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Mike Lopresti | | December 2, 2013

Lopresti: Big Ten, ACC set to battle


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Here comes another Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and look at all the new faces. Say hello to Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse. Having not won the series since 2008, the ACC has called in reinforcements.    

So an influx of first-timers has spiced an event that’s never wanted for fire, anyway. Two leagues who cherish tradition, reputation -- and any chance to claim superiority over the other guys -- are back at it, starting Tuesday. If they used 7-irons, it could pass for the Ryder Cup.

Illinois at Georgia Tech7:15 p.m.ESPN2
Indiana at Syracuse7:15 p.m.ESPN
Penn State at Pittsburgh7:30 p.m.ESPNU
Michigan at Duke9:15 p.m.ESPN
Notre Dame at Iowa9:15 p.m.ESPN2
Florida State at Minnesota9:30 p.m.ESPNU
Maryland at Ohio State7 p.m.ESPN
Wisconsin at Virginia7 p.m.ESPN2
Northwestern at NC State7:30 p.m.ESPNU
Boston College at Purdue9 p.m.ESPN2
North Carolina at Michigan State9 p.m.ESPN
Miami (Fla.) at Nebraska9:30 p.m.ESPNU
All times ET

The 24 combatants carry a combined record of 136-38. Seven are ranked, starting with No. 1 Michigan State, and five are in the top 10. Six of the nation’s remaining 21 unbeaten teams will appear. Such is the norm in a series of rich pedigree.

In the past 25 NCAA tournaments, the ACC and Big Ten have produced 10 national champions and 41 of the 100 teams in the Final Four. In the past 54 years, there have only been eight Final Fours without at least one team from one conference or the other.

But which league is better? Ah, a good and annual question. Whether this series answers that is debatable, but winning it can’t hurt an argument. The ACC ruled the first 10 years of the Challenge, including a couple of 8-3 wipeouts. The Big Ten took the next three. Last season was a 6-6 tie.

Which brings us to this week’s pairings sheet.

Illinois at Georgia Tech. The Illini are 7-0, but the last win was a shaky two-pointer against IPFW. Georgia Tech will try to avoid a three-game losing streak.

Indiana at Syracuse. The Hoosiers have already blown past 100 points three times this season, but now might be a good time to mention what Jim Boeheim’s zone did to the Indiana offense in last year’s Sweet 16. Think shackles. Not that the 61-50 victory made Boeheim forget the Keith Smart shot that beat Syracuse in the final seconds of the 1987 national championship game; the only time he has lost to Indiana.

Penn State at Pittsburgh. The Keystone cousins haven’t played since 2005 and Penn State hasn’t beaten Pitt since 2000, losing the past five meetings by an average of 25.8 points. The Panthers have been like a cement truck rolling downhill, winning all seven games so far by at least 17 points.

Michigan at Duke. The Blue Devils have been the princes of darkness for the Big Ten, going 12-2 in the Challenge and 5-0 at home. Duke has also beaten the Wolverines in nine of their past 10 meetings. Beware the new Blue Devils. Freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood are supplying nearly 50 percent of the Duke points.

Notre Dame at Iowa. Presumably warmed by their weekend in the Bahamas -- and their runner-up finish in the Battle 4 Atlantis -- the Hawkeyes can now try to improve on that ghastly 2-10 record in the Challenge, with the nation’s best field-goal percentage defense (34.0). These two teams haven’t met in 23 years and Iowa hasn’t beaten the Irish since 1970.

Florida State at Minnesota. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino figures to have his hands full at home in his first Challenge game, since Florida State battered VCU by 18 and lost by a combined three points to Michigan and Florida.

Maryland at Ohio State. While Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh are coming in the ACC door, Maryland is going out. Next season, the side-switching Terrapins will be playing in the Challenge as a Big Ten team.

Wisconsin at Virginia. The 8-0 Badgers would like to do something about a 1-6 road record in the Challenge. Won’t be easy. Virginia is off to a 7-1 start -- this is the top Challenge game, by combined record -- and beat Wisconsin in Madison last year.

Northwestern at NC State. The Wolfpack may still own the poster game for the tighter calls against the defense this season. They had four starters foul out in the overtime upset loss to North Carolina Central, and the Eagles hit 41 of 45 free throws.

Boston College at Purdue. The Boilermakers have one claim to fame in this event. Their 58-55 win against Virginia Tech in 2010 remains the only overtime in 143 Big Ten/ACC Challenge games.

North Carolina at Michigan State. The top-ranked Spartans must get air sick from the sight of Carolina sky blue. Michigan State has lost six in a row to the Tar Heels and are 3-11 all time. Foul at will, Spartans. In its upset losses to Belmont and UAB, North Carolina was 26-for-59 at the free-throw line.

Miami (Fla.) at Nebraska. Sounds like a fine Orange Bowl. They’ve only met four times, and Nebraska hasn’t lost to Miami since 1951. This is the last Challenge game to tip off Wednesday, so the entire series for 2013 might be on the table by the end.

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