The ACC has the appearance of a league in transition. Not expected to be strong overall, the potential is there for an interesting league race. Most folks have already handed the league crown to Duke and perhaps rightfully so. They seem, at least on paper, to be better than last year's national title-winning team. But after that, there are some questions, which could make the race for the next several spots (and potential NCAA bids) worth watching.
Here is a handful of November games that should give us an indication of what the ACC has in store for the upcoming season. I've not included the "possible" tournament matchups simply because of the "ifs" involved.
Tuesday, November 16 Virginia Tech (21) at Kansas State (3)
Right into the fire for the Hokies, who are determined not to be on the outside looking in again this year. Both teams have high expectations for the upcoming season and present an interesting clash of styles. Tech will be a perimeter-oriented team, while K-State will use its abundance of big men to bang down low much more than last season. The loss of Denis Clemente will force this adjustment. But the Wildcats have the depth and the muscle to create a better-balanced attack. Tech needs to compete, not necessarily win, to show they can play with anybody.
Tuesday, November 18 Miami at Memphis (19)
The Hurricanes only non-conference hope to get a win over a team that is much more likely to be better in February and March. The Tigers have the talent to be a scary team come March, but could be vulnerable early because of the relative inexperience of a good portion of their roster. Miami should have looked at the fate of VT the past two years before creating this schedule.
Thursday, November 18 Maryland vs Pittsburgh (5)—2K Classic (New York)
Along with Villanova, the Panthers are favored to land at the top of the Big East this season. The Terps, on the other hand, likely won't even know who their regulars will be by this point. Maryland lost a ton at the conclusion of last season, but has a solid building block (literally and figuratively) in Jordan Williams. This might be too early to tell if Maryland can stay in the top half of the ACC.
Tuesday November 23 Gonzaga (12) / Kansas State (3) vs Duke (1)—CBE (Kansas City)
I have included this one because it will be a top game regardless. Of course, I'm making the assumption that Duke will defeat Marquette which might be presumptuous. Regardless, the Blue Devils will have to earn this one, especially if it is K-State, which would have a decided advantage from the crowd. Don't sleep on the Zags, though. Their frontcourt could be very, very good this year.
Thursday, November 25 Boston College vs Texas A & M—Old Spice Classic
Okay, big deal, you say. I say Steve Donahue will do a great job at BC and he might, with some veterans left over, sneak up in the ACC standings. A & M have some work to do but games like this count at the end of the year, especially if your team lands on the bubble. Worth a look for ACC fans.
Sunday, November 28 Florida (9) at Florida State
The annual rivalry game (if it is that in basketball) will help show whether or not the Gators are worthy of the lofty ranking. The Seminoles will again be solid, but need these kinds of wins to be at the forefront of teams looking for at-large bids at the end of the season.
Tuesday, November 30 North Carolina (8) at Illinois (13)
Important matchup for both teams in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Great things are expected for both teams and both will have enough games under their belts to be ready. This might be the second-best game in the challenge, and Illinois has a good opportunity to show that its preseason ranking is justified.
Tuesday, November 30 Ohio State (4) at Florida State
The Seminoles second game in three days against a top-10 team will test their early-season mettle. I personally am surprised that the Buckeyes are ranked where they are. Yes, Jared Sullinger adds something that was lacking last year, but they still don't have a proven point guard. Someone has to step in and fill the void for Ohio State coach Thad Matta.