Breaking Down The ACC/Big Ten Challenge Matchups

Posted by zhayes9 on May 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a regular RTC writer and resident bracketologist.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is surely one of the highlights of the non-conference season. These two power conferences are perennially the most competitive and successful in college basketball, and the powers-that-be who determine the games routinely do a fantastic job of pitting the best teams from each respective conference against each other. The Challenge next winter is ratcheted up even another notch with Duke, Michigan State and Purdue likely rounding out the top three in the polls. Let’s delve into each game with a breakdown and prediction:

November 29- Virginia at Minnesota

The ugly Sylven Landesberg breakup was crushing for Virginia’s hopes of contending in the ACC this season. Trusting Tony Bennett and his system, most prognosticators would likely have pegged the Cavailers as a NCAA team with Landesberg around. Virginia still has returning talent in spite of his departure, but it won’t feature enough firepower to win at the Barn in Minneapolis. Replacing Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson won’t be easy, but Tubby Smith still has a 47% three-point shooter in Blake Hoffarber, breakout candidate Devoe Joseph and the return of star guard Al Nolen at his disposal. Winner: Minnesota (Big Ten leads 1-0).

November 30- North Carolina at Illinois

One of the headlining matchups, this game should peg two top-25 teams that boast loads of young talent. Depending on how much of an impact freshmen Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock can make immediately, and how much John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Larry Drew improve in the offseason, Carolina could make the leap from NIT participant to top-15 team. Illinois has their own heralded recruiting class entering Champaign to play alongside reigning assist kid Demetri McCamey and the twin towers of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. It’s a bit overzealous to expect a young UNC team to win such a difficult road game this early in the season. Winner: Illinois (Big Ten leads 2-0).

Mike Tisdale leads a talented Illinois squad against Carolina

November 30- Ohio State at Florida State

These two teams faced off in last year’s Challenge and the Buckeyes were able to emerge victorious in Columbus. Now they travel to Tallahassee to take on a Seminole squad that may have lost Solomon Alabi, but they do return all-ACC candidate Chris Singleton and sophomore Michael Snaer, a much-ballyhooed recruit two years ago that could make an impact. The Buckeyes still out-man the ‘Noles at nearly every position, though. If Aaron Craft is able to run the point as a freshman, the sky’s the limit for Thad Matta’s team. Jared Sullinger is the most college-ready player of this year’s class. He teams with three-point marksman Jon Diebler, the super-talented William Buford, defensive stalwart David Lighty and shot-blocker extraordinaire Dallas Lauderdale. Buckeyes squeak one out on the road. Winner: Ohio State (Big Ten leads 3-0).

November 30- Michigan at Clemson

Clemson will be looking for redemption after last season’s Challenge collapse against Illinois. A new coach, Brad Brownell, leads the Tigers charge without Trevor Booker. They still have enough to knock out a rebuilding Michigan team on their home floor. Demontez Stitt, Andre Young and Tanner Smith lead a talented Clemson backcourt, while Jerai Grant can certainly contribute in the post. Without Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, it’s going to be a long season for John Beilein. Look for incoming freshmen Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz to get an opportunity right away. Winner: Clemson (Big Ten leads 3-1).

November 30- Georgia Tech at Northwestern

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt opted to remain in Atlanta rather than further pursue the St. John’s job. This decision could pay long-term dividends, but in 2010-11 it will likely be NIT for Hewitt’s Tech squad. Gani Lawal, Derrick Favors and Zach Peacock, their top three frontcourt scorers, all depart. It’ll be a more backcourt-oriented approach next season with Iman Shumpert, Mfon Udofia and Glen Rice Jr. all playing leading roles. Northwestern has their best opportunity in years to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Coble returns from last season’s devastating injury. Their three double digit scorers from last season are also back. The Wildcats take this one at home fairly easily. Winner: Northwestern (Big Ten leads 4-1).

