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Three Thoughts On The 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge Schedule

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Some thoughts following the release of the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchups,

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday afternoon, the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge schedule was released featuring numerous nationally relevant matchups.  It's an exciting time for fans of both conferences and college basketball fans in general as the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has become arguably the marquee event of the non-conference season across the nation.  The ability to bring together two prestigious conferences with nationally competitive teams and great coaches attracts plenty of attention.

Last season, the Big Ten narrowly came out on top of the event with a 8-6 record with the biggest game of the series between Duke and Wisconsin serving as an appetizer for the eventual national championship game in Indianapolis.  There is no guarantee that fans could see a similar game this season, but there are plenty of intriguing matchups.

With that, here are some thoughts on the release.

The Big Three

Though there are 14 matchups in the event featuring 13 teams that received bids to the 2015 NCAA Tournament, there are three games that rise to the top.  There are certainly other big games, but it's hard not to think these three games are the biggest.

Top Matchups In the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge:
  • Indiana Hoosiers at Duke Blue Devils
  • Louisville Cardinals at Michigan State Spartans
  • Maryland Terrapins at North Carolina Tar Heels
Storylines could change by time the season rolls around, but it's hard not to think these three games will define the event and determine how fans remember the Challenge this year.  Specifically, the Maryland at North Carolina looks like a matchup of Top 5 teams that could both easily find themselves in the Final Four.  The Big Ten will be on the road for two of these matchups, but with this level of teams, anything could happen.

Get Ready To Travel

As most fans are well aware, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has two general rules in its organization.  Each conference will get half of the games at home and each team will alternate between the road and home each season.  The opponents are never known, but before the schedule is released, it's pretty easy to determine who is traveling and who will stay at home each season.

Unfortunately for the Big Ten, this year's scheduling cycle could be a tough one to overcome.  According to my latest power rankings, the Big Ten will see 5 of its top 6 teams on the road in the Challenge.  The conference will get to see most of its team projected to be in the middle or bottom of the conference play at home, but for an event that often puts most of its attention on the top matchups, this is going to be a tough year for the conference considering so many of its top teams will have to travel and face quality opponents.

Bottom Could Be Vital For Big Ten

Of course, with so many of the top teams travel, it also means that many of the teams perceived to be in the middle or bottom of the conference will be staying at home.  This includes teams like Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Rutgers.  All of these teams have serious question marks coming into next season, but all also have the chance to knock off an ACC team on their home court.

Particularly, Illinois and Ohio State have major opportunities to score big wins for the conference.  The Illini will get Notre Dame and the Buckeyes could face a potential Top 5 team in Virginia.  Both teams will likely be underdogs, but if they can use home crowds to fuel upsets, it could be crucial for the Big Ten to not only win the Challenge, but also to ensure both teams are nationally relevant this season and in postseason contention.

The role of middle and bottom teams in this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge also provides perspective on a growing trend in the Challenge.  When the event first started, there were just nine games in total.  Of these nine games, four featured at least one ranked team.  As such, it was an event defined by the good teams of both conferences.

Fast forward to today and the Challenge now features 14 total games and according to ESPN's early Top 25 rankings, just six of the games will feature at least one ranked team.  Not only has the total number of games between middle and bottom teams increased since 1999, but their representation proportionally has also increased.  Conference expansion has had plenty of effects and one of them has been increased importance on the middle and bottom teams in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

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You can see the entire 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge lineup here.