That it even dawns on me to parse Virginia’s non-conference basketball schedule signals progress for the Cavaliers. In Tony Bennett’s first two years, Virginia’s bleak prospects rendered schedule strength irrelevant.
Not now. With returnees such as Mike Scott and Joe Harris, and newcomers such as Malcolm Brogdon and Darion Atkins, most envision the Cavaliers as an upper-half, if not top-four, ACC team.
That means NCAA tournament aspirations – Virginia hasn’t been since 2007. And that means paying attention to non-conference schedule strength, a primary criteria of the tournament selection committee.
Virginia Tech fans know. The Hokies’ soft outside schedule has dimmed their NCAA chances more than once recently.
And, more than anyone, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage knows. He served on the selection panel and was its chairman in 2006.
Now using last season’s results to rate next season’s schedule is inexact at best, but it’s the most reasonable measure available. And by that measure, the Cavaliers’ non-conference schedule is problematically weak. So weak that they’ll have little margin for error if they hope to make the NCAA tournament.
Of the 12 non-ACC teams Virginia is certain to play, only No. 24 George Mason and No. 52 Michigan were among the top 100 in last season’s Rating Percentage Index (collegeRPI.com). The Patriots and Wolverines are the only teams among the dozen that had a winning record.
Moreover, the Cavaliers didn’t schedule Michigan on their own. That matchup was assigned for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Most troubling, eight of the 12 were below 200th on the RPI, three below 300.
The Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands could help Virginia. After facing Texas Christian (No. 208 last season), the Cavaliers could play No. 74 Drexel and No. 64 Marquette. Or, they could encounter No. 270Norfolk State and No. 217 Drake.
Here are the teams Virginia is sure to play:
South Carolina State, 10-22 last season, No. 335 RPI.
Winthrop, 13-17, No. 222.
TCU, 11-22, No. 208.
Wisconsin-Green Bay, 14-18, No. 171.
Michigan, 21-14, No. 52.
Longwood, 12-19, No. 319.
George Mason, 27-7, No. 24.
At Oregon, 16-17, No. 135.
At Seattle, 11-20, No. 290.
Maryland-Eastern Shore: 9-22, No. 323.
Towson, 4-26, No. 287.
At LSU, 11-21, No. 227.
Perhaps some, even most, of these programs will improve markedly this season. Or maybe Virginia will beat Mason, Michigan, Drexel and Marquette.
If not, the Cavaliers’ will have some serious work to do in conference if they’re to make the NCAA tournament.
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