For the first time in Challenge history, the Big Ten is defending the title (for which we can only assume the league of trinkets has already created at least a dozen trophies, two of which possibly featuring some sort of pig, another Paul Bunyan). The win took a decade in the making, which is still a bllnk of the eye compared to say, the Chinese Democracy album or the age of things in Joe Paterno's sock drawer.
So will it be a repeat?
Maybe. The league is almost inarguably better top to bottom than the ACC, even if no team is as good as top-ranked Duke. But the matchups, and homecourts, may favor the ACC this year.
FanHouse's college basketball editor Ray Holloman gives you the ACC side while associate editor Matt Snyder provides the analysis for the Big Ten side. Both then give predictions.
(all times p.m. and Eastern)
|ACC-Big Ten Challenge Analysis|
|Big Ten Take||Pick||Pick||ACC Take|
|Virginia at Minnesota, Monday, 7:00|
|If not for UConn, the Golden Gophers might be the surprise team of the early season. It's not an accident, however, and Minnesota fans likely aren't surprised. Senior point guard Al Nolen is back after missing the second half of last season due to being academically ineligible, though he's out with an injury Monday night. Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe is on the court after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. Along with Ralph Sampson III inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers are a very versatile and talented team. Virginia still isn't yet equipped to deal with these Gophers -- especially not in The Barn. This one should be ugly. ||Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a home game. Just not anytime soon. The NCAA's nomads play their fifth straight road game and there's a decent chance the only thing Tony Bennett's team will get out of this one is a slew of frequent flier miles and a few bags of peanuts. Gopher injuries and suspensions will do what the Cavs can't -- level the playing field -- but even without two starters (guard Al Nolen and forward Rodney Williams) and the suspension to Devoe Joseph, the Cavaliers won't be able to keep up. Trevor Mbakwe may be in for a career night. Outside of senior Mike Scott, who has by far been Virginia's best player, the Wahoos have found the right combination up front. The Cavaliers deep perimeter should keep this game out of blowout territory, but perhaps not by much. Bennett will right the ship, just not Monday night.|
|RESULT: Virgina Stuns No. 15 Minnesota|
|North Carolina at Illinois, Tuesday, 9:30|
|Both teams have been somewhat disappointing early in the season, but only because Illinois lost in overtime to Texas -- a team it would surely like in a rematch. The Illini have a star in senior Demetri McCamey and balance everywhere -- scoring, inside/outside, athleticism, size, strength -- and a deep bench. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis do the trick inside while D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul join up with McCamey outside. Talented freshman Jereme Richmond could be the X-factor here, as he's shown flashes of brilliance early, but hasn't had a real breakthrough performance yet. Playing at home here, that will all be enough to take home a somewhat comfortable victory (six-to-eight point range, possibly higher due to free throws at the end of the game).||Few teams make less sense than the Tar Heels this season. They continue to push the ball like a fastbreak team despite personnel that's better suited to a halfcourt game. They're averaging fewer assists per game (15) than turnovers (16). Larry Drew, the faster of North Carolina's two point guards, continues to play 25 minutes per game despite averaging 2.8 assists to 2 turnovers a game while freshman Kendall Marshall, perhaps a better halfcourt point guard, plays less than 15 minutes a game with a 4.3-1.7 assist to turnover ratio. Meanwhile, Reggie Bullock has been the Heels' best, and most assertive, freshman and one of their best shooters (.500 from the floor, .533 from 3-point range) and yet plays just 14.8 minutes a game, albeit some diminished time due to a sore knee. There have been bright spots -- the nifty post repertoire developed by John Henson, for example -- but even that might not stand up to the physicality of Illinois' front court. Our prediction? North Carolina tries to run at ill-advised times, turns it over too much and just plain gets out-toughed by the Illini.|
|Ohio State at Florida State, Tuesday, 7:30|
|Is Florida State as good as Florida? I don't think so. And the Buckeyes destroyed Florida on the road. Using the transitive property, why would this be any different? Since that doesn't always come to fruition, here's a reason why: no one on the 'Noles can handle freshman big Jared Sullinger. He's going to dominate in the paint. And if FSU tries to collapse defensively on him, they'll watch some combination of David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler and Deshaun Thomas make them pay. There's a reason Ohio State is No. 2 in the country, and it will be on full display in this one. Expect a strong performance.||The Seminoles will be one of the ACC's best teams this season, but it might be difficult to tell against the Buckeyes. Even without departed defensive stars Ryan Reid and Solomon Alabi, Florida State still plays the most in-your-jock defense this side of the TSA (The 'Noles held Florida to a 91.6 offensive efficiency rating, while the Gators racked up a 114.6 against Ohio State). But the latest star post player to roll off Thad Matta's assembly line, forward Jared Sullinger, should be a serious test to the Seminoles. Chris Singleton is averaging the most ridiculous stat line in the nation -- non-Kemba Walker division -- 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.8 blocks and 3.2 steals per game. But Florida State is still turning the ball over too much, which could be the turning point against an Ohio State team that's as good at forcing turnovers as any in the nation. Florida State will be better for playing this game, but the 'Noles likely won't win.|
