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ACC Roundup - 2-0 In The Challenge So Far

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Maryland did what Maryland does best and blew it.

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NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Virginia
Nov 27, 2017; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Brad Davison (34) is fouled by Virginia Cavaliers guard Devon Hall (0) while shooting the ball as Cavaliers forward Isaiah Wilkins (21) blocks the shot in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena. Davison was injured on the play, and the Cavaliers won 49-37.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a bit surprising to realize, but we barely keep up with Maryland anymore. Other than former Blue Devil Sean Obi, we don’t know much about their roster at all. We were surprised to see more international players there than DMV guys. Turgeon may have some really good international guys but Lefty’s Truth is still true: the dominant team in the DC area should get its pick, year in and year out, from one of the nation’s great talent beds. So that’s a bit odd and might concern us if they were still an ACC team. For what it’s worth, earlier Monday the Top 25 was released. From the ACC, Duke, Notre Dame, UNC, Miami, Louisville and Virginia are ranked. And Maryland? A single vote in the AP.

We see periodic woofs online from Maryland fans about how much they hate Duke, but big whoop. Take a number. Everyone hates Duke. Right about now Florida and Texas really hate Duke. So what if Terp fans have an endless, unresolvable rage? The teams could meet in the tournament at some point but even if Maryland got a cathartic win, they’d just go back to road games to Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers. It can’t be a lot of fun.

To cut to the chase, we didn’t fully know what to expect against Syracuse in the first game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Monday night.

In the ACC we’ve got terms like Clemsoning (which the Tigers are working hard to leave behind) and the general sense that for NC State, things will go wrong somehow. It’s generally just called an NC State thing or NC State stuff.

So it’s interesting to see that in the Big Ten, Maryland is still Maryland and is still, well, Marylanding.

Marylanding can be defined as either a talent for the epic choke or an inability to come through in the clutch.

Maryland overcame it briefly with Gary Williams and the brilliant backcourt of Steve Blake and Juan Dixon, but Williams slipped badly after his stars left and retired under pressure. And under Turgeon, it’s been right back to it. And so it happened again in the Carrier Dome Monday night.

Syracuse was forced to play with a limited Tyus Battle (back) and hit just 16.7% from behind the line. Yet when the game was as tight as Battle’s back, somehow Maryland left him alone in the left corner and he hit a clutch three to put Syracuse up 68-66.

As if Dean Smith himself had written the script, Battle then got a steal with :32 seconds left and hit two foul shots. Then Frank Howard picked off Maryland again with :18 left.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter made a three to cut it 70-69 (Huerter has amazing range by the way) but then, again like the script was written by El Deano, Battle, battling his back, broke loose on the inbounds and beat everyone downcourt for a dunk and the final score.

Marylanding!

Incidentally, Maryland has never won as a Big Ten competitor in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

There’s not a (printable) term for what Virginia does but basically the Cavaliers just frustrate the hell out of everyone they play. Wisconsin had some inkling of what to expect, really, since Dick Bennett, father of Virginia coach Tony, taught him the basics of his system which once led Wisconsin to a Final Four and lost to Michigan State 53-41. His team held the scores so low that people were actively muttering about legislating against his style.

Well it still works.

Wisconsin is a bit off its recent greatness but the Badgers are still a team to be reckoned with. Virginia won 49-37. Wisconsin’s leading scorer, Ethan Happ, had 14. Teammate D'Mitrik Trice had 10. That leaves 13 points for the rest of the team.

We talked about a picture from last year’s (we think) Virginia-Harvard game with a Harvard player almost in tears next to coach Tommy Amaker. If there’s a term for what Virginia does, that picture really encapsulated it.

With the two wins, the ACC moves out to an early lead. What about Tuesday’s games?

