Rumors of the blog’s demise have only been slightly exaggerated (it still exists), and since there’s work to be done, here’s something to consider this morning.
The Big Ten won its annual challenge with the ACC this week, the first time the conference captured the de facto event. There were a few truly big winners, but there’s also a few reasons the Big Ten landed a 6-5 edge. Notably:
1. Duke lost. Duke never loses in this thing. Never. So let’s just get that out of the way.
2. Virginia and N.C. State are, shall we say, limited, and they drew two of the Big Ten’s traditionally weaker outfits. It seems like Northwestern-Florida State and Penn State-Clemson have been played many, many times in this event. If they were played this year (and let’s say Ohio State played Virginia and Illinois played N.C. State), the ACC probably wins one, as well as the event.
3. Georgia Tech wasn’t invited. It’s difficult to write this, seeing as how in the last five years the Yellow Jackets have lost to Maryland time after time after time (thus very much influencing my perception of that program). But if the Yellow Jackets had finished 11th in the league last year, they would have been involved and probably would have defeated a Big Ten bottom feeder.
In any case, the actual league winning the event doesn’t mean a whole lot. The individual victories, though, can help out a team a bunch come March. And four teams were probably bigger winners than the rest:
1. Boston College. A road victory against a well-coached team despite playing without Rakim Sanders. Seriously, when will people learn to not underestimate Al Skinner? The Eagles will wind up with a stealthy fourth- or fifth-place finish in the ACC by season’s end.
2. Illinois. The Illini knocked off Clemson, a victory that will grow in significance until about Feb. 1, when the Tigers begin their annual nosedive. But it’ll still be a good victory, and it was much needed after last weekend’s losses to Utah and Bradley.
3. North Carolina. And talent wins out in the end. The Tar Heels took out Michigan State for the third time in about a year, and while this won’t be remembered as much as the Ford Field floggings of last season, it’s an excellent step for a team still finding itself. Carolina had daunting December on tap: Michigan State, Kentucky and Texas, Final Four contenders all. In some ways, the Tar Heels are playing with house money in the last two games now.
4. Wisconsin. No one makes uglyball an art quite like Bo Ryan. And bless him for it. The Badgers knocked off Duke, and there’s little doubt they’re going to be their usual upper-middle of the Big Ten selves this season. Given that they’re always technically sound, it’s a surprise some folks were so down on the Badgers this year. That will change now.
—- Patrick Stevens