Hello, Big Ten college basketball fans!
Most of the 2020-21 men's college basketball season was great. The Big Ten had nine teams in the NCAA Tournament including two #1 seeds and two #2 seeds and had four teams ranked in the top 10 and five teams in the top 25 in the final AP before the tournament started. The NCAA Tournament was going to be held in its entirety in the state of Indiana with some games being played at Indiana University's and Purdue's campuses, giving the Big Ten an unofficial "home court" advantage for the tournament.
But then the NCAA Tournament was a major disappointment. Ohio State, a #2 seed, was stunned in the first round as was #4 seed Purdue. #2 seed Iowa and #1 seed Illinois were upset in the 2nd round. Only Michigan made it past the Sweet 16 and lost in the Regional Final to a team from the Pathetic 12 that was one of the "First Four", one of the last four teams to be selected to the NCAA Tournament. It was overall an embarrassing performance for the Big Ten, especially compared to the Pathetic 12 as well as the Big 12 who had a team win the national championship (and it wasn't even Kansas!) The ACC, our partners in the Challenge, did even worse than we did. The Big Ten won 8 games. The ACC won just 4 games and all seven of its teams were eliminated by the Sweet 16. Unlike the Big Ten, none of the ACC teams were seeded higher than a #4 seed. Virginia, the "defending national champion" going into the NCAA Tournament (from 2019) was one and done as was North Carolina. Duke didn't even make the NCAA Tournament. The Big East also didn't do so well.
If you live East of the Mississippi River (and 12 of the 14 Big Ten schools are East of the Mississippi), the 2021 NCAA Men's Tournament sucked as all four Final Four teams and seven of the Elite Eight teams were West of the Mississippi (Michigan the only exception). If Gonzaga had won, at least the "little guys" would have won. I mean unless you are an alum of Baylor or Oregon State, who gives a crap about these schools? I guess it's still better than 2020 when there wasn't an NCAA Tournament at all but the 2021 NCAA Tournament was probably the worst NCAA Tournament I can remember. It was literally western crap. 2022 can't get here soon enough.
This past month, two other conference vs. conference challenge matchups have been released including the SEC Big 12, Big East-Big 12, and the Gavitt Games involving our own Big Ten. But I always look forward to the big one, our challenge against the ACC. I like to give the 2021 NCAA Tournament a big fat asterisk because of COVID-19 but the ACC and Big Ten were the top two conferences in the NCAA men's basketball tournament between 2000-2019. Hopefully in 2022 (and beyond) the ACC and Big Ten will regain their rightful place at the top and the Big 12 and Pathetic 12 will go back to being western crap.
Last year, six of my proposed matchups were actual matchups although one (Michigan State at Virginia) was canceled due to COVID-19. As always, the goal is to field competitive matchups, pitting the top teams of each conference as well as the bottom of each conference. Another priority is to alternate home and away matchups as much as possible. I realize that the teams that hosted in 2020 did so with no fans or few fans in attendance but the visitors still had to travel so I decided to count the 2020 games in terms of deciding who got to host and travel in 2021. However, since two games were not played I will not count those games in terms of the rotation. Because the two teams scheduled to be away in 2020 did not travel (at least I am not aware of them traveling), I will have them as visiting teams in 2021 since they were home the last time they played (2019).
