This week the Big Ten/ACC Challenge will kick off for the thirteenth time. ESPN created this event as a way to match the two best basketball conferences up against each other in an attempt to prove which conference had more game (ratings, anyone?). The ACC won the first ten challenges, even winning eight of the eleven matchups in 2006 and 2007. In 2009 the Big Ten finally proved victorious when Ohio St. beat Florida St. in the final game of the challenge. Last year the Big Ten won the challenge again by an identical score of 6-5. With the addition of Nebraska, this year will mark the first time each conference has an equal number of teams (12) so no one will be left out. Maryland has the longest active winning streak (6) and Iowa has the longest losing streak (5). Here’s a look at this year’s matchups:
Michigan @ Virginia (Tuesday ESPN2, 7pm)
Virginia gets to host one of the BIG’s contenders in the tip-off game. They’ve excelled on the defensive side of the ball thus far (Drexel only managed 35 points on Nov 19) while playing at a pace Wisconsin would be proud of. Michigan’s only loss thus far came at the hands of Duke in the Maui Invitational. Michigan loves to shoot a lot of 3’s but as a team are shooting 62% on their 2’s. It will be interesting to see if Michigan's offense can crack Virginia's stout defense.
The Pick: Michigan in a nail biter 61-58.
Northwestern @ Georgia Tech (Tuesday ESPNU, 7:15pm)
We all know Northwestern’s story by now: Excellent, highly efficient offense and a porous, hacktastic defense. Though the defense appears to be marginally improved, it’s still far from good. This is an interesting matchup for the Wildcats since the Yellow Jackets are off to a strong start shooting the ball. They’re unlikely to attempt a lot of 3’s, which is wise since they’re not good at them. In the early going they also look like one of the top teams in the nation at corralling missed shots. This doesn’t bode well for NWU who will need to prevent all the second chance points they can to stay in it.
The Pick: Georgia Tech 74 Northwestern 68.
Illinois @ Maryland (Tuesday ESPN, 7:30pm)
This is an interesting matchup pitting one team I do not think is any good (Maryland) against a team who has managed to play down to their competition in every game this season (Illinois). The key to this game may be how well Illinois center Myles Leonard performs. If he controls the glass and doesn’t allow Ashton Pankey to win the rebounding battle Illinois will be fine. I’m also looking forward to watching Brandon Paul and Terrell Stoglin go head to head.
The Pick: Illinois wins 68-64.
Miami @ Purdue (Tuesday ESPN2, 9pm)
Miami’s had some injury issues already this season with center Reggie Johnson (meniscus) and forward Julian Gamble (ACL) out. That’s good news for Purdue who has suffered through some terrible post play thus far. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes they’ve had some troubles defending the 3 while 40% of the Boilers shots are from long range. If Miami runs some zone it could hang around but as long as they try to defend man-to-man Purdue should find plenty of open looks.
The Pick: Purdue going away 73-61.
Clemson @ Iowa (Tuesday ESPNU, 9:15pm)
Clemson lost a couple of impact players last season and early indications are that they will be hard pressed to make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Iowa improved last season and appears to have taken another step forward this year. Iowa may look to push the pace in this one and it will be interesting to see how Clemson reacts. I expect the Tigers defense to win out regardless.
The Pick: Clemson over Iowa 70-60.
Duke @ Ohio St. (Tuesday, ESPN, 9:30pm)
This is the feature game of the night though I don't necessarily expect it to be a good one. Duke proved to be the best team in Maui but they are relying too heavily on the 3-point shot. The Buckeyes defend the perimeter well and are a strong rebounding team so Duke will need to find other ways to score. Getting Ryan Kelly and the Plumlees going would seem to be the most effective way. If that happens then OSU will have to collapse their perimeter defense to help. Fortunately for OSU they’ve got some guy named Jared Sullinger who seems to hold his own down there.
The Pick: Ohio St. wins 76-66
After day one I predict the Big Ten will lead the challenge 4-2. I’ll have predictions for the other six games up Wednesday.