BEASEY: A 2018-19 Men’s basketball preview

Ten intriguing matchups for the Cavaliers this season

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Sophomore wing Marco Anthony will likely need to step up as a backup ball-handler in ACC play

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

The ACC has released its schedule for the upcoming 2018-19 men’s basketball season, and the contrast between Virginia’s in-conference and out-of-conference opponents cannot be more clear. Virginia has a few interesting matchups before its ACC debut against Florida State in January, but they pale in comparison to one of the most competitive in-conference schedules Coach Tony Bennett has faced.

Here’s my list for the matchups that you should make sure to tune in to this season:

1. at North Carolina (Feb. 11)

Just two days after facing Duke at home, Virginia will depart for Chapel Hill to face senior power forward Luke Maye and the North Carolina Tar Heels. I consider this to be the toughest game of the year for the Cavaliers if just because of how well rounded North Carolina is this year. The Tar Heels have one of the best returning players in the nation in Maye. They have lottery-level talent in freshman forward Nassir Little and freshman point guard Coby White. They have elite outside shooting in senior guard Kenny Williams, who averaged north of .400 from beyond the arc last season. Most importantly, they have enough veteran players to have some institutional knowledge of the pack-line defense and its strengths and weaknesses, which Hall of Fame Coach Roy Williams could exploit. 

The Tar Heels’ most visible liabilities lie in depth, which Virginia shares, and at center, whom will be matched up against defensive anchor and senior center Jack Salt. If junior forward Mamadi Diakite can take another step forward this offseason, this matchup gets much easier for the Cavaliers. If not, however, Virginia will have its hands full in Chapel Hill.


2. at Duke (Jan. 19), vs Duke (Feb. 9)

Despite losing a school-record-tying four players to the NBA draft in June, the Duke Blue Devils have put together one of the most undeniably interesting teams in the nation this year. The Blue Devils will likely start four freshmen next year, but that includes the two best small forwards, the best power forward and the best point guard in the incoming class of 2018. They will be nigh unstoppable in transition, will be one of the best facilitating offenses in the nation and have a person built like a NFL defensive end who can dunk from the freethrow line in freshman power forward Zion Williamson.

All of this young talent, however, comes at a price. The Blue Devils lack consistent outside shooting, and will not have had experience against the pack-line defense. I believe the departure of elite outside shooter Gary Trent Jr. to the Portland Trail Blazers will hurt Duke’s squad more than they expect, and that struggles on the defensive end may lower expectations for this star-studded lineup.


3. at Syracuse (March 4) 

Following a deep tournament run last year while only fielding seven scholarship players available, the Orange are back with a newly replenished roster and feature some of the best returning players in the country. Sophomore guard Tyus Battle will stay with the Orange after averaging nearly 20 points per game last season. Seven-foot-two senior center Paschal Chukwu will continue to be a matchup nightmare on the defensive end of the ball. Look for Syracuse to be the most improved team in the ACC this year.

Virginia has had a history of struggling against teams with length, and the Orange feature five players that are six-foot-eight and above. Under the direction of legendary Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, and playing inside the Carrier Dome, it will take an incredible effort by the Cavaliers to come away with a win in Syracuse.


4. vs Virginia Tech (Jan. 15), at Virginia Tech (Feb. 18)

This year marks the culmination of Virginia Tech Coach Buzz Williams’ small-ball effort for ACC relevance. The sharpshooting duo of senior small forward Chris Clark and senior point guard Justin Robinson are in their final year of eligibility, and sophomore small forward Nickeil Alexander-Walker has received attention as a potential first-round draft pick in 2019. The Hokies have proven that they can play up to the level of their in-state rivals, but have also proven that they can fall victim to the Cavaliers constrictor-like defensive prowess. 

This season, Virginia is returning five of its eight players with the most playing time. Virginia Tech is returning six of eight. Should transfer junior guard Braxton Key be declared eligible for the year, a combination of Key and sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter will change the nature of the matchup. Otherwise, the winner of the game this year will be whichever team is more consistent from deep.


5. at NC State (Jan. 29) 

Although the transfer of junior center Omer Yurtseven to Georgetown will hurt the Wolfpack at the post, Coach Kevin Keatts’ squad remains one of the most intriguing teams in the ACC. NC State has an abundance of proven shooters, and will likely be one of the most offensively potent teams in the nation, even with junior Kentucky transfer and power forward Sacha Killeya-Jones riding the bench for a season. The Wolfpack’s biggest weakness will be defending in the paint this year, and a large swingman guard like Hunter or Key should see plenty of opportunities to take advantage of size mismatches.


6. at Maryland (Nov. 28) 

Virginia’s lackluster out-of-conference schedule may be the perfect opportunity to give the Cavaliers time to incorporate new pieces, but leaves much to be desired when it comes to marquis matchups. The one exception, however, is a nostalgic away match against an old ACC rival, Maryland. The Terrapins have seen decent success entering the Big 10, but have regressed since the graduation of star point guard Melo Trimble after the 2016-17 season. Look for the Terrapins to be contenders this year, with the best recruiting class in the Big 10 and an emerging stars in junior point guard Anthony Cowan and sophomore center Bruno Fernando.


7. at Louisville (Feb. 23), vs Louisville (March 9) 

In their second game against Louisville last season, Virginia dispatched the Cardinals and ended their tournament hopes with one of the most unlikely comebacks in school history. The team playing in Charlottesville this year will be different than the one that took the court last year in two meaningful ways. Most importantly, Louisville’s coach David Padgett was been replaced by former Xavier Coach Chris Mack after last season. Padgett was criticized of underperforming with a talent-laden team last year, but an experienced game-time coach will eliminate some of the mistakes the Cardinals’ were plagued with last season. 

Secondly, the departure of senior big man Ray Spaulding for the NBA weakens Louisville’s frontcourt greatly. If sophomore center Malik Williams continues to develop under Mack, however, expect an incredible inside duo consisting of Williams and junior forward V. J. King to make these games some of the best Virginia will play.


8. vs Miami (Feb. 2) — NCAA violations and dismissals continued the weakening of the Hurricanes’ roster during this offseason. With no recruits from high school in the 2018 class, the dismissal of transfer sophomore shooting guard Miles Wilson, and the departure of freshman shooting guard Lonnie Walker to the NBA, look for Miami to regress greatly this year. It’s impossible to count out a team with sophomore point guard Chris Lykes on the floor, but this Hurricane team will face the Cavaliers in Charlottesville with very few proven scorers


9. at Clemson (Jan. 12) — Virginia had trouble with the Tigers last season in the semi-finals of the ACC tournament, a game which Virginia won 64-58, but a game that close should not be expected this year. The Tigers graduated star senior forward Donte Grantham and an excellent senior point guard in Gabe DeVoe, but blew most of their recruiting capital for the 2018 class in a failed attempt to enlist freshman power forward Zion Williamson. The Tigers still have the ability to pull of a major upset at home this season, but that will require senior small forward Elijah Thomas and junior point guard Shelton Mitchell take on even larger roles


10. at South Carolina (Dec. 19) — The Gamecocks finished barely above .500 last season, winning only seven games in SEC play. With the departure of potential Louisville transfer Brian Bowen to Australia, the Gamecocks’ season depends on the development of senior forward Chris Silva. Silva’s size and athleticism for his position could cause problems for the Cavaliers, but a lack of experience against the pack-line defense will hurt South Carolina’s chances to pull off the upset. Despite this, an away game in the SEC will be an exciting matchup in an otherwise utilitarian out-of-conference schedule. 

Luke Beasey is a Sports Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at ldb2cj@virginia.edu or followed on Twitter @luke_beasey.

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