A viewer’s guide to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge


The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off their 13th installment this evening, but for the first time in its history, every team from both conferences will be participating.

The Big Ten added their 12th member in Nebraska during the summer, which means that instead of having one of the ACC teams forced to watch from the sideline, we will have a full round-robin. It also means that, for the first time in Challenge history, there is the chance that it could end up in a tie.

That would be bad news for the Big Ten. They’ve won the last two challenges, although they may find it difficult to win a third.

Seeing as you aren’t a full-fledged hoops junkie like yours truly, I figured that I would give you a full-fledged breakdown of which games to tune in for, and which games to avoid.

You are welcome.


No. 1 — Tuesday, 9:30 pm: No. 3 Duke at No. 2 Ohio State: Its easy to write off Duke as overrated. Its easy to say that this team is no different than any other Duke team — a group of soft jumpshooters and overrated big men. And while that very well be true, keep in mind that Duke has performed very well against one of the tougher schedules in the country. Only two teams on their schedule don’t look like tournament teams: Tennessee, who is better than they are actually being given credit for, and Presbyterian, who went into Cincinnati and knocked off the Bearcats.


Ohio State has been impressive as well, as they have proven to be deeper than in the past. The Buckeyes are going 10 or 11 deep right now, and while that rotation will likely get cut down by the time conference play comes around, its a good sign early in the season that Thad Matta feels that comfortable with that many different players. Will Buford has blossomed into one of the best scorers in the country, while Aaron Craft has proven to be an even better defender and playmaker.

The key to this game is going to be whether or not Duke’s big men — the Plumlees, Ryan Kelly — are able to prevent Sullinger from establishing position. While they did a good job defensively on Thomas Robinson — he had just 16 points on 6-15 shooting — they allowed him to get 15 boards. Sullinger is a bit of a different post player in that he’s much better at establishing position that Robinson is. Keep Sully off the glass and limit his post touches, and Duke has a good chance at winning this.

No. 2 — Wednesday 9:30 pm: No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 5 North Carolina
UNC is coming into the game off of their first loss of the season. The Tar Heels went into Orleans Arena out in Vegas and lost to UNLV. The Rebels played well, but UNC not only shot themselves in the foot on a number of different occasions, they also had their weaknesses exposed for the entire country to see.

The Tar Heels struggle defensively — particularly their point guard, Kendell Marshall — allow too many open looks from the perimeter as the result of penetration. That’s precisely what Wisconsin does. When they are playing their best, the ball is in Jordan Taylor’s hands and he is making decisions. They also put him in a lot of pick-and-roll situations. Wisconsin has quite a few shooters in their lineup — headlined by leading scorer Ben Brust and big man Jared Berggren — which means that Marshall’s ability to keep Taylor out of the paint (until Roy Williams makes the inevitable decision to put Dexter Strickland on Taylor) will be the difference in this game.


The other problem for the Heels is that Wisconsin loves to control the tempo. The Badgers play at a slowed down pace and execute very well offensively. By taking the air out of the ball, they force UNC to play in the half court. We all saw on Saturday night just how much the Heels struggle when they aren’t able to get out and run the floor. If the Badgers can execute offensively and score, negating the fast break, Wisconsin has a chance to win.


No. 3 — Wednesday 7:30 pm: Florida State at Michigan State
This is going to be a tough matchup for Michigan State. They are struggling to execute offensively, meaning that their strength right now is the ability to over power opponents in the paint. Florida State is the best defensive team in the country and has the biggest front line in the country. That’s tough. The good news? Florida State struggles to score even more than the Spartans.

No. 4 — Tuesday 9 pm: Virginia at No. 14 Michigan
The Cavs were predicted by many to be a sleeper in the ACC, but they made that prediction look a bit silly when they lost to TCU earlier this year. Mike Scott is back to his double-double ways, but unless UVA solves some of their three-point shooting and play-making issues, they are going to have some issues against the zone that Michigan plays.

You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:

No. 5 — Wednesday 7:15 pm: N.C. State at Indiana
This looks like it may be the best Indiana team that we’ve seen since Kelvin Sampson, but with their only real competition of the year coming against a young and rebuilding Butler team, its difficult to know exactly what the Hoosiers are dealing with. NC State is rebuilding as well, but this team has some talent. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown both have shown flashes of the star potential that had people picking the Wolfpack as high as fourth in the ACC heading into last season.

