Non-conference schedule assessment: Atlantic Coast Conference


Arguably the best conference in the nation has some of the best non-conference games in the nation to go with it.

There are a few new faces at the ACC party this year, but the cream of the crop of non-conference schedules once again come from the familiar faces of the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils. When it comes time to play conference ball, both UNC and Duke will be ready. As for the rest of the conference, who knows?

The ACC is quite possibly the toughest conference in the nation, and one that all of its members will need to prepare for. Some teams like Duke, UNC, Virginia and Florida State are being proactive about preparing for the conference with solid non-conference slates. Others, like Pittsburgh and Clemson, are taking different approaches.

Duke is doing as Duke does

As much as everyone that never went to Duke likes to hate on Duke, the one thing to respect the Blue Devils for is their non-conference slate each year. Coach K schedules it tough, year in and year out, and the 2013 season will be no different.

One of the more interesting of all the non-conference games will take place on Nov. 12 as Duke travels to Chicago to take on the Kansas Jayhawks. It will be the Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker matchup everyone will be waiting for, and college basketball fans will be glad they don't have to wait very long.

Duke also will face Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament, assuming that both teams make it to the championship game. That will be yet another fantastic freshman showcase as Parker will go up against Aaron Gordon and the Wildcats. It will be Duke's first trip to their home-away-from-home at Madison Square Garden. Later in December they'll head back to New York City to take on the UCLA Bruins.

If there is one criticism to be had of Duke's non-conference schedule, it is that the Blue Devils don't really break out of their comfort zone arena-wise. There is the truly neutral game in Chicago against Kansas, but Madison Square Garden is probably the second most Duke-friendly venue on the planet. A true tough road game would've been nice to see.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge really lined it up

Last year, the ACC and Big Ten split the Challenge with six wins a piece. This year, it'll be just as hard to try and pick a winner beforehand. The top games are stellar contests with great storylines, and it is almost impossible to pick the best one.

New ACC members Syracuse get a rematch against the Indiana Hoosiers, who they ousted in the NCAA Tournament last season. Both Duke and North Carolina drew tough games, with Duke hosting Michigan and North Carolina travelling to Michigan State. Even Maryland, on its way out of the ACC after this season, gets a fond farewell package with a road game against Ohio State.

Pittsburgh might have the worst non-conference schedule in the country

The Panthers are new to the ACC, but it looks like they are completely banking on the strength of the conference to punch their ticket into the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, until ACC play starts, there isn't really much of a reason to tune in to a Pittsburgh game.

A game against Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden is as good as it gets for Pittsburgh. Even the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center can't really boost their profile, with Pittsburgh drawing Texas Tech and either Stanford or Houston. Those three games are also the only times the Panthers travel outside of Pennsylvania.

Their 10 other non-conference games all take place in Pittsburgh. To emphasize how sour Jamie Dixon's scheduling is, here they all are listed out: Savannah State, Fresno State, Howard, Lehigh, Duquesne, Penn State, Loyola Marymount, Youngstown State, Cal Poly and Albany. Those 10 teams had an average of 186 RPI last season.

Florida State could use Andrew Wiggins for their schedule

With Andrew Wiggins choosing Kansas and then Xavier Rathan-Mayes declared ineligible for the Florida State Seminoles, it might be a long first month of college basketball in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles have three tune-up games at home and then they really hit the ground running. The end of November and beginning of December will really peg where Florida State is going to end up as the year goes on.

The Seminoles play the VCU Rams on Nov. 21 as part of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The very next day, they will play either Long Beach State or Michigan. Then, instead of going home, they'll travel to Gainesville to take on Florida on Nov. 29. On Dec. 3, Florida State flies out to Minnesota to play the Golden Gophers on the road, and then finally returns home for the rest of the non-conference schedule.

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