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ACC-Big Ten Challenge Preview and Predictions

Author:
Justise Winslow

Justise Winslow

College basketball coaches often shrug at the way conference realignment has relegated their sport to an afterthought, but it’s had at least one benefit to the game.

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge already was one of the most interesting events of the basketball year. Now it’s even better.

Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame joined on the ACC side a year ago. Louisville is in this season for the ACC. Maryland has moved over to the Big Ten at the same time Nebraska has become surprisingly relevant on the national stage.

The result is a slew of important on-campus non-conference games this week, a welcome sight after watching Thanksgiving tournaments in empty gyms or hotel ballrooms.

Yet the most important game of the bunch though comes from charter members of each league when Duke faces Wisconsin in Madison in a game that could end up a Final Four or national title rematch.


WEDNESDAY


Michigan State at Notre Dame
7:15 p.m., ESPN2

Michigan State needs more from veteran Branden Dawson, who hasn’t scored in double figures since a Nov. 21 win over Loyola (Ill.). He’s shooting 7-of-22 from the field in his last three games. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is getting exactly what it needs in the return of Jerian Grant. The senior guard has picked up where he left off in last year’s shortened season. Grant is averaging 18.7 points and seven rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor.

Virginia Tech at Penn State
7:15 p.m., ESPN2

Buzz Williams is learning just how much of a challenge he has in turning around Virginia Tech, which has already dropped games to Appalachian State and Northern Iowa. The Hokies will have a challenge in stopping Penn State guard D.J. Newbill, who has averaged 28 points in his last five games.

Iowa at North Carolina
7:30 p.m., ESPN

The Tar Heels and Hawkeyes have two of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the country. Iowa has already dropped games to Texas and Syracuse at Madison Square Garden (and faces Iowa State on Dec. 12). North Carolina bounced back from a loss to Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis to beat UCLA and Florida (the Heels will visit Kentucky and face Ohio State on a neutral court before Christmas). North Carolina’s Marcus Paige will try to bounce back from a 8-of-24 performance from 3-point range in the converted ballroom down in Atlantis. This game, though, could be a battle of the bigs between Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson of North Carolin and Adam Woodbury, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff of Iowa.

Virginia at Maryland
9:15 p.m., ESPN2

Maryland is off to a 6-0 start, including a win over Iowa State, in a critical year for coach Mark Turgeon. Virginia, though, is as stifling on the defensive end as ever. The Cavaliers are allowing 43.6 points per game and haven’t allowed more than 56 in a game all year. And, yes, we are less than nine months removed from Maryland’s last game against Virginia, the Terrapins’ final game as a member of the ACC.

Georgia Tech at Northwestern
9:15 p.m., ESPNU

Both teams figure to be bottom feeders in their respective conferences. This game won’t do much to counter that opinion.

Duke at Wisconsin
9:30 p.m., ESPN

The headline game of the challenge is a top-four matchup between two teams with national championship aspirations. Duke has been great so far this season, but the young Blue Devils will have a major test against a Final Four-tested Badgers team that can match them at each position. One of the key matchups will be between the two All-America centers in Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky. Both have contrasting styles, Okafor with his post game and Kaminksy with his outside shooting. Also keep an eye on wing Justise Winslow, who has in some ways matched Okafor’s start to the season, against Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker.


Athlon Staff Picks

Game

David Fox

Braden Gall

Mitch Light

Nathan Rush

Nebraska at Florida State

Nebraska

Florida State

Nebraska

Florida State

Rutgers at Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Rutgers

Pittsburgh at Indiana

Pitt

Pitt

Pitt

Pitt

Minnesota at Wake Forest

Minnesota

Minnesota

Minnesota

Minnesota

Syracuse at Michigan

Michigan

Michigan

Michigan

Michigan

Illinois at Miami

Miami

Miami

Miami

Miami

NC State at Purdue

NC State

Purdue

Purdue

NC State

Ohio State at Louisville

Louisville

Ohio State

Louisville

Louisville

Michigan State at Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Michigan State

Michigan State

Michigan State

Virginia Tech at Penn State

Penn State

Penn State

Penn State

Penn State

Iowa at North Carolina

North Carolina

North Carolina

North Carolina

North Carolina

Virginia at Maryland

Virginia

Virginia

Virginia

Virginia

Georgia Tech at Northwestern

Northwestern

Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech

Northwestern

Duke at Wisconsin

Wisconsin

Wisconsin

Wisconsin

Duke

Final tally

ACC 9-5

Tie 7-7

Tie 7-7

ACC 8-6

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