No non-conference event gets more acclaim than the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge and rightfully so. The event features plenty of college basketball’s finest programs and plenty of the nation’s best non-conference matchups.
Given the importance of this event, the BTPowerhouse staff assembled for a roundtable discussion on Thursday morning to react to this year’s Challenge. The staff took a look at the best wins and worst losses and gave some thoughts on how the event projects for the Big Ten title race.
Here’s the discussion.
1. For the first time since 2008, the Big Ten lost the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge. While the first two nights were deadlocked, the last night was all ACC, as the Big Ten went just 1-5 on Wednesday. So, is it time to panic on the Big Ten?
-Thomas Beindit: Simple answer is no, but complex answer is . . . maybe? While the Big Ten’s performance during the ACC Challenge left a lot to desire, it’s important to remember that this isn’t an event that’s necessarily a perfect reflection of a conference. Many are going to develop the narratives about conference strength on this event, but remember that it’s not a formula.
Let me explain what I mean. To start, let’s remember that the ACC doesn’t even fully participate in the event. It has 15 teams and deliberately withholds its (projected) worst team from the event. Obviously, that’s an inherent disadvantage for the Big Ten. Along with that, remember that these matchups are primarily created for watchability and not necessarily strength. The ACC’s best team doesn’t always play the Big Ten’s best team. Matchups often feature wholly dissimilar teams with widely variant home-road splits. As such, a simple win-loss record never tells everything.
However, I would be lying if I said these outcomes weren’t concerning. Three Big Ten teams that made last year’s NCAA Tournament got kicked around (Iowa, Maryland, Purdue) and two potential ones this year (Michigan and Minnesota) couldn’t capitalize in winnable games. The Big Ten will have its work cut out in the coming weeks and fans will see just how representative this Big Ten-ACC Challenge is for this season.
-Casey Pazzalia: It’s certainly NOT time to panic. The only really bad loss was Maryland’s loss to Pitt. When you live by the three and die by the three, those type losses are going to happen. They shot 36 threes against Pitt, and only made 10. Despite their 7-1 record, it’s become clear that Maryland isn’t a real contender in the Big Ten. Otherwise, I think the Big Ten had an impressive showing.
Michigan State is really young, I was surprised they hung in as close as they did with Duke. Sparty has had an absolute buzzsaw to start the season, it’s probably the best possible thing for the young team though. The tough non-conference schedule will pay off later in the year for MSU.
One thing I will point out, the Gophers lack of depth was on full display against Florida State. They took a small lead into the second half, but were manhandled going forward. They will have a better year than last, but need to extend their rotation to play with deeper teams.
-Nicholas Ward: Depends on what we mean by panic. Going into the week, KenPom had the ACC ranked as the #1 overall conference with the Big Ten as fourth. Given that this mostly held serve throughout the corresponding three nights of basketball, the outcome isn’t that surprising. There are a handful of Big Ten teams who are either already elite or show promise, a bunch in the middle of the pack, and a few bad ones. The conference is, to paraphrase the late Dennis Green, exactly who we thought they were.
-Brian Sonnenberg: No, I’m not panicking. The high-end Big Ten team may not be evident now, but Indiana is very good. Michigan State is good too; it’s just they’ve had a brutal schedule (both competition and travel). Wisconsin, if more consistent, ought to be ranked in the top-20 all year. Purdue is good, but caught a Louisville buzz-saw in the first half, and Ohio State/Nebraska/Michigan lost by three or less points. There’s not an obvious Final Four team in the Big Ten, yet, but there are still good teams. But, I’m not panicking.
2. Despite the overall struggles, there were still some huge victories for the conference, including a few over top 25 caliber teams. What was the Big Ten’s most impressive win?
-Beindit: Undoubtedly, the best win goes to Indiana. Not only because North Carolina was 7-0 and ranked in the top five entering the game, but also because the Hoosiers desperately needed a big win after last week’s Fort Wayne debacle. This is going to be a win that should put Indiana in play for a one seed at season’s end.
-Ward: Indiana putting it all together against a talented, deep, and experienced North Carolina squad really stood out to me. The Hoosiers have a complete starting five but I was worried how they might play after last week’s embarrassing road loss to Fort Wayne. Nice to see them flourish against one of the nation’s best.
-Sonnenberg: Indiana’s win is very impressive certainly. But, for me, Wisconsin stood out. I’m not entirely sure how good Syracuse is, but Wisconsin dismantled them. Now, the game was in Madison, where the Badgers have been incredibly tough to beat. But, Wisconsin moved the ball incredibly well, and Nigel Hayes unlocked the zone from the high post. The Badgers really needed that win, not to bolster a tournament resume necessarily, but to gain confidence after Creighton and North Carolina. Maybe not so much the win, but the way they won, that impressed me.
-Sindberg: The most impressive win goes to Indiana. They beat North Carolina at their own game, pushing the pace and out scoring the Tarheels. Wisconsin and Northwestern also picked up important wins. The Badgers secured their first win against a ranked opponent and the Wildcats took care of business by closing out Wake Forest. Badger fans have to relieved after watching All-American candidate Hayes nearly record a triple double against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. And Wildcat fans have to be pleased with another non-conference win added to their hopeful NCAA Tournament resume.
