Several weeks ago, the games for the 2010 ACC/Big Ten Challenge were set.
This is one of the biggest weeks of the season for the Big Ten because it gets to see how its teams compare to those of a power conference like the ACC.
Last year, the Big Ten was able to take the challenge 6-5, winning it for the first time in 10 years. The Big Ten is hoping that with the strong teams it will have next year, the conference will be able to take the challenge once again.
Here is the list of games for next year's ACC/Big Ten Challenge:
Monday, November 29
Virginia at Minnesota
Tuesday, November 30
North Carolina at Illinois
Ohio State at Florida State
Michigan at Clemson
Georgia Tech at Northwestern
Iowa at Wake Forest
Wednesday, December 1
Michigan State at Duke
Purdue at Virginia Tech
North Carolina State at Wisconsin
Indiana at Boston College
Maryland at Penn State
Although some may consider it bias, the most intriguing matchup I see next year is North Carolina at Illinois. Here is why:
It's a classic rematch of the 2005 National Championship, an end to a season that neither I, nor any other Illini faithful, will soon forget.
In the Elite Eight that year, Illinois was down 15 points with four minutes left in the game. They were able to pull a rally together and forced the game into overtime where they came out as victors.
Next, they were able to take a down a tough Louisville Cardinals team.
Finally, the toughest game of them all came against an extremely talented North Carolina team. North Carolina was able to come out with the win, taking down Illinois 75-70.
Illinois finished the season 37-2.
From that point on, Illinois fans have been gaining more hatred towards North Carolina; to beat them in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would mean the world to every single Illinois fan.
Both teams are likely to be in the top 25.
North Carolina is going to be an outstanding team next year with all the talent they have returning and the ravishing recruiting class they have coming in—led by the young phenom, Harrison Barnes.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Illinois has a very noteworthy team—bringing back their whole starting lineup and adding a top-25 ranked recruiting class as well.
One of the more appealing matchups will be between two McDonald's All-American players, Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) and Jereme Richmond (Illinois).
When they played against each other in the McDonald's All-American game, Barnes' team was victorious and I am sure Richmond would love to get some revenge for a better purpose.
As for the game at Assembly Hall on that November night, you can't get much better than a game that will likely feature two teams looking to be atop the college basketball world, both out to prove they deserve to be ranked where they are.
Both teams are looking to make up for the extremely disappointing seasons they experienced last year.
North Carolina started off the season strongly, but a big loss to Syracuse was the start of a journey that went downhill rapidly.
From that game, many teams were able to find out North Carolina's weaknesses and exploit them: inexperience, carelessness with the ball, poor teamwork, and lack of communication.
Their poor play led them to a record of 20-7 (5-11), which barely landed them a spot in the NIT.
To the surprise of many, North Carolina showed glimpses of hope in the NIT. They started to find a "groove" and eventually took out No. 1 seed Mississippi State.
They then lost to the Dayton Flyers in the championship, but the whole experience in the NIT will help them grow as a team. Their growth will hopefully lead them to an NCAA Tournament birth next season.
You definitely need to look out for this team next year, for they will have a gigantic chip on its shoulder.
Along with North Carolina, Illinois had many of the same problems, resulting in an immensely disappointing season.
One of the major problems Illinois faced this year was their inexcusable inconsistent play.
For example, they had some big victories against top-notch teams like Clemson, Michigan, and even a victory at Wisconsin—which doesn't happen often.
But, then when you take a look at their losses, they leave you baffled: Bradley, Utah, and Northwestern.
Another missing piece of the puzzle was leadership. They had outstanding leadership in the prime-time games, but never had that person step up when they needed it in the games against Bradley, Utah, etc.
These problems left Illinois with a record of 21-15 (10-8). Their résumé was not good enough, however, so they were denied a NCAA Tournament birth and got into the NIT as a No. 1 seed.
In the NIT, they were knocked out by Dayton in the quarterfinals, which, as mentioned earlier, went on to beat North Carolina for the championship.
The players since then have had their minds set on the bright future ahead. From several articles and Twitter comments I have read, every player is working his hardest to reach the same goal for next season: Make it to Houston—home of the Final Four.
Just like North Carolina, they have a ton to prove next season.
And what would be better than a victory against a premiere program like UNC in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge?
So, who you got?