College Basketball: Preview of Big 10-ACC Challenge
Preview of Big 10-ACC Challenge
The college basketball season is off to a great start. We’ve already been treated to several marquee matchups and have had plenty of compelling early-season tournaments involving some of the nation’s top teams. But the most intriguing event of the college basketball season, at least until we get to conference tournament season and the NCAA Tournament itself, is the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. This event will consist of 12 games played over two nights between two of the best conferences in the country, with a slew of compelling games between top-notch teams with conference bragging rights on the line.
With the ACC adding the top two programs from the Big East, there is reason to believe that the ACC has taken the reins as the preeminent conference in college basketball. This two-day showdown with the Big 10 is a great opportunity for the ACC to flex some muscle and prove without any doubt that this is the case. However, don’t expect the Big 10 to roll over and let the ACC dominate them without a fight. The Big 10 also has some of the top teams in the country and believes it can go toe-to-toe with the ACC.
Both conferences have legitimate national championship contenders that will be on display, looking to prove themselves against tough competition during the non-conference season. So without further ado, here’s a closer look at all 12 games to be played between the ACC and Big 10 on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Big 10-ACC Challenge.
Indiana at Syracuse
This is a rematch of a Sweet 16 game from last season, a game that the Orange dominated on their way to reaching the Final Four. However, both teams have lost key players from last year’s team and look much different than they did last year. The Orange have reloaded quickly and backed up their top-10 ranking by winning the Maui Invitational last week. The Hoosiers haven’t been challenged much outside of their one-point loss to Connecticut, and a trip to the Carrier Dome should be a huge test for them. Right now, Indiana is getting great play from point guard Yogi Ferrell and freshman forward Noah Vonleh, who is averaging a double-double, but it would be quite the upset if they were to pull off a win over Syracuse on the road.
Illinois at Georgia Tech
These are a couple teams that will need as many quality wins as they can get during the early portion of the season. Illinois is off to a 7-0 start, but they’ve had a couple of close calls recently against UNLV and IPFW and are yet to be challenged by a major conference team, so there’s no telling if they’re ready for a spotlight game like this. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets have taken care of business against weaker opponents, but have three losses against Dayton, Ole Miss, and St. John’s. They aren't bad losses, but it would have been nice to win at least one or two of those games. Georgia Tech is a little more prepared for this game, and they will have the home-court advantage. Their success could hinge on the play of Trae Golden, whose performance will be the most important factor in this game.
Penn State at Pittsburgh
Not only are Big 10-ACC bragging rights on the line in this game, but bragging rights for the state of Pennsylvania are on the line as well, at least in the western part of the state. Surprisingly, the Nittany Lions may have the best backcourt in the Big 10 with Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, who are both averaging more than 18 points per game. However, that great duo will face a great challenge when they travel to the Petersen Events Center and take on a stout Pittsburgh defense. The Panthers have steamrolled everybody they’ve played this behind the play of seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, and are always a tough team to face. Penn State has a chance to pull off the road win with its guard play, but winning in Pittsburgh is no easy task.
Michigan at Duke
This is a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs. Michigan isn’t quite the team they were last year now that they’ve lost Trey Burke, as they’ve already lost games early in the season to Iowa State and Charlotte. But with Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas, they still have plenty of scoring. Duke hasn’t been perfect either, although it’s hard to complain too much about losses to Kansas and Arizona. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are putting up incredible numbers for the Blue Devils early in the season, and it’ll be fascinating to watch those young guys go up against a team full of players that were one game away from a national championship last year.
Notre Dame at Iowa
The Hawkeyes are off to a fast start this year, but are coming off their first loss of the season in overtime to Villanova Saturday night. They’ve looked like a potential dark horse in the Big 10, as well as a favorite to knock off the Fighting Irish on Tuesday night. Notre Dame has yet to play a quality opponent this season, and they have a disappointing loss to Indiana State on their resume early in the season, but they’re also a veteran team that should be ready to play a tough game on the road. The Notre Dame backcourt of Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are both scoring in double figures, and both are dishing out five assists per game. If those two play well, the Irish should be able to hang tight with a deep and talented Iowa team that can get up and down the floor and will be tough to beat at home.
