A Big Ten/ACC Challenge tie last season left the championship belt in the Big Ten's hands, but a bad taste in its mouth. Favored to win its fourth straight in the series after a decade of futility, the league saw strong teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State upset.
The new season brings brand new teams from the ACC, and the same old disadvantage for the Big Ten. While the ACC gets to hide bottom-rung teams (Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest this time) due to the size of the conference, it welcomes in three new tournament teams to the mix. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame defected from the crumbling Big East and bring a combined 19-1 record into their Challenge matchups this week.
Responding for the Big Ten will be five ranked teams, including three in the Top 10; the ACC can only claim two in the Top 25. While some of the expected games have lost a bit of luster, there are still plenty of marquee matchups to watch on both days. Let's take a look at the lineup for Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Indiana (6-1) @ No. 4 Syracuse (7-0)
6:15 p.m. CST | ESPN | Coverage
Indiana is 5-7 overall (2-4 road)
Syracuse is playing in its first Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Behind Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense, the Orange thoroughly baffled Tom Crean and the Hoosiers in last year's Sweet 16, 61-50. Now both sides have attempted to reload after loses a bunch of talent. Onlt Syracuse has proven themselves yet, beating Minnesota, Cal and Baylor to capture the Maui Invitational. Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has looked good so far and C.J. Fair returns as Syracuse's leading scorer. Indiana counters with sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell and highly-touted freshman big Noah Vonleh. The point guard battle and Vonleh's poise inside will determine whether Indiana can hang on the road.
Illinois (7-0) @ Georgia Tech (5-3)
6:15 p.m. CST | ESPN2 | Coverage
Illinois is 7-7 overall (3-2 road)
Georgia Tech is 4-9 overall (3-2 home)
Behind transfer Rayvonte Rice's 25 points, Illinois got a statement win on the road at UNLV recently, fueling yet another fast start for the Illini. Rice is just one of many new pieces for Illinois this season. Similarly, Tennessee transfer Trae Golden has landed as the leading scorer for the Yellow Jackets. Tech has been scuffling against quality competition this year, as it mixes in contributions from its sophomore class. The Jackets do pose a problem for Illinois with their size, however. Jon Ekey's outside shooting could be the key for Illinois.
Pittsburgh (7-0) @ Penn State (6-2)
6:30 p.m. CST | ESPNU | Coverage
Pittsburgh is playing in its first Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Penn State is 5-7 overall (2-4 home)
Yet another ACC newcomer will be favored heavily in this tilt, but its should be a fun one nonetheless due to the in-state rivalry aspect. Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill form a very nice guard tandem for Penn State. Ross Travis and sophomore Brandon Taylor are also showing signs for the future up front. They just aren't there yet. No one expects anything out of Penn State, but I think they can throw a scare into Pittsburgh. The Panthers just play way better defense than the Nittany Lions and they have another bruising forward in Talib Zanna. Jamie Dixon is going nine deep with guards Lamar Patterson, James Robinson and Cameron Wright leading the way.
No. 22 Michigan (5-2) @ No. 10 Duke (6-2)
8:15 p.m. CST | ESPN | Coverage
Michigan is 5-7 overall (1-4 road)
Duke is 12-2 overall (5-0 home)
Anyone paying attention knew Michigan was going to struggle to live up to its lofty preseason rank, but if gunner Nik Stauskas really can't go, Big Blue doesn't stand a chance. Just don't think that this game will then no longer be fun to watch.
Despite taking two losses of its own, Duke has probably the two best blemishes a team will have all year (neutral court losses to Kansas and Arizona) and showcases the top freshman in the country in Jabari Parker (23 ppg). Watching he and Glenn Robinson III go at it might be worth the watch on its own. Continuing our theme this year, another transfer (Rodney Hood) also scores over 20 ppg for Coach K's Devils. Me? I'm watching to see how the young freshman guards for Michigan step up in a hostile environment. "NCAA Tournament Edition" Mitch McGary would have to suddenly show up -- and then some -- for the Wolverines to pull this off though.
Notre Dame (5-1) @ No. 23 Iowa (7-1)
8:15 p.m. CST | ESPN2 | Coverage
Notre Dame is playing in its first Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Iowa is 6-7 overall (4-2 home)
The Irish trot out maybe the most offensively efficient backcourt in the country, led by senior Jerian Grant, junior Pat Connaughton and intriguing freshman Demetrius Jackson. This team can steal the ball without fouling, yet takes care of the ball on their end. Does Notre Dame want to run with Iowa? Fran McCaffery has his team playing high-level defense (second overall in limiting effective field goal percentage) while still averaging 72 possession per contest. Oh, and one other thing ... the Hawkeyes are HUUUGE. Iowa goes 7-1, 6-10, 6-9, 6-9, 6-7, 6-7, 6-6, 6-6 with two crafty guards in its deep 10-man rotation.
Is this where Iowa makes its move to be taken seriously? Does beating Notre Dame require us to take the Hawks seriously? Probably not.
Florida State (5-2) @ Minnesota (6-2)
8:30 p.m. CST | ESPNU | Coverage
Florida State is 6-8 overall (2-5 road)
Minnesota is 6-8 overall (4-3 home)
This is the linchpin game for both conferences on the Tuesday slate, which could tilt the balance of power. Minnesota has looked downright awful at times this season, yet managed to avoid any damaging losses. It's Hollins & Hollins connection leads the way yet again, though neither one is particularly outstanding. New coach Richard Pitino has patched together the rest of the roster to run-and-gun, and is in trouble if center Eliott Eliason finds any foul trouble.
Florida State has some talent on the wing and always plays good defense under Leonard Hamilton. But the Seminoles are giving the ball away at an alarming rate of 22.7% of their possessions this season. This could play right into the Gophers' hands up at the Barn. The battle on the glass is going to be fierce, too.
Prediction: Florida State
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My midwestern roots almost forced me into a Minnesota pick on that last one, to salvage a 3-3 tie on Day One and force another 6-6 tie overall. Unfortunately, I think the souped up ACC is going to take it this year, 7-5. Stop back tomorrow for Day Two predictions and we'll see how far off I was...
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