Digging Into Next Year’s ACC Match-upsPosted by Brad Jenkins on April 28th, 2014
Late last week the ACC released its 18-game conference match-ups for each of the 15 men’s basketball teams in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Here’s a link to the announcement, which includes ACC commissioner John Swofford’s comments on the changes. With Louisville replacing Maryland as a member next season, ACC leadership wisely chose to move away from a scheduling model that set games years in advance with little to no regard for attractive television match-ups. As the clearest example, the ratings success of both Duke-Syracuse games last season ensured that those programs will play twice again in 2014-15. Good move! The league will also reward a newcomer (Louisville) with a first year bonus of home games against all three tradition-rich Triangle programs. Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State each visited Syracuse and Notre Dame in their first seasons as new members, while Pittsburgh hosted Duke and N.C. State. In another smart move, the league will match Louisville and North Carolina twice in 2014-15. In 2015-16, the four highest profile programs will swap doubles partners, as Duke will face Louisville twice and North Carolina will meet Syracuse two times. For a league vying to become a dominant basketball force in coming seasons, these are all smart long-term moves.
Let’s now take a look at which schools may have the easiest or toughest conference schedules next season. Before we can compare them in any meaningful way, we must first rank the teams in groups based on how good we think they will be next year. Of course it’s all guesswork at this point, but without doing too much detailed analysis, here are the four different groupings of teams (“A” being the best) as we see them right now.
To compare schedules we will just look at the teams each school plays twice, as that really represents the main difference in these schedules. For each team in Group A, we will assign four toughness-points, Group B teams are worth three, and so on. We’ll do our comparisons by group to see which teams have it better or worse compared to teams of the same relative strength. Each group table lists the teams in order of easiest schedule, showing the teams they play twice and the toughness-points that total in the far right column.
Virginia once again benefits from being a permanent partner of Virginia Tech. Louisville and North Carolina each have to play two Group A teams twice, including each other. Those two tie Wake Forest for the toughest draws in the league next year.
It looks like Florida State has the easiest conference slate in the ACC next season, with no teams from Group A on its list of double partners. Syracuse gets the benefit of playing both Boston College and Virginia Tech twice. N.C. State has the toughest slate of this group, having to play North Carolina and Virginia twice each.
This group has some big differences too, with Wake Forest having by far the roughest schedule. New coach Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons have to play Duke and Virginia twice each along with the talented young Wolfpack. Miami has the luxury of two games each with Boston College and Virginia Tech, while Notre Dame only has one opponent on this list from the top two groups.
Of course part of why these two have tough-looking schedules is because they don’t play each other twice. Of the two, Virginia Tech has it worse with Virginia and Florida State on its list, while the Eagles have Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
In summary, unbalanced schedules are now a way of life in the world of expanded conferences. By showing the disparity in schedule strength among teams from the same league, we validate the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s methodology of not considering conference-only records when comparing teams. For example, we could easily have a situation in which Florida State and N.C. State perform essentially the same in league play next season, but the Seminoles could finish a couple or three games ahead of the Wolfpack in the final ACC standings. Since there is no way to be totally fair when setting up these conference match-ups, it’s good to see that the ACC appears to recognize the importance of having its flagship programs play each other often, resulting in a more marketable league nationally.