Team Profile: 2008 ACC-Big 10 Challenge Preview
Is 10 the lucky number for the Big 10?
The tenth annual ACC-Big 10 Challenge tips off on Monday and the score is ACC 9, Big Ten 0. That’s right; the Big 10 has never won, and it has only been remotely competitive once since 2003 (losing 6-5 in 2005). Overall, the ACC is 56-30 in individual games and has dominated each of the past two challenges 8-3.
While there is certainly a legitimate chance that the 10th time could be the charm for the Big 10, the boys from the Atlantic coast will be favored once again. With 11 games on the menu (N.C. State is not participating due to finishing last in the ACC in 2007-08), the conference almost always boils down to conference depth rather than power at the top. Then again, the ACC gets the check mark in both categories! North Carolina is everybody’s No. 1 team in the land at the moment and Duke appears to be back on the rise. The Big 10 currently boasts Michigan State and Purdue in the Top 10, but both teams have already lost once this season and come with far more question marks than North Carolina or Duke?
As for the depth, the ACC is not as loaded as it sometimes is, but we don’t have to look any further than one of this season’s early results to get the picture. Maryland, expected to be a middle-of-the-road ACC team, hammered the Big 10’s top team, Michigan State, 80-62 in the Old Spice Classic.
Nonetheless, this most recent edition of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge could be close. After all, it seems like the pairings have pitted evenly-matched teams more than ever. Consider the best four squads the Big 10 has to offer: Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan State has to play North Carolina, Purdue has to play Duke, Wisconsin has to go on the road against Virginia Tech, and Ohio State has to visit Miami. That’s either a blessing or a recipe for disaster in Big 10 country. Lose all four of those and the conference to the north could face its biggest drubbing ever at the hands of the ACC. Split those or take three of four, however, and the Big 10 might very well just find itself on the scoreboard late Wednesday night.
Here are all of the matchups for the 2008 ACC-Big 10 Challenge (predicted winners in bold).
Wisconsin at Virginia Tech
Wisconsin (5-1) has six games under its belt this season, but the Badgers still might be having nightmares about Stephen Curry. Davidson’s star guard crushed Wisconsin’s Final Four hopes in the form of a thorough Sweet 16 blowout upset. A better chance to reach the Final Four might not come for head coach Bo Ryan anytime soon, and it certainly won’t this year. Wisconsin is good, but not great. The Badgers, as always, will play rugged basketball underneath and have experienced guards in Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon to take care of the basketball.
Virginia Tech (4-2) returns four starters from a dangerous team that had UNC on the ropes at the ACC Tournament. A 68-66 loss courtesy of a Tyler Hansbrough buzzer-beater sealed VT’s NIT fate when a win would have all but ensured that its NCAA bubble would not have burst. Head coach Seth Greenberg and co., however, surely have the Big Dance as the only option on their minds this season. The Hokies are a well-balanced squad featuring Malcolm Delaney at point guard, A.D. Vassallo pouring in buckets from anywhere on the court, and Jeff Allen down low.
It’s hard to separate these two teams at the moment. Virginia Tech has the best scorer on the court in Vassallo, but Wisconsin is deeper and can get the Hokies in foul trouble by playing physical basketball. This one probably will come down to home-court advantage. The Hokies have it.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 70, Wisconsin 65
Duke at Purdue
Duke (7-0) is coming off a year in which a young team really surprised in the regular season before its youth showed in the more pressure-packed situations of the post-season. The Blue Devils got bounced by Clemson in the ACC Tournament semifinals and by West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after beating Belmont by a single point. This season’s squad is still very young, perhaps even younger since sophomore Nolan Smith has taken of the starting point guard position from Greg Paulus. Gerald Henderson is one of the best athletes in the nation and Kyle Singler is one of the best players in the ACC, but Duke still lacks a real presence down low.
Purdue (5-1) returned all five starters from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last season, not to mention to the second round of the tournament. Coach Matt Painter’s experienced Boilermaker squad is well-rounded with Keaton Grant at point guard, shooting guard Chris Kramer as the reigning Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, and E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel pouring in points. A stud big man would help, but even without one, Purdue looks to be the cream of the crop in the Big 10 this time around.
