College Basketball Nation: Clemson Tigers

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For the third time since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, more teams have been added to the mix. The battle for conference supremacy started with just nine games deciding the outcome back when that was the extent of ACC membership.

The league has ballooned to 15 teams and now that the Big Ten expanded too, a slate of 14 games over three consecutive nights from Dec. 1-3 will determine bragging rights.

The ACC was 6-0 when just nine teams played in the Challenge. It was 4-2 after ACC expansion and 11 teams played. Since going to 12 teams the Big Ten won once and the Challenge has ended in consecutive ties.

The ACC still holds an advantage winning 10 of the 15 meetings overall, but it has not won the Challenge since 2008.

Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will make their respective debuts in the Challenge this season. Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech did not participate last season for the ACC. Boston College will sit this one out this season.

As Maryland changes allegiances from ACC charter member to Big Ten expansion team, it becomes the Big Ten team with the most wins. The Terrapins have participated in every challenge and has a 10-5 record, and trails only Duke (13) for most Challenge wins. Five Big Ten teams (Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin) are tied with seven wins in the series.

From top to bottom, here are the best matchups of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:

1. Duke at Wisconsin: It just might be an early Final Four preview. On paper, both have the rosters that could be playing the final weekend of the season. The Badgers, led by center Frank Kaminsky, return most of the rotation that got Bo Ryan to his first Final Four during his Wisconsin tenure. Duke restocks with the No. 1 recruiting class led by center Jahlil Okafor and guard Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils were 0-4 versus top 10 teams away from home last season in a year that ended with a NCAA second round flameout against Mercer. Wisconsin will be an early test to see if Duke will write a different narrative this season.

2. Iowa at North Carolina: Expect a high-scoring game because the Hawkeyes and Tar Heels both want to run early and often. Forward Jarrod Uthoff and center Gabriel Olaseni give Iowa a formidable frontcourt duo that will put up points in Fran McCaffery’s system despite their roster losses from last season. The Hawkeyes have never won on the road (0-5) in the Challenge. UNC will be a much more athletic team than it was last season with the addition of freshmen Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. The game could offer a small bit of redemption back home for guard Marcus Paige, who is a Marion, Iowa, native, after the Heels were bounced by Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.

3. Ohio State at Louisville: The last time Thad Matta squared off against Rick Pitino, Xavier upset the Cardinals in the 2004 NCAA tournament en route to the Elite Eight. It was the run that helped Matta land the Buckeyes job. Matta will learn what he’s working with in an early road test for a young, but talented team. The game will also serve as a homecoming for Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, a Louisville native, who had an offer from Louisville. Ironically, next season, the Cards will rely heavily on sophomore guard Terry Rozier, a Cleveland native, who is expected to have a breakout year with the departure of Russ Smith. Montrezl Harrell’s decision to return to school was like a recruiting coup for the Cards.

4. Virginia at Maryland: A new twist to an old rivalry. The two foes have literally played the past 100 years, and as ACC rivals the game had the exalted status of the final regular season game for the better part of the last four decades. It could easily be the most intense game of the Challenge since both teams know each other so well. The backcourt battle pitting Virginia’s London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon against Maryland’s Seth Allen and Dez Wells could determine the outcome.

5. Michigan State at Notre Dame: From 1908 to 1979 the Spartans and Irish had a healthy basketball rivalry, meeting 94 times. It’s the first meeting between the schools since MSU beat the Irish in the Elite Eight en route to its 1979 national championship. The Spartans bring back Branden Dawson, who considered turning pro. The Irish welcome back Jerian Grant, who withdrew from school at the start of conference play due to an “academic matter.”

6. Syracuse at Michigan: Think of how great this game would have been with guard Tyler Ennis and forward Jerami Grant still suiting up for the Orange and guard Nik Stauskas, forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary playing for the Wolverines. Instead, they form an all-star lineup of NBA early entries. In a rematch of the 2013 Final Four game, only a combined five players (Syracuse: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney; Michigan: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert) remain who played in the game.

7. Nebraska at Florida State: If the Cornhuskers plan on improving on last season's NCAA appearance, they have to learn to win games like this. The Huskers were just 3-8 last season on the road and Tallahassee can be a tough place to play. The Seminoles missed the NCAA tournament last season due to several close nonconference losses, a trend they’ll need to reverse this season.

8. Pittsburgh at Indiana: The Panthers haven’t played the Hoosiers in Bloomington since 1941 and Pitt's experienced guards Cameron Wright and James Robinson won’t be intimidated by Assembly Hall. Noah Vonleh’s decision to turn pro possibly set IU back in its bid to rejoin the nation’s elite. But guard Yogi Ferrell and newcomer James Blackmon Jr. means the Hoosiers' cupboard isn’t bare.

9. Illinois at Miami: The Illini could be a darkhorse in league and an early road win could prove it. Guard Rayvonte Rice will be even harder to stop if he can improve his 3-point shooting from 29.5 percent last season. The Canes return just three players from last season, who accounted for just 15 percent of their scoring. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) should make immediate impact for Miami.

10. Minnesota at Wake Forest: Guards Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins give Minnesota backcourt stability. The Deacons counter with their top duo of leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas, who should help Danny Manning make a smooth transition in his first season as coach.

11. Rutgers at Clemson: The Mack and Jack show is back for Rutgers. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack were the top two scorers from last season and a formidable duo. Clemson returned everyone of impact except leading scorer and rebounder K.J. McDaniels. Guard Rod Hall will likely expand his scoring role after leading the Tigers in assists.

12. NC State at Purdue: The Boilermakers are the hottest team in the Challenge with five straight wins. Junior 7-footer A.J. Hammons gives Purdue a solid centerpiece to build around. NCSU has the monumental task of replacing 2014 ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack's fortunes could rest with talented, yet erratic, point guard Anthony Barber.

13. Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Both teams hope to get a boost from guards lost to injury last season. Tech’s Travis Jorgenson played in just four games before tearing his ACL. Northwestern’s oft-injured guard JerShon Cobb, its leading scorer returning, missed the last five games with a foot injury. The Yellow Jackets have only won once on the road in the Challenge.

14. Virginia Tech at Penn State: The Nittany Lions return most of their rotation that lost eight games by five or fewer points. Senior guard D.J. Newbill, who led the team in scoring, is now the unequivocal leader with Tim Frazier gone. Buzz Williams begins Hokies rebuilding project with a good starting point -- guard Devin Wilson was on both the coaches and media all-ACC freshmen teams and ranked third in the league in assists.

Look back, look ahead: ACC

April, 16, 2014
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A basketball-related expansion -- an anomaly during the entire conference realignment shuffle -- was supposed to culminate by making the Atlantic Coast Conference rise above other conferences. The league was supposed to be the biggest and baddest of the major conferences thanks to its first season with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame as league members.

However, the only thing that increased was disappointment in the league’s overall showing.

Expanding to 15 teams did little to affect the ACC’s reach in the NCAA tournament. Six teams received bids -- and that likely would have been just five until NC State’s late push (including its upset of Syracuse in the ACC tournament).

