Hello, Big Ten college basketball fans!
This week, we found out next season's Gavitt Games matchups between the Big Ten and Big East conferences. I also heard matchups for the Big East-Big 12 challenge as well. I like these matchups between conferences for conference pride although my favorite of course is between the Big Ten and the other best conference in college basketball, the ACC. I'd like to say we're the best, but we're chasing them when it comes to national championships (and they are the defending champions).
Usually when the matchups come out, it gives you an idea as to where you stand in the conference. If in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge you draw Duke you know you're probably a good team. If you draw a bad team, you're not going to do that well. Other conferences can use Big Ten teams as a measuring stick. On the other hand, the Big East and Big 12 messed up. They got the obvious Kansas Jayhawks at Villanova Wildcats headliner. But when you think of the Big 12, the next team that comes to mind is last year's national runner up, the Texas Tech Red Raiders (I know Michigan and Michigan State fans want to forget about them). You would figure the conferences would want to pair them with a good Big East team (although the Big East doesn't really have many good teams outside of Villanova). Texas Tech is playing DePaul, arguably the worst team in the conference the last few years and a team that hasn't made the NCAA since 2004 (in fact, hasn't made the NIT since 2006!) I mean, this is like matching up Duke or North Carolina with Rutgers! So I better give Jim Delany and John Swofford ideas so we don't get Rutgers playing one of the Tobacco Road teams (well maybe NC State).
First, let's figure out the good teams in each conference.
"Way Too Early" Rankings/2019-20 Preseason Rankings:
BT Powerhouse Big Ten (April 11):
1. Michigan State Spartans, 2. Michigan Wolverines, 3. Maryland Terrapins, 4. Ohio State Buckeyes, 5. Purdue Boilermakers, 6. Iowa Hawkeyes, 7. Illinois Fighting Illini, 8. Penn State Nittany Lions, 9. Indiana Hoosiers, 10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 11. Wisconsin Badgers, 12. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 13. Northwestern Wildcats, 14. Nebraska Cornhuskers
CBS Sports Top 25 (May 28):
Big Ten: 1. Michigan State, 6. Maryland, 16. Iowa, 18. Purdue, 23. Ohio State
ACC: 2. Duke, 4. Louisville, 7. North Carolina, 8. Virginia
ESPN Top 25 (May 2):
Big Ten: 1. Michigan State, 5. Michigan, 7. Ohio State, 9. Maryland
ACC: 2. Duke, 8. Louisville, 12. North Carolina, 14. Virginia
SI Top 25 (April 9):
Big Ten: 1. Michigan State, 4. Michigan, 9. Ohio State, 11. Maryland, On the cusp: Iowa
ACC: 3. Virginia, 5. Duke, 16. Louisville, 21. North Carolina
USA Today Top 25 (April 9)
Big Ten: 1. Michigan State, 3. Michigan, 14. Maryland, 15. Ohio State, 16. Iowa, 23. Minnesota
ACC: 4. Virginia, 5. Duke, 18. Louisville, 20. North Carolina
ESPN Bracketology (May 16):
Big Ten: 1 seed: Michigan State, 4 seed: Maryland, 5 seed: Purdue, 6 seeds: Ohio State and Iowa, 7 seed: Michigan, 8 seed: Minnesota, 10 seed: Wisconsin, 11 seed: Penn State
ACC: 1 seeds: Duke and North Carolina, 2 seed: Louisville, 3 seed: Virginia, 8 seeds: Florida State and NC State, 11 seed: Clemson, First Four Out: Syracuse, Next Four Out: Virginia Tech
Early rankings had Michigan high but some (BT Powerhouse assumed) Jordan Poole would be coming back. Poole declared for the NBA Draft and more recent rankings aren't as high. In addition, John Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers. I'm sure Michigan will be a good team but nowhere near the #3 nationally ranked in the SI poll or #4 in the USA Today poll. Virginia also isn't expected to be as good (SI had Kyle Guy coming back, CBS and ESPN have him gone).
So here are the matchups:
* Duke Blue Devils at Michigan State (Last played in Challenge in 2016)
Every poll I have seen nationally has Sparty #1 overall. Michigan State and Duke aren't playing in the Champions Classic next year (Michigan State-Kentucky, Kansas-Duke in Madison Square Garden). The two played in the East Regional Final when Michigan State upset Zion Williamson and Company. So I think the obvious first pairing has to be Duke at Michigan State in the Breslin Center. It sets up perfectly as Duke hosted last year and Michigan State was away).
* Virginia Cavaliers at Purdue (Last played 2006)
This is the other regional final rematch from last year's NCAA Tournament (the game went to overtime). Purdue isn't expected to be as good next year after losing Carsen Edwards but you can expect Purdue to reload. It's certainly debatable to have Virginia play a better opponent but the rematch is too good to pass up. Both teams were away for the Challenge last year and were home in 2017.
* Maryland at North Carolina Tar Heels (Last played 2015)
The Tar Heels are only expected to return one starter from this year's team. ESPN bumped them up from their initial rankings because of recruits Cole Anthony and Anthony Harris and transfer Christian Keeling. CBS Sports has North Carolina very high and ESPN Bracketology has them a #1 seed. On the Big Ten side, Maryland is always notable as the former ACC team to see which of their former conference mates they will play (of course they could get Louisville as the team that replaced them and next year that would be a reasonable matchup on paper). Both teams are consensus top 25 teams in the preseason polls, making this a must see matchup. North Carolina was away and Maryland was home last year.
