The Big Ten-ACC Challenge concludes Wednesday night and it might be a surprise to know that the hoop-confident Atlantic Coast Conference is trying for its first outright win in the series in seven years.
It certainly wouldn’t shock oddsmakers, who made the Big Ten a +165 underdog to win more games in the three-day series.
Eight matchups had already taken place heading into Wednesday’s six-game slate. Tuesday’s six games included former ACC stalwart Maryland at North Carolina, Virginia at Ohio State and Michigan at North Carolina State. Other contests Wednesday that could decide the annual event included Wisconsin at Syracuse, Notre Dame at Illinois, Florida State at Iowa and Penn State at Boston College.
Interestingly, Purdue, which faces Pittsburgh on the road Tuesday, has won six straight in the event, while Minnesota, which hosted Clemson on Monday, had won four in a row in the Challenge. Also of note is Florida State’s seven straight defeats to the hands of the B10.
The Big Ten won last year’s head-to-head count by an 8-6 margin, while the previous two years ended 6-6 apiece. When the Big Ten rolled off three straight series wins between 2009-2011 it was the first time that the ACC had lost after having won the first 10 events and was widely regarded as somewhat of a mismatch top-to-bottom.
But now with the shifting of some teams in and out of the leagues, it would seem to be somewhat of a strong consideration for oddsmakers to consider making the ACC a two-dollar favorite, but that’s exactly what they did.
Louisville (+5, 135) at Michigan State (Wed., 4:15 PT, ESPN): The matchup of unbeatens features the nation’s top offensive rebounding team in the Cards, while the Spartans are the No. 2 defensive board team in the country. Meanwhile, the Cards are playing the nation’s best interior defense, holding opponent to just 32.7 percent inside the arc.
These teams met back in March, as the Spartans won, 76-70 at a 2 pt. dog, in the East Region final. Denzel Valentine is back to lead the Spartans and he has been great so far, while Drexel transfer Damion Lee has been as advertised for UL. The Spartans are not adept at forcing mistakes and that will keep UL in the game, MSU, 67-65.
Indiana (+10, 160) at Duke (Wed., 6:15 PT, ESPN): The Blue Devils, of course, have been the most successful team in the Challenge over the first 16 years, posting a 14-2 SU mark. Duke’s Grayson Allen disappeared in the second half when the Devils lost to Kentucky, but still rates early national POY candidate status, while IU, led by PG Yogi Ferrell, already has losses to UNLV and Wake Forest.
The Hoosiers have glaring weaknesses in ball handling and at the line, which could spell disaster at Cameron... DUKE, 83-73.
Kentucky (-7, 147) at UCLA (Thu. 6 PT, ESPN): The Wildcats bombed the Bruins last season, scoring the game’s first 24 points en route to an 83-44 crushing in Lexington. Couple that with the fact that UCLA already has three losses and non-conference games upcoming with Gonzaga and North Carolina, and the Bruins could enter conference play with as many as six losses.
UCLA’s defense has been has been unsteady to say the least, while the ‘Cats are one of the top defensive teams in the nation. UK’s latest star is 6-11 freshman Skal Labissiere, of Haiti, who came to the United States following the 2010 earthquake, after his family survived being trapped for three hours under debris. The Bruins are just 2-5 ATS so far, all at home... UK, 79-69.
Syracuse (+4, 138) at Georgetown (Sat. 10 AM PT, FOX): Like old times, the Orange and Hoyas meet at Verizon Center to start a four-year home-and-home engagement, having last met in 2012-13 during SU’s last year in the Big East. The Hoyas swept the two regular season meetings, but the Orange got their revenge by beating then-No 5 GU at Madison Square Garden in the conference tournament.
The Orange are coming off another former Big East rival matchup, having downed UConn, 79-76, in the Battle 4 Atlantis last week as part of their 6-0 start. Georgetown, meanwhile, has losses to Duke (but covered in a tight 86-84 loss), Maryland, and, oh, Radford, in a double-overtime season-opener...GU, 75-67.
Arizona (+6, 142) at Gonzaga (Sat. 12:15 PT, ESPN): The Wildcats come to Spokane off the heels of a home-and-home extension with the Bulldogs for 2017-19, while the teams are also scheduled to meet next season at Staples Center and agreed to another neutral venue game sometime in the future. For this one, Gonzaga, led by senior national POY candidate Kyle Wiltjer, comes in with a tourney loss to quickly rising Texas A&M.
The ‘Cats, meanwhile, took even a bigger surprise loss, falling to Providence at a tourney on Friday. U of A, led by 6-9 senior Ryan Anderson, has bounced out poorly against the number, going just 2-5 so far, but won a pair of meetings between the programs in 2014, including an NCAA Tournament blowout...GU, 75-65.
Vanderbilt (+4, 140) at Baylor (Sun., 5 PT, ESPNU): Don’t sleep on our Sunday feature, as these two top-15 squads meet in an evening affair to start a home-and-home preseason measure. Seniors Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers are the big guys up front for the Bears, who have rolled over a weak schedule, but lost at Oregon two weeks ago. The Commodores opened with five-straight wins, including Maui tourney wins over St. John’s and Wake Forest before losing to Kansas in the island finale.
The Vandy big boys Damain Jones and Luke Kornet have a size advantage in the front court here, as the teams met last year in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, as the Bears won 66-63, with Jones having turning in a 21-point, 9-board game against Gathers... BU, 70-68.
Ramon Scott is a Southern California-based sportswriter, covering the preps to the pros for over 25 years. Email: [email protected].