North Carolina and Duke both failed to advance into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 1979. The Blue Devils were upset by Mercer in the second round. The Tar Heels lost to Iowa State in the third round. The ACC has long depended on the bluebloods to carry the league’s baton, and this season did little to change that narrative.

Only Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed by winning the league title, advanced to the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers were then eliminated by Michigan State.

The league should improve next postseason thanks in part to Carolina's and Duke's potential to have powerhouse squads.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesWith a stellar recruiting class, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils may be the ACC's best in 2014-15.
What we saw this season: The Cavaliers returned to prominence by winning their first outright ACC regular-season title since 1981. Criticism followed since the Cavs, who only played Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina once each and two of those games were in Charlottesville. It took winning the ACC tournament for Virginia to erase those doubts.

Freshmen Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Jabari Parker (Duke) proved to be not only among the best players in the conference, but in the nation -- regardless of class.

Many ACC teams had outstanding individual talents -- NC State’s T.J. Warren (won the league’s player of the year award), Duke’s Rodney Hood, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels to name a few -- but those teams were heavily flawed. Opponents who stopped Lamar Patterson essentially stopped Pittsburgh. Syracuse had trouble scoring. Duke had a thin frontcourt. Carolina was limited by its shooting from the perimeter.

Syracuse started the season strong -- winning its first 25 games -- but faded down the stretch losing six of its last nine games, as its offense went on hiatus. The Orange did provide two classics sure to be talked about in ACC lore. Their first meeting with Duke was a thrilling 91-89 overtime win in the Carrier Dome and their 66-60 loss at Duke featured Jim Boeheim’s first ejection in a regular-season game.

As has long been a problem since the league expanded to 12 teams, the ACC failed to develop a strong second tier of added depth. The conference continued to be top-heavy as Florida State, Maryland, Clemson and Notre Dame never quite became teams to fear.

Three of the bottom four teams in the standings played poorly enough to end the season with their coaches being fired. Boston College arguably had the most disappointing seasons of them all relative to its talent level. The Eagles pulled it together long enough to hand Syracuse its first loss, which was the highlight of their season.

What we expect to see next season: More of the nation’s top freshmen. Duke’s recruiting class is considered tops in the land and is led by center Jahlil Okafor, who is ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 100, and Tyus Jones, the No. 1 point guard who is fourth overall. North Carolina also snagged two top-10 recruits in Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and is ranked third as a class by ESPN.com.

Newcomers are great and all, but let’s also appreciate what we won’t see in the ACC for the first time in its existence. Maryland, a charter member of the conference started in 1953, will begin competing in the Big Ten. Let’s pause to remember the good times.

Long enough? OK.

Louisville obviously doesn’t compare to the tradition Maryland had within the league, but it could be considered an upgrade otherwise. With three national titles and a Hall of Fame coach currently on its sideline, the Cardinals fit the league’s basketball pedigree.

Their addition, plus Virginia’s returning most of its ACC title squad, should help the league become closer to the juggernaut many of its coaches expected this past season.

For all the hand-wringing over a change of guard in the ACC, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels look primed to re-establish their stranglehold on the top of the league standings. Regardless of how Parker’s NBA draft decision falls on Wednesday, Duke will have a good blend of experience (Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) and young talent (Okafor, Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen) at Mike Krzyzewski’s disposal.

Carolina returns the likely front-runner for preseason player of the year in Paige. Forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks give the Heels an inside offensive scoring punch that will be hard to contain.

Because of those teams at the top, a trio of new coaches could face a harsh inaugural season in the league. Buzz Williams shocked many by leaving Marquette to take the reins at Virginia Tech, replacing James Johnson. Jim Christian (after a stint at Ohio) takes over Boston College, replacing Steve Donahue. And Danny Manning returns home to Tobacco Road to rebuild Wake Forest, replacing Jeff Bzdelik.

It could all add up and help the ACC live up to its own expectations as the best basketball conference in the nation.

W2W4: The NIT semifinals

April, 1, 2014
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Larry BrownAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesLarry Brown returns to the Garden for the NIT semifinals.
NEW YORK -- Here's what to watch for in Tuesday's semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. ET, and you can watch the games on ESPN2.

HOME SWEET HOME: Brooklyn native and former Knicks coach Larry Brown returns to the Garden and should receive a warm welcome.

The 73-year-old Hall of Famer has rejuvenated the Southern Methodist basketball program in just two years at the helm. The Mustangs were 13-19 in 2011-12, prior to Brown's arrival. This season they have won 26 games, the second-most in school history.

SMU was the first team left out of the NCAA tournament field, and received one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT.

When asked last week about returning to New York, Brown said, “I don’t look at it like that, for me. For me, for our kids to have an opportunity to keep playing is great.

"I’m happy for our team, I’m thrilled for our program. After the disappointment we had [Selection Sunday], this is a privilege to still be playing.”

GAME 1: SMU (26-9, 12-6 AAC) will play No. 3 seed Clemson (23-12, 10-8 ACC) in the first semifinal. The Mustangs finished tied for third in the American Athletic Conference with Final Four participant UConn, and beat the Huskies twice in the regular season. The Tigers, in their fourth year under coach Brad Brownell, finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their best win of the season was a 72-59 triumph over Duke at home on Jan. 11.

Two players average in double figures for SMU -- sophomore point guard Nic Moore (13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG) and sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Clemson has just one double-figure scorer -- junior forward K.J. McDaniels (17.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG). McDaniels was also the leading shot-blocker in the ACC (2.8 BPG).

The Mustangs are 18th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (48.4), and seventh in defensive field goal percentage (38.2) -- quite a combination! The Tigers aren't nearly as good offensively, ranking 265th (42.4). But they are almost as good defensively, ranking 14th (39.3).

GAME 2: A pair of No. 1 seeds, Minnesota (23-13, 8-10 Big Ten) and Florida State (22-13, 9-9 ACC), will meet in the second semifinal, tipping off at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET. The Golden Gophers, in their first year under coach Richard Pitino (Rick's son), finished seventh in the Big Ten. The Seminoles, in their 12th year under coach Leonard Hamilton, finished tied for seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

These two teams met back on Dec. 3 in Minneapolis, with Minnesota winning 71-61. But the Golden Gophers' leading rebounder, junior center Elliott Eliason (5.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG), is likely out for this game due to an ankle injury, as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Three players average in double figures for Minnesota -- junior guard Andre Hollins (13.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG), senior guard Austin Hollins (12.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and junior guard DeAndre Mathieu (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG).

Three players average in double figures for Florida State, as well -- sophomore guard Aaron Thomas (14.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG), senior guard Ian Miller (13.7 PPG, 2.9 APG) and senior forward Okaro White (13.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG).

The Seminoles also stack up very well on both sides, ranking 49th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 25th in defensive field goal percentage (39.9). The Golden Gophers trail significantly in both categories, ranking 142nd offensively (44.8) and 116th defensively (42.5).

