Ranking the ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchups

The announcement of the dates for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge provides an opportunity to look ahead to this season: Which matchups in the event are the most intriguing? Which ones should you ignore? We rank them all.
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It may seem ludicrous to already be talking college basketball just halfway through the summer, but there’s a reason for it: on Monday, ESPN, in conjunction with the ACC and the Big Ten, announced the dates for this season’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The announcement got us thinking: Which games should you definitely DVR, and which ones can you fast-forward through? In order of most to least exciting, complete with predicted winners, here we go:

1. Notre Dame at Michigan State (11/30): There’s a reason this game stands alone on the primetime television slate. In one corner, you’ve got a potential national player of the year in Bonzie Colson, a 6’5’’ do-everything forward for the Fighting Irish who resembles Draymond Green. In the other corner, there’s Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo and one of his deepest ever squads, led by Miles Bridges, a possible 2018 lottery pick. Notre Dame will have the offense to stick in this one, but there’s a reason the Spartans are being pegged as national championship contenders. 

Predicted winner: Michigan State

2. Louisville at Purdue (11/28): Another matchup between likely ranked teams, but this one lost a little bit of oomf when Purdue’s best player, Caleb Swanigan, left early for the NBA. Still, Louisville is a legit Final Four contender and likely would’ve been even without five-star wing Brian Bowen, who surprisingly announced his commitment to the Cardinals in early June. And while Purdue may have lost “Biggie,” the Boilermakers still return six players who scored at least four points a game last season. Don’t ignore Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s presence as a factor, either: He won’t have served his five-game ACC suspension yet (for his role in Louisville’s recent scandal) and will be trying to get the most out of his team before his temporary leave. 

Predicted winner: Louisville

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3. Miami at Minnesota (11/29): Not a matchup you might expect to see this high on the list, but it’ll feature two sneaky-good teams. The Hurricanes churn out a top-tier ACC group every few seasons under head coach Jim Larrañaga, and this is one of those years. High-profile recruit Lonnie Walker joins Bruce Brown in South Florida to make up one of (what should be) the best backcourts in the country. On the other hand, Minnesota trots out Amir Coffey, a rising star, along with six of seven primary rotation players from last season’s No. 5 seed. Miami might end up being the more potent squad by season’s end, but the Golden Gophers should have the early-season chemistry advantage.

Predicted winner: Minnesota

4. Duke at Indiana (11/29): For the umpteenth season in a row (or at least it feels that way, right?), Duke’s lineup will feature a bevy of new McDonald’s All-Americans (Wendell Carter, Gary Trent, Jr., Trevon Duval) alongside a few old McDonald’s All-Americans, Grayson Allen chief among them. A wealth of talent like Coach Krzyzewski has at his disposal can’t be a bad thing, except for the whole team-building thing and that chemistry thing and the minutes thing… But if anyone can turn those parts into a functioning and efficient whole, it’s Coach K. The Hoosiers, on the flip side, lost their top four scorers and their coach, though his highly regarded replacement, Archie Miller, should have his guys ready for this one. That said, given the state of Indiana’s roster, Miller probably would have preferred a less formidable opponent for this high-profile event.

Predicted winner: Duke

5. Michigan at North Carolina (11/29): This is definitely not the same North Carolina team that won the national championship in April. The Tar Heels lost three of their starters from that squad, most notably Justin Jackson, the ACC Player of the Year. Likewise, Michigan lost three key components from last season’s Cinderella squad. The question is which team has more weapons left. Edge goes to North Carolina, which brings back the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, Joel Berry II, and added Cameron Johnson as a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh

Predicted winner: North Carolina

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6. Wisconsin at Virginia (11/27): You could play this game knee-deep in mud and it wouldn’t affect the pace one bit. It’ll be slow, heavy on defense and single-digit shot clocks, and that age-old adage about how first to 50 points wins? Well, that might hold true. Wisconsin’s offense will (read: should) likely flow through Ethan Happ, the potential Big Ten Player of the Year, while Virginia’s will flow through… Kyle Guy? The sophomore is one of the few players left after the mass-exodus from Charlottesville this summer. Still, count on Tony Bennett rolling out another stingy defense. 

