Several top teams will be action in the late-November Challenge as these two power conferences, the ACC and Big Ten compete for the Commissioner's Cup, including top-five talents North Carolina, Ohio State and Duke. Wisconsin, Florida State, Michigan State, Miami and Purdue are some of the other teams in action. There are six games on Tuesday, November 29th and six more on Wednesday, November 30th.
The showcase game highlighting the series will be Duke at Ohio State on Thursday, a matchup of two college powers with some of the best talent in the game. Austin Rivers and a trio of Plumlees lead the charge for the Blue Devils, while returning All-American Jared Sullinger and shooting guard William Buford will make the Buckeyes the favorite in this match-up. On the following night, Wisconsin at North Carolina could potentially determine the winner of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge which will pit several All-Americans against each other- Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin against a star-studded frontcourt of the Tar Heels' Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
Michigan at Virginia
The Wolverines were one Darius Morris floater away from upsetting the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils in the 2011 NCAA Tournament and return several key pieces to their squad including Team USA U-19 member, Tim Hardaway Jr. Virginia is another team on the rise under the leadership of Tony Bennett, so don't sleep on the Cavaliers. Bennett returns fifth-year senior Mike Scott at power forward and has brought in several highly-rated recruiting classes to build up this program.
Northwestern at Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets have been hampered by losses the past few seasons- losing the likes of Iman Shumpert, Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal and head coach Paul Hewitt, but return starting guards Mfon Udofia, Glen Rice Jr. and developing big man Daniel Miller, one of the best shot-blockers in the country. Georgia Tech will have their hands full with a mortally-efficient Northwestern offense that had the 20th best effective field-goal percentage and the fifth best turnover percentage in the country last year. All-Conference wing John Shurna holds the Wildcats' tournament hopes in his hands.
Illinois at Maryland
Each team lost four key playmakers a piece- point guard Demetri McCamey, starting frontcourt Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale and future-starter Jereme Richmond for Illinois and big man Jordan Williams and a pair of wings in Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie and forward Dino Gregory. Maryland also lost Gary Williams, so there is no doubt that both teams will show very little resemblances to last season. This year, Illinois will feature its two guard Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson and center Meyers Leonard and the Terps have some new starters of their own- Terrell Stoglin, Pe-Shon Howard and James Padgett.
Miami at Purdue
Purdue would have been devastated had they lost coach Matt Painter in addition to JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, but Painter will return to lead Robbie Hummel back from two ACL surgeries and senior guards Ryne Smith and Lewis Jackson. They won't be the same Boilermaker team that we have grown so used to with Johnson and Moore, but the defensive intensity and efficient offense will still be key. Miami, on the other hand, brings back its core group of players with tough-nosed center Reggie Johnson and wing Durand Scott.
Clemson at Iowa
As bad of a reputation that Iowa has based on its success, or lack their of the past few years, four starters return to the Hawkeye lineup including pass-oriented point guard Bryce Cartwight, wing Matt Gatens and breakout-sophomore Melsahn Basabe. Do not be surprised if Iowa can tip off a depleted Tigers team at home. Clemson lost seniors Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, but have some rising-seniors to make-up for the lost production.
Indiana at North Carolina State
This year has high hopes for the Hoosiers, while the Wolfpack are sliding under the radar for the most part. Tom Crean and his Indiana team return leading scorers Christian Watford and Verdell Jones, as well as a healthy Maurice Creek, an injury-stricken shooting guard. That offensive attack is largely underrated while the Hoosiers also add the brother of North Carolina Tar Heel Tyler Zeller, Cody. North Carolina State's biggest losses come by way of the backcourt where Ryan Harrow has transferred to Kentucky and Javier Gonzalez has graduated. Look for sophomores CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown to break out this year.
Penn State at Boston College
Just six months ago, both teams were on the NCAA Tournament Bubble, but a hot finish down the stretch had the Nittany Lions in the field, while BC was on the outside looking in. Don't expect either team to be tournament worthy this year after the Golden Eagles lose all five starters from their 21-win squad and PSU basketball should drastically fall back down to Earth now that Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson have graduated and Taran Buie has been removed from the team.
Florida State at Michigan State
Don't fret Seminoles fans- even after losing one of college basketball's premier defenders in Chris Singleton, defensive stalkers highlight this roster including Terrance Shannon, Okaro White, Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft in the middle. Two wings with potential need to develop for Florida State to be a contender in the ACC- Ian Miller and Michael Snaer; these two may have something to prove, but not as much as Tom Izzo's Spartans as a whole. After beginning 2010-11 as the No. 2 team in the nation, Michigan State barely made the tournament and bowed out in their first game.
Virginia Tech at Minnesota
Seth Greenberg's Hokies did it again- they missed the tournament, losing to nearly every tournament team on their non-conference schedule. What will this year bring? We predict more of the same as Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen have graduated, although Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson do return. Minnesota also missed the field as untimely injuries and transfers caused a six-game losing streak to end the season. Trevor Mbakwe is one of the nation's best unheralded forwards and if Rodney Williams can finally live up to his enormous potential, the Golden Gophers could return to the Tournament, but like VT, this is unlikely.
Wake Forest at Nebraska
This is this Challenge's "bonus" game with the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten, but it doesn't add much to the schedule. Nebraska was one of the best defensive teams in the country, but they lose their best offensive option for a team that struggled mightily to put points on the board. Wake Forest is in better shape, but not by much; Jeff Bzdelik won just 8 games in his opening campaign. The Brightside is that JT Terrell, CJ Harris and Travis McKie all return to the starting lineup.
Wisconsin at North Carolina
The second real "highlight" game on this year's schedule as potentially two top ten teams could meet in the challenge finale. Jordan Taylor, a potential first-team All-American, will lead the Badgers minus Jon Leuer, against North Carolina's dominating frontline of the Tar Heels' three potential All-Americans: Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller.