It's that time again. The 11th ACC/Big Ten Challenge is upon us and for the first time since its inception the Big Ten might win. That's right, the ACC is a perfect 10-0 at this point (started in 1999) and the conference will look to maintain it's winning ways again although it might be difficult this go around. The reason for optimism in the Big Ten is basically that these schools have a lot of returning experience and the ACC just does not. The top ACC schools like UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest lost a combined 7 players to the NBA in the spring while most of the Big Ten elite return their primary players. On the other hand Michigan State returns elite point guard Kalin Lucas, Ohio State returns ultra athletic combo guard Eric Turner, and Purder returns a trio of talented players in Robbie Hummel, Jajuan Johnson, E'twaun Moore). Last season the ACC won a highly competitive challenge (6-5) and this year they'll have to fight even harder to maintain their success. I'll break down the games below and give my prediction.
Monday - November 30, 2009
Penn State 69 at Virginia 66 (box score)
Virginia will rely on pre-season All ACC selection sophomore Sylven Landesberg and his 16 points per game for its offense. More importantly will be the play of 6'8 230lbs. junior Mike Scott. Scott will be the best rebounder on the court for much of the game and it will be imperative for him to dominate the glass if the Cavaliers want to win this one. Penn State relies heavily on junior Talor Battle (18, 6 boards, 3.5 assists per night) to make the offense go. Battle will get most of his help from experienced forwards David Jackson and Jeff Brooks, each of which average 10 points a night in this young season. The Nittany Lions do not rebound very well (the 6'0 Battle leads the team in rebounds) and it will be interesting to see how they will be able to rebound against their first big conference opponent of the year.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Virginia
The Cavaliers was the better of the two teams in the first half as it lead 27-21 at halftime. Unfortunately for UVA Penn State's Talor Battle decided to assert himself in a big way. The 6 foot junior went off in the second half to the tune of 28 points. Plain and simple, he could not be guarded. Each and every time UVA went on a run, which honestly was not very often in the second half, Battle answered. Remarkably Sammy Zeglinski and Sylven Landesberg hit several shots down the stretch to pull UVA back in the game within the last 5 minutes but Battle's accurate free throw shooting kept the Nittany Lions in ahead.
Tuesday - December 1, 2009
Wake Forest 58 at #6 Purdue 69 (box score)
The aforementioned Purdue trio (Moore, Hummel, and Johnson) combine to average 43 points and 16 rebounds per game. This will be tough for the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest to contend with. Superstar sophomore combo forward Al-Farouq Aminu (18ppg, 11rpg) and senior point guard Ishmael Smith should keep Wake in the game but it will take a monumental effort to beat the #6 team in the country on the road.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Purdue
It took some time but #6 Purdue eventually pulled away from Wake Forest in the second half. Jajuan Johnson had a solid outing for the Boilermakers going 7-13 from the field for 21 points, 9 boards, and 3 blocks. The key to the victory for Purdue was holding superstar Al-Farouq Aminu to just 12 points on 3-11 of shooting. The Deacs rely on Aminu to get going each and every game and while he started off the game hot he cooled off significantly in the second half. Much of this had to do with Purdue's solid defense and just better play from star forward Robbie Hummel.
Northwestern 65 at North Carolina State 53 (box score)
North Carolina State relies on sweet shooting 6'9 forward Dennis Horner (15ppg, 58% 3pt) and big man Tracy Smith (15ppg) to get it done night in and night out. On the other hand Northwestern relies on guard Michael Thompson (16ppg) and a host of others to initiate their offense. Although NC State is undefeated to date the Wildcats of Northwestern's 5-1 record includes wins against Notre Dame and Iowa State. Their only came to #10 ranked Butler.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Northwestern
This game was never really in doubt as Northwestern took a commanding lead in the first half and didn't let up. Junior guard Michael Thompson went for 22 points and really led the Wildcats to this victory. In the loss NC State forward Tracy Smith had 23 points and 7 rebounds.
