The Big Ten/ACC Challenge begins this year not with a bang but a whimper. While tonight's games should prove both entertaining and illuminating, facing off against the juggernaut that is Monday Night Football means that neither game will be on ESPN and one of only two games being played tonight will be relegated to ESPN U.
Nebraska at Florida State University - 7:00 PM ET - ESPN2 - NEB -2.0
Nebraska enters at 4-1 with a road loss against Rhode Island. Florida State is 3-3 with a home loss to Northeastern among their defeats, but their other two losses were against fairly strong competition in Providence and UMass. Neither team is a lock to make the tournament but both teams should compete for a bid - especially Nebraska. Kenpom likes Florida State by a 1-point margin, which is practically a push. This game should be close and should be meaningful in March.
Tune in tonight to see whether Terran Petteway can get his offense on track(his offensive rating has been just 99.7 so far this year), if Tai Webster can cut what has been a sky high turnover percentage(30.1%), and if the Cornhuskers can pick up their first road victory. On the Seminoles' side of things, they'll be looking for Aaron Thomas to lead the way and hoping that Xavier Rathan-Mayes continues the hot start to his redshirt freshman season with a big contribution tonight.
Rutgers at Clemson - 7:00 PM ET - ESPNU - CLEM -9.5
Rutgers has been poor this season. So poor that their Friday win over the Vanderbilt Commodores ranked as a definite upset, and so poor that their home loss to St. Peter's was only a surprise in the margin by which they fell. Still, the Scarlet Knights are going to be a live opponent for the Clemson Tigers who have a few head-scratching losses of their own. Clemson appears to be a slightly better team than Rutgers, but has shown a tendency to play down to their opponents - after their season-opening victory over Florida A&M just one of their victories has been by a ten-point margin or better.
In Rutgers' first road game of the season, the Scarlet Knights will need their upperclassmen leaders to control the game and lead the way for the young guys like Mike Williams and Junior Etou. Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack need to be the terrific tandem they're capable of being for Rutgers to score the upset. Clemson, on the other hand, needs to force Kadeem Jack to defend by getting Landry Nnoko and Jaron Blossomgame as many touches as possible to see if they can load Kadeem down with fouls.
I think these opening games are going chalk. Nebraska's defense has been excellent, though their offense hasn't taken as many steps forward as many believed, and Florida State will have a tough time scoring against the length of the Cornhuskers. The Seminoles also lack a varied offensive attack, scoring just over 11% of their pointers from three. If Nebraska can seal off the paint and make Florida State shoot jumpers the Cornhuskers will be poised to succeed.
Rutgers, for their part, face a tall task in facing off against Clemson - literally. Clemson's leading scorer, Landry Nnoko, is taller than anyone Rutgers regularly plays. Kenpom likes Clemson to win by 8 with a probability of 81% and I find it tough to build a case for Rutgers here. Clemson's size will be a major challenge for the Scarlet Knights, one that may spell their doom tonight.