Eight of the twelve ACC teams are beginning their seasons tonight, though Virginia Tech is playing their first game on Saturday, while Virginia and Maryland first play on Sunday. For whatever reason, Boston College won’t be playing a game until Monday. For this inaugural edition of Game On, let’s confine ourselves to looking at tonight’s slate of games.
The Main Event
North Carolina vs. Michigan State 7pm EST on ESPN
The Carrier Classic is an exciting match-up in a unique setting between two storied programs who are both looking to make a run in the NCAA tournament this year. While this is the first chance for the nation to see top ranked North Carolina in action it’s also a time to see a Michigan State program that is in flux. Tom Izzo remains one of the best coaches in the nation, but the success of this year’s roster is hardly a sure thing. We may have spent a little bit of time talking about this game, but I can’t really remember.
Belmont at Duke 9pm EST on ESPNU
Lots of folks have this game pegged as a potential upset and it’s hard to say that they are wrong. Belmont is a sweet-shooting team that blasted it’s way through the Atlantic Sun Conference last season. This is a skilled and hungry team that failed to notch a truly big win in their otherwise successful 2010-11 campaign. Duke certainly fits the bill for a “quality win” and the inexperienced guards who play suspect perimeter defense might leave the Blue Devils particularly vulnerable to the high-volume three-point attack that Belmont thrives on. We previewed this game in greater detail over here.
Loyola (MD) at Wake Forest 7pm EST on ESPN3.com
This is a dangerous game for a Wake Forest team that kicked off it’s last season by losing to Stetson. Loyola is a much better team than Stetson was, making them a real threat to a still-developing Wake Forest squad. Advanced stats like Loyola quite a bit, and in fact, the pre-season Ken Pomeroy rankings actually have Loyola ranked slightly higher than Wake Forest. Both teams really want this win, I’m sure, and while the home court advantage of Wake Forest might give them an edge, this game has perhaps the most potential of the entire night’s slate for an upset.
UNC-Asheville at North Carolina State 7pm EST
UNC-Asheville made the NCAA tournament last year while NC State did not. Granted, UNCA got in with the benefit of the Big South’s automatic bid, but that’s not to say that they are undeserving. The Bulldogs won plenty of games last season and enter the season hoping to repeat last year’s performance. The Wolfpack still ought to beat Asheville’s teamfairly easily, but at the very least, this game should give some insight into how realistic UNCA’s chances are at upsetting North Carolina or Connecticut later on in the schedule.
Jacksonville at Florida State 7pm EST on ESPN3.com
Jacksonville took out a very good Florida team in a shocking overtime win last year. Teams that have experience taking down Goliaths have a tendency to relish their David role. That said, last year’s Jacksonville team had a hard time scoring the ball. Starting off against the defensive juggernaut that is Florida State means that there is a very good chance that the Seminoles make Jacksonville’s offense look even uglier. Though Jacksonville does have a legitimate shot at an upset, there’s a much greater chance that Leonard Hamilton’s team turns this game into a rout.
For Fans Only
Florida A&M at Georgia Tech 8pm EST on ESPN3.com
Gardener Webb at Clemson 8pm EST on ESPN3.com
Tennessee Tech at Miami (FL) 7pm EST
It’s not that these are bad games per se, but most people who don’t have a dog in this fight aren’t going to be particularly entertained watching the ACC’s middle class stomp small-conference cupcakes. If you had to pick a game to watch, Tennessee Tech is probably the best among these challenging teams. Of course, this is the one game that ESPN3.com won’t be carrying. Thems the breaks.