What we learned about every team during ACC/Big Ten Challenge
By the end of Tuesday, the Big Ten had earned an outright victory in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, although not all of it took place on the court.
On Day 1, the Big Ten went 6-1, with only Purdue falling after it squandered an 18-point halftime lead at Miami. When Michigan State and Virginia postponed later Tuesday night, due to COVID issues in the Cavaliers’ program, the game joined Michigan-NC State and Wisconsin-Louisville as those that weren’t played as scheduled. Michigan and Wisconsin picked up last-minute alternate opponents, with the Wolverines beating Toledo and the Badgers defeating Rhode Island Wednesday.
The Big Ten was swept on Day 2, leading to an ugly end after a pretty start, but still the league went 6-5 against their ACC rivals. Following are things we learned about each of the 11 Big Ten teams that participated in the Challenge, listed in order of impressiveness.
83-68 win at No. 10 Duke
The Fighting Illini have more weapons than the Big 2 — Ayo Dosunmo and Kofi Cockburn — and maybe it’s those secondary players who will help determine how far Illinois goes this season. Freshmen Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller didn’t flinch facing Coach K and his Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor. Miller already might be one of the best pure shooters in the Big Ten and Curbelo could be the next great Illini guard.
93-80 win over No. 16 North Carolina
The Hawkeyes can shoot it. They hit 17 3-pointers against the Tar Heels, tying Auburn for the most UNC has ever allowed. In doing so, they proved they’re more than the big man inside, as Luka Garza started slowly — he finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, but saw his streak of consecutive 20-point games end at 19 — and it didn’t matter. Jordan Bohannon led 3 others in double-figures with 24 points, showing that he is past the hip injury that cost him the bulk of 2019-20. And Iowa, which was averaging nearly 100 points per game vs. cupcakes, proved it can score against a top-tier opponent. Who needs defense, especially when you’re averaging almost 12 3-pointers per game?
75-55 win at No. 15 Virginia Tech
It would be easy to call Penn State’s road victory the most impressive of the Challenge. A 20-point win is certainly the most surprising. What in the world to make of Penn State? The Nittany Lions’ leading scorer, Seth Lundy, didn’t have a single point, yet PSU boat-raced the 15th-ranked team in the country. Penn State is just throwing guards at teams, but don’t overlook the “big” guys — John Harrar and Trent Buttrick — as the forwards combined for 11 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and zero turnovers in 34 minutes.
90-85 win at Notre Dame
E.J. Liddell plays about 3 inches taller than his listed 6-7, and it’s a good thing for Ohio State. The sophomore forward does everything that the Buckeyes need, from defending inside to rebounding and now scoring too. He had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the win over ND, as Ohio State rallied from down 8 at the half by scoring 56 in the last 20 minutes. Impressive, considering there were entire games last season that OSU barely hit 56.
79-69 win over Syracuse
Rutgers is unlikely to fold late in games. After Syracuse rallied to take a 1-point lead late, the Scarlet Knights locked down on defense, reeled off 10 straight points and won going away. It’s a credit to the veterans, like Ron Harper Jr., who was around during the bad Rutgers years and isn’t ready to let his team slip backward. Rutgers could be a really tough, really physical, really clutch team, especially when Geo Baker returns from injury.
69-67 OT loss at No. 22 Florida State
Trayce Jackson-Davis is going to need help from his teammates. The sophomore forward was fantastic at FSU, with 25 points and 17 rebounds, none of his teammates scored in double-figures. Al Durham’s 3-pointer with 3:50 left in OT was the last field goal by an IU player other than Jackson-Davis. So, who is going to help? Consistently. It’s a question that might plague IU vs. better competition.
85-80 OT win over Boston College
Both Gach isn’t the star of the Minnesota show — that honor belongs to Marcus Carr, but he’s an excellent sidekick. Gach, who played at Utah last season, is a long, athletic guard, and he’s been great at finding the openings generated by Carr. The duo came into Tuesday’s game averaging a combined 42 per game, and after a slow start vs. BC, when the Gophers trailed by as many as 15 in the second half, they scored 32 of their 38 in the second half and overtime.
58-54 loss at Miami
Purdue is playing like a team that’s leaning heavily on underclassmen, because it’ll go through periods where it looks sharp and the talent has taken over, like in building an 18-point halftime lead. But then it looked like it has 5 freshmen, all playing major roles, in scoring 14 points and squandering the lead in the second half. The return of junior Eric Hunter Jr., one of the few veterans, will help. He played for the first time this season on Tuesday.
71-70 loss to Pittsburgh
The Wildcats are going to ride with sophomore point guard Boo Buie, so when he was rolling early, it looked like Northwestern might cruise to a relatively easy win over Pitt. But as things do with young players, and young teams, the final minutes become more difficult. Boo’s turnover and 2 missed free throws opened the door for Pitt, which trailed by 5 with 40 seconds left but took its first — and only — lead with 5 seconds left. Northwestern’s margin for error is going to be minuscule this season, so when it has a chance to close out an opponent, it better take it.
67-51 loss at Clemson
Had to wonder whether Maryland’s early-season shooting prowess was a mirage. Well, it was a mirage. Against a bigger, more athletic opponent, although one that isn’t picked to finish in the upper-echelon of the ACC, the Terps shot only 40% and had 15 turnovers. Maryland just simply cannot afford Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell to have off nights, and they combined for only 10 points on 4-of-20 shooting.
75-64 loss to Georgia Tech
Senior guard Kobe Webster doubled up his season scoring average by pouring in 20 points off the bench while hitting 6-of-7 3-pointers in the Cornhuskers’ loss. But he was pretty much Nebraska’s only offense. The rest of his teammates: 34 points on 16-of-52 shooting (30.7%). The Huskers are going to lose a lot.