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Nov. 4, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — The most eagerly awaited men’s basketball season in years starts this week at the University of Virginia, and enthusiasm is soaring among students and fans.

Not since the 2007-08 season have ticket sales been so strong for UVa hoops. The athletics department announced Monday morning that the Nov. 12 game against 14th-ranked VCU at John Paul Jones Arena has sold out, and fewer than 450 tickets remain for the March 1 regular-season home finale against ACC newcomer Syracuse.

UVa, ranked No. 24 in the preseason Associated Press poll, opens Friday night against JMU at 14,593-seat JPJ. This marks the first time since 2001-02, when the Cavaliers started at No. 11, that they’ve been ranked in the preseason AP poll.

At last month’s ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Tony Bennett’s team was picked to finish fourth in what’s expected to be the nation’s premier conference, and media prognosticators aren’t the only people who like the Cavaliers’ chances in 2013-14.

For the opener against JMU, a crowd of at least 11,500 is expected. Students have claimed all their tickets for the James Madison and VCU contests — the first time that’s happened for any non-conference game at JPJ since Syracuse, then a member of the Big East, came to town in December 2007.

A year ago, by contrast, UVa students claimed 32 percent of their ticket allotment for the home opener (Fairfield) and 33 percent for the second home game (Delaware). Since JPJ opened before the 2006-07 season, the student claim for the first two home games never has been higher than it is this year.

“The start of the season always brings a newness and an air of excitement, and to see the students and the fans support us means a lot,” Bennett said Monday.

The Wahoos, who are heading into their fifth season under Bennett, finished 23-12 in 2012-13 after advancing to the NIT quarterfinals. Back from that team are such players as seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, junior Darion Atkins, and sophomores Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte, and Teven Jones. Two other veterans — redshirt sophomores Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill — are also available after sitting out last season. The team’s newcomers are first-year guards London Perrantes and Devon Hall.

UVa finished 20-2 at JPJ last season, with victories over such teams as North Carolina, Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech, Duke and Maryland. After losing at home to Delaware on Nov. 13, the Cavaliers ran off 19 straight wins at JPJ before falling to Iowa in the NIT.

“I think some of the momentum gained from last year at home, when people saw the excitement, has helped this year,” Bennett said, “and again there’s a good feel going into the season. And you always need that. You want your home court to truly be a home court, and the more bodies you put in the seats, the more that becomes a reality.”

Virginia averaged 9,403 at its home games last season. The `Hoos expect to surpass that average in 2013-14.

As of early Monday afternoon, season tickets totaled 7,667 for men’s basketball, the most since 2008-09, when the final figure was 7,609. That’s still far from the high of 9,133 for the 2007-08 season at JPJ.

Also, 13,670 single-game and mini-package tickets had been sold as of Monday morning. About 4,000 had been sold by this date last year.

Tickets for the JMU game are on sale at four price levels: $15, $16, $19 and $25. Family Package tickets are also on sale for this game. Family Package tickets are $16 each and include an $8 concessions voucher that may be redeemed at any stand in JPJ. A minimum of four Family Package tickets must be purchased.

Single-game tickets are also on sale for Virginia’s 15 other home games, including the dates with Wisconsin (Dec. 4), North Carolina (Jan. 20), Virginia Tech (Jan. 25), Maryland (Feb. 10), Notre Dame (Feb. 22) and Syracuse (March 1).

In the preseason AP poll, Wisconsin is No. 20, UNC is No. 12, Notre Dame is No. 21, and Syracuse is No. 8. Maryland is leaving the ACC for the Big Ten next year, and it’s unknown when the Terrapins will play at JPJ again.

The UVa women’s team opens its third season under head coach Joanne Boyle on Friday night in Harrisonburg against JMU. The Cavaliers’ home opener is Nov. 11 against High Point. As of Monday, season tickets totaled 2,957 for women’s games at JPJ. The final figure in 2012-13 was 2,824.

Beset by injuries, Virginia finished 16-14 last season. The `Hoos posted a 25-11 record in their first season under Boyle.

For ticket information, visit VirginiaSports.com/tickets, stop by the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium, or call (800) 542-8821 or (434) 924-8821.

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