Wednesday night the Big Ten/ACC Challenge reached its conclusion, with the Big Ten taking home the trophy by a final margin of eight wins to six. This is the seventh consecutive year in which Jim Delany’s conference has either won or tied the event, meaning that the ACC hasn’t won the Challenge since 2008. But there were other things to take away from the three days of action, so below are ten takeaways from this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
1. Marcus Paige makes North Carolina a national title favorite.
This pretty much goes without saying, and Paige proved as much by scoring 20 points and dishing out five assists in the ninth-ranked Tar Heels’ 89-81 win over No. 2 Maryland Tuesday night. His presence relieves some of the offensive pressure that was on the shoulders of Joel Berry II, who added 14 points and five assists with just two turnovers against the Terrapins.
And although Justin Jackson had a quiet night, scoring nine points on 3-for-7 shooting and having as many turnovers as assists (three), Paige’s return will help him as well. Clearly there’s enough talent for North Carolina to be really good, but now they’ve got their “difference maker” back and that’s big for Roy Williams’ team.
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2. To say that Purdue is the Big Ten’s best defensive team may be shortchanging them.
By no means is the Pittsburgh team the 11th-ranked Boilermakers beat 72-59 Tuesday night an offensive juggernaut. But what Purdue was able to do defensively without the Big Ten’s best defender in Rapheal Davis is certainly worth mentioning. Purdue limited the Panthers to 4-for-19 shooting from three and 0.95 points per possession, with the home team struggling to find much in the way of quality looks without blocking a single shot.
Purdue currently leads the nation in effective field goal percentage defense (36.1 percent) and they’re in the top ten in both two-point (35.8) and three-point (24.4) percentage defense. An argument can be made that this is the best defensive team in the country, and that is a big reason why the Boilermakers are a Big Ten contender.
3. It’s time to accept the fact that Indiana can’t defend.
On the other end of the defensive spectrum is Indiana, which tried both man and zone looks to little avail in a 20-point loss at No. 7 Duke. Of course, it has to be mentioned that the Blue Devils are very good offensively and will give many teams fits. That being said the lack of commitment from Indiana on the defensive end is alarming, with guys seemingly playing with the mindset of “if my guy scores we’ll get it back on the other end.”
But do they even have the personnel needed to stop people? Their guards and wings aren’t good defenders, and freshman big man Thomas Bryant is still figuring out how to defend ball screens. They are who they are sadly.
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4. Brandon Ingram will be just fine for Duke.
Leading into Duke’s game against Indiana there were some concerns voiced about the progress made by freshman wing Brandon Ingram. He’s slender in build and not the most physical player, but the fact that he didn’t hit the ground running left some disappointed. He’ll be fine, as evidenced by his 24-points showing against the Hoosiers. Ingram hit shots from the perimeter and got to the basket as well, and he also contributed six rebounds and two assists. He’ll continue to develop, and with perimeter options such as Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Derryck Thornton Jr. alongside Ingram he won’t lack for help either.
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5. Jake Layman’s adjustment to the three will determine Maryland’s national title hopes.
Last season Maryland’s front court composition allowed them to use Layman at the four, using his skill set to take advantage of matchups with slower defenders who were true power forwards. Now that the Terrapins have a host of interior options in the post, including Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone, Layman’s playing the three with mixed results.
After averaging 12.5 points per game as a junior, Layman’s at 10.6 ppg and shooting just 28.6 percent from three (45.3 overall FG%) and he scored just four points against North Carolina. Maryland can still be a very good team given their depth and the presence of one of the nation’s best point guards in Melo Trimble. But if they’re to win the program’s second national title, Layman’s play will have a lot to do with it.
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6. Darius Thompson’s role becomes even more important for Virginia.
With London Perrantes (appendectomy) sidelined for the time being, Thompson is an even more important player for Tony Bennett. And in the Cavaliers’ 64-58 win at Ohio State the Tennessee transfer came through, scoring 12 points and dishing out six assists with just two turnovers in 36 minutes of action. The scoring output is Thompson’s second straight double-digit effort, but more importantly over the last two games he’s got an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.0 during that stretch.
Of course Malcolm Brogdon will have the ball in his hands more with Perrantes being out. But for this team to not skip a beat while they await the return of their floor general, Thompson will need to step forward as well.
7. Louisville makes a positive impression in their first true test.
While Louisville head coach Rick Pitino opined that the currently investigated scandal was why it took so long for the 24th-ranked Cardinals to get into the national polls, their schedule had a lot more to do with it. Wednesday’s game at No. 3 Michigan State gave Louisville the opportunity to showcase themselves in front of a national audience against a quality opponent, and while they fell four points short in the end the Cardinals acquitted themselves well.
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Damion Lee and Trey Lewis combined to score 44 points, and the Cardinals’ length and athleticism gave the Spartans fits on both ends of the floor for most of the night. Others will need to step forward, and they’ll have time to with a forgiving schedule leading into their showdown with No. 1 Kentucky December 26.
8. Syracuse will need to find ways to score when their three-pointers aren’t falling.
The Orange don’t lack for shooters, but what they do lack are players who can get their offense going when the three-pointers aren’t falling. That was the case against Wisconsin Wednesday night, as the 14th-ranked Orange went cold from deep and lost 66-58 in overtime. Syracuse shot 7-for-24 from three against the Badgers, and they also shot less than 41 percent inside of the arc. Michael Gbinije shot 7-for-16 from the field by Trevor Cooney was just 3-for-10, and supplementary scorers Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson struggled as well (1-for-10 3PT).
The Orange have scored more than 40 percent of their points via the three this year, but what happens when those shots aren’t falling? The Orange will need to improve inside of the arc and with the turnover count if they’re to factor into the ACC race.
9. Once again Michigan’s hopes for the season rest on their health.
Here we go again. The Wolverines pick up a quality road win, beating NC State Tuesday night, and once again the talk is about injuries. Spike Albrecht, who had both hips operated on this offseason, is to the point where he’s rehabbing instead of practicing, and starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr. injured his left ankle against the Wolfpack. But John Beilein’s team still managed to win because of the play of Caris LeVert (18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists), and Duncan Robinson stepped forward to provide 17 points off the bench.
Michigan is an NCAA tournament team, but their room for growth as a Big Ten contender depends upon whether or not they can avoid the injury bug that bit them a season ago.
10. Miami’s win at Nebraska speaks to the team’s improved maturity.
The Hurricanes’ game at Nebraska provided an interesting study in Jim Larrañaga’s team after their last-second loss to Northeastern Friday. How would they respond, especially when considering how tough of an environment Pinnacle Bank Arena can be for opposing teams? They responded quite well, taking the hit of Glynn Watson forcing overtime and beating the Huskers 77-72.
Angel Rodriguez led five Hurricanes in double figures with 15 points, and while Miami’s three-point shooting wasn’t there (6-for-21) they were able to get to the foul line on a regular basis (23-for-28). Does last year’s team respond in a similar fashion? Who’s to say, but this group’s ability to go on the road and pick up a tough win speaks to their maturity.