Anybody else tired on beating up on the Big Ten?Duke's lopsided victory over Michigan last weekend, coupled with the Blue Devils thumping of Illinois in Maui and the ACC's 8-3 triumph in the ninth annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge (or, as ESPN insisted on re-naming it, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge) leaves the ACC with a 10-3 edge against the league that is historically second-best (to the ACC) in NCAA Tournament performance.
The ACC has an 85-49 edge on the Big Ten over the last decade (184-133 alltime) and has now dominated the Challenge - whether you call it ACC/Big Ten or Big Ten/ACC - 56-30, winning all nine years that it's been played.
It's getting boring.
But don't despair - we can talk about two more conference vs. conference "Challenges" in the upcoming weeks and months. And both are more competitive.
I would argue that the ACC plays enough games with the Big East and the SEC this season to give us a true measure of the two leagues.
The ACC-Big East Challenge involves 18 (possibly 19, depending on one Christmas tournament) matchups between the two powerhouse leagues. It involves 10 different ACC teams and 13 different Big East teams. The ACC gets a slight homecourt advantage - six home games, four games on Big East Courts and eight (or nine) games on neutral courts.
The ACC-SEC Challenge isn't quite as extensive with 12 games involving seven ACC teams and eight SEC teams. But it is tougher for the ACC in one regard - just one of those 12 games will be played on an ACC homecourt. Nine will be on the road and two will be on neutral battlefields.
So far, the ACC enjoys a 5-4 edge in the unofficial ACC/Big East Challenge and a 5-3 edge in the ACC/SEC Challenge - an impressive record considering that six of the eight games played in that series have been on SEC homecourts (note: see summary of ACC-SEC and ACC-Big East matchups below).
But as much fun as the ACC vs. Big Ten or SEC or Big East Challenges prove to be, the really significant competition should be called the "BCS Challenge."
The six powerful leagues that run Division 1-A football are also the dominant powers in college basketball. These are the leagues that usually vie for national titles - the last non-BCS champion was UNLV in 1990 (and the last one before that was Texas Western in 1966; although current Big East member Marquette did win as an independent in 1977 and current Big East member Louisville did win two titles as a member of the Metro Conference in the 1980s).
More importantly, the BCS conferences are the ones that vie for multiple NCAA Tournament bids. Since 1990, the Big Ten has earned 193 NCAA bids, followed by the ACC and SEC (tied at 171 each), the Pac 10 (149), the Big East (141) and the Big 12 (137).
The next closest league to the six BCS powers?
That would be the Missouri Valley - with 85 bids over the same time period.
Through Monday's games, the ACC was the No. 1 conference in the RPI and had a slight lead over the Pac 10 in non-conference winning percentage. Actually the narrow margin between the ACC's 78-21 record (78.8 percent) and the Pack 10's 64-18 record (78.0 percent) is misleading since the Pac 10 has played just 24 games against its BCS rivals - while the ACC's has played 33 BCS games.
In the ongoing BCS Challenge, the standings (as of Dec. 11) are:
|2. Big 12||18-13||58.1|
|3. Big East||15-13||53.6|
|4. Pac 10||12-12||50.0|
|5. Big 10||12-20||37.5|
Those numbers could fluctuate a good deal in the next month, until the start of conference play. There's still a good deal of inter-conference competition coming up over the holidays.
But watching the progress of that "Challenge" is a lot more interesting than the ACC's lopsided duel with the Big Ten.
Unlike the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the BCS Challenge does have real impact. Over the years, success in that competition has translated - not directly, but in general terms - to success in obtaining NCAA bids.
It's way, WAY too early to start projecting the NCAA field (although that hasn't stopped the likes of Joe Lunardi from getting off to an early start), but we've played enough basketball to take a look at the ACC and re-evaluate the league in terms of NCAA chances.