3. On the other side, there were some frustrating losses for the Big Ten over the last three nights. Which one hurt the most?
-Beindit: There are a few worthwhile choices here, but I think the most logical is Maryland. Everyone knew that Maryland’s 7-0 record probably wasn’t that legitimate, but to go down by 14 points at home to a solid, but not great Pittsburgh team is disappointing. Although Maryland is still an exceptionally young team that should continue to trend up, it needs to take advantage of home court this season and that didn’t happen on Tuesday night.
-Pazzalia: Rutgers, easily. They came in as huge underdogs (+14.5), but I was holding onto hopes of a 7-0 start to the season. The Knights play HARD, that’s encouraging. Despite the loss, they’re going to win at least a handful of games in conference play.
-Ward: Both Michigan and Ohio State got out to huge first half leads that disappeared. This one stings for the Wolverines, just a week removed from scoring 46 points on the road at South Carolina. Virginia Tech is better than they’ve been in a long time, but Michigan needed to find a way to win that game, at home with a loud Crisler Center behind them and couldn’t do it.
-Sonnenberg: Maryland’s loss was disappointing. Pitt closed the first half on a 30-8 run, which is unbelievable. At home and the Terps go into halftime down 21. Pitt’s well coached and a solid program, but Maryland’s better than what happened in the last 12 minutes of the first half. I’m not going to say they laid down, because Maryland fought back in the second half, but I would’ve thought the game would be more competitive.
4. Many view the Big Ten/ACC Challenge as sort of the unofficial tip-off to the 2016-’17 season. It’s a great opportunity to “reset” expectations and and turn the page on a month largely filled with filler non-conference games and holiday tournaments located in unusual locations. So, if you were resetting things, where does the Big Ten title race stand?
-Beindit: While speculating in November about what’s going to happen in March is always a dangerous task, I’m having trouble envisioning a scenario where somebody other than Indiana, Purdue, or Wisconsin wins the Big Ten title this season. I supposed Ohio State has to be considered a darkhorse with a 6-1 record and perhaps Maryland can make some noise with a favorable conference slate, but it really looks like a three-team race at this point. Of that group, I think Indiana is the best of the three.
-Pazzalia: Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue all have championship-type teams. The Buckeyes are a nice sleeper pick, almost knocking off a stingy Virginia team. Ohio State returned all six of their leading scorers from last year.
-Ward: I think it’s Wisconsin and Indiana and everybody else. Purdue has failed both of their major tests of the season, Ohio State could be good but is a bit of a mystery, Sparty has the talent but can’t find cohesion. A lot can happen once we get into conference play, and I expect those three schools to make some noise. But the Badgers and Hoosiers have stood out so far.
-Sonnenberg: Right now, I’d say it’s Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue. But, my darkhorse, if they can even be a darkhorse anymore, is Michigan State. I liked what I watched in the first half of the Duke game. They pushed the tempo, and hung around in a really tough environment. The Spartans are young (but not as young as say, Iowa). They play a bit out of control at times, and maybe don’t do everything Tom Izzo wants, but they’re playing hard. The Spartans schedule eases up now, with five straight games against unranked, non-conference opponents, and all five are at home. Then, the Big Ten season starts, and Michigan State ought to be among the title contenders.
-Sindberg: Wisconsin and Indiana now look like locks to finish inside the top of the conference. Even after Purdue’s discouraging performance against Louisville, the Boilermakers still look like a top five team in the conference. After that, the rest of the top five seems to be up in the air. Ohio State looks like they could sneak into the mix with how well they played on the road against Virginia. Michigan State still has the talent on paper to be in the conversation and their tough schedule should bode well for conference play. Michigan has been inconsistent and somewhat disappointing after their hot start. Northwestern looks to be on the rise, but it might take another season for head coach Chris Collins to have his team contending for a top tier position within the conference.
5. Will the Big Ten rebound in next year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge?
-Beindit: As I mentioned earlier in this discussion, the Big Ten will always be at a disadvantage in this event until either the ACC contracts or the Big Ten expands. It’s just a fact. However, I do like where a lot of the Big Ten programs are trending and I think there’s enough elite recruiting from teams like Indiana, Maryland, and Michigan State to compete with the top of the ACC.
-Ward: Probably not. The ACC put 7 schools in 247Sports top 20 recruiting rankings this year, compared to the Big Ten’s 2. That, combined with a number of the conference’s best players (probably) leaving school, means that the ACC will just have better players.
-Sonnenberg: Maybe not at the top-level, but this competition swings on 3-4 games. The ACC won 9-5 this year, but three games were decided by three points or less (all in the ACC’s favor). Flip those to the Big Ten, and it’s 8-6 the other way. The top-tier teams in the Big Ten may not meet the top-level of the ACC, but the Big Ten can make up ground with the middle and bottom tiers.