Here’s what’s on tap:

  • Northwestern at Georgia Tech
  • Florida State at Rutgers
  • Louisville at Purdue
  • Illinois at Wake Forest
  • Iowa at Virginia Tech

Normally we wouldn’t say that a Challenge game is critical - the event is for bragging rights and not much more - but Northwestern could use a win. Georgia Tech could use Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson but in the short term they have an outstanding center in Ben Lammers and a wonderfully promising point guard in Jose Alvarado. If you want an analagous player, he’s somewhat like Joel Berry and Steve Blake. He’s not hugely athletic but the kid has heart and guts. We like him a lot, if you couldn’t tell.

Tech has a shot here but it won't be easy, not least of all because Northwestern will be very motivated and not far from being a bit desperate. And if you’ve read here for long, you know that we think a desperate team is highly dangerous. And Chris Collins has proved he’s a tremendous coach and motivator.

We can’t see Rutgers beating FSU unless the Seminoles play down to Rutger’s level, something they do do at times, sadly. Not tonight though.

Louisville and Purdue is probably the game of the night. A lot of people will favor Purdue and the Boilermakers are playing at home. We’ve never been fans though. The nickname is goofy, Purdue Pete is the ugliest mascot this side of Wichita and Gene Keady took the legacy of Rick Mount and turned Purdue basketball into what you might call the little brother of football.

It continues with Matt Painter. Aside from near-Deac Lucas Haas (who bailed on his commitment when Jeff Bzdelik was let go/resigned/whatever happened) who is 7-2 and 290, Purdue also has 7-3, 250 lb. Matt Haarms, a kid from Holland who we’re guessing is not the Flying Dutchman, and 6-10, 240 lb. Jacquil Taylor.

There was a time when Purdue basketball recruited Mad Bombers and Purdue football really aired it out.

Purdue sports were fun, in other words. Now it’s methodical and boring and we hope Louisville runs past them.

At least with Virginia you get the thrill of seeing if the Cavaliers can totally break a team.

Brad Underwood is a talented coach and his teams so far have a reputation for being hard-nosed. It’s his first November at Illinois though and what do we see so far? A win over Southern (Duke nods), a very narrow win over UT-Martin, a nine-pointer over sad sack DePaul, now 2-4 and coached by the joyless Dave Leitao who previously drained the life out of Virginia basketball, a 91-74 win over Marshall, a meaningless win over D III Augustana, and most recently an 86-73 win over NCCU (Central’s next opponent is listed as Christendom. Who the heck schedules a whole religion?)

Underwood might as well be called the Undertaker. His teams are tough, focused and out to bury you. We don’t know how far along he is with the Illini, but he’s good and we we expect Illinois will be soon enough.

And Wake? The Deacs have struggled mightily this season. They have some talent but don’t play defense well and haven’t played well together. Bryant Crawford should be on his way to stardom but he has always struggled with his confidence. And we have a sneaking suspicion that Keyshawn Woods may not be a great teammate.

It’ll be tough for Wake to pull this one out.

Like Purdue, we used to enjoy Iowa basketball. Under Lute Olson, the Hawkeyes played a beautiful game. Under Dr. Tom Davis, they pressed and ran without fail. Those teams were fun to watch and likable.

Fran McCaffrey is not likable. We don’t actively pull against many people - we don’t even necessarily pull against Roy Williams. We respect his incredible journey from a very tough background to the pinnacle of his sport. Every time we see him drink a Coke we realize that he’s consciously taking a different path than his alcoholic father took. And the man at least has a sense of humor, even if it sometimes gets a bit dark. We’re waiting for suicide jokes following the Michigan State debacle.

But McCaffrey? Presumably he has good qualities. All we get from this distance is anger and rage though. He’s a bit like Bob Knight, only without the charm and brilliance and humor.

Aside from the basic reasons to dislike him there’s Adam Woodbury, who kept poking people in the eye. Here he goes after two Wisconsin players. McCaffrey defended him but when you see this, there’s no particular reason for his hands to be near anyone’s eyes, and really no reason for his fingers to be spread.

The Hokies are a real team now, with lots of offensive talent. They are a bit on the small side, true, but we think Buzz Williams prefers that. It’s a fun team to watch and we don’t think Iowa can keep up.

So we think the ACC comes out of Tuesday with at least three wins.

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