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11/26 Big Ten Preview: Big Ten/ACC Challenge Tips Off

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Two Monday night road games kick off the Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Classic-Missouri State at Nebraska Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It’s possible the Big Ten is the best conference in the country. It’s possible we could get eight or nine teams into the NCAA Tournament this year. A lot depends on how the conference performs in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Last year’s Challenge was a disaster. This year looks a lot more competitive, and that’s a good way to describe both of Monday night’s games.

Game of the Night

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at Clemson Tigers

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Clemson (-4)

Both of these teams are sitting in a similar position—they’ve each played one good team so far this season (Texas Tech for Nebraska, Creighton for Clemson) and they lost that game. Both teams need to win this game to provide verifiable proof that people should take them seriously this season. These teams are right around the same level—that four-point spread is all home court advantage; if this game were played in Lincoln the Huskers would be favored by three or four.

But if there’s uncertainty about where these teams measure up relative to each other and relative to the rest of the college basketball world, there’s no uncertainty about rosters and roles. Clemson starts four seniors. Nebraska plays its starting five together more than any other Big Ten team (only Minnesota comes close). Neither side is breaking in a freshman with expectations that he’ll play a major role. This should be a March-quality game, and possibly the most evenly-matched game of the entire Challenge.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Clemson’s defensive rating on KenPom looks like it’s still being colored by last season’s great performance. The 2-point D looks like it’s taken a step backwards. Huskers, straight up.

The Rest

-Minnesota Golden Gophers at Boston College Eagles

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Boston College (-1)

A Boston College defensive possession on average lasts 19.8 seconds, making the Eagles the slowest-paced team in the country at that end of the floor. They don’t try to force turnovers, they don’t turn the ball over themselves, and their two-point defense is incredibly efficient. At this point I have Bo Ryan’s and Tony Bennett’s attention. But here’s where BC comes up short of the idealized possessional basketball model pioneered at Wisconsin and perfected at Virginia—they foul. A lot.

Meanwhile the Golden Gophers are a team that gets to the line a lot, 42% more frequently than the D-I average. This is going to be a physical game with a lot of whistles, and the Big Ten school is going to be the beneficiary more often than not. The issue is that Minnesota has thus far been a very poor free throw shooting team, hitting only 64% from the line.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Gophers. If Minnesota hits their free throws, they win. Even if they don’t, Boston College gets less from its bench than just about any other team in the country (including Nebraska). Having key players in foul trouble may doom the Eagles.

Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 10-14-1