The Big Ten and ACC are typically two of the strongest college basketball conferences year in and year out, and they prove it through their annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The ACC dominated the competition from its outset, but the Big Ten has seized momentum recently. With new blood joining the ACC (and some of the old blood packing up its bags to eventually join the Big Ten), the 2013-14 Challenge should be equally as heated.
A good place to start when assessing the strengths of the conferences is with the projected All-Conference teams. Read on to see a comparison of the All-ACC and All-Big Ten teams.
*The projected All-Big Ten team comes from Brent Yarina of the Big Ten Network, while the All-ACC team is this writer’s projection. As with any all-conference teams, the positions are occasionally liberally enforced.
We saw this matchup early in the 2012-13 season, and Quinn Cook and the Duke Blue Devils got the best of Aaron Craft and Ohio State in a closely fought game that the Buckeyes led for most of the first 35 minutes.
It happened to be one of Craft’s worst individual games of his collegiate career (he was 3-of-15 shooting and fouled out). Cook struggled from the field as well but dished out eight assists and was impressive from the free-throw stripe.
However, we are talking about a bigger picture for Craft than just one game in one of the most hostile environments in any sport. The Buckeyes’ point guard will be a senior this season, brings better on-court leadership than arguably anyone else in the country and forces opposing coaches to game-plan for his defense alone.
Ironically, Cook and Craft may be better suited if they switched roles. Ohio State could use Cook’s scoring potential with Deshaun Thomas gone, while Duke has so many weapons Craft could simply play lockdown defense and spread the ball around.
Craft gets the nod here by a slight margin thanks to his status as a senior, game-changing defense and gradually improving offensive attack (he became a legitimate scoring threat down the stretch of the 2012-13 season and completely dominated Indiana and Michigan State in critical contests).
Big Ten 1, ACC 0
Tim Frazier and Joe Harris are two of the most unheralded and underrated players in the country.
Virginia’s Harris quietly earned a spot on the All-ACC team last season behind better than 16 points a game and blistering shooting from the three-point line. There is no reason not to expect Harris to improve on his already impressive numbers in 2013-14 as he enters his senior campaign with more experience and more confidence.
Frazier missed the vast majority of the 2012-13 season due to injury, but his presence alone will help turn a middling Penn State squad into a team that is capable of knocking off one of the conference’s heavyweights on any given night.
The Nittany Lions’ guard averaged nearly 20 points a night in his last full, healthy season, while dishing out better than six assists a game and grabbing almost five rebounds a night. He was also arguably the best defensive guard in the Big Ten this side of Aaron Craft and swiped 2.4 steals a contest.
While Harris is a great scorer and a critical piece in the Cavaliers’ attack, Frazier is the better overall player. From his assist and rebounding prowess to his defensive tenacity, Frazier simply impacts the game in more ways. The Big Ten takes an early two-man lead in the backcourt.
Big Ten 2, ACC 0
There once was a time before the Andrew Wiggins’ hype train fully left the Canadian station that Jabari Parker was considered the best high school prospect since LeBron James dominated the Ohio prep scene.
Parker is the entire package for a stretch forward. He has size, athleticism, a lengthy reach and the ability to put the ball on the floor. Look for him to attack the rim off the dribble, spot up from mid-range when Quinn Cook penetrates and even post up smaller defenders that try to mark him. If Duke didn’t have so many weapons, Parker could very well be the favorite to lead the conference in scoring.
While Blue Devils fans are hoping Parker makes an immediate impact as a freshman, Gary Harris did just that for Michigan State in 2012-13. He averaged 13 points a night behind effective three-point shooting. He was also a solid defender and is a critical piece in one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten.
While Harris is a great player and should improve as a sophomore alongside Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, Parker simply has a higher ceiling. The nation has focused on Wiggins and the Kentucky freshmen (and rightly so) for much of the offseason, but Parker has the talent to sneak in and claim freshman of the year honors.
Big Ten 2, ACC 1
It wouldn’t be fair to call James Michael McAdoo a disappointment at this point in his career after he scored better than 14 points and grabbed more than seven rebounds a night last season, but he hasn’t quite lived up to the sky-high expectations that were placed upon him early on.
This projection expects McAdoo to make the leap that Tar Heel fans have been waiting for in the 2013-14 campaign. Considering the uncertain status of P.J. Hairston, there may be a bigger responsibility awaiting the Tar Heel big man than expected this year.
Mitch McGary also started his college career with high expectations, and early in his freshman season he was failing to live up to them. However, down the stretch run of the season and especially in the NCAA tournament, McGary began to earn the lion’s share of the minutes over Jordan Morgan and prove to the country that the hype was well deserved.
McAdoo put up better numbers over the course of the 2012-13 season, but McGary’s late flurry earned him NBA love from the scouts to the point that he almost left for the draft. McGary will be the better player in 2013-14.
Big Ten 3, ACC 1
The matchup between Michigan State’s Adreian Payne and Syracuse’s C.J. Fair is the closest and best one on here. Each player has a legitimate chance to be his respective league’s player of the year and play himself into the lottery come NBA draft day.
Payne will anchor the middle of the Spartans' typical bruising attack on both ends of the floor now that Derrick Nox is no longer on campus. However, it is Payne’s versatility that makes him truly special, as he can bang around in the lane, posterize defenders with dunks and hit the three.
Fair will also serve as the anchor for the Orange’s 2-3 zone on defense and as the most reliable weapon on the offensive end. Look for Fair to contend for defensive player of the year as well in the ACC as he racks up a career high in blocked shots.
Payne is a great player, but Fair is going to make significant strides in 2013-14 from what has already been a formidable career. The ACC gets the nod here, but the Big Ten takes the overall crown.
Big Ten 3, ACC 2
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