Hello, Big Ten basketball fans!
The NCAA announced that the beginning of the 2020-21 men's college basketball season will be delayed to Wednesday, November 25. We don't know if there will be any delays or if any outbreaks will happen after that date which can wreck the upcoming season but at least we have a target for the start of the season.
One big concern for this season is the possibility that the number of non conference games will be limited. One of the highlights of the non conference season in my opinion is the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge which pits the top two basketball conferences against each other. The two teams have are the top two in most NCAA Tournament games, made more Sweet 16 appearances, and Final Four appearances since 2010 and also since 2000.
Unfortunately for the Big Ten, the ACC has a big lead in both categories and has a huge lead where it really counts, the national championship tally. The last national championship won by a current Big Ten member was Maryland in 2002 who ironically was an ACC member that year. The last Big Ten team to win it all was Michigan State in 2000! Since then Indiana (2002), Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009), Michigan (2013 and 2018), and Wisconsin (2015) have all lost in the championship game with Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin losing to ACC teams (the 2013 Michigan team lost to current ACC team Louisville although they were in the Big East at the time).
Last year the Big Ten was on track for a great NCAA Tournament. The Monday before the NCAA Tournament was canceled, I had 11 Big Ten teams in a late Schmolik 64 update last season including what would have been Illinois's first NCAA trip since 2013, Penn State's first since 2011, and Rutgers' first since 1991!
Hopefully 2020-21 will make up for missing 2019-20. There is a decent chance the Challenge won't be played or will be played in one or two "bubbles". Right now, I will assume the usual format of home games. I was able to set up the teams so that every team that played at home in 2019 will be on the road in 2020 and vice versa with the exception of the ACC team that sat out in 2019 and the team that I have sitting out in 2020.
Last year I proposed these matchups. Duke-Michigan State, Virginia-Purdue, and Clemson-Minnesota actually were scheduled. Duke-MSU and UVa-Pur were rematches of 2019 NCAA Tournament regional final games.
Some current preseason rankings:
Big Ten Powerhouse Way Too Early 2020-’21 Big Ten Power Rankings 2.0 by Thomas Beindit :
1. Iowa Hawkeyes, 2. Wisconsin Badgers, 3. Illinois Fighting Illini, 4. Michigan State Spartans, 5. Michigan Wolverines, 6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 7. Purdue Boilermakers, 8. Ohio State Buckeyes, 9. Maryland Terrapins, 10. Indiana Hoosiers, 11. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 12. Penn State Nittany Lions, 13. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 14. Northwestern Wildcats
SI Summer Power Rankings:
Big Ten: https://www.si.com/college/2020/08/07/big-ten-basketball-rankings-illinois-iowa-michigan-state
1. Illinois, 2. Iowa, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Michigan State, 5. Rutgers, 6. Michigan, 7. Indiana, 8. Ohio State, 9. Purdue, 10. Maryland, 11. Minnesota, 12. Penn State, 13. Northwestern, 14. Nebraska
1. Virginia Cavaliers, 2. Duke Blue Devils, 3. Florida State Seminoles, 4. North Carolina Tar Heels, 5, Louisville Cardinals, 6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 7, North Carolina State Wolfpack, 8. Syracuse Orange, 9. Clemson Tigers, 10. Miami-Florida Hurricanes, 11. Virginia Tech Hokies, 12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 13. Pittsburgh Panthers, 14. Boston College Eagles, 15. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
CBS Sports (Aug. 28. 2020): https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/rankings/top25/
Big Ten: #5. Iowa, #6. Illinois, #10. Wisconsin, #11. Michigan State, #17. Ohio State, #21. Rutgers, #24. Indiana ACC: #4. Virginia, #8. Duke, #16. North Carolina
ESPN (Aug. 12, 2020): https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/29629945/baylor-takes-no-1-spot-college-basketball-way-too-early-top-25-2020-21
Big Ten: #5. Iowa, #6. Wisconsin, #7. Illinois, #13. Michigan State, #23. Ohio State, Next in line: Rutgers, Indiana, ACC: #4 Virginia, #9. Duke, #15. North Carolina, #24. Florida State, Next in line: Louisville
ESPN's Bracketology (Joe Lunardi): (Aug..10, 2020) http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology
Big Ten: Wisconsin and Iowa: #2 seeds, Michigan State: #3 seed, Illinois and Ohio State: #4 seeds, Rutgers: #6 seed, Michigan and Indiana: #7 seeds, Purdue: #8 seed, ACC: Virginia: #1 seed, Duke: #2 seed, Louisville and Florida State: #5 seeds, North Carolina: #6 seed, Miami: #9 seed, Syracuse: #11 seed (First Four)
So here are my proposed 2020 season matchups. The year in parentheses is the last year the teams played in the Challenge.
