Big Ten/ACC Challenge Preview and Predictions

The Big Ten/ACC challenge is always a fun series in non-conference play, but this season it takes on a bigger meaning as these two leagues each make a very strong case to be the best league in all of college basketball.

Photo: Greg Bartram/US Presswire
Photo: Greg Bartram/US Presswire

The Big Ten has seven teams that appear to be likely NCAA Tournament teams, and three others have the pieces to earn consideration for a bid.

The revamped ACC, with three new teams from the Big East, will easily rival the Big Ten in terms of NCAA Tournament bids.

Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday night, these two conferences will go head-to-head in excellent matchups on the ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU.


Tuesday, Dec. 3

Indiana @ Syracuse, 7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Despite lots of roster turnover, Indiana is still a contender in the Big Ten this season. The Hoosiers are 6-1 with the only loss coming by one point to nationally ranked Connecticut.

Syracuse has had a few bumps in the road, but it still enters this competition undefeated at 7-0. Last week, the Orange knocked off Minnesota, California, and Baylor to win the Maui Invitational, so they will be ready to face another high-caliber club.

Despite his freshman status, Orange point guard Tyler Ennis has been great to start the season with 11.7 points per game and 33 assists to only eight turnovers.

Prediction: Syracuse 80, Indiana 72
Illinois @ Georgia Tech, 7: 15 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Georgia Tech (5-3) is far from being a great team, but it has the potential to hand Illinois (7-0) its first loss. The Yellow Jackets have a solid point guard in Tennessee transfer Trae Golden, and their frontcourt matches up well with Illinois’.

6’11” senior Daniel Miller enters the game averaging 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds, and sophomore Robert Carter Jr. is averaging 9.3 points and 9.5 rebounds. Carter is also second in the nation with a 33.7 defensive rebounding percentage.

Illinois does not have much depth, but it has a great scorer in Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice and a talented center in Nnanna Egwu, who is one of the Big Ten’s best shot blockers.

Illinois State transfer Jon Ekey has also been off to a great start with 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 65, Illinois 63
Penn State @ Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Aside from a home loss to Bucknell, Penn State (6-2) has not looked bad this season. The Nittany Lions enter this game coming off an overtime win against St. John’s and a close loss to Southern Miss, and they could give Pittsburgh (7-0) a good fight.

Penn State’s starting backcourt of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill is as good as any in the Big Ten. Newbill leads the team with 19.5 points per game and also rebounds well out of the guard position with 6.9 boards per game. He is also a great three-point shooter at 45.5%.

Frazier, a fifth-year senior, has been fantastic so far with 18.5 points and 7.5 assists per game. He ranks No. 6 nationally in assist rate.

But the Nittany Lions’ frontcourt is small and thin, and that could pose problems when up against senior forward Talib Zanna and talented freshman forward Michael Young.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Penn State 63


Michigan @ Duke, 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Although both of these teams could wind up as Final Four contenders in April, they struggled a bit early with two November losses apiece. But still, this should be a high-quality matchup and possibly the best of this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Duke has one of the nation’s best freshmen in Jabari Parker. Parker is averaging 23 points and eight rebounds while shooting 55.4% from the field and 50% beyond the arc, and, like he does against every team Duke faces, he will cause a mismatch for Michigan. At 6’8″, Parker can excel from anywhere on the basketball court.

Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood has also been phenomenal early on with 20 points per game. Hood is shooting better than 62% from the field and 59.1% on three-pointers.

Duke’s point guard, Quinn Cook, has also been on a tear, averaging 13.4 points, six assists, and only 1.8 turnovers. The junior and two-year starter will go up against Michigan’s freshman floor general, Derrick Walton Jr.

Aside from the issue of having a freshman point guard, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary have not blossomed into the stars many thought they would become — or at least not yet.

However, Nik Stauskas is looking like an All-Big Ten first teamer and Caris LeVert has done well in his starting role.

Either of these teams could definitely wind up winning this game, but with the game at Cameron Indoor it’s tough to pick against the Dukies.

Prediction: Duke 85, Michigan 82
Notre Dame @ Iowa, 9: 15 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Notre Dame (5-1) fell out of the AP Top 25 after losing to Indiana State on Nov. 17 and has not returned. Meanwhile, Iowa (7-1) enters this matchup ranked despite losing to Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Saturday.

Iowa is one of the deepest teams in the nation with 10 players receiving more than 15 minutes per game of playing time. All of those guys are capable of scoring, but Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White do most of the offensive work.

Marble, a senior, enters as the team’s leading scorer and distributor with 16.8 points and four assists per game. He also ranks No. 17 nationally in assist rate.

White, a junior, is averaging 13 points on 63% field-goal shooting and 6.4 rebounds.

Notre Dame has a lot of talented pieces, but through six games it ranks only No. 65 on KenPom.

The Fighting Irish have a pair of great point guards in Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, who have combined for 64 assists and only 13 turnovers this season.

Iowa 78, Notre Dame 67
Florida State @ Minnesota, 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Florida State (5-2) has been one of this season’s early surprises. The Seminoles blew out Virginia Commonwealth, and their only losses are to Michigan in overtime by two points and to Florida by one point in regulation.

Senior guard Ian Miller has emerged as a go-to scorer after a disappointing junior season, and senior forward Okaro White has continued to blossom into a high-quality big man.

Minnesota (6-2) finished seventh at the Maui Invitational, defeating only Chaminade, but the Golden Gophers have one of the nation’s most underrated backcourts.

Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins are scoring well just like last season, but Minnesota also added junior college transfer Deandre Mathieu and Florida International transfer Malik Smith.

