There’s one more night of games remaining in the expanded three-night ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Six more intra-conference games remain including six teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season.
#4 Duke (7-0, RPI: 16) at #2 Wisconsin (7-0, RPI: 3), 9:30 PM ET, ESPN
As usual, Duke has raced out to a fast start thanks to a schedule heavy on home games against overmatched opponents. Presbyterian (257), Fairfield (285), Michigan State (41), Temple (123), Stanford (81), Furman (239) and Army (137) isn’t exactly the way to challenge one of the best teams in the nation. Both Michigan State and Stanford were played at a neutral court at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY.
True freshman big man Jahlil Okafor is a surefire NBA Lottery pick and leading Duke with 17.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Those numbers jumps to 25.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per 40 minutes of play. Junior forward Amile Jefferson has benefitted significantly from help in the frontcourt. Jefferson’s scoring has improved to 9.3 points and he’s pulled down a team-high 8.9 rebounds so far this season.
The contrast in styles is always interesting when these teams meet. Duke likes to run and shoot, while Bo Ryan’s Badger squad likes to slow it down and grind a ball-control offense. Senior forward Frank Kaminsky is a terrific player with great skill for a seven-footer. Kaminsky has posted 16.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 blocks per game and he’s knocking down 40.7% of his three-point attempts.
It will be interesting to see how the youthful Blue Devils respond to heading on the road for the first time against an outstanding opponent. I give the edge to Wisconsin in this one, if for no reason other than the Badgers have shown they can compete winning the Battle 4 Atlantis with wins over Oklahoma and Georgetown, while Duke hasn’t really been tested.
Wisconsin 66 Duke 63
#19 Michigan State (5-2, RPI: 41) at Notre Dame (6-1, RPI: 191 ), 7:15 PM ET, ESPN2
This match up looks good on paper, but probably isn’t as even as it may appear.
State is coming off a tough five-point loss to No. 11 Kansas in the Orlando Classic, with Sparty’s only other loss coming in the 10-point shortfall against Duke. This is your typical Tom Izzo team that will take some lumps early in the season in order to be in good shape come March.
Michigan State is paced in scoring by Travis Trice with 16.4 PPG and 5.9 assists. He’s helped by hot-shooting wing Denzel Valentine. The junior is shooting 45.2% from behind the arc and 85.7% at the free throw line. Senior wing Branden Dawson was a bit under the weather and struggled in Orlando, missing a game against Santa Clara, and scoring just three points against Rider. He’s an important piece providing a third scorer and a valuable rebounder.
Notre Dame’s schedule has been poor early, with the Irish losing to the only team with a heartbeat in Providence (No. 31 RPI). Jerian Grant is back for his senior season and the Irish will go as far as he takes them. Currently, Grant is scoring 18.7 points and 7 assists per game. 6-10 forward Zach Auguste is putting up an impressive 15 points and 6.4 rebounds.
The Irish will be wearing fancy new Under Armour gear when the team hosts the No 19. Spartans. The uniforms are a strange hybrid of throwback style mixed with “Back to the Future” all distilled through a Giorgio Armani fever dream. The shoes are pretty cool though.
New Under Armour shoes made for the Notre Dame basketball team pic.twitter.com/WyBT4QlFJj
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 3, 2014
Michigan State 79 Notre Dame 64
Iowa (5-2, RPI: 44) at #12 North Carolina (5-1, RPI: 11), 7:30 PM ET, ESPN
This game could be sneaky good if Iowa shoots the ball well and prevents UNC from running up and down the court. The Hawkeyes lost by 14 to Texas and dropped a close three-point decision to Syracuse in the 2K Classic.
Aaron White leads the scoring for Iowa with 16.7 points and an impressive 7.6 rebounds. He’s a bit of a streaky shooter from outside, but at 6’9″ White is a reliable option in the paint.
Carolina is really good. People say that every season—and it’s usually true to varying degrees—but this has the potential to be a special team. Marcus Paige is the ideal point guard for Roy Williams. He doesn’t turn the ball over much (1.5 TO/G), he’s fast and can score in bunches (15.2 PPG). Kennedy Meeks is coming into his own both as a scorer and rebounder plus junior J.P. Tokoto is a versatile player who fills the stat sheet with consistency.
Iowa should be pesky in this one but just doesn’t have the horses to run with UNC. Playing at North Carolina doesn’t help matters either.
North Carolina 82 Iowa 67
No. 7 Virginia (7-0, RPI: 30) at #21 Maryland (7-0, RPI: 57), 9:15 PM ET, ESPN2
It’s still hard to believe this is now a non-conference game, but such is basketball in the age of conference expansion. The Wahoos haven’t really missed a beat so far this season backing up the program’s ACC Championship and NCAA Tournament berth last year, and Maryland has impressed as well.
Several players have stepped up for UVa with guard Justin Anderson more than doubling his scoring (15 PPG) and 6’11” junior Mike Tobey nearly managing the same with his rebounding (7.1 RPG). Anthony Gill has also taken advantage of added playing time increasing both his scoring (12.6) and rebounding (6.4).
Maryland has surprised many this season with a 7-0 start that includes a win over then No. 13 Iowa State that proved costly. Senior forward Dez Wells was injured in the win and will miss four weeks after surgery to repair a broken bone in his right wrist. Freshman Melo Trimble has more than lived up to the hype leading the Terrapins with 16.6 PPG, but Wells is the heart of this team.
Virginia is beatable and this team isn’t as good as last season’s yet, but they’re still strong. I don’t see Maryland making much noise without Wells, but he’s expected back in time for the bulk of conference play. We’ll know if Maryland is for real then.
Virginia 72 Maryland 66
Georgia Tech (5-1, RPI: 88) at Northwestern (5-1, RPI: 86), 9:15 PM ET, ESPNU
Georgia Tech is a very capable team that sits just a two-point loss to Marquette from being 6-0. The Yellow Jackets have some good scoring inside with the trio of Charles Mitchell, Demarco Cox and Quinton Stephens all averaging double figures so far. Marcus Georges-Hunt leads the Jackets’ so far with an even 12 points per game.
This isn’t a rebuilding job so much as it is a building one for second year head coach Chris Collins.
Northwestern has an absolutely brutal conference slate to start the new year. The Wildcats are slated to play six consecutive games against ranked opponents in January, with Purdue on January 31 being the “easy” game. The Wildcats get some scoring from Tre Demps (10.3 PPG) though he’s shooting just 29.6% from outside and 57.1% at the free throw line. After that the scoring is fairly balanced with four players averaging at least 7.5 PPG.
This should be a very competitive game decided in the final minutes. These teams are generally fairly even, with the overall talent level swinging things in Georgia Tech’s favor.
Georgia Tech 67 Northwestern 60
Virginia Tech (4-2, RPI: 209) at Penn State (6-1, RPI: 64), 7:15 PM ET, ESPNU
Penn State is playing at a decent pace and scoring 76 PPG in the process thanks in large part to D.J. Newbill. The guard has put up 25 points and 5.6 rebounds while averaging 38.7 minutes per game. Those numbers are likely unsustainable, but it’s working for now. Despite the scoring, PSU’s last five games were all decided by nine points or less so the Nittany Lions aren’t stopping anyone.
That could play into the Hokies’ gameplan as Tech looks to its balanced scoring and impressive early shooting percentage (14th nationally with 51.4%) to notch a win in the first road game of the Buzz Williams tenure in Blacksburg.
Penn State currently ranks 79th in rebounding while Tech is just 297th in the nation. That’s proven to be a major issue for the Hokies and will continue to be going forward. This game will be ugly.
Penn State 68 Virginia Tech 65
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