Maryland 80 at Indiana 68 (box score)
Maryland is coming off of a rough stretch at the Maui Invitational (1-2) and will look to rebound against Indiana. While the Terps come into the game with 4 starters averaging double figures they will need pre-season co ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez to improve upon his very pedestrians numbers (11 points, 4 boards, and 5 assists per game) to really put this game away like they should. The Hoosiers rely on 2 freshman and a sophomore for the bulk of their scoring and have been very shaky thus far (3-3). Indiana is still rebuilding and Gary should have his Terps playing well after a disappointing Maui tournament.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Maryland
As predicted the Terrapins' experienced showed in this game and Greivis Vasquez over came another off shooting night to score 23 points in the victory. Senior Landon Milbourne added 19 points and 7 rebounds in this one. Indiana fought and clawed throughout the game to keep within striking distance but in the end they couldn't put together enough successful defensive possessions to shut down Maryland.
#9 Michigan State 82 at #11 North Carolina 89 (box score)
The rematch of the 2008-2009 National Championship game is the premier matchup in this year's Challenge. It should not disappoint. The Spartans return virtually everyone and are loaded this year. I'm sure each and every player, including Coach Izzo, are looking to avenge the two blowout losses they suffered at the hands of North Carolina. Michigan State is led by all everything lead guard Kalin Lucas (17ppg, 3.7apg) and a host of other contributors from last season. On the other hand the Tar Heels will rely on a host of complimentary players from last year's National Championship team to win this game. UNC has 7 players that average at least 7 points per game and they've looked surprisingly good thus far given all the talent that fled to the NBA last spring. In their only two big conference tests in this young season Roy Williams' team beat a decent Ohio State team by 4 but followed that up with a sloppy loss to Syracuse (this game was played at MSG though. Virtually a home game for Cuse'). The Tar Heels don't lose too often in the Dean Dome but I expect Michigan State will be more than ready to play. The backcourt matchup will be key and the edge in this department has to go to Michigan State.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Michigan State
Sophomore star Ed Davis went for a career high 22 points as he led his Tar Heels to the 7 point victory. The Tar Heels blocked 8 shots and basically just ran the Spartans out of the gym. Coach Williams ran several waves of players at Michigan State and the Spartans seemed over matched out of the gate. MSU's experience showed in the second half as they were able to cut into the 16 point lead the Tar Heels had in the first half but were never able to get over the hump. UNC blocked 8 shots and generally dominated the paint.
Virginia Tech 70 at Iowa 64 (box score)
In the game nobody will be watching expect Virginia Tech to come out and handle this undermanned Hawkeye team. Iowa lost 4 players that contributed greatly last season (their leading scorer, a point guard, and two others) and it has shown. This team is still playing hard but the Hokies two star players, junior Malcolm Delaney (21.8 ppg) and Jeff Allen will be way too much for Iowa to contend with.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Virginia Tech
The Hokies proved to be too much for an inexperienced Hawkeyes' squad. To Iowa's credit this game was much closer than expected in large part due to Iowa's Anthony Tucker. Tucker scored 24 points in the contest but couldn't lift his team past the Hokies. Guard Malcolm Delaney scored 18 points in the win.
Wednesday - December 2, 2009
Illinois 76 at #19 Clemson 74 - (box score)
Clemson, fresh off of a huge win tonight against #10 Butler, come into this game with plenty of momentum. However, a number of the Tigers' players are under the weather so it will be interesting to see how healthy they are come game time. Illinois started off the season 4-0 before dropping their last two games to Utah and Bradley. Seems like Bruce Weber's proclamation that freshman guard Brandon Paul (11ppg) is like Dwyane Wade might be a bit premature. While Illinois is very experienced and talented Clemson's press should wear them out. This Illini team also hasn't seen an athlete quite like Trevor Booker yet...and he's one of several on Oliver Purnell's very athletic team. Not to pile on but the Tigers are tough at Little John. Their depth should be the difference.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Clemson
Clemson got up early on Illnois and seemingly had the game in hand at halftime. The Tigers were up by 20 until a Illini stormed back in the second half. The Tigers epic collapse was accentuated by shooting 39% from the field for the game. Forward Mike Davis of Illnois finished up with 22 points in the victory.
