Five Key Big Ten Takeaways From a Dreadful ACC Challenge Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2017

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was a wake-up call for the Big Ten, as the conference dropped 11 of the 14 contests, including five losses by more than 10 points. Its 3-11 mark represents the league’s worst record, by far, in the event’s 19-year year history. And while it’s only fair to judge a conference so much based on a single set of match-ups in November, there’s still reason to worry. Let’s examine a few of the most glaring takeaways, both good and bad, from the four-day drubbing.

Maryland’s loss at Syracuse was one of many for the Big Ten. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The “best of the rest” might not be so great. Michigan State and Purdue were pegged #1 and #2 in the Big Ten preseason media poll, and both took care of business this week. The Spartans knocked off their second-straight top-10 ACC opponent, while the Boilermakers used a crowd-fueled second-half surge to defeat #17 Louisville. As for the remaining “upper echelon” squads? The ACC/Big Ten Challenge did not go very well. Preseason #3 Minnesotashorthanded, to be sure — lost at home to Miami (FL), unable to keep big man Dewan Huell (23 points) and the Hurricane guards from carving them up on the pick-and-roll. Northwestern, picked fourth, mustered just 0.88 points per possession in a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia Tech. Michigan and Wisconsin were soundly defeated on the road against North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, while Maryland — just three days after losing to St. Bonaventure — fell at Syracuse. While one could simply blame the bulk of these losses on bad match-ups, that would be ignoring the fact that several of these programs were unknown quantities heading into the season. The Terps lost Melo Trimble to the pros; Wisconsin and Michigan each lost three of their top four scorers to graduation; Northwestern hasn’t finished among the top four of the Big Ten since 1968. This week’s results may be nothing more than a few bad match-ups playing out in the ACC’s favor; then again, they may also be indicative of Big Ten that is not quite as deep — or simply as good — as some expected. At the very least, the one-sided outcome could do lasting damage to the conference’s seeding profile come Selection Sunday.

  • Iowa’s defense looks bad. After a competitive first half at Virginia Tech on Tuesday night, the wheels completely fell off for Iowa — especially on the defensive end. The Hawkeyes surrendered 22 points on the first 15 possessions of the second half, looking undisciplined and slow in transition against the aggressive Hokies’ attack. Of course, the team’s dreadful second half shooting (7-of-37 FG) did not help matters, but on the heels of bad losses against Louisiana-Lafayette (1.08 PPP) and South Dakota State (1.14 PPP), the reality of Iowa’s predicament is more clear than ever: If it doesn’t find a way to get stops — especially after empty offensive possessions — Fran McCaffery’s young team is likely destined for a .500 season (or worse). The Hawkeyes will simply face too many Big Ten opponents capable of thriving in the type of uptempo game McCaffery likes to play, especially on nights when the shots aren’t falling.

Indiana fought Duke tooth and nail in Assembly Hall on Wednesday. (Brian Spurlock – USA TODAY Sports)

  • Despite the loss, Indiana’s effort against Duke was a moral victory. Remember three weeks ago when Indiana was manhandled by Indiana State in Assembly Hall? After Wednesday’s competitive, back-and-forth loss to #1 Duke, you’d be forgiven for forgetting. The Hoosiers looked markedly improved against the Blue Devils, consistently knifing into the teeth of Duke’s defense (66% 2FG) and taking care of the basketball at an uncharacteristically high clip (nine turnovers on 69 possessions). Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis — who, at 6’10, is Indiana’s only true big man — had the best game of his career down low, scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting despite early foul trouble. Sure, the defense still has a long way to go — the Hoosiers surrendered a gaudy 1.32 points per possession — but it’s hard to argue that Wednesday night’s performance was anything but positive for Archie Miller’s evolving group.
  • Michigan State’s defense is elite. For the second straight game, Michigan State held a top-15 offense — and top-10 opponent — to under a point per possession, comfortably defeating Notre Dame by 15 points in East Lansing. Entering the contest, Notre Dame had not been held under one point per possession since February 26 of last year, a 13-game run that included a 1.42 PPP outpouring against LSU and a 1.12 PPP effort against Wichita State in the Maui Invitational. Against the Spartans, Notre Dame simply couldn’t find any sort of rhythm, struggling especially to do damage inside the arc. Michigan State’s superior length and paint discipline helped the Big Ten favorite build a 20-point halftime cushion, a lead Notre Dame was never able to recover from despite a run of hot shooting early in the second half. Jaren Jackson Jr. — the Spartans’ uber-long 6’11” freshman — was especially dominant on Thursday, holding National Player of the Year candidate Bonzie Colson to just four points when the two were matched up. “Defensively… we’re causing some problems,” Tom Izzo said after the game. His team now ranked second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and that’s perhaps putting it mildly.
  • Matt Haarms is a shot-blocking machine. As if Isaac Haas’ 7’2″ frame isn’t enough, freshman big man Matt Haarms — a surprisingly mobile 7’3″ Netherlands native — is wreaking havoc on the defensive end for Purdue. The skinny center followed his prolific five-block performance against Arizona in the Battle 4 Atlantis with a four-block effort against Louisville on Tuesday, including the game-sealing denial — on a three-point attempt, no less — of Cardinals’ guard Quentin Snider. That’s nine blocks in two games against elite competition. Haarms 16.2 percent block rate currently ranks ninth in the entire country, and there’s no telling how many more swats the energetic Dutchman will rack up by season’s end.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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