Key Questions in the Tuesday Big Ten/ACC Challenge Early Games

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 3rd, 2013

It’s back. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge starts tonight. The ACC is currently ahead 10-3-1 in the event, but the Big Ten hasn’t lost a challenge in four years with last season giving us the lone tie. This year’s match-ups provide plenty of compelling games to consider and includes the first time that Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse will compete as well as Maryland’s last run with the ACC. With that in mind, Matt Patton and Lathan Wells from the ACC microsite and Jonathan Batuello and Brendan Brody from the B1G microsite got together on Monday to answer some key questions concerning this year’s Challenge. This post will preview the three early Tuesday night games, with a second post previewing the late games coming this afternoon. Wednesday will have a similar construct. Also be sure to check-out both microsites over the next few days for further reaction and analysis as the Challenge gets underway.

Indiana @ Syracuse, 7:15 PM, ESPN

Indiana and Syracuse Match Up Again, This Time at the Dome

Indiana and Syracuse Match Up Again, This Time at the Dome

B1G: The Challenge’s first game is a rematch of the Sweet Sixteen game last year. It ended the Hoosiers’ hopes for a national title, but this year’s game has plenty of new faces. This year’s Indiana team is extremely athletic, so how does Syracuse match up against them?

ACC: Very well. One of the things that makes Syracuse’s zone so dangerous is its length. The zone hides a lot of athletic mismatches on defense, but expect the Orange to be able to hang with most of Indiana’s roster. Offensively the most important thing is for Tyler Ennis to feel comfortable. On the other hand, Tom Crean’s history against the zone is well known. How do you think he changes his game plan to handle a talented Syracuse team and its zone?

B1G: Crean would love nothing more than to get his “zone struggles” monkey off his back heading back to Syracuse. Honestly, though, IU will have a different game plan than last year because it has a different team. Last season, IU didn’t hit from deep in the NCAA Tournament against the zone, but this season it doesn’t have the players to simply shoot Syracuse out of it. Indiana will likely struggle shooting the ball so it needs to do what a fellow B1G microsite writer talked about a few weeks ago – rebound. The Hoosiers will have to get some free points off putbacks to have a chance to win this game. On that note, Indiana is an absolute monster on the boards this season, outrebounding its opponents 50-32. Syracuse is only averaging 36 boards a game itself, so is there anyway the Orange can hang with the Hoosiers on the glass?

ACC: That will be a problem for Syracuse, especially on the defensive end. It’s very hard to rebound out of a zone, so look for Noah Vonleh to get some second-chance opportunities. On the other end of the floor, Syracuse has been one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country and expect that to continue against the Hoosiers unless Noah Vonleh’s presence is really felt there too. He has been an absolute beast so far in the paint, but how will he handle an experienced Orange front line?

B1G: Vonleh has been a terror, making an early claim to B1G Freshman of the Year by averaging a double-double. His only poor game came against Indiana’s best opponent in Connecticut when he was in foul trouble and only played 10 minutes. The freshman is likely the real deal so don’t be surprised to see him get a double-double simply off rebounds and putbacks against the zone. On the defensive end, he will also be huge in trying to limit the Orange from using that experience inside. He could take some bumps there, but he should have a good game against the Orange if he can stay on the court.

  • ACC on why Syracuse will win: The Orange zone will be too much for a young Hoosiers team to handle, and CJ Fair’s torrid mid-range game will be the difference.
  • B1G on why Indiana will win: Noah Vonleh and the Hoosiers get tons of second-chance points with another strong rebounding effort  as Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey catch fire from three to neutralize the zone.

Illinois @ Georgia Tech, 7:15 PM, ESPN2

Rayvonte Rice will be one of Illinois' best scoring options this year. (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

Rayvonte Rice is a Key to Illinois’ Match-up with Georgia Tech (John Dixon/The News-Gazette)

ACC: This game also pits a rematch from last season as Illinois won, 75-62, but the Illini are a very different team this year. This season it clearly has some scoring deficiencies — who has to assume the primary scoring role for the Illini?

B1G: The Illini run into some problems when they get too trigger-happy from the outside. The most likely candidate would be Rayvonte Rice, but Joseph Bertrand is someone who is shooting 54.5 percent from the field despite only taking eight shots per game. Bertrand should be more aggressive in his shot-hunting. One of the keys to handling those scoring droughts you’re speaking of would be to give Jaylon Tate more minutes. He does a great job distributing and getting everyone else going. While Illinois may struggle to find a primary scorer, Georgia Tech has a problem when it comes to shooting from deep as it hits only 30.3 percent from three. Is there anyone who can stop this trend of poor shooting and burn the Illini from deep in this game?

