PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:  the ACC is loaded again this winter.  Five of the top sixteen schools in both polls reside in that league.  And it’s not just the traditional blue bloods Duke and North Carolina– Miami, Notre Dame and Louisville also promise to make the conference campaign a gauntlet for the other ten schools.  Two of which reside in the Commonwealth and are also receiving votes this November.

Virginia is coming off of a 23-11 campaign and the departure of London Perrantes.  The centerpiece of the Cavaliers’ resurgence under coach Tony Bennett started 134 games and scored 1,225 points in a career that included a pair of 30-win seasons and #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, an ACC Championship and one trip to the Regional Finals.  Last winter it felt like UVa was “London and four guys from the Y”, especially when they hit the midseason wall and lost six of eight.  Three other pieces of the rotation (Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson and Jarred Reuter) transferred in the offseason-but there are plenty of contributors coming back from the team that allowed the fewest points per game in Division I last winter.  Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins has increased his productivity in the paint every season he’s been in Charlottesville and senior guard Devon Hall has developed into a fantastic perimeter defender while being able to initiate the offense when needed.  Guard Kyle Guy made almost 50% of his three-pointers as a freshman with the most popular hairstyle in the college game;  hopefully Guy’s cutting of the infamous man bun won’t have Samson-like ramifications to his shooting touch.  Jack Salt is from New Zealand and the 6-foot-10 center’s play resembles that of a Shiraz from down under:  plenty of boldness and unpredictability as just once in ACC play last winter did Salt post more field goals than personal fouls.  Seven-footer Jay Huff has gained 30 pounds after redshirting last season;  he’ll get every chance to compete for minutes.

The Cavaliers pull no punches in November and December, visiting VCU and #11 West Virginia while facing Vanderbilt in the NIT Season Tip-off Thanksgiving Day.  They won’t play North Carolina or Duke twice in ACC play–once is more than enough for most programs anyways.  It’s not the ACC opener, but circle January 3rd on your calendar as The Cavaliers visit Virginia Tech–they’ve lost two straight in Blacksburg.

Penthouse Prediction- the transfer departures prove to be addition by subtraction, while Wilkins and Hall make the leap we’ve seen previous upperclassmen make in Charlottesville.  Guy is even better without the man-bun and Huff is the center Tony Bennett has been craving.  A top-four finish in the ACC and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Worst Case Scenario- the power of the man-bun is proven and Kyle Guy shoots 20% from the field before hastily growing one over semester break.  Huff has an even higher fouls-per-rebound ratio than Jack Salt.  The ACC eats UVa alive…and they go under .500 in conference play en route to the NIT.  They also get swept by the Hokies.

 

Virginia Tech enters year four under coach Buzz Williams.  They were perhaps a year ahead of schedule last March when they made their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.  Technically they return 77% of their starts, but their top two scorers last winter were seniors Zack LeDay and Seth Allen who primarily came off the bench.  Who fills the void?  Junior Chris Clarke is recovering from a torn ACL-and he was the best rebounder on a team that was near the bottom of the ACC on the glass.  Redshirt freshman Kerry Blackshear, Jr. missed last season with nagging shin injury–but if he’s back at full-strength the 6-foot-10 forward will provide production in the post.  While senior Justin Robinson’s sturdy hand steers the Hokies offense, freshman Nickiell Alexander-Walker started the preseason exhibition against South Carolina and led the team in scoring.

The Hokies’ pre-conference slate includes battles with Ole Miss and Iowa…and a trip to preseason-#5 Kentucky.  The league schedule is no kinder:  in addition to playing Virginia twice Tech gets two games with Louisville, Miami and Duke.  Once again we return to the Blue Devils.

Penthouse Prediction- Clarke and Blackshear come back healthy and Alexander-Walker is better than advertised.  They steal a win and just like the last two seasons exceed expectations.  Somehow Buzz Williams has this team playing in the ACC Championship Game.  They reach the second weekend in the NCAA’s for the first time ever.

Worst Case Scenario- they miss Seth Allen and Zach LeDay a lot more than they thought…while Blackshear and Clarke are never 100%.  After getting all of the bounces last year, the Hokies revert to the mean.  And that means an early exit in the ACC Tournament and a trip to the NIT.

 

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