Purdue is already battle-tested having participated in the Pre-season NIT and winning two rounds to reach Madison Square Garden. Once in the semifinals, the Boilermakers ousted Boston College before falling to Oklahoma in overtime. Duke, not surprisingly, has not yet faced anyone quite like Oklahoma, but who would have thunk it, Coach K and company have already played two games away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Devils defeated Southern Illinois and Michigan to win the 2K Sports Classic. They also survived a shooting barrage to defeat Rhode Island 82-79 in Durham. While Duke might have a slight edge in talent, the Boilermakers have the edge in already-faced competition, experience, and home-court advantage. Look for those factors to assert themselves late in the second half as Purdue pulls away.
Prediction: Purdue 77, Duke 68
Clemson at Illinois
Clemson (7-0) reached the ACC title game for the first time since 1962 and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but blew a lead in the opening round and lost to Villanova. Cliff Hammonds and James Mays are gone, but K.C. Rivers, Trevor Booker, and Terrence Oglesby return. The Tigers do not have a flat-out star and they will miss Hammonds and Mays, but they are deep and well-balanced. Third place in the ACC and another NCAA Tournament berth are not unrealistic expectations.
Illinois (6-0) went 16-19 last season but gained some momentum by winning three games en route to the Big 10 Tournament title game, where Wisconsin ended the run. Coach Bruce Weber has another young team with considerable talent after some surprising recruiting success, but he has recently lost three shooting guards for various reasons. The result is a backcourt being run by Demetri McCamey dishing to former walk-on Trent Meacham. It’s a duo that should be good—if not spectacular—and has to be in order to overcome some question marks down low.
Clemson and Illinois are a combined 13-0 so far this season, although none of the wins particularly jump off the page. The Tigers have pulled out wins over Temple (by four) and Charlotte (by one). Among Illinois’ wins are six-point victories over Vanderbilt and Kent State and a four-point triumph against Tulsa. None of those elicit great excitement, but especially for a young Illinois squad, any kind of victory is a confidence-booster. So is playing at home. Both of those factors should help the Fighting Illini on Tuesday against a dangerous ACC opponent. Clemson will most likely be favored, but don’t be surprised if the fans help their boys survive a thriller.
Prediction: Illinois 68, Clemson 67
Ohio State at Miami
Ohio State (3-0) features a new-look squad once again, as big man Kosta Koufos left after one season just like Greg Oden. B.J. Mullens, yet another heralded center recruit at 7’1’’, will take over down low. He won’t have much help in the frontcourt, however, so the Buckeye guards and small forwards will have to carry most of the load. David Lighty leads the way in experience and streaky shooting guard Jon Diebler can stretch defenses.
Miami (4-1) has the most experienced team in the ACC. It’s not only experienced, but also just plain good; arguably the best coach Frank Haith has seen in his tenure as Hurricane general. Jack McClinton is capable of leading the ACC in scoring, but the fact that Miami has plenty of other weapons could prevent him from doing so. Senior Lance Hurdle will run the offense while Jimmy Graham and Dwayne Collins will do most of the damage in the paint.
Ohio State has only played three games so far, and none against bigtime competition. The Buckeyes almost fell, however, to Bowling Green before holding Samford to a mere 22 points. Even though Miami lost to its only formidable opponent in five games—to No. 2 Connecticut 76-63—the setback should help the team down the road…and against Ohio State. In Columbus, the Buckeyes might have a chance of pulling off a surprise, but it’s not going to happen in Miami.
Prediction: Miami 72, Ohio State 60
Virginia at Minnesota
Virginia (3-2) is dealing with an obvious most glaring question: who will replace departed point guard Sean Singletary? The Cavaliers have several options, including freshman Sylvan Landesberg who is averaging over 20 points per game already this season. As the competition gets tougher, however, things will get more difficult and any backcourt weaknesses will be exacerbated. Virginia has a wealth of athleticism on the wings and the team needs all of it. Whereas Singletary single-handedly carried the team in recent seasons, this Wahoo squad is going to have to get production from every position. Easier said than done.
Minnesota (6-0) is looking to build upon coach Tubby Smith’s first year in which the veteran head man put the Gophers on the bubble (it burst) of the NCAA Tournament. Three starters are going, but Smith—as he has been known to do—is reloading with a solid recruiting class. Junior shooting guard Lawrence Westbrook will lead the way in both leadership and points. In order for the frontcourt to be successful, freshmen Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson (also the son of a former NBA player) will have to mature beyond their years in a hurry.
