While Monday’s opening two games in the 2014 ACC–Big 10 Challenge were undercard fodder that may have even gone unnoticed, the results of the two games may leave a lasting impression on just which conference emerges victorious from the event.
Clemson and Florida State, two teams that figure to at least be around the middle of the road in the ACC by the time the season is done, suffered home losses on Monday to Rutgers and Nebraska respectively. The Big 10 took a 2-0 lead in the Challenge, which now features 14 games due to the Big 10’s acquisition of Rutgers and Maryland.
The ACC now must win eight of the remaining 12 games to win the Challenge, something the ACC hasn’t done since 2008. While a split may have been an okay result, losing both is a tough blow for the ACC.
In particular, the conference can thank Clemson (4-3) for nothing with its loss. Consider that the Tigers were at home playing a Rutgers (4-3) team that was in its first true road contest of the season. Last year, Rutgers won exactly one road game at South Florida on February 8. The Scarlet Knights had also been held to an almost unheard-of 26 points in its previous game, a loss against No. 7 Virginia in the final of the Barclay’s Center Classic on Friday.
UVA had the nation’s top scoring defense a year ago, but the Tigers were right in that mix as well. Yet, Clemson let Rutgers shoot 43 percent from the field, hit seven 3-pointers, and perhaps most troubling for the Tigers, their defense only forced three Scarlet Knights turnovers. It’s an inexcusable loss for a Clemson team that usually saves its inexplicable defeats for conference play.
The night could have been salvaged had Florida State taken care of business at home vs. the Cornhuskers, but the Seminoles’ inability to take care of the basketball hurt. Florida State committed 17 turnovers and produced just 10 assists. Like Rutgers, Nebraska (5-1) hit seven 3-pointers. FSU (3-4) wasn’t able to keep up in that department in large part due to a 2-for-11 shooting night from beyond the arc by guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
Now, the ACC has no choices but to come out ahead in some games that are going to be very tough matchups such as Louisville vs. Ohio State, Duke at Wisconsin, Virginia at Maryland, etc. However, if the rest of those who make up the mid-table of the ACC and below can’t stand their ground in games on Tuesday, the ACC-Big 10 Challenge may well be over before it really gets started.