Granted both teams are going to have a different look next season, but clearly the headliner for the 2009 ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be when the Michigan State Spartans seek revenge against the reigning national champion North Carolina Tar Heels.
Georgia Tech, who finished last in the ACC standings, will not participate this go round (as it the rule) and will be the odd team out.
Unfortunate too for the ACC because they might just bounce back with their incoming recruiting class.
Here's a quick look at all 11 games that will take place and a few thoughts (and ridiculously early predictions) as we take a look at a series in which the ACC has won every year since the contest's inception.
Could this be the year that the Big Ten finally breaks through?
Michigan State at UNC
The Spartans certainly are not facing the amount of attrition that the Tar Heels are dealing with but there are certainly North Carolina players who will be able to handle their expanded roles.
Look no further than Ed Davis, the Benedictine High School product could be a sophomore sensation judging by his early returns at Carolina. Davis made the wise decision to hold off on the NBA and I think he will do a great job controlling the glass in the low post.
The Spartans lose Goran Suton but still have sophomores Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. Both men should make even greater strides with the experience of an unexpected postseason run.
The game is also early on in the season which means that the Tar Heels will still be trying to figure things out with all these new pieces.
So of course...I'm taking North Carolina. It's just hard to win in Chapel Hill and if the Tar Heels lose next year it will most likely be in games where they're expected to win easily.
Young teams that are that talented tend to throw some away but I think under the bright lights they will play hard and take care of business at home.
Northwestern at N.C. State
Ouch. This game will not be for the faint of heart, or lovers of offense. Both of these teams like to grind it out and those similar styles will make for a close game—just not a terribly entertaining one.
Northwestern came close to an NCAA tournament bid last year and are only losing two seniors.
On the other hand, The Wolfpack have junior Brandon Costner testing the NBA waters and have been terribly under-achieving under Sidney Lowe.
Time for another insane decision, I think Northwestern might just take this one.
Virginia Tech at Iowa
The Hokies were once again near the NCAA bubble, even though their record was 19-15.
Virginia Tech is definitely a tease. They can challenge Duke and North Carolina and even embarrass Wake Forest in Winston Salem, but they can also lose games they have no business losing.
Iowa is a team that had a season to forget last year finishing 15-17, and losing 12 of the last 16 games to end the regular season.
Iowa has also had a rough stretch in the Challenge with a 2-6 record, including a 69-65 loss in 2006 to the Hokies.
Virginia Tech may be losing A.D. Vassallo but they still have a great player in Malcolm Delaney and with Jeff Allen in the post, the Hokies should win this one comfortably.
Wake Forest at Purdue
This should be a fun contest.
These are two young, up-and-coming teams that have some talented players and could be a really close game.
Wake Forest probably wishes they could play this game today after laying an egg against Cleveland State in the NCAA tournament.
The Demon Deacons, though, played well in big games last year with home victories over both Duke and UNC. With Al-Farouq Aminu on the boards, Wake Forest can match the physicality of Purdue.
Purdue is a tough team to beat at home and even though Wake Forest had a good year last season they still went 4-4 on the road in the ACC and three of those wins were by ten points or less.
With the home court I think Purdue will use their crowd and their experience from a good run in last year's tournament to take the victory...but barely.
Boston College at Michigan
The two most surprising teams in both conferences last year will face each other in the Challenge in 2009.
Both of these teams were nowhere near the discussion of the NCAA tournament last November but both found a way with some marquee victories.
Boston College is losing a tremendous player in Tyrese Rice. Although they found some emerging players, these guys will now be expected to contribute with defenses solely focused on them.
Joe Trapani and Corey Raji will be two key players to their success this season. They will still have a good deal of experience, since Rice is the only senior on the team.
Michigan coach John Beilein continues to develop a solid program, as he has done at every stop along the way. If Manny Harris stays then the Wolverines will continue to grow and should expect an invitation to the Big Dance again in 2010.
The Eagles backcourt will still be transitioning from the post-Rice era and with a stingy Michigan defense and a hostile crowd I am giving this one to the Wolverines.
Duke at Wisconsin
The Blue Devils had a big blow earlier this week when it was announced that Gerald Henderson would declare for the NBA Draft.
This puts even more pressure on the younger members of the Duke frontcourt, mainly Miles Plumee, to develop quickly.
Brian Zoubeck will also have to step up in role if the Blue Devils are to seriously contend for a national title in 2009.
The Badgers rarely lose at home and Duke has weaknesses but they are also one good shooting night away from taking out anybody.
I think this early in the season the confidence for the Blue Devils is typically sky high and that rhythm will lead to some good jumpers and they will pull out a big win.
After all, Duke has never lost in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. They are 10-0 and Wisconsin may be good, but they are not good enough to break the streak.
Florida State at Ohio State
Another good match between two similar teams.
Leonard Hamilton finally broke through and got his team to the NCAA tournament last season and the Ohio State Buckeyes seemed destined for a postseason victory until they were undone by the Siena Saints.
Florida State is losing their underrated point guard Toney Douglas and forward Uche Echefu to graduation.
The Seminole offense was so completely centered around Douglas that no other player scored over 9 PPG.
Solomon Alibi will have to become that new leading scorer alongside Chris Singleton, two roles that may take time to happen.
The Buckeyes have no seniors on their roster. Although B.J. Mullens may leave for the NBA, they still have significant pieces left on their roster to make a run next season. With Evan Turner likely to stay, the Buckeyes have their three leading scorers coming back.
As a result, I think Ohio State will take care of business—but expect a bruising contest between the two.
Illinois at Clemson
Clemson sure has made a reputation for coming out strong.
Every year the Tigers go out to 16 or 17 wins to start the season before the ACC schedule takes them down a notch.
Will the Fighting Illini defense be enough to change that streak?
Probably not. The Tigers have a very powerful offense and Illinois might not be able to keep up.
Although they would like to slow down the tempo, that is contingent on making shots. If they can't, expect the Tigers to run and put on a show like when they dismantled Duke last season.
Minnesota at Miami
I must say, I am disappointed this game will not be at the Barn for it is always fun to watch games there.
Tubby Smith is one heck of a coach and with a strong recruiting class and his top players returning, the Golden Gophers appear to be in very good shape for next year.
Miami is losing a great guard in Jack McClinton and the point guard position is typically one of the hardest to replace. They also lose a good glue guy in Jimmy Graham.
Although the Hurricanes will have James Dews and Dwayne Collins returning as seniors, there will clearly be an adjustment period.
Minnesota will win this game.
Penn State at Virginia
Oh wow, talk about a slug-fest.
This game will also be another low-scoring but close contest. 38-33 anbody?
This will be one of the first real tests for Virginia's new head coach Tony Bennett who hopes to bring his winning defensive system Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers have some talent with Sylven Landesberg and Mike Scott but so do the Nittany Lions.
The reigning NIT champs still host the multi-talented Taylor Battle and a pretty experienced corps.
Obviously a Penn State win, right?
However, Virginia has never lost an ACC/Big Ten game at home. I think that streak will continue.
Maryland at Indiana
The Hoosiers wanted to press fast forward all last year.
Indiana was humbled in Tom Crean's first season following the fallout of the Kelvin Sampson era.
Still the team made strides and now they have a chance against the annually schizophrenic Maryland Terrapins.
Maryland looks like they will lose Greivis Vasquez and they still need to find size on their roster.
However, even though Indiana is desperate for a big win to usher in the new era it won't happen quite yet.
In the end, my ridiculously early prediction would be a 6-5 ACC victory. Sounds like we've heard that one before.
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