The Big Ten finally figured out this whole “challenge” with the ACC.
After losing the first 10 ACC/Big Ten Challenges, the Big Ten’s taken the last two. There’s no trophy, no cash prize, no medals. Heck, the media attention dwindles rapidly when it’s all over. But it’s still significant given the recruiting implications and the seeding edges when March rolls around.
So who were the biggest winners and losers? Let’s take a look
Kyrie Irving, Duke
First Derrick Rose. The John Wall. Now Irving. Much like he did against Kansas State, the freshman point guard jetted through the Michigan State defense whenever he wanted, showcasing an ability to beat opponents off the dribble and finish in traffic. He hit 8 of 12 shots for 31 points, dished four assists and had six boards in an 84-79 win. He’s already Duke’s best player.
N.C. State didn’t have senior forward Tracy Smith, but it didn’t matter against the Badgers, who won by 39. 39! It was a welcome sight for a team that barely broke 50 in Sunday’s loss to Notre Dame. “[We] just ran good offense, got good looks, and knocked them down,” coach Bo Ryan said afterward. “You have to believe that when you shoot, the next one is going to go in.”
JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
With NBA scouts in the stands, the senior center saved the Boilermakers’ bacon against Virginia Tech. He hit 11 of 24 shots, scored 29 of Purdue’s 59 points, hit the game-tying shot that forced overtime and nailed the go-ahead shot in OT. I’d call that a big night. “I just set a screen and popped out to an open spot and one of the guys found me, and it went down,” he said, all smiles.
Maybe Tony Bennett’s team isn’t the ACC’s worst! An 87-79 win against Minnesota was the event’s most surprising outcome, both for the final result and how it happened. The Gophers entered the game 6-0 with wins against UNC, Wofford, Siena and West Virginia. But the Cavs turned around a double-digit second-half deficit by hitting 10 of 13 shots from beyond the arc.
Northwestern’s never made the NCAA tournament. Is this finally the year? The Wildcats are 5-0 and breezed past Georgia Tech, 91-71. They’ll almost certainly be 9-0 when Big Ten play begins. It’s promising, to be sure.
Michigan’s coach needed this one. A pair of tough losses to Syracuse and UTEP casted doubt on his system and its limitations, but an impressive road win at Clemson instilled his young team with confidence for the first time in well, forever. “That was a big win,” Zack Novak told Ann Arbor.com. “We came out and hit them in the mouth to start out with. They made little runs, but (we) hung tough and really just didn’t let them get back in the game.”
Um, what happened Tubby? Your Gophers entered the game with nice wins, a balanced roster and all sorts of confidence. Can the absence of Al Nolen really make that much of a difference? Or is it something else? Something like … “That was probably as pathetic an effort defensively as we’ve had in a long time,” Smith told the Pioneer-Press. Ah. OK then.
Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
Been an odd month for the senior guard. He’s logging nearly 39 minutes a game and is averaging 19.6 point an outing. But he’s hitting just 41 percent of his shots and already has two nine-turnover games (39 on the season) and was flat-out awful against Purdue. He forced shots, dribbled into double and triple teams and made just 2 of 18 field-goal attempts. Credit the Boilermakers’ defense, but Delaney created many of his own problems.
Maryland thumped the Nittany Lions, 62-39, in what was billed as Penn State’s biggest nonconference home game since 1996. They hit just 14 of 68 shots (20.6 percent)and endured nearly six scoreless minutes to start the second half. That won’t cut it in this season’s Big Ten.
Chris Singleton, Florida State
Another putrid offensive outing for the Seminoles’ junior forward amplified every bit of his game: suspect shooting, lackluster moves and a tendency to be overwhelmed at times. He’s great on defense, but he’s just 9 for 29 in his last three games.
Larry Drew II, North Carolina
How much longer can Roy Williams stick with Drew as his starting point guard? He had yet another so-so outing, this time a 79-67 loss to Illinois. Freshman Harrison Barnes is struggling with his shot, but it’s Drew who draws the fans’ ire. (Fairly or unfairly.) At some point, his role will have to change.
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