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Looking at the Challenge

For the fourth time in four years, the ACC has won the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. However, this isn't quite as dominant as it looks; the ACC has only won 20 of 36 games, with 1 canceled due to ice. Then again, maybe it is, since both overtime games have been won by the Big Ten.

After four years, we can look at how well the different teams in the conference have carried their weight in the challenge. Only two teams, Duke and Wake Forest, are undefeated. Every ACC team except North Carolina has won at least one game. Here's how they stand:

Duke 4-0
Wake Forest 4-0
Clemson 3-1
NC State 3-1
Florida State 2-2
Maryland 2-2
Virginia 2-1
Georgia Tech 1-3
North Carolina 0-4

This year's challenge was very interesting, there were several exciting games. Maryland and Indiana played a game that ESPN should make an "Instant Classic," and the Minnesota-Georgia Tech game was also a nailbiter. With the challenge tied at 4 apiece, the Wake Forest at Wisconsin game had the extra tension of being the series decider.

However, looking more closely, this challenge did not show that the two conferences are close together in talent. If anything, the pairing in this year's challenge were as favorable as they could get. It was their year for five home games. Of the four ACC home games, the Duke-Ohio State and NC State-Northwestern games matched teams expected to finish significantly higher in the ACC than their Big Ten opponents. Iowa and Penn State, the other two teams to visit ACC land, were predicted to be tenth and eleventh in the Big Ten. It is easy to see why the ACC did not lose a home match.

Of the five games in the Big Ten, home court made a big difference in two: Indiana's overtime win over Maryland and Minnesota's one point win over Georgia Tech. Play them on true neutral courts, and they could go the other way. One more second in the Indiana game, and one more foot in the Tech game, and this year's series could have been 7-2.

One problem with the matchups is that the series is sticking to a format where each team gets one home and one road game in a two year pairing. While that may be "fair," it is the cause of some of these mismatches in the second year. If we were to waive that rule, and just say that the pairings will alternate annually, then you might be able to avoid some of the dogs, like UNC's visit to Illinois, or Northwestern visiting NC State. Sure, it may mean that a team ends up playing on the road in the challenge in successive years, but odds are that over time, that will even out. Had that system been in place this year, given the likely seedings (I'll use the TSN pre-season magazine) you'd have seen Duke at Michigan State, Indiana at Maryland, Virginia at Minnesota, Wisconsin at Georgia Tech, NC State at Ohio State, Illinois at North Carolina, Wake Forest at Northwestern, Iowa at Clemson, and Florida State at Penn State. Just a suggestion.

As fans of college basketball overall, it would be nice to see this kind of thing catch on. Can you image the SEC-Big Twelve challenge? Big East-Conference USA? College basketball would only benefit from this.