Handicapping Next Season’s Best Big Ten/ACC Challenge MatchupsPosted by EJacoby on May 15th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
With the announcement of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge schedule for next season, fans now have some important dates to circle on their calendars. The 14th annual competition between power conference heavyweights will take place on November 27 and 28 with all games televised on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. Eight of the teams in competition are currently slotted in the RTC preseason Top 25, and there are several enticing matchups between big-time teams. Given that it’s mid-May, it’s far too early to break down the individual strategic matchups, but we’ll give you the best games to look forward to, and why. The Big Ten has won three consecutive challenges after the ACC was victorious in the first 10. Here’s what the 2012 ACC/Big Ten Challenge presents us.
Prestige and Intrigue, North Carolina at Indiana (Nov. 27) – Two of the top five or six programs in college basketball history square off in the headline event of this challenge, and it’s going to be one of the biggest games of the non-conference season. North Carolina loses its four top players from last season, but don’t count out the Tar Heels next year. James Michael McAdoo returns along with a bevy of talented perimeter players in Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland, Marcus Paige, and Leslie McDonald. However, UNC has the task of playing in Bloomington against a Hoosiers squad that might be the top team in the country next season. With a lineup full of talented scorers and the experience of last season’s spotlight, Indiana will be a title contender and a strong favorite in this game. The battle between Cody Zeller and McAdoo inside is a matchup of perhaps the two most talented low post prospects in the country.
The Best of the Bunch, NC State at Michigan (Nov. 27) – While UNC at IU presents the greatest national intrigue, a game on the same night presents a better overall matchup. When NC State hits the floor at Michigan, we’ll be seeing two likely Top 10 teams meet with experienced talent. Lorenzo Brown against Trey Burke pits two of the nation’s best point guards going at it, with two different styles at the position. Tim Hardaway, Jr., and C.J. Leslie are each talented juniors for their respective teams that flirted with the NBA but are back to lead their contenders. Throw in strong recruiting classes for each squad and we’ve got a doozy. Lucky for the Big Ten, they once again have the home court advantage in this one.
The Rematch, Ohio State at Duke (Nov. 28) – The defining moment of last season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was Ohio State’s complete domination of Duke in Columbus, in which the Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead and easily finished the Blue Devils off with an 85-63 victory. Next year’s game features the rematch, this time in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Both teams lose key cogs from last year but will once again be major contenders. OSU will look very different after losing leading scorers Jared Sullinger and William Buford, but Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas return as two of the top players at their positions in the whole country. Duke, meanwhile, lost Austin Rivers to the draft but will bring back most of its primary players such as Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, and Tyler Thornton, plus the addition of highly-touted freshman Rasheed Sulaimon. Be ready for an intense battle in the rematch from last season.
The First to 50 Wins, Virginia at Wisconsin (Nov. 28) – Think we’re joking with the title of this one? Think again. The Badgers played at the very slowest tempo in the country last season, and they tend to slow things down even more at home. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, played at the 10th-slowest pace in the nation last year. Both teams are losing their do-it-all senior performers (Mike Scott for UVA, Jordan Taylor for Wisconsin), so points will not be easy to come by. Hide your eyes if you love scoring, but tune in for a classic slugfest in you want to see efficient defenses go to work.
The Sleeper Special, Minnesota at Florida State (Nov. 27) – Neither of these teams is going to make the cut as a top conference contender, yet each qualifies as a potential sleeper in its respective league. Minnesota is on the rise with a bunch of developing wing players, and the return of star forward Trevor Mbakwe for a sixth season means that the Golden Gophers could make some serious noise in the Big Ten. This game will be a big road test for Tubby Smith’s team. The Seminoles lost a lot of post strength from last season that will have plenty pundits doubting them, but FSU returns the potent perimeter duo of Ian Miller and Michael Snaer along with Okaro White and other young bigs. The Seminoles have been a consistently tough out under Leonard Hamilton; sleep on them at your own risk.
The First Impression, Michigan State at Miami (Nov. 28) – This is an already intriguing matchup that gets spiced up when considering that these two teams have never faced one another. It’s hard to believe that these two huge universities and national presences (Miami’s is mainly in football, but still) have never before crossed paths on the hardwood. We also have a very important basketball game between two teams expecting to be NCAA Tournament qualifiers. Tom Izzo’s team will be searching for ways to replace do-it-all Draymond Green, but the talent is there to remain a Big Ten contender. Miami, meanwhile, has no more excuses to miss out on the postseason as forwards Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson join Shane Larkin and Durand Scott as a veteran, talented team in the ACC that needs this statement non-conference win in front of the home fans.
The Other Games –
- Iowa at Virginia Tech (Nov. 27)
- Maryland at Northwestern (Nov. 27)
- Nebraska at Wake Forest (Nov. 27)
- Purdue at Clemson (Nov. 28)
- Georgia Tech at Illinois (Nov. 28)
- Boston College at Penn State (Nov. 28)