Seven ACC Non-Conference Battles to Watch This SeasonPosted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 2013
Today we will look at some of the most interesting ACC non-conference games of 2013-14. For this feature we will not include games in early season tournaments because we earlier previewed those events in three parts - Part I, Part II, and Part III. Also, we will not look at any of the specific match-ups in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in this feature because we’ll focus on that annual event at a later date. That still leaves a good inventory of ACC-related non-conference games to choose from, and as you will see, most of these games will be played in New York City, which is not entirely by accident. Counting tournament appearances, eight different ACC teams are scheduled to play a total of 16 games in the Big Apple — it’s obvious that the ACC is serious about taking advantage of the most recent expansion into the Northeast. A strong presence in New York is clearly part of the conference plan. By comparison, only four ACC teams played a total of five games in the New York area last season, counting a Duke-Temple game played in East Rutherford, New Jersey. In chronological order, here are the seven non-conference games that will be crucial to win for the ACC to meet its goal as the top conference in the nation this season.
Friday November 8 – Maryland vs. Connecticut (Barclays Center – Brooklyn) – 6:30 PM ESPN2
Without injured point guard Seth Allen, the Terrapins will be underdogs against the Huskies on opening night. The explosive Connecticut backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright will be hard covers for the bigger but slower Maryland guards. Dez Wells and Nick Faust must limit their turnovers, a problem for both last season, but the Terps hope to counter with the punishing post duo of Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare. A wild card for Maryland may be 6’8″ sophomore Jake Layman, who reportedly has been a standout in preseason scrimmages.
Tuesday November 12 – Duke vs. Kansas (Champions Classic – Chicago) – 9:30 PM ESPN
The college basketball world will be focused on the Champions Classic doubleheader on this night. #1 Kentucky squares off with #2 Michigan State in the opener, but most of the buzz seems to be about the nightcap. There are plenty of storylines for this one including the match-up of the top two freshmen in the country, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Jabari Parker for Duke. Also, the game is in Chicago, Coach K’s hometown, and the Midwestern backyard of Bill Self. This year’s #1 high school senior Jahlil Okafor lives in Chicago and reportedly will decide soon between Duke and Kansas. Finally, it should be a great game to watch with plenty of top athletes on the floor. Kansas holds a decided edge in the paint while Duke has a more proven backcourt. The game may come down to which team’s newcomers best handle playing on the big stage for the first time.
Saturday December 14 - Kentucky at North Carolina - 5:15 PM ESPN
The two schools with the highest winning percentages in NCAA history renew their series after a year off. The preseason #1 Wildcats and their historic group of top-rated freshman will have 10 games under their belt before making the trip to Chapel Hill in mid-December. At this time the playing status of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald is unknown. Hopefully for the Tar Heels, they will have those two scorers on the court and can take advantage of Kentucky’s youth in what will be their first true road game (think: Assembly Hall two years ago). James Michael McAdoo also needs to rise to the challenge against a Wildcat frontcourt stocked with future pros like Julius Randle.
Sunday December 15 - Syracuse at St. John’s – 12:00 PM FoxSports 1
The Orange actually have two games with old Big East rivals, also hosting Villanova on December 28. We chose to go with the St. John’s match-up because it will be played in Madison Square Garden, the site of so many classic games for Syracuse over the years. Even though the Orange will be breaking in a new backcourt and St. John’s returns its top five scorers from a year ago, this may be a bad match-up for the Red Storm. Last year the Johnnies were one of the worst outside shooting teams in the nation, making less than four three-point baskets per game. Against the Syracuse zone last season St. John’s was 5-of-22 from deep in a 77-58 Orange win.
Tuesday December 17 - Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati (Madison Square Garden – New York) – 7:00 PM ESPN
This game is part of the annual Jimmy V Classic held in New York. It also reunites former Big East foes that epitomized the rugged style of play that the conference has long been known for. Both teams return some key players and add some talent to make this a fairly even matchup. Last year the teams split their two meetings, with each winning on the other’s home court. With Pittsburgh’s weak non-conference schedule, look for the Panthers to play like they need this win on their resume, because they do.
Saturday December 21 – Notre Dame vs. Ohio State (Madison Square Garden – New York) – 7:30 PM ESPN2
We can clearly see the theme by now – former Big East school back in Madison Square Garden. This is another great opportunity for the ACC against a team from the Big Ten, the ACC’s main rival in the quest for being the top NCAA conference this year. It should be a great match-up of veteran backcourts with Aaron Craft leading the Buckeyes against the combo of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant for Notre Dame.
Saturday December 28 – Boston College vs. VCU (Barclays Center – Brooklyn) – 7:30 PM Fox Sports 1
We end this feature where we began, in the Barclays Center. Boston College has drastically toughened its non conference schedule this year and this game will be the culmination of that. VCU and its havoc defense are in most preseason Top 25 polls and will be favored. But the Eagles and their sophomore backcourt of Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon may be up to the challenge. It’s no secret that the Rams are one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers, but last year when opponents got past the pressure they scored rather easily. Michigan’s Trey Burke carved them up in the NCAA Tourney, and even though it’s not fair to compare Hanlan and Rahon to the Wolverines’ All-American, those two proved excellent ball-handlers as freshmen so they have a chance to withstand the VCU pressure.