Day one of the ACC – Big 10 Challenge is in the books and it was dominated by the Big 10 conference. After finishing the opening night with a record of 4-2 it appears as if the Commissioner’s Cup will be heading back to the Midwest this winter.
Outside of convincing wins by Virginia Tech and our Maryland Terrapins the rest of the ACC failed to live up to expectations in an event that has been historically been a landslide victory for the conference. Both North Carolina and N.C. State faced large double digit deficits in their games and while the Wolfpack made their game respectable the same can’t be said about their neighbors from Chapel Hill. Wake Forest was embarrassed on their home floor and Florida State couldn’t handle Tubby Smith and his Golden Gophers. All in all, it was a night that the ACC would probably like to forget.
There is a chance for redemption, however, as tonight brings up six more games between these two conferences highlighted by #2 Duke going against #4 Ohio State. Much like I did yesterday, I will preview each of these games and give you my pick to win (Went 5-1 yesterday, totally tooting my own horn).
In what is clearly the premier matchup of the evening the Buckeyes of Ohio State travel to Cameron Indoor in Durham, NC to take on Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils. Coming off of their win over Louisville in the Bahamas the Blue Devils need to stay focused as the Buckeyes present another tough challenge for them tonight. Blue Devils fans surely remember the throttling Duke took from Ohio State last season in Columbus and have to be hopeful for a better effort tonight than last season’s 22 point defeat.
While Ohio State has nine players who are averaging over 10 minutes per game on the season they receive the bulk of their scoring from three players. The Buckeyes are led by junior Deshaun Thomas in both scoring and rebounding as he averages 24 and 7 per game. Aaron Craft (14.3 PPG) and Levelle Smith Jr. (11.5 PPG) also have shown they can contribute, averaging over 10 ppg for the Buckeyes. However, Thomas has essentially been a one man wrecking crew for the Buckeyes this year and Ohio State will need him to be close to perfect tonight in order to pull off the upset at Duke.
While Mason Plumlee has been the man for the Blue Devils so far this season it has been the emergence of Quinn Cook that has really given this team a chance to be special this season. Cook, a former Dematha guard, is getting the opportunity to play extended minutes this year and has taken full advantage of it as he is averaging over 10 PPG while having more than twice as many assists as any other Duke player. Look for Cook to continue his improved play while Mason Plumlee does his whole 20 points and 10 rebounds shtick for Duke.
Pick: Duke Blue Devils
#13 Michigan State Spartans vs. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (7:30 ESPN)
Tom Izzo and his #13 Spartans travel to Coral Gables tonight to do battle with the Hurricanes of the University of Miami. The Spartans have bounced back nicely from their season opening loss to UCONN in Germany as they have run off five straight wins since, including a victory over Kansas. Miami, on the other hand, is facing their biggest test thus far when the Spartans get to town tonight. The Hurricanes best win at this point in time is their victory over Detroit, while their loss to Florida Gulf Coast University is more than troubling.
Junior guard Keith Appling leads the Spartans in scoring, assists, three point shooting percentage and minutes played so you can tell his success is paramount for Michigan State’s success. As Appling goes, so do the Spartans. Two other Spartans to watch out for tonight are guards Branden Dawson and Gary Harris as they both average 10+ PPG for Michigan State.
Miami is led by Shane Larkin, yes Barry Larkin’s kid, and Durand Scott as the pair average over 32 PPG for the Hurricanes. This team, coached by local legend Jim Larranaga, is coming off a 2011-2012 season where they managed to go 19-12 and make it to the second round of the NIT while dealing with all of the distractions of the NCAA investigation into the athletic program. That is more than commendable and I have little doubt that Larranaga will succeed at Miami, however, it won’t be happening tonight.
Pick: Michigan State Spartans
Illinois comes into this game as one of the season’s early surprises at 7-0 and ranked #22 in the country. New coach John Groce has installed a more up-tempo system for the Illini and they have responded in a positive way, winning the Maui Invitational. Led by senior guard Brandon Paul and his 18.2 PPG the Illini have proved to be a handful for their competition this season.
Georgia Tech might have their hands full with the fast paced Illinois offense tonight. As a team the Yellow Jackets average 61 PPG, which is almost 20 points fewer than Illinois average. If the Yellow Jackets find themselves in a track meet with the Illini tonight they will struggle to keep pace. A player to watch for Georgia Tech tonight is Mfon Udofia, the senior is averaging 10 PPG and is leading the Yellow Jackets with 3.2 assists per game. Tech will need a big game out of Udofia tonight to stand a chance against the Illini.
Pick: Illinois Fighting Illini
Virginia Cavaliers vs. Wisconsin Badgers (7:00 ESPN2)
The Virginia Cavaliers take their show on the road for the first time this season as the Wahoos make the trip up to Madison, Wisconsin to tangle with Bo Ryan and his Badgers. It has been a rough start to the season for Virginia as they dropped two of their first three contests to schools from the CAA (George Mason and Delaware). With victories over Fairfield, Lamar, Seattle and North Texas the Cavaliers are anything but a proven commodity at this point.
Wisconsin comes into tonight also with a 4-2 overall record, however, the Badgers losses have come against two teams ranked in the top 15 when they played in Florida and Creighton. In typical Wisconsin fashion, these Badgers make their living behind the three point arc. Through six games, the Badgers have taken 150 three pointers as a team, making 53 of them. Ben Brust and Sam Dekker lead the team as both are right around 50% from beyond the arc on the season. If the threes are dropping tonight, as I predict they will, then UVA is going to be in a world of hurt.
Pick: Wisconsin Badgers
This game just got much more interesting as the news that Clemson senior Milton Jennings will be held out of tonight’s matchup after, reportedly, being arrested last night for possession of marijuana. Jennings missing the game is probably the best thing that could have happened for an outmatched Purdue squad, but it still might not be enough to help the Boilermakers spring the upset. Purdue’s wins have come against Hofstra and UNC-Wilmington while they have been defeated by Villanova, Bucknell and Oregon State. The Boilermakers top two options on offense are Terone Johnson (11 PPG) and D.J. Byrd (10.8 PPG), unfortunately for Purdue neither player is shooting over 36% on the season.
Clemson, sans Milton Jennings, should still have enough talent to win this game tonight. While Jennings is the Tigers leading scorer (10.8 PPG) Devin Booker and K.J. McDaniels are nipping at his heels (Both averaging 10.4 PPG) and should be more than capable of shouldering the load brought on by Jennings arrest and subsequent suspension. I’d expect BYU transfer, and South Carolina native, Demarcus Harrison to have a big game as Brad Brownell will have to find a way to make up for the missed production from Jennings.
Pick: Clemson Tigers
Finally, in a game that rivals Nebraska vs. Wake Forest in terms of watchability, the Eagles of Boston College hope to get on the right track after stumbling out of the blocks so far this season. BC is 2-4 with some truly horrendous performances early on against the College of Charleston and Bryant University. Led by Ryan Anderson, unfortunately not the one in the NBA, and Oliver Hanlan the Eagles come into tonight with a bad taste in their mouths from their two point loss to Bryant just three days ago. Expect a hard fought effort out of the Eagles tonight as the only way to win games when you are lacking in talent is to outwork the opposition.
Fortunately for BC, the Penn State Nittany Lions are far from a world beater. Averaging only 59 PPG ranks the Nittany Lions among some of the worst in college basketball. Penn State’s resume is equally as disheartening as that of Boston College as their wins came in close games over St. Francis (PA), a bad Providence team and Bucknell. Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill are the ones to watch tonight for Penn State as the pair combine for a shade under 30 PPG along with 10 RPG and 7 APG. If the Eagles want to win tonight, they need to stop this tandem. Unfortunately, I have seen BC play this season already in a one point win over lowly Auburn and know better than to pick them to win on the road tonight.
Pick: Penn State Nittany Lions