Illinois at Duke (2000):
You know they think you're going to have a good season when you're playing Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. After both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn announced they will return to Champaign, my Fighting Illini (I am an alum) are predicted to have a big year, top ten in both CBS Sports and ESPN. If it was based on merit, Iowa might "deserve to play Duke". But Duke and Iowa would be scheduled to host assuming home games are played. If the games are played on neutral sites, it is possible that Iowa and Duke are matched up (or Iowa with Virginia, which is ranked higher in both CBS Sports and ESPN). Of course the bad news with playing Duke in the Challenge is Duke always wins. They are 19-2 in the Challenge. The last team to beat them were the 2011-12 Ohio State team that made the Final Four. Duke has never lost a home game in the Challenge (9-0).
North Carolina at Iowa (2014):
Expectations are also high in Iowa City as Luka Garza returns. Iowa has not made the Sweet 16 since 1999. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels had a terrible 2020 season and weren't going to make the NCAA Tournament anyway. If we go by the home rotation, it is Duke's and Virginia's turn to host in 2020 so North Carolina would travel to Iowa. This game and Illinois-Duke would likely be the two big headliners on ESPN.
Michigan State at Virginia (2002):
Both the Spartans and Cavaliers made the 2019 Final Four with Virginia winning the national championship. It is amazing that the two teams haven't played in the Challenge since 2002 considering both teams recent success and that they played in the 2014 and 2015 NCAA Tournaments, both games won by Michigan State. Michigan State seems to be ranked below Iowa and Illinois as the other two seem to be the hot two flavors of the conference but any Big Ten conference championship has to go through Tom Izzo and East Lansing. Michigan State and Duke played in last year's Challenge and are scheduled to play this season in the Champion's Classic (assuming it gets played which is a big assumption) so Duke gets Illinois and Michigan State gets Virginia.
Louisville at Wisconsin (Never)
It looks like Wisconsin is a consensus top four pick in the Big Ten along with Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan State. One of them won't get one of the big three in Duke, North Carolina, or Virginia and Wisconsin draws the short stick because of home/away matchups (Iowa will likely get priority for North Carolina because of Garza). Louisville is the next best ACC team that hosted in 2019.
Indiana at Florida State (2019)
Last year I didn't propose any repeats from the previous season's Challenge but the 2019 Challenge did feature one repeat matchup as Wisconsin and NC State did play in 2018 as well. I am proposing two repeat matchups. The Seminoles surprised by winning the ACC regular season title last season outright, beating out Duke, Virginia, North Carolina (which sucked last year), and Louisville. With Illinois and Michigan State matched up against the big boys, most of the next level Big Ten teams were scheduled to host in 2020 so I decided to have Indiana and Florida State repeat.
Syracuse at Rutgers (Never)
There are two reasons Rutgers has never played Syracuse in the Challenge. One, they've only been in the Big Ten since the 2014-15 regular season and second they usually suck so bad that they get one of the ACC's dogs. They have played in the Challenge Clemson, Wake Forest, Miami, Florida State (they must have been picked to have a bad year), Miami, and Pittsburgh. Rutgers surprised everyone in 2020 by challenging for the NCAA Tournament and had a good chance of making it before the tournament got canceled. Expectations are high (at least by Rutgers' standards) in 2021 as Thomas and SI have them in the top half of the conference and CBS Sports has them a Top 25 team. So I have Syracuse coming to Piscataway. At least Syracuse won't have to travel to the Midwest.
NC State at Ohio State (2001)
Two middle of the pack conference teams that haven't played in the Challenge but are long time members of the conferences as opposed to Syracuse and Rutgers who recently joined in the last decade.
