ACC-Big Ten Challenge preview: No. 1 on line for Indiana, Duke

Blue Devils seek revenge on Ohio State, Tar Heels hope for same on Hoosier state

Basketball season is in full swing, which for the ACC and Big Ten is a welcome sight.

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge, as usual, will feature Final Four-type matchups at the top, including implications for the No. 1 spot. Duke has defeated two Final Four teams from a year ago and draws Ohio State, a Final Four candidate for this season. Meanwhile, North Carolina will attempt to avenge on the state of Indiana after the Tar Heels lost to Butler in the Maui Invitational. Roy Williams’ team, though, will have to unseat No. 1 Indiana in Bloomington.

The matchups could be telling throughout the Challenge as one of the deepest leagues, the Big Ten, faces an ACC that has perhaps the most unclear pecking order of any of the major conferences.

Best game: Ohio State at Duke
The Buckeyes have been one the nation’s quietest top teams with its best win coming by 11 against Washington. Meanwhile, Duke has made its share of statements, defeating defending national champion Kentucky and winning the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament with wins over Minnesota, VCU and Louisville. The individual matchups here should be compelling all over the court with Duke’s Mason Plumlee (19.7 ppg, 10 rpg) facing Deshaun Thomas (24 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft working to shut down Seth Curry on the perimeter. Ohio State hammered Duke 85-63 last season in Columbus as the Blue Devils made a quick turnaround after the Maui Invitational. This season, Duke’s turnaround is more manageable from the Bahamas back to Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils still played three games in three days.

Don’t overlook: NC State at Michigan
Wait, NC State-Michigan is a game between two ranked teams, why would it be overlooked? Well, there’s the Ohio State-Duke game mentioned above, plus North Carolina-Indiana. The game in Ann Arbor is a distant third in the blue-blood factor. The preseason ACC favorite, NC State hasn’t been sharp to start the season, losing 76-56 to Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rico Tipoff followed by a narrow 82-80 win over UNC Asheville. Turnovers have been plentiful, and Mark Gottfried has cited chemistry concerns, a bit of a surprise for a team that returned the core of last year’s Sweet 16 team. Meanwhile, Michigan has had four players capable of taking over this season as the Wolverines defeated Pittsburgh and Kansas State on the way to title in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

Mismatch: Minnesota at Florida State
The opponents in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge appear to be evenly matched, at least on paper. This one may have the best potential for a mismatch, depending on which Andre Hollins or Michael Snaer shows up. The Gophers’ Hollins scored 41 points on 12 of 16 shooting against Memphis but followed that with eight points and a 1 of 8 performance from the floor. The Seminoles’ Snaer has scored in double figures in every game, but he can be a streaky shooter at times, too.

Snoozer: Boston College at Penn State
There are other lackluster games (Nebraska at Wake Forest) and another whose pace may be sleep-inducing (Virginia at Wisconsin). But this one takes the mantle for worst game in the challenge. The best player for either team, Penn State’s Tim Frazier, has been lost for the season to injury. Meanwhile, Boston College is 2-4 after a loss to Bryant.

Most to gain: The winner of Maryland at Northwestern
Both teams may be marginal NCAA Tournament prospects, though Maryland looked the part with the addition of Dez Wells and a narrow 72-69 loss to Kentucky to start the season. Maryland could pick up its first road win of the season while Northwestern could pick up a quality non-conference win, which will be imperative before facing a deep Big Ten.

Most to lose: Indiana
After an overtime scare against Georgetown in the Legends Classic, Indiana can reassert its hold on No. 1 with North Carolina coming to town. After a six-point game against Georgia, Cody Zeller responded with 17 points and eight rebounds against the Hoyas. The Hoosiers dominated their next time out with 101-53 win over Ball State on Sunday, but Indiana could lose the top spot if it loses at home to North Carolina, especially if No. 2 Duke defeats Ohio State. Indiana guard Jordan Hulls, who has made 19 of 35 3-pointers this season, could be the key player, though. North Carolina allowed Butler to convert 12 of 25 3-pointers in a loss in the Maui Invitational.

Players to watch:
Scott Wood, NC State. The Wolfpack was 10-0 when Wood hit at least four 3-pointers last season, a trend that’s carried into 2012-13. Wood has struggled at times to start the season, including a 1 of 11 performance from the field against Oklahoma State.

Durand Scott, Miami. Scott returned from a suspension to put up 15 points with five rebounds and three assists against Detroit, helping the Hurricanes recover from an embarrassing loss to Florida Gulf Coast. The return of Miami’s 6-5 senior guard could help the Hurricanes look more like the ACC dark horse they were projected to be to start the season. Now at full strength, Miami will face a team that’s shorthanded. Michigan State will be without highly touted freshman  guard Gary Harris, who will miss 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury.  

Nik Stauskas, Michigan. Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary were the more high-profile freshmen, but the 6-6 guard Stauskus has been the second-most productive after Robinson. Stauskas averaged 13.3 points the last three games, helping Michigan stretch its offense. He’s hit 10 of 17 3-pointers this season.

ACC-Big Ten Challenge Roundtable Picks

TUESDAY (All times Eastern) David Fox Braden Gall Mitch Light Mark Ross Nathan Rush
Minnesota at Florida St., 7:15 p.m., ESPN2 Minnesota Florida St. Minnesota Florida St. Minnesota
Iowa at Virginia Tech, 7:15, p.m. ESPNU Iowa Va. Tech Iowa Va. Tech Va. Tech
NC State at Michigan, 7:30 p.m., ESPN Michigan Michigan Michigan Michigan Michigan
Maryland at Northwestern, 9:15 p.m., ESPN2 Maryland N'western N'western Maryland Maryland
Nebraska at Wake Forest, 9:15 p.m., ESPNU Wake Wake Wake Nebraska Wake
North Carolina at Indiana, 9:30 p.m., ESPN Indiana Indiana Indiana Carolina Indiana
Virginia at Wisconsin, 7 p.m., ESPN2 Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin
Purdue at Clemson, 7:15 p.m., ESPNU Clemson Clemson Clemson Purdue Clemson
Michigan St. at Miami, 7:30 p.m., ESPN Miami Mich. St. Mich. St. Mich. St. Miami
Georgia Tech at Illinois, 9 p.m., ESPN2 Illinois Illinois Illinois Illinois Illinois
BC at Penn St., 9:15 p.m., ESPNU BC BC Penn St. Penn St. Penn St.
Ohio St. at Duke, 9:30 p.m., ESPN Ohio St. Duke Duke Duke Duke

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