Friedlander: 10 Takeaways from the ACC's basketball schedule release
We’ve reached the final week of September, which is usually about the time of year in which those around the ACC start turning their attention to basketball.
That’s not the case this year.
With 6 conference football teams off to 4-0 starts and College GameDay coming to Duke for its showdown with Notre Dame this weekend, there are still plenty of reasons to stay focused on the gridiron for a few more weeks.
But deep down, the ACC remains a basketball conference. That’s why the release of the league’s 2023-24 schedule on Tuesday was still a highly anticipated event.
We now know where, when and who everyone will be playing once the hoop season tips off on Nov. 6.
Here are some of the highlights:
Trio of debuts
Monday, Nov. 6 will be a busy night in ACC basketball, with all 15 teams scheduled to play their season openers at home.
Of all those games, 3 will be of particular interest. They’re the games involving new coaches making their debuts at their respective schools.
It will be a particularly emotional night at Syracuse, where for the 1st time since 1975 someone other than Jim Boeheim will be leading the Orange into a season. The Adrian Autry era will begin with a game against New Hampshire.
Another changing of the guard will take place in South Bend where Micah Shrewsberry takes over at Notre Dame from Mike Brey, whose 483 wins in 24 seasons are the most in school history. The Irish will tip off the new season against Niagara.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech, former NBA star and Boston Celtics assistant Damon Stoudamire begins the process of rebuilding the Yellow Jackets against in-state rival Georgia Southern.
Battles of the Blues
There’s no rivalry in sports bigger than when North Carolina and Duke get together on the basketball court.
Their 2 annual meetings aren’t just the most anticipated games on the ACC schedule. The 1st of those showdowns – usually played shortly after Super Bowl Sunday – is when most casual fans start paying attention to college basketball.
This season, that will happen on Saturday, Feb. 3 at Smith Center. The rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium will take place a little more than a month later on Saturday, March 9 in the traditional regular season finale.
Jon Scheyer’s Blue Devils swept Hubert Davis’ Tar Heels last season winning games by almost identical scores – 63-57 in Durham and 62-57 in Chapel Hill.
Challenged at Cameron
Scheyer made an immediate splash by leading Duke to a perfect 16-0 record at home in his debut last season. The task of doing it again in 2023-24 will be significantly more challenging thanks to a high-profile early nonconference test.
After opening the season with a warmup against Dartmouth, the Blue Devils jump right into the fray by taking on perennial NCAA Tournament participant Arizona. It’s part of a home-and-home series that will have Duke return the favor by playing a rare true road game in Tempe next season.
The matchup against the Wildcats is part of a difficult 1-2 punch that will see Duke take on Michigan State as part of the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago 4 days later.
If any team in the ACC is equipped to handle such a difficult early stretch it’s the Blue Devils, who return 4 veteran starters – Kyle Filipowski, Tyrese Proctor, Jeremy Roach and Mark Mitchell – to go along with a top-5 national recruiting class.
North Carolina’s players might want to carry a photo of Smith Center around with them during the early part of the season. That might be the only way they remember what it looks like during a stretch that will see them playing on their home court only once during a 6-week stretch in December and January.
The Tar Heels’ only home game between their ACC opener against Florida State on Dec. 2 and a game against Syracuse on Jan. 13 is a Jan. 2 date against Charleston Southern. The remaining schedule includes neutral site contests against UConn at Madison Square Garden, Kentucky in Atlanta and Oklahoma in Charlotte, and 3 consecutive conference road tests at Pittsburgh, Clemson and NC State.
There’s also an 11-day exam break without a game between Dec. 5-16.
More bite in the Tigers schedule
Clemson won 23 games overall and set a school record with 14 conference victories while finishing tied for third in the league last season. And yet it still wasn’t good enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers became the first ACC team dating back to 1985, when the Tournament expanded to 64 teams, to win as many as 70% of their games and not get into the field.
In an effort to avoid a similar situation this year, coach Brad Brownell has beefed up his team’s nonconference schedule.