5 thoughts from Duke's win

March, 15, 2014
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke advanced to the ACC semifinals with a 63-62 win over Clemson on Friday despite allowing the Tigers to shoot 51 percent from the floor. Here are five observations from the Blue Devils’ win:
  • Duke may have finally learned from its losses how to finish off a team down the stretch. In the loss to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils got away from driving to the basket and lost their focus defensively. Even though Clemson rallied from a 10-point deficit to take the lead late, Duke stayed with the game plan. "We’re a quick learner,” guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “It’s March now and we can’t do the same things that were unsuccessful in the beginning. That’s just dumb. We have to capitalize on our opportunities and learn from our mistakes and turn our weaknesses into strengths.”

  • Rebounding was one such weakness, but the Blue Devils have had a rebirth in that area. Against North Carolina, they turned around a 14-rebound deficit from their loss to a 13-rebound advantage in their win. The Tigers beat Duke 48-30 on the boards in their 72-59 win back on Jan. 11. The Blue Devils enjoyed a 34-25 edge in Friday’s semifinals. “It’s that feeling that you remember having after you got your butt kicked,” forward Amile Jefferson said. “After you got killed on the glass, after guys were dunking on your rims. As a team our bigs made it set that that’s not going to happen.”

  • Tyler Thornton was probably the only Duke defender who could make the final play. Clemson’s Rod Hall gathered full-court steam and was headed for a game-winning score when Thornton stripped him to seal the win for the Blue Devils. “He was coming at me so fast there was no way I could stop him without hitting him and getting a foul,” Thornton said. “He had a step on me and I had an opportunity to get my hand in. When he ripped the ball through, I just got my hand on it.”

  • Rodney Hood has his own break time. Once again he had to leave a game in order to throw up. He said he doesn’t know why it happens, but he said it’s not nerves. He’s probably right because the first time it happened in a game this season was against Eastern Michigan. “I don’t know what it is, we’ve been taking medicine and stuff like that,” Hood said. “I feel great after so if that’s what has to happen then I’m fine with it.” Hood said as long as it doesn’t happen in the final minutes of a close game he can live with coming out of a game to take care of it.

  • Duke destroyed NC State 95-60 in their regular-season meeting on Jan. 18 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. But the Blue Devils can expect a very different game in the ACC tournament semifinals. Duke outscored State 33-2 in points off turnovers; State committed a season-high 21 turnovers back then, but in its past seven games it’s only reached double figures in turnovers once. “They’re a completely different team,” Hood said. “T.J. Warren is playing out of his mind right now and his teammates are responding. If we take them light, they can beat us.”

Video: Underappreciated players

February, 19, 2014
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In his weekly report, Jay Bilas identifies a handful of college basketball players who are not getting the credit they deserve.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina knew it was capable of a performance like Sunday’s 80-61 beatdown of Clemson. The Tar Heels just needed a reminder.

So coach Roy Williams had a video spliced together of clips from wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky and showed it to his team on Saturday. Carolina’s problem all season has been trying to sustain the urgency and effort that it showed in those nonconference games. The Heels finally revisited it against Clemson.

Williams doesn't have a formula to ensure they continue to play with such urgency, but he knows they can’t win without it.

“We have no chance if we don’t do that,” Williams said. “I’ve had some teams that were gifted and could win without their best effort. This is a team that really needs to have that maximum effort.”

The win over Clemson had little to do with any technical changes Williams made. He didn’t all of a sudden press more or use zone or come up with a new offensive set that the Tigers weren’t prepared to face.

The Heels simply ran to recover defensively on picks a little faster and tried for rebounds a little harder and competed a little bit better than they have for any game since the new year began. That’s something the Heels can do no matter the opponent.

“They played with much more competitive spirit than I’ve seen on them in some other games,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

[+] EnlargeUNC Celebrates
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJames Michael McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks and the rest of the Tar Heels were in a good mood Sunday given their effort against Clemson.
Williams said he didn’t mention Carolina’s absurd home winning streak against Clemson, which now stands at 57-0, while his team prepared for Sunday’s game.

Truthfully, the streak did have a little something to do with why the Heels played with an added bounce.

“We definitely didn’t want to be that team to let the streak go down,” forward James Michael McAdoo said. “Definitely just came down to playing with pride. We didn’t talk about it that much but in the back of our heads we knew that we weren’t going to be that team today.”

Since Carolina's loss to Virginia on Monday, Williams spent the week of practice preaching urgency. He had the team watch a montage from its three best wins that showed times where players dove to the floor for a loose ball; or crashed the boards for offensive rebounds; or did something as simple as making the proper rotation on defense.

“It’s almost like you forget about it, but you look back and we beat some really talented teams,” said sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who had 15 points and five assists. “We kind of just went back to remind us that we can be really good if we invest.”

The Heels showed they were all in early.

If there was ever a game to go through the motions it was this one. The Tigers have been coming to Chapel Hill to play Carolina since 1926 and have never left with a victory. No one would have questioned it had the Heels come out with little emotion given the opponent.

McAdoo, who scored a game-high 22 points with seven rebounds, proved early North Carolina’s effort would be different. On a Paige missed jumper, McAdoo dove on the floor to corral the long rebound and called timeout as Clemson players surrounded him. Coming out of the timeout, Nate Britt hit a 3-pointer to extend the Heels' lead to 15.

Hustle was contagious as J.P. Tokoto started a fast break by also diving to the floor for a loose ball. Although Leslie McDonald missed a 3-point attempt in transition, Kennedy Meeks was there for the offensive rebound and even grabbed his own miss before converting.

“You talk about winning basketball plays, when James Michael tonight dives on the floor and gets us an extra possession, when J.P. dives on the floor in the first half -- those are winning plays,” Paige said. “They showed us that when we make those, and we have a conscious effort to make those, everything goes a lot more smoothly.”

The Heels (12-7, 2-4 ACC) caught a break in their schedule too. Their next four games come against teams with losing records in the ACC, starting with Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

If Carolina needs another reminder moving forward, Williams can show clips from the Clemson game as a standard of effort.

McDonald, who started for just the third time this season, said the Clemson game should be the “primary example of what we should do every game.”

“We visually see what this high level of intensity and sense of urgency can do for our team,” said McDonald, who ended his slump with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. “It can really help us so we just need to feed off it.”

Weekend Homework: Clemson-UNC streak

January, 24, 2014
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It’s one of the most remarkable records in college basketball.

0-56.

Clemson has never ventured into Chapel Hill and left with a victory over North Carolina (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU/WatchESPN). Most games haven’t been close, either. The Tigers have come within single digits on just eight occasions.

It’s the longest streak of its kind. And every season, the thought becomes that surely it can’t continue forever. At some point, the Tar Heels have to get caught slipping and the bounces have to go Clemson’s way. That’s covered somewhere in the law of averages, right?

Apparently not. Until this point, Carolina has escaped every time the Tigers looked to have the upper hand.

It happened when Rick Barnes, now the coach at Texas, brought a No. 2-ranked Clemson squad to Chapel Hill to face the reeling and young Heels. UNC started off ACC play 0-3 in the 1996-97 season and Barnes seemed poised to make program history.

In what turned out to be coach Dean Smith’s last contribution to extending the streak, the Heels won 61-48 and would eventually end up in the Final Four.

