Tuesday December 1st, 2009

If you think about it, it is one of the more remarkable streaks in sports. For the last 10 years, the Big Ten and the ACC have lined up their teams top to bottom and squared off in a made-for-ESPN extravaganza. And every year, for a full decade, the ACC has won more games. That led some of us sardonic press wags to suggest that the ACC should go looking for a stronger partner in this little series -- like, say, the Missouri Valley Conference.

Is this the year the Big Ten finally gets off the schneid? Penn State started things off Monday night with a 69-66 win over Virginia. That means the Big Ten is playing with a little house money heading into tonight's games. As a primer for my loyal Hoop Thinkers, I have provided a game-by-game prediction for how this year's challenge will turn out. As always, any similarities between these predictions and actual course of events are strictly coincidental.

The Boilermakers are still playing without their starting point guard, Lewis Jackson, but a healthy Robbie Hummel plus a still-improving JaJuan Johnson inside plus the home-court advantage should add up to a convincing victory. Wake is coming off a loss at home to William & Mary.

Prediction: Purdue 73, Wake Forest 65 Big Ten 2, ACC 0

On a neutral court and a 10-game series, I would go with the Spartans. But since the game is in Chapel Hill, I'll give the edge to the Tar Heels. Michigan State is much stronger on the perimeter, but the Spartans are a short team, and the one thing North Carolina has is a lot of size inside. The big question will be whether the Tar Heels' defense can hold down Michigan State's impressive field-goal shooting.

Prediction: North Carolina 80, Michigan State 76 Big Ten 2, ACC 1

Since the game is in Madison, where the Badgers have been nearly impossible to beat under Bo Ryan, this is a tough game to pick. But I also think this is one of those instances where playing at home can be a disadvantage because the players can get overhyped. That's what happened to Purdue last year when Duke came to West Lafayette. Moreover, this is an experienced, big Duke team that can handle both a hostile environment, as well as Ryan's grind-it-out style.

Prediction: Duke 74, Wisconsin 66 Big Ten 2, ACC 2

I didn't quite buy into the preseason hype about Michigan, but I do expect the Wolverines to be in bounce-back mode after their losses to Marquette and Alabama. This team, like all teams coached by John Beilein, can be overly dependent on making three-pointers, but those are easier to come by at home. BC, which has lost to Saint Joseph's and Northern Iowa, is still missing its best player: 6-foot-5 junior guard Rakim Sanders, who is sidelined by an injured ankle.

Prediction: Michigan 70, Boston College 62 Big Ten 3, ACC 2

The Seminoles looked impressive during their comeback win over Marquette, but that was on a neutral court against a team that is inferior to Ohio State. For all the attention being lavished on Evan Turner, the key to beating the Buckeyes is preventing Jon Diebler and William Buford from getting hot from outside. It's easier to make shots in your own gym, and right now Florida State's guards don't look up to that task.

Prediction: Ohio State 76, Florida State 70 Big Ten 4, ACC 2

These are teams with similar makeups. They're both strong up front (Trevor Booker vs. Mike Williams) but suspect in the backcourt. Illinois' guards are more talented, but Clemson's are more experienced. I still think Illinois is an NCAA tournament team despite its losses last week to Utah and Bradley, but it's hard to for any team to win in Littlejohn Coliseum against the Tigers' ferocious full-court press, much less one with mediocre guard play.

Prediction: Clemson 74, Illinois 64 Big Ten 4, ACC 3

This is the toughest of the bunch to pick, partly because I don't think Miami's Bank United Center is much of a home-court advantage. The Hurricanes are 7-0, but their only reasonably tough game was a 15-point win over a pretty good South Carolina team in Charleston. The Gophers, on the other hand, are coming off three tough games in Anaheim against Butler, Portland and Texas A&M, beating only Butler. Logic says to pick Minnesota, but I have a feeling the quick turnaround and all that travel from one end of the country to the other will take its toll.

Prediction: Miami 70, Minnesota 68 Big Ten 4, ACC 4

It's hard to assess the Wolfpack because they've gone 5-0 by playing a weak schedule. Seems like Sidney Lowe knows he has a bad team. Northwestern lost its best player, Kevin Coble, to a season-ending injury, but the Wildcats have still beaten Notre Dame and Iowa State and lost to Butler at home. Their unconventional Princeton offense will be too tough to defend, even in Raleigh.

Prediction: Northwestern 67, N.C. State 61 Big Ten 5, ACC 4

This is a case where the ACC really got lucky in the matchups. Maryland showed during losses to Cincinnati and Wisconsin that it is vulnerable, especially in the frontcourt. The Hoosiers, however, are still in rebuilding mode and have a long way to go, as evidenced by their losses to Boston University and George Mason.

Prediction: Maryland 76, Indiana 63 Big Ten 5, ACC 5

Virginia Tech is still trying to get over the hump under Seth Greenberg, but at least they have a pair of experienced juniors -- 6-7 forward Jeff Allen and 6-3 guard Malcolm Delaney -- to lead the way. Iowa has been as bad as bad can be, losing to Texas-San Antonio, Duquesne and Wichita State.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 69, Iowa 61


Bottom line: The streak continues.

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