ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part I

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 27th, 2017

Since its creation in 1999, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge has accomplished all of its goals. It has provided a number of high-level non-conference games between two of the best basketball leagues in America. It has ensured that those games take place on campus in front of fans yearning for some real competition after a steady diet of November cupcakes. It has forced some well-regarded coaches — we won’t name anyone here, of course — to play a quality non-conference road game every once in a while. It has also created water cooler fodder for discussion between ACC and Big Ten fans during the heart of football season. Since the inception of the event nearly two decades ago, the ACC leads the overall series by a score of 11-5-2. The ACC won the first 10 challenges, but the Big Ten has come back strongly in recent years, winning five of the last eight, including two ties.

Tyus Battle’s back issue would certainly pose a big problem for the Orange moving forward. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s no surprise that Duke leads the way among ACC teams historically — the Blue Devils are 16-2 in this event, carrying a current streak of five straight victories. Virginia and Wake Forest are tied for second with 11 all-time wins, while only Florida State (7-11), Georgia Tech (6-10), NC State (6-11), Virginia Tech (4-7) and Syracuse (1-3) have losing records in challenge play. This week we’ll be rolling out game previews for each night’s action — here is a look at the challenge’s first two games. (Ratings via KenPom as of Monday)

  • Maryland (#37) at Syracuse (#54). We don’t really know much yet about this year’s Syracuse team, thanks to a typical Jim Boeheim November schedule. In their first five games, the Orange haven’t left the Carrier Dome or played a team ranked among the KenPom top 100. We’ll know a lot more starting tonight. A key to this game will be the relative health of star sophomore wing Tyus Battle. He missed most of last week’s second half against Toledo after a lower back injury, and reports over the weekend suggest that he will be able to play against the Terrapins (although perhaps in limited fashion). Syracuse could certainly use him, as he is off to a terrific start this season, averaging 20.0 PPG and logging a 26.7 PER. The Orange’s length in their zone defense causes problems for everyone, but could especially create havoc against a Maryland team with issues securing the ball (338th nationally). In the Terps’ loss to St. Bonaventure over the weekend, they committed 20 turnovers and often looked harried against the Bonnies’ zone. Syracuse’s defensive objective is to force its opponents to take rushed and/or contested three-pointers over the top of its zone, and so far this season, Maryland’s three best players (Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson) are collectively shooting under 30 percent from distance.

A lot to potentially smile about for Tony Bennett and Virginia this season. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Wisconsin (#31) at Virginia (#3). The Cavaliers took care of business in last week’s NIT Season Tip-Off and now already sports three wins over the KenPom top 100, all away from Charlottesville. They now welcome Wisconsin to John Paul Jones Arena as the Badgers are coming off three straight “good” losses. The key to this game will no doubt be how Virginia handles Wisconsin star center Ethan Happ. Not only is he putting up his usual impressive offensive numbers (57.6% eFG, 117.5 ORtg), but Happ has also improved his defensive rebounding this season — up to 33.8 percent (from 25.2 percent last season). Virginia will toss a sizable mixture of single and double-coverage in the form of Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite and Isaiah Wilkins at the junior All-American candidate, but expect him to play well regardless. Will he be able to find his open teammates against the swarming Virginia defense? So far this season, Happ is logging a career-best assist percentage (31.9%) and a career-low turnover percentage (11.9%). If he can sustain those numbers by finding his open teammates, the Badgers could find a way to break the pack line defense.
Mick McDonald (50 Posts)

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