Everything is lined up for the latest edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with its 14 matchups announced well before the release of full team schedules. This does not bode well for the ACC’s reputation, blemished for more than a decade by its slump in the series, a trend likely to continue this season.
Last year two December games in the series, NC State at Michigan and Michigan State at Virginia, were postponed due to Covid-19. Permanently, as it turned out.
Late in the season another outbreak of the virus within the UVa program caused the Cavs to forfeit a semifinal matchup with Georgia Tech, the eventual champion, in the ACC Tournament.
The Cavs now hold the record for most unfulfilled dates in the Challenge, with two.
Besides last year’s scrubout, their 2001 game with Michigan State at Richmond was called off due to a dangerously wet playing surface. (Interestingly, a recent UVa media guide managed to avoid any mention of the abortive MSU clash in the section listing all-time annual results. That has a certain logic: No result, no recognition.)
The current Challenge series with the Big Ten is a successor to the nearly forgotten ACC-Big East Challenge, a then-novel set of matches between power conference teams that lasted only three seasons: 1989-90, 1990-91, and 1991-92. (The ACC now includes three basketball-playing members of the Big East from those days: BC, Pitt, and Syracuse.)
“In the past, December has tended to be a dull month,” said Mike Krzyzewski in 1989. “But people have been talking about this challenge series all summer. And, if one of the leagues should dominate, there will be a lot of fans blowing smoke at the other league for a while.”
Actually, when Krzyzewski took the Duke reins in 1980-81, the Blue Devils were annual participants in the early December Big Four Tournament, along with UNC, NC State and Wake Forest.
The two-day event at Greensboro, played annually from 1970-71 through 1980-81, matched the ACC’s North Carolina members. Carolina’s Dean Smith was most outspoken in decrying the heavy competitive lift so early in the season.
Similar coaching gripes later caused the demise of the ACC-Big East Challenge. That event, since replicated by several other leagues, expired after coaches from the Big East, led by Georgetown’s John Thompson, lobbied to kill the nationally televised tests.
By 1999 the ACC arranged to take on the Big Ten instead.
The attention commanded by this series waxes and wanes, especially now that the leagues’ women and several other conference clashes, from the Big 12-SEC to the MAAC-ASUN leagues, crowd public awareness.
The Blue Devils had won eight in a row in the men’s challenge, then lost to Illinois at Cameron in December 2020. It was Duke’s first loss at home in the series against nine wins.
The Devils have appeared in every Challenge to date. Florida State, North Carolina, and Virginia also were scheduled to appear in every edition. Each year, due to an imbalance in membership, one of the more numerous ACC squads sits out, usually the likeliest straggler and/or the team with the worst record the preceding season.
The ACC came out ahead in the first 10 editions of the Challenge, but hasn’t done much since, winning only two of the 11 most recent faceoffs (2016-17, 2017-18) and three of the last 13 since 2008-09.
One might conclude based on this slim evidence the ACC’s prowess has receded even as it added new members to go from 9 to 15 beginning in 2004.
The Big Ten, or B1G if you prefer (the Midwestern league does), was 7-5 in 2020-21. The ACC still leads overall 12-7-3, with ACC members holding an overall 138-113 edge.
Only two Big Ten members have winning records in the event, the best Purdue at 11-9 (.579). The top-ten Boilermakers, already victors over UNC, visit Florida State on Nov. 30, the same night Duke travels to Ohio State.
Of 16 schools – counting Maryland — that represented the ACC in the Challenge, eight (.500) have winning records. Duke leads all teams in both leagues with an .864 winning percentage (19-3). Surprisingly, Wake is the second-most successful participant at .667.
Results in ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Alias Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Since 1999
(Games Monday, Nov. 29 Through Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021)
|BC||7-6||On sabbatical||@ Minnesota (W)||NA|
|Clemson||12-9||@ Rutgers||Maryland (W)||Tues|
|Duke||19-3||@ Ohio State||Illinois (L)||Tues|
|Florida St.||10-12||@ Purdue||Indiana (W)||Tues|
|Ga. Tech||9-11||Wisconsin||Nebraska (W)||Wed|
|Louisville||4-3||@ Michigan St.||Wisconsin (W)||Wed|
|Miami||8-6||@ Penn St.||Purdue (W)||Wed|
|N. Carolina||10-12||Michigan||Iowa (L)||Wed|
|NC State||8-12||Nebraska||Michigan (postponed)||Wed|
|N. Dame||4-4||@Illinois||Ohio State (W)||Mon|
|Virginia||13-7||Iowa||Mich State (postponed)||Mon|
|Va. Tech||5-9||@ Maryland||Penn State (L)||Wed|
|Maryland 11-11, 1-6 in Big 10 (Left ACC prior to 2014 Challenge)|