Six Top-25 teams are in action as the 2014-15 edition of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge wraps up later tonight. That’s a line up worthy of a Sweet 16 (except one… which might be a first round in the NIT… preseason NIT) with the marquee match-up pitting the fourth-ranked Duke Blue Devils traveling to take on the second-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
In other words, if you have not taken a moment or two to catch a couple of college basketball games this season, tonight would be the night to clear the calendar and find your favorite watering hole to get up to speed.
Besides the A-List games, the other drama will center around whether or not the ACC can erase a 2-6 mark so far in the Challenge or if the Big Ten can continue its domination of the series so far.The matchups are so close on paper it will be fascinating to watch these games unravel because one shot here or there could mean a sweep from either conference tonight.
So what do you need to know about tonight’s games? Here are previews of each contest and a little prediction on how the ball is going to bounce.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Wednesday, December 3
No. 19 Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (ND -3.0 / OU 137)
If any team has flown under the radar so far this season it is the Irish who are 6-1 in the young season. Notre Dame’s only loss came to the Providence Friars but their six wins have come against basically no one. In other words, this is the test to see if the fighting Mike Brey’s are a contender or a pretender this year.
Despite their competition, one has to be pretty impressed with the Irish who are tops in the nation in field-goal percentage at .580, 15th in assists per game at 17.9 and ninth in the country in scoring at 86.3 points per game. Notre Dame is average on defense and has shown that it is not a rebounding powerhouse which could be their demise against a very talented Michigan State squad.
The Spartans two losses have come against teams very similar to Notre Dame in the Duke and the Kansas Jayhawks. The Irish are at home and that should be enough to carry them over the top, 82-73.
Virginia Tech Hokies at Penn State Nittany Lions (PSU -8.5 / OU 138)
Not going to lie here. Does anyone outside of Hokie land or Happy Valley really care…
Neither team has played anyone. Tech has two losses while State has one. The game is at Penn State. Nittany Lions win 68-64.
Iowa Hawkeyes at No. 12 North Carolina Tar Heels (UNC -8.0 / OU 149.5)
This game just feels like UNC is about to throw up a less than stellar effort for some reason. North Carolina has responded amazingly with back-to-back impressive wins against the No. 22 UCLA Bruins and the No. 18 Florida Gators after losing to Butler, 74-66. But this team is still a work in progress and games like this one against an opponent like Iowa usually spell trouble.
Both Iowa and UNC defend well, block shots and share the ball better than anyone in the country.
Aaron White will have to have one of those special senior games if the Hawkeyes are going to pull off the upset. On the other side of the court, Marcus Paige has to score and establish his game early in the first half, not the second.
Tar Heels win a close one, 78-77.
No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers at No. 21 Maryland Terrapins (UVA -5.0 / OU 117)
Nothing better than a little old school ACC, bad-blood rivalry to kick off the second slate as Virginia travels up the interstate to battle Maryland. With both teams at 7-0, this has that Ralph Sampson versus Len Bias feel too it as well!
This is not going to be a pretty game. Go ahead and get ready for that tonight. But it is going to be a heavyweight battle. Maryland handed the then-No.5 Wahoos an upset loss in the second to last game of 2013-2014 conference play.
Maryland is much improved from last year’s team with significantly more firepower behind the arch, but neither primary ball handler (Melo Trimble and Dez Wells) is a true point guard; The Cavaliers return a complete roster, but miss Joe Harris’ shooting and leadership.
Virginia is the No. 1 team in the nation in points allowed giving up just 43.6 points per game. They rebound well on both ends and they shoot extremely well at 46%.
Meanwhile the Terps like to get up and down the court behind Trimble and Wells who are both averaging 16 points a game.
At the end of the day, defense always wins out. Especially when the defense is a good as what Virginia has this season. Cavs win, 58-52.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Northwestern Wildcats (NW -2.0 / OU 117.5)
This is going to be the sneaky game of the night folks. Both Tech and Northwestern have some pretty good players who hustle and provided well-rounded skill sets. Neither team has a superstar to carry them at this point but both play extremely well as a unit.
The winner of this one will be the one who makes their free throws.
Georgia Tech pulls out the win in double-OT, 71-68.
No. 4 Duke at No. 2 Wisconsin (WIS -4.0 / OU 136.5)
So this is the first game of the season that anyone can truly say is a potential National Championship preview.
Duke has a big man like no other in Jahlil Okafor, who leads the team in scoring with 17.7 per game to go along with the Devils’ patented three-point attack led by Quinn Cook, who is averaging 15.1 points per game.
The Blue Devils are third in scoring, second in assists and seventh is shooting in the nation on the season, and they are headed full speed towards the immovable object that is Wisconsin.
Yes, Wisconsin has its patented defense back near the top, giving up only 50.6 points per game. But unlike past seasons, Wisconsin has a group that can shoot just as well as they can defend, led by early NPOY-candidate big man Frank Kaminsky. The 7-0 forward is a handful and can score from anywhere on the court, but he is far from a one-man crew.
Kaminsky and Wisconsin are going to give the Blue Devils fits on their home court. Duke is as talented as any team they have every had in Durham, but they lack depth in the front court – especially depth that can handle a big-man like Kaminsky.
Look for Okafor to get a freshman orientation class from the Badgers’ front court all night long.
Wisconsin takes care of Duke, 73-64.
So if all that does unfold as ole Woody Smalls thinks, you will have had one incredible night of hoops action and the Big Ten will take the Challenge easily at 8-5.
You can PayPal me 10% of your winnings.
*Section Photo credit to Rich Schultz, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Mary Langenfeld, USA Today Sports