In the second part of our look at next season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge games, we look at the rest of the contests including seven first-time Challenge match ups.
Purdue @ Louisville
Sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan (10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds) will lead a Purdue club that lost seven-footer AJ Hammons (15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds). Young players like Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards will have to help keep the Boilermakers on track. Matt Painter has won a lot of games for Purdue but fans have grown a bit restless as he enters his 12th season in charge. That’s just the nature of the business, and another strong season without a run in the NCAA Tournament will make things uneasy.
Louisville only signed one player this offseason but it was 5-star small forward V.J. King. The departure of senior transfer guards Damion Lee and Trey Lewis hurts considerably, but there’s plenty of young talent ready to step up in the backcourt for a team that will be hungry after missing the postseason last year following NCAA sanctions. Guards like Raymond Spalding and Quentin Snider have already shown loads of potential and they may be prepared to step right in. The bigger problem will be replacing the team’s best big man Chinanu Onuaku, who left early for the NBA.
Notre Dame @ Iowa
Iowa made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. That marked the program’s third consecutive tournament bid and fourth straight season of at least 20 wins under Fran McCaffery. has a big recruiting class on the way, literally. Three incoming freshman measure at least 6’8″ which will add size and depth in a front court that lost star forward Jarrod Uthoff to graduation.
The Irish advanced to the NCAA East Regional Final last season before falling to North Carolina. Demetrius Jackson left early for the NBA and Zach Auguste graduated, so there are big holes to fill. The good news is double-figure scorers V.J. Beachem, Bonzie Colson, and Steve Vasturia all return. The recruiting class is highlighted by 4-star combo guard Temple Gibbs who was pursued by a number of ACC programs. It’s easy to envision the Irish taking a step back, but that rarely happens under Mike Brey.
Minnesota @ Florida State
It was nice of the conferences to send the Gophers to Tallahassee as the Arctic tundra (aka Minnesota) will be starting to fall under permafrost by the time these teams face off. FSU should be talented again with Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes both returning to school, though Malik Newman chose to enter the NBA Draft. Leonard Hamilton has assembled a very strong recruiting class that includes 5-star PF Jonathan Isaac.
Minnesota was dreadful last season when they posted an 8-23 overall record. After winning the NIT at the end of his first season in Minneapolis, Richard Pitino’s teams have gotten progressively worse in his three seasons on the job and he needs a rebound this year. The good news is that last seasons he had a very young team that lost only two seniors. Expectations will be higher for the Gophers this time around.
Georgia Tech @ Penn State
The prospects for the Yellow Jackets are a bit grim for the first campaign under new head coach Josh Pastner. Brian Gregory put together an NIT squad last season, but the roster was comprised of graduate transfers and veterans which leaves the cupboard bare now in Atlanta. Josh Pastner takes over after a somewhat successful stint at Memphis, and he’ll have a major rebuilding job on his hands in Atlanta. He’s never been considered a terribly strong X’s and O’s coach, but if he can recruit well, things can turn around given enough time.
Pat Chambers needs a successful season for Penn State after posting just a 72-91 record in his five seasons on the job. The Nittany Lions do have history on their side posting a 7-8 record in 15 ACC/Big Ten Challenge appearances. Leading scorer Brandon Taylor (16.5 PPG) is gone which will shift the scoring load to junior Shep Garner (14.8 PPG).
Pittsburgh @ Maryland
The fact that this is and ACC/Big Ten game makes my brain itchy in all the wrong ways. Pittsburgh went through a high-profile coaching change in the offseason bringing in Kevin Stallings after Jamie Dixon left for TCU. How Stallings will do long term is anyone’s guess, but he’s a good coach should have at least moderate success in his first season. Six of the team’s seven leading scorers return including Jamel Artis and Michael Young.
Mark Turgeon’s club finished 27-9 last season en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Leading scorer Melo Trimble flirted with the NBA Draft but withdrew his name after getting a less than stellar evaluation at the NBA Draft Combine. The Terrapins will be a consensus top ten team next season and among the likely favorites to win the Big Ten.