Ranked Teams in "Way Too Early" Top 25 Polls:
CBS (Updated June 21)
ESPN (Updated June 1)
Yahoo (Updated April 6)
USA Today (Updated April 6)
Ohio State: CBS #6, ESPN #5, Yahoo #3, USAT #5
Michigan: CBS #7, ESPN #8, Yahoo #2, USAT #4
Purdue: CBS #11, ESPN #6, Yahoo #5, USAT #7
Maryland: CBS #13, ESPN #12, Yahoo #4, USAT #11
Michigan State: CBS #22, ESPN #24, Yahoo #13, USAT #13
Duke: CBS #8, ESPN #13, Yahoo #11, USAT #2
Florida State: CBS #17, ESPN #19, Yahoo #7, USAT #14
North Carolina: CBS #19, ESPN #20, Yahoo #21, USAT #18
Virginia: CBS #24, ESPN #23, Yahoo #25, USAT #17
Virginia Tech: CBS #26, ESPN #16, USAT #25
Syracuse: Yahoo #15, USAT #16
ESPN Bracketology (Updated June 15)
Big Ten: Projected #1 seed: Michigan (Projected automatic qualifier): #2: Ohio State and Purdue, #3: Maryland, #5: Michigan State, #6: Illinois, #8: Iowa. #9: Indiana, First Four Out: Wisconsin and Northwestern
So who should play who in the 2021 ACC/Big Ten Challenge? I give you my proposed matchups. The year in parentheses after the matchup is the last year the teams have met in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The 2021-22 season will be Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's last year. Because Duke hosted last season, the rotation would put Duke on the road this year. IMO the biggest story for Coach K's finale would be for him to play at Maryland, a long time ACC rival. I believe Duke and Maryland haven't played in men's basketball since Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten and this will be the last chance for Duke and Maryland to play with Coach K as head coach. Now I'm sure if Mike Krzyzewski had his way he'd prefer not to play at Maryland but ESPN would the game is too big to not have it. On the other hand, there are several top Big Ten teams scheduled to host. Both Ohio State and Purdue would be great opponents for Duke as would Michigan (did not play in 2020, was away in 2019). Duke and Michigan played in the 1992 National Championship Game and Michigan head coach Juwan Howard played in that game.
Michigan State Spartans at North Carolina Tar Heels (2013)
Long Time Tar Heels' head coach Roy Williams announced his retirement after the season. Sadly he did not get a curtain call and his last season was marked by few if any fans in attendance and a first round NCAA Tournament loss. Hubert Davis takes over as head coach. Of the Big Ten teams ranked in the preseason polls I found, none of them hosted in the Challenge last year and three of them played on the road in 2020. Michigan State is the only one that didn't travel in 2019 or 2020 so I made them UNC's opponent. It's amazing that these two teams haven't played each other in the Challenge since 2013. I would have liked to see Michigan State and Virginia play. They were scheduled to play in 2020 but the game was called off. They hadn't played since 2002.
Of my 14 proposed matchups, six of them are matchups of teams that have never met in the Challenge. Now for many of them it is because they are recent additions to the conferences, including Maryland (recent to the Big Ten, formerly of the Big Ten). Of the six new matchups, only two of them involve two teams that have been in the ACC or Big Ten since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, Florida State at Michigan and Iowa at Virginia.
The two teams met in the Sweet 16 in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and the ACC/Big 10 Challenge has often tried to schedule rematches of the previous NCAA Tournament. Florida State and Michigan also played in the 2018 NCAA Tournament Elite 8. These are two schools that want to be football schools but definitely are way better at men's basketball right now. I can see Michigan hosting Duke but Florida State-Michigan is also a great matchup and sure to get one of the ESPN slots.
Virginia Tech Hokies at Ohio State Buckeyes (2005)
Ohio State should really be playing one of the ACC's "big boys" (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, etc) but I have Duke going to Maryland and North Carolina and Virginia are scheduled to host in 2021, Virginia is hosting because their 2020 Challenge game was a COVID-19 victim and they played on the road in 2019). So the next best team that hosted the Challenge in 2020, at least according to most of the way too early polls, is Virginia Tech. The Hokies, not well known for men's basketball, did beat Virginia and Villanova last year and were an NCAA Tournament team and made the 2019 Sweet 16. It's possible they make some teams go back to back on the road to make better matchups but Ohio State shouldn't be one of the teams screwed, they played on the road during the Challenge in 2019 (North Carolina) and 2020 (Notre Dame).
Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Purdue Boilermakers (Never)
Most of the top teams are scheduled to host so assuming they stick to the rotation you could wind up with some lopsided matchups. With Purdue, might as well give them an in state opponent. Joe Lunardi (ESPN Bracketology) at least feels they are an NCAA Tournament caliber team. The four Indiana teams (Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, and Butler) annually compete in the Crossroads Classic. This year Indiana and Notre Dame play so Purdue and Notre Dame could meet in the Challenge. ESPN tends to give Notre Dame good opponents even when they suck the previous year. In 2018-19, Notre Dame tied for dead last in the ACC. Normally the team that finishes last misses the Challenge altogether. Notre Dame got Maryland which was ranked #3 at the time the following year. They got Ohio State last year. I would expect Notre Dame to get matched with one of the top Big Ten teams in the Challenge and the in state connection seems to be too big an attraction to pass up unless Purdue gets a better matchup. Notre Dame also has never played Indiana in the Challenge either.