No. 6 — Wednesday 9:15 pm: Virginia Tech at Minnesota
This game held much more intrigue on Sunday afternoon, prior to Trevor Mbakwe tearing the acl in his right knee. But the Gophers still have some talent on that team, with a young back court to play alongside Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson. Virginia Tech, however, looks like they are a much better team than expected coming into the season. Jarell Eddie, Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green provide a solid perimeter punch while Victor Davila has become a tough, physical presence in the paint over the course of his career.

No. 7 — Tuesday, 9 pm: Miami at Purdue
Purdue has had a solid start to the season but there are still question marks on their roster. Miami, on the other hand, was thought to be a contender in the ACC before Reggie Johnson hurt his knee. Without their big fella, the Hurricanes lost to Ole Miss in overtime over the weekend. The Boilermakers struggled against the back court of Iona, what are they going to do against Miami’s Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant?

No. 8 — Tuesady 7:30 pm: Illinois at Maryland
How good are the Illini? Are they the team that’s 7-0, or the one that nearly blew an 18 point halftime lead against Richmond before barely hanging on to knock off Illinois State. The good news, thus far, is that Meyers Leonard and DJ Richardson both have been playing like stars. Maryland, on the other hand, is playing without Pe’Shon Howard and Alex Len, and while Terrell Stoglin has looked like an all-american at times, he’s still inconsistent.


No. 9 — Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Georgia Tech at Northwestern
Can Northwestern finally make the push into the NCAA Tournament? It was last season’s impressive victory over the Yellow Jackets that got people talking about the Wildcat’s chances.

No. 10 — Wednesday, 9:15 pm: Wake Forest at Nebraska
Wake Forest and Nebraska look like they are headed for better-than-expected seasons. The Demon Deacons have a legitimate star in Travis McKie and have been playing much better since the defections. Nebraska, however, plays tough defense and finally has a big-time scorer in Bo Spencer.

You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I won’t even be mad:

No. 11 — Tuesday 9:15 pm: Clemson at Iowa
Clemson lost to Coastal Carolina and College of Charleston. Iowa lost to Campbell by 16.

No. 12 — Wednesday, 7:15 pm: Boston College at Penn State

Related story:

Big Ten’s bound to make it three in a row

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

North Texas reaches NIT finals, shuts down Wisconsin 56-54

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS – Tylor Perry scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half, Rubin Jones scored all 12 of his after halftime and North Texas closed on a 10-0 run to beat Wisconsin 56-54 on Tuesday night in the semifinals of the NIT.

North Texas (30-7) advances to the program’s first NIT championship game on Thursday. Conference USA is now 16-1 this postseason.

North Texas, which trailed 41-29 at halftime, took its first lead of the game at 56-54 with 2:08 remaining on Moulaye Sissoko’s shot in the lane to cap a 10-0 run.

Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl missed two free throws with 49.1 seconds left and North Texas worked the clock down before Perry had it poked away. Wahl had a shot blocked at the rim, but Wisconsin secured the loose ball and called a timeout with 5.8 left. Wisconsin got it inside to Wahl but Sissoko knocked it away and dove on the ball to end it.

The Mean Green, the nation’s leader in scoring defense at 55.7 points per game, held Wisconsin without a point for the final 9:07 of the game. The Badgers made just one of their last 16 shots – with 10 straight misses.

Kai Huntsberry scored four of his 12 points in the game-closing run for North Texas, which extended its program record for wins this season.

Chucky Hepburn scored all 15 of his points in the first half for Wisconsin (20-15), which was making its first appearance in the NIT semifinals.

Wisconsin dropped to 13-8 this season in games decided by five points or fewer.


The semifinals and final are being played at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas after Madison Square Garden in New York hosted every year but two since 1938, with the 2020 tournament canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 event held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The 2024 semifinals and final will be played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

LSU’s Kim Mulkey senses reunion in trip to Texas for Final Four

Getty Images
1 Comment

DALLAS – Kim Mulkey is returning to Texas for another Final Four, keenly aware that her LSU Tigers will play a short road trip from the school she made synonymous with women’s basketball.

