When ESPN announced it's matchups for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge it was hard to contain the inner college basketball geek in me. I mean, getting matchups like UNC vs. Michigan State and Indiana vs. Syracuse is about as good as it gets for the challenge for it's 15th anniversary edition.
Those are just two examples of some great matchups and after the two conferences decided to go all "it's like kissing your sister" on us last year with a 6-6 tie. It kinda felt like this from our staff's favorite TV show... The League:
Yep, exactly Jim Delany and John Swofford... O.k., maybe more like the folks from ESPN who put this matchup together. You can suck it.
Ahhh, that was some pent up anger there, but anyway, back to the awesomeness that could be the 2013 B1G/ACC Challenge. If there's been a better set of matchups from top to bottom I'd love to know when. This is going to be a lot of fun for us college basketball geeks and in that vein it's time to give you a quick look at each of the 12 matchups and give you a WAY TOO EARLY prediction as well - cause why the hell not, right folks?
Indiana at Syracuse - Hmmm, nothing to see in this rematch from the NCAA Sweet 16 this past season... right? Welcome to the ACC and the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Syracuse, your task is to take on a likely Top 25 foe in your first go-round here. Up until this game we may not have a full picture of either of these teams because of all the loses. Indiana's losses are well documented, but the Orange will be living life without their 2nd (Brandon Triche) and 3rd (Michael Carter-Williams) leading scorers from last season. That said the 2-3 zone is a major issue for the Hoosiers, especially with Victor Oladipo off to the NBA. This one on the road and earlier in the season has trouble written all over it for IU at this early stage.
Michigan at Duke - It's hard to argue night one doesn't have the juiciest of the matchups and this is the 2nd of those as two teams that went at it during their pinnacle years in the early part of the 1990's get a chance to relive their golden years and luckily both of these teams are poised to be national players again in 2013-14, despite some major loses. Thankfully youth also showed well last year for both teams and it'll be a fun matchup to watch. It'll be interesting to see how things play out down low between Mitch McGary and Marshall Plumlee. Michigan has the advantage on paper on the wings and at the guard spots and it's hard to see them not taking advantage of that, even if the Dukies are at home in this one.
Notre Dame at Iowa - This is the most intriguing matchup of the night for me because it's two teams that have a lot of potential. Iowa made a big run in the NIT tournament and all they lose from this past year is Eric May, yep that's it. Notre Dame returns three of their top four scores from a season ago and bring in an intriguing recruiting class. On paper this one could be the most explosive game of the challenge & if Iowa wants to not pull a Minnesota from this past season winning against ND at home will be a huge help.
Florida State at Minnesota - The former FIU coach coaches against a Florida school... Oh boy, look out in this one. O.k., maybe that's a stretch but this will be interesting if for no other reason that seeing the clash of styles. Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles love to play pretty solid defense (last year was an exception) and they don't run as much as a lot of ACC teams are want to. However there are similarities in this one as both teams return three starters from their teams a year ago. Of course, being a Wisconsin guy I can't pick Minnesota, but no Rodney Williams and no Trevor Mbakwe against a physical and underrated FSU team makes it that much easier.
Prediction: Florida State
Penn State at Pittsburgh - An in-state game in the Challenge.... What the.... Oh, that's right Pitt is now an ACC team. This is going to be a very good measuring stick for the Nittany Lions who will feature one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten this coming season with Tim Frazier, D.J. Newbill, and Jermaine Marshall. Good news for PSU? Pitt can't score & they're losing the leading scorer from a season ago in Tray Woodall. However, that could be all sorts of bad news for the fans. Pitt does have two very good recruits coming in, but it's hard to see them being the difference makers in this one. Give me the team with the better backcourt, as long as it's also more accurate (which could be the issue with PSU).
