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January 15, 2010, 11:12 AM ET
Yes, Virginia, there is a Basketball Prospectus

by John Gasaway

Yesterday at ESPN.com Andy Katz gave Virginia the love, and why not? Already the ACC’s lone remaining undefeated team in-conference, the Cavaliers are, as Katz notes, “a team that, along with NC State, was picked to finish at the bottom of the ACC.”

Then again not everyone picked Virginia to finish at the bottom of the ACC….

Virginia will almost certainly improve this year, for two reasons wholly unrelated to their new coach. First, the Cavaliers were bad but not unspeakably so last year. Second, almost everyone’s back. Regression to the mean and a team’s level of experience are tidal forces in this here sport. Tony Bennett will have both working in his favor this season….

[T]he two closest recent analogues for Virginia this year are arguably Baylor in 2008 and South Carolina last year. Both of those teams should give Cavalier fans cause for hope in 2010. Two years ago the Bears reached their first NCAA tournament in 20 years; last year the Gamecocks very nearly reached the dance as well, as first-year coach Darrin Horn was widely hailed in Columbia as a miracle-worker.

Coincidentally, Baylor and South Carolina both improved their performance by the exact same amount (0.12 of a point per possession). If Virginia does likewise this season, they should be right around .500 in the ACC. Note the “should.” The past does not mandate the future, nor does efficiency margin translate seamlessly into wins and losses. Luck and happenstance will play their part. In November all any of us can do is traffic in likelihoods. And the likelihood is that Virginia will be much improved in 2010.

One seriously long blockquote notwithstanding, this post is not here to gloat. For one thing my calendar says it’s January 15, way too early to know anything. (Hey, I can be as pro-Hoo as the next writer, but even I remember this team losing at home to Penn State.) And, anyway, that very same ACC preview in that very same book said that North Carolina was going to win the conference. In case you haven’t noticed the Tar Heels haven’t exactly been world-beaters lately.

No, I’m just collaring Bennett’s team to make a timely point. We here at Prospectus are all about accuracy in surprise. Sports will surprise us, thank goodness, and therefore anyone who, like me, is dumb enough to make predictions in public will on occasion be laughably wrong. Clairvoyance is too much to ask but, speaking purely as a fan, what I do ask is that the inevitable surprises at least be reported accurately: This is indeed a big surprise, vs. why on earth is everyone acting so surprised? Those of us working out of the luxe Google-style campus that Prospectus maintains for its hoops types will continue to do our best on this front.

BONUS completely selfless suggestion! Buy the book. It’s good.    

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