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11/29 Preview: The Challenge kicks off in earnest

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The Big Ten looks to keep the streak alive against a very deep ACC

Iowa v Temple Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A once-clever marketing ploy that has ballooned in excess year after year, and inspired knock-off likes the Gavitt Games and the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, the ACC-Big Ten challenge returns for its 18th incarnation. After the ACC took the first ten challenges, the Big Ten hasn’t lost the last seven years, a fact I probably shouldn’t milk for too many conclusions.

This year could reverse that trend, as the ACC has 9 teams in KenPom’s top 40 (to the Big Ten’s 6) that include #1, #2, and #3 (Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina).

Last night, the Big Ten split the proverbial home and home, with Minnesota losing on the road to Florida State and Northwestern pacing Wake Forest.

Tonight, six hotly anticipated match-ups tip off.

Big Ten Game of the Day

-#22 Syracuse at #17 Wisconsin

  • Time/TV: 7:30pm/ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-4)

A rematch of last year’s OT contest, which saw Wisconsin upsetting Syracuse at the Carrier Dome before Boeheim preemptively shut down the Orange’s season. Syracuse is coming off an embarrassing loss to South Carolina, notable for scoring less points than the football team did. The Badgers were walloped by UNC to close out the Maui Invitational.

First team to 50 wins. Don’t expect a ton of points. Both teams play the kind of maddening, slowed-down, pressure-defense/patient-offense that makes college basketball occasionally unwatchable. Syracuse’s vaunted press won’t flummox a Wisconsin team that doesn’t turn the ball over and is loaded with experienced play-makers. This should be close throughout, as every possession will drip with meaning and the Kohl Center crowd will rock.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin

The Rest:

-NC State at Illinois

  • Time/TV: 9:00pm/ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: NC State (-1)

Dennis Smith Jr. has been as good as advertised, scoring 19.8 points per game while dropping five and a half dimes. He’s even averaging almost 2 steals per game. The Wolfpack hasn’t beaten anyone yet and while they score points in buckets, their defense has been porous to say the least.

This may not matter against the Illini. Illinois has struggled to score against decent competition, getting blasted by West Virginia and losing at home to Winthrop. Malcolm Hill will have to continue carrying the load. He’s shooting 45% from 3, and they’ll need every single bucket to keep pace with NC State.

  • Pick Against The Spread: NC State

-Iowa at Notre Dame

  • Time/TV: 9:00pm/ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Notre Dame (-10)

We had such (relatively) high hopes for Iowa this year, particularly excited about the continued prowess of Peter Jok. He’s been amazing, leading the Hawkeyes and the Big Ten with 25 points per game. But he only scored 13 in a dreadful 33-point loss to Virginia, in which the team scored just 41. And the 42 points by himself against Memphis wasn’t enough.

Honestly, I don’t see how Iowa beats a feisty Notre Dame team that’s held off Colorado and Northwestern. If Jok can get going, they might beat the spread but I don’t foresee a road victory.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Notre Dame

-Pittsburgh at Maryland

  • Time/TV: 7:00pm/ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland (-4)

The undefeated Terrapins are still a bit of a question mark for us, with close wins over middling competition. But they’ve managed to pull out victories each step of the way and tonight face a Pittsburgh squad that’s almost their exact mirror.

Like Maryland, the Panthers have not one but two upperclassmen who dominate the basketball. Michael Young and Jamel Artis score 52% of their points. Like Maryland, many of their wins over lesser teams have been too close for comfort. Unlike Maryland, who will be able to throw big bodies at their forwards, they probably don’t have anyone who can guard Melo Trimble, who’s having a sterling season thus far.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Maryland

-Michigan State at #5 Duke

  • Time/TV: 9:30pm/ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Duke (-13)

This is unfair. Duke is the #1 rated KenPom team in the nation, despite playing without three of their highly touted recruits (Marques Bolden, Jayson Tatum, and Harry Giles). It hasn’t mattered. Their four guard attack of Greyson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, and Frank Jackson had been all over the place, for an offensive rating of 121.5. It’s eye-popping what this team can do and scary to think they might get even better as the season wears on.

I honestly don’t know how Sparty can slow them down. Michigan State has one of the lowest defensive turnover rates in the country and has given up two double digit leads and almost an 18-point spread against Wichita State. Miles Bridges has been wonderful, as advertised, but Joshua Langford is battling an injury while struggling to stay on the floor and I remain surprised that anyone even guards Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. He's averaging less than 6 points per 40 minutes.

I suppose there’s a universe where Nick Ward wrecks Amile Jefferson down low, Eron Harris and Langford bust out, and Bridges silences the Cameron Crazies with punishing dunks. But I’m dreaming. It won’t happen tonight.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Duke

-Georgia Tech at Penn State

  • Time/TV: 7:00pm/ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State (-3)

Always fun to see two of the worst teams in each conference, but who are actively getting better, run up and down the floor. The Yellow Jackets freshman guard Josh Okogie against Penn State’s Tony Carr and Shep Garner should be enjoyable to watch.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Penn State

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Nicholas’ Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 7-3