College basketball: Heavyweights do battle in ACC-Big Ten Challenge
If you're getting ready to settle back into your favorite spot on the couch to take in some weeknight hoops action following the holiday break, don't get too comfortable because the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is sure to have you on the edge of your seat. Ok, maybe that's a little cliché but the basketball on the docket is quite compelling.
ACC teams have combined to lead the overall series 10-5-2, including winning the first 10 challenges. Big Ten teams have made up some ground in recent years, but the conference is hoping some momentum will carry over from a year ago. Each conference will host seven games in this year's edition of the challenge, which includes 14 teams that made the NCAA tournament a year ago (seven each).
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The only problem with the setup of the challenge is taking it all in. You can't watch all the games, but NCAA.com can. Here's a bit of what to look for come tipoff on Tuesday.
Pittsburgh (5-1) vs. Maryland (7-0), 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
A nine-point loss to SMU is the lone blemish on the record for Pittsburgh heading into Tuesday's matchup with the Terrapins, but some of the Panthers' wins this year have been closer than Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings would like — three victories decided by five points or less. It's been a similar situation for the Maryland Terrapins, who have had to squeak out two games by a single point so far this season.
Pitt is led by a pair of dynamic senior forwards in Jamel Artis (19.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.8 apg) and Michael Young (23.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.0 apg), while the guards lead the attack for a Maryland team that features three freshmen among its top five scorers. Senior point guard Melo Trimble (21.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg) sets the offense alongside freshman backcourt mate Anthony Cowan (10.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.9 apg). Cowan — one of the aformentioned freshmen on this year's squad — has seen his minutes rise steadily since the season opener and is quickly becoming a Swiss army knife of a player for Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon.
Pitt will look to exploit some mismatches on the interior, but the Panthers would be wise to use the 3-point line as a differentiator in this ballgame. That said, there's little reason to expect either team to run away with this one.
No. 22 Syracuse (4-1) vs. No. 17 Wisconsin (5-2), 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
No. 22 Syracuse looks to avenge its loss to South Carolina when they take on the Badgers at the Kohl Center in Madison. A year ago, these two teams met in Syracuse at the Carrier Dome (a game Wisconsin won 66-58 in OT). So, the No. 17 Badgers may have bragging rights, experience and some home cooking, but 'Cuse has a chip on its shoulder coming off a tough loss. Andrew White III (15.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) has led the scoring department for the Orange, but there are three other players in the lineup averaging 10 points or better. In other words, this team can play but is still finding its legs with some key departures from a squad that made it to the Final Four a year ago. Some new names in the mix have to gel as well, and that's got to be putting some pressure on Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and company. But C'est la vie (such is life) when it comes to expectations in the ACC.
On the other side, two losses against ranked opponents (at Creighton and against UNC in Maui) is certainly not the outcome the Badgers wanted in the early-season schedule. However, faltering against quality opponents is far from devastating — be it in a true road game or a neutral site affair. At the end of the day, Wisconsin can lead on its four seniors for leadership and steady play, which will bode well for the Badgers on most nights. Guard Bronson Koenig (14.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.7 apg) and forward Nigel Hayes (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg) have led this team through thick and thin over the years, and in this bout with Syracuse the gap in experience is likely to help tip the scales.
Michigan State (4-3) vs. No. 5 Duke (6-1), 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Tom Izzo and the Spartans have likely had enough of the battles with top-tier opponents, as losses to Arizona, Kentucky and Baylor have dropped Michigan State from the ranks of the AP Top 25. But one more test looms in this matchup with No. 5 Duke on Tuesday. It won't be the team that the Spartans were expecting in the offseason when they saw Duke placed on their schedule, but it is still as formidable a bunch as any five in college basketball. Injuries to Duke's trio of freshmen (Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum) have been well-documented to this point, but a nagging injury for the team's second-leading scorer Grayson Allen could also prove to be a thorn in the side for the Blue Devils.
