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The Challenge Begins!

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Well you wait all year long and the night before you're just so excited you can't sleep.  Christmas? Heck no. We're talking ACC-Big Ten Challenge!

ACC-Big Ten Matchups!
Virginia @ Minnesota 7:00 ESPN2 BIG TEN
Ohio State vs. Florida State 7:30 ESPN BIG TEN
Georgia Tech @ Northwestern ESPN2 ACC
Iowa @ Wake Forest 7:00 ESPNU ACC
Michigan @ Clemson 9:00 ESPN2 ACC
UNC @ Illinois 9:30 ESPN BIG TEN
Indiana @ BC 7:15 ESPNU TOSSUP
NC State @ Wisconsin 7:15 ESPN2 BIG TEN
Purdue @ Virginia Tech 7:30 ESPN TOSSUP
Maryland @ Penn State 9:15 ESPN2 ACC
Michigan State @ Duke 9:30 ESPN ACC

It kicks off Monday with a game between Minnesota and Virginia, notable for, among other things, Ralph Sampson III facing off against his famous father's alma mater.  The Gophers will have a big size advantage.

Virginia is going to get better quickly.  They are well-coached, have a solid defensive system, and a lot of solid young players.  But they are young.

One major break for the 'Hoos:  Minnesota will be missing two starters (Al Nolen and Rodney Williams), although a third player, currently suspended, might turn up.

We don't think FSU has the inside game, or the offense, to knock off Ohio State, though we'd love to be wrong. After a weak performance against Florida, it's a chance for Chris Singleton to stake a claim against super frosh Jared Sullinger.

The Princeton offense specializes in making the other team rush, and there's really no candidate better for that this year than Georgia Tech. We're tempted to call it a setup.  Bill Carmody is a superb coach and Paul Hewitt...well, he's had one good year and that's about it.  Lots of talent, not much to show for it.

Still, it's a smallish, mobile team (unusually, Northwestern probably has a height advantage). We could see them winning, though, if they play smart, are patient, and don't cough the ball up.

Tall order, true.  On the other hand, though, it is a homecoming game for Iman Shumpert.

Northwestern has three primary scorers (John Shurna at 22.7, Drew Crawford at 20.7, and Michael Thompson at 13.3).

We are a bit surprised that they are averaging 82 ppg overall.  Not bad.   Tech by contrast is averaging just 70. Wow - interesting reversal. We never expected that.

Maybe we should reconsider this pick.

UNC at Illinois is a really interesting game.  In our opinion, Illinois should probably - probably - be favored.  They are a tough bunch, well coached, and pretty good defensively.

In Chapel Hill, Ol' Roy's coaching brilliance went on sabbatical about a year ago and hasn't been back since.  Arguably it started last year against Charleston and with a chance to reboot against Bobby Cremins' team this weekend, what happens?  Almost the same thing.

Still, UNC heads to Illinois with some unique weapons.  They have two of the best running big men around in Tyler Zeller and John Henson, one of the best freshmen in Harrison Barnes, and some talented players to surround them with.  We won't be surprised if Kendall Marshall I either starts or takes over for Larry Drew II, who hasn't exactly lit the world on fire.

We've asked this before and we'll ask it again, not that it matters: what would this team be like if Coach K ran it?

If UNC is going to win, they'll need a big game out of their frontcourt, but more importantly out of their guards.  Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Marshall, Drew, Reggie Bullock and Justin Watts can all do better. Some of them will need to.

We have absolutely no feel for Iowa at Wake.  So far, Iowa has alternated between winning and losing, and they lost their last game.  Will the pattern hold?

For new coach Fran McCaffery, it's a trip back to his first college as he started his college career at Wake before leaving for Penn.

Both coaches inherit programs which are messes although Wake wasn't bad last year.  Not good, mind you, just not bad.

Jeff Bzdelik has inherited a tough situation in a number of ways, but to borrow a catchphrase, WWDD? D being Dino.  It's a tough job right now for anyone, but Bzdelik deserves a chance to muddle through.

Clemson owes Michigan a bit of payback, and  a chance for Brad Brownell to definitively put his stamp on this program.  Toss in a Littlejohn crowd still smarting from the tough tournament loss in 2009 and it should be pretty intense.

If Brownell isn't the best (so far) of the three new coaches, it's BC's Steve Donahue.

Indiana is undefeated so far, but they've played nobody with the possible exception of Evansville.

Call it a hunch, but we have a feeling that Donahue is doing better than people realize and that his players are buying in.  He's got a chance to prove it this week and we think he will.  And if not, then soon enough.

State's going to have a very tough time with Wisconsin, always one of the bigger, stronger teams around.  No great surprise:  the Badgers have four guys over 6-10 and all of them are over 230.  State has no counter, least of all without Tracy Smith.  They do have a lot of speed and Scott Wood is a potential game changer from outside.  But other than Javi Gonzalez, the whole rotation is made up of freshmen and sophomores.  Seems a lot to ask.

With their loss to UNLV, Virginia Tech falls to 4-2 and a loss to Purdue would push them to 4-3.  So like UNC, there's a certain urgency to this game.  More so actually.  UNC will get in with a so-so record. Tech? Not lately.

Purdue of course lost to Richmond and is vulnerable.  They are also hard-nosed and rough, which makes for a good dance with the Hokies.  Both are in a spot, but Tech is at home so we'll take them.

We'd be shocked if Penn State beat Maryland.  Should. Not. Happen.  Even up there. We love Talor Battle, but still.  Maryland should win.

We'll deal with Duke and Michigan State later, but in case you hadn't noticed, we don't generally pick against the Devils.

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