When the 2013 Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchups were announced, it was hard to contain the inner college basketball geek in me. I mean, getting matchups like UNC vs. Michigan State and Indiana vs. Syracuse is about as good as it gets for the challenge for its 15th anniversary edition.
Those are just two examples of some great matchups and after the two conferences decided to go all "it's like kissing your sister" on us last year with a 6-6 tie. It kinda felt like this from our staff's favorite TV show… "The League" (WARNING: Strong language)
Yep, exactly Jim Delany and John Swofford… OK, maybe more like the folks from ESPN who put this matchup together. You can suck it.
But, back to the awesomeness that could be the 2013 Big Ten/ACC Challenge. If there's been a better set of matchups from top to bottom I'd love to know when. This is going to be a lot of fun for us college basketball geeks, and in that vain it's time to give you a quick look at each of the 12 matchups and give you a WAY TOO EARLY prediction as well — 'cause why the hell not, right folks?
Indiana at Syracuse — Hmmm, nothing to see in this rematch from the NCAA Sweet 16 this past season… right? Welcome to the ACC and the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Syracuse, your task is to take on a likely Top 25 foe in your first go-round here. Up until this game we may not have a full picture of either of these teams because of all the losses. Indiana's losses are well documented, but the Orange will be living life without Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, their second- and third-leading scorers, respectively, last season. That said, the 2-3 zone is a major issue for the Hoosiers, especially with Victor Oladipo off to the NBA. This one, on the road and earlier in the season, has trouble written all over it for IU.
Michigan at Duke — The first night makes a good case for having the juiciest matchups. This, the second such game, features teams that went at it during their pinnacle years in the early 1990's and get a chance to relive their golden years. Luckily both teams are poised to be national players again in 2013-14, despite some major losses. Thankfully, youth also represented well last year for both teams and it'll be a fun matchup to watch. It'll be interesting to see how things play out down low between Michigan’s Mitch McGary and Duke’s Marshall Plumlee. Michigan has the advantage on paper on the wings and at the guard spots and it's hard to see the Wolverines not taking advantage of that, even if the Dukies are at home in this one.
Notre Dame at Iowa — This is the most intriguing matchup of the night for me because it's two teams that have a lot of potential. Iowa made a big run in the NIT tournament and all the Hawkeyes lose from this past year is Eric May; yep, that's it. Notre Dame returns three of its top four scores from a season ago and brings in an intriguing recruiting class. On paper this one could be the most explosive game of the Challenge and if Iowa wants to not pull a Minnesota from this past season,winning against ND at home would be a huge help.
Florida State at Minnesota — The former FIU coach, Richard Pitino, against a Florida school… Oh boy, look out in this one. OK, maybe that's a stretch, but this will be interesting if for no other reason than seeing the clash of styles. Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles love to play pretty solid defense (last year was an exception) and they don't run as much as a lot of ACC teams are wont to. However there are similarities in this one as both teams return three starters from their teams a year ago. Of course, being a Wisconsin guy I can't pick Minnesota, but no Rodney Williams and no Trevor Mbakwe against a physical and underrated FSU team makes it that much easier.
Prediction: Florida State
Penn State at Pittsburgh — An in-state game in the Challenge…. What the…. Oh, that's right, Pitt is now an ACC team. This is going to be a very good measuring stick for the Nittany Lions, who will feature one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten this coming season with Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. Good news for PSU? Pitt can't score and the Panthers are losing the leading scorer from a season ago in Tray Woodall. However, that could be all sorts of bad news for the fans. Pitt does have two very good recruits coming in, but it's hard to see them being the difference-makers in this one. Give me the team with the better backcourt, as long as it's also more accurate (which could be the issue with PSU).
Prediction: Penn State
Illinois at Georgia Tech — SNOOOOOOOOZZZE….. and we've come to the least attractive matchup of the night. Illinois was an NCAA team last year, but loses the biggest pieces to that team. John Groce will have a big-time rebuilding job on his hands, one that his recruiting class tells us could be a good one. Luckily for them they get a Tech team that isn't in the same atmosphere as what this program was 10-15 years ago. Could we just flip a coin and declare a winner in this one? You have to be worried when your opponent returns the guys who accounted for 80 percent of its minutes played and you're going to be a very young team playing on the road.
Prediction: Georgia Tech
North Carolina at Michigan State — Are these two programs joined at the hips or what? Good grief. Not that I'm complaining as a fan of good basketball and all. MSU returns a crap ton of talent and has a big-time edge inside with the returning Adreian Payne. Overall the Spartans are perhaps one of the top three or four teams in the country in terms of returning talent. UNC will rely on a lot of youth growing up in the form of names like James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto. Rule No. 1 for anyone that's followed MSU basketball under Tom Izzo: They don't lose many big games at home. Give me true experience over youth still growing up and give me Payne over anything UNC throws at him.
Prediction: Michigan State
Maryland at Ohio State — Future conference foes get together a year early in this matchup and it's almost even footing as both lose their best players from a season ago in Deshaun Thomas (OSU) and Alex Len (Maryland). However, the parts around Thomas this past season got better and better as the season went along, and you've got to like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Shannon Scott and the rest of the Buckeyes at home over a Maryland squad that really doesn't have the parts to keep pace, outside of the exciting guard Dez Wells.
Prediction: Ohio State
Miami at Nebraska — Was there a bigger story last season than the Hurricanes’ run to the ACC regular season title? Doubtful. In 2013, Jim Larranaga's squad won't look anything like that team thanks to the top five scorers either graduating or declaring for the NBA Draft. This year will be all about finding this team’s identity. Ironically, so will Nebraska's 2013 season, as Brandon Ubell and Dylan Talley are gone, too. However, there are more pieces to the puzzle in Lincoln than in Coral Gables, with Shavon Shields and Ray Gallegos. Give me the home team here.
Wisconsin at Virginia — This is a defensive matchup if there ever was one. Both of these teams ended this past season in the top 10 in scoring defense, with Wisconsin giving up 55.9 ppg and Virginia 55.7. UW will have had a few biggish tests (WVU and St. Louis in Cancun) under its belt and revenge on its mind. Sam Dekker in his second year, call it Dekker Unleashed if you will, is a scary thought for opponents. Expect him to be the biggest difference-maker on the court for UW. I like Wisconsin's backcourt far better than UVa's, but I like UVa's frontcourt (strange to say that) far better as well. It's an even one here, but the battle to watch is two Wisconsinites going at it in Dekker vs. Paul Jesperson.
Boston College at Purdue — Poor BC, what has happened to your once decent and proud basketball program? Do we really need to explain the prediction in this one? Give me the Johnson brothers and A.J. Hammons over BC at home. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact that BC is 6-1 in the Challenge, with its only loss coming to Penn State in 2011. Expect this to be the Eagles’ first road loss in the Challenge.
Northwestern at NC State — Just how sick of a college basketball fan am I? Well, I consider this one of the more intriguing games on the slate on Wednesday and it has a lot to do with one player named Drew Crawford. He could be the key to Northwestern making a run to the NCAA Tournament, finally. On the other hand NC State is intriguing because it’s got a heck of a recruiting class coming in and this could be one of if not the biggest stage it’ll see up to this point in the season. This could've been a really explosive tilt had C.J. Leslie of NC State not declared early for the draft. For all the doom and gloom that happened in Evanston last season, 2013, if played right, could be a bright spot in the history of the program. Give me the more experienced group and that's Northwestern.
Challenge Winner: BIG TEN 8-4 over the ACC
*Of course we'll revisit these games and give you updated predictions the week of the challenge, but as for now this is how we see things shaking out.