Ranking Arkansas’ Most Desirable Potential Foes in New ACC/SEC Challenge

Arkansas basketball, SEC basketball, ACC/SEC Challenge
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

When the Arkansas basketball team takes on Baylor in late January this season, it will mark the end of an era.

ESPN announced Monday that this will be the final year of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, which began in the 2013-14 season. The Razorbacks will have participated in the last nine years of the event.

They currently have a 4-4 record in those matchups, winning all four played at Bud Walton Arena and losing all four played on the road. This year’s game is in Waco, Texas.

In its place will be a new challenge between the ACC and SEC that starts next season, with the games reportedly to be scheduled for the week after Thanksgiving rather than in the middle of conference play.

With that in mind, here is Best of Arkansas Sports’ ranking of ACC teams in terms of most desirable opponents for Arkansas basketball in the new event…

1. Duke

This is a no-brainer. A rematch of the 1994 national championship game would easily be the most anticipated regular-season non-conference game for the Arkansas basketball team in more than a decade and maybe the most hyped since opening its title defense with a 1 vs. 3 showdown against UMass. There’s also recent history between the teams, as the Blue Devils knocked the Razorbacks out of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Even though Mike Krzyzewski is no longer Duke’s head coach, it is still a premier program and a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail as Duke’s edging out of Arkansas for the No. 1 spot in the final 2022 recruiting rankings show. Plus, a trip to Cameron Indoor should be on every college basketball fan’s bucket list and the Blue Devils visiting Bud Walton Arena would be the hottest ticket in Fayetteville since the 1 vs. 2 matchup with UNLV in 1991.

  • Series History: Tied, 2-2

2. North Carolina

No ACC team has played Arkansas more frequently in basketball than North Carolina. The Tar Heels have won seven of the 10 matchups, including knocking the Razorbacks out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round in 2008, 2015 and 2017 — the latter of which was aided by some questionable officiating.

However, Arkansas’ three victories in the series are quite memorable. Until last season, North Carolina was the only AP No. 1 team the Hogs had ever beaten, taking down Michael Jordan in Pine Bluff back in 1984. The Razorbacks also smoked the Tar Heels en route to the 1990 Final Four and then beat them to get back to the championship game in 1995.

It’s always a big deal when these two teams meet and it would be really cool for them to play on either school’s home court — something that has yet to happen in the series.

  • Series History: North Carolina, 7-3

3. Virginia

This is a surprising amount of history between Arkansas and Virginia on the hardwood, including five matchups over a six-year span in the 1980s, but what would make this a desirable matchup is the fact that the Cavaliers have become one of the premier college basketball programs in the country over the past decade. They won it all in 2019 are are currently ranked No. 3 in the latest AP Poll.

It would also be fascinating to see the chess match between Eric Musselman and Tony Bennett. Both are defensive-minded coaches, but one likes to play the game at a much faster tempo than the other.

  • Series History: Virginia, 4-3

4. Syracuse

It’s been exactly a decade since Jim Boeheim brought his No. 6 Syracuse team to Fayetteville for the old Big East/SEC Challenge and left with a 9-point victory on the back of a monster performance from James Southerland (35 points, 9/13 3PT). The only other time the schools met was in the 1995 NCAA Tournament and the Razorbacks won in overtime to reach the Sweet 16.

Only two matchups between the two schools that annually rank near the top of the sport’s attendance chart is not nearly enough. The Carrier Dome is a unique place to watch a game, especially when you can pack up to 35,000 fans inside.

This remains an especially desirable matchup as long as Boeheim is still in charge, but there’s no telling how much longer that will be. Of course, Arkansas basketball fans probably hope Eric Musselman can get some more shooters before a potential matchup with Boeheim’s zone defense.

  • Series History: Tied, 1-1

5. North Carolina State

There isn’t a lot of history between the two schools — North Carolina State won the lone matchup in the 1983 Great Alaska Shootout championship when it was the defending national champion — but they each have a place in the history of college basketball, which would make this an intriguing matchup.

Also, if you can’t get a matchup with one of the big two — Duke and North Carolina — a trip to North Carolina State would still give you a taste of college basketball on Tobacco Road. Plus, there’s an undeniable revenge factor at stake for Razorback sports fans in general given the Wolfpack knocked the best Arkansas baseball team to date out of the NCAA Tournament in 2021.

  • Series History: N.C. State, 1-0

6. Notre Dame

The football team has a home-and-home series on the schedule in 2025 and 2028, but as of right now, the only time Arkansas has played Notre Dame in any of the major sports was when Ron Brewer buried a 20-foot jumper as time expired to win the third-place game in the 1978 NCAA Tournament.

What makes this matchup so desirable is the fact that Notre Dame is a national brand, even if less so for men’s basketball than football.

  • Series History: Arkansas, 1-0

7. Louisville

It is floundering under first-year head coach Kenny Payne, including an 80-54 beatdown at the hands of the Razorbacks at the Maui Invitational, but Louisville is a traditional college basketball power and there’s a lot of history between it and Arkansas.

Everyone remembers U.S. Reed’s half court buzzer beater in the 1981 NCAA Tournament, but Arkansas also beat Louisville in the Sweet 16 a couple years earlier. The Cardinals returned the favor two years after Reed’s shot, advancing to the Elite Eight with a tip-in at the buzzer against the Razorbacks.

At least one team has been ranked in each of the eight matchups between the two schools, with half of them being top-20 showdowns. Assuming Payne doesn’t run the program into the ground, it would still be a fun and nostalgic matchup in the ACC-SEC Challenge.

  • Series History: Tied, 4-4

8. Florida State

A case could be made for several schools in this final spot in our top 8, but we went with Florida State because the Seminoles are typically a very good program. They’re off to an abysmal 1-7 start this year and missed the postseason last year, but had been to three straight Sweet 16s before that.

Leonard Hamilton is also a very good coach who is known for teams with size and length that play relentless defense. It hasn’t gone too well this year, but assuming Florida State turns around, that could make for a fascinating matchup against the length Musselman likes to have at Arkansas.

  • Series History: Tied, 1-1

Ranking the Rest of the ACC

9. Miami (Fla.)

  • Series History: Miami, 1-0

10. Pittsburgh

  • Series History: Tied, 2-2

11. Georgia Tech

  • Series History: Georgia Tech, 5-2

12. Wake Forest

  • Series History: Wake Forest, 5-3

13. Virginia Tech

  • Series History: never met

14. Clemson

  • Series History: Arkansas, 2-1

15. Boston College

  • Series History: never met

The only two ACC teams that have never placed Arkansas basketball are Virginia Tech and Boston College. Neither team is one to get particularly excited about, but the Hokies have at least made five straight NCAA Tournaments.

Clemson would be much more interesting in football, but it might be nice to get at least some sort of revenge for the debacle that was Chad Morris.

Matchups with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest wouldn’t really move the needle, either, because there have been relatively recent home-and-home series with those schools.


YouTube video

More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…

Facebook Comments