Being a B1G grad at an ACC school, this is probably one of my favorite college sporting events of the year. It is the one time of year my Midwestern ties, my alma mater, and my favorite conference go head to head with the discombobulated, pseudo-Southern culture I currently reside in (plus some random schools in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Indiana). This series of games won't be the complete deciding factor in whether the ACC has overtaken the B1G for the title of best college basketball conference (especially since we cannot be completely sure that there isn't a third league isn't capable of making a run on that designation), but it will give us some bragging rights for the near future and possibly a little boost to a team or two on the bubble who is able to pick up a quality win this week. I enjoy this series because there is nothing like it outside of college basketball. This is where we see two, quasi-geographically defined confederations of teams, including some of the best player and coaching talent in their sport, clash annually as a collective in front of a national audience for wins and losses which have postseason implications for the teams involved. The stakes for college sports are already high for the institutions and conferences involved, and the B1G/ACC challenge is a bare knuckle boxing match between two of the greatest college basketball conferences in the country. It's going to be a fun couple of days. To celebrate our annual clash I have provided a preview as well as a side by side comparison of each institution involved in the games.
Indiana at Syracuse
Vitals: Carrier Dome, 7:15pm EST, ESPN, Syracuse -6
School Facts: Syracuse is the #62 national university according to US News and World Report while Indiana is #75 (side note, rather than linking to every school's page on every college ranking site I am going to link once to the main site and if you are interested you can search from there). Forbes on the other hand has Indiana in front, ranking them 97th in the nation and Syracuse 123rd. Business and Management related majors seem to be the most popular on each campus and both Syracuse's school newspaper and Indiana's theater program rank in the top ten nationally according to the Princeton Review. Speaking of Princeton Review, the service ranks Syracuse as the #5 party school in the nation (Indiana is not in the top 20).
What if this were a football game?: Syracuse managed an upset of Boston College this past weekend to get to six wins while, even the Hoosiers earned the Old Oaken Bucket, Kevin Wilson's crew finished with a 5-7 record. Syracuse had a decent defense this season but was just a middling offense. Still, I think Indiana's extreme incompetence on defense would make me pick Syracuse if this were a football game.
So what about the basketball game?: This is going to tell us a lot about how Indiana has changed since last year. Can the young athletes on Indiana's roster handle the 2-3 zone? Can Tom Crean come up with a game plan that doesn't make him look hilariously incompetent? I think Indiana will be far more competitive than they were last year in the NCAA tournament against the Orange but I am not confident enough to pick an upset here. If this were in Assembly Hall I think the Hoosiers might be able to ride the crowd to a close victory but in the Carrier Dome against a defense that is notoriously hard to duplicate in practice I think Indiana only manages to cover the spread. Final: Syracuse 73 Indiana 70
Illinois at Georgia Tech
Vitals: McCamish Pavilion, 7:15pm EST, ESPN2, Illinois -1
School Facts: Georgia Tech is ranked 83rd in the nation by Forbes and the #36 national university by US News while Illinois is ranked 53rd and 41st respectively by those rankings. Engineering is the most popular major at both institutions, but it is a bit more popular at Georgia Tech (58% of the undergraduate population) than at Illinois (16%). The Princeton Review ranks Georgia Tech in the top ten nationally in Professors getting low marks from students and in having the best athletic facilities while Illinois is ranked as the #3 party school and #3 in Greek life.
What if this were a football game?: Not a very difficult pick. Georgia Tech's rushing attack would more than likely crush the Illini, though it would be interesting to see Nathan Scheelhaase against the Yellow Jacket defense which was decent but not great this season.
So what about the basketball game?: Illinois has had close calls against IPFW and Valparaiso but their road victory over UNLV last week was fairly impressive. Conversely, the best win Georgia Tech has had all season was against a putrid Georgia. The Illini are 7th in Adjusted Defense while the Jackets are 199th in Adjusted offense. Illinois has a pretty short bench so fouls will be important in this game but I think the Illini shut down the Georgia Tech offense and manage to grab a second solid road victory in two weeks. This is a victory that the B1G desperately needs on the first day if the league is going to be in position to win the Challenge on Wednesday. Final: Illinois 65 Georgia Tech 60
Penn State at Pittsburgh
Vitals: Petersen Events Center, 7:30pm EST, ESPNU, Pittsburgh -14
School Facts: Penn State ranks #37 in the US News ranking and 93rd in Forbes while Pittsburgh comes in at #62 and 193rd respectively. Business/Management, and Engineering are the top undergraduate majors in State College while Pittsburgh's are Business/Management and Social Sciences. Pittsburgh ranks in the top ten in Health Services (I guess that means they are really good at handing out condoms or something) while Penn State ranks first in the Princeton Review for Career Services and in the top ten in College Newspapers and Intramural Sports. Penn State is also ranked as the nation's #9 party school by the Princeton Review.
What if this were a football game?: Heinz FIeld might actually sell out for once. Also I think Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson would light up the suspect Pittsburgh defense. These two old rivals will renew their series from 2016-19 so we should actually get a good look at this game in a couple of years.
