It used to be simple enough, the ACC basketball schedule. Every team in the league played every other conference team twice during the regular season, home and away.
There was symmetry to the schedule in those days. Balance. But not anymore.
The ACC on Tuesday released a list of the league’s men’s basketball opponents and game sites for the next two seasons. Dates will come later, but now we know which teams will play each other twice, and which teams will play where, home and away in the ACC, during the next two seasons.
Scheduling imbalance has become a reality in the ACC, which once took pride in its round robin scheduling format. As the conference has expanded, first to 11 teams, then to 12 and then to 15 last season, its basketball schedule has become more and more unbalanced.
Some teams play the league’s best teams twice, others once. Some teams play in the league’s most difficult road environments – Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, for instance – once, other teams not at all. A team’s finish in the league standings isn’t only about how it plays these days – but about where it plays and who it plays. And who it doesn’t.
Virginia took advantage of its schedule last season during its run to the league’s regular season championship. The Cavaliers proved they were the conference’s best team – they won the ACC tournament, after all – but their schedule helped them to a 16-2 regular season finish in conference play.
Virginia a season ago played Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina – the three teams that finished directly behind the Cavaliers in the league standings – just once in the regular season. The four teams the Cavaliers played twice – Florida State, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech – finished a combined 31-41 in the ACC.
So now, more than ever before in the ACC, scheduling matters. The scheduling breaks a team receives – or doesn’t receive – could be the difference in seeding for the ACC tournament, or the difference in receiving an NCAA tournament bid on Selection Sunday.
Here’s a look at the upcoming conference opponents and game sites for Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State:
2014-15 home and away: UNC, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Home: Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Boston College
Road: Florida State, N.C. State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville
• First impressions: The ACC obviously enjoyed Duke-Syracuse this past year, just as ESPN did (the two regular season games between the teams where the first- and second-most watched college basketball broadcasts on the network last season). The league enjoyed the new rivalry so much it scheduled another home-and-home series between the two schools. Duke-Syracuse is the only rotating home-and-home series that will be played twice in the first three years of the 15-team ACC. Syracuse won’t be as intimidating without Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair, but if this is a true rivalry game, the contests should be entertaining nonetheless.
When looking at Duke’s home-only opponents for 2014-15, it’s a bit … uninspiring. Just one (Pittsburgh) made the NCAA tournament, and the home-only opponents combine for a league-worst .422 conference winning percentage (Louisville wasn’t factored into that calculation). Of course, UNC, the likely preseason favorite, will add a degree of difficulty to the home schedule, as will Syracuse.
Duke’s road-only opponents were .500 (36-36) in ACC play last season, making it the league’s seventh-toughest road-only schedule. No surprise to see Duke make its initial conference trip to Louisville after not visiting Maryland last season.
2015-16 home and away: UNC, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Louisville
Home: Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Road: Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Boston College
2014-15 home and away: Duke, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Louisville
Home: Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Road: Miami, Clemson, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Boston College
• First impressions: This is a favorable scheduling set up for the Tar Heels, who will always have it more difficult than some in the ACC because they’re guaranteed to play Duke twice per season, every season. In addition to the annual home-and-home against the Blue Devils (and N.C. State), UNC will also play Georgia Tech and Louisville twice.
You had to guess the ACC would match Louisville, in its first season in the conference, in a home-and-home with either UNC or Duke, and Duke is already playing Syracuse twice this season. It’s no surprise, then, that the Tar Heels will play the Cardinals twice.
Four games against Duke and Louisville will be a challenge, undoubtedly, but the rest of the ACC schedule is kind to UNC. The Tar Heels host both Virginia and Syracuse, the two teams which finished atop the league standings last year. Meanwhile, only one of the Tar Heels’ road-only conference opponents, Pittsburgh, reached the NCAA tournament last season.
Teams would likely prefer to play their most difficult opponents at home and their less challenging opponents on the road. On paper, at least, that’s how UNC’s ACC schedule will look next season. The combined conference record last season of the Tar Heels’ home-only ACC opponents was 47-43, while UNC’s road-only ACC opponents finished 38-52.
N.C. State’s road-only league schedule is the only one with an opponents’ winning percentage that’s worse than UNC’s. One of the Wolfpack’s road-only games, though, is against Louisville. So UNC might just have the least difficult road-only schedule in the conference, though Miami will be improved and it’s always difficult to win at Clemson.
Things to know: Some history will be made next season when Syracuse visits UNC. The Tar Heels have never played against the Orange in Chapel Hill. UNC and Syracuse have played in North Carolina just once before – a UNC victory in Charlotte on Jan. 8, 1983.
UNC and Louisville, meanwhile, will play in Louisville for the first time since Dec. 23, 1999. The Cardinals will be playing in Chapel Hill for the second time, and for the first time since Dec. 17, 1998.
2015-16 home and away: Duke, N.C. State, Boston College, Syracuse
Home: Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh
Road: Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Notre Dame
2014-15 home and away: UNC, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia
Home: Duke, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Road: FSU, Miami, Georgia Tech, Louisville, BC
• First impressions: N.C. State’s home schedule gets a major upgrade. Of the ACC’s brand-name teams, the Wolfpack only played North Carolina at PNC Arena last season. In 2014-15, the Pack will get visits from UNC, Duke and Syracuse.
In addition to permanent partners Wake Forest and UNC, Mark Gottfried’s fourth team will also face ACC champion Virginia and Clemson twice.
The Wolfpack will travel to ACC newcomer Louisville and will also host Big East refugees Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
The first round of expansion in 2004 muted State’s rivalry with Duke – the two teams have met twice in the same season three times in the past 10 years. In three of the previous one-off meetings, the Pack has had to travel to Duke, including last year’s 95-60 loss, with no return game in Raleigh. In 2014-15, the lone scheduled meeting will be played in Raleigh.
For the 2015-16 schedule, N.C State will have a home-and-home with the other three in-state schools for only the fourth time since 2004.
2015-16 home and away: UNC, Wake Forest, Duke, FSU
Home: Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Louisville, BC
Road: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame