Previewing the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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I’ve always loved the concept of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Two of the best conferences in the country teeing off against one another for bragging rights over a two day span. When it comes to college hoops in December, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again, but the ACC and the Big Ten have gotten this thing down to a science. The games are played over the course of three days, with ten of those games taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Big XII and the Pac-10 tried a similar arrangement, but their “challenge” took place over the span of a month and couldn’t be found on TV anywhere. Essentially, it was a bunch of relatively meaningless non-conference games.

The SEC and the Big East tried their hand at a conference competition. But they only hold four games, and usually half of the teams involved come from the bottom of their respective leagues.

If there is one thing you are going to take out of the 2010 its that there really are not all that many great matchups. A couple of the games will be downright unwatchable.

That said, we do get to see some good measuring stick games, if you will. Duke goes up against another top five opponent, Purdue gets a shot at bouncing back from a weekend loss, while UNC, NC State, and Florida State all get a chance to prove themselves, and the ACC, a worthy conference on a national stage.

Courtesy of your favorite college basketball blogsquad, here is a completely, unnecessarily in depth preview of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:

Monday, Nov. 29th

7:00 pm: Virginia (3-3) @ No. 17 Minnesota (6-0) (ESPN 2): UVa started the season out with a couple of promising victories in a row, but then proceeded to get drubbed by Stanford and Washington before losing to Wichita State in the 5th place game of the Maui Invitational. Minnesota, on the other hand, is playing as well as anyone in the country after rolling through the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. If the Cavs are going to have a chance, it will be because the Gophers may be without two starters on Monday. Al Nolen is battling a foot injury and there is no word yet on whether Devoe Joseph, who was suspended for the Puerto Rico trip, will be playing.

Rob’s Prediction: Minnesota has a front line that is as big and talented as any in the Big Ten, if not the country. Mike Scott is a good player, but he doesn’t have a shot when against the likes of Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson, and Colton Iverson. Minnesota 75, Virginia 49.

Mike’s Prediction: Few teams are off to better starts than the Gophers, who’ve beaten UNC, West Virginia and mid-majors powers Wofford and Siena. There’s no reason to think Tubby Smith’s team stumbles at home against a re-building Cavalier squad, who can’t match the Gophers’ frontline of Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. Minnesota, 73, Virginia 57.

Tuesday, Nov. 30th

7:00 pm: Georgia Tech @ Northwestern (ESPN 2): The Yellowjackets come into this game looking like they’ve righted the ship after an embarrassing road loss to Kennesaw State. They knocked off UTEP in the Legends Classic before playing Syracuse, who is ranked tenth in the country but has been struggling a bit themselves, to an 80-76 loss. Brian Oliver and Iman Shumpert form a talented, athletic back court for Paul Hewitt. Having said that, the Jackets aren’t exactly the best defensive team in the country, and patient defense is what is going to beat Northwestern. The Wildcats, led by John Shurna, Drew Crawford, and Michael Thompson, play an efficient, Princeton-style offense. While NU is undefeated coming in, their only credible win is against Creighton.

Rob’s Prediction: I am envisioning endless back door cuts and down screens for threes. Tech is talented, but they aren’t disciplined. Northwestern 71, Georgia Tech 65.

Mike’s Prediction: The Wildcats feature one of the nation’s most efficient scoring offenses, while Tech has a fairly solid defense. The key words being “fairly solid.” Northwestern hasn’t lost in this event since 2008, and isn’t about to start. Northwestern 66, Georgia Tech 58.

7:00 pm: Iowa @ Wake Forest (ESPN U): Yuck, yuck, and more yuck. Wake Forest has been abysmal early in the season, losing to Stetson, Winthrop, and VCU by 21. And they are now playing without Melvin Tabb or Tony Chennault. Iowa hasn’t been much better, as they have lost to South Dakota State, Xavier, and Long Beach State. You may be glad you don’t have ESPNU for this one.

Rob’s Prediction: That I won’t be watching a second of this game. I have a feeling this will come to fruition. Iowa 75, Wake Forest 71.

Mike’s Prediction: The winner? Eh. I know who’ll lose – anyone who watches. It’s fitting that that ACC’s worst team plays host to the Big Ten’s cellar dweller from the last few years. Now we’ll learn just who really stinks. Guess I’ll take the Hawkeyes. Wake’s already lost to Stetson, VCU and Winthrop at home. Iowa’s about that good. One redeeming factor? Both teams like to run when possible, so we’ll avoid a slugfest. Iowa 70, Wake Forest 67.

7:30 pm: No. 3 Ohio State (5-0) @ Florida State (5-1) (ESPN): The Seminoles have arguably the best defensive player in the country on their roster in Chris Singleton. The problem? Singleton can’t score, and neither can the rest of the Seminoles roster. The Florida team that Ohio State put 93 points on in an 18 point win? The Seminoles managed 51 points and 14 turnovers. The Buckeyes look like one of the few teams that will be dominant throughout the season. Jared Sullinger is a load on the block, and he may not even be their best front court scorer. Fellow freshman DeShaun Thomas has really been playing well early in the season. With the perimeter talent that the Buckeyes boast, and if Aaron Craft is really as good at the point as he has seemed early in the season, this will be a tough matchup for the ‘Noles to win.

Rob’s Prediction: Ohio State is too good this year. They have too much inside, they have too much talent on their perimeter, and they actually seem to have a point guard this year. Florida State is really good defensively, but if Singleton is the guy that shot 2-12 against Florida and not the guy that was averaging 17.4 ppg before that, the Noles will be in trouble. Ohio State 70, Florida State 58.

Mike’s Prediction: Few teams feature a more intimidating defense than FSU, which has the athletes to pressure Ohio State’s deep, balanced roster and make life miserable for freshman center Jared Sullinger. But scoring’s an issue, as shown during Sunday’s 55-51 loss to Florida. Then there’s this nugget: The Buckeyes drilled Florida on Nov. 16. Ohio State 69, Florida State 61

9:00 pm: Michigan (3-2) @ Clemson (5-1) (ESPN 2): We all predicted that it would be a long season in Ann Arbor, and after Michigan’s 0-2 performance at the Legends Classic, it looks like that prediction may come to fruition. The Wolverines have not developed the way most John Beilein teams do and while they have a talented scorer in Darius Morris, its about time that Morris began passing the ball; he’s had a bad habit of dribbling the air out of it. Clemson, on the other hand, is a team that looks like it has some promise. They have an underrated back court in Demontez Stitt, Andre Young, Tanner Smith, and Noel Johnson to go with the expected big, athletic front court players. This Tigers beat Wofford and Seton Hall, but their most impressive performance of the season may actually be their one point loss to Old Dominion.

Rob’s Prediction: While its difficult to put a ton of faith into a team with a first year head coach like Clemson and Brad Brownell, its even more difficult to bet on this Michigan team. Clemson 75, Michigan 63.

Mike’s Prediction: The Tigers’ lone loss is to Old Dominion, a far tougher foe than the in-transition Wolverines, who are coming off back-to-back losses. Make it three in a row. Clemson 70, Michigan 64.

9:30 pm: No. 25 UNC (4-2) @ No. 19 Illinois (6-1) (ESPN): Illinois has flown a bit under the radar this season. They did lose to Pitt in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, but they also beat a better-than-advertised Maryland team. Their issue isn’t on the perimeter, where Demetri McCamey heads up a talented group. Its in the front court, as Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis don’t exactly provide a ton of muscle. Good thing for the Illini that UNC doesn’t have much beef up front either. For the Heels, this is going to be another chance to prove their mettle. UNC once again started the season off poorly, with losses to Vanderbilt and Minnesota in Puerto Rico. Is Harrison Barnes as good as he was supposed to be? Can Larry Drew or Kendall Marshall step up and be a point guard?

Rob’s Prediction: As much as I want to see this UNC team succeed, I just don’t think they have it in them — yet. Larry Drew’s line against the College of Charleston on Sunday was 1 point, 1 assists, 1 turnover, and 27 minutes. Illinois 79, UNC 70.

Mike’s Prediction: The Tar Heels avoided a .500 record thanks to a late run against College of Charleston Sunday night. They won’t have any such wiggle room against the Illini, who’ll be able to out-run and out-gun UNC. Two things to watch: Illinois should make UNC’s guard uneasy (cue the Orange Krush!) because the Heels have turnover issues; and see if Carolina can force Illinois into settling for taking jump shots. The Illini’s frontcourt is soft and if the shots aren’t falling, it could stay close. Illinois 79, North Carolina 68.

Wednesday, Dec. 1st

7:15 pm: Indiana (6-0) @ Boston College (4-2) (ESPN U): Indiana hasn’t played anyone this season, but the Hoosiers are 6-0, which is a good sign considering the kind of issues this program has had recently. Christian Watford has looked impressive on the block early on and while Mo Creek still isn’t quite 100% coming off of a knee injury last season, Verdell Jones has upped his scoring (as well as his turnovers) in Creek’s absence. BC has been all over the map early in the season. They lost to Yale, then bounced back to beat both Texas A&M and Cal — who both beat Temple — in the Old Spice Classic. Reggie Jackson is one of the best guards in the ACC, and when he has production around him, the Eagles look like they can be pretty good.

Rob’s Prediction: This is one of the tougher games to pick. I actually kind of like both teams, as weird as that sounds. I think Indiana wins this, however. Christian Watford is a load on the block, and unlike Reggie Jackson, he has a supporting cast. Indiana 71, Boston College 68.

Mike’s Predicition: The Hoosiers’ perfect start came against cupcakes. That’s not B.C., which is taking care of the ball and making a ton of its twos. Still, the Eagles are perplexing. They’ve beaten Texas A&M and Cal, but lost to Yale. At home. Indiana would be smart to feed Christian Watford, stretch the defense and hope for a fairly fast game. Indiana 78, Boston College, 76.

7:15 pm: NC State (4-1) @ Wisconsin (4-2) (ESPN 2): The obvious question mark in this game is going to be Tracy Smith, who injured his knee in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. If Smith is ready to go, the Wolfpack might have a shot in this game. He provides a legitimate low post scoring threat, and is one of the only guys on Sidney Lowe’s roster that can create a shot for himself. If not, its tough to see NC State having the patience and the discipline to score on a very good defensive team like Wisconsin. For the Badgers, we all know about Jon Leuer, but make sure you keep an eye on their back court of Jordan Taylor and John Gasser.

Rob’s Prediction: NC State might actually have a shot of knocking off Wisconsin in the Kohl Center if they had Tracy Smith. The Badgers have been beatable this year, but the Wolfpack, coming in with a bunch of freshmen and unproven upperclassmen, don’t have a shot without their best player. Wisconsin 59, NC State 49.

Mike’s Prediction: There’s only one thing to know about this game: The Badgers are at home, where they win more than 90 percent of their games under coach Bo Ryan, including a victory against Duke last season. Bo don’t lose at home. (Also, it helps to have Jon Leuer ‘cause he’s pretty good.) Wisconsin 65, N.C. State 60.

7:30 pm: No. 8 Purdue (5-1) @ Virginia Tech (4-1): This game had a lot more intrigue when the schedule for the Challenge was announced. Now, with Robbie Hummel out for the season, Virginia Tech looking very average, and the Boilermakers coming off of a loss to a Richmond team that was beaten by Iona, this looks like a potential 8-9 matchup instead of a potential Sweet 16 matchup. This game will be won by the team that can stop their opponent’s star. Kevin Anderson lit Purdue up for 28 points in the Spider’s win, and Virginia Tech has a better lead guard in Malcolm Delaney. Similarly, Tech lacks muscle inside, and Purdue has one of the best big men in the country in JaJuan Johnson.

Rob’s Prediction: The Boilermakers may not have a third scoring option right now, but that doesn’t change what they can do defensively. Virginia Tech has looked far from impressive on the offensive end of the floor this season. I can’t see them figuring out the Boilermakers. Purdue 57, Virginia Tech 53.

Mike’s Prediction: Here’s one for you defense fans. Two of the nation’s most efficient – and physical – defenses meet in Blacksburg. The Boilermakers are coming off their first loss (a 65-54 setback to Richmond), while the Hokies struggled against UNLV on Sunday. I don’t expect this to be pretty. First one to 62 wins. Virginia Tech 62, Purdue 61.

9:15 pm: Maryland @ Penn State (ESPN 2): The Terps may be coming off of an 0-2 trip to NYC for the Coaches vs. Cancer, but they looked much better than that against Pitt and Illinois. Jordan Williams is a hoss on the block, Cliff Tucker is emerging as a star on the perimeter, and the law of averages says that one of Terrell Stoglin, Pe’Shon Howard, and Adrian Bowie will play well. For Penn State, it is a one man show with Talor Battle. If his teammates step up around him — Jeff Brooks, David Jackson, and company — the Nittany Lions have a shot at this thing. The key for PSU will be handling Maryland’s pressure, which has been effective against some good competition this season.

Rob’s Prediction: Mike will tell you that Penn State has the best player in this game, and I will call his bluff and reraise all-in with Jordan Williams. The Maryland big man is a beast in the paint, rebounding the ball with the best of them and showing a solid repertoire of post moves. Maryland 81, Penn State 68.

Mike’s Prediction: The Nittany Lions have the matchup’s best player (Talor Battle) and the home court edge. But I like the Terps, who’ve already hung with Pitt and Illinois. Plus, Maryland’s usually good for a win in this event. Not that it matters for the ACC, who’ll lose the overall “title” for the second straight year. Maryland 75, Penn State 71.

9:30 pm: No. 2 Michigan State @ No. 1 Duke: Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Main Event. (Read that line as if it was said by Michael Buffer.) Duke, as well all know by now, is loaded. They have talent up and down their lineup, enough that their second five could probably win a handful of games in the ACC. The Spartans were considered by many to be the second best team in the country during the preseason, but after the typical Michigan State slow start — struggling against South Carolina and Chaminade before losing to UConn — many have questioned whether or not the Spartans were overrated coming into the season. In my opinion? No, they were not. Michigan State made uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch in their loss to UConn and Chaminade beat Oklahoma. Kalin Lucas looked terrific against Washington, Draymond Green is Draymond Green, and Durrell Summers was impressive in shaking off a bad night to knock down two huge threes late in a win over Washington. Regardless, this game should be expected to live up to its billing.

Rob’s Prediction: Until further notice, I’m picking Duke to win every game they play. Simple as that. Duke 84, Michigan State 79.

Mike’s Prediction: I fawned over the Devils’ performance against K-State last week (yes, I was one of those guys), and with good reason. They shot well, forced a ton of turnovers, got to the boards and Kyrie Irving was unguardable. That last part’s key, given how UConn’s Kemba Walker sliced and diced the Spartans at the Maui Invitational. Michigan State will likely fare better against the freshman Irving, but the Devils are in midseason form and MSU isn’t. Duke 78, Michigan State 68.