ACC/Big Ten Challenge
The annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off this week with the Big 10 looking to repeat after upsetting the ACC 6-5 in last year’s series. The ACC won the first ten of these competitions but like I said the Big Ten comes in with all the conference bragging rights this season after knocking off the Atlantic Coast Conference last season, to win their first ever challenge. The series actually kicked off on Monday with one game, Virginia @ 17th ranked Minnesota. The Wahoos pulled off the huge upset to kick off the series and give the ACC the early advantage, by winning 87-79 at the “Barn” in Minnesapolis. Virginia shot 10 of 13 from 3 point range in the win, as Minnesota struggled to make up for the absence of guard Al Nolen, and fell to 6-1 on the season. Although the ACC was able to steal the first game in an upset I like the matchups this year for the Big Ten and believe the best conference in America will exploit the lack of the depth in the ACC(other than Duke) and take home a second straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Georgia Tech @ Northwestern ( 7pm ESPN2)
Northwestern still the only active member of a Power 6 conference to never make an NCAA tournament have one of their best teams in recent memory led by Juice Thompson and John Schurna while Georgia Tech comes in with a young and athletic bunch that gave Syracuse all it could handle in the Legends Classic over the weekend. This is a tough game to pick because it pits teams of two drastically different styles and offensive philosophies against one another. Northwestern is famous for the Princeton offense applied by head coach Bill Carmody a Princeton guy while Tech likes to run and use their athleticism to outpace and outscore their opponents. I like the Wildcats at home because of Schurna a streaky shooter who can go off at any moment and I think this is the year for the Wildcats to finally make the dance out of the Big Ten.
Pick: Northwestern (1-1)
Iowa @ Wake Forest (7pm ESPN U)
The so called “who cares game” of the series features two traditionally strong programs, both in rebuilding years as the Hawkeyes and Demon Deacons both come in with 3 losses on the young season. Iowa has already dropped games to South Dakota State and Long Beach State, while Wake has lost to Winthrop, VCU and Stetson. I’m picking the Deacons based on their athleticism and the play of Travis McKie but either one of these teams could win, because neither has shown anything to make them the favorite in this one. Games in Winston Salem, I’m taking Wake in an ugly one.
Pick: Wake Forest (2-1 ACC)
Ohio State @ Florida State( 7:30pm ESPN)
Maybe a trap game for the 2nd ranked Buckeyes because Florida State has some talent most notably with Chris Singleton who has already recorded a triple double this season and is currently averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds for the 5-1 ‘Noles . Although FSU is at home, you have to pick the Buckeyes in this one as Ohio State has too many scoring options (5 guys averaging double figures) and one of the best big men in college basketball in freshman Jared Sullinger. I like Thad Matta’s squad to do big things this year and expect Buford and Lighty to help continue the Buckeyes’ early season success with a win over the Seminoles. This might be the critical game of the series for the ACC as they need some upsets and could wrestle control from the Big 10 if the capable Seminoles were to pull off a shocker over 2nd ranked Ohio State.
Pick: Ohio State (2-2)
Michigan @ Clemson (9pm ESPN 2)
Both teams lost a lot from last season but Michigan lost more with the departures of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. Another tough one to call, but Clemson is at home and do have Demontez Stitt scoring from the point guard position, so I like the Tigers to improve to 6-1 on the season and pull the ACC ahead early in the challenge. Michigan who was picked 11th or 12th by most publications in the Big 10 has been competitive early on but a tough road game at Littlejohn Coliseum against the defensive minded Tigers should prove a very tough task for the Wolverines.
Pick: Clemson (3-2 ACC)
North Carolina @ Illinois (9:30pm ESPN)
Maybe the 2nd best matchup of the series (Michigan State @ Duke being the best),features two teams who failed to make the tournament last season but come in with high expectations this year. North Carolina comes in 4-2 with a couple of close losses to Vanderbilt and Minnesota and people are beginning to question how good this Tar Heels group really is? With Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes the ‘Heels have two strong interior players which will bode well for them against an Illinois team that features two big men in Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale who prefer to stay outside the paint area. Although UNC may have the muscle inside I’m going with the Illini at Home in Assembly Hall in front of the “Orange Crush” because of Illinois’ superior depth and Carolina’s inconsistency at the point guard position. Five Illini come in averaging double figures, and as long as Mike Davis competes with the Heels frontline on the glass and Demetri McCamey protects the ball, Illinois should prevail in a highly competitive early season game.
Pick: Illinois (3-3)
Going into Wednesday I see the series tied 3-3 with it all coming down to the final day as it usually does between these two Power Conferences.
NC State @ Wisconsin (Wednesday 7:15pm ESPN2)
To start off no one, I repeat no one wins at the Kohl Center, now try to knock of the Badgers in Madison without your best player. That is the task of Sidney Lowe’s NC State Wolfpack as they travel to Madison to face the Badgers without their leading scorer Tracy Smith. Preseason this looked like a marquis game and it still might be but without Smith I don’t see NC State knocking off Bo Ryan and Wisconsin anywhere, never mind at the Kohl Center. After losing the Old Spice Classic Final in a shocker to Notre Dame, the Badgers will come in motivated and angry and will take their frustration out on the Wolfpack who are minus their best player and team leader. John Leuer and Jordan Taylor will be too much for an undermanned NC State team to handle as the Badgers shake off the loss to Notre Dame and get back to their winning ways.