Not only will Clemson play Memphis on the road, it also has 2 other games against 2023 NCAA Tournament teams – Boise State at home and TCU on a neutral court. And in addition to a date with Alabama in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge, they’ll participate in the Asheville Championship along with Maryland, Davidson and NIT runnerup UAB.
New faces, different places
It used to be nearly impossible for athletes to transfer from 1 ACC school to another because of a restrictive conference rule. But times have changed. With the new relaxed transfer rules that are now in place, it’s become a much more frequent occurrence.
As a result, there are a number of “reunion” games to look forward to this season. The most interesting of them will take place on Feb. 17 when NC State travels to Clemson.
A year ago, Jack Clark and Ben Middlebrooks faced off against each other in the matchup between the Wolfpack and Tigers. And they will again this season. Only they’ll be doing it for the opposite teams after Clark transferred from State to Clemson and Middlebrooks went from Clemson to State.
On the same day, no less.
A few other dates of interest include Clemson’s Joe Girard returning to Syracuse on Feb. 10, with a rematch at Littlejohn Coliseum on March 5; Ebenezer Dowuona’s return to NC State with Georgia Tech on Feb. 3 and Matthew Cleveland’s return to Florida State with Miami on March 9.
And while Syracuse’s JJ Starling and North Carolina’s Cormac Ryan won’t get the opportunity to return to Notre Dame, they’ll both get a chance to play against the Irish when they come to Syracuse on Feb. 24 and Chapel Hill on March 5.
Yum! Center or House of Cupcakes?
The Yin to the Yang of Duke’s difficult early schedule is Louisville.
Coming off a historically bad season in which they went 4-28 overall and 2-18 in the ACC, 2nd-year coach Kenny Payne has loaded up – or more accurately, softened down – his Cardinals schedule with 7 games against teams ranked 184th or lower in Ken Pom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, with 4 finishing at No. 252 or worse.
It’s a slate that begins with a game against notorious giant-killer UMBC on Nov. 6 and also includes dates with UT Chattanooga, Coppin State, New Mexico State, DePaul, Arkansas State, Pepperdine and a chance at redemption against Bellarmine – the team that spoiled Payne’s opener last season – on Nov. 29.
The Cardinals didn’t get any favors with their conference slate. Not only do they have to play heavyweights Duke and Virginia twice, but they’ll also have to go on the road to play North Carolina and Final Four team Miami.
Deacons feeling at home
Wake Forest’s schedule features 12 nonconference games. Other than the 3 it will play at a neutral site as part of the Charleston Classic, all but 1 will be played in the friendly confines of Joel Coliseum.
Coach Steve Forbes’ team will also start its ACC schedule at home with a Dec. 30 date against Virginia Tech. It will mark the 1st time since 2013-14 that the Deacons will play their 1st conference game in Winston-Salem. They were originally to play their 1st 2 ACC games at home in 2020-21. But games against Virginia and Syracuse were both postponed because of the COVID pandemic.
Wake will also play its entire nonconference schedule before beginning league play.
Who’s on The CW
As part of the broadcast deal signed this summer, 28 games involving ACC teams – including 23 conference matchups – will be televised by The CW on Saturdays this season.
Every team will appear as part of the package at least once. But it’s clear that the cable network has its favorites. Louisville, NC State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech are all scheduled to play 5 times on The CW. At the other end of the scale is North Carolina, which will only make 1 appearance – Jan. 20 at Boston College.
Duke will be on the network 3 times. But only 1 of them is against ACC opponents, on Dec. 2 against Georgia Tech. The others are Dec. 9 against Charlotte and Dec. 30 against Queens.
Saturday, Dec. 2 will be a big day for the ACC.
That’s the night the 2 best football teams in the league will meet at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to decide the conference championship. Leading up to the 8 p.m. kickoff is a loaded slate of ACC basketball games.
The action starts at noon with Notre Dame playing at Miami and Syracuse taking on Virginia in Charlottesville. Florida State is at North Carolina at 2 pm, Duke is at Georgia Tech at 2:15 pm and NC State travels to Boston College at 4 pm.
Barring multiple overtimes in that game between the Wolfpack and Eagles, there should be enough time to relax, take a deep breath and have a nice dinner before the start of the football game.