In a series pairing two of college basketball’s deepest conferences, it’s impossible to not feature at least a few quality matchups. Nevertheless, the games for the 2017 ACC-Big Ten Challenge, announced Thursday, missed some golden opportunities for marquee contests.
The ACC-Big Ten Challenge occupies an important date on the college basketball calendar. The season’s a few weeks old, teams have had a few games to develop some identity, and the college football regular season has just concluded. It’s prime-time for basketball to make headway in national consciousness, but this year’s slate leaves something to be desired.
Considering the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is the product of ESPN, which recently shed an all-star lineup of college basketball reporters, the tinfoil hat-wearer in me wants to scream, “SABOTAGE!”
And they’re puttin’ chemicals in the water that make the freakin’ mid-major stars transfer! Grrrrrrr!
Whew, sorry. Now that that’s out of my system, there is no concerted effort to sabotage college basketball. Consider that little episode me expressing my frustration with the missed possibilities.
Despite the disappointing missteps, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge provides plenty of intrigue to peak any basketball fan’s interest.
14. Boston College at Nebraska
Cellar dwellers from each conference meet in Lincoln. This is the obvious matchup; not much else to say here.
13. Florida State at Rutgers
An especially odd pairing, Florida State looked like the best team in college basketball for a stretch last season. Rutgers, in contrast, has been one of the most consistently bad power-conference programs dating back to the Scarlet Knights’ time in the Big East.
Leonard Hamilton faces roster turnover, so perhaps this road trip is rife with upset potential. On paper, however, this appears to be the greatest mismatch of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
12. Clemson at Ohio State
The rematch of last December’s Fiesta Bowl takes a great gridiron pairing to the hardwood.
Both Clemson and Ohio State basketball underachieved in 2016-’17, and the Buckeyes’ disappointment carried over into the offseason. Thad Matta’s abrupt departure leaves Ohio State in no-man’s land at an inopportune time; with Greg McDermott already reportedly rebuffing OSU’s advances, uncertainty looms for the Buckeyes.
Clemson nearly rode its strength of schedule into an NCAA Tournament bid last season, but the selection committee made the only logical decision and denied the Tigers after a 6-12 ACC finish. Clemson needs a bounce-back year, but losing Jaron Blossomgame takes some of the luster off the Tigers ahead of 2017-’18.
11. Penn State at NC State
Wins over Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota and a sweep of Illinois had Penn State looking like an NCAA Tournament contender in January. The Nittany Lions fizzled out badly in February, mirroring the finish NC State endured after stunning Duke early in ACC play.
Kevin Keatts, who had great teams at UNC-Wilmington, brings some excitement back to Raleigh. The Wolfpack needs time to grow, however, losing talented Dennis Smith Jr. Penn State’s an intriguing dark horse in the Big Ten, returning double-digit scorers Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens.
10. Illinois at Wake Forest
Danny Manning began scratching the surface of Wake Forest’s lofty potential last season, coaching the Demon Deacons to the NCAA Tournament. In Bryant Crawford, the Deacs build around a talented scoring point guard with All-America breakout potential.
Brad Underwood’s entering a situation in his first season at Illinois akin to Manning taking over at Wake Forest. Illinois is rich with potential that’s gone untapped for some time now, but Underwood has the tools to rebuild.
9. Syracuse at Maryland
For shame, ESPN. So many possibilities for Maryland to face former ACC rivals — imagine the hostility that would welcome Duke back to College Park — and we get a matchup with a longtime Big East member. Harumph.
Syracuse-Maryland comes with plenty of historical name value, though both programs face considerable uncertainty in the 2017-’18 season. Mark Turgeon’s tasked with replacing Melo Trimble, while Jim Boeheim must regroup from the staggering disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament with a talented roster.
8. Iowa at Virginia Tech
Buzz Williams turned Virginia Tech into a threat in short order, and the Hokies head into the coming season with Top 25 potential. Chris Clarke’s return from knee injury gives Virginia Tech a potential star. Iowa will counter with its own talented wing man, Tyler Cook. Cook’s poised to be a breakout star for the Hawkeyes after averaging 12.3 and 5.3 rebounds per game as a freshman.
