Every fall, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge provides the backdrop for some terrific early-season college basketball as teams from perhaps the two best conferences in college hoops do battle. This year’s Challenge should be as good as usual, with both conferences boasting a number of great teams. Here are picks for each game in the Challenge:
Tuesday Night Games:
Syracuse 84, Indiana 73: Fourth ranked Syracuse has been impressive early this season, flying out to a 7-0 start. C.J. Fair has been unbelievable. The youthful Hoosiers have gotten out to a solid start also and boast a 100 point performance against Washington. IU’s only loss came in last-second fashion against a good UConn team. While the Hoosiers are young, they’re extremely talented and athletic. Playing on the road at the Carrier Dome is an imposing challenge for any team, however.
Illinois 65, Georgia Tech 60: John Groce has Illinois out to a 7-0 start thanks to stifling defense and the play of Rayvonte Rice, an offensively gifted transfer from Drake. Georgia Tech has had a somewhat rockier start to their season and the Jackets come in fresh off two losses, although they will host this game.
Pitt 73, Penn State 66: Penn State quietly boasts some of the best guard play in the nation. Tim Frazier is back for the Nittany Lions after missing almost all of last due to injury and he’s joined by offensively potent junior D.J. Newbill. The two guards will be tested in this game by defensively stout Pitt. The Panthers have roared out to a 7-0 start, blowing by fairly weak competition. They will be backed by the Oakland Zoo in this game as they face perhaps their toughest test thus far.
Iowa 80, Notre Dame 76: The 7-1 Hawkeyes can really play, although they are coming off a disappointing, albeit tremendously entertaining overtime loss to Villanova. Iowa will be at home, where they will deal with a Notre Dame team shooting over 50% from the field this year.
Duke 86, Michigan 71: These two teams have combined for four losses already this year, but there is no questioning the immense talent that will be on display in Cameron Indoor Stadium in this game. Duke’s losses have come at the hands of Kansas and Arizona. Michigan’s losses didn’t come against quite that level of competition (Iowa State and Charlotte) but the Wolverines, who did beat FSU, are clearly no team to take lightly.
Florida State 76, Minnesota 65: It seems Florida State is back. The ‘Noles are 5-2 with a blowout win over VCU on their resume along with a pair of last second losses to excellent competition (Michigan and Florida). Leonard Hamilton always has his guys playing great defense, but early returns indicate that this might be one of the better offensive teams he’s had in Tallahessee. Minnesota on the other hand has looked solid early, but lost at the hands of Syracuse and Arkansas. Rick Pitino’s son, Richard, is in his first year at Minnesota and his team is led by ridiculously smooth guard Andre Hollins.
Wednesday Night Games:
Ohio State 65, Maryland 54: Maryland got a tough draw in this game, as they’ll play a defensively dominant Ohio State team on the road. But Maryland has shown the ability to score the ball well early on this year, so don’t be surprised if the Terps makes things interesting.
Wisconsin 59, Virginia 56: These teams tend to get compared a lot–both take their time to get good offensive looks and play smothering defense. Wisconsin is ranked eighth in the nation, and they’ve looked tremendous early on. Virginia has looked great as well, although they came up short in a game against VCU–their lone loss. This could be one of the tightest games of the whole challenge.
North Carolina State 67, Northwestern 62: Here’s a pair of teams in transition. NC State lost loads in the off-season from last year’s 24 win team. Northwestern is in year one under coach Chris Collins. Right now, I don’t feel particularly confident picking either team, but I’ll go with NC State as they’re at home. Northwestern’s offense still looks like a bit of a work in progress.
North Carolina 78, Michigan State 75: I had to pick an upset, right? There’s no denying that the Spartans are outstanding–just ask Kentucky–but the guys in the other corner might be the most talented unranked team in the nation–just ask Louisville. North Carolina always seems to beat Michigan State, but I might be reaching with this pick. Either way, the matchup between Keith Appling and Marcus Paige should be awesome.
Boston College 78, Purdue 75: The Eagles have sputtered out of the gate, but I still think Olivier Hanlan and Co. are good enough to put together a nice season in the Heights. Purdue has played some quality halves (the second half of their game against Oklahoma State being one of them) but few good complete games. They’ll need to play two strong halves to take down the Eagles.
Nebraska 65, Miami 59: Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers have the homecourt advantage edge in this game and an edge in experience–Miami is incredibly green. Still, Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes should be counted on to play outstanding defense and are fresh off a surprising win over Arizona State. With the game being played at Nebraska, I’ll take the Cornhuskers.
So, overall I’m calling for the ACC to win 7-5.