Keep in mind, at this time last year, Virginia Tech was 6-3 with losses to Western Michigan, Southern Illinois and George Washington, while Virginia was just about to lose to Appalachian State and Utah in Puerto Rico. Both those teams turned around and ended up playing for the ACC regular season title on the last weekend - Virginia winning a share of the league title and VPI finishing a game back. Both earned NCAA bids. On the other hand, Clemson was still undefeated and was about to break into the top 25 - yet the Tigers ended up in the NIT.
So nothing is settled at this point. The best we can do is look at trends. Records against other BCS competition are added in parenthesis.
ON TRACK TO GET A HIGH SEED
North Carolina (2-0) - No surprise ... the nation's No. 1 team is clearly on track for a No. 1 seed. The road wins at Ohio State and at Kentucky will look good in March, especially if Billy Gillespie gets the Wildcats out of their current slide. BYU and Davidson are each likely to dominate their leagues, which will also help.
Duke (4-0) - Better than expected. Wins over Marquette, expected to be a contender in the Big East, and three Big Ten schools (Wisconsin and Illinois are thought to be middle-of-the-pack; Michigan an also-ran) all look good. Davidson won't hurt. New Mexico State and Eastern Kentucky, both expected to be contenders in their mid-major leagues, are not playing well at the moment. The upcoming game with Pitt, another Big East Contender, could make a big impact in March.
Clemson (3-0) - The Tigers have started hot again, but after the last two years, it's fair to maintain just a bit of skepticism. Clemson's three BCS wins are not that impressive - Purdue and South Carolina at home; the win at Ole Miss is only noteworthy because it was on the road. The Tigers get LaSalle, DePaul and Ole Miss in San Juan, which would help a lot and they have a New Year's Day trip to Alabama coming up ... Oliver Purnell's team has a chance to build a pretty solid non-conference resume.
Miami (2-0) - Picked to finish last in the ACC, the Hurricanes have been surprisingly impressive. A victory over Providence (expected to be a mid-level Big East team) in the finals of the Puerto Rico shootout looks good, better than a homecourt victory over rebuilding St. John's. In addition, Miami knocked off Virginia Commonwealth in the semis of that tournament. Duke fans know what a solid mid-major VCU is. The rest of the non-conference schedule is not too tough, especially after a game Thursday night at Mississippi State in the ACC-SEC Challenge, but the 'Canes have put themselves in position where an 8-8 ACC record might get them a bid.
Virginia (2-2) - Virginia's victory at Arizona is one of the ACC's strongest showings in the BCS Challenge. And it's easy to forgive last week's loss to Syracuse (a likely NCAA team) in a game where Sean Singletary was ill.
But what's the excuse for a November loss to Seton Hall on a neutral court in Philadelphia?
That one hurts. And the Cavs don't have many more chances to make an impression outside the league. Aside from a January 3 trip to Xavier (a strong mid-major), the Cavs will have to build their resume within the league.
Florida State (2-0) - The Seminoles have an impressive win over two-time defending national champion Florida in Gainesville, plus a solid win over Tubby Smith and Minnesota in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Unfortunately, they also have inexplicable losses to Cleveland State and South Florida. Those might not hurt too much if freshman big man Solomon Alabi (who missed those two games) emerges as a key force.
Still, for a team that has barely missed the field in each of the last two seasons, this is shaping up as a classic bubble team. Keep in mind, the win at Florida looks good - but FSU beat Florida a year ago when the 'Noles were much better, and it didn't get them in.
Boston College (1-1) - An overtime loss to Providence doesn't hurt too badly, but, there's little on the Eagles' non-conference resume to help much either.
The Eagles' best early win was at so-so Michigan. A homecourt victory over 10-1 Rhode Island could help if the Rams stay in the A-10 race.
BC does have one chance to score big in the BCS Challenge when Kansas visits Chestnut Hill Jan. 5. But without a victory over the Jayhawks, there's going to be a lot of pressure on the Eagles to finish above .500 in the ACC.
