Forgive Roy Williams, the North Carolina coach, for not knowing what day it is. His team’s schedule can have such an effect.
UNC will play against Boston College on Saturday, nearly a week after the Tar Heels defeated Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., last Sunday. The Tar Heels haven’t played since then, and this past week was the second time in three weeks that UNC went without a game in the middle of the week.
The unevenness of the Tar Heels’ schedule – the clustering of games, followed by gaps without any games, has left Williams searching for a routine and missing the familiar flow of past seasons.
“I can’t remember our schedule, guys,” Williams said at one point early in his press conference on Friday, trying to remember the day he addressed his players about the team’s shooting woes. “This schedule has been so ridiculous I can’t even remember what the crap day it is.”
It has at times been difficult to keep track of, especially for somebody like Williams who for so long was so used to the familiar rhythm of the ACC basketball season: a Wednesday game, followed by a Saturday game, followed by a Wednesday game, followed by a Saturday game, and so on.
During the first month of conference play the Tar Heels’ schedule hasn’t exactly been routine. They played their first three conference games in a span of six days, and then went five days without a game. After a game at Syracuse on Jan. 9, UNC didn’t play again until a week later, against N.C. State.
The schedule last week was as normal as it has been, with a Wednesday game against Wake Forest and the one on Sunday at Virginia Tech. But then came nearly another week without any competition. And the game on Saturday against Boston College will be followed by a quick turnaround on Monday at Louisville.
“It’s been a heck of a lot more unusual, more weird, more ridiculous than I ever remembered,” Williams said of the schedule.
Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse coach, used some other adjectives. He described the ACC schedule on Thursday, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard, as “horrific” and “stupid” and said “it just doesn’t make sense.”
Boeheim, like Williams, isn’t happy with the balance of the schedule, which for some teams features games bunched together followed by stretches without any games. Syracuse began a stretch of three games in six days with a victory against Notre Dame on Thursday.
After which Boeheim shared his opinions on the schedule. Boeheim and Williams aren’t alone in their opinion, though they’ve become, in the past two days, the most vocal critics of the ACC schedule. Williams said several other ACC coaches share the same thought.
“I didn’t know what Jimmy had said,” Williams said, using his preferred name for Boeheim, one of Williams’ friends in the coaching profession. “But I know there’s four or five coaches that wonder what in the dickens are we doing? And again, it’s driven by TV. That’s all it is.
“We sacrifice your third child and anything else for the dollar.”
Williams reminisced about the days when the schedule was simpler and when it more easily inspired something of a routine. It wasn’t too long ago. Back in February of 2012, for instance, UNC played every Saturday and followed every one of those Saturday games with one in the middle of the week, all but one on a Wednesday.
“It’s a heck of a lot easier to play Wednesday and Saturday,” Williams said. “Everybody (agrees), right? OK, well let’s put that Saturday game on Sunday. Well, there’s 15 teams in our league so somebody’s got to have a bye. Well why don’t you take your bye on Wednesday.
“And well, wait a minute, now we’ve got ...”
His voice trailed off describing all the scenarios that have complicated scheduling. The ACC’s expansion to 15 teams leaves one team without a conference game during the weekend and again during the week. Then there’s the the ACC’s basketball television contract, which now calls for games on Sunday and Monday nights.
A high-profile team like UNC, too, is subject to more unique scheduling quirks. The Tar Heels, for instance, are scheduled for three Monday night ACC games this season, and all of them come right after the Tar Heels play a game on Saturday.
UNC’s schedule is imbalanced in a different way, too. The Tar Heels’ most difficult conference games all come in February and March, and they’ve built a 7-0 ACC record against the teams that were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference standings. Boston College, UNC’s opponent on Saturday, is among the worst major-conference teams in the country.
The competitive imbalance bothers Williams less than the way the schedule is constructed. Williams hoped that his criticism, and that from Boeheim, might encourage the ACC to reevaluate his scheduling procedures. Even so, Williams said, the ACC acts “every now and then like they want our opinions but they don’t listen to one blessed thing we say.”
He’s hoping that might change.
“We don’t know what goes into the schedule,” Williams said, “but I’ve got to think that it’s something that the league really should look at.”