We all know that the ACC has dominated this "challenge" going a perfect 10-0 through the challenge's 10 year history. The Big Ten is back to being a heavyweight this year. The question is, are they good enough to finally beat the ACC head-to-head? The strength and depth of each conference is put to the test and each and every year the ACC wins. It becomes harder and harder to come up with appropriate excuses as to why the Big Ten is still better/deeper despite being unable to win more than they lose in this "challenge".
The conventional wisdom (especially in the Midwest) is that the Big Ten is arguably the best conference in the country and could go as deep as getting seven or eight into the NCAA Tournament. But unfortunately that may not translate into a B10/ACC Challenge win. I'll breakdown the match-ups in slightly greater detail below but here is how I see things playing out.
Duke over Wisconsin
Maryland over Indiana
Virginia Tech over Iowa
Big Ten Locks
Purdue over Wake Forest
Ohio State over Florida State (admittedly this is closer than a lock)
Penn State over Virginia (only because it is over)
Michigan State @ North Carolina
Minnesota @ Miami
Northwestern @ NC State
Illinois @ Clemson
Boston College @ Michigan
The Penn State win was huge and makes this much more winable. The Big Ten still needs to snag three of the toss-up five and four of those are on the road so...
Here is a brief look at each match-up with some key tempo-free stats.
Penn State @ Virginia - We kick off the Challenge with Talor Battle vs. Sylven Landesberg. And Battle won the battle, will it be enough for the Big Ten to win the war? (that analogy was awesome) Let's not waste time on this game since it is over.
Wake Forest @ Purdue - Here is a lock for the Big Ten and this may be the biggest lock of the entire challenge. Purdue is at home and so far has been the best looking team in the conference. Wake is 4-1 but has four meaningless wins and then a loss to William & Mary (that is one loss, not two).
|Off Reb %||42.2%||32.6%|
|Def Reb %||69.3%||71.7%|
Wake rebounds on the offensive end of the floor very well but they tend to turn the ball over a bit too much, while Purdue forces turnovers to the tune of 28.3% of their opponents possessions. Wake is lead by Al-Farouq Aminu who is averaging 18.8 ppg and 11.2 rpg, he should be fun to watch but Purue's balance and overall efficiency should carry the Boilermakers to the home win here.
Northwestern @ NC State - NU is coming of a big win over the overrated Notre Dame Irish and NC State really hasn't played anybody yet. They did beat Auburn but that isn't a terribly impressive win. After the loss of Kevin Coble the Wildcats have turned to a the combo of Michael Thompson and John Shurna who are averaging a combined 32.7 ppg (48% of NU's offense), 9.4 rpg and 6.2 apg.
|Off Reb %||29.2%||35.2%|
|Def Reb %||64.1%||67.2%|
This is one of the more interesting match-ups. The Wolfpack should be favored but Northwestern is a unique team to defend and could pose some problems for NC State. Northwestern has been pretty bad rebounding the ball this year and NC State has had their turnover problems. Whichever team can minimize their problem area the most will win this game. I'm calling the road upset here for Northwestern. I think they force just enough turnovers and then shoot their way to a win here.
Maryland @ Indiana -A lock for the ACC. Indiana is just too young, inexperienced and unimpressive to beat a decent but not great Maryland team. The Terps are on a two-game losing streak and really have not beaten anybody significant in this short season but I just don't see a way that Indiana pulls this one out. The Terps have four players averaging double-figures, three of whom are seniors. On the flip side Indiana is led by three players averaging 12 points or more per game but they include two freshman and a sophomore.
|Off Reb %||29.4%||33.6%|
|Def Reb %||66.3%||65.9%|
This one will be a turnover fest for the Hoosiers. Maryland forces turnovers and Indiana loves to give it up. Add that to the fact that IU already struggles to score and you see why I have Maryland winning.
Michigan State @ North Carolina - My initial reaction is that this is another ACC win. The Tar Heels are just not a great match-up for Michigan State and the Spartans are on the road. Neither team has lived up to their preseason hype but the rematch of last year's NCAA final is the marquee match-up nonetheless.
|Michigan St||North Carolina|
|Off Reb %||43.4%||43.3%|
|Def Reb %||69.9%||69.2%|
UNC has a turnover issue and they are not scoring nearly as efficiently as we are used to seeing Roy Williams team score. But Michigan State doesn't force many turnovers so I really don't expect that to be an issues. All other efficiency stats are virtually even. Both teams hold opponents to about .93 points per possession, both teams score right around 1.1 ppp and both teams rebound at near identical percentages. Whichever teams boxes out and keeps the Michigan State is probably a more experienced team but UNC is home and until the Spartans actually beat the Tar Heals I'm going with UNC.