This game has low-key potential to produce one of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge’s more exciting showdowns, with this matchup of talented swingmen taking center stage.
7. Duke at Indiana
Duke’s notorious for loading its non-conference schedule with home and neutral-site games. While sending the Blue Devils to Bloomington to face Indiana is neat from historical perspective, the Hoosiers will be rebuilding in Archie Miller’s first season.
The ACC-Big Ten Challenge whiffed not sending Mike Krzyzewski to Evanston to face protege Chris Collins and Northwestern. After leading the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament, Collins has a legitimate Top 25 roster returning in 2017-’18. NU would have made for a much more intriguing pairing against Coach K’s impressive Kiddie Corps.
6. Wisconsin at Virginia
Alright, so technically Wisconsin-Virginia is a great matchup. Both programs have either won or being in the hunt for their respective conference championships repeatedly in recent years. Add the angle of Tony Bennett taking on the program his father, Dick Bennett, brought to national relevance, and this should rank much higher.
But, man, I swear I can already hear the sound of hammers-and-nails, as peach baskets are erected in Charlottesville.
The defense-first approach both programs employ should make for a basketball game in the vein of the stereotypical Big Ten football contest. Both teams are also likely to take a step back from last season, with each losing key talent.
5. Northwestern at Georgia Tech
Two of college basketball’s biggest surprises of the 2016-’17 season, neither Northwestern nor Georgia Tech will sneak up on anyone in the 2017-’18 season. This ACC-Big Ten Challenge showdown is an opportunity for the winner to establish itself as no fluke, and set the tone before challenging conference slates.
Northwestern’s a legitimate preseason Top 25 squad with Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh and Dererk Pardon all back in the mix. Georgia Tech’s getting less play in the offseason after its NIT Championship Game run, but the return of Josh Okogie positions the Yellow Jackets nicely to once again exceed expectations.
4. Louisville at Purdue
Louisville looks like a leading contender for the ACC championship in 2017-’18. Pairing the Cardinals with last season’s Big Ten regular-season champion is a good move, and Matt Painter’s Boilermakers will indeed be tough. Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas give Purdue a solid, veteran corps.
It really feels as though Louisville should gone to Michigan State in a pairing of preseason Top 10s, however, and Purdue been paired with more of an upper-middle tier ACC opponent. That complain aside, this is still one of the better ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchups on paper.
3. Miami at Minnesota
Now we’re getting into the cream of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Both Miami and Minnesota are virtual locks for the preseason Top 25, and both could realistically sneak into the Top 10 by the time the Challenge arrives.
Minnesota enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2016-’17, despite drawing a nightmarish Round 1 opponent in Big Ten slayer Middle Tennessee. The core of the Golden Gophers 24-win roster returns in tact, with a nice recruiting class providing reinforcements.
After its Sweet 16 run in 2016, Miami bowed out of the First Round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. Bruce Brown had unfinished business in Coral Gables; his return sets the foundation for a talented Miami squad to again make noise on the national landscape.
Based on last season’s metrics, this is an even matchup: Both ranked in the Top 25 nationally of KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency.
2. Notre Dame at Michigan State
While I feel adamantly that Michigan State should have drawn one of the ACC’s likely preseason Top 10 teams — Duke, Louisville or North Carolina — a matchup with Notre Dame will work just fine.
Michigan State’s sure to garner some preseason No. 1 votes, thanks to the returning core of Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston. A showdown between Bridges and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson could provide the most fireworks of this year’s Challenge.
1. Michigan at North Carolina
The defending national champion meets one of the NCAA Tournament’s most remarkable stories. It’s a clear-cut No. 1 when Michigan brings a talented roster, headlined by Moe Wagner, into the hallowed halls of North Carolina’s Dean E. Smith Center.
While both teams face roster turnover — gone are Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley at UNC, while Michigan parts with D.J. Wilson, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. — each has enough still in the mix to build off their respective Tournament runs.
Joel Berry II against Michigan’s defensive stopper, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, should prove memorable.