Prediction: Penn State
Illinois at Georgia Tech - SNOOOOOOOOZZZEEEEE..... and we've come to the least attractive matchup of the night. Illinois was an NCAA team last year, but lose the biggest pieces to that team. John Groce will have a big time rebuilding job on his hands, one that his recruiting class tells us could be a good one. Luckily for them they get a Tech team that isn't in the same atmosphere as what this program was 10-15 years ago. Could we just flip a coin and declare a winner in this one? You have to worried when your opponent returns 80% of the minutes played and you're going to be a very young team playing on the road.
Prediction: Georgia Tech
North Carolina at Michigan State - Are these two programs joined at the hips or what? Good grief. Not that I'm complaining as a fan of good basketball and all. MSU returns a crap ton of talent and has a big time edge inside with the returning Adreian Payne. Overall the Spartans are perhaps one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the country in terms of returning talent. UNC will rely on a lot of youth growing up in the form of names like James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto. Rule No. 1 for anyone that's followed MSU basketball under Tom Izzo - they don't lose many big games at home. Give me true experience over youth still growing up and give me Adreian Payne over anything UNC throws at him right now.
Prediction: Michigan State
Maryland at Ohio State - Future conference foes get together a year early in this matchup and it's almost even footing as both will lose their best players from a season ago in DeShaun Thomas (OSU) and Alex Len (Maryland). However, the parts around Thomas this past season got better and better as the season went along and you've got to like Craft, Smith, Jr., Scott, and the rest of the Buckeyes at home over a Maryland squad that really doesn't have the parts outside of the exciting G Dez Wells to keep pace.
Prediction: Ohio State
Miami at Nebraska - Was there a bigger story last season than the Hurricanes run to the ACC Regular season title? Doubtful. In 2013 Jim Larranaga's squad won't look anything like that team from last season thanks to all of the top five scorers from last year either graduating or declaring for the NBA Draft. 2013 will be all about finding this teams identity. Ironically, so will Nebraska's 2013 season as Brandon Ubell and Dylan Talley are gone too. However, there are more pieces to the puzzle in Lincoln than in Coral Gables with Shavon Shields and Ray Gallegos. Give me the home team here.
Wisconsin at Virginia - This is a defensive matchup if there ever was one. Both of these teams ended this past season in the top ten in scoring defense giving up 55.9ppg (Wisconsin) and 55.7ppg (Virginia). UW will have had a few biggish tests (WVU and St. Louis in Cancun) under their belt and revenge on their mind. Sam Dekker in his 2nd year, call in Dekker Unleashed if you will, is a scary thought for opponents. Expect him to be the biggest difference maker on the court for UW. I like Wisconsin's backcourt far better than UVa's, but I like UVa's frontcourt (strange to say that) far better as well. It's an even one here, but the battle to watch is two Wisconsinites going at it in Dekker vs. Paul Jesperson.
Boston College at Purdue - Poor BC, what has happened to your once decent and proud basketball program? Do we really need to explain the prediction in this one? Give me the Johnson brothers and A.J. Hammons over BC at home. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact that BC is 6-1 in the challenge, with it's only loss coming to Penn State in 2011. Expect this to be the Eagles 1st road loss in the challenge.
Northwestern at NC State - Just how sick of a college basketball fan am I? Well, I consider this one of the more intriguing games on the slate on Wednesday and it has a lot to do with one player named Drew Crawford. He could be the key to Northwestern making a run to the NCAA Tournament, finally. On the other hand NC State is intriguing because they've got a heck of a recruiting class coming in and this could be one of, if not the biggest stage they'll see up to this point in the season. This could've been a really explosive tilt had C.J. Leslie of NC State not declared early for the draft. For all the doom and gloom that happened in Evanston last season, 2013, if played right, could be a bright spot in the history of the program. Give me the more experienced group and that's Northwestern.
Challenge Winner: BIG TEN 8-4 over the ACC
*Of course we'll revisit these games and give you updated predictions the week of the challenge, but as for now this is how we see things shaking out.