Could Duke and Wisconsin be a Final Four preview?
Never mind that the games won’t occur for another seven months. Three of the teams involved in the ACC-Big Ten challenge aren’t even officially in their new leagues.
If, in some way, Virginia and Maryland played a basketball game today, they would meet in an ACC league game. By December, it’s a non-conference showcase. Louisville officially joins the ACC on July 1. Same for Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten.
Either way, we can start looking forward to the key games, particularly the marquee game in the 2014 edition of the challenge between Duke and Wisconsin. The Blue Devils take their star-studded freshman class into Madison to face a team that returns all but one key player from a Final Four team.
That won’t be the only key matchup. Here are all of them ranked.
1. Duke at Wisconsin (Dec. 3)
This may be the top non-conference game of the year as both will be in the preseason top five. All eyes will be on potential All-America freshman Jahlil Okafor, a superstar prospect and a traditional center for Duke, and NCAA Tournament standout Frank Kaminsky, who is not a a traditional center for the Badgers.
2. Ohio State at Louisville (Dec. 2)
Two traditional powers must replace invaluable seniors — Aaron Craft for Ohio State and Russ Smith for Louisville. The Buckeyes’ Shannon Scott and the Cardinals’ Chris Jones step into the spotlight, but at least Jones can feed the ball to center Montrezl Harrell.
3. Syracuse at Michigan (Dec. 2)
These won’t be the teams you saw for most of last season. Syracuse and Michigan were decimated by NBA Draft early entries, perhaps more than Jim Boeheim and John Beilein expected.
4. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Dec. 3)
The Spartans are rebuilding around Branden Dawson while Notre Dame looks to put a losing season in the rearview mirror. The Irish get Jerian Grant back after he missed most of last season to an academic issue.
5. Iowa at North Carolina (Dec. 2)
The Tar Heels will be one of the top teams in the ACC in the preseason while the Hawkeyes may take a step back without Roy Devyn Marble. This could be a mismatch at this stage of the season.
6. Pittsburgh at Indiana (Dec. 2)
Neither team will show up in many preseason top 25 countdowns after Pitt enters 2014-15 without Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna and Indiana heads into the year without Noah Vonleh and Will Sheehey. Both teams are relying on veteran point guards (Cameron Wright and Yogi Ferrell) to shepherd these squads early in the year.
7. Nebraska at Florida State (Dec. 1)
Perhaps Nebraska deserved a better matchup than Florida State after reaching the rare NCAA Tournament last season. The Seminoles, though, could be a tough out in Tallahassee even without Ian Miller and Okaro White.
8. Minnesota at Wake Forest (Dec. 2)
Richard Pitino takes the NIT champions on an interesting road trip against a junior-laden Wake Forest team under first-year coach Danny Manning.
9. Virginia at Maryland (Dec. 2)
Yes, that’s a meeting between two charter ACC members in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Virginia will be on the fringe of the top 10 after winning the league while Maryland is facing questions with four recent transfers, including point guard Seth Allen.
10. Illinois at Miami (Dec. 2)
Thanks to a handful of newcomers, Illinois and Miami are both looking to rebound after they missed the NCAA Tournament last season. The Illini add two transfers (Ahmad Starks from Oregon State and Aaron Cosby from Seton Hall) while the Hurricanes get Angel Rodriguez eligible from Kansas State.
11. NC State at Purdue (Dec. 2)
The Wolfpack faces an early road trip, adding Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey stepping into the shoes of T.J. Warren in a backcourt with Anthony Barber. Purdue is still in rebuilding mode after going 5-13 in the Big Ten last season.
12. Georgia Tech at Northwestern (Dec. 3)
A former ACC assistant is coaching the Big Ten team (Chris Collins), and a former Big Ten assistant (Brian Gregory) is coaching the ACC team. It will be a long time before either takes on their former employers (Michigan State and Duke) in the conference challenge.
13. Virginia Tech at Penn State (Dec. 3)
Virginia Tech has Buzz Williams. Penn State has D.J. Newbill. That’s a little interesting.
14. Rutgers at Clemson (Dec. 1)
Maryland draws Virginia while fellow newcomer draws a Clemson team without K.J. McDaniels.