ACC/Big Ten Challenge: A Peak Ahead, Part I


Guess what folks, the 12th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is right around the corner. For the longest time, this “challenge” wasn’t much of a challenge for the members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC won the first 10 of these bad boys before the Big Ten finally managed to win last year. It was like when Ralphie finally stood up, took on and defeated the yellow-eyed Scut Farkus in “A Christmas Story”. No more would the ACC torture and torment the Big Ten.

Heading into the season, the Big Ten actually had the clear edge heading (three teams ranked in the top-10) and so far, I haven’t seen anything that would change that perspective.  ACC teams have already dropped 21 games this season. Every team but Duke has lost already. In fact, seven ACC teams have already suffered two defeats.

The Big-Ten has also suffered some set backs, Michigan State dropped one in Maui and Purdue has some issues minus Robbie Hummel. Overall though, they’re already 2-0 against the ACC and four teams remain undefeated, including Ohio State, who looks like a real contender right now.

So let’s look ahead and see what we have to look forward to for Monday and Tuesday night (Wednesday’s match ups will come Tuesday).

Monday, November 29th

Virginia @ Minnesota
One team beat North Carolina and West Virginia, the other lost to Stanford by 21 and Washington by 43. Who you got in this one? Minnesota and Virginia have faced off twice before in this Challenge. Like this one, both were in Minneapolis and both were won by the Golden Gophers. This one should be no different.

The Cavaliers have been killed in the paint. Outside of Mike Scott’s 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, no other Cavalier big man has produced much of anything. Of the four other forwards/centers getting playing time, they have combined to score just over 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds per game.

Minnesota has three guys averaging nearly seven boards per game. Forward Trevor Mbakwe is Da Man inside. A year after popping a woman in the face twice (it never went to trial), Mbakwe finally got back on the court and is dominating. He’s averaged 13 per game, hitting 69-percent of his shots, grabbing nine rebounds per game.


Tuesday, November 30th

North Carolina @ Illinois
These two teams have faced off three times in this tournament and the Fighting Illini have taken two of the three games. Both teams have faced off with a team from the opposing conference. North Carolina fell to Minnesota, while Illinois took down Maryland in Madison Square Gardens.

It’s early, but the Tar Heels are about as sharp as Aaron Ralston’s right arm. They’ve already dropped two games and they barely beat the College of Charleston. Pre-season All-American (and second coming of Christ), Harrison Barnes has struggled in the early going. He is second in scoring on the team, but he’s hit just 38-percent of his shots, struggling to finish plays up close and personal with the basket. Thank god for that business degree he plans on getting at UNC.

The Fighting Illini have been one of the most balanced teams in the nation. Nine guys see solid minutes on the floor and five different players average double-digit in points. The Tar Heels clearly have more future pros on their roster, but until they start playing like a team, they’ll continue to lose as a team.


Ohio State @ Florida State
The Buckeyes have faced the Seminoles once before in the tournament back in 2009. The game was played in Columbus and was won by Ohio State, 77-64.

Florida State has typically been known for their defense, but so far this year, they’ve turned into Scott Baio at a “Charles in Charge” Reunion (i.e., they’re scoring a lot). Florida State is averaging 83.6 ppg, second in the ACC behind Duke. Chris Singleton has done about everything short of strangling a charging bear with his bare hands. He’s averaging a double-double (17/10), producing three blocks and three steals just for fun.

Buckeyes’ big man Jared Sullinger may be hogging all the national headlines (and he certainly deserves it), but let’s not forget about senior David Lightly. While Sullinger dominates the inside, Lightly has been unstoppable on the outside. He actually leads the team in scoring (15.6 per game), hitting 51-percent of his shots.

While I can get bogged down in the players and numbers of these two teams, here is the simple math that even a Florida State graduate could understand…Florida State lost to Florida by five in Gainesville. Ohio State beat the same Florida team in Gainesville by 18. Those kind of numbers don’t lie.