Florida State at Minnesota
The Golden Gophers should be glad to be back at home after their trip to the Maui Invitational didn’t go well, as their only win came against Chaminade. Despite the two recent losses, the Minnesota backcourt of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Deandre Mathieu has played well, and their uptempo style can be hard for opponents to handle. However, Florida State should be prepared to play fast after they more than handled the press in a blowout win over VCU a couple weeks ago. Little was expected of the Seminoles heading into the season, but they’ve played well at the start of the season, and their two losses have been to Michigan and Florida by a combined three points. Both teams look like they could make a push for the NCAA Tournament by season’s end, but both will need resume-building wins during the non-conference part of their schedule, so this game will be big for both sides.
Maryland at Ohio State
This will be a Big 10 Conference game next season, but for now Maryland is still a member of the ACC. The Terps struggled with a couple of early losses, but they seem to have settled on a starting lineup and things started to come together for them in the Paradise Jam Tournament, which they won. But now, they face their toughest test of the season in Ohio State. The Buckeyes are as balanced as they get with four players averaging 11 points per game, although there isn’t a lot of star power on the team or a go-to offensive player, which would be a problem if their defense wasn’t so good. If Maryland can get Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz going from the outside, they may be able to pull off the upset. If not, they’re going to have a hard time scoring against a top-10 team that has an elite defense.
Wisconsin at Virginia
Outside of a close loss to VCU, the Cavaliers have handled their business this season, although senior Joe Harris is off to a slow start and averaging four less points per game than he did last year. Harris will have to have a big game for Virginia to take down a top-10 Wisconsin team. The Badgers already have wins over St. John’s, Florida, St. Louis and West Virginia, which means they’re already battle-tested and shouldn’t have a problem going on the road and beating Virginia. Expect Wisconsin to clamp down on the Cavaliers defensively, which will make it hard for them to score unless Harris can breakout and knock down perimeter shots.
Northwestern at North Carolina State
Northwestern may be 4-4, but at least they’ve challenged themselves, and they’ll have another tough challenge when they travel to play N.C. State. Of course, the Wolfpack have been far from perfect, losing on the road to Cincinnati and then at home to North Carolina Central. Growing pains should be expected from N.C. State after all that they lost from last year’s team, but a home game against arguably the worst team in the Big 10 could be just what they need to gain some confidence and build up momentum heading into a challenging December schedule. However, if JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford get going from the outside for Northwestern, the Wildcats may be able to spring an upset.
North Carolina at Michigan State
This would normally be a matchup between two championship-level teams, but while the Spartans are on the short list of national championship contenders, the Tar Heels are still trying to find their way. Despite an impressive win over Louisville last weekend, North Carolina is feeling the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, and that could be evident when they go up against one of the best backcourts in the country. The Spartans have three players averaging more than 15 points per game this year, including Keith Appling, who’s also dishing out 5.6 assists per game. If North Carolina has one advantage in this game, it could be in their tall and deep frontcourt. That said, it will take a great effort from their guards to contend with Michigan State’s backcourt, which should be a little too much for the Tar Heels to handle.
Boston College at Purdue
Boston College had a tough November, losing a slew of close against tough teams, and they enter this game with a record of 3-4. The Eagles even needed overtime to beat Sacred Heart. Oddly, scoring hasn’t been an issue for Boston College, as Oliver Hanlan and Ryan Anderson are combining for 40 points per game. However, they haven’t been able to stop anybody, which could be a problem against a deep and balanced Purdue team. The Boilermakers go 11 deep, but they are led by Terone and Ronnie Johnson, who combine for 25 points per game. That depth should help Purdue bounce back after a rough tournament in Orlando over the weekend in which they won just one of their three games. The Boilermakers will need fresh legs defensively if they expect to slow down Hanlan and Anderson and hold serve at home against the Eagles.
Miami at Nebraska
The Hurricanes are far from being the same team they were last year after losing so many key players, especially Shane Larkin, who’s been almost impossible to replace. Miami has had a tough time early on, starting the season 5-3, and even a few of their wins haven’t been all that impressive. However, they pulled off a comeback win on Sunday against Arizona State, which could give them some positive momentum heading into their trip to Nebraska. They have played well this year despite a pair of losses, and should be a good matchup for the rebuilding Hurricanes.