Mulkey is the third coach to take multiple schools to the Final Four, doing so in her second season back in her home state of Louisiana after leading Baylor to the national semifinals four times in 21 seasons.

The Bears won three national championships under Mulkey, combined for 23 regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 Conference and made the NCAA Tournament in all but one of her seasons.

“You never spend 21 years of your life building a dynasty, and that’s what we did at Baylor. I think we can all agree with that,” Mulkey said Tuesday. “I still have a home there. My grandchildren are there. So my heart will always be there.”

Mulkey and the Tigers (33-2) will face first-time Final Four qualifier Virginia Tech (31-4) in the opener Friday night in Dallas, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Mulkey’s former college home in Waco. Defending champion South Carolina (36-0) plays Iowa (30-6) in the late game.

Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer took three teams to the Final Four, and Gary Blair made it that far with two.

Blair’s second was Texas A&M in 2011, when he won an Elite Eight showdown with Mulkey at American Airlines Center. Five years later in Dallas, the Bears again fell one win short of the Final Four.

Mulkey is back in Dallas with a new team after a 54-42 Elite Eight victory over Miami.

“There will be Baylor people sitting in my section that are heartbroken that I left,” Mulkey said. “I get it. Someday when I’m retired, maybe I’ll write another book and have more details, but I love Baylor University, the fans there, the Lady Bear fans there. But it was time. Timing is everything in life.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has fonder memories of the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. The Gamecocks won their first national title there five years ago, beating Mississippi State after the Bulldogs ended Connecticut’s 111-game winning streak in the semifinals.

“Dallas, it will be etched in my memory forever,” said Staley, whose team – the No. 1 overall seed – earned a return trip with an 86-75 victory over Maryland. “I remember vividly the police escorts. I remember our fans. I remember UConn losing. That was a huge moment in college women’s basketball.”

Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks is a Dallas Cowboys fan, so he remembers seeing star quarterback Dak Prescott in the stands five years ago rooting for his alma mater, Mississippi State.

Prescott remembers the “huge moment” to which Staley referred. His reaction to Morgan William’s buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime made the rounds on social media five years ago.

“That was a surreal moment,” Brooks said. “But my surreal moment was last night.”

That’s when the No. 1 seed Hokies beat Ohio State 84-74 to reach their first Final Four in Brooks’ seventh season. Iowa, which beat Louisville 97-83 in the Elite Eight, has advanced this far for the first time since 1993, when Stringer became the first coach to lead multiple teams to the Final Four.

Stringer had done it with Cheyney in the inaugural tournament season of 1982, and after the Iowa trip, she went twice more with Rutgers in 2000 and 2007.

“She called me immediately after we beat Louisville,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “In fact, she was my first voice message I got that night. I know coach Stringer is behind us. I haven’t been able to get back to her yet, but I will soon.”

Mulkey’s Bears were one of the top seeds in 2017, hoping to chase a title just up the road from their Waco campus. Mississippi State beat Baylor in overtime in the Elite Eight before the OT thriller against UConn.

The Tigers are this deep in the tournament for the first time since the last of five consecutive Final Four appearances in 2008, all of which ended in the semifinals.

Mulkey was asked if she felt the burden of living up to those glory years.

“We’ve already done that,” said Mulkey, who has now reached the NCAA Tournament in 19 consecutive seasons as a coach. “Winning a national championship will only put an exclamation mark on it. We have exceeded probably what anybody could just realistically say was possible this quickly.”

Black female athletes: Having Black female coach is crucial

Getty Images

South Carolina senior guard Brea Beal knew she could trust Dawn Staley before she even suited up for the Gamecocks.

It wasn’t just Staley’s coaching accolades, which include fueling South Carolina’s meteoric rise in women’s basketball, that sold Beal. Beal knew that Staley – a Black woman like her – would best understand how to guide her as she navigated both life and playing basketball on a big stage.

“People that were telling me what this community was about, I know it’s somewhere I wanted to be,” Beal said. “As soon as I got here, she definitely led me down a journey so I could find out who I am.”

Black female representation in the coaching and sports administrative ranks has existed on a minute scale – even in a sport like basketball, which along with track and field has the highest concentration of Black female college athletes. Black female players who have been coached by a Black woman told The Associated Press that it was crucial to their development.

