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11/27 Big Ten Preview: The Challenge Rages On with a Full Slate of Games

With six contests on deck, Tuesday could play a major role in decided ACC-Big Ten conference supremacy

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Duke at Gonzaga Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night’s ACC-Big Ten challenge games feature 12 teams with a combined 55-13 record and only one squad with a losing ledger (womp womp Illinois).

What’s that mean? Order a pizza and chill the beer — we’ve got a lot of quality basketball to watch!

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-Indiana Hoosiers at Duke Blue Devils

  • Time/TV: 9:30PM ET - ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Duke (-11)

Four of the top Seven freshmen. Coach K versus Archie Miller. Cameron Indoor Stadium. Two of college basketball’s bluest blue-bloods.

What about this game could I possibly tell you that you don’t already know in an attempt to hype it up more?

How about the fact we could be watching the top four overall draft picks in next summer’s NBA Draft? Duke’s trio of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish have been better than advertised, together averaging 59.2 points, 18.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists, and four steals per game. Romeo Langford has been far from shabby himself, pacing Indiana with 18.5 points per game, while chipping in 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists for good measure.

What about the fact that Indiana will be looking to legitimize its 5-1 start in a BIG way by dealing the Blue Devils its second consecutive loss? While far from lacking talented opponents (the Hoosiers already own a win over Marquette), Indiana remains unranked in the AP Poll despite its impressive start. A win on Tuesday night will absolutely change that when next weeks poll gets released.

And finally, how about despite both programs distinguished legacies, Duke and Indiana have only competed nine times since 1949, with the Blue Devils owning a 6-3 advantage. There’s something special about not overdoing a big time matchup like this that gives fans even more incentive to tune in when they do decide to tip the ball up.

As for how this one plays out over 40 minutes of basketball on Tuesday night? I like Indiana, but Duke is special. Sometimes you gotta ride with the Devil.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Duke

The Rest:

-Illinois Fighting Illini at Notre Dame Fighting Irish

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Notre Dame (-7)

One of two games to get the “U” treatment by ESPN on Tuesday night, and it’s not all that hard to understand why.

Of the 12 teams in action on night two of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, Illinois is the only one to own a losing record. To be fair to Brad Underwood and his squad, they’ve played a challenging schedule that included a four game stretch against Georgetown, Gonzaga, Iowa State, and Xavier.

And while it kept all but the Iowa State game within single digits, the Illini still dropped all four of those contests and find itself alone in the Big Ten basement.

Notre Dame, however, has used a cupcake schedule to open the year at 5-1. Problem with that, however, is they probably should be 6-0 having dropped a home game to Radford two weeks ago.

Records aside, I actually think Illinois is the better team with the better players. Trent Frazier has been filling up the bucket with ease, averaging 17.6 points per game, while freshmen Ayo Dosunmu has been impressive, albeit inconsistent.

The Illini might not win on Tuesday night. But it’ll keep it close.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Illinois

-Pittsburgh Panthers at Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET - ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Iowa (-12.5)

And speaking of games moved to ESPN’s ugly step-child, this tilt sneakily deserves better.

Both Iowa and Pittsburgh have gotten off to undefeated starts as they look to turn the page on an ugly 2017-’18 season.

The Hawkeyes have already picked up wins against two power conference opponents in Oregon and Connecticut, so a win over an ACC challenger would be yet another feather in its impressive cap.

Luke Garza and Tyler Cook have been co-Mr. Do-Everything’s for Fran McCaffery, averaging a combined 32.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, while Iowa on the whole is KenPom’s 14th ranked program in terms of offensive efficiency.

All that is to say the Hawkeyes have earned its top 20 national ranking.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has beaten up on some directional schools and mid-major basement dwellers, but did pick up an impressive 75-73 win over Saint Louis last Wednesday.

Head coach Jeff Capel’s rebuild of the once-proud Panthers basketball program looks to be ahead of schedule, in part due to a trio of impressive freshmen in Trey McGowens, Au’Diese Toney, and Xavier Johnson, who have all found ways to contributed in their respective first seasons in the Steel City.

Johnson has been the most impressive given his three-star recruiting ranking, averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game while shooting better than 44-percent from three.

A win in Iowa would go a long way in giving some much-needed credibility to the Panthers undefeated start, and while they might keep it close, I ultimately see the Hawkeyes proving to be too much for a young team to handle, pulling away late.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Iowa

-Michigan State Spartans at Louisville Cardinals

  • Time/TV: 7:30PM ET - ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-5)

The only road favorite on Tuesday night, Michigan State will look to pick up its six-straight win in a hostile environment, as it matches up with Chris Mack’s rebuilding Louisville Cardinals.

