Ranking the Big Ten/ACC Challenge games by watchability, including the highly-anticipated clash between Top-10 Illinois and Duke from Durham.
One of the most exciting events in non-conference college basketball is here this week with the arrival of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. We are down one game after COVID issues forced the postponement of Louisville-Wisconsin, but there are still a whopping 13 games to check out over the next two days.
There are only so many hours in the day and several contests are on at the same time, so which should you prioritize? Let’s break down the games based on watchability, starting at the bottom.
13. Pittsburgh at Northwestern – Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPNU
Easily the bottom-ranked matchup here since neither program is a real threat to go to the NCAA Tournament this year. Unless you are an alum of either program or know someone attending the school this game should not make your TV screens.
12. Georgia Tech at Nebraska – Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. ET on ESPNU
The only real appeal here is with Georgia Tech, which is looking to build some momentum after beating up on Kentucky in a 17-point blowout on Sunday, which slightly offsets brutal losses to Mercer and Georgia State. Nebraska is still rebuilding under Fred Hoiberg and could use this win to set up some momentum for a tough Big Ten schedule.
11. Boston College at Minnesota – Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPNU
The Eagles haven’t been truly relevant in the ACC for years so let’s pay more attention to the Golden Gophers. Richard Pitino’s team was a .500 bubble team a year ago and is off to a 4-0 start with wins over Green Bay, North Dakota and Loyola-Marymount (twice). This is a step up in weight class for Minnesota and is worth checking out if you’re doing some really deep-dive research into teams that could wind up as a 7-seed or below in the NCAA Tournament.
10. Purdue at Miami – Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2
These two teams look to be middle of the pack teams in their respective conferences so a win here could mean a lot down the line. Miami has an intriguing guard in sophomore Isaiah Wong, who is averaging 18.5 points per game over the Hurricanes’ first two contests of the season. This is also the first game of the challenge but a better viewing option at the same time is the Creighton-Kansas meeting.
9. Penn State at no. 16 Virginia Tech – Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPNU
We’ve finally found a ranked team in Virginia Tech, which surged into the top 25 off the strength of an upset win over Villanova in the Mohegan Sun bubble. The Hokies pulled another non-conference shocker last year by topping Michigan State in Maui but failed to carry the momentum over into conference play so we’ll have to see if this season will be different. Penn State should be a worthy challenger after falling in overtime to Seton Hall over the weekend.
8. No. 22 Ohio State at Notre Dame – Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The name value is here with two marquee programs but the Buckeyes are clearly the far superior team to a reloading Notre Dame squad. This game means a lot more to the Fighting Irish, who lost at Michigan State and scraped by Detroit-Mercy to pick up their first win of the season. Ohio State has four players who average double-digit points per game and should easily overwhelm Notre Dame.
7. Maryland at Clemson – Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2
This game is the sneaky value of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge since Maryland is off to a surprising 4-0 start while Clemson is looking to build on last year’s solid squad to return to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers scored wins over Duke and North Carolina last year and have gotten off to a 3-0 start with a pair of Power 5 non-conference wins over Purdue and Mississippi State. Maryland hasn’t been pushed yet so this game will be a good test for them as well.
6. Syracuse at no. 23 Rutgers – Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The Northeast’s matchup between Syracuse and Rutgers should be a lot of fun as the Scarlet Knights look to show why they are favored to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Dealing with the Orange’s 2-3 zone will be a good test for Rutgers, which hasn’t faced Syracuse since 2013.
5. N.C. State at Michigan – Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The Wolfpack have assembled another pathetic non-conference schedule so this game against Michigan will be a good measuring stick to see if they’ll have what it takes to contend in the ACC. Juwan Howard’s team has borderline top-25 potential and could solidify a potential move into the rankings in the coming weeks with a good performance here.
4. Indiana at no. 20 Florida State – Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The perennially underrated Seminoles will look to demonstrate why they can still be an ACC threat with a win against Indiana. Florida State has played just one game due to a COVID issue with an opponent, which could leave them vulnerable against a Hoosiers team that has played Power 5 competition with matchups against Providence, Texas and Stanford at the Maui Invitational.
3. No. 4 Michigan State at No. 18 Virginia – Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
The top game on Wednesday sees Michigan State, fresh off a 2-0 week including a road win at Duke at the Champions Classic, hit the road once again for a showdown against one of the ACC’s best teams in Virginia. Tony Bennett will no doubt be looking for revenge against Tom Izzo for a pair of NCAA Tournament upsets over the past decade. The contest also reunites the Hauser brothers as Sam (Virginia) and Joey (Michigan State) meet for the first time since they were teammates at Marquette two years ago.
2. No. 16 North Carolina at No. 3 Iowa – Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
If you like dominant front-court play, this is the game for you. Iowa’s Luka Garza has set the world on fire so far, averaging 34 points per game over the Hawkeyes’ first three contests, while North Carolina has an army of talented bigs ready to try and slow him down. This game has big offensive potential as well with Iowa averaging almost 100 points per game in the early going.
1. No. 6 Illinois at No. 10 Duke – Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The best matchup of the whole event is Tuesday night’s matchup at Cameron Indoor between a pair of Final Four contenders in Duke and Illinois. The Blue Devils’ lone loss came against Michigan State while Illinois fell to Baylor, leaving both sides eager to pick up a marquee non-conference win. The experience of the Illini contrasted with the youth of Duke will also be a fun element to this game.
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