“There are some coaches who will just have all guys with no understanding that there are sometimes things that a young woman may need to talk to another woman about,” said Kiki Barnes, a former basketball player and jumper at New Orleans and current Gulf Coast Athletic Conference commissioner.

While the number of women coaching women’s sports has increased in the past decade, Black women continue to lag behind most other groups. During the 2021-22 school year, 399 Black women coached women’s NCAA sports teams in Divisions I, II and III, compared with 3,760 white women and 5,236 white men.

In women’s NCAA basketball, a sport made up of 30% Black athletes, Black women made up 12% of head coaches across all divisions during the 2021-22 season, according to the NCAA’s demographics database.

Fourteen Black women led women’s basketball teams across 65 Power Five programs this past season – up one from 2021. That’s less than 22% of the total in a sport that was played by more Black athletes (40.7%) than any other race in Division I, according to a report with data from the 2020-21 season.

For the first time in a decade, four Black coaches advanced to the Sweet 16 of the women’s basketball tournament, including Staley, who said she believes it’s more popular to hire a woman at “this stage of the game.”

“And it’s not to say that I’m going to sit here and male bash, because we have a lot of male coaches who have been in our game for decades upon decades,” said Staley, who will lead her team into the Final Four this weekend. “But I will say that giving women an opportunity to coach women and helping women navigate through life like they have navigated through life will allow your student-athletes a different experience than having a male coach.”

For years Staley has been an advocate for hiring more female coaches – especially minorities – in college basketball, but WNBA player Angel McCoughtry said Black female coaches as successful as Staley are still too few and far between in the sport.

“When I was getting recruited in high school, I don’t remember having a Dawn Staley to look up to,” said McCoughtry, who played at Louisville from 2005-09.

McCoughtry also named Carolyn Peck, the first African American woman to coach her team to an NCAA women’s basketball title in 1999 with Purdue, as another example of representation in the sport.

“So there’s one or two every decade,” McCoughtry said. “Why can’t we have 10? There’s 10 Caucasian coaches every decade.”

McCoughtry, a former No. 1 overall pick by the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, got used to being around people who didn’t look like or understand her. She is Black. Her AAU and high school coaches were Black men. Her college coaches were white men. Marynell Meadors, a white woman, was her first coach in Atlanta.

She has fielded frustrating questions from white peers, coaches and owners – like how often she washes her hair, or whether her passionate play was because she was from Baltimore.

“There’s just a disconnect in understanding things,” the 36-year-old said, adding: “We need more coaches to protect us.”

McCoughtry has never had a Black female head coach but did have the impactful guidance of Michelle Clark-Heard, a Black woman whom Jeff Walz brought on as an assistant when he took over at Louisville in 2008.

She also leaned on Tim Eaton, a Black assistant coach who she said advocated for her in her freshman year, when then-coach Tom Collen wanted to send her back to Baltimore because she was late to one of her first practices. Similarly, McCoughtry said, she felt she had less room to make mistakes than white teammates. When she questioned a coach, she was labeled a troublemaker; when she got fired up about a play, she was told she had a bad attitude.

“We just never had any inch to be human, like our Caucasian counterparts,” she said, adding: “But who understands that? Our Black coaches. Because they went through everything we went through. They have a story, too.”

Part of the reason for the lack of Black female coaches is because of who ultimately holds the power to hire, Barnes said. That’s often athletic directors, a level where there is an even greater lack of diversity – 224 of 350 in Division I are white men. Plus, she added, there are changing requirements for what it takes to get leadership opportunities.

“And now the system has changed to where now you’ve got to know search firms because now search firms are the ones that are managing and determining who gets these opportunities,” she said. “Every time we understand how to get in the room and what it takes to be prepared, it’s like the rules change.”

Barnes played high school basketball in her hometown of Minden, Louisiana, where she had an assistant coach who was a Black woman; Barnes still refers to her as “Coach Smith.”

“For her, it wasn’t just about basketball. It was about who I was as a young lady,” Barnes recalled, adding, “I would say it’s similar with a young woman wanting to talk to a mom about womanly things. It’s not that a man couldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t feel as comfortable talking to either my dad or any other man about woman things.”