Allen left Duke's win over Appalachian State midway through the second half and did not return after potentially aggravating a right foot injury he sustained in a loss against Kansas earlier this year. It's unclear if the injury will impact his status for the bout with Michigan State, but the junior from Jacksonville remains the most potent scoring threat for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Luke Kennard may be leading the team in scoring at this point (17.1 ppg), but most would still say Allen is the man in Durham, N.C. It will be a clash of coaching genius when these two schools link up, with Izzo and Krzyzewski matching X's and O's all night like a game of tic-tac-toe.
No. 14 Louisville (5-1) vs. No. 15 Purdue (5-1), 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Louisville will host Purdue in a week where these two teams sit right next to one another in the AP Top 25. That said, this matchup may be a bit too close for comfort — not even beginning to mention the big men that will mix it up in this one. The KFC Yum! Center will be rocking when these two tip off on Wednesday.
Louisville had a busy but productive week in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, despite falling to Baylor in the championship game on Friday. Nonetheless, some valuable experience was gained in the process — just ask sophomore guard and leading scorer Donovan Mitchell (13.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.0 spg). Mitchell, fellow guard Quentin Snider (11.0 ppg, 3.7 apg), and the rest of the backcourt will need to make some plays to keep their team in the game against the Boilermakers. On the flip side, Purdue's attack is run through the big men. Sophomore power forward Caleb Swanigan (6'9") and junior center Isaac Haas (7'0") are averaging a combined 35.3 points per game and 16.8 rebounds a night. That's a gruesome twosome to have to handle for any team, but Louisville's centers — junior Anas Mahmoud (7'0") and senior Mangok Mathiang (6'10") — may be as able-bodied a frontcourt as Purdue has seen yet this year. Bodies will be flying on Wednesday.
No. 3 North Carolina (7-0) vs. No. 13 Indiana (4-1), 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
If you are a college basketball fan and you didn't hear about Indiana falling to Fort Wayne last week, it's ok. The Hoosiers are trying to make it a distant memory as soon as possible. They'll get a good opportunity to do just that when they meet up with the North Carolina Tar Heels in arguably the most anticipated matchup of the entire ACC-Big Ten Challenge. That's subjective of course, but it's the matchup with the highest ranked teams, so that logic has some merit. Nonetheless, both clubs have plenty to play for in this one.
For all the pomp and circumstance around UNC's start to the year, which includes a thrashing of Wisconsin to win the Maui Invitational, there is still a need for this team to put a stamp on its identity as a ballclub. Joel Berry II has assumed the lead guard role swimmingly to the tune of 17.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 4.3 apg. In other words, Berry II is operating as a jack of all trades for head coach Roy Williams. And there are plenty of other weapons to boot, including: swingman Justin Jackson (15.4 ppg), forward Isaiah Hicks (14.6 ppg) and center Kennedy Meeks (13.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg). Enough about the Tar Heels though. The Hoosiers boast plenty of firepower of their own. James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and OG Anunoby combine to average 46.1 points a night, and that's without a whisper of chatter about sophomore center Thomas Bryant. Long story short, this will be an up and down affair to cap the Challenge. And who knows, they could be play for their respective conference's bragging rights. That would only be the cherry on top. Happy viewing y'all.
Monday, Nov. 28
Tuesday, Nov. 29
Syracuse at Wisconsin (Wisconsin wins 77-60)
Michigan State at Duke (Duke wins 78-69)
Pittsburgh at Maryland (Pittsburgh wins 73-59)
Iowa at Notre Dame (Notre Dame wins 92-78)
Georgia Tech at Penn State (Penn State wins 67-60)
N.C. State at Illinois (Illinois wins 88-74)
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Purdue at Louisville (Louisville wins 71-64)
North Carolina at Indiana (Indiana wins 76-67)
Ohio State at Virginia (Virginia wins 63-61)
Virginia Tech at Michigan (Virginia Tech wins 73-70)
Rutgers at Miami (Fla.) (Miami wins 73-61)
Nebraska at Clemson (Clemson wins 60-58)