ACC basketball’s new world, with its own television network now a prime outlet to watch more league games than ever, begins earlier than ever for everyone but Duke.
The Blue Devils 2019-20 basketball schedule, announced Thursday night, doesn’t include the season opening with an ACC game. Due to its Champions Classic obligation, Duke is exempt from opening the season with a league game. The other 14 league teams play each other and four of those seven games are designed to provide premium content for the new ACC Network Nov. 5-6.
Duke makes up for that by opening its now 20-game ACC season on Dec. 6 at Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils second league game, on Dec. 31, is at home against Boston College.
The Blue Devils won the ACC tournament for the second time in the last three seasons a year ago. While Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish all left after their freshman seasons and were top-10 NBA Draft picks, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has sophomore point guard Tre Jones back to run his team.
Freshmen Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley arrive to help replace all that talent that’s departed for the NBA.
Here are some key dates in Duke’s schedule:
Mark the calendar
Dec. 6 at Michigan State (9:30 p.m.)
Competitors every three years in the Champions Classic, the Blue Devils and Spartans tangled in an epic NCAA tournament game last March in Washington, D.C. Michigan State edged Duke, 68-67, in the East Region final and advanced to the Final Four. Watching gritty guards Cassius Winston and Tre Jones tangle again will be worth the price of admission alone.
Nov. 12 Central Arkansas
This game is part of the 2K Empire Classic tournament, so it wasn’t Duke’s choice to set this one up. But Central Arkansas could end up the worst team on the Blue Devils’ schedule in terms of national KenPom rating. The Bears went 14-19 last season, finishing the season at No. 302. Central Arkansas lost seven consecutive Southland Conference games during one stretch last season. Three of the Bears’ top contributors last season were DeAndre Jones and Hayden Koval, who are now juniors, along with Eddy Kayouloud, who’s now a sophomore. So maybe they’ll be improved this season. Maybe.
Best road trip
Feb. 29 at Virginia
On leap day 2020, the bonus treat is the lone regular-season meeting between the Blue Devils and Cavaliers. They’ve combined for the last three ACC tournament championships. Duke won last year after Virginia entered as the No. 1 seed, then the Cavaliers won their first NCAA championship.
Most difficult stretch
Feb 1-10 (Syracuse, Boston College, UNC and Florida State)
The Blue Devils’ chances to finish first in the ACC regular season and claim the ACC tournament’s No. 1 seed will be determined over February’s first 10 days. Three of these four games — against Syracuse, Boston College and UNC — are on the road. Duke plays back-to-back road games in the league’s frigid Northeastern corner against the Orange on Feb. 1 and the Eagles on Feb. 4. A few days later comes the first of two regular-season battles with the rival Tar Heels, followed two days later by a home game with a tough Florida State team.
Jan 8-14 (at Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, at Clemson)
This is a relatively soft early start in comparison to the rest of the ACC schedule. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are both projected to be among the five worst teams in the ACC. Clemson is a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that could make the NCAA tournament. So that trip won’t be fun, but overall this stretch shouldn’t be too taxing.
ACC Network only
Dec. 6 at Virginia Tech, Dec. 31 vs. Boston College, Jan. 8 at Georgia Tech, Jan. 11 vs. Wake Forest and Feb. 25 at Wake Forest
Duke has five games scheduled to be exclusively televised by the league’s new network. Six other league games, where the television plans are yet to be finalized, have ACC Network as an option. Television plans for most of Duke’s nonconference games are also still in the planning stages.
Three games to know
Nov. 5 Kansas (7 p.m.) The season-opening Champions Classic doubleheader returns to Madison Square Garden where Duke and Kansas square off. The Blue Devils are winless against the Jayhawks since this event began in 2011, with Kansas beating Duke, 94-83, in 2013 in Chicago and 77-75 in 2016 in New York.
Jan. 18 Louisville This game will have all kinds of delicious story lines. Start with the expectations that Louisville will challenge for the ACC title and are an under-the-radar Final Four pick for some this season. Add in what happened when the Blue Devils and Cardinals played last season. Louisville, at home, led by 23 points in the second half only to see Duke storm back to win 71-69 in regulation. No Duke team under Krzyzewski has come back from that large of a second-half deficit to win. Finally, this is the lone Duke-Louisville game on this year’s schedule so this could factor into all kinds of tiebreaker scenarios.
Feb. 8 at North Carolina Always the most anticipated game in the league and perhaps the country, the first Duke-UNC matchup tells America football is done as college basketball grabs the spotlight. Unlike previous seasons, both Duke-UNC games will be played on Saturday nights. Previously, the first game fell during the week with the second one on the final Saturday of the regular season.
Duke basketball schedule
Oct. 26 Northwest Missouri State (exhibition)
Oct. 30 Fort Valley State (exhibition)
Nov. 5 Kansas (at New York), 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 Colorado State
Nov. 12 Central Arkansas
Nov. 15 Georgia State
Nov. 21 California (at New York), 9 p.m.
Nov. 22 Georgetown or Texas (at New York), 5 or 7 p.m.
Nov. 26 Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 29 Winthrop
Dec. 3 at Michigan State, 9:30 p.m.
Dec. 6 at Virginia Tech
Dec. 19 Wofford
Dec. 28 Brown
Dec. 31 Boston College
Jan. 4 at Miami
Jan. 8 at Georgia Tech
Jan. 11 Wake Forest
Jan. 14 at Clemson
Jan. 18 Louisville
Jan. 21 Miami
Jan. 28 Pittsburgh
Feb. 1 at Syracuse
Feb. 4 at Boston College
Feb. 8 at North Carolina
Feb. 10 Florida State
Feb. 15 Notre Dame
Feb. 19 at N.C. State
Feb. 22 Virginia Tech
Feb. 25 at Wake Forest
Feb. 29 at Virginia
March 2 N.C. State
March 7 North Carolina
March 10-14 ACC tournament, Greensboro