As practices begin for ACC teams, scheduling still a question

Come November, teams will play... someone — plus ACC notes

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Kara Lawson held her first official practice as Duke’s head coach on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics)

Practice began Wednesday for many of the women’s basketball teams in the ACC. Balls were bounced, shots were taken and drills were ran.

Typically by now, coaches and players know when and where their season-opening game is and who it’s against. But this year — obviously — is very different because of the pandemic. In women’s college basketball, teams began practice this week knowing that there will be a season. What’s still unclear for many teams is when and where it will begin.

Even more unknown is what non-conference slates will look like. First-year Duke head coach Kara Lawson likes to call that an uncontrollable. And she tries not to worry about it too much.

“I try to focus on just having a good day of practice and then watch the film… And see where we really are, and then go about planning the next day,” Lawson said during a Zoom call Wednesday. “It's not a controllable for us, whether we play or when we play or who we play or any of those things. I just try and look at what the schedule is for the day and then go from there. I don't even look at my schedule. Like, I don't even know what I'm doing on Friday right now.”

The ACC will play a 20-game league schedule this season, two more than last season, but dates and times for those games — and specific match-ups — have not been released yet. One source told The Next that the ACC schedule won’t likely be released until late October or November.

According to Syracuse.com, the conference will “try to cluster road games that are geographically close to each other.” So, for example, a team like Louisville might play at UNC and N.C. State within the span of a few days on a single road swing. Or a team like Virginia Tech might visit Clemson and Georgia Tech — about two and a half hours apart — back-to-back. Where this method gets tricky is for the ACC teams further north. The closest drives from Pitt would be Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, all about six hours away, give or take a few minutes for traffic.

When it comes to the non-conference schedule, how many opponents ACC teams will schedule is ambiguous. Notre Dame played 11 non-conference games last season, but an Irish spokesperson told Blue and Gold — the Notre Dame Rivals’ site — that the Irish will play “four or five” non-conference games this year, of the “bus trip” variety. The program has already scrapped its game this season against longtime rival UConn, postponing the start of a new four-year series to the 2021-22 season. The last time UConn and Notre Dame went without playing each other for an entire season was 1993-94.

According to South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, it seems like the odds of any ACC team playing the Gamecocks this year are slim, even though several are within a few hours of a drive. Staley said Wednesday that the ACC playing an expanded conference slate this season made scheduling non-conference match-ups a bit more difficult. USC faced Clemson and Duke last season, and have faced the Tigers — an in-state rival — every season since 1976.

“(The ACC is) only going to play four games outside of their conference. And, unfortunately, they don’t want to use one of those to play us. So, we’ll have to pick up next year hopefully,” Staley said on Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “We’re in discussion with Clemson. They want to play the game, but I don’t know if we got a date that will match-up to that. We’re trying to play that one.”

The SEC is playing a 16-game conference schedule this season and the Gamecocks will likely play at least six non-conference games. Three of those will come from a multi-team tournament in late November that South Carolina is expecting to play in.

According to NCAA rules for this season, teams can schedule 23 regular season games and participate in one multi-team tournament that includes up to four games, or they can schedule 25 regular season games outright. While the Division I Council recommends each team play a minimum of four non-conference games, ACC teams would be able to play five to seven, depending on if they participated in a multi-team event.

For now, basketball schedules — along with everything else in the year of the coronavirus — keeps evolving.

“We're still waiting on the ACC to get that schedule. And then it kind of falls after that. So, one domino has got to kind of get pushed down first, and then we'll be able to work on those other ones,” Lawson said. “It is unique, because you know, you're not going to play as many non-conference (games) as you normally do in a season. And so, we'll have to figure all that out with respect to the COVID protocols and all of those things.

“I’m waiting for it too, man. I’m ready to have it like yesterday.”

ACC extras

  • Danielle Cosgrove will not play for Notre Dame this season. In a statement from the program, the junior forward said she was “taking a leave of absence” from the team until the second semester to focus on her mental health. A 6-foot-4 native of Holbrook, New York, Cosgrove averaged 13 minutes per-game across 31 contests last season for the Irish.

  • Two ACC teams are still in the running for one of the top prospects in the 2022 class. Maya Nnaji — tabbed a five-star recruit and the eighth best player in her class by ESPN — has Virginia and Louisville in her final 13 schools. A native of Hopkins, Minnesota, ESPN calls the 6-foot-4 forward a “skilled interior performer” with an “emerging face-up game” and a “defensive intimidator” who can “alter shots.”

  • Here’s what Lawson said Wednesday about Duke’s lone true freshman this season, Vanessa de Jesus, a former top 40 recruit: “I think she's done a really good job. She's focused, she's disciplined, she works hard and gives great effort every day, so I'm pleased with how Vanessa is, how she’s progressed, and I think she's going to be a big part of our team this year. I think she's going to grow a lot through the year as well. She seems to be a player that if you put more in front of her and challenge her, she's going to work hard to meet it, and I like that about her.”

  • Former UNC guard Olivia Smith has landed at Coastal Carolina as a grad transfer. She played in 52 games across three seasons for the Tar Heels, but missed last season while rehabbing from an injury. A native of Raleigh, she made 32.6 percent of her three-pointers for the Tar Heels.

  • Lindy’s Sports Pre-Season First Team All-Americans included two ACC players in Louisville’s Dana Evans and N.C. State’s Elissa Cunane.

  • Georgia Tech unveiled its new women’s basketball locker room Wednesday, featuring some very comfy-looking chairs, a hydrotherapy area and — perhaps most importantly — a Keurig machine.

  • Pitt will have its first official practice Sunday afternoon. It’s the third season on the job for head coach Lance White and the program is hoping to build off an unexpected win over Notre Dame in last year’s ACC tournament.