Yesterday the pairings for the 2009 ACC/Big 10 Challenge were announced, and cries of rejoice went up from Iowa City through Evanston over to State College as the Big 10 schools realized that they have a fighting chance at actually winning their first Challenge in the eleven years of its existence. Let’s take a look at the matchups and show you the games where the land-grant institutions (+NW) from the midwest can actually make this happen.
Penn St. @ Virginia – PSU is coming off of an NIT Championship and will return its best player, Talor Battle, along with a strong corps of juniors. UVa will still be learning new coach Tony Bennett’s system. This is a winnable road game for the Big Ten, and PSU will win it.
Maryland @ Indiana – Assuming Greivis Vasquez returns to school (he should), Maryland should be able to pull away from Indiana relatively easily. Even moreso if they nab Lance Stephenson. Tom Crean has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s heavy on volume, not stars, and Maryland should get this one.
Michigan St. @ UNC – Goodness, haven’t we seen enough of this already? We don’t care who UNC loses or Michigan St. keeps. It’s in Chapel Hill, and even that doesn’t matter. UNC wins.
Northwestern @ NC State – NW wasn’t terribly far from being an NCAA team this year, and they return most everyone; NC State was pretty far from it and they may lose Brandon Costner. The gut says this is a winnable game for the Wildcats, but you never know with those guys. If the Big Ten expects to win this year’s challenge, though, they’ll need this one, so we’re giving it to them.
Virginia Tech @ Iowa – Todd Lickliter’s extremely young team should make a leap of progress next season, but we’re still not sure they’re ready for Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen. ACC gets the road win.
Wake Forest @ Purdue – Best game of the Challenge, with two black/gold teams taking each other on. While Wake has proven it can look dominant in November/December before crumbling in February/March, Purdue will be super-jacked for this one. Look for Hummell and Moore to outplay Teague and Aminu as the home team wins.
BC @ Michigan – In Y2 of John Beilein’s rebuild in Ann Arbor, he worked miracles. Next year his best two players (Harris and Sims) return, and Crisler Arena will become a place nobody wants to play. Big 10 win.
Duke @ Wisconsin – these are the games where the home team camps out for weeks in anticipation of beating the Devils, only to watch as Duke eviscerates said home team by 18 pts in the first half on their way to a laugher. Wisconsin will think it can win this game; Duke knows better.
Florida St. @ Ohio St. – For the first time in four years, OSU won’t be bringing in some 7-foot top recruit, but they won’t need it because they’re bringing back everyone else, including star Evan Turner. FSU will lose their star Toney Douglas and Uche Echefu, and while they’ll be very good next year, they’ll still be adjusting to life without those players at that time. OSU at home gets the W.
Illinois @ Clemson – This game is a tossup because both teams bring back a substantial amount of talent as well as bring in strong recruiting classes. We have a feeling that Illinois is about to become relevant nationally again, but we’re not sure Clemson is ready to cede their spotlight. Especially in December, when Clemson excels. We’re going with the home team here.
Minnesota @ Miami (FL) – Tubby welcomes back every player of consequence from an NCAA squad while bringing in a top 12 recruitng class. Miami isn’t that tough to play at anyway, but especially when Frank Haith loses three of his top five players (incl. Jack McClinton). Minnesota wins.
There you have it. Final results (projected):
Big Ten: 6
The key tossup games in our eyes are Northwestern @ NC State and Illinois @ Clemson. The Big Ten will need to win one of those two to supplant the ACC for the title of this challenge for the first time in, um, ever.