Photo courtesy of Clemson athletics
The gruesome eight-and-a-half-month college basketball hiatus is just about over.
Beginning Wednesday, the ACC will play a short non-conference schedule of up to seven games. Several teams around the conference will be playing part of their slate in a bubble at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. The arrival of hoops will be exciting to all, and especially relieving to fan bases with disappointing football seasons.
Here is a breakdown of the notable match-ups that will transpire in the initial days of the ACC basketball season:
2K Empire Classic: Boston College vs. No. 3 Villanova (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET — ESPN)
The Eagles drew by far the most difficult opponent to tip off the season. Initially, Boston College was scheduled to play either Arizona State or Baylor the following day after the Villanova game. Since Baylor recently decided not to play in the tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test, the Eagles will avoid another potential match-up with a top-3 team. Instead, they will play 18th-ranked Arizona State or a team to be determined, depending on Wednesday’s result.
Boston College clearly does not compare to Villanova or Arizona State in terms of preseason hype. However, the Eagles have plenty of potential to pull off an upset. Jim Christian’s roster is stacked with talent, led by the backcourt of Jay Heath and Wynston Tabbs. Steffon Mitchell is also a threat at the four spot. The biggest concern is their ability to contain opposing offenses, or simply being out-schemed.
It is difficult to jump to a full conclusion about this tournament, considering we are unsure about Boston College’s second opponent. Regarding the Villanova game though, the Eagles can compete as double-digit underdogs if they show improvements defensively and on the boards.
Space Coast Challenge: Clemson vs. Mississippi State (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET — CBS Sports Network)
This late night match-up does not raise too many eyebrows, but these power conference games will be critical in a season like this. With the ACC and SEC actively battling for NCAA Tournament bids and so few non-conference games, each of these games will be that much more important.
Clemson should have the upper-hand on the Bulldogs because of its star power forward Aamir Simms. Mississippi State does have some size in the interior, including veteran center Abdul Ado. Simms is much more of a scoring threat though.
The backcourt will feature an intriguing match-up of two lengthy wing guards with Clemson’s John Newman III and Mississippi State’s D.J. Stewart. Stewart can knock down 3s, but is even more effective off the dribble. Containing Stewart should be the No. 1 focus for Clemson. Otherwise, the Tigers need to get better ball movement and more consistent outside shooting.
Wade Houston Tip Off Classic: Seton Hall vs. Louisville (Friday, 4 p.m. ET — ESPN2)
Each of these teams open the season with personnel challenges. Louisville has multiple key injuries, which includes scoring threats from the wing in Charles Minlend and Malik Williamson. Meanwhile, the Pirates have recently missed several days of practice this fall due to a program-wide quarantine.
Either way, this should be a quality game. Both programs are projected to finish in the top half of their conferences and should make an appearance in the top 25 this season.
For Seton Hall, it has a plethora of premier scoring options. Center Sandro Mamukelashvili is the most notable. In order to keep up, Louisville will need newcomers such as Carlik Jones and D’Andre Davis to play a more significant role around David Johnson.
Seton Hall will want to push the tempo while Louisville is more adaptive to what each game brings. In this case, expect a fast-paced affair with plenty of scoring.
Notre Dame vs. No. 13 Michigan State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET — Big Ten Network)
In addition to their ACC/Big Ten challenge match-up against Ohio State, the Fighting Irish will battle Michigan State in the non-conference season. This is one of four ranked opponents that Mike Brey’s program scheduled in the out-of-conference slate.
The Spartans lost their two time All-American guard Cassius Winston but will benefit from Joey Hauser’s eligibility. Most around the conference are familiar with Virginia’s Sam Hauser but Joey is younger and may be a better NBA prospect.
Notre Dame will have its hands full, especially in the paint. The Irish have a rather significant size disadvantage against Michigan State. The Irish may struggle early on to replace the production of John Mooney. Mooney averaged a double-double last season. 6-foot-10 Nate Laszewski can be classified as a stretch four, but Juwan Durham will have to take a huge step forward as Notre Dame’s only true center.
Where Notre Dame can certainly expect production is from its guards. That is what may keep the game somewhat close. However, Michigan State is a more well-rounded and reliable team.
The Rest of the ACC
Despite all the cancellations that were made over the previous weeks, several ACC games are still scheduled to be played. The season will begin on Wednesday with a noon ET match-up between Virginia Tech and Radford. This will be followed by a 2 p.m. ET game between Maine and the — technically — reigning national champions in Virginia.
Wednesday night will feature an underrated in-state battle between Georgia Tech and Georgia State. The Yellow Jackets should take care of business but Georgia State is a dangerous team and a legitimate contender to win the Sun Belt.
The only ACC team that has dealt with COVID-19 cases is Syracuse, but the Orange are on track to return this Friday to play Bryant.