ACC – Big Ten Challenge 2011

Bill Carmody holds the keys to Big Ten's ability to win the challenge every year.

The mother of all non-conference tournaments is here. Two historical conferences face off to resolve the argument ever year: which conference is better top to bottom? Here is a quick runoff about the Big Ten – ACC Challenge …

Ramblings by DJ

“It always comes down to Minnesota.”

“The Big Ten should just get rid of Northwestern, they are useless.”

“Can we just take Nebraska football and not accept their basketball??”

“The matchups were in their favor this year!!! The whole thing was set up!”

These are some of the statements that every Big Ten fan curses during the 2nd night of the ACC – Big Ten challenge. ESPN will assemble a montage about the two most significant conferences in college basketball history. They’ll show Bobby Knight right next to Coach K. BJ Armstrong and the Iowa backcourt from 1989 will be lined up against the Kenny Anderson backcourt of Georgia Tech. Jimmy Valvano running around after the NC State championship in the ‘80s will be followed by Tom Izzo’s national championship team from 2000.

Most college hoops nutcases are well aware of the historical coaches and teams from both of these conferences. Let’s take a look at a few questions about the challenge as we approach the 13th annual version tonight.

What’s the big deal about these set of games every year?

The tournament marks the beginning of the hoops season b/c the rust is off (for the most part) for the teams involved in the competition.

Sure, the non-conference tournament in Maui invites a couple top ten teams along with some contenders every year. But the teams have only played about two or three games by then. And they travel about two time zones to play in a high school gym that looks like the one from the movie Hoosiers. Did I mention that the games are held in a gym with no air conditioning? None of the players get into their rhythm until about five or six games into the season and the last place to help their game is Hawaii. Beach, warm weather in November and surfing? None of these really force the players to practice and pay attention to the game plans. The Maui invitational is basically a pre-season vacation for the programs before the real games begin.

Most teams have played about five to six games by the time The Challenge rolls around. The season kicked off about four weeks ago even though it doesn’t seem that long. For example, Bruce Weber and the Illinois team ALWAYS look good during the first four weeks of the year b/c they destroy teams named Quincy or Lipscomb. Now they play a true road game in College Park, Maryland who has a legitimate home court advantage which means Coach Weber will start his long list of excuses about why his teams are not “ready” for the big stage yet. The games are also scheduled for primetime so the fans don’t need to stay up until 1:30 AM to see the key matchups such as the Maui title game … I did and the KU/Duke game this year was absolutely worth it.

The nation gets a good clean look at these teams over the next two nights on primetime on national TV.

The challenge has been around for 12 years now and the ACC has won 10 out of them. That’s over 75%. Doesn’t the ACC own the Big Ten??

The games are closer than the final result.

Basketball can be funky with the final score. The average viewer looks at the final score of a Northwestern vs. Boston College game and believes that it was a blowout because the final score is 69 (BC) and 62 (Northwestern). But BC could be riding a three point lead with 50 seconds left and Northwestern can’t hit any wide open shots over their last two possessions and has to foul to remain in the game. This tournament epitomizes this pattern of college hoops every year. The games always go down to the wire, the last couple minutes.

Eight out of the 12 years, the winning conference edged the other by one game or two at the most. There were only three years where the ACC blew out the Big Ten. These games are much closer especially around the middle tier matchups. Why are the games so close?? This is the only tourney that tries to matchup teams based on their projected standings. The middle tier teams play each other and the best of each conference are paired together. The games are close for the Big Ten b/c it always comes down to Northwestern, Minnesota, or Penn State. The Big Ten – ACC challenge is for the fan that enjoys watching the entire game, specifically the 2nd half … not just the final score.

Which team NEEDS to win their matchup this year?

Indiana Hoosiers

Tom Crean’s crew handled Butler which is a HUGE win for them in this young season so far. Not only did Crean have to suppress all the talk about “Butler being the best team in the state of Indiana” (they have been!) but also instill some confidence into his young team. Indiana is 6-0 and flying high. This was expected b/c they ARE INDIANA. But now they go on the road to face a middle of the pack NC State team who has a new coach trying to prove a point that the state of North Carolina has more than just two basketball teams (Duke and UNC). The Hoosiers are capable of beating NC State and this is a typical matchup that could tip the balance during this tournament.

What is the best matchup this year??

This one is easy … Duke vs. Ohio State

Duke didn’t lose a game in this challenge until two years ago against a TOUGH Wisconsin team on the road. The schedulers were tired of hearing “Duke always gets the easy matchups” complaints from most of the Midwest fans so they sent Duke to some tough venues over the last few years. Bo Ryan’s crew is essentially perfect in Madison during the non-conference season but Duke has another tough test against Ohio State this year.

It would have been sweet if Kyrie Irving came back despite playing about 3 and ¾ games last season. We could have seen a Final Four worthy matchup of two super sophomores – Jared Sullinger and Irving.

This game means more to Thad Matta than Coach K for several reasons. The Buckeyes beating Florida comes as no surprise to most folks b/c Florida always enters the season overhyped and Ohio State confirmed that theory over the last two seasons. But this is Sullinger’s first chance at redemption after last year’s choke job in the NCAA tourney against a true big man from Kentucky. The Plumlees (or Plumlii?) don’t have an offensive game but they have the length and size to make Sullinger show some savvy moves in the paint. Sully can’t just back his way into the paint ala Chuck Barkley in this game. But there is another sophomore that will dictate the tempo … Aaron Craft.

Austin Rivers: Meet Aaron Craft's pesky hands.

How will Craft defend Austin Rivers?? Rivers still hasn’t figured out how to play in an organized offense. He essentially waits for picks and doesn’t fit into the flow of the Coach K system … yet. But he doesn’t have to truly fit into the system b/c his individual skills are better than anybody on the court during most games. But Craft is like the Greg Maddux of college guards … extremely cerebral. Rivers can probably outshoot Craft but he will have to earn every shot b/c Craft picks up the opponent’s tendencies very quickly. He locked down the Florida guards and made them earn every bucket. Rivers’ composure will be tested especially in the 2nd half and Coach K will pull the plug if needed by using a more experienced lineup. This is clearly the best matchup of the challenge.

Who wins the Big Ten – ACC Challenge 2012?

No predictions here. I am just the guy who asks for the Penn State @ Boston College game to be turned on at the bar while everybody else is interested in the Duke vs. Ohio State game. Because the top teams will play as expected but the bottom tier teams dictate who wins this challenge.

Go Big Ten.

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