Priscilla Loomis, a 2016 Olympic high jumper who is Black, said she became a coach to provide kids that look like her the representation the sport has lacked. NCAA track and field numbers mirrored women’s basketball numbers in 2021-22: 5% of head coaches were Black women, while 19% of women’s NCAA track and field athletes are Black.

“They want so badly to feel seen and to feel loved and to be given guidance,” Loomis said. “And so that’s why I always say it’s important to get women of color, men of color to the starting line, because a lot of times we’re so many steps behind.”

Auburn’s top 2022 signee, Yohan Traore, plans to transfer

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn’s top signee from last year, center Yohan Traore, plans to transfer.

The five-star recruit from France, who played a limited role as a freshman, announced his plans in an Instagram post.

The 6-foot-10 Traore initially committed to LSU but landed at Auburn after the firing of coach Will Wade a little more than a year ago. He was rated the No. 24 overall recruit and No. 5 center according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Traore averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds after arriving from Dream City Christian School in Arizona.

Traore was a member of the U15 and U16 French National Team.

He played nine minutes in Auburn’s opening NCAA Tournament game against Iowa. Traore failed to score and didn’t play in the second-round loss to Houston.

Unbeaten Gamecocks, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark star in women’s Final Four


SEATTLE ⁠— An undefeated South Carolina team led by star Aliyah Boston and guided by vaunted Dawn Staley, an Iowa squad that features high-scoring Caitlin Clark and the return of LSU and flashy coach Kim Mulkey headline the women’s Final Four this weekend.

Virginia Tech is the newcomer to the group as the Hokies are making their first appearance in the national semifinals. Hokies coach Kenny Brooks became the third Black male coach to take a team to the Final Four in women’s basketball history.

All of the women’s basketball world will descend on Dallas this week as the Division I, II and III championships will be held there. It’s only the second time that all three divisions will have their title games in the same place.

Staley and the Gamecocks are looking to become the 10th team to go through a season unbeaten and the first to repeat as champions since UConn won four in a row from 2013-16. South Carolina advanced to its third consecutive national semifinals and fifth since 2015 thanks to another superb effort by Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year. The three-time All-American had 22 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Maryland on Monday night.

Next up for the Gamecocks is Iowa and the sensational Clark. She helped the Hawkeyes reach their first Final Four in 30 years with a game for the ages in the regional semifinals on Sunday night. The junior guard had the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history in the win over Louisville.

The Gamecocks have the experience edge having reached the Final Four so often with this group. No one on Iowa’s roster was alive the last time the team advanced to the game’s biggest stage. C. Vivian Stringer was the coach of that team in 1993 that reached the Final Four before losing to Ohio State in overtime.

“It is like a storybook, but it’s kind of been like that for us all year long,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I mean, we have had — honestly, we keep talking about destiny and how it’s supposed to happen and it is happening. But I’m so happy for Caitlin. I can remember sitting in her living room and her saying, I want to go to a Final Four. And I’m saying, We can do it together. And she believed me. And so I’m very thankful for that.”

The other game will pit LSU against Virginia Tech. The Tigers are making their first trip to the national semifinals since 2008 when Sylvia Fowles dominated the paint. Now LSU is led by another stellar post player in Angel Reese.

She broke Fowles’ record for double-doubles in a season earlier this year and was key in the Tigers’ win over Miami in the Elite Eight.

Reese, who transferred in this season from Maryland, has made Mulkey’s second season at the school a special one. She came to LSU with a resume headlined by three NCAA titles from her time at Baylor along with some flamboyant sideline looks such as her silver-shimmering jacket with white pants that she wore in the Elite Eight game Sunday.

“What really makes me smile is not cutting that net down,” Mulkey said. “It’s looking around out there at all those LSU people, looking at that team I get to coach experience it for the first time.”

LSU’s opponent is also making its first appearance at the Final Four. The Hokies have had the best season in school history, winning the ACC crown as well under Brooks. He joined former Syracuse Quentin Hillsman and Cheyney State’s Winthrop “Windy” McGriff.

The significance has not been lost on Brooks, who hopes he can inspire other Black male coaches to get more opportunities.

The Hokies run to the national semifinals has been led by star post Elizabeth Kitley and sharpshooter Georgia Amoore. The pair combined for 49 points in the win over Ohio State in the Elite Eight.