ACC/Big Ten Challenge 2012: what to look for

Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

The ACC has traditionally owned this series, but the Big Ten has come back strong in recent years. This year's matchups could go right down to the wire.

The ACC/Big Ten challenge starts tonight, and with the Big Ten owning 3 of the top 5 spots in the polls, they'll be expecting another strong showing against the traditionally powerful ACC. Here is a look at what we should expect for the games over the next two days:

Tuesday

#21 Minnesota at Florida State (7:15 PM, ESPN2): Florida State has bounced back from a shocking season opening setback against South Alabama to get two nice wins against BYU and St.Joseph. FSU sharpshooter Michael Snaer has had a great start to the season, dropping 21 and 8 against North Florida, and averaging 16 points and 6.4 boards over the season so far. Minnesota has looked strong as well, beating Memphis and Stanford, as well as obliterating my beloved American Eagles. Trevor Mbakwe may still be testing out his knees, but Rodney Williams Jr. has done a fine job picking up the slack for the Gophers. The question will be how much gas Minnesota has left in the tank after playing so many tough games in a row. On a neutral court, I like Minnesota, but I think Florida State grinds out a close win here at home.

Iowa at Virginia Tech (7:15 PM, ESPNU): Iowa got all sorts of Big Ten darkhorse buzz at Media Days and throughout the offseason, but won't get many chances outside of this game to prove their mettle before conference play. Virginia Tech hasn't played a non-cupcake yet, and it doesn't look like they'll have the horses to stop Aaron White and Adam Woodbury. Erick Green will get his points, but I like Iowa to get the W. The Hawkeyes need a win more than the Hokies do.

#18 NC State at #3 Michigan (7:30 PM, ESPN): Many writers were concerned NC State might have been ranked a little too high after their strong finish last season, and their performance thus far has done little to allay those concerns, especially after they were beaten down by Oklahoma State by 20. Michigan has looked excellent so far, especially after dismissing two solid squads in NYC in Pittsburgh and Kansas State. NC State can score, but I'm not sure they can slow down Trey Burke or Glenn Robinson III enough, especially if Tim Hardaway Jr heats up and drops another 20. I like Michigan here, comfortably.

Maryland at Northwestern (9:15, ESPN2): I love Northwestern and think they're going to be a much tougher out in conference play than many think, but I'm not sure how they can match up with Maryland 7-footer Alex Len. Not many teams share the basketball as well as Northwestern (5th in the country in assists per game), and they might be able to out-execute a young team like Maryland, but I have to think that the Terp's size advantage will help them eke out a close win in what will be a future Big Ten game. I like Maryland in a close one. Northwestern is going to ruin somebody's day in the Big Ten though.

Nebraska at Wake Forest (9:15, ESPNU): The pillow-fight between the two cellar-dwellers may be a bit of a tossup, but Wake has the home court advantage and the slightly better player in senior guard C.J Harris. I think Wake pulls out a close one here.

#14 North Carolina at #1 Indiana (9:30, ESPN): This is going to be a hell of a game. North Carolina is going to be looking to rebound after this disappointing loss against Butler, and have the rebounding ability to make things difficult for Cody Zeller and the Indiana bigs. Indiana is going to have the big homecourt advantage and has 5 guys who can score in double figures. Given the energy in the house and the fact that UNC will be without P.J Hairston, I think Indiana gets it done here.

Wednesday

Virginia at Wisconsin (7:00 PM, ESPN2): Two teams enters, but the real loser is the TV viewing audience. All joking aside (both teams play defensive first, number of possession minimizing systems), Virginia might not have an answer for Badgers big Jared Berggren. But with UVa getting Jontel Evans back, the Cavs might just have enough to get the job done. Even though Wisconsin will have the Kohl Center home court mojo on their side, I think Virginia can steal this one in a close game.

Purdue at Clemson (7:15 PM, ESPNU): We knew that Purdue was going to be young and this year might be a bit of a stepback. Right now, it's looking like the Boilermakers might be secretly pretty bad. They've already lost to Bucknell, Oregon State, and in OT against a not-very-good Vilanova team, and looked AWFUL in the first half against UNC-Wilmington. The Boilers aren't getting consistent scoring and this team is still learning their roles. Clemson isn't exactly a world beater themselves, but was at least competitive in their loss to Gonzaga, and gets Purdue at home. Their defense will keep Purdue guessing, and Clemson will grab the win.

#13 Michigan State at Miami (7:30 PM, ESPN2): Both teams are a little banged up at this point, but Michigan State can count on superior depth and coaching to help counteract playing on the road. Gary Harris may return for this game, but if Michigan State can keep their turnovers at a more manageable level, they might not need him. The Hurricanes have also already lost to something called a Florida Gulf Coast this season. Sparty on, I like Michigan State.

Georgia Tech at #22 Illinois (9:00 PM, ESPN2): This could get ugly. Brandon Paul has been playing out of his mind for the Illini, who have really beaten expectations after beating Butler and hammering USC. Tech is playing decent team defense right now, but hasn't faced anybody up to Paul's level, and may struggle to score enough to keep up. I like Illinois comfortably.

Boston College at Penn State (9:15 PM, ESPNU). Even without All Big Ten guard Tim Frazier, Penn State still could have the best player on the court in DJ Newbill. Both teams are going to struggle to score (heck, or just struggle, period), so this will come down to execution down the stretch. When in doubt, go with the home team and the best player, and that ought to be Penn State.

#4 Ohio State at #2 Duke (9:30 PM, ESPN): If we played this game in two months, I think I'd like Ohio State by a lot, but this could be a very tough matchup for the Bucks. Cameron Indoor is one of the hardest places to play, period, and Duke is coming off huge wins against Louisville, VCU and Minnesota. More importantly, Duke's players seem to understand their specific roles on the team very well. Ohio State will have the best scorer on the court and the best defender, but the rest of the roster hasn't been consistent, especially the frontcourt. The Bucks can certainly win, especially if Aaron Craft is able to take Quinn Cook out of his game, but I think Duke's balance and the Cameron Crazies will carry them to a close victory. Take Duke.

That would give the Big Ten and the ACC 6 wins each. Many of these games (FSU/Minnesota and Duke/OSU in particular) could easily go either way, while I think the Big Ten has two bigger mismatches on paper. Either way, there is going to be some excellent games over the next two days, with major growth potential for league teams.

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