Illinois @ N.C. State
Both of these teams have potential to surprise next season.
State loses Cat Barber and the Martin brothers. Some guys returned after putting their names in the draft and 5-star freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. appears to be progressing well on in his recovery from a torn ACL.
— Rodger Bohn (@rodgerbohn) June 24, 2016
He joins a dominant recruiting class for Mark Gottfried with four players considered at least 4-star talents. 7′ Turkish center Omer Yurtseven may well be a future NBA Lottery pick, but his eligibility next season for the Wolfpack is still awaiting an NCAA ruling surrounding questions of compensation while playing overseas. He looks to bolster an inside crew that briefly lost BeeJay Anya and Abdul-Malik Abu to the NBA Draft before they decided to return to school.
Illinois needs a resurgent season or John Groce is another coach who may be on the market. He won 23 games in his first season with the Illini followed by 20, 19, and 15 wins in the following years. He does have some talent on the roster led by star Malcolm Hill who averaged 18.1 points and 6.6 rebounds as a junior. Reports have him increasing his vertical and getting noticeably stronger this summer which means trouble for defenders everywhere. If Hill gets some help, Groce and Co. might just squeak into the postseason.
Rutgers @ Miami
The inaugural Greg Schiano tip-off classic features two programs in very different positions. The Canes have been outstanding compiling a 52-21 record the last two seasons, but now they must replace five seniors off a team that advanced to the regional semifinal of the NCAA Tournament last season. The backcourt of Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan is gone, as is big man Tonye Jekiri. Only one freshman will join the fold in diminutive (5’6″, 150) point guard Chris Lykes. Jim Larranaga has his work cut out for him next season.
Rutgers is still getting through the fall out of a number of high-profile scandals that plagued the athletic department, including the firing of head basketball coach Mike Rice. Steve Pikiell now has the unenviable position of being the sixth coach hired at Rutgers since the Scarlet Knights last qualified for the Big Dance in 1990-91. Last season’s team won just seven games including only one in conference play, so to call this an uphill battle is putting it mildly.
Nebraska @ Clemson
Most would rather see this game on the football field, but it could be interesting. Clemson got a huge pick-up with the return of Jaron Blossomgame who opted to stay in school. The Tigers will attempt to blend him with three transfers including former Wake Forest signee Shelton Mitchell. Clemson definitely has a chance to improve on its 17 wins from a year ago and should have a solid home court advantage in their freshly renovated digs.
— Clemson Basketball (@ClemsonMBB) June 22, 2016
The Cornhuskers and head coach Tim Miles hope they can squeak out a winning record in Miles’ fifth season at the helm. The team loses last year’s leading scorer Shavon Shields (16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds) and second leading scorer Andrew White III (16.6 points, 5.9 rebounds) who will transfer. Not good for a team that was 198th nationally in scoring with those guys. The void will put loads of pressure on 4-star recruit Isaiah Roby and some of the other unproven Huskers.
On the bright side, the hashtag #Nebrasketball is always worth chuckle.
Wake Forest @ Northwestern
To this point, Danny Manning is 24-39 in two seasons in Winston-Salem which means progress must be shown this year. Guard Bryant Crawford (13.8 points, 4.4 assists) looks to build on an impressive freshman season with the help of match up nightmare Konstantinos Mitoglou. The 6’10” rising junior show 31% from three-point range last season which was actually down from 38% in his first season. The downside are the huge losses of guard Codi Miller-McIntyre as well as big man and leading scorer and rebounder Devin Thomas (15.6 points, 10.2 rebounds).
The Wildcats won 20 games for the first time since 2010-11 and appear to be headed in the right direction under Chris Collins’ leadership. 7-footer Alex Olah (11.4 points, 5.6 rebounds) and leading scorer Tre Demps (15.7 points) both graduated, but Collins has recruited very well so far. Former 4-star prospect Aaron Falzan (8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds) should keep improving in his sophomore season and with the help of this freshmen 4-star’s center Barret Benson and forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, this program will continue to rise.