The most recognized annual inter-conference series in college basketball — the Big Ten/ACC Challenge — has its tilts set for next season. The 14-game clash between the two leagues don’t have the dates/times set, but we do know who is playing and where after the games were announced Thursday.
Now, let’s rank the matchups:
The Spartans qualify as a preseason top-three team, and might in fact have the best player in the sport next season in Miles Bridges. On the other side? Notre Dame has Bonzi Colson, who could compete with Bridges for NPOY honors. If both are First Team All-American selections come March, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, I’d lean toward it more likely that that happens vs. not. This is a big opportunity for a Notre Dame team that would boost its resume in a huge way if it could find a way to pilfer a road victory. Winner: Michigan State
Two top-25 teams right here. Miami is a sleeper pick to win the ACC, in fact. Jim Larranaga is bringing back a lot of talent to a team that won 21 games last season. Minnesota, which gets the benefit of playing at home, is projected as a top-four team in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers were a No. 5 seed in this past NCAA Tournament. Star watch: Minnesota’s 6-foot-8 sophomore, Amir Coffey, could be ready for a big jump next season. Miami has its own stud sophomore in Bruce Brown. Should be a fun game.Winner: Miami
Another game between two teams likely to be ranked at the start of the season. Louisville, which just landed Brian Bowen, a five-star wing who will play next season, might be a top-five team. Purdue loses Caleb Swanigan, but Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas are back. The Boilermakers can win this one, no doubt. Louisville’s got a solid non-conference schedule coming, it seems, and this would be a big chance to bolster its power numbers. Winner: Purdue
In keeping with the theme, the top four most appealing games in this Challenge are hosted by Big Ten teams. This game of course has TV appeal, but Duke is going to be talented but way young. Indiana starts the Archie Miller regime, but the Hoosiers are very much TBD for next season. Right now, it’s hard to say if Indiana will be bruising to make the NIT, or if Miller will be a spark plug that vaults IU to, say, a 6 seed. I’m not really sure. But the fact Duke has to go on the road here makes it a lot more interesting than if IU was in Cameron. Duke is 16-2 all-time in this event. Winner: Indiana
You’ll get some coverage and flashbacks to 1993, when UNC famously beat Michigan (the Chris Webber timeout snafu) in the NCAA title game. The reigning national champs will welcome in a solid Michigan team, but at this point I’m not sure if the Wolverines will be a top-30 club. Given UNC’s leadership at the point with Joel Berry II back, the Heels should be anywhere from a 7- to 10-point favorite. Winner: North Carolina
The Badgers will have Ethan Happ back, and he’ll compete with Bridges for Big Ten Player of the Year. Virginia had a down season, but still, UVa went 23-11 and earned a No. 5 seed. This game will move along at an efficient but slow pace. Over/under for possessions: 58.5. The game will likely end in the neighborhood of 63-59. That’s not big-time appeal, but I’d expect both of these teams to be in the Big Dance in 2018. Winner: Virginia
This is a bummer. Northwestern will probably be better next year than it was last year, meaning next season’s NU team will be the best in school history. It would have been nice to see Northwestern tasked with a slightly better opponent, but I will note that Georgia Tech gets this one at home. So it’s far from an automatic W. Winner: Northwestern
A Maryland team without Melo Trimble goes on the road to face one of the youngest Syracuse teams of the past two decades. I don’t think either group makes next year’s NCAA Tournament. Appealing only for the names on the jerseys. Winner: Maryland
I expect Iowa to be a bubble team, while Virginia Tech should have the roster to cruise into the Big Dance. If in fact Buzz Williams is leading the way in Blacksburg (at the time of this post, he could well still be in the mix for the Ohio State job), the Hokies will likely control this one. The game itself lacks real pizzazz. Winner: Virginia Tech
Lacks appeal, but Penn State is the sleeper pick in the Big Ten to make the NCAAs. I’m a bit skeptical of that, but I think it’s safe to say Pat Chambers needs a huge year to extend his stay in State College. NC State is in Year One of the Kevin Keatts era. Hard to get a grasp on how good, or not, State will be next season. Winner: NC State
Illinois gets a rejuvenation with Brad Underwood, but the Illini aren’t going to be good immediately. And Wake Forest, which was fun in spots last year with John Collins (who will be a top-20 pick in this year’s draft), is likely to take a step back. Forgettable game. Winner: Wake Forest
The Tigers made a habit of losing close game after close game after close game last season. Now, Jaron Blossomgame‘s time is up, so how good will this team be? Maybe still good enough to win at Ohio State, which is going through an unexpected coaching change. The Buckeyes will likely not have a full roster of scholarship players at the start of next season. Winner: Ohio State
Boston College actually won’t be awful next year — a welcomed change of pace — while Nebraska is dealing with roster turnover that will make it hard to crack the top half of the Big Ten. Obviously this one doesn’t offer up much reason to watch.Winner: Nebraska
And we’ve reached the end of the list. Winner: Rutgers
Per ESPN, which puts on the Challenge, these are the four matchups that have never been held before in the 14 years of the event: Maryland-Syracuse, Florida State-Rutgers, Michigan-UNC and Boston College-Nebraska. The ACC leads 11-5, with the series splitting in two years (2012 and 2013).
Pitt is the ACC team not participating in this year’s event.