Well, it was an intriguing week in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, right down to quite possibly the first rendition of “Go Cubs Go!” at a college basketball game. Final tally—if you’re keeping score at home—ACC 9, Big Ten 5.
So, it’s time to take stock of what was learned the past three days.
1. ACC arenas are tough on the tourists
The Big Ten went 0-7 on the road and unwillingly contributed to some staggering streaks. Yes, Duke has won 130 consecutive non-conference games in Durham, now that Michigan State has come and gone. And yes, Louisville is really 50-1 in their last 51 non-conference games at the KFC Yum! Center, with Purdue as the latest victim.
If this were the Ryder Cup, Clemson made the clinching putt. When the Tigers held off Nebraska 60-58 at Clemson, the ACC knew victory over the Big Ten was in the bag, for the first time since the Bush administration.
2. Indiana is where opponents’ high rankings go to die
North Carolina’s belly flop Wednesday night means the Hoosiers have won their last six games in Bloomington against teams in the top four of the polls. The monochrome crowd – it’s like trying to shoot in a loud crimson thunderstorm – has something to do with it.
“Gosh, I’d like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than [just] for the frickin’ Duke game,” Roy Williams said after his Tar Heels were Assembly Halled.
The Hoosiers brought in the heavy hitters for North Carolina. Literally. Honorary captain was Kyle Schwarber, a former Indiana baseball star last seen driving in runs for the Cubs in the World Series. Hence, a rousing pre-game verse of “Go Cubs Go!” from the red masses. Next thing the Tar Heels knew, they were down 26-9.
3. The Hoosiers need Anunoby
When Indiana plays defense like this, and when OG Anunoby is clicking -- he had 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting against the Tar Heels -- the Hoosiers can stand with anybody. This Carolina crunching and the season opener over Kansas makes a nice matching pair for Tom Crean. As for the bad dream in Fort Wayne, Anunoby was sick and limited to 13 minutes. The result, cherished by underdog lovers everywhere, showed how much they need him.
4. UNC hasn’t proven a lot, yet
Might want to temporarily turn down the volume on those reports coming out of Hawaii about the North Carolina juggernaut roaring up the rankings. A Tar Heels team that did not trail one second in three routs at the Maui Invitational, was behind for good only 20 seconds into the game at Indiana. The offense that had rolled over the likes of Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, outscoring seven opponents by an average of 27 points a game, shot 39.3 percent. Clang.
This was not quite the way Williams wanted to celebrate his 1000th game as a head coach.
But he had warned that North Carolina had really not proven a lot in its early routs. So it seems.
“We haven’t faced a lot of adversity yet,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “Ten games from now, if we’re still doing those things, the whole world will be pretty dadgum impressed.”
Ten hours later, the Tar Heels had been shoved aside from the start by Indiana. Someone asked Williams what the problem had been.
“Everything,” he answered.“I don’t think our kids understood what we were talking about when we said how emotional it is going to be . . . They challenged us, and we backed up. We’ll see how we respond. And you’re not going to see how we respond the next game, you’re going to see how we respond the next three, five, seven, 10. I told the guys we have 19 more games against teams like that.”
In his locker room, there was acknowledgement of a hard lesson.
“We all understand this is a pretty humbling loss for us,” guard Joel Berry II said. “Sometimes you can win so much to where you get complacent. You live, and you learn.”
5. Note the Buzz Williams revival going on at Virginia Tech
The Hokies, who went 11-22 two years ago in his first season, are now 6-1 and brushed aside Michigan’s 15-point lead to win in Ann Arbor. Blacksburg won’t be a fun stop for a lot of ACC teams this winter.
6. The vaunted Virginia defense is not impregnable
Ohio State might have lost at the end, 63-61, but appeared notably unfazed by the Cavaliers’ defense. Virginia led the nation in field goal percentage at 30.5. The Buckeyes hit 50 percent. The Cavaliers were allowing only a ridiculously meager 41 points after six games. Ohio State passed that total with 13:47 left and once led by 16.
What a comeback! pic.twitter.com/nL2bQGzGD4— Virginia Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) December 1, 2016
For the record, the Buckeyes, now 6-1, missed the NCAA tournament last spring for the first time in eight years. They didn't like it much.
