2019 Big Ten/ACC Challenge Preview
The 21st edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge kicks off in Champaign, Illinois, on Monday night. The yearly challenge between the two powerhouse conferences always makes for one of the college basketball season’s biggest spectacles, and with both the ACC and Big Ten full of starpower, this year should be no different. All 14 Big Ten teams and 14 of 15 ACC teams will go head-to-head (Virginia Tech is the odd team out this year) in order to decide which conference is superior. The ACC leads the all-time series 12-5-3, but will it come out on top this year following last year’s 7-7 tie? Or will the Big Ten reclaim victory for the first time since 2015? Let’s break down each game and find out which conference will emerge victorious by the time the challenge ends late Wednesday night.
Miami (4-3) at Illinois (6-1)
Expected to be the Big Ten’s most improved team from last year, Illinois has lived up to expectations so far with an impressive 6-1 start. Powered by dynamic underclassmen Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, the Fighting Illini rank fourth in the nation in points per game. Miami, meanwhile, has not been nearly as remarkable. The Hurricanes have struggled recently, posting consecutive losses of 20 and 25 points to Florida and UConn, respectively. It’s unlikely that they perform this poorly for the third straight outing, but it’s hard to see them pulling off the road upset against a hot Illinois team.
Prediction: Illinois 80, Miami 68
Clemson (5-2) at Minnesota (3-4)
It’s been a rough start to the season for Minnesota, which is 3-4 after dropping close contests to Oklahoma, Utah, Butler and DePaul. The departures of Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey from last year’s tournament team are clearly hurting the Golden Gophers. Clemson, meanwhile, is looking to return to the postseason after narrowly missing it last year. They’ll want to build their tournament résumé early. After whiffing on taking down undefeated Colorado last week, the Tigers will get another crack at a non-conference Power Five victory away from home on Monday. They’ll get that résumé-boosting win by taking down Minnesota in a close one.
Prediction: Clemson 70, Minnesota 67
Northwestern (3-3) at Boston College (4-4)
Northwestern seems to be in for a rough season. Early home losses to Merrimack and Radford have made it clear that the Wildcats are just too inexperienced to compete in a crowded Big Ten field. Boston College doesn’t appear to be much better off, as the Eagles have lost four of their last five, including double-digit home losses to Belmont and Saint Louis. There’s a good chance that both of these teams finish in last place in each of their respective conferences. The difference maker in this one will be Boston College senior Derryck Thornton, whose 16.4 points per game ranks eighth in the conference. The Eagles bring home another close victory for the ACC.
Prediction: Boston College 65, Northwestern 60
Iowa (5-2) at Syracuse (4-3)
Syracuse could be entering unfamiliar territory. Jim Boeheim is working with perhaps his least talented team in years, as only senior Elijah Hughes has proven to be a major factor. Consecutive 14-point and 21-point losses to Oklahoma State and Penn State in the NIT Season Tip-Off have the Orange on a downward trajectory. Their opponent, Iowa, has been a bit more up and down. A 15-point home loss to DePaul left a sizable pockmark on the Hawkeyes’ résumé, but an 11-point win over Texas Tech has seemed to clear that right up. Iowa snags another big non-conference victory here, leaving Syracuse searching for its identity after three straight losses.
Prediction: Iowa 72, Syracuse 64
Michigan (7-0) at Louisville (7-0)
Duke-Michigan State may grab the headlines, but this is truly the best game of the challenge. In its first season under new head coach Juwan Howard, Michigan has gotten off to a rocket start with consecutive wins over two top-10 teams. The Wolverines will put their unblemished record on the line against Louisville, which has been similarly dominant. Jordan Nwora is already making his case for the Wooden Award, as the junior is averaging 21.9 points per game and is shooting just below 50% from beyond the arc. This rematch of the 2013 NCAA Tournament title game ends in similar fashion: Both teams play extraordinary basketball for two halves, and the Cardinals pull away in the closing minutes to remain unbeaten.
Prediction: Louisville 79, Michigan 73
Florida State (7-1) at Indiana (7-0)
This matchup will be overshadowed by other more attention-grabbing games on Tuesday night, but fans looking for an exciting, under-the-radar game should keep an eye on this one. After narrowly missing a spot in the AP Poll last week, Florida State will jump into the rankings for the first time this season, as the Seminoles are riding a seven-game win streak that includes victories over Florida, Tennessee and Purdue. Indiana has also impressed, starting its season 7-0. Although the Hoosiers haven’t really been tested yet, they have won their first seven games by an average of 23 points. They very well could make it eight straight to start the year, but the edge here goes to the more battle-tested Seminoles.