Michigan @ Clemson
While I feel like the Wolverines have been in a rebuilding mood for years, the fact is, the Wolverines ARE in a  rebuilding mode this year. Four of the top five scorers are underclassmen, including Tim Hardaway Jr., yes the son of that Tim Hardaway. The youth movement hasn’t been terrible on defense (which is surprising) but the inexperience does show up on the offensive end. Michigan is 264th in the nation in points scored.

Clemson is 5-1, suffering a one-point loss to Old Dominion. The defense has led the way to this point. They’ve given up just over 60 per game. They are also shooting at a high margin, hitting roughly 46-percent from the floor. However, like glass has been a problem for Clemson so far. The Tigers have pulled down 30+ rebounds only once all season.


Georgia Tech @ Northwestern
The Northwestern Wildcats are undefeated, but they’ve only played four games so far (Quick note: I once one a championship playing Northwestern in EA Sports: NCAA Basketball, but that’s for another time). Anyhow, the offense hasn’t really been an issue for the Wildcats. Their ADJO (average adjusted offensive efficiency) is 11th in the nation. Of course their strength of schedule is only 344th in the nation, so that might have something to do with it.

Northwestern so far has a pair of 20-point scorers in John Shurna and Drew Crawford. The two forwards are hitting a solid 57-percent of their shots, a stunning 56-percent of their threes and 26 of 28 free throws. The Yellow Jackets might want to stop those dudes.

Georgia Tech’s most embarrassing moment so far in this young season was their loss to Kennesaw State by 17. However their best performance may also have been in a losing effort when they lost by four on Saturday to 10th ranked Syracuse.

Ninety-one percent of Georgia Tech’s offense comes from guy’s standing 6-6 or less. To say the Yellow Jackets have no presence in the paint may be the understatement of the year (actually, saying Dane Cook hasn’t mastered the art of being funny  is the understatement of the year). Worse yet, one would think a team reliant on small-ball could shoot from the outside. Not this squad. Take away Brian Oliver’s 38-percent and Tech is shooting a stunning 17.5-percent from three-point range.

If Tech can nail down some threes, they can probably offer up enough D to withstand anything Northwestern can offer, but let’s not forget, Georgia Tech is 1-4 on the road in this tournament for a reason.


Iowa @ Wake Forest
Iowa is only 2-8 in this Challenge. They’ve faced Wake Forest once, back in 2007 and lost. The Demon Deacons are a solid in 8-2 in the ACC/Big-Ten Challenge. However, this is not your typical Wake team.

The Demon Deacons have been bad this season. They’re 3-3 so far, but those three wins came against Hampton, Elon and Marist. If scheduling was a board game, that would be Candy Land. The team is a young one though. Of the nine players that play 10 or more minutes per game, five are freshman, two are sophomores, one is a junior and one is a senior. Obviously when you’re smack-dab in the middle of a youth movement, defense is going to be a problem. Right now, Wake is giving up 74 ppg, last in the ACC.

Iowa brought in a new coach this past off-season (Fran McCaffrey) and he brought in a new-uptempo offense. So far, the results have been mixed (to put it nicely). One would expected good results. The Hawkeyes had two experienced guards (Matt Gatens, Cully Payne) and junco transfer, Bryce Cartwright. However, Iowa has struggled at holding on to the rock. They average 16 turnovers a game. For the season Iowa only has 77 assists to their 94 turnovers.

However, I’m not sure too much of the blame can be laid onto the shoulders of the guards. Iowa’s big men, Eric May, Zach McCabe, Melshan Basabe and Jaryd Cole have only 10 assists to their own 47 turnovers. I’m not a mathematician, If I was in “Good Will Hunting,” Ben Affleck’s character would be the genius compared to me, but a 1:4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is seems like a bad number.


Purdue @ Virginia Tech
North Carolina State @ Wisconsin
Indiana @ Boston College
Maryland @ Penn State
Michigan State @ Duke