Well one night into the Big Ten / ACC Challenge and the Big Ten is in a bit of a hole, dropping four of the first six games tonight. Now the conference will need to win five games tomorrow if they want to win the challenge once again. Of course we could point out that the ACC had to go pick up several teams from the Big East in order to hang with the Big Ten (Syracuse and Pittsburgh both won tonight), but we'll save that for later if need be!
The night started off with Indiana looking...well, they looked horrible. The offense was having fits, the team was turning the ball over and Tom Crean's team once again fell apart when facing a zone. It's kind of silly how poorly the Hoosiers fare against the zone in games like these, but at least they made it competitive for awhile. I actually stepped out to hit the grocery store (bought some Peppermint Wonderland and Egg Nog ice cream) and was surprised to see Indiana hanging with Syracuse. Of course once I returned they immediately stopped scoring, repeatedly turned it over and watched Syracuse open up a double digit lead and pull away.
After realizing that Indiana's night was more or less over, I flipped over to the Illinois game. The Illini had opened up a lead against Georgia Tech and were cruising so it looked like the time was ripe for a victory for Illinois. Just like the Indiana game, though, the Illini promptly stopped scoring once I turned the game on, with Georgia Tech closing out on a 19-4 run to win the game 67-64. It's kind of a shame that Illinois couldn't hold on here, spoiling another impressive performance from leading scorer Rayvonte Rice. Of course Illinois couldn't do much outside of Rice and let Tech hang around for too long, eventually stalling at the worst time imaginable and blowing the game.
Big Ten 0. ACC 2.
With Illinois now out of the mix I switched over to ESPNU to check out Penn State. The Nittany Lions were the underdog but were hanging around with Pittsburgh throughout the entire game and even looked like they might win tonight. Well maybe I shouldn't have turned the game on as Penn State immediately fell behind and Pittsburgh took control of the game once I started watching. The end result was a Pittsburgh win by 9 points in another game were Penn State looked good for most of the night but just couldn't keep it together down the stretch.
I made a comment earlier in the week that this team will be able to compete and play considerably better than expected if the frontcourt keeps producing. Well tonight's matchup saw the trio of forwards combine for only 14 points on 5 of 18 shooting. Not exactly what Nittany Lions wanted to see, especially with a thin bench that hasn't produced much at all. Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill had big nights like they usually do, with Frazier leading the way with 27 points on 10 of 17 shooting. Penn State's backcourt continues to impress but on nights like these it's going to be tough. There's the talent for the frontcourt to do enough to help them win games, but it's been a bit inconsistent and when the frontcourt struggles it's going to be a long night for this team.
So with the Big Ten striking out in the early games everyone started to turn it's attention to the night's biggest matchup, Michigan at Duke. Well then...Michigan spent most of the game trying to give it's best Indiana impersonation, struggling all over the court and once again looking out of sync. The Wolverines did save face a bit with 17 points over the last two minutes, but it was too late by then. Michigan has no go-to-guy scoring option and it's going to be a struggle when they face stronger competition like Duke. McGary should be fine when healthy, but Glenn Robinson III fades away far too often and Nik Stauskas is limited by predominantly being a three point specialist. Basically if teams can maintain the perimeter then the Wolverines have McGary and no one else right now and that won't cut in the Big Ten.
Well at least the Big Ten had Iowa and Minnesota. Facing off against Notre Dame, Iowa's defense may have looked atrocious but the team shot almost 57% from the field and hit on 86.2% of their free throws. Led by Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa's offense highlighted the night as they answered everything Notre Dame threw at them and maintained control of the game throughout almost the entire duration. Iowa has looked very, very good and this is a nice win to add to the resume after falling short against Villanova last week. At 8-1 Iowa is coming together nicely and is looking ready to make the jump to the NCAA Tournament.
Closing the night out was Minnesota. Coming off of a disappointing week the Gophers bounced back nicely at home, showcasing a stout defense that gave Florida State fits and held the Seminoles to 61 points. Minnesota didn't exactly impress from the field, only hitting on 34% of their shots, but managed to get to the line 38 times and hit enough free throws to keep the Seminoles at bay. It was a nice win for Minnesota after losing a pair of games last week and will look nice on their resume if they can play their way into the NCAA bubble talk. Andre Hollins overcame a poor 3 of 13 shooting night by adding 12 of 16 from the line and Austin Hollins added an additional 16 points. It wasn't always pretty but Minnesota persevered in a dogfight and picked up the W.
So the Big Ten was a bit disappointing in the first night of the Big Ten / ACC Challenge. It wasn't a huge surprise that Indiana or Michigan lost with both facing better teams. But I think people expected both teams to at least look somewhat competent. Indiana's issues may be stemmed in youth (or the dreaded zone), but Michigan has definitely came back down from the post-NCAA Tournament hype and looks like a middle of the field kind of team. If Michigan doesn't piece it together quickly they could need a strong Big Ten season to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines will have two more chances for another marquee non-conference win, though, as they still have Arizona and Stanford on the schedule.
Even more disappointing was Illinois, a team looking to take advantage of getting a weaker ACC opponent. While on the road, the Illini were led by Rayvonte Rice and looked good for almost all of tonight before hitting a roadblock at the end and watching it all fall apart in the closing minutes. The loss is pretty bad no matter how you look at it, but at least it's only their first loss of the season. Penn State's loss was another situation of a team fading down the stretch, but their frontcourt's ineffectiveness was detrimental and most people penciled in Pittsburgh to win anyway.
So while the Big Ten disappointed, at least we picked up wins from Minnesota and Iowa. Now it's time to build from the late games and pick it up tomorrow. 5-1 will win the Challenge, 4-2 will create a tie and if we lose three or more games than it's a dreaded loss to the ACC. Hoping for at least five wins tomorrow!
For more coverage, including several full recaps, click the links below:
Michigan 69 Duke 79
Iowa 96 Notre Dame 93
Indiana 52 Syracuse 69