Highlighted by the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the B1G non-conference slate is filled with intriguing match-ups that will the test each team in unique ways. Starting with Nebraska taking on “Dunk City” on opening night, and stretching deep into December, the teams from the conference will all face games ranging from a glorified scrimmage to an absolute test that will determine RPI and seeding in March, and influence the general perception of each team and the league as a whole. What follows is the second of a two part breakdown showing what each team is up against before the league schedule tips off on New Year’s Eve (the first installment can be found here). I’m not going to hypothesize when it comes to tournaments that involve different teams and who they might play; rather, I’m going to just look at games that are definitely going to be played.
- Biggest Test: @Creighton (12/8): Creighton is where Nebraska wants to be in terms of the scope of basketball in the state of Nebraska. What better way to sway recruits around that region than beating them in their own gym.
- Other Challenges: UMass (11/21), Miami (FL) (12/4), @Cincinnati (12/28): I’d highlight Cincinnati out of all of these, because Nebraska will have to prove its toughness in this one. The Bearcats always play a rugged brand of basketball where they get after teams defensively, and they hit the boards hard. Nebraska couldn’t shoot straight from outside last year (30.7 percent), and they were only 319th in the country in offensive rebound percentage. The Minutemen are looked as potential challengers in the Atlantic 10, while even though Miami is predicted to have a down year, they still have some experience left over from last year’s ACC championship team.
- Mid-Major Scare: Florida Gulf Coast (11/8): Without looking at the Vegas line, this might be the only time in history that an Atlantic Sun team would be favored over a B1g team at home. It actually ends up as a pretty good home opener for Nebraska, because after last year’s surprise Sweet Sixteen run, I’m sure there’s a lot more interest in this game then there would have otherwise been. We’ll see whether a new coach with all but two players who played big minutes on that Cinderella squad can knock off its first power conference team on opening night.
- Biggest Test: UCLA (11/29): Former Iowa coach Steve Alford gets to match wits with Chris Collins in this neutral match-up in Las Vegas. Can Alex Olah be a factor against the Wear twins and a slimmed down Tony Parker inside? If so, they have a shot.
- Other Challenges: @Stanford (11/14), Missouri (11/28), @N.C. State (12/4): The Missouri game stands out here because of the potential match-up between the combo of Drew Crawford-JerShon Cobb taking on Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkston. Both teams have really good wings, and the key might be whether Dave Sobolewski can win the point guard battle. Stanford and N.C. State would be great wins as the team heads into league play.
- Mid-Major Scare: @UIC (11/20): This battle for bragging rights in the city of Chicago comes after UIC won 50-44 last season in Evanston. If UIC gets the Wildcats two years in a row, Collins will have to some major problems on the horizon (pun intended). The Flames lost four of their top six scorers from last season, but they get ex-Purdue starter Kelsey Barlow in the mix after a transfer year.