Predictably, North Carolina and Duke will be at the center of much of the ACC's men's basketball drama in the 2011-12 season.
The ACC released the 2011-12 schedule Wednesday. It includes a record 189 national TV appearances for conference teams as part of a new, 12-year deal with ESPN.
North Carolina, which returns All-ACC second team players Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson in the frontcourt and All-ACC third team point guard Kendall Marshall in the backcourt, is likely to enter the season as the No. 1 team in the nation and plays a schedule worthy of an elite team.
The Tar Heels open against Michigan State on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson aircraft carrier on Nov. 11 in San Diego. They also will host Wisconsin on Nov. 30 and Texas on Dec. 21, and visit Kentucky on Dec. 3.
Duke has Mike Krzyzewski nearing the Division I men's basketball career coaching wins mark held by his mentor, Bob Knight. Krzyzewski has 900 wins, two short of Knight, and the Blue Devils coach is likely to have his first chance to surpass Knight in a Nov. 15 game against Michigan State at New York's Madison Square Garden.
The Blue Devils will visit Ohio State on Nov. 29, return to Madison Square Garden to meet Washington on Dec. 10, host St. John's on Jan. 28 and play in the Maui Invitational.
The always highly anticipated Duke-North Carolina games will be Feb. 8 in Chapel Hill and March 3 in Durham.
Other highlights of the ACC schedule:
Gottfried will get rolling
First-year coach Mark Gottfried has made frequent mention of his desire to improve N.C. State's schedule.
The Wolfpack hosts Indiana on Nov. 30 and Syracuse on Dec. 17; visits Stanford on Dec. 4. and will meet Vanderbilt and most likely another high-quality opponent in the Legends Classic in East Rutherford, N.J., in November.
On paper, that's not much of an improvement over last season's schedule, which included Wisconsin, Syracuse, Arizona, Georgetown and George Mason.
N.C. State's schedule also includes Elon, Delaware State, UNC Asheville, Western Carolina, Morehead State and N.C. Central.
Gottfried will enter the Wolfpack's rivalry against North Carolina on Jan. 26 in Chapel Hill and on Feb. 21 in Raleigh. N.C. State's lone meeting with Duke this season is Feb. 16 in Durham.
Snoozers at Wake Forest
Granted, the Deacons probably didn't need a strong schedule after going 8-24 in coach Jeff Bzdelik's debut season.
But Wake's home schedule does not feature a single nonconference game against an attractive opponent. It hosts Loyola of Maryland, Georgia Southern, N.C. Central, Richmond, Gardner-Webb, UNC Wilmington, Yale and Wofford.
Wake Forest's interesting nonconference games - at Nebraska, at Seton Hall, and three games in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando - all take place away from Winston-Salem. Judging by the quality of the opponents, there will be a lot of empty seats at the Joel Coliseum in December.
Drought in Challenge
After winning the ACC-Big Ten Challenge the first 10 years it was played, the ACC has dropped the last two made-for-ESPN, early-season events.
This season, in addition to the Duke-Ohio State and North Carolina-Wisconsin games, key meetings will include Miami at Purdue, Michigan at Virginia and Florida State at Michigan State.
December a key
ACC coaches in general have stated a desire to become more aggressive with their scheduling.
The jury is still out on whether they did that after the conference finished sixth in strength of schedule last season, but there are some marquee games in December.
On Dec. 4, Kansas State visits Virginia Tech. Dec. 10 is a big day, with Miami playing at West Virginia and Clemson traveling to Arizona. And on Dec. 22, Florida State plays at rival Florida.
The ACC needs to win at least some of those games in order to recapture the reputation it lost last season, when it slumped to fifth in the Ratings Percentage Index and placed just four teams in the NCAA tournament.
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