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The Fine Art Of Non-Conference Scheduling

It ain’t what it used to be

Duke v Gonzaga
LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 21: Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs takes a foul shot during the finals of the Maui Invitational college basketball game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 21, 2018 in Lahaina Hawaii. They’ll get a rematch this year in Las Vegas.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Nonconference scheduling has evolved – or constricted — to the point games once sprinkled throughout a season are now isolated within the first two months.

Put another way, teams don’t stray outside the ACC in January and February. Or, for that matter, in early March until postseason play commences.

Crowded schedules, with 20 conference games squeezed into the first two months of the calendar year, cause the bunching of games that’s now universal.

Duke used to build in an annual late-season game with St. John’s, alternating venues between New York and Durham. Mike Krzyzewski claimed the matchup gave him a chance to see how a quality opponent scouted and tried to break down his team.

But that built-in test is gone now. The Red Storm last took on the Blue Devils in Feb. 2019, a game in which thick-set, 6-5 guard Mustapha Heron tried to punk Zion Williamson, quite unsuccessfully.

We included St. John’s, hardly the powerhouse of old, in the chart below listing big-time opponents on ACC schedules. The New York-area team hosts Pitt — a home game by our standards for St. John’s — at Madison Square Garden before Christmas.

No ACC team opens the season on the road. They rarely have for awhile, although this season Duke’s first game is against Kentucky at Madison Square Garden, a neutral court where a Blue Devil bias is apt to hold sway. The pair opened the 2018-19 season at Indianapolis, with Duke a 34-point winner.

Games like Duke-UK were once called major intersectional clashes. The “Champions Classic”, which mixes in Kansas and Michigan State as Duke rivals over the years, will of course be highly touted. The programs are quite accomplished, the rosters rich in talent, in the case of UK-DU the head coaches Hall of Famers.

Even better for the soap operatic nature of TV coverage, the commentators can be expected to play up any friction between Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari, even as they play it down to mimic sobriety.

Analysis of all 15 ACC nonconference schedules reflects a fair bit of ambition, tempered by caution at rebuilding BC and Clemson. The Tigers aren’t a big TV commodity in the best of times. This year Clemson doesn’t figure to be exceptional one way or another.

Duke, which plays 18 games, doesn’t appear on a hostile court outside the league, a familiar practice that’s obviously quite advantageous.

The Devils do take on powerful Gonzaga at Las Vegas. Although not a member of a Power Five conference, the Zags remain a perennial national force. Mark Few’s squad spent most of last season ranked No. 1.

Also included among what we consider major opponents are a very few non-Power Five teams capable of maintaining a place in the AP top 20 – Houston, which takes on Virginia; Dayton, playing both Miami and Virginia Tech (on separate dates); and Big East bigshots Georgetown and Villanova, on the Syracuse schedule presumably to nurture memories of the good old days.

The Big Ten’s Purdue plays Florida State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and later both North Carolina and NC State. (The leagues alternate labeling the event by putting their names first. This 23rd annual edition includes every ACC team except Boston College.)

Florida State and South Carolina, the latter an SEC team that also plays Clemson in their annual in-state affair, meet just outside Charlotte in the No Room For Racism Classic at Rock Hill.

(The SEC has become a colossus, causing the ACC, Big 10 and Pac-12 to informally band together to keep from being overwhelmed. Annual SEC revenues now approach those of the NCAA. And that’s before adding Oklahoma and Texas, scheduled for 2025.)

Other ACC-SEC pairings include Kentucky facing Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame; Georgia playing Georgia Tech and Virginia; and LSU taking on Georgia Tech and possibly Wake Forest as part of an in-season tournament in Florida.

The majority of ACC teams (9 of 15) play four games against high-profile opponents from outside the league in the 2021 part of the upcoming season.

High-Profile Opponents On ACC Schedules
(Meetings In State Against Out-Of-State Teams Considered Home)
School Opponents Site Tournament
BC Utah Neutral Sunshine Slam, Daytona Beach
C Rutgers* Away
South Carolina Home
Temple Charleston Classic, Charleston, SC
D Kentucky Neutral Champions Classic, Madison Sq Garden, NY
Gonzaga Neutral Continental Tire Challenge, Las Vegas
Ohio State* Away
FS Florida Away
SMU/Missouri Home Jacksonville Classic, Jacksonville, Fl.
Purdue* Away
South Carolina Away No Room For Racism Classic, Rock Hill, SC
GT Georgia Away
Wisconsin* Home
LSU Home
So. California Neutral Jerry Colangelo Classic, Phoenix, Az
UL Mississippi St. Neutral Cable Beach Championship, Nassau
Maryland/Richmond Neutral Cable Beach Championship, Nassau
Michigan State* Away
Kentucky Away
UM Dayton Neutral ESPN Invt'l, Kissimmee,Fl.
Kansas/N. Texas Neutral ESPN Invt'l, Kissimmee,Fl.
Penn State* Away
NC Purdue Neutral Hall of Fame Tip-Off, Uncasville, Conn.
Villanova/Tenn. Neutral Hall of Fame Tip-Off, Uncasville, Conn.
Michigan* Home
UCLA Neutral CBS Classic, Las Vegas
NS Oklahoma State Neutral Hall of Fame Showcase, Uncasville, Conn.
Nebraska* Home
Purdue Neutral Basketball Hall of Fame Inv't,Brooklyn
ND TBD Neutral(3) Maui Jim Inv't, Lahaini, Hawaii
Illinois* Away
Kentucky Home
Indiana Neutral Crossroads Classic, Indianapolis
UP West Virginia Away
Vanderbilt Home
Minnesota* Home
St. John's Away Gotham Classic, Madison Sq. Garden,NY
SU TBD Neutral(3) Battle For Atlantis, Paradise Island,Bahamas
Indiana* Home
Villanova Neutral Jimmy V Classic, Madison Sq. Garden,NY
Georgetown Away Washington, DC
V Houston Away
Georgia Neutral Legends Classic, Newark, NJ
Northwestern/Prov. Neutral Legends Classic, Newark, NJ
Iowa* Home
VT Memphis Neutral NIT Tip-Off, Brooklyn
Xavier/Iowa St. Neutral NIT Tip-Off, Brooklyn
Maryland* Away
Dayton Away
WF Oregon State Neutral Emerald Coast Classic, Destin, Fl.
Penn State/LSU Neutral Emerald Coast Classic, Destin, Fl.
Northwestern* Home
Asterisk Indicates Big Ten-ACC Challenge.