Carolina probably felt the most anxiety about keeping the streak alive in its 8-20 season in 2001-02 -- the only losing season since Smith’s first at the helm in 1961-62. But even that Matt Doherty-coached team closed out Clemson 96-78 on senior day. That win seemed to signal that, even at its worst, UNC was still good enough to beat the Tigers when the Heels were at home.

The teams first met in 1926, and, in the modern era, the Tar Heels have rarely been as vulnerable as they are this season. They’ve already had three losses at the Dean Smith Center, including an 83-80 setback to Belmont.

The Tigers raised eyebrows by upsetting Duke at home, although that enthusiasm was tempered Tuesday after they lost by 33 at Pittsburgh.

Clemson does boast the nation’s top scoring defense, allowing just 53.5 points per game. If the Tigers can keep the game played at a slower pace in the half court, North Carolina has proved that it doesn’t fare well in those situations.

But can the Tigers, who have heard more than they want to hear about the streak, overcome their wretched history in Chapel Hill long enough to complete a victory?

“I’m sure I’ll allude to it,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell told The Charlotte Observer. “I don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not the center point of your speech, of what you’re trying to do to win the game. ‘Let’s be the first team.’ You’re not doing that.”

Maybe he won’t. But chances are Carolina will. For a team whose effort has sometimes been questioned, the Tar Heels will try to summon a top performance to avoid becoming the first team in school history to lose to Clemson.

3-point shot: Clemson's hot start

January, 21, 2014
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Andy Katz discusses Clemson's early success in ACC play and both sides of the upcoming matchup between Arizona State and Utah.

ACC team previews

October, 23, 2013
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From Sept. 30 through Oct. 25, Insider will be rolling out its college basketball preview, including breakdowns on every Division I team, projected order of finish for every conference and essays from Insider's hoops experts.

Here are previews for each team in the ACC:

Boston College Eagles Insider
Clemson Tigers (free)
Duke Blue Devils Insider
Florida State Seminoles Insider
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Insider
Maryland Terrapins Insider
Miami Hurricanes Insider
North Carolina Tar Heels Insider
North Carolina State Wolfpack Insider
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Insider
Pittsburgh Panthers Insider
Syracuse Orange Insider
Virginia Cavaliers Insider
Virginia Tech Hokies Insider
Wake Forest Demon Deacons Insider

The 10 worst nonconference schedules

September, 12, 2013
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Sometimes it’s smart to schedule soft. You’re a year or two into your job at a program that needs to be completely rebuilt. You want some easy wins early to develop confidence in your players and fan support/excitement for your team. So you construct a nonconference schedule filled mostly with patsies and vow to change your ways a few years down the road when things are on stable footing.

Makes total sense.

Thus, as we unveil our list of the 10 worst nonconference schedules in the country among the big boys, I can totally understand why a coach such as Mississippi State’s Rick Ray or TCU’s Trent Johnson devised a relatively weak slate. Others such as Mike Anderson at Arkansas and Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh have no excuse.

Whatever the context, all of the schools on this list are high-major programs from the nine conferences that were part of this package and all 10 could’ve done better by at least adding another marquee game or two (schools listed in alphabetical order).

AIR FORCE

Toughest: Colorado (Nov. 30)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Nov. 27)
The rest: vs. Army (Nov. 8 in Lexington, Va.), vs. Citadel/VMI (Nov. 9 in Lexington, Va.), Jackson State (Nov. 14), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 17), Colorado Christian (Nov. 20), South Dakota (Dec. 5), Western State (Dec. 9), UC Riverside (Dec. 14), at UC Davis (Dec. 21)

Give the Falcons credit for scheduling a pair of quality opponents at home in Colorado and Richmond. But there really isn’t much else to get excited about here. Air Force’s only true road game is a Dec. 21 tilt at UC Davis. The rest of the schedule is abysmal, but Dave Pilipovich’s squad is in rebuilding mode, so this is actually a smart slate for this particular team.

ARKANSAS

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27)
Next-toughest: SMU (Nov. 18)
The rest: SIU-Edwardsville (Nov. 8), Louisiana (Nov. 15), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 3), Clemson (Dec. 7), Savannah State (Dec. 12), Tennessee-Martin (Dec. 19), South Alabama (Dec. 21), High Point (Dec. 28), Texas-San Antonio (Jan. 4)

This is one of the more embarrassing schedules on this list. If I'm ranking the top 10, Arkansas would probably be No. 2 or No. 3. Other than the Maui Invitational (the Razorbacks open against Cal and then play either Minnesota or Syracuse), there is not a single noteworthy game on this list. Arkansas is known for its tremendous fan support. Yet the best home game Mike Anderson can schedule for the Razorback faithful is a tilt with SMU? Inexcusable.

CLEMSON

Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at Arkansas (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 17)
The rest: Stetson (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 13), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 29), South Carolina State (Dec. 3), Furman (Dec. 14), at Auburn (Dec. 19), VMI (Dec. 30)

The Tigers will likely enter ACC play with a gaudy record, but they won’t have many quality wins on their résumé. Other than maybe a road tilt at Arkansas, there isn’t one noteworthy game on this schedule. Unless, of course, you count the Charleston Classic, but it doesn't have a particularly strong field this season. Brad Brownell’s team opens up with Temple and will face either Georgia or Davidson the following day. This is an incredibly weak slate. Luckily Clemson has a big-time football team that will hold fans’ attention until January.

HOUSTON

Toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: at Texas A&M (Dec. 4)
The rest: Texas State (Nov. 8), at UT-Pan American (Nov. 11), UT-San Antonio (Nov. 14), Lehigh (Nov. 17), Howard (Nov. 21), Texas-Corpus Christi (Nov. 30), San Jose State (Dec. 7), Alcorn State (Dec. 9), Louisiana-
Lafayette (Dec. 14), Rice (Dec. 21)

Four players on the Cougars' roster were ranked in the Top 100 of their respective high school class. In other words, there is way too much talent on Houston’s roster to be playing a schedule this weak. Playing Stanford (and either Pittsburgh or Texas Tech) at the Legends Classic is fine. But if UH wants to be taken seriously on a national level, it needs to add a few marquee games to its slate starting next season. The Cougars -- who won 20 games last season -- are in a big-boy conference now. They need to start scheduling like it.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 23), Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
The rest: Prairie View A&M (Nov. 8), Kennesaw State (Nov. 14), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 19), Jackson State (Nov. 27), Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 1), TCU (Dec. 5), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 13), Florida A&M (Dec. 17), Maryland Eastern Shore (Jan. 2)

The Bulldogs’ program was in shambles when Rick Ray took over prior to last season -- and things got even worse during the year thanks to a long list of suspensions and injuries. It got so bad that Ray had to use a graduate assistant in practice, until he tore his ACL. Somehow, Ray kept his players’ spirits up, and they managed to win a few games (including one against NCAA tournament team Ole Miss) near the end of the season. It was a phenomenal coaching job by Ray, but make no mistake, this program is still in full rebuilding mode, which is why this schedule makes sense. Whoever thought that Florida Gulf Coast would be the No. 1 home opponent on the nonconference schedule of a team from a major conference?

