A few days after releasing the schedule for this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the B1G announced the slate for its undercard nonconference event, the Gavitt Games.

Colloquially called the Big Ten-Big East Challenge (by me, anyway), it’s a more scaled-back event. Only 8 teams from each conference participate compared to the full attendance of the ACC/B1G Challenge.

In theory, this provides the benefit of avoiding airtime for the bottom-dwellers of each league. But contractually, things aren’t so simple. Since there’s a rotation of which teams play in a given year, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid the duds. (And given how fluid rosters are in the transfer portal era, it would be impossible to avoid duds even if that weren’t the case.)

Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers, Maryland and Wisconsin are the 6 B1G teams that won’t take part in this year’s event. And given that at least 4 of those teams will probably finish in the top half of the Big Ten standings, there will be some clunkers in the Gavitt Games.

With that being the lay of the land, we’ll grade this year’s Gavitt Games matchups the best we can. Just as we did with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, these are listed in order of curbside appeal.

1. Villanova at Michigan State

Jay Wright’s abrupt retirement takes a little luster off this showdown, but not enough to topple it from the most desirable spot. The basketball itself should still be very good as successor Kyle Neptune faces Tom Izzo.

In a sport defined by 1-and-dones, Villanova will feature a pair of 5th-year seniors in forwards Caleb Daniels and Brandon Slater. The question is what the Wildcats’ backcourt will look like without Collin Gillespie (graduation) and Justin Moore (torn Achilles).

Michigan State has the opposite issue. The backcourt combo of AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker figures to work better in tandem this season than it did last year as a point guard rotation. But outside of Joey Hauser, there isn’t much certainty in the Spartans’ frontcourt.

2. Indiana at Xavier

Xavier, the defending NIT champs, is led by former Xavier and Arizona coach Sean Miller after the Musketeers fired coach Travis Steele in the middle of the tournament and then won the whole darn thing. Miller started his head coaching career at Xavier, where he either won the league tournament or regular-season title in 4 of his 5 seasons before jumping to Arizona.

Read More

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting will be officially launching on January 1, 2023. Ohio will join other Big Ten states where sports betting has become legalized such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and more.

Miller also is the brother of former Indiana coach Archie Miller. He’s also the sweaty, slippery operator who Arizona fired for getting the program entangled in FBI and NCAA investigations.

Dramatic back story aside, Xavier is likely to have a top 20 offense while the Hoosiers should be a top 20 defense in Mike Woodson’s 2nd season. That’s fun regardless of who is on the bench.

3. Marquette at Purdue

Shaka Smart’s Havoc against Matt Painter’s prolific offense and not-so-stout defense could give us a scenario where both teams finish over 85 points. The Golden Eagles allowed at least 80 in 5 of their final 6 losses last season, which certainly plays into Purdue’s hands if not much changes this offseason.

This should make for some up-and-down the floor, late ’80s/early ’90s-style basketball. Neither team is likely to win their conference, but this really might be the most fun game to watch.

4. Iowa at Seton Hall

Remember Saint Peter’s? We know Purdue does.

Former Peacocks coach Shaheen Holloway is now leading his alma mater at Seton Hall after former Pirates coach Kevin Willard was hired at Maryland. And that means the Pirates will have fierce pressure defense.

This creates a delightful matchup against Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, who have been in the top 5 nationally in offensive efficiency 3 years running.

5. Butler at Penn State

With all due respect to Micah Shrewsberry, who is a coaching star in the making, if the Nittany Lions are playing in the 5th-most interesting game in any event… that does not bode well for the event.

Obviously, if Ohio State was playing in this year’s Gavitt Games, Thad Matta’s return to Columbus would actually vault Butler’s matchup to the top of the list.

This will likely be a deliberately paced game that will test the patience of some viewers. But I do expect it to be quite competitive.

6. Nebraska at St. John’s

Big Red meets the Red Storm.

This game might be sneaky fun. Like, lots of fun. St. John’s led the nation in adjusted tempo last season, while Nebraska was 19th. If the Cornhuskers were expected to be better, this would be much higher in the rankings. (If Bryce McGowens had stuck around Lincoln, this would be a set-the-DVR game, but that reality doesn’t exist.)

7. Northwestern at Georgetown

If these schools met in Quiz Bowl or Mock Trial, this matchup goes to the top of the list. They aren’t. So it doesn’t.

Chris Collins and Patrick Ewing, who at one time looked untouchable as coaches, both enter next season on very thin ice.

8. DePaul at Minnesota

What a matchup this would be … in 1982.

The Golden Gophers haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2013. The Blue Demons haven’t made it that far since 2004.

George Mikan and Kevin McHale are not walking through that door.