So what about the basketball game?: Pittsburgh by a lot. There are several positives for Penn State so far this seasons. Their guard play has been excellent and their forwards have been able to make some nice plays but this Pittsburgh team is just playing on another level right now. The Panthers have been demolishing every team that they have played so far this year and Jamie Dixon's crew is going to be extra amped up to play a home game against their cross state rivals. Penn State is improved but they aren't ready for this game on the road and I think that the final score of this game will reflect the gap that exists between these two programs at this time. Final: Pitt 79 Penn State 62
Michigan at Duke
Vitals: Cameron Indoor Stadium, 9:15pm EST, ESPN, Duke -7
School Facts: Duke is ranked 15th by Forbes and #7 by US news while Michigan is ranked 30th and 28th respectively. Duke does not release information through US News about its most popular majors but Michigan's are Political Science, Economics, and Psychology. The Princeton Review ranks ranks Duke in the top ten in the least politically active colleges and in the category in having a relationship between the city of Durham and the university that is strained (they're all UNC fans). Michigan, meanwhile, is listed as a top ten best value institution by the Princeton Review.
What if this were a football game? This one is actually pretty interesting. Almost every other year the Wolverines would be the obvious selection, but with Brady Hoke's team struggling on offense against everyone not named Ohio State and Duke having their best season in school history I think that the Blue Devils would have a shot. Still, I like to think that Greg Mattison's defense would be able to shut down the Duke attack and that Michigan isn't so far gone that they would be shut down by a Duke defense. I like to think that, but in reality, this is probably a win for Duke this year.
So what about the basketball game? The Wolverines have a chance here. Duke has been abysmal in the back court and Mitch McGary could have a field day with rebounds against an undersized Blue Devil side. However, I am not going to bet against Jabari Parker and the Cameron Crazies, particularly when the Wolverines have been without an offensive identity so far this year. Final: Duke 84 Michigan 71
Notre Dame at Iowa
Vitals: Carver Hawkeye Arena, 9:15pm EST, ESPN2, Iowa -9.5
School Facts: Notre Dame is ranked 24th by Forbes and #18 by US News where Iowa is 183rd and #73 respectively. Notre Dame has Forbes' top ranked business school and the Princeton Review ranks Notre Dame as being a top ten intramural sports institution and (perhaps surprisingly) as being one of the most LGBT friendly. Iowa is the notorious recipient of the Princeton Review's top Part School ranking and was also designated the top college with lots of hard liquor. I would say this is overblown, but then again I still don't remember how the 2008 Iowa-Pittsburgh game ended.
What if this were a football game?: The Iowa defense would be a pretty tough nut to crack for Tommy Rees and the Irish and the Hawkeye offense would probably only fair marginally better against Bob Diaco's defense. My guess, the game ends with Notre Dame players faking injuries in order to save time for a score tying drive tht would end the contest in a tie. Except, since college football has adopted overtime rules. it would simply move the game to an extra period where Mark Weisman would recreate Nile Kinnick's famed touchdown run before Tommy Rees threw the game ending interception.
So what about the basketball game?: The Hawkeyes ought to win this game, but there are some troubling signs. For one, Iowa has the worst record in B1G/ACC challenge games at 2-10. Also, the Hawkeyes are just returning from the Battle 4 Atlantis where they played two overtime games in three days including a gut wrenching loss to Villanova on Saturday. Notre Dame is one of the best teams in the nation in sharing the ball (second in the nation with 21 assists per game) and can shoot the three ball. Even though the Irish are not a great rebounding team, Iowa was exposed by smaller Villanova and Xavier squads who out hustled the Hawkeyes around the rim. Still, I think this Iowa team is hungry for an NCAA tournament bid and this is a put up or shut up game for their chances on that front. I think the Iowa City crowd pushes the Hawks to victory in an uncomfortably close game. Final: Iowa 82 Notre Dame 79
Florida State at Minnesota
Vitals: The Barn, 9:30pm EST, ESPNU, Minnesota -2.5
School Facts: Minnesota is ranked 109th by Forbes and #69 by US News while Florida State is 202nd and #91 in those rankings. The most popular undergraduate major at FLorida State is Criminal Justice (insert CrimiNole joke here) while the most popular majors at Minnesota are Social Sciences and Engineering. Minnesota is ranked in the top 20 in least accesible professors and best health services while Florida State is ranked in the top ten in jock schools and amount of beer in addition to being the 12th ranked party school.
What if this were a football game? Jameis Winston and the Noles have the #2 scoring offense and defense in college football. The question isn't who would win, it is which quarter Jimbo Fisher would pull his starters and join them in playing hangman on the sideline.
So what about the basketball game?: Richard Pitino's pressure defense has been a mixed bag so far this season. In Maui the Gophers certainly had bright spots but for the most part they look far from a finished product. Florida State on the other hand has found its defensive swagger and Leonard Hamilton's crew has already gone toe to toe with better teams than Minnesota. I think the Noles get revenge for their loss in Tallahassee last season and shut down the Minnesota offense with a stifling defensive effort that has become the hallmark of FSU under Leonard Hamilton. Final: Florida State 69 Minnesota 61
That means the Big Ten will be down 2-4 after the first night. Can the conference overcome the early deficit? Stay tuned for part two, coming tomorrow.