|Michigan at Clemson, Tuesday, 9:00|
|Michigan gave a scare to No. 9 Syracuse, but then turned around and lost to UTEP. That's how it's going to be this season for the Wolverines, as they don't return much from last season's disappointment and haven't yet built a strong base in recruiting under John Beilein. Sophomore Darius Morris and freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. have looked good thus far, but Zack Novak has been awful. Sophomore forward Jordan Morgan could be an X-factor in the paint. I really do think Michigan has a shot in this one, but ultimately Clemson being at home tilts the scales. ||Not much has gone right for either team since they last met in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA tournament. Clemson managed another NCAA tournament bid, but lost in the opener, lost its best player of recent memory, Trevor Booker, to graduation and lost its coach to DePaul, one of the Big East's permanent underclass teams. The Tigers, however, seem to be on the right path back while Michigan has been in a steady nosedive since, and has already lost twice this season. Senior point guard Demontez Stitt needs to get a handle on his turnover woes thus far (He has an impossibly bad .56 assist-to-turnover ratio), but the Tigers have a nice rotation of talent. Six players are scoring nine or more points per game. Littlejohn Coliseum is one of the most underrated homecourt advantages in the nation (ask Duke and North Carolina, which have each been shellacked there in recent years) and new coach Brad Brownell will guarantee the Tigers won't have a come-from-behind, press-even-when-you're-winning flop like a season ago against Illinois.|
|Georgia Tech at Northwestern, Tuesday, 7:00|
|The Yellow Jackets have seemingly righted the ship since suffering a rather embarrassing loss to Kennesaw State, winning three games and losing only to No. 9 Syracuse (by four). Still, Northwestern is experienced and gaining confidence this is the year the Wildcats finally make their first NCAA tournament. John Shurna is a scoring machine while Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson provide good second and third options. Being at home, the Wildcats win a close, yet comfortable, victory -- similar to what I said above with Illinois over UNC.||Figuring out what the Yellow Jackets are going to do on any given night is like trying to pick the lottery, predict the weather and how Mel Gibson will next embarrass himself all at once. The Yellow Jackets are a guard-only team now (hence the awful 42.3 percent effective field goal) and are prone to series of bad decisions. Iman Shumpert is an outstanding player when he's on and Glen Rice Jr. can shoot like his old man (ignore the awful numbers thus far), but the Wildcats are probably a superior team. But in the case of Georgia Tech, sometimes it's best to pick against common sense (Hello, Kennesaw State).|
|Iowa at Wake Forest, Tuesday, 7:00|
|Guessing there won't be many eyeballs glued to this one -- stick with the Northwestern-Georgia Tech game -- maybe not even Iowa and Wake Forest fans. The Jeff Bzdelik administration has already lost to Stetson, Virginia Commonwealth and Winthrop. Of course, Iowa has been bested by South Dakota State and Long Beach State (and Xavier, but that's not a bad loss). Flip a coin. We'll go with the home team in a close, but still relatively boring, game.||This game would be a good time to reconnect with your family, evaluate your stock portfolio or generally do anything but watch television (Then again, I have the same advice for Two and a Half Men). One team will win and it will have no impact on the national scene at all. The Deacons have talent, they just all look like they're young enough to fit in at a Justin Bieber concert. Forward Tony McKie and guard J.T. Terrell will both have great cases for the ACC's all-freshman team. Only senior Gary Clark is a true impact player among the non freshman and sophomore crowd. Wake has already lost to Stetson at home, so it's difficult to argue homecourt edge. Iowa has the best win of the two -- over Alabama.|
|Michigan State at Duke, Wednesday, 9:30|
|This is the polar opposite to the above listed game, an absolute must-see. Both teams are talented all over the floor and have depth. That's why they opened the season as the top two ranked teams in the nation. The Spartans stumbled in a very winnable game against UConn -- a team obviously very underrated in the preseason, but it's still easy to say Duke has looked far more impressive in the early-going. With the game being in Cameron, the pick is the Blue Devils. But if each of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green have outstanding nights, don't count out a Spartans upset. They need all three stars to win on the road in Duke, in addition to lots of bench help. I don't think they're ready yet. March may be a story different story, but it's December 1.||This might be a Final Four-type matchup in March, but only the Democrats have managed worse Novembers than Tom Izzo's Spartans. Everything seems to be going right for Duke, from the emergence of its star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, to its bench full of 3-point shooters, to its transition to an uptempo offense. Michigan State will be an interesting challenge, as the team that famously practices rebounding in shoulder pads will try and keep Duke in a halfcourt contest. Whether or not Duke has fully replaced the toughness and dirty work -- if not the beardedness -- of Brian Zoubek may be at issue here, but the Blue Devils can win so many ways and are in the sweltering confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. We'll be watching Mason Plumlee's free throw shooting. The younger Plumlee is 10-25 from the free throw line, and figures to end up there often against the Spartans.|
|Purdue at Virginia Tech, Wednesday, 7:30|
