Life is good again.
For the first time in what feels like forever, the college basketball season is within reach even though we still have exactly 157 days left till the opening tip, not like anyone is counting, though.
In its 19th year, the ACC owns an 11-5 series lead over the Big Ten with two ties in 2012 and 2013. The ACC won the Challenge last year, their first win against the Big Ten since 2008.
Seven teams ranked in ESPN’s Preseason Top 25 poll will be participating in this year’s challenge, three from the Big Ten and four from the ACC.
The games will take place November 27 through November 30 and will be played on the ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. Exact game dates and times can be found here.
Here are some takeaways for the 2017 Big Ten/ACC Challenge
-Early Test for First-Year Coaches.
When Ohio State finds a predecessor for Thad Matta, there will be three new coaches - Archie Miller (Indiana) and Brad Underwood (Illinois) - walking the sidelines for Big Ten teams this season.
Right off the bat, Underwood and his young Illini group travel down to North Carolina to go up against Wake Forest, a bubble team who just missed out on the NCAA Tournament last year. This match-up against the Demon Deacons isn’t the most exciting on paper, but it will be an eye-opener and give people an idea of the Illini backcourt that will most likely consist of three freshmen: Mark Smith, Trent Frazier, and Da’Monte Williams.
It’s unsure who will take over at Ohio State at the moment. Nonetheless, given that the game will be on the road and in the middle of a brutal early season stretch for the Buckeyes, this looks like a challenging one on paper. Following the PK80 tournament in late November, the Buckeyes will face off with Clemson, then begin Big Ten conference play a few days after a match-up with the Tigers.
Indiana didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, lost in the first round of the NIT, fired their head coach, lose their top three players to the NBA Draft, and now find themselves playing the Duke Blue Devils in the first year of the Archie Miller era. A lot of people are probably scratching their heads and thinking, “Why, Why, Why?” Assembly Hall is going to be rocking when Coach K and company come to town.
-New Faces in the Mix.
Some teams, in particular, are going to look WEIRD without players who have now left the program after last season. These games in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge are a fantastic assessment to see whether the new guys are ready to compete at a high level.
The first match-up that stands out: Wisconsin at Virginia. Yes, alright, first one to 45 points will win this basketball game. The Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter era is over and done with in Madison. So, now it’s up to superstar Ethan Happ, who, in my opinion, should be right up there with Miles Bridges in the Big Ten Player of the Year conversation. Going up against the stingy Virginia defense will be a difficult trial for Happ and the new-look Badgers.
Wait, is Caleb Swanigan not coming back next year? Without the presence of Biggie inside (and outside!) for the Boilermakers, a good chunk of the scoring and rebounding load is going to have to be picked up for Purdue to be a contender next winter.
Who better than to test your team against the Louisville Cardinals?
While Purdue does return mostly everyone besides Swanigan next year, Isaac Haas is particular will be depended on to play a lot more minutes by staying out of foul trouble and producing on a consistent basis. Haas will have his hands full against the Cards long front court consisting of Anas Mahmoud and Mangok Mathiang. Another matchup to watch at the forward position will be Purdue’s Vincent Edwards and Louisville’s Deng Adel, who both entered their name in this year’s NBA Draft but decided to return to school.
Playing in the Dome against Syracuse and that irritating 2-3 zone is never fun. Especially when you lose not only an outstanding point guard but a fearsome leader named Melo Trimble. With the loss of Trimble to the NBA, sophomore guard Anthony Cowan, who was solid all last year for the ‘Terps, will see a huge boost in minutes and be depended on right away to replace Trimble at the point guard position.
Also, sophomore forwards Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson will need to continue their solid play last year as a freshman and carry that on into this year for their team to knock off tough road opponents such as Syracuse.
-Must Watch Games/Match-Ups.
While it’s never going to be perfect, I think the league officials did a solid job on matching up this year’s anticipated top teams against each other.
Two programs who have started to make a name for themselves: the Miami Hurricanes and Minnesota Gophers. Much of Minnesota’s hopes for this upcoming season rely on senior Nate Mason and sophomore Amir Coffey. This game will be a huge check for these two as they go up against the high-scoring Miami backcourt of sophomore Bruce Brown and incoming freshman and McDonald’s All-American, Lonnie Walker.
Next, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will travel to East Lansing to take on the Big Ten Preseason favorites, Michigan State Spartans. This game right here is where Sparty displays just how great they can be this season.
Lastly, the reigning national champions, North Carolina Tar Heels, will host the Michigan Wolverines in Chapel Hill. And, yes, this is the first time to two programs have met since the infamous Chris Webber timeout in the 1993 National Championship which cost the Fab Five and the Wolverines the title. It will be an early season test for a young Michigan team led by Moritz Wagner.
With the ACC having its overall “best season ever” last year, and the Big Ten has one of its worst in recent memory, this upcoming challenge will be one of the most balanced in the last couple years.