Minnesota 58 at Miami 63 - (box score)
Tubby Smith has his Gopher's playing well in the early season despite the off the court trouble that several of his players have run into. He's getting great production from his bench in the early season and they already have a big win over Butler. This team is coming off of a tough one point loss to Texas A&M and one can imagine that they will be hungry to return to the win column. Miami has gotten off to a blazing start but they've really not played anyone note worthy outside South Carolina. However the 15 point win over the Gamecocks shows that the Hurricanes can play with big conference teams and I expect them to physically over power Tubby's bunch in this contest. If Miami post player Dwayne Collins can stay out of foul trouble he should dominate this game inside. He bullied his way past South Carolina players earlier this season and he should do the same to Minnesota's front line.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Miami
Freshman Durand Scott scored 20 points for the Hurricanes in this contest and was instrumental in the win. The Canes' dominated the Gophers on the glass and that really was the story of the game. It would have probably helped the Gophers if they shot better than 46% from the line as well.
Boston College 62 at Michigan 58 - (box score)
Michigan has dropped a few games recently to quality opponents (Marquette, Alabama) but don't sleep on the Wolverines. This is a good team and they'll have the best player in the game in 6'5 junior two guard Manny Harris (21 ppg, 9 rpg, 7 apg). While BC has 5 guys averaging double figures they really haven't played anyone of this caliber thus far. It will show.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Michigan
Corey Raji dropped 24 to help BC pull off the tournament resume win in Ann Arbor. Michigan star Manny Harris struggled to find his shot (1-6 from 3 point range) and usually the Wolverines fortunes are tied into how well he plays. BC's Trapani, Raji, and Jackson combined for 29 rebounds and the Eagles out rebounded Michigan by 15.
#5 Duke 69 at Wisconsin 73 (box score)
The Blue Devils, fresh off of a NIT Season Tip-Off tournament championship is 6-0 and have proven that their lack of guard depth will not be a huge hindrance to their success. Coach K looks to combo guards Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer (the two combine to average 35 points a night) to run his offense. When you factor in that Duke might has more size this season than they've had in recent memory and you start to realize it might be pretty difficult to beat this team. Wisconsin brings a ton of great experience into the game due to their decent success (2-1) in the Maui Tournament last week. Trevon Hughes (14 ppg) will be the key if the Badgers are to take this game as he's the only Badger that can put any pressure on Duke's guards with the ball in his hands. (side note: Be on the lookout for the season debut of highly touted freshman Mason Plumlee of Duke. Rumor has it that he could be on the court for the first time all season on Wednesday).
ACC Ballers Pick: Duke
Trevon Hughes dropped 26 on the Dukies in this contest and it was clear that the Blue Devils had no answer for him. Duke's lack of a true point guard seemed to hurt them in this game as they turned the ball over 7 more times than Wisconsin did. In the losing effort Kyle Singler went off for 28 points on 10 of 17 shooting.
Florida State 64 at #15 Ohio State 77 (box score)
Florida State should dominate this team on the glass as Ohio State relies on their 6'7 point guard Evan Turner (19 ppg, 12 rbg) to do all of its rebounding. In fact, Turner averages a full 8 rebounds a game more than the next Buckeye. This doesn't bode well for Thad Matta's bunch. Florida State has an NBA sized front line anchored by seven foot center Solomon Alibi (hit the game winning shot against Marquette in the Old Spice Classic. 11/29/09) and 2008 McDonalds All America Chris Singleton. Ohio State has the more talented guards so if they get hot Florida State will be in some trouble but they'd have to be on fire to win this game, even at home. If FSU takes care of the ball they win simply because they'll grab every rebounds.
ACC Ballers' Pick: Florida State
Ohio State got a combined 47 points from Evan Turner and Jon Diebler in the winning effort. The Seminoles main issue seemed to be the three point shot as they went 2-16 from distance. The 20 turnovers the Seminoles had probably did not help matters either.
ACC Ballers' Dunk of the Week:
Sophomore Bryan Narcisse of Clemson takes off from deep against Texas A&M.