|The injury to Robbie Hummel in the preseason made this game a lot more interesting, not to mention Purdue's recent upset at the hands of Richmond. The Boilers have really struggled with shooting in the past two games and have also gotten outrebounded, two problems Hummel's presence would surely shore up. Someone else is going to have to step up in his absence. Plus, the senior duo of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have to shoot better to carry the load and someone needs to help Johnson on the boards. They've had their wakeup call, it's time to get back on track. I believe you'll see a more complete effort while the stars play like they're capable and motivated.||Virginia Tech has been somewhat underwhelming this season and hasn't yet figured out how to deal with the loss of sixth-man standout J.T. Thompson. In the two games the Hokies have lost, star Malcolm Delaney has struggled with turnovers (nine against Kansas State, four against UNLV). Our question: Who is going to force those for Pudue? Without defensive standout Chris Kramer, the Boilermakers will struggle to pressure the Hokies' point guard. Expect Delaney to have another big game (He had 30 against UNLV) and expect the supporting cast, particularly the mercurial Jeff Allen, to step up at home. This will be the Hokies team we all expected with five returning seniors.|
|N.C. State at Wisconsin, Wednesday, 7:15|
|Wisconsin has been uneven this season. During the second half of the Badgers win over Boston College, for example, they looked like world-beaters. But they've also lost to UNLV and Notre Dame, who, in fairness, are not bad teams (nor is N.C. State). Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor can score and we know Wisconsin is going to play tough defense and win the free throw battle at home. But who else will step up to help hold home court in the half-court offense? Someone will (perhaps surprising freshman Josh Gasser?). Bo Ryan is 138-11 at home at Wisconsin. That's no aberration, as the Badgers took down Duke last year at home in this very event.||Perhaps it's Sidney Lowe's red blazer, but forgive us while we channel our inner-realtor. This game is all about location, location, location. On a neutral court, we'll talk the 'Pack's exceptional trio of freshmen against the Badgers, but picking against the Badgers in the Kohl Center is a sucker's bet, particularly since the Wolfpack are still without power forward Tracy Smith, the team's best player. Enjoy the performances of point guard Ryan Harrow (an undersized, but electric player), shooting guard Lorenzo Brown and small forward C.J. Leslie. All three are as good as billed.|
|Indiana at Boston College, Wednesday, 7:15|
|This will be the first test -- and first game away from Assembly Hall -- for Tom Crean's Hoosiers. It's impossible to know how the group will react, but there are good pieces in place. Sophomore Christian Watford appears to be a star in the making while Verdell Jones III is usually a reliable slashing scorer. Maurice Creek has been up and down as he continues to recover from his knee injury. If these three bring it, Jordan Hulls gets hot from three, and the Hoosiers see contributions from their deep bench, an IU win is in the cards.||If anyone should be able to maximize the talent on Boston College's depleted roster, it's Steve Donahue, who coached Cornell to the Sweet 16 last season. One season later, however, he's already lost to Yale. The Eagles have one of the best trios in the ACC -- Reggie Jackson, Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. And they've got homecourt advantage at Conte Forum, which, when full and with Doug Flutie courtside, is a tremendous advantage. Indiana's utterly nondescript schedule makes it hard to get a read on what the Hoosiers will do, but the Eagles will almost certainly take better care of the ball. More possessions and homecourt advantage tilts the scale to the Eagles.|
|Maryland at Penn State, Wednesday, 9:15|
|The Terps have lost to the two quality opponents they faced thus far this season. They only survived by a point against Charleston. This being at Penn State and with the Nittany Lions having the best player in the game (Talor Battle), this isn't the gimme you'd usually expect when seeing these two square off in basketball. Battle can single-handedly keep this thing close, especially if fellow senior Jeff Brooks continues to play well. The hunch is Maryland finds a way with superior overall talent, but this one could be close.||It's still strange to watch the Terrapins take the court without Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes, but Gary Williams' new-look team is developing quite nicely. Jordan Williams is emerging as arguably the ACC's best post player, and is a reliable double-double, while Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Dino Gregory all seem to be thriving with expanded roles. There are problems -- freshman Terrell Stoglin seems allergic to passing at times, the team struggles from the free throw line, and the Terps don't have the talent to compete with elite teams for 40 minutes (see a pair of narrow losses to Illinois and Texas in the NIT tipoff) -- but Gary Williams teams always get better as the season goes on, and right now they're good enough to handle Penn State.|
|It appears the shoe is on the other foot, as the Big Ten has a better chance to win this thing than the ACC. I could make a case for the Big Ten winning every single game, as Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa all have legitimate chances to win. Obviously, the league isn't going 11-0 or anything outlandish, but seven or even eight wins are attainable. I do expect at least six, with the league winning the second straight challenge. ||Big Ten Wins: |
|ACC Wins: |
|The Big Ten may be the better overall league, but the Challenge isn't a round-robin affair. Most of the decisive, if unappealing games, favor the ACC or are on ACC home courts. It should be a close affair, with 7-4 being the largest margin either way, but we'll take the ACC to move to 11-1. But cheer up, Big Ten, one out of 12 isn't bad. At least if you're facing a jury.|