Virginia Tech @ Iowa - I don't know that I need to spend much time on this one, Iowa is pretty bad this year.
|Off Reb %||38.4%||32.6%|
|Def Reb %||69.3%||73.9%|
On the surface and looking at the numbers I just don't see how Iowa gets this one done. Virginia Tech is also not very good and they struggle offensively more than Iowa does but I'd be surprised if they were to fall to the Hawkeyes.
Illinois @ Clemson - This might be the game I'm most looking forward to. Both teams are balanced with good inside/outside threats. Illinois is led by Demetri McCamey on the perimeter and Mike Davis on the interior. McCamey is averaging 12.7 ppg and 6.0 apg while Davis is averaging a double-double with 11.8 ppg and 10.0 rpg. For Clemson they are led by their senior forward Trevor Booker who is averaging 13.9 ppg and 8.7 rpg, but he's not alone as Tanner Smith is chipping in 11.6 ppg from the perimeter. These guys may not exactly guard each other but their match-ups should be a lot of fun to watch (especially if you like the color orange).
|Off Reb %||35.1%||39.6%|
|Def Reb %||74.7%||68.6%|
Clemson is more efficient on offense but Illinois takes better care of the ball and their defensive rebounding is better. I want to go with Illinois here but after their losses to Bradley and Utah last week they make it really difficult to make that leap. Clemson will likely get the home W here.
Minnesota @ Miami - This is a Gopher blog so I'm going with a Gopher win. Miami is 7-0 but they have not played anybody of even relative significance.
|Off Reb %||31.2%||43.7%|
|Def Reb %||71.0%||71.4%|
I think the numbers will back me up here. The Gopher offense struggles but this game comes down to defense and turnovers. Miami turns the ball over at an alarming rate and the Gophers offense thrives when the ball is given to them as much as the Hurricanes have been giving it up this year.
Boston College @ Michigan - A couple weeks ago I would have felt this was a lock for Michigan, but the Wolverines have struggled lately and this is going to be another tough match-up for them.
|Off Reb %||43.4%||29.9%|
|Def Reb %||70.7%||61.0%|
Boston College is pretty efficient offensively but not so much on the defensive end. Michigan has really struggled with rebounding on both ends. The numbers support a BC win but when the lights get bright and when playing at home I expect Manny Harris to lead Michigan to a big win for the Big Ten. He can't do it alone but I think he'll be the catalyst.
Duke @ Wisconsin - I have great respect for Bo Ryan but Duke is just plain too good. I don't need to spend much time on this one. Wisconsin is experienced and it is at the Kohl Center but Duke is just too good.
|Off Reb %||41.3%||32.2%|
|Def Reb %||67.6%||74.8%|
The number support a Duke win. They rebound better, they take care of the ball better, they are are more efficient on both ends and they shoot better. This would be a huge shock if the Badgers were to pull this one out.
Florida State @ Ohio State - This also appears to be a really good match-up. Ohio State has been great in the early part of the season largely because Evan Turner has been outstanding. He is leading the Big Ten in rebounds (12.8) and assists (6.7). And also throwing in a decent 19.8 ppg which is third best in the league. He'll be the man the Seminoles should be most concerned about but they can't lose Jon Diebler who is making nearly four three-pointers per game and averaging 15.7 ppg. Florida State is athletic and lead by their own big time forward, Chris Singleton. He is averaging 12.3 ppg and 8.1 rpg. FSU is also big in the middle with Solomon Alabi and Xavier Gibson measuring out at 7-1 and 6-11 respectively.
|Florida St||Ohio St|
|Off Reb %||40.0%||34.1%|
|Def Reb %||68.4%||72.4%|
Looking at the numbers FSU is very good defensively. They hold teams to just .758 points per possession which is third best in the country. They also hold teams to a 37.8 eFG% and block 22.9% of their opponents shots; both of which are also third best in the nation. This team will defend and it will be interesting to see if Turner, Diebler and Lighty can find some offense in this game. The Achilles heal of FSU is their turnover rate. When you give up the ball on 26.4% of your possessions you will allow good teams to stay in the game regardless of how good you are on defense. Ohio State is very good offensively scoring 1.132 pnts per possession and recording an eFG% of 59.5 (6th best in the country). If FSU continues to turn the ball over then I think OSU's offense will roll. Rebounding should be an important stat, but I think the key will be the turnovers. OSU wins this game at home.
After all of that (and one game in the books) I am seeing a Big Ten win, finally.
Big Ten -6 (PSU, Pur, Minn, OSU, Mich, NU)
ACC - 5 (Mary, Duke, UNC, VTech, Clem)