Chris Collins wont have to wait long for his return to the Triangle.
Collins, who left the Duke bench after 13 years to take over at Northwestern, will bring his Wildcats to PNC Arena Dec. 4 to play N.C. State in the 15th annual ACC-Big 10 Challenge.
You never know what the matchups are going to be, to get the news that we were going to be playing back in the Triangle, which is such a special area for me and my family, it will be great to bring one of my teams down there to compete, Collins said. Thats great. The thing thats not great is you have to play a tough opponent on the road.
The Wolfpack vs. Wildcats matchup is one of 12 in the Challenge, which began in 1999. Locally, Duke will host Michigan on Dec. 3 and UNC will travel to Michigan State on Dec. 4.
Wake Forest will not be part of the Challenge for just the second time (the Demon Deacons were also left out in 2006). Clemson and Virginia Tech were left out as well.
The ACC leads the series 10-3-1 but hasnt won it since 2008.
Duke is hosting back-to-back home games in the Challenge the Blue Devils beat then-No. 4 Ohio State 73-68 last season in Cameron.
Michigan returns three key players from last years national runner-up squad forward Mitch McGary, a potential All-American, forward Glenn Robinson III and sharpshooting guard Nik Stauskas.
The Wolverines and Blue Devils have never met in the Challenge, but they have played several times in recent years, including twice in 2011 in the NCAA tournament (Duke won 73-71 to advance to the Sweet 16) and at the beginning of the 2011-12 season in the Maui Invitational (an 82-75 Duke win). The Blue Devils are 5-0 in home contests during the Challenge and their 12-2 record overall is the best mark of any team.
UNC is on the road for second consecutive year (the Tar Heels traveled to Indiana last season) and fifth time in seven years. The Tar Heels have been paired with the Spartans four times, with the teams splitting the meetings. Michigan State won in 1999 and 2000, and UNC won in 2008 and 2009. The Spartans return four starters Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson from last years Sweet 16 squad.
There will be less familiarity with the matchup in Raleigh. Collins will be in his first season with the Wildcats and is taking advantage of Northwesterns quarter-system academic calendar to become more familiar with his team. The Wildcats are in school until the first week of June (unlike schools on a semester calendar, which have already finished), giving him more time to be on the floor with his players.
The Wolfpack will have a new-look next year, too, without C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell and Rodney Purvis.
"With a new coach, they will be very different from last year, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said about the Wildcats in a statement. We will be very different too, a young and inexperienced squad."
For Collins and the Wildcats it will be a nice early measuring stick for a program looking to establish a tradition of success and qualify for the schools first NCAA tournament.
Its a great team to play, against a tough opponent, Collins said. And its a great opportunity to see what we can do.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley