Tuesday marks the beginning of one of college basketball’s best preseason events, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Maryland doesn’t play in the event until Wednesday, and this year will be the last time that Maryland will play on the ACC side of the event, but it will still provide hours of entertainment. While the preseason tournaments like the Maui Invitational, Old Spice Classic, and Preseason NIT provide us with potential future March match-ups, the challenge lets us get to see teams play in hostile environments. The true road game aspect of the challenge is one of the best parts of the event, and one that gets all fan bases excited.
As usual, ESPN has done a great job of setting up the event to give fans of both conferences and college basketball a chance to see highly ranked teams play on prime time. The ACC leads the all time challenge series, but the Big Ten had won three in a row before last years 6-6 tie. Heres what’s in store for everyone on Tuesday night:
Indiana at Syracuse – 7:15 ESPN
A re-match of an Elite Eight game from a year ago kicks off the Challenge. Unfortunately for viewers, Indiana has lost a lot from last years team, and Syracuse is coming off a Maui Invitational win. Behind the likes of C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis, Syracuse is rolling again after a final four appearance last season. Indiana has only lost one game this season, and it was to UConn, but Indiana also hasn’t beaten anyone of note. A good idea in theory to get an elite eight re-match, but I don’t see how Syracuse drops this game at home.
Illinois at Georgia Tech – 7:15 ESPN2
Another re-match from last year, this one of a Challenge match up. Illinois held off Georgia Tech is a close game in Illinois last season. This year they switch venues and head to Atlanta in a game that Georgia Tech needs to win. The Yellow Jackets are coming back from a disappointing trip to Brooklyn in which they lost to Ole Miss and St. Johns. Illinois is undefeated right now, but similar to Indiana, they have yet to be tested this season. This game could go either way, but I’m inclined to lean towards Illinois since Georgia Tech is struggling right now and doesn’t have much time to get to the drawing board.
Penn State at Pittsburgh – 7:30 ESPNU
Pittsburgh is off to a hot start, however I’m not yet a believer in the Panthers. Their schedule is weak, with the most impressive win coming against Stanford on a neutral site. I don’t think Penn State will provide much of a challenge to Pittsburgh, in a game that should be an annual rivalry game. Penn State is in the midst of another Penn State type year. They lost to Bucknell in their second game of the season, and lost in a close game to Ole Miss in Brooklyn, but they have an impressive win over La Salle. With the game being at Pittsburgh, I think that will give them an edge, but I also don’t think that Penn State will be able to keep up with the physical play of Pittsburgh.
Michigan at Duke – 9:15 ESPN
Another prime time game for Duke freshmen Jabari Parker, this time he gets a home game to continue to impress NBA scouts. This should be one of the better games of the challenge, and one that I think is a toss up that depends on where the game is. Duke has struggled inside, and has been giving up a lot of rebounds and second chance opportunities to teams. Michigan has one of the nations best bigs in Mitch McGary, a hustle player who makes a living using his high motor to clean up the glass. Sophomore guard Nick Stauskas has been having a great year so far, and he could be an x-factor for this game. Michigan will need his shooting to be on point if they want to pull off an upset. As for Duke, they are going to need the forwards to play better and match the intensity of Mitch McGary. As much as I would like to see Michigan win, I think Duke will pull off this home game.
Notre Dame at Iowa – 9:15 ESPN2
Iowa just played in one of the best games of the weekend, when they lost in overtime to Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship. Many are expecting a big season from Notre Dame this year in the ACC, but so far we haven’t heard much from them. Notre Dame has one loss, to Indiana State, but they haven’t beaten anyone yet. Its tough to say how Iowa will play seeing as though they just played three games in three nights in the Bahamas. I think they are more prepared for this game, with Notre Dame being in the midst of a weak schedule. Iowa is clicking right now, and are come off three games that tested who they are, which gives them an edge over Notre Dame.
Florida State at Minnesota – 9:30 ESPNU
The schedule makers might have gotten pretty lazy this year, as this is another rematch of a game from last year’s challenge. Both teams come into the game with two losses, and both have been impressive in losing efforts. Florida State beat VCU, and almost knocked off Michigan in their next game, then a week later staged a strong come back at Florida that fell a little short. Minnesota is in their first year with new coach, Richard Pitino, and while he hasn’t yet had a signature win, his shorthand Golden Gophers team found hard in Maui against Syracuse and Arkansas. Florida State at this moment has a better idea as to who they are, which makes sense with Leonard Hamilton still in town and a good recruiting class to add to a veteran team. I think Florida State takes the first road game of The Challenge, and swings the first night in favor of the ACC (4-2).