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Mike Lopresti | | December 5, 2019

The winners, losers and plot twists from the 2019 Big 10/ACC Challenge

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Now that we’ve come to the end of Blowout Week — otherwise known as the Big Ten/ACC Challenge — we have some statements from the winners, right? Right. But also questions about the losers. Maybe even more of those.

So let’s review it from the top.

It always feels something like college basketball’s Ryder Cup, won this year by the Big Ten 8-6. Look at all the numerical bells and whistles of this rivalry. Eight of the top 11 teams in the latest Associated Press poll participated this week, the current ACC membership has produced eight of the past 17 national championships and owns 24,412 all-time victories, the Big Ten has led the nation in attendance 43 seasons in a row.

Question of the week

Where’d the drama go? You needed to change the channel. The first game was a raucous opening act, when Miami nearly blew all of a 27-point lead at Illinois before surviving by two, but then came a long road of routs. The other 13 games were settled by an average margin of 17.2 points, none closer than 11.

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Miami 81, Illinois 79, ACC leads 1-0

Statement from Miami:  Beware the little guy in gold shoes. According to the Hurricanes sports information department, 5-7 Chris Lykes is the smallest recruited scholarship player in the high major conferences, but he was the biggest guy in Champaign when he torched the Illini for 28 points. He puts on quite the show, so they should certainly save room on the ACC marquee this season, among the Louisville and Duke celebrities.

Question about Illinois: So which represents the real Illinois for the future — the glittering stat sheet where the Illini are first in the nation in rebound margin and third in scoring, or the belly-flop of a start at home against Miami, when they fell behind 27 points?

Minnesota 78, Clemson 60, tied 1-1.

Statement from Minnesota: The early season gauntlet toughened up the Gophers. Four of their first seven games were against high-major teams — Oklahoma, Butler, Utah and DePaul — with three on the road. They lost them all. But they learned. “We’ve been tested more than in my six years here,” Richard Pitino said. “We needed something to show for it.”

Question about Clemson: Clearly unsettled by a road game, did the young Tigers grow up a little?

Northwestern 82, Boston College 64, Big Ten leads 2-1.

Statement from Northwestern: The rebooting seems to be going well, after painful baby-step losses to Merrimack and Radford. A team that shoots 58 percent in its first true road game does not look so green.

Question about Boston College: Is this as bad is it looks? That’s five losses in six games, four at home. And the Eagles have been flatted by opponent runs — 21-0 by Saint Louis, 23-2 by Richmond, 20-2 by Northwestern. 

Iowa 68, Syracuse 54, Big Ten leads 3-1.

Statement from Iowa: The Father-Son Bowl goes to the McCafferys. Thirteen Division I teams have dads coaching their sons, and two of the 13 were in this game. It was tough scoring night for offspring. Iowa’s Connor McCaffery, son of Fran, went 2-for-6 for five points. Buddy Boeheim, son of Jim, 2-for-10 for seven points.

Question about Syracuse: The offensively challenged Orange have fallen, now can they get up? This was the third defeat in row — with the margins 14, 21 and 14 points — and the 4-4 record is the worst start at Syracuse in 51 years. For that matter, all eight Orange games have been decided by at least 14. Jim Boeheim’s youngish team shot 34.5 percent in the past three defeats, and scored 34 points in the season opening loss to Virginia, the lowest Syracuse total since 1945. “We’re not ready for these games,” he said.

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Louisville 58, Michigan 43, Big Ten leads 3-2.

Statement  from Louisville:  The Cardinals look quite at home as No. 1. Michigan came to town on an absolute tear and the second best shooting percentage in the nation. The Wolverines went bump into the Louisville defense and managed only 25.9 percent. Forty-three points in a game? Michigan had 46 in one half against Gonzaga. Add to it that Jordan Nwora is putting up individual scoring numbers the Cardinals haven’t seen in two decades. They might be on top a while.