Virginia is coming off two losses, the first much worse than the second. The Wahoos got upended at home by Liberty then led Syracuse by 11 on the road at halftime before succumbing in the second half. Minnesota is rolling along with six wins to open the year but has almost lost twice despite having not played any competition of note. The offensive firepower of Westbrook and defensive pressure on inexperienced UVA guards could be he difference. A tougher schedule to this point could help Virginia, but home-court advantage should be enough for the Gophers to eke out a victory.
Prediction: Minnesota 79, Virginia 71
Iowa at Boston College
Iowa (6-1) went 13-19 last season and is still in rebuilding mode under coach Frank Lickliter. While the Hawkeyes are certainly on the rise after welcoming a strong recruiting class, it’s probably too soon to see the benefits being reaped in 2008-09. Still, senior Cyrus Tate and junior Jarryd Cole (coming back from injury) will at least keep Iowa competitive in the Big 10. Backcourt youth will most likely be this team’s undoing.
Boston College (4-2), following two successful seasons in ACC play, is looking to bounce back from a 2007-08 campaign in which it went 4-12 in conference and 14-17 overall. The good news is the Eagles did not lose much, and senior Tyrese Rice is one of the most explosive point guards in college basketball. Veteran coach Al Skinner has several underclassman guards that should be able to step up and give Rice some support, but questions in the low post remain. Sophomore forward Joe Trapani has been stepping up, and he needs to continue his stellar early-season effort.
Iowa got blown out by West Virginia by 21 points in its toughest game so far this year. Boston College has lost twice, first to St. Louis and then to Purdue in the Pre-season NIT semifinals. Still, the Pre-season NIT was a good test for the Eagles, who will find a home matchup against Iowa much easier than a neutral-court matchup against Purdue. Boston College should even its record to 1-1 against Big 10 teams even though the Hawkeyes could have a slight advantage in the frontcourt. Look for Rice to go off in this contest.
Prediction: Boston College 82, Iowa 66
Indiana at Wake Forest
Indiana (4-2) was left in shambles by Kelvin Sampson and first-year coach Tom Crean is in serious rebuilding mode. Not a single starter returned from last season’s squad. There’s no point in even discussing the Hoosiers’ personnel. It’s bad. Even the NIT is just an unrealistic dream.
Wake Forest (6-0) returns all five starters from a team that went a respectable 7-9 in ACC action and 17-13 overall. Dino Gaudio also has a year under his belt now, as do a host of young Demon Deacon players. Sophomore shooting guard Jeff Teague is ready to lead the team in scoring and backcourt mates Harvey Hale and Ish Smith will provide valuable leadership. Junior Chas McFarland and heralded freshman Al-Farouq Aminu will do the dirty work down low. This is a well-balanced Deacon squad and anything less than the NCAA Tournament would be a disappointment.
Indiana has already gotten blown away by St. Joseph’s (by 26) and Notre Dame (by 38). The Hoosiers were four points away from losing to IUPUI (60-57) and three points away from losing in Maui to Chaminade (81-79). Wake Forest is not IUPUI or Chaminade. The Deacons are undefeated through six games, although the competition has not been stellar. In other words, they are accustomed to playing teams of Indiana’s caliber, and the result will be the same.
Prediction: Wake Forest 81, Indiana 57
Michigan at Maryland
Maryland (4-2) could be suffering down low after losing James Gist and Bambale Osby to graduation. Coming off a season in which the Terrapins failed to make the NCAA Tournament and an off-season that featured several recruiting setbacks, Maryland could be in for a relatively long year in College Park. The key to the season is point guard Greivis Vasquez, who could lead the ACC in assists, but will probably finish atop the conference in turnovers as well.
Michigan (5-1) went 5-13 in the Big 10 last season and 10-22 overall in John Beilein’s first go-around in Ann Arbor. With star guard Manny Harris backs, things could be a little bit better for Beilein in year two, but not by much. An NIT appearance would be a success for a team that is going to be overmatched in a major way down low in its conference. Harris and DeShawn Sims have shouldered almost the entire scoring load so far in 2008 and they will need some help.
Maryland is already in the midst of a perplexing season. The Terrapins stunned Michigan State in convincing fashion, then proceeded to get blown out by both Gonzaga and Georgetown. Even though those tough battles are good experience going into a big game with Michigan, confidence has to be hurting at the moment. Michigan also pulled off a big upset—over UCLA—but lost to Duke by 15 the next day. Maryland will be a much friendlier ACC opponent for the Wolverines, especially if Vasquez is in his generous (think turnovers) mode. This one will all come down to guard play; Harris and Sims should be the difference.