Since its disappointing loss at the hands of Kansas, the Spartans have been nothing short of dominant. With neutral site wins over UCLA and Texas, and a 101-33 win over Tennessee Tech (#StylePointz), Tom Izzo has his team clicking on all cylinders ahead of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward are almost as good as any trio in the country (see above, Duke Blue Devils), averaging a combined 50.3 points per game and converting on a 51.5-percent clip from the floor.

After getting off to a 3-0 start (thanks to some cupcakes) Louisville has since struggled in consecutive losses, albeit close ones, to the more imposing Tennessee Volunteers and Marquette Golden Eagles.

The Cardinals offense runs through sophomore forward Jordan Nwora, who leads Louisville in points (18.4), rebounds (7.2), and steals (1.0) per game.

In any other year, heading into Kentucky and escaping with a win would have involved a smash-and-grab job from Izzo and the Spartans. But in the midst of a regime change, the Cardinals are ripe for the picking.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State

-Virginia Tech Hokies at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Pick ‘Em

For the past two years, Penn State has remained somewhat of a KenPom darling. How so? Well, the undefeated and 13th ranked Hokies enter Tuesday’s clash in State College as a pick ‘em against the 3-2 Nittany Lions.

Despite its road loss at DePaul and neutral site defeat at the hands of Bradley, Penn State remains the 38th best team with a top 10 overall defense, according to the KenPom rankings.

I take less issue with that defensive efficiency figure, as the Lions have been stout without the basketball, starting two potential All-Big Ten Defensive first team members in Jamari Wheeler and Josh Reaves.

Where I do question the almighty KenPom, however, is his overall ranking of my alma mater, as after Lamar Stevens, Penn State has really struggled to find a consistent second offensive option.

After five games, the plan to stop Penn State has become clear, let Lamar Stevens do whatever he wants and prevent anyone else from contributing. That’s led to the talented junior putting up National Player of the Year numbers to the tune of 24.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while the Lions find itself chasing resume defining wins after dropping the aforementioned games to DePaul and Bradley.

But if ever there was a cure for what ails Penn State’s tournament hopes, its the boost a potential win over Virginia Tech would provide.

That’s because Buzz Williams Hokies are one of the best teams the ACC has to offer, already owning an impressive win over Purdue and a dynamic trio of guards in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson, and Ahmed Hill.

Those three, along with a deep roster, have helped Virginia Tech average 82 points per game on its way to staking a claim as one of the best offensive teams in the country.

So in this battle of talented offense against talented defense something will have to give.

Update: Late Monday night, word broke that redshirt junior forward Mike Watkins will be available for tonight’s game. It remains up in the air if the talent big man will play for the Nittany Lions, but his presence alone is enough to swing this one if favor of Penn State. That said, without knowing for sure if he’ll be in action, the pick has to stay with the Hokies.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Virginia Tech

-North Carolina State Wolfpack at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET - ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-8)

Had it not been for the blue blood clash at Cameron Indoor Stadium, this Wolfpack-Badger matchup would have been an easy pick for Game of the Day.

Even with Friday’s disappointing loss to Virginia, Wisconsin has proved its back in a big way. Already owning wins over power conference foes Stanford, Oklahoma, and Xavier, the Badgers have both a top 20 ranked KenPom offense and defense.

A big reason for that has been the play of senior Ethan Happ. Say what you want about the 6-foot-10 forwards lack of flash, he gets things done on the court. Already owning one 30 point performance, Happ is averaging a double-double with 17.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the senior is excellent at getting his teammates involved, passing out of the paint to the tune of 5.7 assists per game.

With all due respect to Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, there might be no more capable player of carrying his team on his back than Ethan Happ.

NC State, on the contrary, has been a wee little bit less impressive on its undefeated run to start the year. Entering Tuesday’s game 6-0, the Wolfpack’s best — and I use that word loosely, win has come over the 3-3 Mercer Bears.

Senior guard Torin Dorn has improved upon his solid performance last year, leading the Wolfpack in both points and rebounds, with 18.2 and 7.2, respectively.

A theme that’s prevalent throughout Tuesday’s games, NC State’s trip to Madison provides the Wolfpack with a real ‘prove it’ opportunity after what some deem a mirage start to 2018-’19.

That said, I fully expect Wisconsin to provide a reality check to Kevin Keatts group and send them back to North Carolina with its first loss of the year.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Wisconsin


Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 5-5