ACC: Solomon Poole is the most likely candidate to make the Illini respect the Jackets’ perimeter game, as he’s 13-of-35 from three through eight games. But if sophomore Chris Bolden can reverse a slow start from outside, this team will have the multifaceted offensive attack it needs to win. Point guard Trae Golden also takes a lot of attempts, but it would be beneficial if his supporting cast can keep him from feeling as if he has to ignite a perimeter scoring attack. A real question for Illinois is if this game comes down to the wire, is Rayvonte Rice a viable go-to guy for Illinois? And if not, where does the team go in the clutch?

B1G: Rice is starting to become a go-to-guy as of late as he gets more comfortable in John Groce’s system. He has the ability and the makeup to be the guy who steps up and gets the Illini a basket when they need it. Jon Ekey is another transfer learning the system who has shown flashes of an ability to take over if needed with his outside-inside combo game. If it comes down to someone performing in the clutch it could be an interesting battle if that shot is missed. Georgia Tech has done a great job in limiting second-chance opportunities (11th nationally in giving up offensive rebounds), but how do they keep an Illinois team that is 10th nationally in offensive rebounding off the boards?

ACC: It starts with the Jackets’ interior presence, which thus far has been prodigious in the rebounding department. If Daniel Miller, Robert Carter, Jr. and Kammeon Holsey continue rebounding at the rate they are (23.2 RPG between the three), Georgia Tech can control the boards. It would also help if Marcus Georges-Hunt can continue rebounding as well he has been from the wing. The frontcourt is Tech’s strength; they’ll need that trend to continue.

  • B1G on why Illinois will win: They’ll be able to hold serve with Georgia Tech rebounding, and will limit them to fewer than five threes.
  • ACC on why Georgia Tech will win: The Yellow Jackets counter Illinois’ early-season rebounding prowess with a big front line, steady point guard play from Golden, and just enough production from the perimeter.

Penn State @ Pittsburgh, 7:30 PM, ESPNU

Jamie Dixon Has His Panthers Back to Playing Pittsburgh Basketball (US Presswire)

Jamie Dixon Has His Panthers Back to Playing Pittsburgh Basketball (US Presswire)

B1G: It’s a state rivalry renewed as Pittsburgh gets its first game in the Challenge. Part of this is because the Panthers haven’t allowed a team to score more than 70 points in a game all year, but Penn State hasn’t scored fewer than that either. Is Pitt’s defense that good or do we see the Nittany Lions’ scoring streak end?

ACC: The Panthers look dominant early on both ends of the floor, albeit against below-average competition. Penn State will need to rebound well or expect the scoring streak to end in at the Pete. The question is if there is anywhere Penn State has an advantage in this game?

B1G: The Nittany Lions have a strong backcourt. Pittsburgh’s is also good, but Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill are a force to be reckoned with and could be one of the best offensive backcourts in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are off to a great start, though, thanks to better play from the guys around them. Still, the guard spots are where Penn State has to win this game, so how does Pittsburgh match up defensively against these two?

ACC: Cameron Wright and Lamar Patterson are statistically very good defensive guards. They get steals without fouling. Penn State needs a lot to go right to beat the Panthers starting with protecting the ball. Getting to the line is a big part of both Newbill and Frazier’s games, so that’s a key match-up to watch. With this a road game, though, will they get as many calls? Penn State only has had one road game this year, so how will it hold up in a very hostile environment?

B1G: Penn State won its only road game at Penn and has had two neutral court games too, including likely head coach Pat Chambers’ best non-conference win in his PSU coaching tenure over St. John’s. This will definitely be a different setting at the Pete, though. Frazier has already been through it all, playing in the B1G and dealing with some of the roughest venues in college basketball. Don’t expect them to get too frazzled by the environment, but admittedly, if Penn State starts poorly this game could get out of hand quickly.

  • ACC on why Pittsburgh will win: The Panthers are flat-out better than Penn State at essentially every facet of the game, and they’re playing at home.
  • B1G on why Penn State will win: Penn State gets monster games from its backcourt duo and just enough from everyone else to pull off a massive upset.
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