UVA Basketball: Cupcake Schedules Equal More Taste, Less Filling

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IAugust 31, 2009

DENVER - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tony Bennett of the Washington State Cougars looks on during the second round game of the East Regional against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as part of 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Pepsi Center on March 22, 2008 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The University of Virginia, along with every other ACC team, released it's full men's basketball schedule earlier this week.

Last season, the Cavaliers suffered through one of the worst campaigns in the last 40 years, only managing to win 10 games. 

A putrid offense and an inconsistent defense left Virginia fans scratching their heads in disbelief at the performances being put forth.

That amount of losing forced the resignation of coach Dave Leitao after just four years at the helm and ushered in a new era with the hiring of former Washington State coach Tony Bennett.

Well, Bennett was already experiencing the joy of low expectations; now his job got a whole lot easier heading into this season. 

Why? As Dick Vitale would say, "This schedule is Cupcake City, baby!"

Last year, here were some of the notable games on Virginia's out-of-conference schedule: home against Xavier, at Syracuse, at Minnesota. 

The year before that Virginia had games against Xavier, Syracuse, Arizona, and even a tricky team like Drexel.

This year, the games take a slightly different hue. Virginia will play in the Cancun Challenge and could potentially meet up with the Kentucky Wildcats if the cards fall a certain way. 

If that fails to come to fruition however, the two big games on the docket this year will be Stanford and Penn State.

Outside of that, Virginia's home contests are highlighted by games against Longwood, Rider, Oral Roberts, Hampton, Texas-Pan American, and NJIT.

That's right, Virginia is playing the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a school that made it's name by losing 51 straight games before breaking through with a 10-point victory last season.

Oh, but the scheduling Gods did not just help Virginia out of conference, the Cavaliers are going to be playing a schedule nearly identical to the one they played in 2006-07.

That means Virginia will play both North Carolina and Duke only once.  They also get to avoid playing at Cameron Indoor, an opportunity every ACC team would covet.

The five teams Virginia must play twice are Maryland, Virginia Tech, Miami, N.C. State, and Wake Forest.

Oh, by the way, in 06-07 when Virginia had that easier road, they finished 11-5 in conference, tied with North Carolina for first and made their first NCAA appearance in six years.

So for the Virginia fans out there, the 2009-10 season is definitely going to be a case of good news, bad news.

On one hand, there's the great taste of winning.  

Let's face it, nobody likes losing.  It's hard to watch a team trying hard each and every game and reaping no rewards.

We would all love for our team to take down the national powerhouses and we may laugh when teams are lapping the competition of Longwood and Hampton, but at least they're winning.  It certainly beats the alternative.

The good news is that the Cavaliers are going to win more than 10 games this season.  For a young team desperate for confidence, this is just what they need. 

The current Cavalier players are becoming further removed from that 20-win season just three seasons ago.  Many have never experienced the confidence and determination it takes to win. 

Winning is a culture and it is one that has disappeared from the Cavaliers after their close loss at home to Syracuse two seasons ago.  Knocking around cupcakes may not be glamorous, but it is effective when your goal is to restore feelings of self-worth.

Virginia may want to run with the big dogs but they're going to have to crawl before they can even walk.

Which leads us to the bad news.  Cupcakes may make you feel better about yourself, but that usually doesn't spread to the rest of the basketball world.

The Cavaliers are not going to win the respect of anyone playing teams like this.  If the miracle of miracles happened and Virginia had the record to become eligible for the NCAA tournament, you know that the selection committee is going to punish them for such a light strength of schedule.

Heck, even the NIT will probably give Virginia a hard time if the Cavaliers were to have a suitable record.

However, the worst part is that lapping Longwood by 50 is not going to help you beat teams in the ACC.  It pads the record, but it hurts the bottom line.

Case and point, I had a fellow colleague tell me that if he could put truth serum on coaches and ask them one question, it would be about blow out wins.  

He would take the coach aside and ask him, "Honestly, what did you learn about your team from this game?  What could you have possibly gotten out of this?"

To a degree, it's true.  The only revelations that come from cupcake scheduling usually involve whether a walk-on can hit a three-pointer in the final two minutes or not.

Virginia may have only won 10 games last year, but they won some of them convincingly.  29 points against Longwood, 26 against Hampton and 24 against Brown did not help stem the tide of losing which resulted in an 83-61 loss to UNC or a 75-57 loss to Clemson.   

Tony Bennett has been saddled with the responsibility of not only bringing Virginia back to the forefront of ACC basketball but to help keep it successful in the long-term.  There are certainly advantages to scheduling easy, but is it really worth it?

It should also be mentioned that while Tony Bennett may want wins to ease his transition into the head coaching position, it might help if there were fans actually watching.

After all, if Virginia wins and no one sees it, did it actually happen?

The palatial John Paul Jones Arena saw a severe dip in attendance last season, and for good reason. 

While a new coach is going to raise interest in the program, it's not going to get sell out crowds against teams with RPIs in the lower 200s.  Particularly if your main selling points are stingy defense and shot selection. 

Effective?  Certainly, but definitely not a sexy or exciting brand of basketball.

In a down economy, you have to give the fans a reason to come out.  First and foremost is winning.  If your team is successful than the fans will respond, even if you win games 19-17. 

However, short of that, it would be nice to bring the big names to town.  It's exciting to see teams like Syracuse, Gonzaga, Arizona, and Xavier come to Charlottesville.

Fans want to see how Virginia stacks up against the elite teams in the country.  Even when things go awry like they did in football against the Trojans of USC, it gives your program national exposure. 

For a team looking for a new era, national exposure is definitely an incentive.  Bennett is selling a brand and while this season may have it's delicious moments, be afraid of empty calories.


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