DIGGING A HOLE
N.C. State (2-1) - The Pack has fallen far and fast from an early top 25 ranking and a projected third-place finish in the ACC.
A victory over Villanova in Orlando is the one jewel on the N.C. State resume (it would help the Pack if South Carolina wound pull itself together), balanced by a homecourt loss to New Orleans, the first ACC loss in history to East Carolina and a horrific performance against Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The Pack's 4-3 record is worse than the 6-2 mark that last year's team posted at this time. Sidney Lowe can expect some improvement from his young point guards, but can he count on solving the chemistry issues up front?
Lowe has some softies coming up at home (Presbyterian, NCCU, Western Carolina), but he's also got a home game with dangerous Davidson ahead, as well as a road game at Seton Hall. Unless this team turns things around quickly, Lowe could find himself back in the NIT again.
Georgia Tech (1-2) - If anything, the Jackets are in a deeper hole than the Wolfpack. Four losses so far, including that horrific opening-night loss at home to UNC Greensboro (which is 2-4 since that game). A one-point victory over Notre Dame looks good and a five-point win over Charlotte isn't bad, but those two bright spots are squeezed around a loss to Winthrop (which is rebuilding this year).
The close loss at Indiana showed that Paul Hewitt has some talent, but the Jackets had better start showing it soon. They get Kansas in the Thrillerdome next week, then have future road games at Georgia and at UConn.
Georgia Tech still has time to turn it around, but it better start soon.
Maryland (1-2) - Nothing really bad on the resume (at least not until that homecourt loss to Boston College in last Sunday night's ACC opener).
A homecourt victory over Illinois was solid - but followed by a loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the BB&T Classic at the MCI Center in Washington.
A neutral court loss to UCLA was no big blemish and the followup loss to Missouri was more a missed opportunity than a real black mark. But the Terps have been shaky against some less-than-impressive opponents and a string of homecourt wins over the likes of North Florida, Northeastern, Hampton, Lehigh and Morgan State won't impress the selection committee. There's not much on the horizon - a game at Charlotte is far and away the toughest non-conference test for the Terps.
This team is going to need to finish well above .500 in the ACC to even think about earning an NCAA bid.
Virginia Tech (0-1) - Pretty much the same early December record as last year.
The Hokies actually came very close to picking up some nice wins in Alaska, losing to Butler in overtime (after freshman Jeff Allen missed a game-winning free throw in regulation). The Butler loss and the next night's loss to Gonzaga in the consolation game aren't too bad (both mid-major powers are likely NCAA Tournament teams), but what the heck happened at Penn State? I know it was on the road, but a loss to the Big Ten basement-dweller is going to hurt in March.
There really aren't any resume wins in VPI's record (the George Washington win looks good until you note that GW is under .500) and there aren't any real chances to impress the selection committee coming up. Like Maryland, this team needs to finish above .500 in the ACC to think about an NCAA bid.
Wake Forest (1-2) - Everybody is pulling for the Deacs in the wake of the Skip Prosser tragedy, but all the good wishes in the world can't make up for a lousy resume.
The best Wake win so far was at Iowa - unfortunately, the Hawkeyes have lost five of the last seven games and appear headed down to keep Penn State company in the Big Ten basement.
Balanced against that one "decent" win are road losses to Vandy, which is pretty good, and Georgia and Charlotte, which look to be pretty mediocre.
It's not that Wake Forest has the negatives on its resume which will haunt N.C. State, but there's nothing to catch the committee's eye either. The Deacs do have a chance to post some decent wins in the coming weeks with Air Force (not quite as good this year as the last few years) and BYU (a strong mid-major) visiting Winston-Salem.
But the Deacons look like a team that needs to be better than .500 in conference play to put itself in NCAA consideration.
Although last Saturday's Duke-Michigan game was a lopsided rout, it was still good to see the two schools renew a historically great rivalry.