November 30- Iowa at Wake Forest

Losing Al-Farouq Aminu, Ish Smith, Chas McFarland and L.D. Williams is a hard hit for the Demon Deacons and new coach Jeff Bzdelik. Luckily for Wake, their opponent in this matchup would kill to be in their situation. Iowa and recently hired Fran McAffrey have a full-blown rebuilding project staring them in the face, one that will probably keep Iowa near the Big Ten cellar for a few more seasons. Wake Forest is hoping sophomores C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart can post more consistent campaigns. Former coach Dino Gaudio locked up four impressive recruits that will all compete for playing time. In front of their raucous home crowd, they should win this game in blowout fashion. Winner: Wake Forest (Big Ten leads 4-2).

December 1- Michigan State at Duke

This game could very well be the best regular season matchup of the 2010-11 season. #1 vs. #2. Tom Izzo vs. Coach K. Kalin Lucas vs. Kyrie Irving. Reigning Final Four participants. The final day of the Challenge. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this for a non-conference matchup, quite possibly the most hyped since #1 Duke battled #2 Texas in East Rutherford in 2005 (which ones am I forgetting?). You won’t see many prognosticators picking Duke to lose at home at any point next season. With Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith back along with Irving and Seth Curry joining the fray, it’s going to be close to impossible to knock off the Blue Devils in front of their fans. If any team can do it next season, though, it’s Michigan State. They’re used to big games. Winner: Duke (Big Ten leads 4-3).

Michigan State can beat Duke if Durrell Summers gets hot

December 1- Purdue at Virginia Tech

While Purdue matching up with North Carolina would have been sexier, the Hokies could very well prove to be the second best ACC team when the season comes to an end. Malcolm Delaney returning to Blacksburg for a final season gives the team major credibility. He’s joined by fellow leading scorers Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson. Purdue is the better team overall now that JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore are back, a group many will peg to cut down the nets in Houston (I can’t argue). Robbie Hummel will be 100% following his ACL injury and Lewis Jackson the same after a foot injury hindered his 2009-10 season. Purdue’s headstrong and experienced unit will know how to handle the raucous Hokie crowd, handing the Big Ten an enormous road win in the process. Winner: Purdue (Big Ten leads 5-3).

December 1- NC State at Wisconsin

Sidney Lowe’s Wolfpack are truly one of the more intriguing teams heading into the summer. C.J. Leslie was a major coup as was Tracy Smith opting to play another season in Raleigh. Throw in Ryan Harrow, Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood and Javier Gonzalez, and NC State could be in serious business for the first time since Julius Hodge was adorning the red and white. But winning at the Kohl Center? In December? When eventual national champ Duke couldn’t even accomplish the feat? That’s too much to ask. Jon Leuer returns for Bo Ryan as an all-Big Ten candidate. Winner: Wisconsin (Big Ten clinches, leads 6-3).

December 1- Indiana at Boston College

Nobody is talking about the Eagles as a possible sleeper. While most of the recruiting class under Al Skinner has ditched, new coach Steve Donahue still has some serious talent returning. Joe Trapani, Corey Raji, Reggie Jackson, Josh Southern and Biko Paris is not a terrible situation by any means, although the rebuilding process after 2010-11 will be strenuous. If they become acquainted to a new offensive philosophy, BC could make an NCAA Tournament push. Indiana will have Maurice Creek back from injury and returns nearly everyone of note with the exception of Devan Dumes. The pesky Hoosiers should give BC a run for their money, but they’re just not quite at the point of winning road games against ACC competition. Winner: Boston College (Big Ten leads 6-4).

December 1- Maryland at Penn State

Talor Battle coming back to Happy Valley gives the Nittany Lions some hope. The fact remains that they’re a one-man team more often than not. Unless forwards David Jackson, Jeff Brooks or incoming guard Taran Buie improve significantly, it’ll be the same story for Penn State. Maryland looks depleted with the senior class losses of Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne. It’s prudent for role players Adrian Bowie, Dino Gregory, Cliff Tucker and Jordan Williams to take the torch and become impact contributors for Gary Williams. Williams showed the most potential for stardom last season.  I expect him to lead the way in this confidence-building road victory. Winner: Maryland (Big Ten wins 6-5).

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