Pairings set for ACC-Big Ten Challenge

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMay 1, 2014 

  • ACC/Big Ten Challenge

    Monday, Dec. 1

    Nebraska at Florida State

    Rutgers at Clemson

    Tuesday, Dec. 2

    Illinois at Miami

    Minnesota at Wake Forest

    N.C. State at Purdue

    Ohio State at Louisville

    Pittsburgh at Indiana

    Syracuse at Michigan

    Wednesday, Dec. 3

    Duke at Wisconsin

    Georgia Tech at Northwestern

    Iowa at North Carolina

    Michigan State at Notre Dame

    Virginia at Maryland

    Virginia Tech at Penn State

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is getting bigger. The 16th version of the made-for-TV college basketball event will last three days in December and feature 14 games.

Duke’s trip to Wisconsin, a Final Four team last season, highlights the new Challenge schedule, which comes with a twist for the 2014-15 season.

North Carolina will host Iowa, and N.C. State will travel to Purdue, but the real intrigue to Thursday’s announcement by ESPN was what to do with Maryland?

The Terrapins, an ACC member since 1953, are leaving for the Big Ten in June. Instead of a matchup with UNC or Duke, the Terps will host 2014 ACC champion Virginia.

The other notable matchups include Ohio State at Louisville, and Syracuse at Michigan.

The highlights, and lowlights, of this year’s schedule:

Good call: Duke at Wisconsin

Duke (13-2) has won more games than any other team in the Challenge. The Blue Devils’ only losses came at Wisconsin in 2009 and at Ohio State in 2011.

This game will be a clash in experience. The Blue Devils, with one of the best recruiting classes in the country, will be led by freshman point guard Tyus Jones and freshman big man Jahlil Okafor.

The Badgers will be one of the most experienced teams in the country with four starters back from coach Bo Ryan’s first Final Four team.

The Badgers have been very good at home under Ryan (195-21 in 13 seasons), and Duke has lost its first true road game in each of the past three seasons.

Huh? Iowa at UNC

Maybe Michigan State coach Tom Izzo begged out of another game with the Tar Heels (he has lost seven straight to Roy Williams) and maybe Iowa will be better than expected, but this is a strange decision.

UNC will probably be the favorite in the ACC next season, with a trio of talented guards and wings arriving to help junior guard Marcus Paige, and deserved a higher-profile opponent. (Iowa lost in the First Four last season.)

There’s a reason Iowa, 3-10 in the Challenge, has never been matched against the Tar Heels in the event.

Wait, what? Michigan State at Notre Dame

Izzo’s team just played a great game in the NCAA tournament with Virginia (and beat the Cavaliers in the Sweet 16). So it would be a no-brainer to run those two teams back, right?

Not quite. Instead, the Spartans will go to Notre Dame, which went 6-12 in the ACC and 15-17 overall last season.

Indiana and Louisville, two storied programs with history with each other, would have been another natural pairing, but they’re meeting in the Jimmy V Classic in New York. So the Cardinals, the ACC newcomer, will host Ohio State and the Hoosiers will host Pittsburgh.

Points to the ESPN and conference powers, though, for pairing Syracuse and Michigan, a reprisal of a 2013 Final Four matchup.

Road trouble: N.C. State at Purdue

N.C. State improved to 5-2 at home in the Challenge last season with a 69-48 victory against Northwestern. That means the Wolfpack has to go on the road for this season. State’s 1-6 away from PNC Arena in the Challenge. The good news? The Wolfpack’s lone win was at Purdue in 1999. More good news? Purdue’s coming off consecutive losing seasons.

If you say so: Nebraska at Florida State, Rutgers at Clemson

Forget 25 years ago, when only one of those four would have been eligible for the Challenge, can you imagine looking at these matchups just five years ago and thinking ACC vs. Big Ten?

Giglio: 919-829-8938; jgiglio@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @jwgiglio

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