Through eight collegiate games, Mathieu is averaging 10.4 points, 5.4 assists, and 2.1 steals.

Prediction: Florida State 66, Minnesota 61



Wednesday, Dec. 4

Maryland @ Ohio State, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN

Maryland (5-2) is riding a four-game winning streak entering Wednesday, but this game against Ohio State will be its first true road game of the season. The Terrapins, whose only respectable win so far is against Providence, will struggle mightily against the No. 5 team in the nation.

However, they do have three players worth keeping an eye on in Jake Layman, Dez Wells, and Evan Smotrycz. Layman, who averaged only 5.5 points last season, leads the team with 16.4 points per game and he is shooting 51.1% on three-pointers.

Ohio State (6-0) has already proven itself as one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

Aaron Craft is still one of the nation’s best point guards, and Amir Williams and Shannon Scott have both adopted greater roles in the offense to fill the gap left by Deshaun Thomas.

Williams enters as the team’s leading scorer, along with Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. at 11.3 points per game, and he is also grabbing 8.3 boards and rejecting two shots per contest. Last season he averaged only 3.5 points and 3.9 rebounds.

Scott is having a great junior season with 11 points, 3.7 assists, and 2.2 steals per game.

Prediction: Ohio State 79, Maryland 60
Wisconsin @ Virginia, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Photo: Wisconsin Athletics
Photo: Wisconsin Athletics

Wisconsin (8-0) has been on fire to start the season and already has quality wins against Florida and Saint Louis. The Badgers received a huge boost with Josh Gasser returning after missing last season with an ACL injury, but they have also been getting huge performances from Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky.

Dekker, a sophomore, is averaging 14.6 points while shooting 50% from the field and 37.9% from beyond the arc.

Kaminsky, a 7-foot junior, leads the team with 15.8 points per contest and netted 43 points, a Wisconsin record, a couple of weeks ago against North Dakota.

Virginia (7-1) does not enter the game ranked in the AP Top 25, but they could make a good case. The Cavaliers’ only loss this season is in the final seconds to VCU, and they have been one of college basketball’s best defensive teams through eight games.

Senior wing Joe Harris has been fantastic to start the season with 12.4 points per game and a 74.1 effective field-goal percentage. Harris has hit 16 of his 29 three-point attempts.

Wisconsin 60, Virginia 59


Northwestern @ North Carolina State, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Northwestern (4-4) has struggled against teams from power-six conferences this season. The Wildcats lost to Stanford by 13, to Missouri by 11, and to UCLA by 16, and to make matters worse their fourth loss is at home to Illinois State.

But North Carolina State (4-2) has not fared much better. The Wolfpack lost to Cincinnati by 11, and they also have a home loss to a mid-major — North Carolina Central by 10 in overtime.

Northwestern and NC State match up well in the backcourt, but what the Wolfpack has that the Wildcats do not is a high-caliber frontcourt.

Sophomore forward T.J. Warren has been superb through six games with 22.7 points on 53.8% shooting and 7.3 rebounds per contest.

Senior Jordan Vandenberg missed the first four games due to an injury, but in the last two he is averaging 10.5 points and nine rebounds.

Against struggling sophomore forward Alex Olah, these two NC State players will have a field day.

Prediction: NC State 76, Northwestern 65
North Carolina @ Michigan State, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN

North Carolina (4-2) proved it could compete with the best with a win against Louisville, but it also showed its shortcomings in losses to Belmont and UAB. This will be the Tar Heels’ toughest non-conference game as they face the No. 1 team on the road, and we’ll see if they can keep up.

Sophomore guard Marcus Paige has been playing great, averaging 20.8 points and 3.8 assists per game, and he was the main reason for UNC’s win against Louisville with 32 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

Meanwhile, in the frontcourt, Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto, and Kennedy Meeks have all developed into viable options, and James Michael McAdoo is having another solid season with 13.8 points and six rebounds per game.

Michigan State has primarily been using a six-man rotation.

Sophomore Gary Harris leads the Spartans in scoring with 17.7 points per game, but senior point guard Keith Appling is an even bigger reason for their success.

Appling is looking like a potential Big Ten Player of the Year with 16.9 points and 5.6 assists per game. He is also shooting 58.6% from the field and 52.2% from beyond the arc.

Prediction: Michigan State 88, North Carolina 79


Boston College @ Purdue, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Both Purdue and Boston College have hopes of making the NCAA Tournament this year, which is why this game is so important. Purdue (6-2) needs to show it can defend its court against a quality opponent, and Boston College (3-4) needs a quality road win, especially after a bunch of close losses to start the season.

On paper, Purdue has the pieces to challenge for a spot in the top half of the Big Ten, but it has struggled with mediocre, mid-major opponents that are not even considered major factors in their respective conferences. Northern Kentucky, Rider, and Siena (twice) have all been within a few points of upsetting the Boilermakers.

Boston College has also been in some close games, but its outcomes have not been as favorable. The Eagles lost in overtime to Providence to start the season, then by three points at home to Toledo, and then by two to Connecticut at Madison Square Garden.

Both squads need this one badly to get the back end of non-conference play started on the right note.

Prediction: Boston College 76, Purdue 75


Miami (FL) @ Nebraska, 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU

The final matchup of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is also the most boring one. Neither Miami (FL) nor Nebraska have any real postseason chances this season, and neither team has a star that is easy to catch on to.

If you enjoyed Miami’s Cinderella run to the ACC championship last season, the only Hurricane you will recognize is senior guard Rion Brown, who is averaging 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and three assists.

For Nebraska, Terran Petteway has been leading the way with 15.7 points per game.

Prediction: Nebraska 59, Miami (FL) 55



All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

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