes over a program that beat Miami twice last year– before losing by four to the Hurricanes in the ACC Tournament (former UVa assistant and current Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga had to find that a tiny bit amusing).  To say the Hokies were offensively challenged would be a major understatement:  out of 351 Division I schools, they ranked 331st in 302nd in assists, 326th in shooting and 331st in scoring.  Just to show that it wasn’t all offensive offense, the Hokies ranked 351st and dead last in steals.

 

Who’s back?  Adam Smith is the team’s returning leading scorer (11ppg) –but injuries kept him out of 17 games last winter…effectively ending his sophomore season January 19th.  The 6-foot-1 guard gets help from sophomore Devin Wilson at the point (5 assists per game as a freshman) and Joey Van Zegeren inside (the 6-foot-10 junior from the Netherlands was second on the team in rebounding and field goal percentage last year).

 

Not surprisingly, the Hokies are picked to finish last in the ACC this season.  As befits a program that’s trying to find itself, the schedule doesn’t offer a lot of heavy lifting–December offers a pair of road tests at Penn State and West Virginia., with plenty of home games against the likes of  VMI, Alabama A&M and Presbyterian (even though this is basketball they kind of serve as the football version of Longwood).  Williams doesn’t get the kindest conference schedule as a welcome from the ACC–they’ll face Virginia and Syracuse twice while also getting home and homes with Miami and Florida State.  The Hokies welcome Maryland-Eastern Shore November 14th to Cassell Coliseum.

 

 

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