Tonight marks the beginning of the 15th annual B1G/ACC Challenge, a quasi-tournament which the ACC had won 10 times in a row until the B1G began its meteoric rise to the top of the college basketball world and won three in a row. Last year was the first ever draw between the conferences, though the Commissioner's Cup remains with the B1G (where it is likely being used as a drinking bowl by Jim Delany). Teams have come (Nebraska, Boston College) and gone, er, have plans to switch sides (Maryland), but the competition remains as healthy as ever. Here are the matchups, ranked in order of watchability:
1. Penn State at Pitt (Tuesday, 7:30pm - ESPNU)
Pitt is very good (read our preview here), but Penn State has something to prove after a TV Teddying against Ole Miss. My head says no, my heart says maybe.
Prediction: Penn State 81, Pitt 79
2. North Carolina at Michigan State (Wednesday, 9:00pm - ESPN)
The Tar Heels have struggled lately, falling out of the AP poll after losing at UAB and at the Dean Dome to Belmont. They have taken Louisville's scalp however, and they have one of the best scorers in the country in Marcus Paige (20.8 ppg). But Sparty has one of their best teams in years, maybe their best since the 2000 National Title-winning team. UNC's James Michael McAdoo can be a force at times, but there's probably not a better center in the country than Adreian Payne, and despite the Heels' prowess in defending the paint (opponents are shooting 41% on twos against UNC), they haven't faced a player like him. Oh yeah, Keith Appling is the popular pick for best point guard in the B1G, though we know better around here. Still, very good player.
Prediction: Michigan State 78, North Carolina 72
3. Indiana at Syracuse (Tuesday, 7:15pm - ESPN)
You're not gonna be watching because PSU-Pitt starts 15 minutes after this one, but DVR it if you need a laugh because this is Tom Crean vs. the best zone defense in the country and a matchup of last year's Sweet Sixteen game. Yogi Ferrell is the most improved player in the B1G but again, TOM CREAN VS ZONE DEFENSE. Indiana might not put up 50.
Prediction: Syracuse 75, Indiana 61
4. Michigan at Duke (Tuesday, 9:15pm - ESPN)
Duke is always tough at home and they sport the best NBA prospect in the competition in Jabari Parker. Michigan's top player this season hasn't been Glenn Robinson III or Mitch McGary, but Nik Stauskas, who's not just a shooter anymore. if you haven't heard. Unfortunately for Beilein, Stauskas won't be at 100% for the game after sitting out the Wolverines' win over Coppin State on Saturday. McGary should be close to 100% though, and the Blue Devils don't have an individual that can match up with that 6'10" 275 lb frame.
Prediction: Duke 84, Michigan 79
5. Wisconsin at Virginia (Tuesday, 7:00pm - ESPN2)
KenPom absolutely adores Virginia, who have apparently figured out the new rules with ease. They defend the paint extremely well, holding opponents to 39.6% shooting on two-pointers. The Badgers will offer a great test at John Paul Jones Arena, as they (believe it or not) enjoy the occasional three-point field goal attempt. Frank Kaminsky has put up some monster numbers this season and his inside-outside game could give Virginia lots of problems. Joe Harris has been shooting the lights out for the home side.
Prediction: Wisconsin 72, Virginia 70
Entertaining, but not a must see:
6. Notre Dame at Iowa (Tuesday, 9:15 - ESPN2)
The Hawkeyes look to be top-4 contenders in the B1G after a strong showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. Roy Devyn Marble has established himself as the team's go-to guy and Fran McCaffery isn't exactly lacking in options, either. Notre Dame has talented but hasn't been tested much in the early going. The Irish do have Jerian Grant though, and if he gets going there's no telling how many points this game will give us.
Prediction: Iowa 92, Notre Dame 83 (sorry Dan)
7. Maryland at Ohio State (Wednesday, 7:00pm - ESPN)
This will be Maryland's swan song representing the ACC in the Challenge as they switch to the light side next season. Sophomore Jake Layman has played the game on his own, simple terms this season (sorry) and Dez Wells ain't half bad either. Ohio State fans will have fun booing the crap out of Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz, but probably less so for Penn State transfer Jon Graham, who's played a total of 15 minutes for the Terrapins this season. The Buckeyes are the best defensive team in the country, meaning the new hand-check rules haven't slowed down Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott too much. Amir Williams is developing into the inside post presence Thad Matta has lacked for while, but there's still no main scorer on the roster. It was projected to be LaQuinton Ross, but he's struggled to find his rhythm after a strong NCAA tournament last season.
Prediction: Ohio State 69, Maryland 58
8. Florida State at Minnesota (Tuesday, 9:30pm - ESPNU)
Minnesota's been up-and-down a lot early in the season. They handled a decent Richmond squad with ease on the road, but after a valiant performance against Syracuse in Maui they looked out of ideas against Arkansas, who should be a middling SEC squad. The Noles have Ian Miller and Okaro White, two players worthy of all-ACC consideration, and this game presents Florida State with a good opportunity to get a nice road win after two missed chances against Michigan and Florida. Andre Hollins has struggled as of late for the Gophers - he'll need to find his shot for Richard Pitino to get his first big win in charge.
Prediction: Florida State 74, Minnesota 67
Intriguing for die-hards
9. Illinois at Georgia Tech (Tuesday, 7:15pm - ESPN2)
Rayvonte Rice isn't getting enough love nationally, and the Yellow Jackets are still putting the roster puzzle together.
Prediction: Illinois 73, Georgia Tech 65
10. Miami (FL) at Nebraska (Wednesday, 9:30 - ESPNU)
Come for the Pinnacle Bank atmosphere, stay for Shavon Shields and Tai Webster.
Prediction: Nebraska 77, Miami (FL) 69
11. Boston College at Purdue (Wednesday, 9:00pm - ESPN2)
Pressure might be on Matt Painter to win this one after a sluggish start for the Boilers, and BC is the kind of team you want to play in that scenario. Not that it'll be easy, though.
Prediction: Purdue 65, Boston College 62
12. Northwestern at NC State (Wednesday, 7:30 - ESPNU)
Northwestern might not have Drew Crawford and that could spell doom for Chris Collins' return to ACC country.
Prediciton: NC State 74, Northwestern 57
Challenge Prediction: B1G 8, ACC 4
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