* Ohio State Buckeyes at Louisville Cardinals (Last played 2014)
Virginia recently has become the "Big 3" in the ACC along with North Carolina and Duke. According to the preseason polls, Louisville is expected to be the fourth team. Chris Mack returns for his second season and they have a great recruiting class coming in. This would be Mack's return to the state of Ohio (he was Xavier's head coach for years) and it would be a short drive for Louisville to Columbus. Both Louisville and OSU hosted in 2018. Ohio State hosted in 2017 so it wouldn't be fair for them to be at home three years in a row.
* Michigan at Florida State Seminoles (Never played in Challenge)
There are three proposed matchups of teams that never played in the 20 year history of the Challenge. This is the only new pairing of teams that were in the same conferences since 1999. I am ranking Michigan post Beilein here. The ACC has no more top 25 ranked teams so I'll go with the best ACC team outside of the top teams in the last few years in Florida State. If you think Michigan and Virginia will be better, you can have them play each other and Purdue and Florida State play each other (Michigan and Virginia last played in 2011, Purdue and FSU played last year). I'm surprised Michigan and Florida State haven't played in the Challenge as both are historically good at football as well. Michigan and Florida State both hosted in 2017 and were away in 2018.
* Iowa at North Carolina State Wolfpack (Last played in 2005)
Iowa looks to be in that "second tier" of the Big Ten while NC State was an NCAA team in 2018 and missed in 2019, arguably one of the biggest snubs of the year. Iowa hosted in 2018, NC State was away.
* Clemson Tigers at Minnesota (Last played in 2015)
There seems to be a difference of opinion here. USA Today has the Gophers #23 and ESPN Bracketology has them a #8 seed but Thomas Beindit has them 12th in the Big Ten behind Rutgers. In the USA Today article, they say even though Amir Coffey declared for the draft, he "has a strong chance of returning". My assumption is ESPN Bracketology is assuming Coffey is returning and Thomas is assuming Coffey will not. Clemson was like NC State, making the Tournament in 2018 and missing in 2019. Clemson hosted in 2018, Minnesota was away.
* Syracuse Orange at Indiana (Last played in 2013)
Both teams are teams that were good before but aren't so good now. Both teams are expected by ESPN Bracketology to miss the NCAA Tournament (Syracuse barely). Both teams were away in 2018 and hosted in 2017.
* Wisconsin at Virginia Tech Hokies (Last played in 2008)
This would have been a great matchup this past season. But Wisconsin loses Ethan Happ and Virginia Tech lost head coach Buzz Peterson to Texas A&M (maybe Virginia Tech and Michigan or Virginia Tech and Nebraska could play in a battle of first year head coaches?) Wisconsin hosted in 2018, Virginia Tech was away.
* Boston College Eagles at Illinois (Never played in Challenge)
Thomas Beindit has the Illini relatively high compared (7th) to ESPN Bracketology (not in tournament), but calls projecting them "one of the most difficult tasks of every offseason" and "could very well be the biggest wildcard in the Big Ten". Illinois is expected to return a lot of players from last year but that's a lot of players from a bad team. On the other hand, the Illini did improve in the second half. BC hosted in 2018, Illinois was away.
* Penn State at Pittsburgh Panthers (Last played in 2013)
Right now, we're just filling up the matchups. It just seems like an obvious pairing. I don't see Penn State-Pitt listed on Penn State's schedule as of yet and if Penn State and Pitt won't play in football beyond this season, at least have them play in men's basketball. Penn State hosted in 2018, Pitt was away.
* Miami-FL Hurricanes at Nebraska (Last played in 2015)
Right now, we're looking for some connection and if the teams aren't good in basketball, find teams that are (or were) good in football and maybe that will excite the fanbases. Miami hosted in 2018, Nebraska was away.
* Northwestern at Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Last played in 2016)
Northwestern was rising under Chris Collins after making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history in 2017 but finished dead last in the Big Ten last year (that's the Northwestern many old Big Ten fans remember). I decided to pit them vs. one of the ACC's private schools (and obviously not Duke). Northwestern hosted in 2018, Wake Forest didn't play in the Challenge in 2018 and hosted in 2017. One team we hopefully we won't see Northwestern play in 2019: Georgia Tech. They not only played each other in 2017 and 2018 but also in 2010, 2011, and 2014!
* Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Rutgers (Never played in Challenge)
Hey, they're the teams left over (if you don't count Notre Dame)! Both teams were away in 2018 and hosted in 2017.
* Not playing: Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They tied for last in the conference this past season with Pittsburgh and Pitt sat out in 2017 so I imagine Notre Dame will sit out next year.
Hosted By Big Ten:
Duke at Michigan State
Virginia at Purdue
Clemson at Minnesota
Syracuse at Indiana
Boston College at Illinois
Miami at Nebraska
Georgia Tech at Rutgers
Hosted by ACC:
Maryland at North Carolina
Ohio State at Louisville
Michigan at Florida State
Iowa at NC State
Wisconsin at Georgia Tech
Penn State at Pittsburgh
Northwestern at Wake Forest
Don't like the matchups? Suggest others.