Duke and Michigan have been playing on a fairly regular basis since December of 1963, when a Blue Devil team that was ranked No. 8 nationally and boasted All-American Jeff Mullins (and future All-American Jack Marin) took on a Wolverine team led by sophomore phenom Cazzie Russell that was ranked No. 3 in the nation.
Michigan won that first game in Ann Arbor, 83-67, as Russell poured in 21 points and 15 rebounds, while big man Bill Buntin added 14 points and 18 rebounds.
But the same two teams met in the Final Four that year and Duke, getting an outstanding game from center Jay Buckley, pulled out a 91-80 triumph that propelled the Devils into their first national title game.
The twin games in the 1963-64 season inspired Duke coach Vic Bubas and Michigan coach Dave Strack to extend the home-and-home series. The Wolverines, ranked No. 1 in the nation, started the series off with an 86-79 victory in Duke Indoor Stadium, but a year later, No. 1 Duke - fresh off its back-to-back triumphs over UCLA - evened the series again with a spectacular come from behind, overtime victory in Detroit's Cobo Hall - keyed by a 27-point explosion by junior Bob Verga.
In December of 1969, the original series ended with Duke's Randy Denton outplaying Michigan All-American Rudy Tomjanovich in Ann Arbor. The Blue Devils' 73-68 victory gave Duke a 6-3 edge in the early matchups.
The two teams took a break until December of 1989.
Duke and Michigan had both reached the 1989 Final Four in Seattle with Michigan claiming the title. Coach Steve Fisher returned four starters off that team (missing only Final Four MVP Glen Rice) when Duke visited Ann Arbor. No. 8 Michigan pulled out a 113-108 victory in overtime, but the play of freshman point guard Bobby Hurley, who held his own in a head-to-head confrontation with Michigan veteran Rumeal Robinson, was the first real indication that Hurley was special.
The Duke-Michigan series continued on a home and home basis throughout the 1990s. The highlight was probably 1991-92. No. 1 Duke visited Ann Arbor in December of that year and won a thrilling 88-85 overtime victory over the young Wolverines. In many ways, that was the national coming out party for the Fab Five.
Those five Michigan freshmen were all starting when Duke and Michigan met in the national title game later that season. The Fab Five led at the half, but Duke blew the game open in the final minutes and won going away, 71-51, to give Mike Krzyzewski his second straight national title.
The title game was marked by some boastful remarks by the brash young Michigan players, which led to Duke players donning tee-shirts after the final horn that read, "You can talk the game. Can you play the game? ... We can play."
Amazingly, the Michigan players were even more outspoken the next December when they finished Cameron as the nation's No. 1 team. "I pity Duke," Juwan Howard boasted and Jalen Rose told TV reporters they were going to rout Duke, then dance on the logo at midcourt.
Hurley didn't let that happen. His 20 points, five assists and just one turnover in 40 minutes led Duke to a solid 79-68 win. That was the last time that the entire Fab Five was together to meet the Devils, but four members were left (minus Chris Webber) when Duke beat Michigan tin Ann Arbor the next December and two (minus Howard and Rose) were still left when Duke completed a 5-0 sweep of the No-So-Fab Five.
Of course, Michigan's decision to hire Tommy Amaker temporarily killed the rivalry. Only after he was dismissed last spring did Krzyzewski call new coach John Beilein and suggest they renew the competition..
That proves that Krzyzewski has a sense of history. Duke-Michigan has long been one of the nation's premier inter-conference rivalries and, despite the lopsided nature of last Saturday's series renewal, it will be so again.
Historically, I'd rank Duke's non-ACC rivalries this way:
- Duke-Michigan. First meeting, 1963-64. Duke leads 17-7
- Duke-Davidson. First meeting, 1909. Duke leads 85-17. Note: Former Southern Conference rivals, but the rivalry reached its peak in the 1960s, when Duke grad Lefty Driesell was at Davidson. But Duke has won 21 straight, taking some of the edge off the rivalry.