Prediction: Florida State 74, Indiana 70
Rutgers (6-1) at Pittsburgh (6-2)
These two have been notorious for being the doormats of their respective conferences in recent years, but things seem to be looking up for both teams. Pittsburgh earned its first road win in nearly three years earlier this season and has already recorded two solid victories over Florida State and Kansas State, and Rutgers is 6-1 to start the season for the third time under head coach Steve Pikiell. Neither team has a true standout player (the closest would be Pittsburgh’s Xavier Johnson), but what both teams do have is a young, growing roster that could cause trouble in the future with some more experience. The slight advantage here goes to the home team, as the Panthers edge out the Scarlet Knights in yet another close contest.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 63, Rutgers 59
Duke (7-1) at Michigan State (5-2)
Perhaps the top two preseason candidates for the 2020 NCAA Tournament title, Duke and Michigan State alike have already seen shocking upsets early on. The Spartans were upset in the first round of the Maui Invitational by Virginia Tech, while the Blue Devils were stunned at home by Stephen F. Austin. Despite these results, Michigan State and Duke are likely to remain as top-15 teams in the next AP Poll and should stay that way for much of the 2019-20 season. With explosive stars like Vernon Carey Jr. and Cassius Winston taking the floor, expect a good one in the Breslin Center on Tuesday, with the home team squeaking out a high-scoring victory over the Blue Devils.
Prediction: Michigan State 83, Duke 79
Virginia (7-0) at Purdue (4-3)
Fans of low-scoring, grind-it-out basketball, this one’s for you. By this point, it’s become well-known that Virginia’s stifling defense is second to none. The Cavaliers have cemented that reputation by allowing an average of just 40 points per game through their first seven contests. The issue for Virginia is that it has yet to put up more than 65 in a single match. If Purdue can figure out a way to score consistently, it could spell trouble for the Cavaliers. That’s easier said than done though, especially for a Boilermakers team that has come up short on a handful of occasions against other quality teams. Purdue gives a good fight, but Virginia proves to be too much for the Boilermakers to handle.
Prediction: Virginia 55, Purdue 49
Nebraska (4-3) at Georgia Tech (3-2)
Georgia Tech has been one of the ACC’s more pleasant surprises. Predicted to finish 12th in the conference in the preseason poll, the Yellow Jackets have played well so far, earning a big road win over NC State at the start of the season and taking good Georgia and Arkansas teams to the wire last week. Nebraska, meanwhile, has been the opposite. The Cornhuskers have disappointed supremely in their first season under new head coach Fred Hoiberg, falling to UC Riverside and Southern Utah at home. They could give Northwestern a fight for last place in the Big Ten. With all that considered, it’s clear that Georgia Tech wins this one without much struggle.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 75, Nebraska 61
Notre Dame (6-1) at Maryland (8-0)
After years of high expectations and disappointing results, Maryland has given fans reason to believe that this season is different. The Terrapins have largely rolled through their first eight outings, thanks in no small part to the dynamic duo of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, both of whom are averaging over 13 points per game. Notre Dame has been a bit shakier, as close calls against Toledo and Presbyterian have left fans wondering if the Fighting Irish are for real. A 6-1 record is certainly nothing to ignore, but a deeper look at these two reveals that the Irish are outmatched by the Terps. The Big Ten takes home a big win in College Park on Wednesday.
Prediction: Maryland 76, Notre Dame 66
Wisconsin (4-3) at NC State (5-2)
In just seven games, Wisconsin has already had a rollercoaster of a season, featuring previous highs such as downing in-state rival Marquette by 16, as well as recent lows like the Badgers’ 0-2 performance in last week’s Legends Classic. NC State’s 5-2 record is a bit more respectable, though it has come against one of the weakest schedules in all of Division I, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. Both teams had March Madness aspirations entering the season, but neither one has proven itself as a true contender yet. As such, this one’s a tossup. We’ll give the slight edge to the Badgers, which desperately need this win in order to avoid collapse, but the Wolfpack could just as easily come out victorious.
Prediction: Wisconsin 68, NC State 64
Wake Forest (5-3) at Penn State (6-1)
The matchups within the Big Ten/ACC Challenge almost always produce a relatively even result, but it’s hard to see that being the case here. Penn State is miles ahead of Wake Forest in nearly every department, and with senior stars Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens on the roster, it’s not difficult to see why. Wake Forest may be 5-3 at the moment, but with an underdeveloped roster, a tough ACC schedule and a coach that should have been fired ages ago in Danny Manning, that record is not going to last. The Nittany Lions just handed Syracuse a 21-point loss in a virtual road game. The result of this one could be even uglier with the home atmosphere.
Prediction: Penn State 83, Wake Forest 61
Ohio State (7-0) at North Carolina (6-1)
The Big Ten/ACC Challenge closes out with a bang, as undefeated Ohio State clashes with North Carolina. Perhaps no team has been more impressive this season than the Buckeyes. Outside of an eight-point victory over Cincinnati on opening night, Ohio State has defeated every opponent that it’s faced by at least 19 points. North Carolina, led by freshman sensation Cole Anthony, has the chance to hand Ohio State its first loss of the season, but it won’t be easy. The Buckeyes defense has been lights out both in the paint and beyond the arc. The Tar Heels will have to be crafty in order to score. In the final game of the challenge, the Buckeyes snag a massive win in Chapel Hill to retain their spotless record.
Prediction: Ohio State 63, North Carolina 60
ACC Winners: Clemson, Boston College, Louisville, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Georgia Tech
Big Ten Winners: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State
Final Prediction: 7-7 tie
DJ Bauer is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.