Big Ten-ACC Challenge 2013 schedule and preview

Big Ten-ACC Challenge 2013 schedule and preview: The 15th annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge takes place Dec. 3-4 with ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU televising all 12 games. Highlighting the battle for conference bragging rights and the Commissioner’s Cup are Indiana at Syracuse and Michigan at Duke (ESPN, Dec. 3), and North Carolina at Michigan State (ESPN, Dec. 4). The ACC holds a 10-3-1 record, winning the first 10 events while the Big Ten won the next three. The teams tied with six wins each in 2012.


Big Ten-ACC Challenge Preview

By Sterling Silver

Premier Matchups (All times EST)

Tuesday, Dec. 3

Indiana at Syracuse 7:15 P.M. on ESPN
One of my favorite matchups starts off the challenge in the battle of high-profile programs. Indiana came into the season with lowered expectations after losing Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, and Cody Zeller to graduation, transfer, or the NBA. But for those who tuned in to the final of the 2k Sports Classic versus a great Connecticut squad, Indiana looks to climb back to the top of the Big Ten. While Indiana may not be a great 3-point shooting team (28% through Monday), they still manage to score at an 86 points per game clip by attacking the lane. They are led by star underclassman Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh. The sophomore Ferrell plays like a young Jrue Holiday with his ability to shoot midrange jumpshots while finding a way to get his small frame to the hoop. Vonleh is a rebounding machine and looks comfortable putting up his own shots in the lane.

But for as well as Indiana has surprisingly looked, my favorite team to watch so far this year and perennial Final Four threat Syracuse has played all the better. They most recently swept through Minnesota, California, and Baylor en route to their 3rd championship win in the Maui Invitation. They have so many fun players to watch, led by one of the best pure scorers in the nation, C.J. Fair. After a gutty performance against Minnesota and championship win over Baylor, C.J. Fair showed off his excellent isolation outside shooting game over tournament quality teams on a national stage. Along with his offensive contribution comes great guard play by Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis. Trevor Cooney has the a solid corner 3-point touch while being able to attack the basket and Ennis has looked comfortable stepping into the point guard position (4.6 assist/turnover ratio) as a freshman. To top it off, Syracuse looks like it’s found the next Wesley Johnson in Jerami Grant. His ability to attack the basket and rebound make him a big matchup problem, especially with his size (6’8”) and the new hand-check rules for this season.

I feel like it will be close for most of the game, but Syracuse should pull away in the last five minutes. While Indiana will be able to get easier inside scoring driving past the un-Syracuse-like smaller guards at the top of the zone defense, Indiana will have trouble keeping up with Fair, Grant, Ennis, and Cooley in scoring output while playing on the road in the Carrier Dome.

Prediction: Syracuse 83, Indiana 75

Michigan at Duke 9:15 P.M. on ESPN
I recently re-watched Michigan’s matchup versus Florida State in the semi-final of the Puerto Rico Tip Off to grasp where they are against what looks to be a top-25 team. I’m still a huge fan of their guard-play by lead by Nic Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Stauskas continues to shoot 3-pointers well (47%) and attack the lane for easy points to beat defenders worried about his outside shooting. He’s well on his way to becoming a complete guard in only his 2nd year of college. Robinson’s shooting percentages are down a bit to start the season (from 57% to 41%) but with his size and athleticism from the wing, his scoring should improve once he begins to attack the lane more often like last season. Derrick Walton is an interesting find for Michigan offensively. He has a lot of potential to be a 3rd or 4th scoring option for Michigan but his consistency needs to get better. The good thing for his development offensively is that Mitch McGary is finally starting to get healthy.

Duke is beginning to look like a scary team as the season begins to pick up. Many fans expected newcomers Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker to be positive additions to the team, but the way they are playing right now, both could be 1st or 2nd team All-Americans. The transfer Hood has doubled his scoring since coming to Duke in the same amount of playing time with his much more efficient 3-point shooting (36% to 59%) and free-throw shooting (65% to 82%) on top of an excellent mid-range shooting game. Parker has answered the freshman hype with efficient scoring (23 points per game on 55% shooting) while drawing double teams many times in the post. His rebounding prowess has also been excellent (8 rebounds per game) while playing as an undersized center.

Most people will view Michigan’s loss to Charlotte in the final of the Puerto Rico as reason to get down on their season, but I’m not one of those people. November matchups against non-conference teams focus on shrinking rotations and getting experience for first-time starters so results aren’t always indicative of what a team will look like in spring. This will definitely be a high-scoring game as both offenses have repeatedly scored in the 80s so far this season. I’m also really excited to see how McGary plays overall against an elite paint threat in Parker. If this game were on a neutral court, I would pick Michigan, but because it’s in Cameron Indoor, I have the Dukies in a nail-biter.

Prediction: Duke 89, Michigan 87

Florida State at Minnesota 9:30 P.M. on ESPNU
I think this will end up being a better game than people may think coming in. Florida State looks like a top-25 team because of players like Ian Miller and Okaro White. Miller has dramatically improved his shooting overall shooting (32% to 48%) and free-throw shooting (63% to 94%). With the improved efficiency, he’s getting to the free-throw line much more and finding consistency in his offensive game. Okaro White continues to be the leader of the team with a little better shooting from 10-12 feet and better rebounding in the same amount of playing time. But the real key overall for Florida State is their overall team size. They have 3 7-footers on their team led by 7’3” Boris Bojanovsky along with a rotation of mostly 6’8” players to clog lanes defensively.

