Tonight the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge kicks off with six games highlighted by Michigan-Duke and North Carolina-Michigan State. Tomorrow night, Boston College takes the stage as they travel to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers in a game of mild significance to the Eagles season.
Since the ACC now has 15 programs, three schools -- Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest -- will not participate in this year's Challenge. That's a huge boost to the ACC's chances of winning the Challenge for the first time in five years.
Here's a breakdown of the 12 contests:
Tuesday, December 3
The Orange, 7-0 and ranked 4th in the country, is playing in its first Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Syracuse is led by senior forward C.J. Fair (18.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.1 apg). The Hoosiers are 6-1 on the year; the lone blemish on the year a 59-58 loss to UConn in the 2K Sports Classic championship at the Garden. Indiana has won two straight games in the Challenge. This is a rematch of last year's NCAA Tournament matchup between the two programs. Syracuse came out on top.
Projected winner: Syracuse (ACC 1-0)
The Illini are a perfect 7-0 on the year but have hardly been challenged in the early season. Illinois' schedule currently ranked as the 340th most difficult in the nation (of 351). Georgia Tech sits at 5-3 on the year but has lost two straight -- 77-67 to Ole Miss and 69-58 to St. John's. The Jackets have lost five straight in the Challenge.
Projected winner: Illinois (Tied 1-1)
These two in-state rivals haven't met all that often (8 times in 31 years) and though it is Penn State that holds the 75-70 edge in the all-time series, it is the Panthers that have won each of the last five meetings. Pitt is 7-0 and the only other unbeaten left in the ACC (Syracuse the other). I still don't think it's sunk in that Pitt is a member of the ACC for basketball. Anyhow, Pitt should roll in this one to give the ACC a 2-1 lead in the Challenge.
Projected winner: Pittsburgh (ACC 2-1)
In the only Challenge matchup between two ranked teams the #22 Michigan Wolverines travel to Cameron Indoor to take on the #10 Duke Blue Devils. Duke already has two losses on the year, but those have gone at the hands of #5 Kansas (94-83) and most recently #4 Arizona (72-66). Michigan also has two losses on the year. A 77-70 setback at Iowa State and a 63-61 loss to Charlotte. The Wolverines mounted a furious comeback to beat fellow ACC program Florida State 82-80 in the second game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Duke, along with Boston College, comes into this year's event with a Challenge best .857 winning percentage (12-2).
Projected winner: Duke (ACC 3-1)
Like Pitt, it's a bit strange to think of Notre Dame as a member of the ACC. But here the Irish are, 5-1 on the year with an early season loss to Indiana State. Surprisingly, it's Iowa that comes into this game ranked in the top 25 (#23) and favored by double digits. The Hawkeyes raced out to a 7-0 start to the season before falling to Villanova, 88-83 OT, in the Battle of Atlantis final.
Projected winner: Iowa (ACC 3-2)
This appears to be one of the more under-appreciated and underrated matchups of the Challenge. Despite lower preseason expectations, the Seminoles are a sneaky good ACC team and could really make some noise this season. Florida State already has a victory over then #10 Virginia Commonwealth and close losses to #14 Michigan (82-80 OT) and #15 Florida (67-66). Minnesota is 6-2 on the year but has dropped two of its last three games -- both in Maui, 75-67 to Syracuse and 87-73 to Arkansas. Minnesota won last year's matchup in the Challenge down in Tallahassee. This is one of those swing games that could really go either way, but I look to FSU's defense to win out over Minnesota's efficient offense.
Projected winner: Florida State (ACC 4-2)
Wednesday, December 4
The Big Ten-bound Terrapins travel to Columbus to take on the 5th ranked Buckeyes. These two programs haven't met since 1985 but will be more regulars starting next season. Ohio State is a perfect 6-0 on the year but really hasn't been challenged quite yet. The Buckeyes biggest win of the year is a 17-point victory over then #15 Marquette. After starting the year 1-2, Maryland has rattled off four straight wins including a 56-52 triumph over Providence. BC will face this same Terps team in a few weeks. In this one, look for Ohio State's stifling D to give the Buckeyes a win over the Big Ten-bound Terps.
Projected winner: Ohio State (ACC 4-3)
In another one of the better Challenge matchups, 8th ranked Wisconsin travels to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. Virginia's lone blemish on the year is a 59-56 loss to in-state VCU. Wisconsin is a perfect 8-0 on the year. The Badgers efficient offense is paced by 7-foot junior forward Frank Kaminsky (15.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.0 apg). This is a matchup of the efficient offense (Wisconsin ranks 15 in kenpom AdjO) vs. a stout D (Virginia is 4 in AdjD). Should be one of the more entertaining matchups even if both teams play incredibly slow. Virginia won last year's matchup in Madison, 60-54. First one to 30 wins.
Projected winner: Wisconsin (Tied 4-4)
Northwestern is just 4-4 on the year and going through a bit of growing pains under first year coach Chris Collins. N.C. State is just 4-2 this season with losses to Cincinnati (68-57) and North Carolina Central (82-72 OT). N.C. State has lost five straight in the Challenge. Northwestern lost last year's Challenge game. Something has to give in what appears to be the worst matchup in this year's Challenge.
Projected winner: N.C. State (ACC 5-4)
North Carolina has to be one of the more difficult ACC teams to figure out this season. The Heels have early season setback to Belmont (83-80) and most recently UAB (63-59) but turn around and knock off then #3 Louisville (93-84). With wins over Kentucky, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, Michigan State has almost quietly risen to the #1 ranking. The Spartans are one of a handful of teams that ranks in the top 10 in both AdjO and AdjD. If this game was in Chapel Hill and I could tell you with certainty which UNC is going to show up, I might be included to pick Carolina here. But with the game in East Lansing, I've got Michigan State evening back up the Challenge at 5-5 with two games to go.
Projected winner: Michigan State (Tied 5-5)
Boston College Eagles at Purdue Boilermakers
9:30 p.m., ESPN2
This is actually a very important game for Boston College's season. The Eagles (3-4) are the only sub-.500 team in the conference and are coming off an OT victory over Sacred Heart. With an AdjO ranking in the top 15 in the nation and an offense predicated on the deep ball falling, BC can hang with anyone on any given night. It's the defense that's highly suspect (AdjD of 259) and BC hasn't exactly been the greatest road/neutral team over the last few seasons. Purdue sits at 6-2 heading into this matchup, but 33 percent of those victories have come against Siena. BC's early season record is a bit deceiving as three of those losses have come against teams still unbeaten (Toledo, UConn and UMass). Throw in Providence and BC's losses have come to opponents with a combined 27-2 record. On paper, Boston College appears to be the slightly better team, but who knows which Eagles team will show up tomorrow night. For now, I'm sticking with BC to give the ACC a one game lead with only Miami-Nebraska remaining.
Projected winner: Boston College (ACC 6-5)
In one of the least appealing Challenge matchups, Miami-Nebraska brings the Challenge to completion over on ESPNU. Miami is 5-3 on the year after having to replace a majority of its production from last year's ACC title team. An improving Nebraska team is 5-2 with losses to UMass (96-90) and UAB (87-74). This is the Challenge game I have the least feel for. This game could probably go either way, but I like Miami to continue the momentum after knocking off a solid Arizona State team 60-57 in the Wooden Legacy.
Projected winner: Miami (ACC 7-5)