Photo credit: Elliott Hess/Kentucky Athletics
With the college basketball season just two weeks away, the ACC basketball schedule was finally released. Most teams in the conference have finalized their non-conference slate as well.
While the logistics of the first COVID-impacted season are not completely known, it does seem likely that we will be able to watch college basketball this winter. We should note that the regular annual match-ups like Kentucky vs. Louisville, Florida vs. Florida State and Georgia vs. Georgia Tech were omitted from this list.
Here are the top seven non-conference games for ACC schools that stand out the most:
7. Louisville at Wisconsin
While neither of these teams are ranked in the preseason AP Poll, both are highly-touted by the computer metrics. Ken Pomeroy has Wisconsin ranked seventh while the Cardinals come in at 14th. The Badgers have five seniors in their projected starting lineup, starring their power forward Nate Reuvers. Reuvers led the team in both points and defensive win shares last year.
Louisville also came into the fall with plenty of veteran talent. In addition to Malik Williams, who is entering his fourth year in the Cardinal program, Chris Mack brings in two transfer guards in Carlik Jones and Charles Minlend. The team took a couple of big blows though when they found out both Williams and Minelend will miss several weeks due to injury. Still, Louisville is a very talented team.
Wisconsin is similar to Louisville’s emerging conference rival, Virginia. It plays elite defense and at a pace that will limit the total possessions of the game, making the games quite low scoring. However, this game should seem attractive to those who enjoy clean basketball as both of these teams should have efficient offenses. For the basketball fanatic, it should be a very enjoyable game.
6. Boston College at St. John’s
Neither of these teams are in the top 25 either, but this November match-up features two old school rivals. St. John’s is a more well-rounded team but expect there to be some scoring. Both teams have good offenses and prefer to play at a faster tempo.
The Red Storm have two prolific playmakers in Rasheem Dunn and Julian Champagnie — the twin brother of Pittsburgh’s Justin Champagnie. The Eagles will look to their anchor and primary defender, Steffon Mitchell to try to slow them down. Also watch out for Boston College’s lethal sophomore duo of Wynston Tabbs and Jay Heath, both of whom averaged over 13 points per game last season.
5. Kentucky at Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech enters the year with a lot of buzz (pun intended) as a team that could surprise. The Yellow Jackets will be tested early with a top-10 opponent. The Yellow Jackets have a highly-touted backcourt with Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe to go along with Moses Wright in the interior. The concern, however, is depth.
Kentucky is not particularly deep either but has a good balance of experienced and freshman talent. Included is a familiar face in Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr, who has the complete package for a college basketball center.
Georgia Tech is not a complete stranger to an upset watch. While it did lose this match-up on the road last year, the Jackets were able to shut down Louisville’s star freshman Jordan Nwora in an upset over the ranked Cardinals in recent years. BJ Boston is a similar player — a small forward with ability to score anywhere on the court. Whether it is another slugfest or a shootout, Georgia Tech has enough talent on both ends to be able to give Kentucky a scare.
4. Syracuse at Rutgers
Not only is this a local match-up between two power schools but it features two teams with a ton of upside this year. Both are projected tournament teams with Rutgers squeaking into the preseason top 25. The Scarlet Knights will be a load to handle with a trio in Ron Harper Jr., Jacob Young, and Geo Baker who are all fantastic scorers. Although home-court advantage will not play as much of a role this year, it is notable that Rutgers went 18-1 at the RAC and 2-10 in neutral-site and road games last year.
The key for Syracuse will be getting its shooters going. Joseph Girard and Buddy Boeheim are very capable from behind the arc. Rutgers has a ton of length and will defend the interior very well. The Orange need to utilize ball movement to free open shots from the perimeter. Expect a well-played, defensive showdown in this one.
3. North Carolina at Iowa
This premier match-up features a blue blood in North Carolina against an intriguing Iowa team. The Hawkeyes enter the year ranked fifth in the nation, largely due to the return of Player of the Year favorite Luka Garza. Garza is a dynamic stretch four, who is especially lethal around the rim. Preseason ACC Player of the Year Garrison Brooks will have a tough task trying to contain him.
Another thing that makes this game attractive is how differently these rosters are designed. North Carolina has a ton of length and will rely on star true freshmen to fill in the backcourt. Iowa is not a particularly undersized team either, but will look to its experience to get an edge. Regardless, both teams have great offenses and will attempt to push the tempo.
2. Illinois at Duke
Ask a casual college basketball fan which team is ranked higher and few would answer with Illinois. However, that is indeed the case as the eighth-ranked Fighting Illini will tip off against the ninth-ranked Blue Devils in December.
This year’s Duke team is not designed in a typical Mike Krzyzewski fashion. That does not mean that they do not have an elite recruiting class. In fact, true freshman Jalen Johnson projects to be a NBA lottery pick. But this team may look to its returners, such as Matthew Hurt and Jordan Goldwire, for more production.
Meanwhile, Illinois will potentially have its best teams in several years. It is a well-balanced group with a highly-productive duo in Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. That point guard/center combination will make the Illini a heavy contender for the Big Ten.
This match-up will be an early test for both teams. For Illinois, a win over a such a huge brand will make it truly nationally relevant. For Duke, it can prove that no matter how the team is designed, it will always be elite.
1. Virginia at Villanova
Not only is this a top five match-up but this battle will include each of the most recent national champions. This game could not be more perfectly designed. Each program has been vastly successful, while having completely different styles of play.
Tony Bennett’s Virginia team is known for his famous pack line defense that will frustrate even the best of offenses. Villanova is known for its ball movement on offense and will occasionally push the tempo.
This will also be a match-up of quality point guards as well as interior players, who can stretch the floor. Villanova’s Collin Gillespie is a fantastic scorer while UVA’s Kihei Clark has the ability to make plays for his teammates and play elite defense.
The Wildcats also have a sophomore stud in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl that will look to contain the 7-foot-1 Jay Huff. However, the x-factor for Virginia is the Marquette transfer, Sam Hauser, who will provide a shooting presence as a forward that the Cavaliers have not seen since De’Andre Hunter.
As these affairs have been in the past, expect a super exciting showdown between these two programs.