Tonight begins the greatest inter-conference rivalry in all of college sports, the Big Ten / ACC Challenge (somehow not sponsored by Rotel). This three-day orgy of college hoops sets the tone for the remainder of the season and provides bragging rights to the winning conference, as well as a couple of resume games. Last season saw the Big Ten finally win its first Challenge, aided by Wisconsin's upset against Duke on the road. And who can forget that ridiculous come-from-behind victory that Illinois had against Clemson? (As soon as they tied up the game, I knew they would win that one.) The Big Ten now boasts a 1-10 record in the Challenge, and I for one hope that they make it 2-10 this year.
This challenge is very important for the 'Cats, as a win by the conference solidifies its legitimacy as the best and deepest conference in the NCAA this year. A win for the 'Cats against Georgia Tech will certainly provide a minor boost to the ol' RPI, something that'll be suffering due to the lack of good non-conference games scheduled this season.
This post will take a look at each game individually, and I'll predict the winner of each one. Hop inside to take a look!
Monday, November 29
#17 Minnesota at Virginia, 6:00 PM
The Challenge opener is against a very hot Golden Gophers squad against 3-3 Virginia team that's in a rebuilding year. Even though this is a road game and injuries have taken Al Nolen and Rodney Williams out of the game, Minnesota should have no problem taking care of the Cavaliers. Did I mention that Blake Hoffarber is averaging 15 ppg so far this season? Winner: Minnesota
Tuesday, November 30
Northwestern vs Georgia Tech, 6:00 PM
This is a home game for the 'Cats, and probably their toughest fight so far in the young season. Georgia Tech will be attempting to make the NCAA Tournament this season as an at-large bid. Unfortunately, the Yellow Jackets have already shown they have problems on the road, losing big against Kennesaw State earlier in the season. Winner: Northwestern
Iowa at Wake Forest, 6:00 PM
Wake Forest isn't the powerhouse team that it once was a decade or so ago. Luckily for them, they're hosting a team with a new coach that was by far a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten last year. Winner: Wake Forest
#2 Ohio State at Florida State, 6:30 PM
No Evan Turner? No problem! Ohio State already showed it can win on the road, taking down Florida with a vengeance in The Swamp. Florida State should be in the Tournament this year, but it will be outmatched by a more athletic Buckeye squad. Winner: Ohio State
Michigan at Clemson, 8:00 PM
Michigan's trying to improve their awful perimeter shooting that plagued them through most of last year. Clemson's off to a 5-1 start this season, even though most of those games were complete cupcakes. Michigan's just another cupcake team, though. Winner: Clemson
#21 Illinois vs North Carolina, 8:30 PM
The Tar Heels have found yet another way to sputter at the beginning of the season, losing back-to-back games against Minnesota and Vanderbilt on a neutral court. Roy Williams is having trouble making this very talented team cohesive. I personally think they were way overrated to start the season. The question is, which Illinois team will show up? Winner: Illinois (though I don't feel good about it)
Wednesday, December 1
Indiana at Boston College, 6:15 PM
So far, the Hoosiers are undefeated. Unfortunately, they've beaten a lot of underwhelming teams in order to do so. This is their first trip on the road, facing a team that stayed close against Wisconsin at home. Could this be the first statement game that Indiana desperately needs to get national attention again? This one ought to be very close. Winner: Boston College
Wisconsin vs N.C. State, 6:15 PM
The 'Cats played this one in Raleigh last year and rolled in the second half. After two losses against middling-to-decent teams, Bo Ryan's trying to get his players back on track. A home date against the Wolfpack should be just what the doctor ordered for this stumbling offense. Expect a low-scoring affair, as usual. Winner: Wisconsin
#18 Purdue at Virginia Tech, 6:30 PM
This Boilermaker team has turned into a very big question mark coming into this game. Where has the offense gone? They struggled to score without Robbie Hummel last year and yet managed to make a Sweet 16 appearance when it mattered. That loss against Richmond--where they only scored 54 points-- has got me worried. Tech's two losses were against very, very good teams. I don't like the look of this one. Winner: Virginia Tech
Penn State vs Maryland, 8:15 PM
Maryland's two losses have been against Illinois and Pittsburgh on neutral courts. Penn State hasn't played anybody yet. Both teams have definitely improved over last year's debacles, and this should be the big game to watch to determine who wins the Challenge this year. It's a close one, but I'll take the home team here. Winner: Penn State
#6 Michigan State at #1 Duke, 8:30 PM
I for one am not sure that Michigan has even played up to its #6 ranking. They nearly lost to Division II Chaminade, lost to UConn and struggled to put away both Washington and South Carolina. Meanwhile, Duke has been firing on all cylinders since the first tip-off, and make Kansas State look absolutely silly. As much as this is being billed as a clash of two powerhouse teams, I've got Duke by double digits. Winner: Duke
Final Record: Big Ten 6, ACC 5
So there you have it. This will be a fun three days of basketball to watch, and it will be competitive down to the last game. I see the Big Ten squeaking out another win, but I'm starting to worry about those teams in the middle, as inconsistent play has been a plague recently. Most importantly though, the 'Cats need to take care of business at home against the Ramblin' Wreck on Tuesday. Here's to a successful season! Go 'Cats!