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Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 Big Ten/ACC Challenge

For the first time in the now fourteen years of the event, every Big Ten team will be participating in the challenge. Before this year someone was always left out but thanks to the expansion of the ACC every team from the land of the good will get a chance to do their part in proving which conference reigns supreme in basketball this season. This may prove to be more challenging than usual because the ACC has elected to keep the three bottom dwellers from last season (Clemson, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech) out of the event while allowing newcomers Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse to participate. The ACC won the first eight challenges and the Big Ten won the next four before the two conferences tied last season.  Here's a look at what's on tap this time around:

Indiana @ Syracuse (Tuesday 7:15pm, ESPN)
This is an intriguing matchup. IU faces off against the team that upset them in last season's NCAA tournament.  Syracuse continues to employ a tough zone defense where they encourage three point attempts while driving to the hoop is difficult. This does not play into Indiana's strengths as so far they are struggling with the outside shot.  Where Indiana does excel is getting to the free throw line. It will be interesting to see if IU is able to continue this trend as high volume free throw shooting teams are often neutralized when facing zone defenses.  Syracuse has been surprisingly efficient on offense despite shooting poorly from the line so far. There's just too much riding on Yogi Ferrell's shoulders in this one though the Hoosiers should have an advantage in the post.
The Pick: Syracuse 77-68.

Illinois @ Georgia Tech (Tuesday 7:15pm, ESPN2)
The Illini defense has been excellent but there offense continues to struggle.  Georgia Tech is in similar shape and this game could be a low scoring old fashioned slugfest.  I'll be here rooting for good guys.
The Pick: Illinois holds on 62-58.

Penn State @ Pittsburgh (Tuesday ESPNU, 7:30pm)
Pitt has been one of the darling stories thus far while Tim Frazier leads Penn St. yet again.  I love what Frazier can do but Pitt appears to be a really good team.  At this rate Senior  guard Lamar Patterson will earn all ACC honors.  Watching him against Frazier might be the matchup of the night.
The Pick: Pitt wins convincingly 80-68

Florida State @ Minnesota (Tuesday 9:30pm, ESPNU)
FSU is coming off a hugely disappointing season in which their defense slipped from being elite to poor.  Now it appears to be back.  Minnesota meanwhile is going the other way. The Gophers backcourt is talented but will be forced to work for 40 minutes.
The Pick: FSU in a blowout 78-63.

Michigan @ Duke (Tuesday 9:15pm, ESPN)
This is the game of the night on Tuesday and expect there to be a lot of points scored in this one. Mitch McGary's health is improving each game and he'll present quite a challenge for the Blue Devils. Meanwhile Jabari Parker will face his toughest defensive test of the season in Branden Dawson.  I think home court advantage decides this one.
The Pick: Michigan 73-Duke 80

Notre Dame @ Iowa (Tuesday 9:15pm, ESPN2)
This Iowa team is on fire and I don't think Notre Dame will be able to stop them.  The key for the Fighting Irish will be to get Roy Delvyn Marble in foul trouble.  Garrick Sherman will have his work cut out for him against 7 footer Adam Woodbury.  I think Mike Gesell lights it up from three.
The Pick: Iowa 76-60

Maryland @ Ohio State (Wednesday 7pm, ESPN)
Is Maryland good? I'm really not sure.  I do know they're going to have their hands full against an excellent Ohio State defense.  The Terrapins have struggled with turnovers early in the season and Ohio State thrives when given extra possessions.  Plus this game is in Columbus where Thad Mata seemingly doesn't lose.  This game won't be as close as the score indicates.
The Pick: Ohio State 69-59.

Wisconsin @ Virginia (Wednesday 7pm, ESPN2)
I like this Wisconsin team quite a bit but it's no lie they've struggled in this challenge. Virginia is off to a very surprising start and is ranked #14 in the Kenpom standings. Thanks to a stifling defense and great three point shooting Virginia is 7-1 and will probably be favored in this game. No fear Badger fans! I think Bo Ryan gets his team to control the tempo and the Badgers get a miracle shot from Ben Brust to win it.
The Pick: Wisconsin 63-61

Northwestern @ North Carolina State (Wednesday 7:30pm, ESPNU)
This is my least favorite game of the challenge.  Northwestern might be the worst team in the conference and NC State is playing terribly.  Ultimately I feel the Wolfpack will at least be average this season and they're at home. Northwestern will need to hit a lot of threes to win this one.  
The Pick: North Carolina St. 71-61.

North Carolina @ Michigan State (Wednesday 9pm, ESPN)
Don't panic Tar Heel fans, your team's not that bad. In fact, they're quite good, however, traveling to East Lansing is no picnic.  Adreian Payne and Keith Appling have been incredible this season.  I'm looking forward to see how James Michael McAdoo looks as a junior.
The Pick: Spartans 84-76

Boston College @ Purdue (Wednesday 9pm, ESPN2)
Boston College is pretty bad and hasn't beaten anybody worth anything yet while Purdue is killing my expectations every game.  Purdue should win this thanks to BC's nonexistent defense but at this point I wouldn't be surprised if Olivier Hanlan goes off for 35 points while AJ Hammons only scores 2.
The Pick: Purdue wins 88-84 in overtime.

Miami @ Nebraska (Wednesday 9:30pm, ESPNU)
Miami's a shadow of the team that earned a #2 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament. I'm not surprised they're struggling but I am surprised they've fallen this far.  Nebraska, on the other hand, has surpassed my expectations already.  I think they get the W in Lincoln. 
The Pick: Nebraska 66-61

After day one I predict the Big Ten  and ACC will be tied 3-3.  The day two matchups easily favor the Big Ten and they'll pull out another challenge victory to extend their unbeaten streak to six. 
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