We know a good chunk of Ohio State's nonconference basketball schedule next season, and unless you are a hardcore devotee of MAC basketball, it's likely only one more premier game has yet to be released, and that's Ohio State's opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. With the Buckeyes already facing multiple top-level teams away from home, whoever they draw in the Challenge is likely to be the best non-Big Ten team to make a trip to Columbus.
According to ESPN's Andy Katz, the matchups are likely to be released in the next few weeks, but that doesn't mean we can't make a few informed guesses about who the Buckeyes, or anybody else really, may draw. Based on the history of the event, here's what we know about ESPN's thinking:
- Since the ACC has one more team than the Big Ten for basketball, somebody is going to stay home. Typically, that's the worst place team in the ACC, but last season, Boston College missed the event instead, so Virginia Tech wouldn't be left out two years in a row. Virginia Tech finished in last place again, so it's possible they are left out, but with Buzz Williams as coach and a good recruiting class coming in, my guess is that they have a little higher of a Q score than some of the other ACC teams. Georgia Tech finished second to last in 2014-2015, and they would be my guess for the odd team out.
- These matchups aim to have relatively equal talent levels, so Duke isn't going to draw say, Northwestern. The presumed top teams in the league will face the top teams in the other, and so on and so forth.
- Historically, an effort has been made to make sure teams don't play on the road two years in a row, and that each conference gets the same number of home games each season, but there have been a few exceptions, because schedules are tricky things. Last year, the Big Ten got eight home games, and they did in 2011 as well. I imagine going 7-7 is the goal, but if there are arena or travel commitments and somebody has to go on the road again, welp, them's the breaks.
With that in mind, here's some educated guesses on what we may see in a few weeks:
- Duke at Maryland
- Indiana at UNC
- Virginia at Michigan State
- Louisville at Wisconsin
- Miami at Ohio State
- Purdue at Florida State
- Notre Dame at Illinois
- Michigan at NC State
- Minnesota at Syracuse
- Boston College at Northwestern
- Iowa at Pitt
- Rutgers at Virginia Tech
- Clemson at Nebraska*
- Penn State at Wake Forest
A few notes here:
The ratings appeal for those top three games would be undeniable. There's even more bad blood between Maryland fans and the ACC after the Terps were denied a visit from Duke in their last season, and now, with both teams likely to be in the preseason top 5, an early season matchup in College Park would be electric. There aren't many programs more historic than UNC and Indiana, and both squads should be able to score a lot of points next season too. Michigan State upset UVA in the NCAAs so that game could very well be an interesting rematch. Those three matchups work out for home/away splits, they'd be excellent television, and they all make too much sense not to happen.
ESPN's Katz, of course, said that he didn't think Maryland-Duke WOULD happen, predicting a Maryland-UNC and a Duke-Indiana matchup. Those would be excellent games too, but both UNC and Maryland went on the road last year for the Challenge, and Duke-Maryland would be just a little bit nastier.
If the Challenge is really focused on making sure teams don't go on the road back to back years, Ohio State's only real options are Miami and Notre Dame. The Buckeyes played the Irish more recently, so I went with the Hurricanes, who might be a better competitive match for Ohio State anyway. If the schedule makers are willing to be a little more flexible for the right matchup, I think Florida State and NC State are also options. This format still gives all of those teams a potentially good game.
Right now, this format gives both leagues seven home games, and only requires one team to make a second consecutive road trip (sorry, Clemson!). You could flip-flop the Nebraska/Clemson game to prevent back-to-back road trips for every participating team, but that also gives the ACC more home games than the Big 10. Since neither of those teams are likely postseason squads, it probably doesn't matter *that* much.
The matchups for the bottom four teams in each league are relatively interchangeable, since the Big Ten squads are all likely to be road teams. This was merely an idea, but there might be better solutions out there.
As an Ohio State fan, I'd be perfectly fine with this, as the Hurricanes should be an RPI top 50 squad that can compete for an NCAA bid in a loaded conference, just like the Buckeyes. Miami's top scorers return from last season too, providing an interesting experienced counterpunch to Ohio State's overwhelming youth. If the Buckeyes played Notre Dame, Florida State or NC State though, I wouldn't complain.
Who do you want to see in the ACC/B1G Challenge?