Into the Lion’s Den: It’s Awesome When ACC Teams Play in Strange, Hostile ArenasPosted by KCarpenter on October 10th, 2011
Despite a minor kerfuffle over Andy Glockner dinging Duke‘s schedule for not playing “true” road games, I think that we can all agree that non-conference road games are a thing of beauty. While old conference rivalries are their own distinct joy, and an on-going series between non-conference foes can be reliably entertaining (Kentucky vs. North Carolina, for example), there is something special when a team goes somewhere it has never been before and takes on the challenge of playing in hostile territory. And while prime time showdowns between two big schools in power conferences are entertaining, it is almost always better when Goliath comes to visit David.
This season, we have more than a few of these lopsided showdowns in the ACC. And, again, apologies to schools who scheduled great games at semi-neutral sites, but we will be focusing on the “true” road games. Sorry, Duke. It is great that you are playing Temple, but it’s a shame that it is at the Wells Fargo center. Sorry, Maryland. It’s even cooler that you are taking on Temple at the Palestra, but for now, let us give credit to teams that are willing to go head first into the belly of the (mid-to-low-major) beast.
After last season’s atrocious showing, a loss to just about anyone would not be too surprising for Wake Forest. That said, the showdown with neighboring High Point University in High Point could spell trouble if the Panthers smell weakness and decide to go for the weakened Deacons’ collective jugular. Fellow ACC basement-dweller Georgia Tech has scheduled a whole host of road games on hostile courts. While they should be able to take on the not-so-terrifying lineup of Tulane, Savannah State, and Fordham, a loss to any one of these teams could put an end to any modicum of momentum Georgia Tech might hope to carry into the conference season. The Citadel gets points for sheer chutzpah by scheduling Clemson for their home opener, and Clemson gets kudos for accepting. Getting the most dominant basketball school in South Carolina to come to your house to open the season is a bold move. There is no doubt that the Bulldogs and their fans will be amped for this game, and the Citadel will certainly give Clemson their best.
In the kind-of-arbitrary-scheduling department, Miami will take on Charlotte on the 49ers’ home court during the doldrums of December, while Virginia will challenge Seattle University at historic KeyArena. While neither Charlotte nor Seattle were particularly good last season, Miami is one of the 49ers’ biggest games and it will be the first real test for a middle of the pack Atlantic 10 team that is trying to make a name for itself. The Virginia and Seattle match-up is far more intriguing. Despite the setbacks of the past season, Seattle University has a proud basketball tradition, highlighted by a mid-century Final Four run, spearheaded by none other than Elgin Baylor. Seattle also made noise in 2010, when the Charles Garcia-led Redhawks took out Utah and accomplished one of the more thorough dismantlings of Oregon State that I have ever seen. If basketball-crazed Seattle shows up for this game, SU might land itself a big-time upset.
The only game that is potentially more intriguing for ACC fans is North Carolina at UNC-Asheville. The Tar Heels are, of course, probably the best team in college basketball coming into this season, but Asheville is no cupcake. UNCA is coming off an NCAA appearance and is the expected front-runner in the Big South conference. Do the Bulldogs stand a chance? It is hard to say yes with a straight face, but this game is maybe the biggest game in UNCA’s recent history. An article in the Asheville Citizen-Times points out that not only is this a big-time home opener and the debut of a new arena, but this one game could profoundly impact UNCA athletics. While the ticket revenue from all UNCA athletic programs generated about $64,000 in revenue last season, this one game is expected to generate between $100,000 and $200,000 for Asheville from ticket revenue alone.
Win or lose, this game is huge for UNCA and will help the Bulldogs moving forward. So while ACC fans might simply hope that their team doesn’t embarrass themselves, for the Davids of the college basketball world these games can represent much more than a shot at Goliath. They can represent an opportunity to take a big step forward and up in the college basketball world.