No more talk. No more preseason. Time to play some games.
Virginia will tip the season off with 2 home games before heading off to the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas. And wouldn’t you know it, the Hoos have found some teams they can ease on into the season with. So as we all patiently await Sunday, here is our preview for the first two games of the year, both from the state of South Carolina.
South Carolina State Bulldogs, 11/13, 2:00pm
Apparently, we thought that Norfolk State was too hard of a MEAC team to play again after that 50-49 scare last year in C’Ville. So we went lower down the totem poll and have found the South Carolina State Bulldogs. SCSU is coming off their worse season in the past four years under head coach Tim Carter, and the Dogs have not won the MEAC or been serious contenders since 2003, which was the last time they went to the NCAA Tourney. They finished the season 10-22, and 5-11 in the MEAC, good enough for 8th. This year, South Carolina State is picked to finish 10th in the 13 team conference (FYI, future UVa opponent Maryland- Eastern Shore was picked 12th).
SC State returns 3 starters from last year, but lose their leading scorer from last year Darnell Porter. G Brandon Riley, F Omar Sanders, and PG Khalif Toombs are charged to lead a very senior heavy squad who should also see C/F Presano Bell and F Joe Ikhinmwin fill in the other starting spots. Because they lost 6 players to graduation last year, the 4-person incoming class is also accompanied by 2 JUCO transfers, including 6-10 C Dominique Youmans from Philly, by way of Snow College in Utah.
Virginia has plenty of advantages in this game. First off, and I think this is the first time I have said this in a LONG while, the Hoos have a big height advantage over SC State. Outside of the transfer I just mentioned, they have 2 other 6-8 players, then it is all guards. They will play small and quick-er, but with Scott, Sene, and Johnson inside, it should be a good game to get the bigs in rhythm for the Cavs. Next, while they have a good number of seniors (4), they only return 6 players from the previous season. With it being the first game, the Hoos core of players should be able to force turnovers early and often. Lastly, it is the home opener, enough said. Look for the Hoos to win in a walk.
Winthrop Eagles, 11/15, 7:00pm
We talked about this game when the schedule came out, and we still are shaking our heads at this decision. Technically, this game is part of the Paradise Jam, but the Eagles are already in the field of 8 competing in the tourney. In 2009, the Hoos played 2 games before the Cancun Challenge against Rider and Oral Roberts, but that was okay, as they were not part of the 4 team field in Mexico. This year, there is a shot, albeit a very long shot, that the Hoos could play Winthrop again, and unless you are an ACC team or in the NCAA tourney, there is no reason you should play a team more than once a season. We aren’t alone in this endeavor as Norfolk State and Marquette are doing the same thing.
But enough rant. Winthrop is a very interesting team this season. Last year they finished 13-16, and 9-9 in the Big South, losing to VMI in the opening round of the conference tourney. The Eagles are picked to finish 5th in the 11-team Big South. They return 4 starters from last year, all who are now seniors: PG Reggie Middleton, G Andre Jones, F Matt Morgan, and C George Valentine, but they lose their top 2 scorers from the previous season. They also welcome 7 new players to the team. Six are freshman, including James Bourne from Bishop O’Connell in Alexandria and highly recruited Andre Smith from Tampa, and one transfer from Australia, 6-9 C/F Shola Diop.
I like this matchup a little better than the South Carolina State game, because they will (1) match size and depth with the Hoos and (2) can shoot the rock from outside, something the Hoos have not seemed to be able to defend the past two seasons under Tony Bennett. I think Virginia will have a pretty easy go at this one, but this one has the makings of a quick start by Winthrop.