The ACC-Big 10 Challenge is on, and the team to put the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils to the test will be the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Duke climbed to No. 2 in the polls after escaping the first few weeks of the season without a loss. In the process, the Blue Devils earned big wins over No. 3 Kentucky and No. 2 Louisville to build their resume, but the fourth-ranked Buckeyes will present another substantial challenge.
And the Buckeyes, while also unbeaten, are far more unproven. They may be 4-0, but after facing the likes of Albany, Rhode Island and Washington over the first few weeks, it's impossible to know how good—or bad—they really are.
Here's a look at where and when you can watch one of the Challenge's premiere matchups.
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
When: Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Listen: 102.9 FM and 620 AM in Durham, 97.1 FM and 1460 AM in Columbus
Live Stream: WatchESPN
What's at Stake
It may be very early in the season, but both of these teams have a lot to lose—and a lot to gain by winning.
Duke, for its part, has already proven its worth. It started off the season at No. 8 and steadily climbed the polls after racking up a series of big wins and also by holding strong in the cupcake matchups it needed to win as well. This is its second tough game in a row against a top-five team, though, and perhaps that will wear on the Blue Devils; or perhaps they'll see this as their last big test before a far easier slate of games against the likes of Delaware, Temple and Cornell.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, still have much to prove. They've beaten up on the easy teams, but can they get the job done against one of the best teams in the nation? If they do, they could easily usurp the Blue Devils in the polls; if they don't, they won't get another solid chance to prove themselves until they face Kansas right before Christmas.
Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
No injuries to report.
Forward Marshall Plumlee is out until early December with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Projected Starting Lineups (via ESPN.com)
Evan Ravenel, F
Deshaun Thomas, F
Aaron Craft, G
Lenzelle Smith Jr., G
Sam Thompson, F
Ryan Kelly, F
Seth Curry, G
Mason Plumlee, F
Quinn Cook, G
Rasheed Sulaimon, G
What They're Saying
The Blue Devils looked stronger than ever in the Battle 4 Atlantis over the holiday weekend, where they took down Minnesota, VCU and Louisville in succession to win the title—and that victory only added credence to the idea that, as Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Eisenberg puts it, "it's nearly impossible to beat Duke in an early-season tournament."
In fact, according to Eisenberg, Duke has won six straight in-season tourneys, and the last time the Blue Devils lost in such a situation was against Marquette in the CBE Classic in 2006.
The fact that the Blue Devils tore through some stiff competition in the Bahamas doesn't bode well for the Buckeyes, who, to their credit, also have an in-season tournament win of their own, from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. Since then, they have destroyed Missouri-Kansas City 91-45, and though they're well aware that beating Duke will take a lot more than that, they know that their experience is something they have going for them.
Ohio State's roster features just one new player in 2012-13, according to CentralOhio.com's Rob McCurdy, and that will certainly work in its favor, according to guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. He told McCurdy: "We’re still in the beginning stages of this season, but as far as the team, we’ve been together and have a feel and a sense for guys on the court and off the court."
Duke Associate Athletic Director Mike Sobb tweeted that fans are already camping out for the big game on Wednesday:
Sobb (@sobberatduke) November 26, 2012
This matchup may favor the Blue Devils, but the rest of the ACC better be prepared; the Big 10 isn't going to be the easiest conference to contend with this week:
Big Ten basketball is a power house this year. #1 Indiana #3 Michigan #4 Ohio state #13 Michigan state #21 Minnesota #22 Illinois— Ben Gresla (@GrezzlyBear) November 26, 2012
Ohio State Key Player
Deshaun Thomas was one of the Buckeyes' stars last year, and it's up to him to be that player again this year—especially against Duke, by far Ohio State's biggest test thus far. The 6'7" junior averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last year, and this season he's off to a hot start, averaging 24.0 points and 7.3 boards.
He may have put up 31 against Washington and 25 against Rhode Island, but doing that against Duke will be a different story. Thomas has been especially solid from long range, shooting a combined 8-of-16 from three over his last three games. That, combined with his 27-of-46 mark from the floor over his last three, makes him a big threat to the Blue Devils.
Duke Key Player
Senior Mason Plumlee is the key to the Blue Devils' offense, as he's proven throughout the entirety of this young season thus far. His field-goal percentage has never dipped below .545, and twice it's been over .800—including against the then-No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats.
Throughout the Battle 4 Atlantis, Plumlee was consistent and in control for Duke. He averaged 17.6 points over the tournament's three games, with 11.3 boards and just 2.3 turnovers per game. His best performance came in a big win over Minnesota in the first game of the tourney, when he shot 6-of-11 from the floor for 20 points and 17 rebounds. If he can have that kind of impact against the Buckeyes, they're going to have their hands full.
Who's your pick to win?
Duke has been remarkably consistent this season, no matter what team it has faced. For the most part, this hasn't been a team that has won big, but it has managed to find a way to get by, both against the nation's top teams and against the nation's worst teams.
Ohio State will certainly be a challenge, but the Blue Devils have already proven they can handle it, whereas the Buckeyes will be encountering a tough test for the firs time. The Blue Devils will be able to handle this one, just like they handled Louisville and Kentucky.