September 01, 2011
The Dagger's week-long ACC preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing non-conference matchups next season.
Comment: The rematch of Kentucky's victory over North Carolina in last year's Elite Eight may be the nation's premier regular season matchup this season. Whichever team wins in Lexington will likely take over the top spot in the polls and emerge as an early favorite to win the national championship.
2. North Carolina vs. Michigan State, Nov. 11
Comment: As if the logistics of holding the first-ever basketball game on an aircraft carrier wasn't enough reason to watch, the matchup on the court is pretty compelling. It will be the nation's first glimpse of a North Carolina team that will begin the season No. 1 in the polls and a Michigan State team looking to rebound from an underwhelming first-round NCAA tournament exit a year ago.
Comment: This may be the most anticipated of the 12 Big Ten-ACC challenge games because it's a matchup of two preseason top 10 teams and two national powers that haven't shared a court very often. The only time Duke and Ohio State have met since 1978 was a 91-76 Blue Devils' victory in the 2002 Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
4. Wisconsin at North Carolina, Nov. 30
Comment: An inflammatory jab Roy Williams took at ex-Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett after the 2000 Final Four has resulted in lingering resentment in Madison. Even though this game will be in Chapel Hill, that still provides an intriguing backdrop for what already is a matchup of top 15 teams with elite point guards.
5. Duke vs. Michigan State, Nov. 15
Comment: Assuming Duke handles Belmont and Presbyterian in its first two games, that will set the stage for Mike Krzyzewski to win his 903rd game and surpass Bob Knight's all-time record at Madison Square Garden against Michigan State. This matchup with the Spartans is a rematch of a Big Ten-ACC challenge game between the two teams that Duke narrowly won a year ago.
6. Duke vs. Maui Invitational, Nov. 21-23
Comment: Duke enters the Maui Invitational as a slim favorite, but the Blue Devils will have to defeat some marquee opponents to win the nation's premier holiday tournament. They could meet preseason top 25 teams Memphis or Michigan in the semifinals and traditional powers Kansas or UCLA in the title game.
Comment: The days of this annual rivalry game only being relevant in football are long since in the past. This matchup of teams that reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament last season will pit Florida State's stingy defense against Florida's formidable four-guard attack.
8. Michigan at Virginia, Nov. 29
Comment: Is balanced, veteran-laden Virginia really an NCAA tournament contender this season? Can Michigan remain on its upward trajectory despite the early departure of star guard Darius Morris? Neither of those questions will be fully answered until later in the season, but this Big Ten-ACC challenge matchup should provide an early indication.
9. Duke vs. Temple, Jan. 4
Comment: On a Duke schedule loaded with challenging non-conference matchups, facing Atlantic 10 contender Temple in Philadelphia promises to be among the most difficult. The Owls boast a quality big man in Michael Eric and one of the deepest, most talented backcourts in the nation.
10. Duke vs. Washington, Dec. 10
Comment: Previous Duke teams have sometimes struggled against opponents whose bevy of explosive wings can expose the Blue Devils' lack of lateral quickness. Washington never lacks for athleticism on the perimeter, which could make this Madison Square Garden matchup somewhat problematic for Duke.
11. Memphis at Miami, Dec. 6
Comment: A visit from talented but erratic Memphis might be Miami's best chance at a marquee preseason victory, but the Hurricanes will have to pull it off without injured big man Reggie Johnson. The 6-foot-10 senior's torn meniscus will keep him out until January, meaning the backcourt of Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott will have to carry Miami until Johnson returns.
12. Texas at North Carolina, Dec. 21
Comment: A matchup between Texas and North Carolina sounds like it should be higher on this list, but consider how much the Longhorns lost. The early departure of Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton makes it seem unlikely that Texas has the talent or experience to upend North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
13. Syracuse at NC State, Dec. 17
Comment: If Mark Gottfried's tenure at NC State is going to be more successful than Sidney Lowe's, he'll need to be more successful in the ACC and more competitive against in-state rivals North Carolina and Duke. This home game against highly touted Syracuse is the ideal dress rehearsal for league play for the Wolfpack.
Comment: Brad Brownell showed his coaching acumen on defense during his inaugural season at Clemson, but the Tigers' offense occasionally sputtered. Will Clemson have enough scoring power after graduating its top two scorers to challenge Pac-12 contender Arizona in Tucson?
15. George Mason at Virginia, Dec. 6
Comment: Cajoling either Virginia or Virginia Tech into a game has historically been tough for George Mason, but the Patriots may play both of them this season. In addition to this matchup with Virginia, the Patriots could face Virginia Tech in Blacksburg for a berth in the Preseason NIT semifinals if both teams win their opening-round game.