ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Wednesday Preview

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 28th, 2018

An extremely competitive ACC-Big Ten Challenge, one in which six games have already been decided by four points or fewer, comes to a close tonight. Locked at 4-4 going into tonight’s games, let’s take a look at what’s in store for this evening.

Jim Boeheim is Pleading for a Win (USA Today Images)

  •  #20 Syracuse (3-2) at #23 Ohio State (6-0). On the strength of two true road wins against top 40 teams, Ohio State was the top-rated team in the initial NET ratings that were released on Monday. The talented Orange have been disappointing in the early going, as Syracuse visits Columbus tonight with losses to Connecticut and Oregon weighing down its non-conference slate. Jim Boeheim‘s vaunted zone ranks as the nation’s sixth most efficient defense, but poor shooting has carried over to the tune of a 31.4 percent clip from beyond the arc. Oshae Brissett, the team’s best prospect, and Tyus Battle, the team’s leading returning scorer, are shooting 18.2 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively from deep. Point guard Frank Howard’s return to action will certainly provide a boost, but Syracuse will undoubtedly need to be a lot crisper on the offensive end to slow down a versatile set of Buckeyes.
  • #115 Rutgers (4-1) at  #22 Miami (5-1). Despite its most talented player, Dewan Hernandez, being withheld from competition amid a review of eligibility, the Hurricanes have been impressive in winning five of their first six games. Diminutive spark plug point guard Chris Lykes leads five Hurricanes averaging more than 11 points per contest, while Dejan Vasiljevic is making 52.5 percent of his threes, good for 77th in the country. Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights have been stingy on the defensive end this season, turning teams over on 24.3 percent of their possessions. However, Rutgers has been especially brutal on the other end of the floor, checking in as the 263rd most efficient offense while turning the ball over  at an alarming 22.6 percent rate (312th nationally).

  • #3 Virginia (6-0) at #33 Maryland (6-0). These two border rivals will get reacquainted in a series that was stolen from us with conference realignment. The Terrapins have historically had their way with Virginia, but in recent vintage the Cavaliers have won seven of the last eight meetings. Both teams enter this affair undefeated, but it is Maryland who is looking to make a national splash with a victory against a legitimate contender. The Cavs are once again choking teams out defensively, ranking behind only Michigan nationally in terms of defensive efficiency. But Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan will look to push the tempo on the strength of five players scoring in double figures per contest. Terps’ sophomore Bruno Fernando has been particularly impressive against lesser competition, but the 11th best shooter nationally (in effective field goal percentage) will get a real litmus test in the form of Tony Bennett’s front line — one that features strength in Jack Salt, agility in Mamadi Diakite and versatility in Braxton Key. Neither team has played a game decided by fewer than six points yet, so advantage goes to the experienced backcourt of Virginia’s Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, and the superior talent of De’Andre Hunter.
  • #13 Purdue (5-1) at #14 Florida State (5-1). Carsen Edwards has been better than advertised through the season’s first three weeks in scoring at 25.3 points per game (10th nationally). The versatile junior is making more than four triples per contest, while accounting for nearly 39 percent of the Boilermakers’ field goal attempts. He will have his hands full tonight, though, as Florida State once again is defending at a high level, using a litany of versatile athletes to track shooters all over the floor. Currently 16th in defensive efficiency, the Seminoles have already held Florida’s KeVaughn Allen scoreless and slowed down LSU stud sophomore Tremont Waters to 11 points on only seven shot attempts.
  • #77 Georgia Tech (4-1) at #46 Northwestern (5-1). Odds are high that this tilt will be the lowest scoring game of the challenge as both teams are prefer to keeping the tempo at a slog. And while Georgia Tech has the 14th-best defense nationally, slightly better than Northwestern’s 30th, the Yellow Jackets aren’t nearly as balanced of a team. Josh Pastner’s group is shooting only 32.7 percent from deep against a bad schedule. In fact, aside from its loss to Tennessee, Georgia Tech has yet to play a team among the top 245 in the country. Northwestern has only played one opponent inside the top 100 itself, and that was in its lone defeat to Fresno State. But the Wildcats have shown better propensity for putting the ball in the hole, as they have eclipsed 75 points in four of their six games, led by Vic Law’s 18.5 points per game.
  • #4 North Carolina (6-1) at #7 Michigan (6-0). In what appears to be the best game of the challenge, the event concludes with the nation’s top-rated defense in Michigan against the fourth-rated offense in North Carolina. This will be a battle of wills, as Michigan is playing slower than usual, 327th in tempo, while North Carolina’s pace is characteristically breakneck. The most interesting individual match-up of the challenge may come in the form of Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson’s ballhawking defensive pressure against North Carolina freshman dynamo Coby White, who scored 52 points on the strength of 11 triples in two games at the Las Vegas Invitational. This will be the sternest test for the Tar Heels’ offense, as the Wolverines have become something of a defensive juggernaut the last two seasons since the hiring of Luke Yaklich to coordinate John Beilein’s defense. In Beilein’s first decade in Ann Arbor, his teams never cracked the top 35 in the nation on defense. A year ago, Michigan finished third on its way to the national title game, and has picked it right back up, including a suffocation of defending national champion Villanova — the Wildcats were held to 31.8 percent from the field, 46 points and 21 turnovers.
Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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