Prediction: Michigan 63, Maryland 60
Florida State at Northwestern
Florida State (7-0) has been a staple of the NCAA Tournament bubble in recent years, but has not appeared in the Big Dance since 1998. This might not be the season to do it, as 10 members of the rosters are freshmen or sophomores. The senior leadership and scoring ability of both guard Toney Douglas and forward Uche Echefu will give them a decent chance. Junior power forward Ryan Reid will be a key down low.
Northwestern (4-1) went 1-17 in the Big 10 last season (and 8-22 overall). That’s the bad news. The very bad news. The good news is that the Wildcats return four starters and reeled in a solid recruiting class with the emphasis on big men. Northwestern had almost no presences whatsoever down low in 2007-08, but junior guard Craig Moore should finally have some help this year. This is a group that has NIT potential…but probably not for another season.
Florida State is undefeated through seven games and has two decent wins, over Jacksonville and most recently over Cal by three points. Northwestern has four wins over minimal competition and lost its toughest game, 57-53 to Butler. The Wildcats should feel fortunate that they aren’t going up against an ACC team that is a real force down low, but Echefu and Reid will have too much experience for NU’s big newcomers. Unless Douglas has a simply dreadful shooting night, the Seminoles should cruise to a road victory.
Prediction: Florida State 70, Northwestern 58
Penn State at Georgia Tech
Penn State (6-1) went a respectable 7-11 in the Big 10 last season and narrowly missed out on a possible NIT bid, falling under .500 (15-16) after a one-point loss to Illinois in the first round of the conference tournament. Four starters return, however, including senior forward Jamelle Cornley, so an NIT bid has to be the goal. Sophomore guard Talor Battle is already establishing himself of the star of the team. He has been doing it all so far, and if that trend continues, the Nittany Lions could find themselves in the top half of the Big 10 at season’s end.
Georgia Tech (4-0) finished a decent 7-9 in ACC play one year ago, but just a disappointing 15-17 overall to miss out on any kind of postseason action. Things should go a little bit better in Atlanta this time around with freshman point guard Iman Shumpert, who can help Mo Miller run the offense. Junior Zach Peacock and sophomore Gani Lawal could be ready to emerge into a devastating duo down low. The Yellow Jackets are most likely still a year away from being an ACC (or even national depending on recruiting) force, but the NIT at least seems definite.
Penn State has won six of its seven games, scoring a solid road win at in-state rival Pennsylvania before losing to a tough Rhode Island team. Georgia Tech has played just four games, none against big-time competition. The Jackets pulled out close victories over Mercer and Jacksonville, both of whom are actually pretty good. Still, Tech will have to raise its level against Penn State in order to take care of business at home. Shooting guard Lewis Clinch is out until January, otherwise the Jackets’ firepower could run PSU right out of the gym. Even so, Lawal and Peacock should exert themselves as the game goes on after the visitors hang around for a while.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 69, Penn State 62
North Carolina at(/N) Michigan State (Ford Field)
North Carolina (7-0) reached the Final 4 last season and most assumed that the Tar Heels would at least lose either Tyler Hansbrough, or Wayne Ellington, or Ty Lawson, or Danny Green. Or not! All four came back, and backup point guard Bobby Frasor is also returning from an injury. As a result, there are no holes on this team (although freshman Tyler Zeller is already out for the season). The Heels are everybody’s No. 1 team in the land, and for good reason.
Michigan State (4-1) went 12-6 in the Big 10, 27-9 overall, and reached the Sweet 16 last season. The Spartans return three starters and boast a wealth of young talent as well. The backcourt is inexperienced, but could be outstanding. Kalin Lucas is a star in the making at point guard, Chris Allen is the best shooter on the team, and Durrell Summers is MSU’s best athlete. Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton will provide the experience and the bruising in the paint.
North Carolina is off to a strong start having won the Maui Invitation in dominant fashion. The Heels beat Notre Dame by 15 in the final and it could have been worse. Michigan State fell asleep in a shocking 18-point loss to Maryland, but has looked OK other than that aberration. Even though this one is in Detroit, North Carolina will be heavily-favored if Hansbrough plays. Shin splints have hobbled him and latest reports are that the All-American is questionable. Even if he sits, UNC has enough weapons to prevail.
Prediction: North Carolina 82, Michigan State 73
Overall prediction: ACC 7, Big Ten 4.