No respect? No big deal that UVA dissed in preseason basketball poll

uva basketball practiceSo what, that UVA basketball is coming off back-to-back ACC regular-season championships, back-to-back 16-2 ACC regular seasons at that.

Back-to-back 30-win seasons.

That coach Tony Bennett has 76.9 percent of his minutes returning from 2014-2015.

Virginia is still Virginia, which is to say, not North Carolina or Duke.

And so it is that the Cavs were ranked sixth in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, with UNC and Duke first and fourth, respectively.

You might be inclined to view being the third wheel of the ACC powers as some sort of insult if you’re a UVA fan.

Don’t go down that rabbit hole, is my message to you here.

These rankings, we learned last year, mean nothing. UVA spent the bulk of the second half of last season ranked second in the country, but when it came time for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to assign seeds, that long run behind Kentucky meant nothing.

Duke, which finished second to Virginia in the ACC regular season, and lost, as the ‘Hoos did, in the ACC Tournament semifinals, got the #1 seed that seemed destined to go to the Cavs, and thus avoided the third-round matchup with Michigan State that did UVA in.

The Blue Devils played on the same Charlotte court on a Sunday afternoon against an overmatched San Diego State team on its way to the Final Four.

Mike Krzyzewski will make another go at it with a group of one-and-dones, replacing last year’s heralded freshman class with diaper dandies Chase Jeter, Derryck Thornton, et al.

Roy Williams at UNC is going the more traditional route, returning 85.5 percent of his minutes from a year ago, with Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and crew looking to build on a successful run in March.

Bennett and Virginia are right where they want to be, with a deep, experienced team led by Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, who was the seventh-ranked player in America in the Player of the Year analytic, with other KenPom favorites London Perrantes and Mike Tobey.

The Cavs have to replace Justin Anderson and Darion Atkins this year, as last year there was a need to account for the losses of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Tobey will have to finally live up to his potential to help fill the void left by Atkins, and Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson will have to split JA’s minutes.

No worries there. Anderson was a sixth man in 2013-2014, and Atkins barely got minutes behind Mitchell two seasons ago, before they emerged last year.

Virginia is in much better shape to account for what it is missing this year compared to where it was October a year ago.

You can tell that from the schedule that Bennett put together for his team in November and December. Whereas Duke plays nine of its 13 games in the first two months at home, and the other four at neutral sites, UVA plays just six of its 12 nonconference games in November and December at home, with road games at George Washington and Ohio State among the games away from the John Paul Jones Arena.

In addition to those games, the ‘Hoos will face West Virginia in Madison Square Garden and Villanova and Cal at home in back-to-back-to-back games in December.

It’s a challenging schedule that will get Virginia ready for the ACC, and more importantly for March and early April.

For the back-to-back ACC titles and 30-win seasons, that’s the missing piece to the current group’s run of recent success.

Virginia is 60-11 overall and 36-5 in the ACC the past two seasons, but has gone just 3-2 in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s where this team has its focus on. Not preseason rankings, not November and December, not the ACC regular season.

There won’t be the fretting over a #1 national seed this time around.

It’s about going all the way. And this team is equipped to do just that.

– Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press

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