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 17 in New York)
Next-toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: Savannah State (Nov. 8), Fresno State (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 17), Lehigh (Nov. 20), Duquesne (Nov. 30), Penn State (Dec. 3), Loyola Marymount (Dec. 6), Youngstown State (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 21), Albany (Dec. 31)

The Panthers aren’t doing much to prepare themselves for their first season in the ACC, which will easily be the nation’s toughest conference. When your marquee nonconference game is against Cincinnati -- and this is the only thing close to a marquee game on this schedule -- then you know you’ve got problems. The only other semi-decent opponents are Penn State in early December and then Texas Tech in the Legends Classic, with a game against either Stanford or Houston the following night. Pittsburgh lost some key players to graduation (Tray Woodall) and the NBA draft (Steven Adams). And J.J. Moore transferred to Rutgers. So this may be the perfect year for a weak slate. Still, considering how good Pitt has been over the years, this could be the worst schedule in America.

SETON HALL

Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23 in New York)
Next-toughest: at Rutgers (Dec. 8)
The rest: Niagara (Nov. 9), Kent State (Nov. 13), at Mercer (Nov. 16), Monmouth (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 1), LIU Brooklyn (Dec. 5), NJIT (Dec. 10), St. Peter’s (Dec. 14), Eastern Washington (Dec. 22), Lafayette (Dec. 27)

My colleague, Dana O’Neil, said it best about the Pirates in her analysis of nonconference schedules in the Big East: “If the Pirates beat Oklahoma in the Coaches vs. Cancer, they might face Michigan State. Or they might not. And that’s about all there is to like about this schedule.”

TCU

Toughest: vs. SMU (Nov. 8 in Dallas), at Washington State (Nov. 24)
Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27, 29-30), at Mississippi State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 12), Abilene Christian (Nov. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 15), Grambling State (Dec. 19), Tulsa (Dec. 21), Texas Southern (Dec. 29)

This would be a terrible schedule for a program that was experiencing a moderate amount of success. But considering TCU won just two Big 12 games last season, this is the perfect slate for the Horned Frogs as they try to rebuild. Second-year coach Trent Johnson didn’t schedule the type of Top 25 squads that will shatter his team's confidence. But he also didn't produce a schedule so weak that it wouldn’t challenge his team as it continues to grow. SMU could contend for an NCAA tournament berth and, even though Washington State has struggled in recent seasons, Pullman is a difficult place to play. Tulsa and Texas Southern are both solid teams, and Mississippi State was making huge strides at the end of last season.

TEXAS A&M

Toughest: Corpus Christi Challenge (Nov. 29-30), vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 21 in Houston)
Next-toughest: Buffalo (Nov. 8)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 11), Rice (Nov. 15), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 19), Sam Houston State (Nov. 24), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Nov. 26), Houston (Dec. 4), McNeese State (Dec. 14), North Texas (Dec. 31), UTPA (Jan. 4)

I’m a little surprised that Billy Kennedy didn’t put together a tougher schedule for his third season. Granted, the Aggies lost two of their top players (Elston Turner and Ray Turner), so this team may take a small step back. But there’s not a single true road game on the nonconference schedule. The Aggies’ most daunting nonleague game is against an Oklahoma squad that probably won’t make the NCAA tournament. And their most appealing home contest is against Houston. Yay.

UTAH

Toughest: at Boise State (Dec. 3), BYU (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Fresno State (Dec. 7)
The rest: Evergreen State (Nov. 8), UC Davis (Nov. 15), Grand Canyon (Nov. 21), Lamar (Nov. 22), Savannah State (Nov. 23), Ball State (Nov. 27), Idaho State (Dec. 10), Texas State (Dec. 19), St. Katherine (Dec. 28)

After struggling for most of the season, Utah won four of its final five games last spring and entered the offseason full of enthusiasm about the 2013-14 campaign. Reaching the NCAA tournament, however, will be darn near impossible with a schedule that includes just one true road game (at Boise State) and only two contests against likely tourney-bid contenders (Boise State and BYU). Playing a weak schedule the past two seasons made sense. But the Utes should’ve stepped it up a bit this season.

Nonconference schedule analysis: ACC

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation's top leagues. Let's carry on with the ACC.

BOSTON COLLEGE

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 21-22), at Purdue (Dec. 4), vs. VCU (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn), at Harvard (Jan. 1)
Next-toughest: at Providence (Nov. 8), vs. UMass (Nov. 10 at TD Garden, Boston)
The rest: Toledo (Nov. 14), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 17), Sacred Heart (Nov. 26), at USC (Dec. 8), vs. Philadelphia (Dec. 15), at Auburn (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — The differences between Boston College's 2012-13 schedule and its slate in 2013-14 mirror the differences in the two squads' expectations. Last season's Eagles were young and still very much rebuilding; this year's group, led by Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan, has serious sleeper potential. We'll get to see just how much in late November, when Steve Donahue's team takes on UConn and then either Indiana or Washington in Madison Square Garden, followed by a trip to Purdue, a New Year's date at Harvard, and what should be a fascinating nonconference sojourn to New York City to play VCU.

CLEMSON

Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at Arkansas (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 17)
The rest: Stetson (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 13), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 29), South Carolina State (Dec. 3), Furman (Dec. 14), at Auburn (Dec. 19), VMI (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 — I'm not sure whether it's possible to hand out a zero in these nonconference rankings. I'm pretty sure it's never been done. And I haven't seen every schedule in the country yet, I admit. But still: Clemson's schedule is … not great. It is possessed of exactly one interesting event -- the Charleston Classic, aka "a bunch of so-so teams and New Mexico" -- and, save a trip to Arkansas (if that), nothing else. (This isn't actual criticism, by the way. Clemson looks as if it's in the process of a big rebuild, and you wouldn't expect it to schedule hard in advance of this loaded ACC. But still. Ick.)

DUKE

Toughest: vs. Kansas (Nov. 12 in Chicago), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29), Michigan (Dec. 3), vs. UCLA (Dec. 19 in New York City)
Next-toughest: Davidson (Nov. 8)
The rest: Florida Atlantic (Nov. 15), UNC Asheville (Nov. 18), East Carolina/Norfolk State (Nov. 19), Vermont (Nov. 24), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 16), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 28), Elon (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 — The Blue Devils rarely overdo it with their schedules, but just as rarely make it to ACC season without at least a handful of solid results on their docket. So it is again in 2013-14, if slightly tougher than the norm. That's true for a few reasons: Duke drew high-powered Michigan in its ACC/Big Ten matchup; Duke plays Kansas, which landed uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins this summer, in the Champions Classic in November; the Blue Devils look likely to get Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off; and UCLA could be formidable if the leftover talent from Ben Howland's tenure jells under Steve Alford. But all of these games are safely within the Blue Devils' sphere of influence. Somehow, Coach K managed to get two of the West Coast's marquee programs without going any farther west than Chicago. Same as it ever was.

