The ACC/Big Ten (or is it Big Ten/ACC) Challenge is months off, the matchups just set earlier this week.
But why not take a quick peek at something that might be remotely interesting about each game —- listed here in order of intrigue for the 11th edition of this not-as-important-as-it-would-like-to-be event.
1. MICHIGAN STATE at NORTH CAROLINA
Don’t try too hard to overthink this one. It’s only a rematch of the national title game. Oddball Challenge fact: There have been two national championship rematches the following season, with the title game loser winning both times (Indiana over Maryland in 2002, Illinois at North Carolina in 2005)
Challenge history: Michigan State won in 1999 and 2000; North Carolina won in 2008
2. WAKE FOREST at PURDUE
Consider this the contrast between two teams that were a year away this season —- and might actually make it to the Final Four next spring depending on who actually returns. The Boilermakers aren’t expected to suffer any premature losses barring a surprise this weekend, while the Demon Deacons are already down James Johnson and could still lose Jeff Teague. If Teague stays in the draft, this isn’t as much fun.
Challenge history: None
3. DUKE at WISCONSIN
The steady showdown. The Blue Devils and Badgers are among the seven schools that have reached 11 consecutive NCAA tournaments (Arizona, Kansas, Gonzaga, Michigan State and Texas are the others). While Bucky Badger isn’t always at his best in early December —- check out that waxing at Cameron in 2007 —- Wisconsin is usually a tough out in Madison. And by usually, I mean for the last decade except this past winter. Duke, meanwhile, is 10-0 in the event.
Challenge history: Duke won at home in 2007
4. ILLINOIS at CLEMSON
Since this is a pre-New Year’s game —- and one at Littlejohn Coliseum, no less —- it would seem like it’s an automatic victory for Clemson. This is, after all, a team that loves it some early-season dominance. But these are two potential top-25 teams, and while it’s so tempting just to place them as No. 6 seeds in next year’s tournament and get it done with, they did play a rather entertaining game in Champaign last season.
Challenge history: Clemson won on the road in 2008
5. BOSTON COLLEGE at MICHIGAN
Oooh, system basketball! There’s a nice link. The Beileiners could well be a preseason top-25 team, a first for Michigan in some time. Thank that 1-3-1 zone and the ability of the Wolverines’ staff to uncover useful parts rather than remain slaves to a ranking system. Boston College, of course, runs that tightened (read: sometimes ugly, even when run proficiently) version of the flex coach Al Skinner employs. Neither coach is especially demonstrative, but they both very much know what they’re doing.
Challenge history: Boston College won in 2007
6. FLORIDA STATE at OHIO STATE
A theme here … much like Clemson-Illinois, it features a pair of teams KO’d in the first round of last month’s NCAA tournament. It’s also a couple of football schools trying to establish themselves as basketball powers. Yes, Ohio State has the Greg Oden-fueled Final Four, but that’s sandwiched between ineligible/second round on one side and NIT/first round on the other. Meanwhile, Leonard Hamilton is still seeking an NCAA tournament victory while coaching the Seminoles. Chances are the winner receives at least a semi-useful victory for the long term.
Challenge history: First meeting, since Florida State plays Northwestern every other year
7. MINNESOTA at MIAMI
Might as well get the last fairly safe bet for an NCAA tournament appearance (Minnesota) off the board now, even if the Golden Gophers might not turn out to be substantially better a year from now. Does anything tie these teams together? Well, Tubby Smith graduated from High Point and Frank Haith went to school at Elon. And they’re sorta close in North Carolina. But, yeah, this game looks just as much like an 8-9 game you’d tune out until the final two minutes in March as it does a Challenge game.
Challenge history: First meeting (ever, actually)
8. MARYLAND at INDIANA
This should be fun, if only because Gary Williams‘ first trip to Bloomington since his Ohio State days will probably prompt a tale or two about Bob Knight. And Knight Time stories are always fantastic. Yes, it’s a rematch of the 2002 national title game, but that was two coaches ago for the Hoosiers and six will-they-or-won’t-they-make-the-tournament seasons out of seven in the interim for the Terps (who did manage an even split in those years when the word bubble was tossed around freely in CP).
Challenge history: Indiana won in Indianapolis in 2002
9. PENN STATE at VIRGINIA
Hey, someone just got the bright idea to pair up Penn State with either Virginia or Maryland to capitalize on the Nittany Lions’ reasonably large alumni base in the Baltimore/D.C. area. And they’ve even got an exciting player (Talor Battle) to bring to town, too. Maybe it’ll even turn out to be one of those games under first-year coach Tony Bennett and Battle will be in a scoring contest with the entire Cavaliers roster. In any case, this is some good geography at work. Finally.
Challenge history: First meeting
10. VIRGINIA TECH at IOWA
Maybe Iowa will be better next season. The Hawkeyes probably ought to be. But here’s the thing: Iowa just hasn’t been very interesting for the last decade, and it’s at the point where it should need to be seen to believed. The one thing that could make this sort of fun is Virginia Tech’s propensity to play close games regardless of competition. That, and the Hokies probably have 2 1/2 kinda sure things (Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen, as well as J.T. Thompson on defense) coming back. But this has the look of a 54-51 slugfest, and that’s not must-see-TV.
Challenge history: Virginia Tech won in 2006
11. NORTHWESTERN at N.C. STATE
Ah, the annual “someone has to play Northwestern game.” To be fair, I’d have picked the Wildcats over the Wolfpack last season, and quite possibly again. As for a subplot, if only Herb Sendek was still coaching at State. Plug his methodical offense and Bill Carmody‘s Princeton scheme, and the boos in RBC Center would turn to snores. It would also be well-played. Instead, this sets up as an early barometer game for Sidney Lowe‘s fourth season in Raleigh.
Challenge history: N.C. State won in 2002
—- Patrick Stevens