Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Big Ten Takes 4-2 Lead in Challenge, Led by NU's Thrashing of Georgia Tech

Whoo, what a ride! A couple of unexpected outcomes have pushed our conference ahead in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with a score of 4 to 2. For those of you just tuning in, the conferences face off in 11 games which means that six wins will give the conference bragging rights for the remainder of the season (until, of course, Duke goes ahead and chops everyone down in the NCAA). I've been able to watch most of these games and have been excited and concerned about what I've seen -- excited because the Big Ten looks good, and concerned because the Big Ten looks good.

That said, NU's solid performance over Georgia Tech in the home tilt gives me a lot of optimism as the season progresses. Jump inside and I'll explain how we got to where we are:

Virginia 87, Minnesota 79

For the first half, it looked like Minnesota was going to cruise to an easy victory in The Barn. Riding the hot hands of Blake Hoffarber and Ralph Sampson, the Gophers pulled to a 10-point lead at the end of the first half. Then after the break, the wheels came completely off. Minnesota struggled to run their offense and couldn't stop Virginia from scoring. At one point, the Cavaliers went on a 10-0 run to put the game in their control and out of Minnesota's reach. This was considered by many to be the biggest "lock" game for the Big Ten, and it turned out to be far from that.

Wake Forest 76, Iowa 73

This was the one game I did not manage to watch, as it was on ESPNU and I don't have that channel. I did notice that the Hawkeyes stormed out to a 18-9 lead and had a 12-point advantage at the half. Unfortunately, like Minnesota, the offense went ice cold. Wake Forest went on an 18-0 run to turn a 13-point deficit into a 5-point advantage. The teams then spent a lot of time trading baskets until the final 20 seconds of play. Iowa's Matt Gatens went inside with 15 seconds remaining, but was promptly blocked by Ty Walker at the rim. The ensuing fast break resulted in a looooong three by J.T. Terrell (three of his 32 points for the night) with only two seconds remaining. Game, set, match.

Northwestern 91, Georgia Tech 71

NU put the Big Ten on the board for the first time with a drubbing of the Ramblin' Wreck. The 'Cats had their way from the field in the first half, making a ridiculous 74% of their shots en route to a 55-37 lead. Five different 'Cats got into double digits in this one, including JerShon Cobb, Luka Mirkovic and Alex Marcotullio. John Shurna would end up going perfect from the arc for the night (4-4) en route to 21 points. The 'Cats never let Tech back into this one in the second half, although the refs might have had something to do with that -- a total of 40 fouls were called in the period, including 26 on the Yellow Jackets. It made a very exciting game turn into the most boring romp I've ever watched in my entire life. The 'Cats need to improve from the free throw line, though: 17-30 for the game.

Ohio State 58, Florida State 44

This was a game that featured a lot of defense and not a lot of offense. No one had a fantastic night, except freshman F Jared Sullinger put up a double-double, grabbing 13 boards to go along with his 11 points. Ohio State got ahead early and managed to keep the Seminoles at arm's length throughout this turnover-laden affair. Personal note: We still need to find a way to keep Dallas Lauderdale from beating us.

Michigan 69, Clemson 61

This is what I consider the upset that made up for Minnesota's loss last night. I don't think many people expected the Wolverines to win on the road, but win they did. F Evan Smotrycz had a breakout game against the Tigers, putting up 18 points on shots that just would not go wrong. Meanwhile, Clemson couldn't make a shot fall -- at one point, they were just 4-20 from the field in the 1st half. The Wolverines built up a 16-point lead to end the half. Clemson would pull out two rallies over the course of the 2nd, but Michigan was very un-Michigan and weathered both. Clemson would never cut the lead to less than seven points the rest of the way.

Illinois 79, North Carolina 67

My roommate tried to convince me that this was a rematch from the 2005 national championship game. I then reminded him that this North Carolina team was grossly overrated and that it's been, oh, 5 1/2 years since that game. He didn't like that response. However, the Illini proved me correct about North Carolina's preseason ranking. After giving up a few easy buckets in the opening minutes, the Illini suddenly remembered how to play defense and quickly opened up a double-digit lead. Most of the game was spent trading baskets or missed shots, to be quite honest. The Illini were helped by an 8-12 performance from behind the arc, and five guys got into double digits in scoring. This game once again reinforced my belief that Mike Tisdale is a pansy for at least half the minutes that he's on the court.

That sums up the first six games of the Challenge. I've got Wisconsin penciled in as a win for tomorrow, and all we need is for one of the other four teams to step up and win a big game. As much as I love bragging rights, what's most important is that the 'Cats won tonight, and won big against a BCS conference opponent. That will certainly help our reputation down the road.

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