Question about Michigan: Now that the Wolverines’ rocket ride up the rankings has been stopped, how do they respond, and what did they learn? It has been some thrill ride to the top-five in the Associated Press poll. Michigan received only two votes pre-season rankings, fewer than Davidson and Harvard.

Pittsburgh 71, Rutgers 60, tied 3-3.

Statement from Pittsburgh: These are not the same Panthers who lost to Nicholls State. They’ve won five in a row and beaten four major conference opponents, as many as all last season.

Question about Rutgers: Can the 6-2 Scarlet Knights, so eager to make a move as a program, wash away a bad night and be ready for an arduous stretch with Michigan State, Wisconsin and Seton Hall in seven days? They at least have savvy coaching to lead them. Seven members of Rutgers staff were all team captains as players, six point guards.

 Indiana 80, Florida State 64, Big Ten leads 4-3.

Statement from Indiana:   The pastry tray of an early season, all on their home court  — strength of schedule rated 300-and-something, depending on which metric was doing the talking  — did not mean the Hoosiers aren’t for real. Nothing meek about the beating they put on Florida State, or the 55 percent shooting against a defense that had kept six opponents under 40. It was the coming-out party for Indiana, a month after the season opened. “You want to see what you’re made of,” coach Archie Miller said.

Question about Florida State: How did the Seminoles enjoy their first-ever trip to Bloomington? They had just held Tennessee and Purdue under 34 percent shooting, so they must have forgotten to pack their defense.

Duke 87, Michigan State 85, tied 4-4.

Statement from Duke:   The Blue Devils are still the princes of darkness in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, their record now 19-2 in the event, and 5-0 against Michigan State. With Vernon Carey Jr. stringing together seven consecutive double-doubles, Duke seems back on course after the Upset of the Year. “This is a huge win,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “But that doesn’t mean you’ve arrived.” Right, but the Blue Devils might be ready for the ultimate challenge one day: Rematch with Stephen F. Austin!

Question about Michigan State: Is Dr. Tom Izzo, with his Ph.D. in repairing team psyche, ready for another challenge? The Spartans, beset by injury and the tragedy of the death of Cassius Winston’s brother, have gone from No. 1 to sputtering along at 5-3. Had not light-scoring Malik Hall not turned into Steph Curry and shot 7-for-7 the second half against Seton Hall, the Spartans might have lost there, too and stand 4-4 today. “We’ve been through more hell than I think I’ve ever been through in my career,” Izzo said. “At the same time that has no basis for why you don’t play hard. We looked like the moment was too big . . . It’s my job to get them ready and I’m going to do a better job of getting them ready. And yet I won’t panic like most fans, because I’ve been here so many times before.”

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Georgia Tech 73, Nebraska 58, ACC leads 5-4.

Statement from Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets are carrying on despite the extended ankle injury absence of Jose Alvarado, last season’s top point producer. That’s because the hottest scorer in the ACC is a Georgia Tech sophomore, who had a weighted 4.5 grade point average in high school. Not only good at the books, Michael Devoe owns a league-leading 23.8 average, after scoring 26 to help beat Nebraska. He’s making 58.6 percent from the 3-point line. He’s also the only conference player averaging more than 37 minutes a game. Devoe has Georgia Tech 4-2, with the losses to Arkansas and Georgia by a combined five points.

Question about Nebraska: Going to be a process of good times and bad, working together all the new faces, isn’t it? The Huskers have 14 new players, and six of the top seven scorers weren’t playing last season. Only 50 points returned. So they might be losing to Southern Utah one day, winning their third in a row another, and missing 20 of 26 3-pointers another, as they did at Georgia Tech. So it will go.

Purdue 69, Virginia 40, tied 5-5.

