If North Carolina is going to out-duel Duke and NC State for the ACC title next season, the Tar Heels will have to overcome what appears to be a more difficult conference schedule.
Since there are 12 ACC schools and the league slate is 18 games, every team plays seven conference opponents twice and faces the remaining four only once. The imbalanced schedule released this week did North Carolina no favors because the four teams the Tar Heels see only once next season are Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Clemson, all of which are projected to finish in the bottom half of the ACC.
By contrast, NC State and Duke avoid playing one or more potential NCAA tournament teams twice.
The four teams NC State will only face once are Miami, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Miami should finish in the upper half of the league, and Maryland has a chance to as well if Nick Faust emerges as a go-to scorer, Alex Len develops and the freshman class makes an immediate impact. And while Virginia Tech is in transition and Virginia will look very different without Mike Scott, neither figure to be among the league's worst teams.
Among the four teams Duke avoids playing twice is Florida State, perhaps the most worthy challenger to the Tobacco Road trio next season and a team that has given the Blue Devils fits in recent years. The other three teams Duke will only get once are Virginia, Clemson and Georgia Tech, hardly a murderer's row but also not Boston College or Wake Forest either.
It's always foolhardy to base too much on preseason projections because inevitably a few teams will be better or worse than expected, however, it's hard not to think North Carolina got the tougher road than its rivals. Rebuilding Georgia Tech is the only likely bottom feeder the Tar Heels will see twice, not an easy path for a team that lost four starters to the first round of the NBA draft.
Of the rest of the league, the team with the most favorable ACC schedule is clearly Virginia Tech. The Hokies will only face contenders North Carolina, NC State and Florida State one time, a dream schedule that would have probably been more beneficial in years past when the program was strong enough to take advantage.
Virginia Tech has a new head coach, only eight scholarship players and just two returning starters from a team that went 4-12 in league a year ago. Guard Erick Green will be among the league's top returning players, but that's probably not enough to make the Hokies a credible NCAA tournament threat.