ACC/Big Ten Challenge: In Defense of the Big Ten

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: In Defense of the Big Ten

There have been many college basketball types complaining that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is lopsided and pointless. 

Some say that the Big Ten will never be able to play to the level of ACC and that the ACC will never lose.  So why play? 

And if you were to quickly glance at only a couple of games, you could easily find evidence to back up that claim.

I understand that North Carolina ran over Michigan State at Ford Field—a somewhat “neutral” site.  Duke finally left Durham to play a road game in West Lafayette, IN and even though is was on the Boilermakers home court, Purdue didn’t even show up to play.

But many of the games were hard-fought and close in the final minutes.  There were many showcased teams that focused on the team concept versus teams with a lot of  individual talent.  It paired four highly ranked teams against each other and featured at least six others who will hear their names on Selection Sunday.

While the ACC has never lost the challenge, to say that the Challenge is pointless is a little ridiculous.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a comment that I thought the Big Ten could win or at least earn a draw in this season's ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  I was almost right.  

Even though they did not win, the Big Ten performed better than it has the last few years of this early season basketball extravaganza. (Now that is a great word.)

The difference this season was the scheduling committee decided to have teams face each other that will end up in the same relative position in their respective conferences.  So the matchups were more even in nearly every game.

Since 2003 the ACC has won the challenge; 7-2, 7-2, 6-5, and 8-3 in both 2006 and 2007.  This season the challenge ended up 6-5 in the ACC’s favor.

Each conference has had teams that were head and shoulders above the rest of the opposing conference in years past.  Yet this season, the play of the teams in the middle of the pack in each conference has been fairly level and is what ultimately made this year's challenge entertaining.

The matchup of Boston College and Iowa came down to a missed free throw in the final seconds.  Maryland came back to beat Michigan.  Northwestern took over the game with their style of play against Florida State.  And Georgia Tech had a last-second heave at the buzzer to steal the game from Penn State, but could not.

In 2007, the three closest games were VT over Penn state by five, Clemson over Purdue by three, and Indiana over GT by four.  The total was a combined point difference of 12. 

In 2008 the three closest games were Wisconsin over VT by two, Clemson over Illinois by two, and Boston College over Iowa by two.  The point difference of those three games was six.  There were also four other games with a total point difference of 16.

As the Big Ten is reasserting itself as a power conference , I would like for the schools to consistently play each other.  Have UNC host Michigan State next year.  Next season Purdue goes to Cameron to face off with Duke.  Send Minnesota to Virginia to continue with the Ralph Sampson story line.

Establishing rivalries would add another layer of significance to the games and prove that each individual game is as important to win as part of the rivalry, not just a part of the challenge.  There are very few non-conference or non-border-sharing rivalries in college basketball and we could use some more.

Every season the ACC is involved in the same old debate about which conference is the best.  The Big Ten has recently fallen very far from an “honorable mention” in that conversation.  And I can not totally disagree.

Yet since the ACC/Big Ten started in 1999, each conference has had a total of eight teams in the ten Final Fours that have taken place in the same amount of time.  With the ACC winning three national championships and the Big Ten only one.

Below is the break down for each season with the champions in bold...

1999 - Duke, Michigan State and Ohio State (because of violations they have forfeited this appearance) - UConn

2000 - Wisconsin, MSU and UNC, 2001 - Duke and MSU, 2002 - Indiana and Maryland

2003 - none - Syracuse

2004 - Duke and Georgia Tech - UConn, 2005 - UNC and MSU, 2006 - none - Florida

2007 - Ohio State - Florida

2008 - UNC - Kansas

So to claim that the ACC is a more dominant conference is false.  They are definitely the most hyped conference and the choice favorites of some ESPN “experts.” 

But here is the reality: there are always going to be conferences who have more high exposure players, more future NBA draft picks, more Hall of Fame coaches.  Yet, that does not guarantee a championship, let alone a trip the Final Four.

We have also seen that players who were not draft-worthy when they were freshmen are now projected as a top-ten pick as a junior.  We have seen juniors who were guaranteed first round picks come back to take one more shot at finally winning the last game of the season.

Now more than ever in college basketball, “the playing field is level,” and every team is a twist of fate away from making a run deep into March or losing in the first round to a mid-major. 

Case in point: UNC is a Ty Lawson or Tyler Hansbrough twisted ankle away from booking flights to Detroit in the spring—even though Detroit will still have snow.

So to the the decision makers of the Big-Ten and ACC: You have a good product, it just needs a little tweaking to get the most out of it.  Just get rid of the East Coast bias, promote rivalries when possible, and continue to make fair match-ups.

Even if the ACC continues to win, it will at least be entertaining.

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