Tonight marks the beginning of the 11th annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an early-season series of games pitting teams from two of college basketball’s best conferences against one other.
In the first 10 years of the challenge, the ACC has dominated, going 10-0 and winning 62 of the 97 games.
Penn State at Virginia
The Big Ten/ACC challenge tips off tonight with two of the conferences’ weaker teams.
Virginia, picked to finish 11th in the conference before the season started, has already lost to South Florida and Stanford this year.
Similarly, but perhaps more embarrassingly, the Nittany Lions have two losses of their own early in the season: an 80-69 loss to UNC Wilmington and a 63-60 loss to Tulane.
Neither team showcased in the challenge’s opening game will be a true testament to what each conference has to offer.
Wake Forest at No. 6 Purdue
Purdue, last season’s Big Ten Tournament champion, returns four of five starters, including preseason All-Conference forward Robbie Hummel.
The Demon Deacons, picked by the media in the preseason as the ACC’s sixth-best team, are led by sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu. After five games, Aminu is averaging 18.8 points and 11.2 rebounds.
Last week Purdue beat No. 9 Tennessee, proving its Top 10 ranking is no joke. The veteran Boilermakers are one of the best teams in the country.
Northwestern at North Carolina State
Northwestern’s preseason was marred with devastating injuries. Two Wildcat seniors, Jeff Ryan and Kevin Coble, were out for the season with ACL injuries before the team even began the year.
Despite its 5-0 record, NC State was picked before the season as the ACC’s worst team. It might struggle in this game, even with the injuries to the Wildcats. The record might be a bit misleading — the Wolfpack has knocked off Georgia State, Akron, Austin Peay, Auburn and New Orleans.
No. 21 Maryland at Indiana
After a disappointing showing in last week’s Maui Invitational, Maryland left Hawaii with more questions than answers.
The Terrapins lost to Cincinnati in the semifinals before falling again the following night at the hands of Wisconsin.
Greivis Vasquez, Maryland’s point guard and a member of the preseason All-ACC team, has been conspicuously ineffective so far this year, scoring only 11.2 points per game, fourth-best on the team.
Indiana’s freshman guard Maurice Creek is averaging more than 16 points a game and will look to lead the Hoosiers to an upset. At 3-3, Indiana already has half as many wins as it reached last season.
No. 2 Michigan State at No. 11 North Carolina
The marquee matchup of the challenge is a rematch of last year’s national championship game. Although the Tar Heels bested the Spartans in April, Carolina has vastly different personnel this year. Michigan State’s roster is basically intact.
The Spartans return defending Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas, who is averaging nearly 17 points per game. There’s no denying that Carolina is talented, but the Heels lack the experience of last year’s team that dominated Michigan State in the title game.
The Spartans will be looking for revenge and are much more fit to challenge the Tar Heels this time around.
Virginia Tech at Iowa
The Iowa Hawkeyes are likely the worst the Big Ten has to offer and, quite frankly, might be one of the worst teams in the entire country.
The Hawkeyes have already dropped four games this year: a 62-50 loss to Texas-San Antonio, a 52-50 loss to Duquesne, an 85-60 loss to Texas, and a 74-57 loss to Wichita State.
Virginia Tech and preseason All-Conference guard Malcolm Delaney, who is averaging 21.8 points per game, shouldn’t find the task too difficult. The Hokies are off to a 4-1 start.
No. 20 Illinois at No. 19 Clemson
Preseason All-ACC forward Trevor Booker leads Clemson in perhaps the most evenly matched contest of the challenge. Booker leads the Tigers in both scoring and rebounding.
The Tigers fell to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
Illinois returns three starters from last year’s team, which finished third in the conference, and has four players that average double-digit points.
With many of the other games having a clear favorite, the winner of this game could determine which conference will come out on top.
No. 22 Minnesota at Miami
Wednesday’s game will be the first ever meeting between these two schools.
Coach Tubby Smith has rejuvenated the Golden Gopher program and put it on the national radar, a place unfamiliar to Minnesota basketball. Led by senior guard Lawrence Westbrook, Minnesota has begun the season 4-2, including an 82-73 win over No. 12 Butler last week.
Miami has put together a fast start of its own, winning seven straight to start the season.
Boston College at No. 15 Michigan
Just like Duke, Boston College has never lost a game as a part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. However, the Golden Eagles have stumbled out of the gates, losing two of their first six games, including a 12-point loss to Northern Iowa last week.
Michigan’s Manny Harris nearly posted his second triple-double of the season in last week’s overtime victory over Creighton but finished one rebound short. He leads the Wolverines with 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
No. 7 Duke at Wisconsin
The Badgers and senior guard Trevon Hughes are coming off a third-place finish in last week’s Maui Invitational. After losing to Gonzaga in the semifinals, Wisconsin beat Maryland, an ACC team, in the consolation game.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, they will play a different class of ACC team Wednesday.
Duke has never lost a game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, boasting a 10-0 record. Along with preseason All-American Kyle Singler, the Blue Devils have four players that average double-digit points.
Florida State at No. 17 Ohio State
Ohio State’s Evan Turner has recorded two triple-doubles through six games.
Turner is averaging 19.8 points per game, but it is his rebounding numbers that garner the most attention. Through the Buckeyes’ first six games, the junior point guard is grabbing 12.8 rebounds a game, the third-highest average in the country.
Florida State is led by sophomore forward Chris Singleton, who averages 11.3 points per game. The Seminoles like to get the ball inside, something that could give the Buckeyes trouble if center Dallas Lauderdale gets into foul trouble.