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Joe Boozell | | September 12, 2016

Five ACC games to watch in 2016-17

  Duke-North Carolina is always a game to look forward to, and this year is no different.

The ACC men’s basketball schedule was released today, and we’re in store for many incredible matchups in 2016-17.

Fans of what many consider to be the best conference in college basketball are excited, and so are we. Here are five ACC games to look forward to this season.

Thursday, Jan. 12: Notre Dame at Miami (Fla.)

Notre Dame and Miami each had excellent 2015-16 campaigns. Despite losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton from the year prior, the Fighting Irish reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, while the Hurricanes lost to eventual champion Villanova in the Sweet 16.

With that said, these two find themselves navigating similar waters looking ahead to 2016-17. Each team will lose multiple key contributors; Notre Dame will be without Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, while Miami no longer has Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez or Tonye Jekiri.

Mike Brey and Jim Larranaga are two of the best coaches in the business, so it’s hard to envision either program taking a nosedive. But can an up-and-comer like Clemson or Virginia Tech pass Notre Dame and Miami in the ACC hierarchy? Stranger things have happened. This is a matchup to look forward to because, in a way, it will tell us who is further along in their reloading process.

Saturday, Jan. 14: Duke at Louisville

It’s yet to be seen how Duke’s talent meshes, but if it comes out of the gate strong, the ‘undefeated season’ whispers will ramp up around conference play.

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If history tells us anything, the Blue Devils are most likely to slip up against road conference foes. Enter Louisville, who is extremely difficult to beat at the KFC Yum! Center and annually sports a stingy defense. The Cardinals will serve as a major test for Mike Krzyzewski and company in the early portion of the conference slate. If Duke can handle Louisville on the road, there is no telling what else it’s capable of.

Saturday, Feb. 4: Virginia at Syracuse

Ah, the memories.

Elite Eight: Syracuse tops Virginia

Virginia lost out on a Final Four berth thanks to Syracuse, and you know it will be looking for revenge this season. Despite losing Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson, the Orange look to be formidable once again; Nebraska transfer Andrew White’s decision to enroll at Syracuse is a huge get for Jim Boeheim’s squad.

And though Tony Bennett will lose two stars in Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, he gains one in Austin Nichols, and Virginia fans will quickly fall in love with freshman sharpshooter Kyle Guy. These two teams should match up well against one another, and the 2016 Elite Eight storyline will be in full force. Circle this one on the calendar.

Sunday, Feb. 26: North Carolina at Virginia

North Carolina and Virginia play completely different types of basketball, but their talent levels are similar. That’s what makes this matchup so fun.

The Tar Heels ranked first in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2015-16; the Cavaliers ranked ninth. Pretty close, right? But the ways in which they arrived at a common destination were completely different. UNC finished 73rd in the country in adjusted tempo (which is slow for a Roy Williams team), but Tony Bennett’s squad made the Heels look like the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns.

The Hoos finished second to last among Division I teams in adjusted tempo, and whichever team can control the pace of this game usually winds up on top. Last season, UNC and UVA split decisions. The combined score of the matchups? 136-135, Virginia.

More, please.

Saturday, March 4: Duke at North Carolina

We look forward to these games every year. North Carolina came within seconds of winning the national championship in 2016 and Duke touts what could prove to be the best team of the Coach K era. Mathematicians out there: how many days until this game tips off?

UNC and Duke will square off on Feb. 9 as well, but given Duke’s status as the likely preseason No. 1 team in the country, the contest at the Dean Dome carries more intrigue. It’s also the final day of ACC regular season play.

The individual matchups are enough to make you salivate: Justin Jackson vs. Jayson Tatum. Kennedy Meeks vs. Harry Giles. Joel Berry vs. Grayson Allen. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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