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This Year, Opening ACC Games Are Hardly Imposing

No Wildcats or Spartans this time.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 09 Champions Classic - Duke v Kentucky
 NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: Duke Blue Devils guard Jeremy Roach (3) during the Champions Classic college basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Kentucky Wildcats on November 9, 2021 at Madison Square Garden in New York City,NY.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This year’s opening nonconference clashes hardly constitute basketball profiles in courage. Not a single ACC team dares take on a Power Five opponent to open the season. Not a single ACC member raises its head above the power-rating parapet to risk a visit to a hostile court to launch its season.

Just a lot of tune-ups, what some call “bops”. Plenty of guarantees are being paid instead.

This lack of formidable openers is a departure from recent years, as in 2020-21 when BC started out with a Villanova faceoff and Notre Dame tried Michigan State. Both lost. At least ACC teams got to sidestep each other in ’23 openers, unlike the internecine clashes that inaugurated the 2020 season in a mildly interesting effort to generate excitement out of the gate.

Georgia Tech, Pitt and, surprisingly, Virginia lost their 2021-22 openers. Those defeats presaged disappointing seasons for each.

Coming at things from a more positive direction, four programs enter this season trying to extend long runs of unblemished debuts.

Duke hasn’t tasted defeat in an opener since 2000. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils, coming off a dominating 37-2 season that culminated with a loss to UConn in the 1999 NCAA championship game, lost four players early to the pros, the first of Coach K’s tenure. (Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette, William Avery). Then they dropped their ’00 opener at Madison Square Garden to Stanford, and immediately followed with another MSG defeat, again at the hands of Connecticut.

The Blue Devils, with five double-figure scorers led by upperclassmen Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell, proceeded to win their next 18 games, won the ACC tournament, and fell to Florida in the Sweet 16.

Louisville lost its first game of the 2004 season to Iowa on an Indianapolis court in the John Wooden Classic. Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, then a C-USA member, fell in overtime. UL, which dubiously touts KFC Yum! Center, its home court, as “the world’s most spectacular arena”, hasn’t dropped an opener in the nearly two decades since.

North Carolina last stumbled out of the gate in 2005, Roy Williams’s second year back at Chapel Hill. Stellar playmaker Raymond Felton served a one-game suspension for breaking a minor NCAA rule in summer play. Backup Quentin Thomas filled in for Felton during a loss to Santa Oakland in the Pete Newell Challenge. The Tar Heels lost only three more times that season, marching to the first of Williams’s three NCAA titles.

The ACC leader among opening day unbeatens is Clemson, which hasn’t lost a season debut in nearly four decades. The Tigers were long needled about their losing streak at Chapel Hill but can brag on this modest string of victories that began in 1985 under coach Cliff Ellis, still plugging away at Coastal Carolina.

Those ’85 Tigers advanced to the first round of the NIT behind guard Vince Hamilton and big man Horace Grant, Clemson’s sole ACC Player of the Year two seasons later. They finished 16-13, their first winning record in four years.

By the way, in-league debuts take place in the first week in December (2nd through 4th). That’s except for Georgia Tech and UNC, which meet at Chapel Hill on the 10th.

Last Time ACC Teams Lost In Openers
School Season Opponent 2022-23 Opener
BC 2021 Villanova Cornell
Clemson 1985 Tennessee Tech The Citadel
Duke 2000 Stanford Jacksonville
Florida St. 2020 Pittsburgh Stetson
Ga. Tech 2022 Miami of Ohio Clayton State
Louisville 2004* Iowa Bellarmine
Miami 2020 Louisville Lafayette
UNC 2005 Santa Clara UNC Wilmington
N.C. State 2020 Georgia Tech Austin Peay
Notre Dame 2021 Michigan State Radford
Pittsburgh 2022 The Citadel Tennessee-Martin
Syracuse 2020 Virginia Lehigh
Virginia 2022 Navy NC Central
Va. Tech 2016 Alabama State Delaware State
Wake Forest 2020 Boston College Fairfield
* Prior to ACC membership.