Pick: Wisconsin (4-3 Big Ten)
Indiana @ Boston College (Wednesday 7:15pm ESPNU)
Boston College has been an anomaly this season losing to Yale, and then going 2-1 at the Old Spice Classic with wins over Texas A&M and California. On the other hand Indiana is 6-0 but their best win was at home against Evansville as the Hoosiers have yet to play a team from one of the major six conferences. Tom Crean is turning things around in Bloomington led by Verdell Jones III and Christian Watford but Indiana still has a lot of work to do to return to the great tradition of Hoosier basketball. BC’s Reggie Jackson is the most talented and best 1 on 1 player on the floor, so I am picking the more athletic Eagles behind Jackson to pull the ACC even in the challenge with a win over Indiana. This game could go either way but as long as BC puts that early season loss to Yale behind them and show up ready to play, the Eagles should out talent and out run a young and untested Indiana team.
Pick: Boston College (4-4)
Purdue @ Virginia Tech (Wednesday 7:30pm ESPN)
I wouldn’t have hesitated taking the Boilermakers if Robbie Hummel was healthy but without Hummel the pick becomes less obvious as Virginia Tech is also a very talented team. Tech has Malcolm Delaney one of the most explosive game changers in college basketball but they also have a couple of early season losses to a very good Kansas State team and to UNLV in the 76 Classic Final. For Purdue E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson carry the scoring load as they average almost 38 points per game combined as both players’ scoring burdens have increased in the absence of Hummel. Look for Johnson to be the deciding factor as he will outplay Tech forward Jeff Allen, and Delaney and Moore will cancel each other out as Purdue will bounce back from the loss against Richmond with a signature non conference victory over a top 3 ACC side. This is another tough call but I am going with Purdue as I think the defensive attitude and toughness preached by head coach Matt Painter will be on display as the Boilermakers slow down Malcolm Delaney and out punch Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Pick: Purdue (5-4 Big Ten)
Maryland @ Penn State (Wednesday 9:15pm ESPN 2)
This game could be the clincher for either side depending on the previous results but the Big 10 has to hope they have the lead going into this game as Maryland are heavy favorites against Taylor Battle and Penn State. Taylor Battle will have to score close to 40 for the Nittany Lions to pull off the upset against a Terp’s team that has transitioned fairly well after losing reigning ACC player of the year Greivis Vasquez to graduation. Maryland has two early losses but both were close losses to ranked opponents in Pittsburgh and Illinois. I like Maryland in this one as Penn State has no answer for Jordan Williams in the low post, as Williams comes in averaging 17 points and a whopping 12 boards per contest. Maryland will not overlook Penn State with a big game versus Temple on the horizon and will even the series for the ACC heading into the final game and give us a dream matchup between Duke and Michigan State for all the marbles.
Pick: Maryland ( 5-5)
Michigan State @ Duke (Wednesday 9:30 pm ESPN)
The Preseason 1 and 2 matching up at Cameroon Indoor Stadium to decide the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would be the dream ending to a great series and a very possible scenario considering the previous matchups. Yes, Duke has probably the greatest home court advantage in college basketball and are the reigning National Champions but I think Michigan State can win this game. Sparty is coming off a disappointing loss to Connecticut in the Maui Invitational a tournament they were supposed to win and have something to prove after Kemba Walker exploited some of State’s defensive deficiencies on national television in the semi final from Hawaii. You know Tom Izzo has been all over his squad since and I see this game as a great opportunity for the Spartans to get a signature win and show they are a force to be reckoned with nationally even after an early season slip up. Duke comes in 6-0 with wins over an okay Marquette team and a very good Kansas State squad but have not faced a team like Michigan State or a coach like Tom Izzo yet this season. I think the key to this game is Delvon Roe, the Junior forward was tremendous against South Carolina but was MIA in Hawaii at the Invitational, and Michigan State needs to get production inside from Roe along with Draymond Green in order to knock off the Blue Devils. The Spartans have more talent in the paint than the Blue Devils and I think Kalin Lucas will show his value at the point in guiding the Spartans to an upset victory over top ranked Duke. Duke is the deeper, better shooting, and more explosive team but Michigan State has this uncanny ability to win big games and I’m not picking against Izzo with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on the line. Duke has not lost a non conference home game since 2000 when Marcus Hatten and St. John’s defeated the Blue Devils 83-82, you heard it here the current 80 game winning streak will come to an end at the hands of the Spartans as 10,000 Cameroon Crazies will leave in tears and the Big Ten will retain their supremacy over the ACC for at least another year.
Pick: Michigan State (6-5 Big Ten- Final Score)
By Gus Elvin