Minnesota gave Tubby Smith the boot after failing to make the NCAA Tournament and brought in Richard Pitino, son of Rick Pitino to breathe some fresh air into the program. Even after a coaching change, the team still looks like it could win 18 to 20 games because of a solid scoring duo in Austin and Andre Hollins. The unrelated Minnesota guards both shoot around 42% to 45% and attack the lane pretty consistently. If they can get their shooting up to 50%, Minnesota has the potential to be in the top 25 for the majority of the season. They also have the hustle player of the year so far in Joey King. He’s someone you could fall in love with for his hustle play, consistently diving to save loose passes and winning the one-on-ones for loose balls on the floor.

I’m expecting Florida State to add in a little more zone for when Florida International transfer Malik Smith is off the floor for Minnesota. Other than Smith, Minnesota is not that great at shooting outside and plays at a slower pace so the zone defense plays to Florida State’s advantage. If the Seminoles were a better outside shooting team, they would win by double digits, but any kind of road win in William’s Arena is a quality performance.

Prediction: Florida State 65, Minnesota 61

Wednesday, Dec. 4

Wisconsin at Virginia 7:00 P.M. on ESPN2
Bo Ryan at Wisconsin is once again looking to finish in the top four of the Big Ten conference. He has a team that can once again do so with players like Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, and Ben Brust. Dekker is playing like a top-20 NBA draft pick with his continuous efficient outside shooting and knowing that when his team needs a score, he should shoot. Kaminsky has definitely surprised me with his excellent transition into the starting lineup by shooting excellent (57%) and the smoothing out of his game as he’s getting used to his 7-foot frame. Brust is still the 3-point threat for the Badgers shooting 43% from the 3-point line and is a solid complement to Dekker and Kaminsky.

Tony Bennett has another 20 win team in Charlottesville led once again by senior guard Joe Harris.  Harris can do it all from the guard position with an excellent 60% shooting from the field on top of an amazing 55% 3-point shot. His playing time is down a little bit to start the season because of the super sophomores, Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon. Gill is a transfer from South Carolina and has stepped in as the 2nd scorer that Harris didn’t have last season. He has shot really solid so far at 68% and has drawn double teams away from Harris. Brogdon can also clear up space with a great catch-and-shoot corner 3 point shot and has picked up scoring as well.

I think that Wisconsin will win this low scoring game because of its half-court defense. It’s a defense that will consistently be first or second in points allowed in the Big Ten and is playing a Big Ten style team in Virginia. I think Dekker will be able to hit some big shots down the stretch and with some late free throws, should be able to get a win on the road against a quality team.

Prediction: Wisconsin 67, Virginia 63

North Carolina at Michigan State 9:00 P.M. on ESPN
Only 6 games into the season, North Carolina has already experienced some major peaks and valleys. In their 3rd game of the season, they played an always tough Belmont team, but somehow lost even though the game was in Chapel Hill. A week later, they then upset then #3 Louisville in the Holiday Tipoff Tournament. To top it off, another week later they then lost on the road to UAB. I can attribute the wins and losses early in the season to every team learning about their respective rotations but I also recognize that until P.J. Hairston is reinstated, this is only about a 19-win team in the much tougher ACC. Roy Williams still has some quality players to tread water for the time being. Marcus Paige is an excellent all-around scorer who can sneak his smaller frame into the lane and create havoc with his inside scoring and passing while he can still create scoring opportunities for himself off the dribble. James Michael McAdoo is also a talented scorer, but his free-throw shooting still hasn’t improved and his shooting percentage is starting to slip, though the latter can be attributed to having to shoot more with Hairston gone.

On the other hand, Michigan State has proved to be the most consistent and toughest team early in the season. Other than the Kentucky matchup, they’ve won every game by at least double digits and don’t look to slow down any time soon. Gary Harris is continuing the double digit scoring from his freshman season. Keith Appling is shooting much better this season and his turnovers are down. Adreian Payne is continuing to rebound at a great pace and shoot better from the 3-point arc. Branden Dawson is rebounding and scoring at better rates. This looks like a complete team right now, but we’ll see if they can keep playing this well when March comes around.

I really don’t think North Carolina is a consistent enough team to really compete yet with a senior-laden Michigan State squad. Their free-throw shooting is anemic at best and they don’t have the depth to match up with the Spartans. The game will be within 6 points up until the 10-minute mark in the second half when Michigan State should be able to pull away. I feel like this will end up as one of the few blowouts in the challenge.

Prediction: Michigan State 78, North Carolina 64

Best of the Rest

(All times EST)

Tuesday, Dec. 3

Game Time Station
Illinois at Georgia Tech 7:15 P.M. ESPN2
Penn State at Pittsburgh 7:30 P.M. ESPNU
Notre Dame at Iowa 9:15 P.M. ESPN2

Wednesday, Dec. 4

Game Time Station
Maryland at Ohio State 7:00 P.M. ESPN
Northwestern at NC State 7:30 P.M. ESPNU
Boston College at Purdue 9:30 P.M. ESPN2
Miami at Nebraska 9:30 P.M. ESPNU