FLORIDA STATE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), at Florida (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: at Minnesota (Dec. 3)
The rest: Jacksonville (Nov. 8), at UCF (Nov. 13), UT-Martin (Nov. 17), Jacksonville State (Dec. 8), Charlotte (Dec. 17), vs. Massachusetts (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.), Charleston Southern (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — Florida State's season would have looked much different if two freshmen -- Wiggins, who looked hard at his parents' alma mater before choosing to go to Kansas instead; and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a top-50 recruit who did not get through the NCAA clearinghouse this spring -- had joined up. Without them, star forward Okaro White has a daunting challenge ahead of him all season, beginning with a really good field in Puerto Rico (with first-round opponent VCU, plus Michigan, Georgetown, Kansas State in the mix), followed by road trips to Florida and Minnesota in close succession.

GEORGIA TECH

Toughest: Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 29-30), Illinois (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Georgia (Nov. 15), Dayton (Nov. 20) The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 11), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 24), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 26), East Tennessee State (Dec. 7), Kennesaw State (Dec. 16), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 21), at Charlotte (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — The Yellow Jackets don't have a ton here, but what they do have is solid enough, given where the program is sitting (probably best described as "getting better, if slowly") under third-year coach Brian Gregory. The Barclays Center Classic is a better-than-you-think event, with Ole Miss (and Marshall Henderson, which should be fun) followed by Penn State or St. John's, both of which should be improved over 2012-13. Illinois is the other notable nonconference game, a rematch of last season's 75-62 loss in Champaign, Ill.

MARYLAND

Toughest: UConn (Nov. 8 in Brooklyn), at Ohio State (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Oregon State (Nov. 17), Paradise Jam (Nov. 22-25)
The rest: Abilene Christian (Nov. 13), Morgan State (Nov. 29), at George Washington (Dec. 8), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 14), Boston University (Dec. 21), Tulsa (Dec. 29), North Carolina Central (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — The Terrapins won't get much in the way of RPI boost out of their early-season tournament; La Salle, Providence and maybe Northern Iowa appear to be the only reasonable challengers in the Virgin Islands. But the Terps do have a good opening night date with UConn in Brooklyn, similar to last year's near miss against Kentucky, and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge sends them to Ohio State, which is guaranteed to be a win on the RPI sheet no matter what happens on the floor.

MIAMI

Toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: La Salle (Dec. 22)
The rest: St. Francis (Nov. 8), Georgia Southern (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 14), at Charleston (Nov. 18), UCF (Nov. 21), Nebraska (Dec. 4), at Savannah State (Dec. 19), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — After a thoroughly euphoric 2012-13 season marked by an ACC regular-season and tournament title, a No. 2 tournament seed, and a first-round draft pick (point guard Shane Larkin), the Hurricanes are due for a serious hangover in 2013-14. Fortunately, their nonconference schedule shouldn't be too punishing. Other than the Wooden Legacy -- a quality field featuring Creighton, Marquette, San Diego State and Arizona State -- La Salle is the one real opponent of note, and the Explorers have to come to Coral Gables.

NORTH CAROLINA

Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 23-24), at Michigan State (Dec. 4), Kentucky (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Texas (Dec. 18)
The rest: Oakland (Nov. 8), Holy Cross (Nov. 15), Belmont (Nov. 17), at UAB (Dec. 1), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 7), Davidson (Dec. 21), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 27), UNC Wilmington (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 9 — The usual North Carolina scheduling partners are all here. There's that trip to Michigan State (this time thanks to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge), the home-and-home with Texas, the huge mid-December date with Kentucky -- it's all there. This year, UNC even adds to that with the Hall of Fame Tipoff tournament, which, if expectations hold, will put the Tar Heels up against defending national champion Louisville in Uncasville, Conn. (after an opening game against Richmond). That means the Heels are likely to face the preseason No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country before the middle of December. Not too shabby.

NC STATE

Toughest: at Cincinnati (Nov. 12), at Tennessee (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Missouri (Dec. 28)
The rest: Appalachian State (Nov. 8), Campbell (Nov. 16), North Carolina Central (Nov. 20), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 26), Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 30), Northwestern (Dec. 4), Long Beach State (Dec. 7), Detroit (Dec. 14), East Carolina (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- NC State's young but promising batch of talent might surprise some people this season, particularly if the Wolfpack are ready for those key road dates at Cincinnati and Tennessee. It's hard to know what to expect from Missouri this season, but that could end up being a quality chance for a nonconference win in Raleigh. A two-loss nonconference run -- or better -- would have folks jumping aboard the T.J. Warren bandwagon just in time for ACC play.

NOTRE DAME

Toughest: at Iowa (Dec. 3), vs. Ohio State (Dec. 21 in New York)
Next-toughest: vs. Indiana (Dec. 14 in Indianapolis, Ind.)
The rest: Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 8), Stetson (Nov. 10), Indiana State (Nov. 17), Santa Clara (Nov. 22), Army (Nov. 24), Cornell (Dec. 1), Delaware (Dec. 7), Bryant (Dec. 9), North Dakota State (Dec. 11), Canisius (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Notre Dame's official welcome to the ACC doesn't come in January but rather in the first week of December, when the Irish travel to Iowa for their first ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup. At any point in the past few years, that would have been a perfectly manageable game, but the ascending Hawkeyes are one of the best defensive teams in their league, and Carver-Hawkeye is close to full, rollicking buy-in once more. The Crossroads Classic draw against Indiana is interesting, if not as intimidating as last season, and the Gotham Classic will match Mike Brey's team with the stifling Ohio State defense in Madison Square Garden just before Christmas break.

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 17 in New York)
Next-toughest: N/A
The rest: Savannah State (Nov. 8), Fresno State (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 17), Lehigh (Nov. 20), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn), Duquesne (Nov. 30), Penn State (Dec. 3), Loyola Marymount (Dec. 6), Youngstown State (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 21), Albany (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 1. In recent seasons, few coaches have proved as good at gaming the Rating Percentage Index as Jamie Dixon. This is not a criticism; the NCAA's current system is made to be gamed, and, by this point, coaches who don't at least try to use the faulty system to their advantage are leaving potential seed-line improvements on the table. So I'm guessing that, by the end of the season, Pitt's RPI will be in solid shape. (And maybe the new-look ACC will take care of that on its own.) But that aside, this is a straight-up awful basketball schedule. Just … ugh. Cincinnati in Madison Square Garden is the only "marquee" game on the list, and that's a generous application of the term. The Legends Classic features an opening game against Texas Tech and a second-round matchup against either Stanford or Houston. None of those teams is truly awful -- same goes for Penn State on Dec. 3 -- but they're hardly inspiring opponents, either.

SYRACUSE

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), Indiana (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: Villanova (Dec. 28), at St. John's (Dec. 15)
The rest: Cornell (Nov. 8), Fordham (Nov. 12), Colgate (Nov. 16, St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 18), Binghamton (Dec. 7), High Point (Dec. 20), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This score is awarded mostly for the Maui Invitational, which boasts a typically deep, if not vintage, field (Gonzaga, Baylor, Minnesota, Cal, Dayton, Arkansas, Chaminade). But it's worth noting that Indiana game at the Carrier Dome, which will be more of a test for the young Hoosiers, sure, but is nonetheless a big rematch of Syracuse's dominant Sweet 16 win in March. There are also two fixtures against former Big East foes Villanova and St. John's. The former is an improving, defensive group that took down the Orange in Philly last season; the latter is a road game against a talented but disjointed Red Storm.

