ACC - Big 10 Challenge Opening Night Primer

It is that time of year again basketball fans. Yes, you guessed it; it is finally time for the annual ACC – Big 10 Challenge. This year’s challenge will surely have a different feel to it as the ACC is still reeling from the announcement that our Maryland Terrapins will be making the jump from the ACC to the Big 10 starting in 2014.

This raises some interesting questions as we head into tonight’s games. Clearly we’re rooting for the Terps in their matchup against Northwestern…but what about everyone else? Where should the Maryland fanbase’s allegiances lie? Do we back the rest of the ACC since it is still our home until the summer of 2014 or do we just dive in head first to the B1G hysteria and support the schools we will be joining? This has the feel of a long term relationship coming to an end but where the two parties attempt to “stay friends” which has all the makings of one awkward situation.

Personally, I never put much stock into “conference pride” as I would rather see my team win and everyone else we compete against lose, if possible. Win or lose, I wouldn’t be caught dead beating my chest over a conference victory in the ACC – Big 10 Challenge because, frankly, it doesn’t matter. So what am I suggesting? Quasi-Independence? Precisely.

Maryland is essentially the rogue team in the ACC for the next year and a half, no one in the league likes us and the athletic program and the fanbase should embrace that. We’re out of this conference come 2014 no matter what, might as well let everyone know how you feel about them as you hand them a loss on your way out the door.

With all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the opening night matchups of this year’s ACC – Big 10 Challenge:

Maryland Terrapins vs. Northwestern Wildcats (9:15 ESPN2)

Naturally, I am going to take a look at the Terps matchup first. This is Maryland’s first road test of the season as the Terps previous games have either all been played at the friendly confines of Comcast Center or on a neutral floor. While Northwestern might not have the most historically raucous arena I would imagine Wildcats fans will be out in full force to get a glimpse of the new kid on the block.

Northwestern comes into this game with a 6-0 record after beating Illinois State in overtime to win the preseason tournament in South Padre Island. The Wildcats run a Princeton style offense which is predicated on long possessions, back door cuts and three point shooting. Maryland will have to make a concerted effort to not get caught looking at the basketball and beat back door by cutters while also making sure they continuously close out on Northwestern’s shooters getting a hand in their face.

I like Maryland in this match up as they should have little problem having the Wildcats adjust to play their type of game. Controlling the tempo against teams that run the Princeton offense like Northwestern does is paramount to Maryland’s success. They want to slow things down and limit the number of total possessions. Maryland does not want to get sucked into this type of game as it is not the style of play which the Terps have had much success to this point.

Look for Maryland to get up and down early on to impose their will offensively on the Wildcats. Alex Len, James Padgett, Charles Mitchell and Shaq Cleare should all have ample opportunity to get their buckets tonight. The Terps should once again have a distinct size advantage in the paint and should use this as a means to leaving Illinois with their first road win of the season.

Pick: Maryland

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Indiana Hoosiers (9:30 ESPN)

This matchup features two college basketball blue bloods going at it, and should be the best game of the night. The Tar Heels travel to IU to take on the number one team in the country in a matchup that all college basketball fanatics will surely love.

Tonight marks the first meeting on the hardwood between these two schools since 2004 when the Tar Heels last traveled to Bloomington. That game will be remembered for the harsh treatment Indiana native Sean May received from the Hoosier faithful as he returned home as a member of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Tom Crean appears to have changed the way recruits look at Indiana however as he was able to record a massive recruiting win over Roy Williams and his Tar Heels when Crean received a commitment from current super sophomore, and brother of former Tar Heel Tyler, Cody Zeller. Now we finally get to see all this talent play against one another instead of just focusing on the battles between the schools respective coaches to secure the high level talent that makes up both of these rosters.

The Tar Heels come into this game with a 5-1 record fresh off a third place finish at the Maui Invitational after suffering a crushing loss to the Butler Bulldogs where the Tar Heels were never really in it. They will be without the services of P.J. Hairston tonight as the Heels big man did not make the trip to Bloomington due to injury so it will be key that the rest of the Tar Heels roster picks up their game to make up for those 11 PPG that will be missing tonight. Look for freshman Brice Johnson to pick up the load for UNC.

Indiana, the preseason number 1 team in the country, has yet to suffer a setback this season and have held onto their top ranking with a perfect record thus far. The Hoosiers faced a tough test against Georgetown at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn and were able to battle to a 10 point overtime victory.  This Hoosiers team is very deep, with nine players averaging over 10 minutes per game. They currently have five players averaging at least 10 points per game, led by All-American Cody Zeller and his 15.2 PPG average.

This should be a great contest between two of the country’s top programs but with the home court advantage being with Indiana I have to go with the Hoosiers in this one.

Pick: Indiana

N.C. State Wolfpack vs. Michigan Wolverines (7:30 ESPN)

It’s been a tough start for the darlings of the ACC Media Days. Heading into this season many looked at the Wolfpack as a contender for the ACC crown as well as a player on the national level. This may end up being the case as there is a lot of season left to be played but the early returns on N.C. State leave a little to be desired for. After being blown out by 20 on a neutral floor to an unranked Oklahoma State squad the Wolfpack narrowly escaped an upset bid by UNC-Asheville earlier this week winning 82-80 over the Bulldogs. While C.J. Leslie and Rodney Purvis garner much of the notoriety the Wolfpack are led in scoring by T.J. Warren (14.8 PPG) and Richard Howell (14.6 PPG). Coming into tonight N.C. State is ranked 18th in the country.

The Wolverines have started the season on a hot streak after winning the preseason NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden. There, the Wolverines got past Pittsburgh and Kansas State en route to the tournament championship. Michigan faces possibly its toughest test of the season tonight however when the Wolfpack of N.C. State come to Ann Arbor to try their hand at knocking off the number three team in the country. Led by guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Michigan has looked unstoppable at times this season averaging over 81 PPG as a team while shooting an astonishing 53% from the field. With heralded freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary contributing as well this is one tough Michigan team.

With the Wolfpack having to travel to Ann Arbor for this game tonight the edge has to lie with the Wolverines. I expect the Crisler Center to be rocking tonight and see a Wolverines win against a tough test from N.C. State.

Pick: Michigan

Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Florida State Seminoles (7:15 ESPN2)

The Golden Gophers travel to Tallahassee, Florida tonight to do battle with the Seminoles of Florida State. Minnesota is 6-1 on the season after taking a loss to the Duke Blue Devils at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament last week. On their way to a fifth place finish in the Bahamas the Golden Gophers took down both Memphis and Stanford so to say they bounced back from the Duke loss might be an understatement. The Golden Gophers are a much deeper team than the Seminoles are and this could play a key factor in the outcome of tonight’s game. Look for Minnesota to play up to 11 men in the early going tonight.

Florida State comes into tonight on a bit of a hot streak of its own. The Seminoles bounced back from their season opening defeat at the hands of South Alabama to win four straight including victories over BYU and St. Joes. The Noles hope to ride the momentum of their win in the Coaches vs Cancer Classic into tonight’s game. Look for Michael Snaer to play a big game for Florida State while Trevor Mbakwe is one to watch for the Golden Gophers. The Seminoles have taken the last two meetings between these two schools but I expect the Golden Gophers to go down to the imposing Donald L. Tucker Center and pull off a hard fought win.

Pick: Minnesota  

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (7:15 ESPNU)

The Hawkeyes travel to Blacksburg tonight to take on the undefeated Hokies of Virginia Tech. Iowa comes into tonight’s matchup fresh off a loss to Wichita State where “struggled” doesn’t do the performance put on by the Hawkeyes justice. Iowa made only 26% of its field goal attempts against the Shockers and somehow only managed to lose by 12 points. They will need a much more effective offensive attack tonight as the Hokies are among the leaders in the nation in points per game.

Virginia Tech is off to a hot start in their first season without Seth Greenberg running the show in Blacksburg. Led by guard Erick Green, who is averaging a blistering 24.8 PPG, the Hokies have been scoring at an impressive clip, failing to top the 80 point barrier just once this season. Should the Hokies have similar success against the Hawkeyes tonight on the offensive end this one could get ugly real fast. I expect that the Hokies will be ready for battle tonight and will continue their hot streak to start the season with a win over the Hawkeyes at Cassell Coliseum.

Pick: Virginia Tech

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (9:15 ESPNU)

If only they didn’t have to include every school in each league so this game didn’t have to be played. In this matchup you have a school with little to no basketball history, Nebraska, going against a school that has a fairly rich history in basketball but has literally hit rock bottom in Wake Forest.

On the season Wake Forest is 3-2 with losses to UCONN and Iona. Their wins include a 12 point victory of the Radford Highlanders, a three point victory over Mercer and a six point victory over William & Mary. Needless to say the Demon Deacons have been far from world beaters up until this point. The two players to watch out for on offense for the Demon Deacons are C.J. Harris and Travis McKie. Between the two, they account for over 31 PPG on average for this team, or roughly 44% of their offense.

Nebraska travels to Winston-Salem coming off of a 14 point loss to Kent State University on a neutral floor. Offensively, their numbers are well…offensive. The Corn Huskers don’t rank in the top 100 nationally in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game or team field goal percentage.

This matchup presents two very average teams that will more than likely finish the season at the bottom of their respective conferences. Since there has to be a winner, and trust me I checked, I am going to give the edge to Wake Forest simply because they are playing at home. While I don’t expect much of a home court advantage from the crowd at least the Demon Deacons did not have to travel anywhere for this one.

Pick: Wake Forest

There you have it folks, a preview of day one of the ACC – Big 10 Challenge. Be sure to check back tomorrow as I preview all of Wednesday’s matchups and have a full recap of the Maryland vs. Northwestern game. Enjoy the college basketball goodness everyone!

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