Syracuse barely made the NCAA Tournament last year (#11 seed) but made it to the Sweet 16. Wisconsin made the 2nd round and at least they lost to the national champions. Jim Boeheim's son Buddy returns.
This is the other matchup of teams that have been in the ACC/Big Ten since the Challenge began but have never met in the Challenge. This would have been an awesome matchup if Luka Garza was still at Iowa but doesn't looks as good now.
This is the second 2021 NCAA Tournament rematch. The one reason this matchup won't happen is because both teams hosted in 2020 although the fact that it is an NCAA Tournament rematch might take priority and they might let one of the schools host twice in a row. Unless you went to either of these schools, you have no idea who "Clemson" or "Rutgers" are and probably don't give a damn either and most people who aren't ACC or Big Ten fans probably can't tell which state either of these schools are in. The only reason Clemson's relevant is because of their football team. Rutgers isn't relevant. Rutgers gets priority because they were away in 2018 and 2019.
The Pennsylvania schools haven't played in the Challenge since 2013 and it might be the only way to get either of these schools to actually care about the Challenge. Both Penn State and Pittsburgh played on the road in 2020 so Penn State gets stuck with back to back road games although PSU hosted in 2018 and 2019.
Ohio State no doubt suffered the most embarrassing loss among Big Ten teams (in fact in the entire NCAA). But Illinois probably suffered the most painful loss. Ohio State will probably still be good in 2022. Illinois loses Ayo Dosunmu and Koki Cockburn. Joe Lunardi still has the Illini as an NCAA Tournament team but if they are anywhere near a #1 seed in 2022 Brad Underwood should get a lifetime contract. As for ACC opponents for Illinois, the cupboard's pretty bare as the other Big Ten teams hosting (Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue) get priority.
Louisville missed out of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Had VCU pulled out earlier, Louisville would have taken their spot. Hopefully this will be the last time we will have to deal with a virus messing with an NCAA Tournament. Louisville also has to deal with a lack of good Big Ten opponents on the road. I wanted to schedule a Minnesota at Louisville game (the two former Rick Pitino school) but it would have forced Georgia Tech to play Nebraska or Northwestern, two schools they have played in the Challenge twice since 2017.
Miami wasn't in the ACC when the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began but made its first appearance in the Challenge in 2005 so not playing Indiana in 16 years is still saying a lot. Indiana will play their first season under new head coach Mike Woodson and hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2016.
Minnesota Golden Gophers at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2002)
Last year, Georgia Tech won the ACC Tournament, their first NCAA Tournament championship since 1993. They made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.
Minnesota not only hosted the Challenge in 2020 but in 2019 as well. They were the only team to do so (Michigan and Virginia, both scheduled to host in 2020, were away in 2019). So I would be shocked if they got to host in 2021.
Wake Forest was the ACC team scheduled to sit out the 2020 ACC/Big Ten Challenge (NC State/Michigan and Michigan State/Virginia eventually joined the Demon Deacons on the sidelines). Interestingly enough, Wake Forest hasn't hosted a Challenge game since 2017 (they were at Penn State in 2019 and also had to sit the 2018 Challenge out!)
Boston College finished dead last in the ACC by percentage (they only played 13 games). They also are breaking in a new head coach. Last year, Wake Forest had a new head coach and they sat out the Challenge. In 2019, Virginia Tech had a new head coach and they sat out the Challenge. Boston College hasn't sat out the Challenge since 2016. They seem to be the obvious choice for the ACC team to sit out. Miami is another school that is a possibility. If Miami were designated at home I would say no chance since some Big Ten team would want to go to Miami in late fall but since Miami is scheduled to be on the road there may be a chance they get left out although I'd still say BC is the most likely to be out.
ACC Hosts: North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest
Big Ten Hosts: Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers, Illinois, Indiana
Rutgers will host in 2020 and 2021, Penn State will be away in 2020 and 2021. All other teams who played their last Challenge game on the road will host and all other teams who played their last Challenge game at home will be away.