Predicted winner: Virginia

7. Northwestern at Georgia Tech (11/28): Northwestern fans might still be riding high from last season’s NCAA tournament berth, the first in school history, and you couldn’t blame them. Still, there’s reason for Wildcats fans to set their sights on what lies ahead — the team returns its top five scorers from 2016-2017, and guard Bryant McIntosh should be one of the better floor generals in the country this year. It would make it a lot easier to get back to the Big Dance if Northwestern could pick up a nonconference win over a solid ACC group in Georgia Tech. Coach Josh Pastner won the conference’s Coach of the Year award in his first campaign with the team. This season, he’ll be looking to build a stellar offense to keep up with last year’s defense. 

Predicted winner: Northwestern


8. Penn State at North Carolina State (11/29): These two teams couldn’t be more different from each other. Penn State returns every starter from last season, an almost unheard of occurrence in modern college basketball. Then there’s N.C. State, which will be led by new coach Kevin Keatts after several underwhelming years under former coach Mark Gottfried. But unlike the Nittany Lions, the Wolfpack don’t return every starter. Instead, they’ll try to overcome a Dennis Smith-sized hole in their starting lineup. Good luck patching that one up right out of the gate. 

Predicted winner: Penn State

9. Maryland at Syracuse (11/27): Maybe Maryland fans are glad to see Melo Trimble (finally) leave for the NBA, or maybe they’ll be sad he couldn’t help the Terrapins ever reach their full potential. Either way, he’s gone now, leaving behind the other Justin Jackson to lead the way. Syracuse’s face of the team, Tyler Lydon, is also gone, except he left the cupboard a little more bare. The Orange will be one of the youngest team’s in college basketball this season, and they won’t have a senior on the roster (!!) for the first time in a decade. There’s a reason Jim Boeheim is in the Hall of Fame, but he’s gonna have to really prove his coaching chops this season

Predicted winner: Maryland

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10. Florida State at Rutgers (11/28): The Seminoles got in on the one-and-done trend this off-season, as forward Jonathan Isaac left after his freshman year to become a lottery pick. Gone too is Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, leaving Florida State without its three top scorers from 2016-17. Rutgers, on the other hand, brings back its top four scorers and should feature a more balanced scoring attack. That being said, the Scarlet Knights only won three conference games last season with those same players. 

Predicted winner: Florida State

11. Illinois at Wake Forest (11/28): It’s always tough when you lose your best player, but it’s even tougher when there’s nobody left who can fill that void—as is the case with Illinois and Malcolm Hill. It’s a similar but slightly better situation at Wake Forest, where John Collins jumped to the NBA after a remarkable sophomore season. The thing is, at least coach Danny Manning will bring back some of the players who helped the Demon Deacons snap their NCAA tournament drought last season. This might not be the prettiest game, but Manning is proving himself year-by-year in Winston Salem.

Predicted winner: Wake Forest

12. Iowa at Virginia Tech (11/28): The biggest toss-up of the bunch. Iowa, outside of senior Peter Jok, largely depended on freshmen last season, which is both good and bad. The bad is, well, they’re freshmen, which means there’s some learning curves. The good, though, is what happens after: early struggles turn into experience and serve the group better in the future. Then there’s Virginia Tech, which never features the most talented players but always puts up a fight in the ultra-competitive ACC. Coach Buzz Williams is building a strong program in Blacksburg, but it just might take a few more years until the operation is truly up and running.

Predicted winner: Iowa

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13. Clemson at Ohio State (11/29): The College Football Playoff is back! Except, well, with basketball… which as it turns out, makes for a much less exciting game. Clemson’s only reliably great player the past few seasons, Jaron Blossomgame, is finally off to the NBA, while Ohio State fired longtime coach Thad Matta earlier in June. At least the Buckeyes were able to lure rising star Chris Holtmann away from Butler, which probably counts for something. Here’s hoping for a rematch down the line… only in January… and in football, not basketball.

Predicted winner: Ohio State

14. Boston College at Nebraska (11/29): You’re not really interested in watching this game, right?

Predicted winner: Boston College