7. Purdue still has turnover issues
Try 54 in the past three games, 32 before halftime. The talented skyline – Caleb Swanigan just became the first Boilermaker in 42 years to have five consecutive double-doubles – is imposing and dangerous. But not when the other team keeps getting handed the basketball.
8. Attention is a mixed blessing
Iowa’s Peter Jok lights up box scores with a 25-point average and 53 percent shooting rate. Notre Dame notices and makes other plans with its defense. Jok goes 4-for-20.
9. There are signs of life at Illinois
Having lost at home to Winthrop and melted against the West Virginia defense – the Mountaineers built a rather shocking 34-1 pad in points off turnovers – the Illini needed a pain reliever or a win over North Carolina State.
10. Rutgers is not quite ready for prime time
The Scarlet Knights created a stir with their first 6-0 start in four decades and were second in the nation in rebound margin at 18. Not anymore, on either. They ran into their first test at Miami, lost by 12 and were outrebounded by 14.
“You have to be better than the scouting report that’s out on you,” new coach Steve Pikiell said. “And, our guys aren’t ready for that yet.”
11. Maryland makes a lousy turncoat
The Terrapins are 0-3 in this challenge since changing sides from the ACC to the Big Ten.
12. Pitt's top tandem
Pittsburgh’s Michael Young and Jamel Artist, who drilled Maryland for 47 combined points, occupy the first two spots on the ACC scoring list. Just in case you need an example for the phrase, 1-2 punch.
13. Putting Notre Dame on the line should be strictly avoided
The Irish hit 30 of 33 free throws against Iowa, which is entirely in character. Their 84.5 team percentage is the nation’s second highest.
14. One day, Duke will be healthy, and the world might pay
For now, you have to admire the grit. Most of the prized freshman class is still under medical repair, so the Blue Devils beat Michigan State with six players.
Grayson Allen had been unable to practice because of a bad foot but showed up for the game and scored 24 points. Just another night at the office for a team that has dents in the fender than a body shop.
“All our guys know it’s next man up,” Amile Jefferson said. “And we have this inner toughness, a toughness of the heart and spirit more than physical.”
15. Tom Izzo’s worst nightmare? Still Mike Krzyzewski
Izzo has lots of Final Fours, lots of victories and a rightful spot in the Hall Fame, which makes it hard to fathom how he’s now 1-10 against Krzyzewski.
His current Spartans, playing four freshmen, need work and seasoning, but his patience did not sound bottomless after the Duke loss.
“It’s time to quit making excuses for the freshmen,” said Izzo. “They’ve got to start playing.”
16. Syracuse newcomers adjusting to zone
The new wave at Syracuse are not yet ready for their diplomas from the Jim Boeheim School of Zone Defense. Takes a while to learn, just like trigonometry. That became clear while Wisconsin was shredding the Orange with 11 3-pointers in 23 attempts.
“We’re just not getting the coverages yet. I think the five new guys are trying to figure out where they are,” Jim Boeheim said. “All you need is one guy not to get in his position, and there’s going to be an open shot.”
History suggests there will be fewer of them by the spring.
17. What's next for the Heels?
Which takes us back to the start, and North Carolina trying to figure out what went wrong at Indiana. The Bloomington bruising might make the Tar Heels wiser, but then they are already a team driven partly by defeat. The national championship game with Villanova last April, namely. A last-second dagger in the heart, courtesy of Kris Jenkins.
“I’ve never looked at it. Probably never will,” Williams said Wednesday afternoon about that game. “I think it can give you some emotion. I think it can give you some incentive. I think it can give you some reasons to work harder. We’ve seen it before. In 2008, we laid a rotten egg [losing by 18 to Kansas at the Final Four] and came back and won it the next year. So, I’ve seen that happen to teams before, but I don’t think you should count on it.”
A few hours later, he watched his team sag against Indiana and a frenzied crowd, most of it remembering who knocked the Hoosiers out of the Sweet 16 last year—North Carolina. The Tar Heels were the only team from their league to lose on a six-game Wednesday. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge was over.