The Virginia Cavaliers entered the college basketball season with high hopes, especially after being picked to finish fourth in the new and improved ACC. However, much like the ACC — which began the season expecting to be the nation’s elite conference — the Cavaliers had a disappointing start to the season, falling well short of preseason expectations.
Virginia had a modest 9-4 record during non-conference play with their most impressive win coming against SMU. Among the teams they lost to were in-state rival VCU, who turned out to be unworthy of their top-15 preseason ranking, and unheralded Green Bay. But the low point of their season came in the form of a 35-point loss to the Tennessee Volunteers, a middle of the road team in a weak SEC.
Despite the presence of sharpshooter Joe Harris, a member of the Preseason All-ACC First Team, the Cavaliers had all kinds of trouble scoring through the first two months of the season — including a pitiful 38-points in a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers. Heading into conference play, Virginia was in the bottom third of the ACC Power Rankings, and the season appeared to be slipping away.
But with the start of conference play following their humiliating loss to Tennessee, the Cavaliers seem to have flipped a switch as they are suddenly playing like the team they were expected to be all season. They’ve won five of their first six conference games and look like a team that’s going to be near the top of the conference standings for the rest of the season.
Virginia has already beaten Florida State twice, blown out inferior teams like Wake Forest and North Carolina State and dominated the talented but struggling North Carolina Tar Heels. Their only setback in conference play was a four-point loss at Duke. The last three weeks have been a stark contrast to the first two months for the Cavaliers as Harris has regained his scoring touch over the past five games while getting plenty of support from Malcolm Brogdon. Together they’ve made Virginia one of the better scoring teams in the ACC and allowed them to play at a high level.
Obviously, it’s going to be tough for anybody to beat the Syracuse Orange this season as they are the undisputed leaders of the ACC right now, but with the way Virginia is playing right now, they should be looked at as one of the few teams that can beat the Orange. That makes the Cavaliers a contender in the ACC this year if they can keep it up.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.