VIRGINIA

Toughest: VCU (Nov. 12), Wisconsin (Dec. 4), at Tennessee (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Dec. 21)
The rest: James Madison (Nov. 8), vs. Davidson (Nov. 16 in Charlotte), Navy (Nov. 19), Liberty (Nov. 23), Hampton (Nov. 26), Corpus Christi Challenge (Nov. 29-30), at Green Bay (Dec. 7), Norfolk State (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- VCU and Virginia don't have much of a historical basketball rivalry because why would they? But now that Shaka Smart's program has become the state's most notable, it makes sense for Tony Bennett to schedule the Rams, whose pressure defense will be a huge stylistic test for the slow-and-steady Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Wisconsin, which lost to Virginia in Madison last season, won't be that but will be a tough home date in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a road trip at Tennessee rounds out the slate. UVa missed the tournament last season mostly thanks to (a) a bad noncon schedule and (b) a bunch of really bad noncon losses. This slate should help nullify both concerns.

VIRGINIA TECH

Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23), vs. VCU (Dec. 21 at Richmond Coliseum)
Next-toughest: West Virginia (Nov. 12)
The rest: USC Upstate (Nov. 9), Western Carolina (Nov. 15), VMI (Nov. 18), Furman (Nov. 26), Radford (Nov. 29), Winthrop (Dec. 3), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 28), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn features a first-round game against Michigan State and a matchup against either Oklahoma or Seton Hall, and the home date against VCU at the Richmond Coliseum is really more like a road game. And honestly, that's probably good enough for the Hokies right now. Virginia Tech was a bit of a mess in James Johnson's first season, and that was with guard Erick Green, who submitted one of the best, most efficient all-around offensive seasons of the past half decade or so. Without him, it's going to get ugly.

WAKE FOREST

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30), at Xavier (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Dec. 7)
The rest: Colgate (Nov. 8), VMI (Nov. 12), Presbyterian (Nov. 15), Jacksonville (Nov. 18), The Citadel (Nov. 21), Tulane (Dec. 4), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 17), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — Even if Xavier still isn't back to Top 25-level hoops by late December, the Cintas Center is a brutal place to play. But the main feature of this nonconference schedule is Wake's trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, where it will play Wiggins and Kansas in the first round (which, good luck with that), followed by USC or Villanova, with Iowa, Tennessee, UTEP and Xavier lurking on the other side of the bracket. This is a crucial year for maligned coach Jeff Bzdelik and his boss, athletic director Ron Wellman. The Deacs absolutely have to show some signs of progress early on.

3-point shot: Summer school for hoops

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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Following up on more August trips, here is what three teams learned.

1. Arizona State: The Sun Devils went to China and according to the staff had a tremendous cultural bonding experience. The post-trip buzz was about how well the three freshmen played, according to associate head coach Eric Musselman. That means ASU expects to get production out of wing Egor Koulechov, Chance Murray and Calaen Robinson, who is listed as a sophomore but didn't play last season. The Sun Devils were in search of a backup point guard on the trip and likely found two in Murray and Robinson. ASU desperately needs more options and depth to be an NCAA tournament team. The Sun Devils figured out they've got to incorporate more touches for JC transfer Shaquielle McKissic and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall. They will be led by point guard Jahii Carson (with an assist from forward Jordan Bachynski), but Carson can’t do it alone. Musselman said the staff was impressed by the young core, but "Carson has stepped up his game both on and off the court skill-wise and with leadership.''

2. Wisconsin: Coach Bo Ryan said he realized "Canadian basketball is much better than people realized, better than it's been.'' He said the Badgers learned how to play with more tempo and movement. The freshmen picked up the drills and the style in which the Badgers will play. He said the management of Josh Gasser's minutes was critical, since the point guard who sat out last season with a torn ACL must be ready to go for the start of the season. Gasser will share the position with Traevon Jackson. "Josh is still tentative and that's to be understood. He's not quite there yet,'' said Ryan. "But he shot it pretty well. This trip gave him a chance to do a lot of shooting.'' Ryan said the Badgers showed they have more depth on the perimeter. He said working with a 24-second shot clock was beneficial to handle late-game situations. The Badgers definitely played to the fast-paced game, giving up 95 points in a loss to Carleton to start the trip and 92 in a win over Ottawa. Expect those defensive scoring numbers to be much lower once the Badgers get into the season with a traditional 35-second shot clock. Wisconsin has to get the defensive numbers down with a brutal nonconference schedule with games against St. John's in South Dakota, Florida, at Green Bay, Saint Louis (and then ODU or West Virginia) in Cancun, at Virginia and Marquette. The Badgers did get a Big Ten "break" with three of the first five conference games at home.

3. Clemson: Coach Brad Brownell said the Tigers will shoot much better this season than last after the 10-day trip to Italy. Clemson averaged 95 points on the four-game trip. "We still don't know how our young post players will react under real pressure,'' said Brownell. The only two posts who played on the trip were Landry Nnoko (11 blocks and 11.5 rebounds) and Josh Smith (13 boards a game). Jaron Blossomgame still wasn't healthy enough to play after offseason surgery and JC transfer Ibrahim Djambo and freshman big man Sidy Djitte of Senegal didn't go on the trip. "Everyone on the perimeter is a year older and just better than last year,'' said Brownell. That helps. This team will still rely heavily on K.J. McDaniels, who was scoring at a clip of 15 points, grabbing nine boards and blocking a total of 12 shots. McDaniels had to play more because of the thinning forward crew. Spokesperson Philip Sikes had a complete report on the trip and noted the improved play of Damarcus Harrison, who was in shape, Jordan Roper for his consistency and Devin Coleman for getting through the games and travel after returning from a torn Achilles.

Bracket reveal: Charleston Classic

July, 17, 2013
7/17/13
10:00
AM ET
Editor's Note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the Charleston Classic

When and where: Nov. 21-22 and 24, Charleston, S.C.

Initial thoughts: New Mexico is clearly the favorite. No tournament title is a given, but the Lobos really have no excuse if they don't win this event. Every other team, save UMass, is rebuilding in some form. The Minutemen have a legitimate chance to pull off a title, but it still would be deemed a surprise.

[+] EnlargeCraig Neal
Steve Conner/Icon SMICraig Neal's Lobos are the clear-cut favorite to win the Charleston Classic.
The Lobos have a new coach, but not an unfamiliar face. Craig Neal was as much of a fixture around the program as Alford the past six years. Neal deserves a lot of the credit that has been heaped on Alford for their success in the Mountain West. The Lobos lost Tony Snell, but the core of the squad returns, led by Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood on the wings and Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow inside.

This is an important year for the Minutemen under Derek Kellogg. Massachusetts no longer has to deal with Xavier, Butler or Temple in the A-10 (although the Owls are in this event on the other side of the bracket). The league should be led by VCU and possibly Saint Louis this season, but the Minutemen have every right to believe they could challenge for the conference title -- something they've longed to do for years now. Pulling off an upset over the Lobos, or at the very least leaving Charleston 2-1, would get this team moving in the right direction.

