|Isaac Haas will look to be a beast on the block for Purdue against Louisville Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (Getty).|
My time as an ACC basketball fan started in the early 90's when I first arrived from Chicago to the wild and wonderful town of Fredericksburg Virginia. I followed the league heartily throughout my youth and fully embraced the Carolina-Duke rivalry as a fan of the squad in sky blue uniforms.
Flash forward to 2013 when I started writing for RushtheCourt. I initially wanted to write about the ACC, but spots were needed covering the Big Ten. I've been covering this league now for four years and have become much more familiar with this conference than the one I was obsessed with years ago. So this makes the ACC-Big Ten challenge strange for me.
In the past, I obviously would have ridden with the ACC and wanted them to win all 14 games. Now, while I'm still a Carolina fan, I'm fully rooting for the Big Ten to win the event. Monday's games left both leagues tied 1-1, with Florida State beating Minnesota and Northwestern taking down Wake Forest. These were merely an appetizer for the proceedings coming tonight and Wednesday. What follows is what to look for in the best six games to come, with an extra little prediction thrown in for good measure.
- Syracuse at Wisconsin: This one has the makings of a classic, with both teams residing within the top 10 on KenPom. The Badgers are only shooting 31 percent from behind the arc and have a tendency to take way too many threes. So how they handle the Cuse zone may very well determine the outcome. Another troubling element for Wisconsin is that they actually have been really sloppy this season (20.4 percent turnover rate). One thing they do really well, however, is crash the glass on the offensive end. Defensive rebounding has never been a strong point for Jim Boeheim coached teams, and that's still the case. The Orange have started off the season really shooting well from the perimeter, though, with four of their primary five deep shooters hitting over 46 percent. Prediction: Wisconsin in a close one because road games and Syracuse really aren't a thing this early in the year.
- Michigan State at Duke: This is not a typical Michigan State team, at least not yet. They are painfully young, and they have almost no size except for Zach Randolph clone (Tom Izzo's words, not mine) Nick Ward. Duke is still Duke, even without the services of three absolute stud freshmen. Without going into a full-fledged breakdown on the numbers, I already know that Sparty has almost no chance here. The caveat, however, is whether or not Grayson Allen plays. If he's out of the mix, then I'd say the end result is a coin flip. My best guess is that everyone's favorite villain plays and the perimeter attack of Allen, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson prevails. No coin necessary. Prediction: Kind of made this clear already, but Duke wins by 15.
|The somewhat hated Grayson Allen will lead Duke to a win over Michigan State tonight (Mark Dolejs, USATSI).|
- Virginia Tech at Michigan: This one barely makes the cut as one of the six best games here, but should be a sneaky good game because both squads should end up as tournament teams in March. Dan Brody's favorite coach has a 5-1 team that is one blown lead against Texas A&M from being undefeated. They have a bunch of rangy guards that shoot the ball well and don't turn it over, coupled with Zach LeDay as the one banger in the post. Michigan is built a tad different than the teams of the past five years, because they actually have much more size than the Hokies with the trio of DJ Wilson, Marc Donnal, and German Moritz Wagner. They used this size to cripple Marquette, the former school of Buzz Williams, and a solid SMU team to win the 2K Classic. They can shoot it from deep, and the aforementioned bigs do a really good job in pick-and-roll situations where they casually saunter to the rim for dunks and layups. This should be a really close game that will come down to the last couple of possessions. Prediction: Michigan will use their size to barely pick up their third quality win on the year.
- Purdue at Lousiville: This one is another sneaky good game, but with a higher ceiling. Unlike the VT-Michigan matchup, both teams are ranked and both could be legitimate threats to win their respective conferences. This isn't the same defensive team for Purdue as last year, with the losses of the very large human AJ Hammons and perimeter pest Raphael Davis. They are better scoring the ball, however, due to the fact that they are simply much larger than most in the paint, with the tag-team of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. They've surrounded the monsters in the paint with a bunch of shooters than can make it rain from distance. On the other side, Louisville boasts the number two most efficient defense in the land and could force the Boilers into a tough shooting night. The question here is will they develop anything remotely resembling competence on the other side of the floor. Prediction: Ricky P and the Cards will frustrate Purdue and hold them in check with their defense. Louisville squeaks by.
- Ohio State at Virginia: This one could get really ugly for two reasons. The first of which is that Ohio State has played only one semi-decent team, and haven't come close to seeing anything near what Virginia brings to the floor defensively. So they obviously could struggle to score points, which I hear is a problem when trying to win basketball games. The second reason is that the same core beat Kentucky last season, but lost to UT Arlington and Lousiana Tech at home. Whether or not this group has matured since, suffering the sting of not making the NCAA's in 2015-16 will be on display here as they travel to Charlottesville. Tony Bennett's team was insanely good when I watched them dismantle Iowa. They scored at will and did not allow the Hawkeyes to accomplish anything on offense. Despite a lack of star power, the system is working for the Cavs. Prediction: This one will be close for a half, but UVA will run away with it in the last ten minutes.
- North Carolina at Indiana: If someone were to give me five dollars each time this game is referred to as a track meet, I wouldn't be living in a 350X350 studio apartment . Needless to say, pace has been mentioned quite a bit leading up to what arguably is the best game on paper of the Challenge's fourteen. Carolina and Indiana have both surprised pundits and fans alike by being a bit better than people expected out of the gate. Carolina is getting insanely stellar play from Joel Berry, and they are rebounding 46.6 percent of their misses thanks to Kennedy Meeks and freshman Tony Bradley. The two have absolutely owned the backboards. Indiana, meanwhile, shocked the college basketball world by beating Kansas early. But they then fell back to earth, losing to Fort Wayne last week. Both of these teams could easily win their leagues and could end up in the Final Four. If I were a betting man, I'd say the over is a safe play. Prediction: It's hard to go against Carolina with the way they've been playing, but I think Indiana playing at home will shoot the lights out much like they did against Kansas to get the win.
Brendan Brody tweets @Berndon4.