- Duke-Princeton. First meeting, 1936. Duke leads 17-1. Note: The record is lopsided, but it doesn't show Princeton's greatest victory over Duke - stealing Bill Bradley, who had signed a grant-in-aid to play with Duke. That loss probably cost the Blue Devils at least two, maybe three, national titles. Also, Princeton is the first visitor to play in Duke Indoor Stadium.
- Duke vs. the Big Five. First meeting, Duke-Villanova, 1931. Duke leads 45-18 (7-3 vs. Villanova; 16-9 vs. Temple; 8-6 vs. Penn; 10-0 vs. St. Joseph;s; 4-0 vs. LaSalle). Note: A lot of connections with the Philly schools, dating back to the days when Pennsylvania was Duke's most fertile recruiting grounds. A few highlights include Temple's 1951 visit to Duke - the first integrated team to play at Cameron; Duke's dramatic come-from-behind victory over Penn in the 1978 East Regional semifinals; Duke's first NCAA Tournament game - a one-point loss to Villanova in 1955; and Jeff Mullins' 40-point NCAA explosion against Villanova in the 1964 East Regional semifinals. It's also noteworthy that the series was fairly even until Bill Foster landed Philly star Gene Banks. Duke went 8-0 against the Big Five with Banks and has gone 27-1 since landing the West Philadelphia High star.
- Duke-Kentucky. First meeting, 1930. Kentucky leads, 11-8. Notes: Duke won the first meeting in the 1930 South Conference Tournament, but the Wildcats won 10 of the next 11, culminating in the 1978 NCAA title game. But two years later, Duke opened the season with a victory over the 'Cats in the first-even Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in Springfield, Mass., then repeated the victory on Kentucky's home floor in the 1980 NCAA Tournament. Duke has won six of the last seven meetings, including the 1992 East Regional title game, picked by ESPN as the greatest college game ever played. The last meeting wasn't bad either as Jason Williams sparked a 22-point second half comeback in a 95-92 overtime victory at the Meadowlands.
ACC-Big East Challenge
1. Miami d. Providence, 64-58 (n)
2. Georgia Tech d. Notre Dame, 70-69 (n)
3. South Florida d. Florida State, 68-67 (n)
4. Duke d. Marquette, 77-73 (n)
5. N.C. State d. Villanova, 69-68 (n)
6. Seton Hall d. Virginia, 74-60 (n)
7. Providence d. Boston College, 98-89 ot (h)
8. Miami d. St. Johns, 66-47 (h)
9. Syracuse d. Virginia, 70-68 (h)
ACC LEADS 5-4
Still to come:
10. UNC at Rutgers, Dec. 16
11. South Florida at Wake Forest, Dec. 19
12. Duke-Pittsburgh, Dec. 20 (n)
13. Clemson-DePaul, Dec. 21 (n)
14. Florida State at Providence, Dec. 22
15. Cincinnati at N.C. State, Dec. 23
16. N.C. State at Seton Hall, Dec. 27
17. Georgia Tech at UConn, Feb. 9
18. St. Johns at Duke, Feb. 23
(also possible: Virginia Tech at St. Johns, Dec. 29)
1. Clemson d. Mississippi State, 84-82 @
2. N.C. State d. South Carolina, 63-61 (n)
3. Florida State d. Florida, 65-51 @
4. North Carolina d. Kentucky, 86-77 @
5. Vanderbilt d. Georgia Tech, 92-79 @
6. Clemson d. South Carolina, 85-74 (h)
7. Vanderbilt d. Wake Forest, 83-80 @
8. Georgia d. Wake Forest, xx-xx @
ACC LEADS 5-3
Still to come:
9. Miami at Mississippi State, Dec. 13
10. Clemson-Mississippi, Dec. 22 (n)
11. Clemson at Alabama, Jan. 1
12. Georgia Tech at Georgia, Jan. 9