Getting a read on Nebraska, UAB, Georgia, Davidson, Temple or Clemson in November would be tough to do, considering they all face a host of questions.

Matchup I can't wait to see: The first-round matchups are a bit lean, but I'll go with Temple-Clemson. The Owls are never really down under Fran Dunphy. They may be retooling more than rebuilding, and a summer trip to France will provide a head start to the season. Anthony Lee gives Temple a reliable player inside. He should be able to produce a double-double on occasion.

Clemson faces an important transition year. The Tigers now have to deal with three more teams in the ACC at a time when they also must try to move up in the conference. Clemson lost Devon Booker and Milton Jennings, but this should be a breakout season for K.J. McDaniels. The Tigers could use a quality win or two in Charleston, where they'll be somewhat of a home team and will look to get some much-needed momentum going into the ACC.

Potential matchup I want to see: UMass versus New Mexico in the semifinals. The Minutemen have a potential A-10 player of the year candidate in Chaz Williams, who has the ability to break the Lobos down off the dribble. He'll push Greenwood or Kendall Williams, depending on who has to guard him. Of course, UMass has to ensure it takes care of Nebraska to lock in the date with the Lobos. And New Mexico cannot -- repeat, cannot -- have a Harvard-like meltdown and lose to UAB in the first game.

Five players to watch

Kendall Williams, New Mexico: Williams won last season's Mountain West Conference player of the year award, beating San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin and NBA No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett. Williams can shine on a stat sheet, scoring 46 points in a win over Colorado State. He doesn't have Snell to play off this coming season, but can create and take his own shot at a high percentage.

Chaz Williams, UMass: The Minutemen were the benefactors of the Hofstra instability when Williams transferred to Amherst. He has been one of the top guards in the A-10 and has a chance this season to be one of the best guards nationally. Williams had 7.3 assists a game and kept his turnovers low at 3.5 last season. If he can manage a game consistently, the Minutemen should challenge for the A-10 title and an NCAA bid.

De'Mon Brooks, Davidson: Bob McKillop has always done an exceptional job of ensuring his star player has the right amount of touches and is in a position to succeed. Brooks should be the featured player this season. The Wildcats have one lame-duck year in the Southern before moving to the A-10. To count the Wildcats out of the SoCon title despite losing some quality players such as Jake Cohen would be a major mistake.

Ray Gallegos, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers will continue to take on the personality of Tim Miles. What does that mean? Well, expect this squad to play loose but with purpose. Gallegos has his work cut out for him in a matchup against Chaz Williams in the first round. But you can expect Miles to put Gallegos at ease. Get by the Minutemen and the Huskers would have the win they need to build off of heading toward the Big Ten.

Charles Mann, Georgia: The Bulldogs lost their go-to scorer in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was a lock for the lottery and went early in the NBA draft. Mann had his moments last season for Mark Fox, scoring in double figures in two of the final four games. With KCP gone, Mann must be the man at times for UGA to avoid being scoring-challenged. This tournament should be a good barometer on what to expect.

Title-game prediction: New Mexico over Temple.

The pressure is on New Mexico to deliver a title. The Lobos should be able to pull it off, even though the opponent is wide open. But I'll go with Temple because it's difficult to ever dismiss the Owls.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: New Mexico over Temple
Jeff Goodman: New Mexico over Clemson
Jason King: New Mexico over Temple
Myron Medcalf: New Mexico over Davidson
Dana O'Neil: Georgia over New Mexico
1. Syracuse will have quite an entrance into the ACC next season. The Orange will have an epic home schedule at the Carrier Dome with ACC headline games against Duke and North Carolina, an inaugural ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Indiana in a rematch of their 2013 Sweet 16 game and a renewed series against former Big East rival Villanova. The Orange also will play a road game at their home-away-from home -- Madison Square Garden -- against St. John's. That's four home games against teams that are locks for the NCAA tournament, and two of those games are against benchmark programs in the ACC and top five programs in the country. Four of those five teams should be in the NCAAs with St. John's the one question mark, but a program that should be in the mix. Oh, and the Orange are in the Maui Invitational, too, which includes two teams that should be headline squads in their respective leagues -- Gonzaga (WCC) and Baylor (likely picked third in the Big 12). "It's a difficult schedule,'' said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "It's fairly comparable to playing Louisville, Georgetown and those types of teams.'' Boeheim has been outspoken lately about his enthusiasm for going into the ACC next season and the new challenges. He certainly sounded like he's embracing it after learning that the Hoosiers are also coming to the Carrier Dome, a game that is a direct result of playing in the ACC. "It's certainly a high-level (schedule). Obviously it's in our first year in the league, and it's great for our fans. We get both Duke and Carolina. That's a big thing. It will make the adjustment easier going into the ACC. We're excited about it. It's a great schedule.''

2. Davidson didn't strategically plan to be in the A-10. But the Wildcats best move was not making a move a year ago when they turned down an offer to go to the CAA. The decision to stay put created an opportunity that could change the Davidson athletic department for the foreseeable future. Davidson president Carol Quillen said Wednesday during the news conference announcing the Wildcats admission into the A-10 in 2014-15 that they had surveyed the national scene and were anticipating something happening due to the volatility. But no one anticipated or dreamed of the chance to go to the A-10, said Davidson AD Jim Murphy. "Choosing to wait was the right one,'' he said. Murphy said access to at-large bids made the move from the Southern to the A-10 an easy option. The school isn't worried about additional travel for non-revenue sports since Murphy said there are enough schools in the region where they could get there in a cost-effective manner and then travel to a championship site. Murphy said rearranging schedules made moving by August too disruptive. But the Southern Conference, unlike the CAA, is allowing Davidson to participate in all championship events, which is why they are not forcing the move this year. Reaction to adding Davidson was overwhelmingly positive. George Mason coach Paul Hewitt called it a great move. UMass coach Derek Kellogg said it gives the A-10 another perennial NCAA team and will only add to the great tradition. VCU coach Shaka Smart said it made a deep league even stronger. And Richmond coach Chris Mooney added, "Their record speaks for itself. Great name recognition. Adds another strong team in the South.''

3. The ACC had to cut loose three teams -- Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest -- from the ACC-Big Ten Challenge with the imbalance of teams (Big Ten has 12 and the ACC has 15). In 2014-15, the ACC will have 15 teams and the Big Ten 14, so one ACC team will not be in the event. But the ACC knew it was going to trim the three teams with the lowest power ratings. So, how will those schools replace a potential quality nonconference opponent? Clemson coach Brad Brownell said he's still working on the schedule. Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said the Demon Deacons will get three strong opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis, play at Xavier and host Richmond, Tulane and St. Bonaventure. Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said the Hokies will get West Virginia at home, play VCU at the Richmond Coliseum and are in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn with Michigan State, Oklahoma and Seton Hall.

Video: Miami 62, Clemson 49

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
5:14
PM ET

Kenny Kadji scored a season-high 23 points to help No. 6 Miami beat Clemson 62-49 and win the ACC regular-season title outright.

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