The Big Ten has run off 3 straight “victories” in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, after getting trounced for 10 straight years. The atrocious bottom half of the ACC has had a lot to do with that, although one of Duke or Carolina have each contributed to the loss column during this three year losing streak. Still, the odds are against the ACC this year as the Big Ten rolls in with 6 ranked teams, and three teams in the top five. The Challenge, as a measure of conference strength, has always been a bit ridiculous, but whatever. It’s fun, and we, as sports fans, enjoy comparing things to each other, regardless of how faulty the measuring stick is. So let’s dive into it once again this year and judge which conference is better! After all, we all know that the winner of Nebraska at Wake Forest defines a conference just as much as North Carolina at Indiana, right?
All home teams are favored in the Tuesday games, but other than North Carolina vs. Indiana, all are handicapped to be fairly close. Depending on how good Florida St. turns out to be, you have three matchups today between teams expected to make the tourney – which is fun. The matchups on Tuesday generally seem to have gotten it right, which certainly makes for a more exciting event. On to the picks….
#21 Minnesota at Florida St (-3.5)
Minnesota looked like a potential tournament team in the Bahamas, hanging with a Duke team that *never* loses in the first round of a tourney (amiright?), before taking down respectable opponents in Memphis and Stanford. Florida St. lost a head-scratcher to South Alabama, who is not a good team, but then smoked a presumably decent BYU team a week later. This is a virtual pick ‘em based on the line, and both teams have historically held serve at home and lost on the road in this challenge. But I like the way Tubby has his team playing, and it just seems like Florida St. is snake bit in the challenge recently. Gophers add to FSU’s Challenge losing streak. Minnesota 78 Florida St. 72
Straight up: Minnesota
Iowa at Virginia Tech (-1.5)
Virginia Tech is undefeated, but they haven’t played anyone. Iowa was similarly rolling over weak competition before losing in Cancun (wait, there’s a tourney in Cancun?) to a pretty good Wichita St. team. This is your typical bottom third of conference pick ‘em game, and both schools have been horrible in the challenge. But the Hokies have a potential star in Erick Green, and I’m not sure Iowa has anything to counter. Hokies roll at home. Virginia Tech 75 Iowa 65
Straight up: Virginia Tech
ATS: Virginia Tech
#18 North Carolina St. at #3 Michigan (-5.5)
In the first matchup of ranked teams, a young, but talented NC State squad travels to Michigan to play the fighting John Beileins. Michigan does a pretty good job of making me feel old with its pair of NBA offspring, but they are very good and John Beilein is a great coach. Still, it’s unclear what to make of Michigan’s struggles with Pitt in the preseason NIT. Pitt should be a bit down this year, but it’s early, so who knows. NC State is starting the season about how you’d expect a young, talented team (see: Kentucky). Their loss at Oklahoma St. was bad. Real bad. And they followed it with a squeaker against UNC-Asheville. I want to pick this for the ‘Pack as their breakout win. But the Wolverines are too experienced and too well coached to let this one slip away. I’ll be rooting for the Wolfpack, but Michigan runs away and hides in the end. Michigan 84 North Carolina St. 72.
Straight up: Michigan
Maryland at Northwestern (-4.5)
Maryland faces future conference foe Northwestern. Northwestern is a team that Maryland needs to handle… regularly… if it wants even a modicum of success in its new conference. Maryland has look pretty good thus far this year, narrowly losing to Kentucky and handling the scrubs it has faced since. Northwestern is undefeated against a smattering of crap. It will be an ugly game, but Maryland will end up rolling here. Northwestern may ugly up the game a bit, but Maryland is too good on the boards, and will be able to recover with second chance points. If I were a Vegas handicapper, this would be my lock against the spread. Maryland 70 Northwestern 62.
Straight up: Maryland
Nebraska at Wake Forest (-5)
To use the parlance of our times, this game will be the equivalent of two monkeys humping a football. Wake hasn’t been a complete disaster like last year. But they still are not very good as their 26 point loss to Iona (without Scotty Machado) attests. Nebraska is 5-1, but by any metric, whether Kenpom or my eyeballs, they are a horrible basketball team. Just remember, if the Challenge comes down to one game deciding whether the Big Ten keeps the Commissioner’s Cup, this game may be it. And then even if UNC, Duke and NC State all win, the Big Ten will be a better conference. Rights? There’s an apt analogy there, but I’m not sure what it is. Wake wins because the home teams usually win these types of games. Wake Forest 62 Nebraska 59.
Straight up: Wake Forest
North Carolina at Indiana (-10)
Wow, ten points seems like an awful lot to give a pretty good North Carolina team. Cody Zeller is a damn good big man, but will he be enough to keep Carolina from dominating the boards? Roy Williams and his “Mama’s boys” got punched in the mouth by Butler. I don’t see that happening against Indiana. The Tarheels have too much talent offensively to not keep pace with Indiana, and I expect the ‘Heels to win the battle on the boards and get second chance points. The question will become, can they stop Zeller on the defensive end and gum up the works of what has become a pretty damn efficient Indiana offense. This looks to be a high scoring game, and the Tarheels have the potential to pull the upset – which would be the biggest upset of the Challenge (unless UVa or Georgia Tech find a way to win their mismatches on Wednesday). But with no real answer for Zeller, the ‘Heels don’t pull it off. Indiana 88 North Carolina 80.
Straight up: Indiana
ATS: North Carolina
Thoughts? We’ll attack the Wednesday games tomorrow morning.