After finishing the 2018-19 season with a 12-19, 5-11 ACC record, Virginia seeks to improve upon last season’s underwhelming performance during the new season and Coach Tina Thompson’s second year. With six new freshmen players and redshirt freshman guard Amandine Toi’s debut, the Cavaliers start with a deeper and more capable roster than the previous year. With the season just a few days away, it’s time to preview the 2019-20 schedule.
The regular season begins with non-conference play, and the long, game-heavy stretch of conference action kicks into gear just before the end of 2019. In both segments of the season, there are some key matchups worth marking on the calendar.
Nov. 9 at USC
In only the second game of the season, Virginia travels across the country to face Coach Thompson’s alma mater. In her time at USC from 1993 to 1997, Thompson helped propel the Trojans to three NCAA tournament appearances and an overall 77-37 career record. Thompson ranked fifth in both scoring and rebounding as a player — with 2,248 points and 1,168 rebounds. Anticipate a strong showing to kickstart the season and mark Thompson’s return.
Nov. 30 vs. James Madison
Dec. 1 vs. UCLA
To cap off the first month of non-conference action, Virginia hosts a double-header at home. Due to the nature of double-headers and the opponents, the Cavalier Classic will be a tough test that will give a clear sense of the team’s talent and conditioning heading into conference play. In particular, No. 11 UCLA made it to the Sweet 16 of last year’s NCAA tournament and returns a strong team.
Jan. 2 vs. North Carolina
This matchup with conference opponent North Carolina is Virginia’s first ACC home game, just days after the Cavaliers’ first ACC game at Georgia Tech Dec. 29. The early part of conference play is crucial to Virginia’s success this year. Last year, the Cavaliers got off to a 1-4 start to conference play and couldn’t bounce back. The Cavaliers have a chance to write a new story this year, and it begins with marked improvement early. Virginia played North Carolina only once last year and lost 70-53. In the ACC preseason poll, North Carolina is ranked No. 9, just two spots better than Virginia. With several teams that will be hard for the Cavaliers to defeat, Virginia needs to defeat mid-tier conference opponents like the Tar Heels.
Jan. 19 vs. Virginia Tech and Feb. 23 at Virginia Tech
In every sport, the Commonwealth Clash brings a lively matchup. The Cavaliers get two chances this year to edge out their in-state rival. Last year, the teams both won on their home courts. Virginia Tech is ranked No. 10 in the preseason poll, just one spot in front of Virginia. The intensity of the rivalry and the two teams’ parity will make both matchups entertaining and competitive.
Feb. 2 vs. Syracuse
Virginia made it to the second round of the ACC tournament before losing to Syracuse in Thompson’s first season. This will be a key matchup to showcase the team’s improvement from the previous season. Syracuse is ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, and the matchup against the Orange midway through conference play is a clear opportunity for the Cavaliers to pick up a statement win.
March 1 vs NC State
Virginia faces the preseason No. 14 Wolfpack at home for the final regular season game. While being blown out last season by the Wolfpack, the Cavaliers are a stronger team and hung with NC State for some time in the first half of that contest. This game will be critical in preparing Virginia for the postseason.
In the most competitive conference in the NCAA, Virginia has a tough schedule, playing nine ranked teams over the course of the season. In addition, Virginia plays three tough non-conference teams — No. 5 Connecticut, No. 11 UCLA and No. 13 Kentucky — in preparation for the remainder of the season. This experience should get the team ready for the grind of conference play. In January and February, the Cavaliers will need to win close games to significantly improve their conference record and be selected for the 2020 NCAA Tournament — a good goal for this group.
The season officially begins in Charlottesville Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Bucknell at John Paul Jones Arena.