Georgia Tech at Michigan (2004)
The Yellow Jackets surprised last season finishing 11-9 in the ACC right behind Florida State, Duke, Virginia, and Louisville for fifth place. They return four starters from that team. Georgia Tech would not have been eligible for the 2020 NCAA Tournament had it been played but it turns out it wasn't so they kind of picked a good year to be hit with probation. Since they banned themselves from the 2020 ACC Tournament, the NCAA considered that serving their postseason ban and the Yellow Jackets will be eligible for the 2021 NCAA Tournament (assuming there is one).
Maryland at Miami (Never)
The Terrapins tied for the Big Ten regular season title with Wisconsin and Michigan State in 2020 but are expected to finish in the lower half of the Big Ten. Joe Lunardi doesn't even have Maryland in his Bracketology as of August 12. But for winning a share of the Big Ten, I decided to reward the Terps with a trip to sunny Miami for the Challenge. Maryland has never played Miami in the Challenge due to only playing in the Challenge six years but has obviously played the Hurricanes in ACC conference play plenty of times.
Purdue at Clemson (2012)
Sorry Purdue. Of all the ACC schools/cities to travel to, Clemson has to be the worst of the bunch. Someone has to draw the short straw. Clemson is notorious for being one of the most basketball challenged members of the ACC although in 2018 they surprised everyone by making it to the Sweet 16. They are picked in the SI's Summer Rankings to finish 9th and were a middle of the pack ACC team last year (9-11, including their first ever win at Chapel Hill, of course that wasn't saying much considering how bad UNC was). Also hurting Purdue was the two Big Ten bottom of the barrel teams, Northwestern and Nebraska, are scheduled to host in 2020. Hey, it's a battle of state schools without states in their names! If you have any idea as to who Purdue or Clemson actually are without looking it up, you probably are an alum.And Purdue isn't named after the chicken guy, that's Perdue.
Penn State at Notre Dame (Never)
We're at the stage where we're just filling in matchups but why not pair up schools that have big football bases together? Why have Penn State play some random ACC team when they can play Notre Dame (and vice versa)? Things aren't looking good for the Nittany Lions next year as they look to be near the bottom of the conference. They missed a golden chance to make the NCAA Tournament last year and unlike Illinois and Rutgers who look like they have NCAA caliber teams in 2021 Penn State will really be upset the 2020 Tournament was canceled.
Minnesota at Virginia Tech (2011)
Virginia Tech sat out the 2019 Challenge. I can't remember an ACC team sitting out back to back Challenges so I'm pretty sure they will be in this year if there is one. Virginia Tech is also one of those lousy basketball schools and like Clemson they're in the middle of nowhere unlike a school like Miami that's in Miami so this won't be a fun trip for Minnesota.
Pittsburgh at Nebraska (Never)
Two teams that recently joined the Big Ten (Nebraska) and ACC (Pittsburgh). Nebraska sucked in basketball before they joined the Big Ten and still sucks (they have NEVER won an NCAA Tournament game and has only made one NCAA Tournament since 2000). As a former Penn State graduate student, I wanted Pitt as the 12th member of the Big Ten instead of Nebraska, wanting to renew the Penn State-Pittsburgh rivalry.If you're an ACC team, the Big Ten team you don't want to travel to is Nebraska as they are the furthest west of any team. Most Big Ten teams don't want to travel to Nebraska for the same reason. In my opinion, Nebraska shouldn't even be in the Big Ten, they're nothing but dead weight western crap. In the college basketball world, if you're East of the Mississippi you're superior (although Iowa this upcoming season will challenge that).
Boston College at Northwestern (2019)
Another repeat matchup from last season. I decided to have Wake Forest sit out because they have a new head coach and because they are in a smaller city than Pitt or BC so they would attract a smaller TV audience. Boston College had to go to Nebraska in 2017 while Pittsburgh has never had to go there. While BC played Northwestern in the Challenge last year, that was the only time the two ever played in the Challenge so them playing back to back years isn't so bad and you get two private schools from big cities.
Games hosted by the Big Ten:
North Carolina at Iowa
Louisville at Wisconsin
Syracuse at Rutgers
NC State at Ohio State
Georgia Tech at Michigan
Pittsburgh at Nebraska
Boston College at Northwestern
Games hosted by the ACC:
Illinois at Duke
Michigan State at Virginia
Indiana at Florida State
Maryland at Miami
Purdue at Clemson
Penn State at Notre Dame
Minnesota at Virginia Tech
Hopefully they get played, especially when Illinois has a chance to play one of the big boys rather than get stuck playing someone like Clemson.