Statement from Purdue: This won’t make up for last March in the Elite Eight against the Cavaliers, but it still had to feel good to the Boilermakers, and confirm the post-Carsen Edwards era is fully underway. Purdue is not the team defending national champions want to see on the schedule. This steamrolling, combined with the 87-61 win over Villanova last spring, means the Boilermakers have beaten the past two defending champions by 29 and 26 points. For that matter, they’ve won 11 of their last 15 games against DC’s.

Question about Virginia:  How often will bad shooting waste good defense? Virginia hasn’t broken 50 in three consecutive games, and is barely hitting 40 percent for the season, including 23.8 percent from the 3-point line. So no matter how renowned that Cavalier defense, it can’t save them every night if they’re scoring in the 40s.

Maryland 72, Notre Dame 51, Big Ten leads 6-5.

Statement from Maryland: The same defense that just shut down Marquette’s Markus Howard — he went from 91 points the previous two games to six against the Terrapins — allowed the Irish only 29 percent shooting, holding them to four points over more than 12 minutes in the first half. So they seem serious about keeping that No. 3 ranking. By the way, Maryland’s 416 weeks in the AP poll are the most of any program to never be ranked No. 1. But if the 9-0 Terrapins stay perfect, then we’ll talk. “The sky’s the limit for them,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

Question about Notre Dame: The 6-2 Irish lead the nation in assist-turnover ratio, and John Mooney is second in rebounding, but can that be translated into the big impact victory they need? It certain didn’t at Maryland. “That was the varsity vs. the JV,” Brey said.

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Penn State 76, Wake Forest 64, Big Ten leads 7-5.

Statement from Penn State:  The Nittany Lions are still scary in black and pink. They trotted out the school’s original colors and moved to 10-0 all-time during the regular season in that combination. But the defense that allowed only 29 percent shooting and bothered Wake Forest leading scorer Brandon Childress into an 0-for-7 night, plus a 52-33 dominance in rebounding may have had something to do with it, too.

Question about Wake Forest: Will finally getting off the road help the Demon Deacons? This completed a six-game stretch away from Winston-Salem, the longest in the regular season in 45 years.

North Carolina State 69, Wisconsin 54, Big Ten leads 7-6.

Statement from North Carolina State: The Wolfpack are a balanced bunch, even if there are only 10 scholarship players available. Eight different players have scored in double figures at least twice, and Devon Daniels had been the only player in the top-25 of ACC scoring to be primarily coming off the bench, with a 12.7 average. He started against the Badgers, and had only six.

Question about Wisconsin: Is the unusual case of inefficiency going to be a chronic issue for the normally sound Badgers, who have now lost three in a row, shooting in the 30s in all of them? They have more turnovers than assists (97-89) in their 4-4 start. The season hasn’t ended that way in Madison in nearly two decades.

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Ohio State 74, North Carolina 49, Big Ten wins 8-6.

Statement from Ohio State: The Buckeyes look like the best team in the Big Ten right now. The thrashing of the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill — Roy Williams’ worst home defeat — was their latest show of strength. Think the football team is impressive? They have now hammered the hallowed names of Villanova and North Carolina by 25 points each, which is also the average winning margin in their 8-0 start. Curious thing. This carnage has been accomplished with Kaleb Wesson the leading scorer at only 12.4. But then, the defense has held the other team’s leading scorer to 10.4 points and 30 percent shooting.

Question about North Carolina: What in the name of Michael Jordan has happened to the offense? The Tar Heels’ 27.4 shooting percentage Wednesday was the worst in Smith Center history, the losing margin the second worst. They have now gone their first nine games without breaking 80, and that hasn’t happened in 70 years. “I’ve never felt so sorry as I feel right now,” Roy Williams said. “I’ve got no answers. It’s a frustrating feeling.”

 So frustrating that Williams sent in the reserves with nearly seven minutes left, and the margin only 13. “It’s a pretty easy thing,” he said. “If you suck out there, somebody should come in for you.”

Oh, and about the Carolina crowd leaving early, having had enough of the bludgeoning? “I didn’t blame them.”

On that note, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge ended.


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