For the first time in the ACC – Big Ten Challenge’s eleven-year history the Big Ten is the defending champion. Our pick for the 2010 version of this event is another Big Ten victory; 6 to 5. Before you settle in for three days of quality basketball, our preview outlines the key storylines, prospects to watch and our picks for each game.
Monday, November 29
Virginia at Minnesota
Storyline: Tony Bennett is a great coach with the ability to win with generally average talent and that why he is a great fit at UVA. The problem with playing Minnesota is you can’t game-plan size and Minnesota’s front line of Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Samson III and Colton Iverson is big and physical.
Prospect to Watch: Trevor Mbakwe is a classic power forward who is a double-double waiting to happen.
The Pick: Minnesota is the pick even though early indications are Al Nolen and Rodney Williams will not play. I just can’t see UVA winning in “The Barn”, an extremely tough environment to play in.
Tuesday, November 30
North Carolina at Illinois
Storyline: Will the real Harrison Barnes please show up? This site and many others have proclaimed Barnes as the top pick in next year’s draft but his transition to college basketball has not been easy. For UNC to have a chance he will need to be great against an experienced Illinois squad.
Prospect to Watch: Harrison Barnes and Demetri McCamey are obvious choices here but keep your eye on Jerme Richmond off the bench for Illinois. He posses a great feel for the game and is a potential star for Bruce Webber.
The Pick: UNC has been terribly inconsistent and Illinois’ backcourt of Demetri McCamey, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson will be the difference for Illinois.
Ohio State at Florida State
Storyline: I was at this game last year and other than Chris Singleton and Solomon Alabi, Florida State was outclassed. The bad news for Florida State is Alabi is gone and Ohio State may be better without Evan Turner as Freshman Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft have been sensational so far this season.
Prospect to Watch: The Singleton/Sullinger match-up is the obvious headliner but scouts may be starting to take notice of David Lighty. He may be the best defender in the Big Ten but with an improved shooting stroke scouts may be looking at a future Bruce Bowen.
The Pick: OSU already won in Gainesville convincingly so expect the same result in Tallahassee.
Michigan at Clemson
Storyline: Clemson has turned the ball over too much this year as they start life without Oliver Purnell. Michigan was unable to score any quality wins last week in Atlantic City. Both teams know this game is an important resume’ builder for March.
Prospect to Watch: If you don’t have a dog in this fight save your DVR space.
The Pick: After watching Michigan in Atlantic City I don’t see how they deal with a more athletic Clemson team as the Tigers pull away for a double-digit win at home.
Georgia Tech at Northwestern
Storyline: If Northwestern wants to make the tournament for the first time ever they will need this win because their non-conference schedule is weak. Paul Hewitt has some talent on this squad as exhibited by their near miss against Syracuse but the talent is young as exhibited by their loss to Kennesaw State.
Prospect to Watch: If you saw John Shurna on the street you would think he was a tall young man but not an under the radar NBA prospect. Shurna is more than a shooter as he does a good job slashing to the basket and getting to the line.
The Pick: I have to go with the home team here because they have the best player on the court with Shurna.
Iowa at Wake Forest
Storyline: This is one of the weakest match-ups in the Challenge with a poor Iowa squad traveling to Wake Forest. Wake is still looking for an identity under new coach Jeff Bzdelik.
Prospect to Watch: Travis Mckie is a solid Freshman who should develop into a nice prospect over the next few years. He should have a big day inside against the Hawkeyes.
The Pick: Wake Forest should win this game easy and if they don’t it’s going to be a long year for Coach Bzdelik.
Wednesday, December 1
Michigan State at Duke
Storyline: If Kemba Walker were not playing out of his mind right now this would be a #1 versus #2 match-up. Otherwise you have two Final Four teams from last year that essentially bring back their key players. Throw in two stellar recruiting classes including stud Kyrie Irving and you have a potential National Championship game the first week of April.
Prospect to Watch: Kyrie Irving won the match-up with Jacob Pullen and now comes veteran Kalin Lucas. Irving has the ability to control the game and if you are a fan of point guards watching him is pure joy.
The Pick: The key to the game will be Mason Plumlee and his ability to neutralize inside scoring from Sparty’s bigs, most notably Draymond Green. If they play twice this year it’s always better to get to an Izzo team early rather than later. Duke has been so dominant lately and I don’t see how Michigan State wins unless Durrell Summers has a superhuman effort. In the end Duke pulls away from Sparty late for another win over a top #5 team.
Purdue at Virginia Tech
Storyline: The Hokies will have played away from Blacksburg against Kansas State, Okalahoma State and UNLV to date and now they finally get to play a big game at home. Purdue is a two-man show with Jajuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore looking for help, as quality depth is an issue for Coach Painter.
Prospect to Watch: If you had to pick a headliner for this game its Jajuan Johnson. He has the ability to stretch the defense with an excellent 15-foot jumper and is force on the defensive end blocking shots.
The Pick: Purdue looked vulnerable against Richmond with a lack of talented bench players and Kansas State wore down Virginia Tech with its depth in their early season meeting so Purdue will not be able to wear down the Hokies. Without help for Moore and Johnson look for the Hokies to score a key early season win.
North Carolina State at Wisconsin
Storyline: Madison is not an easy place to play, just ask the defending National Champs who lost there last year. North Carolina State is a young squad who could be a surprise team in the ACC with star Freshman C.J. Leslie.
Prospect to Watch: After coaching Jon Leuer with Team USA Select last summer Jay Wright commented Jon Leuer was a future NBA player. Leuer is a solid player that does everything well who will be on a NBA roster next year.
The Pick: If this weren’t in Madison then you would consider an upset by the Wolfpack. This will be a close game but the home court advantage is too much as the Badgers pull away late for a win.
Indiana at Boston College
Storyline: Indiana has not played a quality opponent yet so you would think Coach Crean is excited to see where his team is at compared to last year. Boston College is always a tough team to play against because they pass the ball so well in the interior leading to easy baskets. This feels more like a potential NIT game than NCAA Tournament game though.
Prospect to Watch: Maurice Creek was a rising star last season until an ACL injury ended it early. His return to full strength is of interest to scouts around the league and this will be his first real test.
The Pick: IU fans are just itching for a winner and they get an upset on the road at Boston College. This game makes the difference in the challenge giving the title back to the Big Ten.
Maryland at Penn State
Storyline: Penn State was abysmal last year but they were able to beat Virginia, which should serve notice to Maryland that somebody on Penn State can play. That would be Talor Battle who can single handily carry the Nittany Lions if needed.
Prospect to Watch: Talor Battle is a fun player to watch but scouts are not sure if he can play point at the next level.
The Pick: Even though Battle is a heck of a player, Maryland is better than Penn State at almost every other spot on the roster adding up to an easy Maryland victory.