The annual 2014 ACC Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight and both conferences are looking to re-claim the title after splitting the conference competition for two consecutive years.
While the winning conference can earn bragging rights and some meaningless trophy that will be forgotten by the end of the week, the importance of these matchups is found in looking at the individual games and assessing which teams need valuable nonconference wins.
Whether it’s about earning a signature victory that could be critical for securing a postseason spot, knocking off a top team that could help with NCAA Tournament seeding, or getting a big win to help build momentum with a rebuilding effort, each game carries value for the teams participating in this year’s challenge – from both conferences.
To help you be prepared for the action, I’ve put together a preview and prediction for each game.
Nebraska vs. Florida State – 7:00pm – ESPN2
Nebraska comes to Tallahassee with two of the more underrated wing scorers in the country in Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, who are both averaging around 20 points per game. This could be trouble for a FSU team that will likely be without Devon Bookert and Aaron Thomas, who are both sidelined due to injury. The Huskers are still learning how to handle expectations and Florida State can be a difficult place to play, but this game will be a tough task for the Noles.
Prediction: Nebraska wins 63-55.
Rutgers vs. Clemson – 7:00pm – ESPNU
I’m not sure anyone is looking forward to this game – not even Rutgers or Clemson fans. The Tigers are coming off a near collapse against High Point and Rutgers is coming off a loss to Virginia in which the Scarlet Knights scored two points in the final 15 minutes of the game. First one to 50 points wins? Heck, it might be first to 40.
Prediction: Clemson wins 56-51
Pittsburgh vs. Indiana – 7:00pm – ESPN2
It’s so tough to get a gauge on either of these teams. Will we see the Pittsburgh that struggled with Samford and lost to Hawaii, or the one that routed Kansas State? Will we see the Indiana squad that lost at home to Eastern Washington, or the one that had an impressive comeback win over SMU? Indiana will have the most explosive scorer in this game in 6’4” freshman guard James Blackmon Jr., who’s averaging 20.8 points per game. However, the Panthers likely have the deeper, tougher, more experienced team.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins 70-67.
Minnesota vs. Wake Forest – 7:00pm – ESPNU
It’s time to see what Danny Manning’s Wake Forest team is made of. The Demon Deacons should be embarrassed after this past weekend’s home loss to Delaware State and they have a chance for redemption against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have the potential to be one of the more underrated squads in the Big Ten this season and should be in the discussion for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. For Wake Forest, Devin Thomas will be a big key to success. For Minnesota, keep an eye on Andre Hollins.
Prediction: Minnesota wins 75-66.
Syracuse vs. Michigan – 7:30pm – ESPN
This contest is a re-match from a semifinal game of the 2013 Final Four. Michigan defeated Syracuse 61-56 before falling to Louisville in the national championship. Nearly every key player for both teams in that game is now elsewhere.
Outside shooting will be key in this game. Michigan will look to create holes in Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense and the Orange will need to at least provide some threat from the perimeter on offense. If the Wolverines heat up from 3-point range, this could get ugly.
Prediction: Michigan wins 77-63.
Illinois vs. Miami – 9:00pm – ESPN2
This should be a very entertaining matchup between two undefeated teams. No. 15 Miami is 7-0 and No. 24 Illinois is 6-0. Both teams have strong backcourts that can score the ball and this will likely be one of the better games of the entire challenge – though it won’t get as much attention because most folks will be watching Ohio State & Louisville. The x-factor could wind up being who can control the post between Illinois’s Nnanna Egwu and Miami’s Tonye Jekiri.
Prediction: Miami wins 83-81.
N.C. State vs. Purdue – 9:00pm – ESPNU
N.C. State is off to an impressive 6-0 start, but this will be the first time the Wolfpack have left the friendly confines of PNC Arena. Purdue is coming off a nice showing at the Maui Invitational, with wins over Missouri and BYU, but I’m curious to see if there’s any type of hangover effect from traveling back East, similar to what we saw with Duke a few years ago after playing in Hawaii. Regardless of what happens in this game, I hope we at least get to see a few minutes of Beejay Anya and A.J. Hammons squaring off against each other. Hammons is 7’0”, 260 lbs., while Anya checks in at 6’9”, 300 lbs.
Prediction: Purdue wins 74-70.
Ohio State vs. Louisville – 9:30pm – ESPN
Thad Matta’s Ohio State team travels to Louisville to take on Rick Pitino’s Cardinals in what should be one of the marquee games of the challenge. Ohio State has been winning with stellar play in the backcourt from Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell, while Louisville is built around Montrezl Harrell in the paint. How Scott handles Louisville’s pressure defense, particularly from Chris Jones, will be critical if the Buckeyes are able to pull the upset.
Prediction: Louisville wins 69-62
Michigan St. vs. Notre Dame – 7:15pm – ESPN2
This is a game with two teams that should have something to prove. Michigan State already has two losses to Top 25 opponents, and while the Fighting Irish aren’t ranked, it’d be a solid win for Tom Izzo’s team. Notre Dame is 6-1, but the Irish have yet to face a team as talented and tough as Michigan State. It’s an interesting contrast in styles between the two teams. The Spartans will be relentless on the glass, while Notre Dame looks to use more motion and a perimeter-oriented attack.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 71-62.
Virginia Tech vs. Penn State – 7:15pm – ESPNU
What to say about a game between Virginia Tech and Penn State? These are two basketball teams. Virginia Tech plays in the ACC. Penn State plays in the Big Ten. Both fanbases are more interested in reading about college football recruiting than paying any attention to this matchup. This game must be played because it’s been scheduled, but there’s nothing that requires any of us to watch.
Prediction: Penn State wins. Who cares what the score is?
Iowa vs. UNC – 7:30pm – ESPN
If both of these teams run the floor, which they’re fully capable of doing, this has the potential to be one of the most exciting games in the challenge. North Carolina and Iowa both have players who can be effective in transition and defense hasn’t always been a strong point for either team. I expect the biggest factors to be whether Iowa can handle UNC’s size in the paint and whether the Heels can handle Iowa’s talent and versatility on the wing.
Prediction: UNC wins 84-71.
Virginia vs. Maryland – 9:15pm – ESPN2
I love that this game is part of the schedule. The Virginia-Maryland series is one of the classic rivalries of the old ACC and I salute the conferences for bringing the two teams together in Maryland’s first season in the Big Ten. As for the game, the injury to Dez Wells is a huge loss for the Terps and no team has been capable of generating any type of offensive success against Virginia’s defense. Until someone proves otherwise, I’m refusing to bet against the UVA defense.
Prediction: Virginia wins 63-50.
Georgia Tech vs. Northwestern – 9:15pm – ESPNU
Believe it or not, this might be the most important game of the challenge. In terms of postseason aspirations, Northwestern and Georgia Tech both have hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament this season, and neither program scheduled many opportunities for big nonconference wins. Both teams enter with identical 5-1 records, but neither have been particularly impressive against lackluster opponents.
Prediction: Georgia Tech wins 58-52.
Duke vs. Wisconsin – 9:30pm – ESPN
This is the game everyone has had circled on the calendar for the past few weeks. It’s a fantastic matchup between two Top 5 teams that appear to be fully capable of making a national championship run this season. I’ll go over this matchup in more detail in the next couple days, but I expect this one to live up to the hype.
Prediction: Stay Tuned!
What do you expect to see in these games? Let me know your predictions!