Ranking Every 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge Matchup

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2015

Ranking Every 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge Matchup

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    Duke and Wisconsin met in last season's Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and then again in the NCAA title game.
    Duke and Wisconsin met in last season's Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and then again in the NCAA title game.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The lineup for one of the most anticipated early-season college basketball events of every year, the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge, was announced on Wednesday. All told, 14 games featuring teams from two of the top conferences in Division I will be held at campus sites between Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

    This will be the 17th year of the competition, with the Big Ten claiming last season's version. The ACC won the first 10 and hasn't won since, as the Big Ten was victorious from 2009-11 and the leagues tied in 2012 and 2013.

    Because the ACC has one more school than the Big Ten, Georgia Tech was left out of this year's challenge.

    This year's event features some great matchups, including a battle between schools that could be ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country in 2015-16. They're not all must-see TV, though each will be shown on an ESPN-affiliated network.

    A lot can happen between now and then, but here's our early ranking of every Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup for 2015 along with predictions for each contest.

For Alumni and Diehard Fans Only

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    With 29 schools of varying ability, there's always going to be a handful of Big Ten/ACC matchups that lack much buzz. But someone will want to watch these, especially if they're fans of one of the schools.

    Clemson at Minnesota (Nov. 30)

    Both teams made the NIT semifinals in 2013-14, with Minnesota claiming the title. Yet neither was able to do much with that momentum—they combined to go 33-30 last season, and neither got a bid to any postseason tournament.

    Predicted winner: Minnesota

    Wake Forest at Rutgers (Nov. 30)

    Rutgers is one of two "unbeaten" teams in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge (along with Louisville), but that's because the Scarlet Knights have only played one game. That was a win at Clemson last season, and now it will be their chance to host an opponent—one that should be on the rise in head coach Danny Manning's second season in charge.

    Predicted winner: Wake Forest

    Miami (Fla.) at Nebraska (Dec. 1)

    This pairing has the distinction of being between the two schools farthest apart, at 1,661 miles by car or 1,404 by flight. That's about all that's noteworthy, other than to see how what's left of Miami's NIT finalist is looking.

    Predicted winner: Nebraska

    Northwestern at Virginia Tech (Dec. 1)

    At 3-6, Virginia Tech has the worst record of any ACC school in this series, while Northwestern's 6-10 mark is only better than Iowa (4-10) among Big Ten teams. Something's gotta give.

    Predicted winner: Virginia Tech

    Penn State at Boston College (Dec. 2)

    If these league bottom-feeders can put together a game like their football teams did in last December's Pinstripe Bowl, this could be a fun one. Instead it will probably end up being the game that either clinches the challenge for one conference or forges a third tie in four years.

    Predicted winner: Boston College

9. Michigan at North Carolina State

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    When: Dec. 1

    Previous challenge meetings: Michigan 2-1 (won 68-61 at home in 2003; lost 74-67 at NC State in 2006; won 79-72 at home in 2012)

    Michigan had a season to forget in 2014-15, losing both Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton to injuries midway through the year. Both will be back this year, though, and LeVert's decision to return rather than jump to the NBA should provide the opportunity for a bounce-back.

    North Carolina State made a surprise run to the Sweet 16, knocking off No. 1 seed Villanova along the way, but then lost Trevor Lacey to the NBA draft and Kyle Washington to a transfer. Cat Barber and beefy block machine BeeJay Anya return, however.

    Prediction: North Carolina State

8. Purdue at Pittsburgh

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Dec. 1

    Previous challenge meetings: None

    This game gets the early edge in the series as the one with the potential for the most elbows thrown and blood drawn, because Pittsburgh and Purdue are two of the most hard-nosed teams in the country. The fact that each could use a notable nonconference win like this one should only add to the intensity.

    Purdue brings back eight of its top nine from a year ago, and its lineup could be even stronger if it's able to land Caleb Swanigan, the 5-star center who backed out of a commitment to Michigan State last week.

    Pittsburgh missed out on the NCAA tournament in 2014-15 but will have a new look to its roster, bringing in graduate transfers Rafael Maia from Brown and Sterling Smith from Coppin State.

    The schools haven't met since 1977, and Purdue will be bringing in a Big Ten-best six-game win streak in the series.

    Prediction: Purdue

7. Virginia at Ohio State

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    Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Dec. 1

    Previous challenge meetings: None

    Two years ago, an Ohio State-Virginia matchup would have been far higher on the list. Back then, OSU had a veteran-laden team, and Virginia was working toward the first of two ACC regular-season titles. It would even have been pretty good last season, as we could have seen how Buckeyes freshman phenom D'Angelo Russell handled the Cavaliers' suffocating defense.

    Instead, we get somewhat of a past-its-prime pairing, almost a basketball version of Mayweather-Pacquaio, as Russell bolted to the NBA and Virginia lost Justin Anderson early and Darion Atkins graduated. It won't be a bad game, just not as good as it could have been had it happened earlier.

    OSU did sign a quintet of four-star players for 2015-16, including shooting guard JaQuan Lyle and center Daniel Giddens, but there's still a lack of sizzle for this one.

    Prediction: Virginia

6. Florida State at Iowa

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    When: Dec. 2

    Previous challenge meetings: Florida State 1-0 (won 80-67 at home in 2002)

    Florida State landed a top-10 recruiting class that it hopes will be able to combine with breakout star Xavier Rathan-Mayes to get the Seminoles back into the upper half of the ACC. But they'll get an early out-of-league test with a trip to Iowa, another underrated team that could make waves this season with four of its top five scorers coming back.

    These teams haven't had the most success in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, combining to lose 20 of their 30 previous games. FSU has dropped seven straight, including at home last year to Nebraska, but Iowa has won its last two and pulled off the upset at North Carolina last December.

    Prediction: Iowa

5. Notre Dame at Illinois

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    When: Dec. 2

    Previous challenge meetings: None

    It will be a battle for Chicagoland supremacy when Illinois hosts Notre Dame for the first time since 1954. The schools haven't met since Notre Dame upset the Fighting Illini in the 2003 NCAA tournament, the last game that Bill Self would coach before leaving Illinois for Kansas. Mike Brey is still with the Fighting Irish, and this time around it will be his program that's on the rise after reaching last year's Elite Eight.

    Notre Dame graduated scorers Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton but bring back the rest of the defending ACC tournament champion squad, while Illinois lost four of its top six scorers including Rayvonte Rice but landed 6'11" Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne.

    Prediction: Notre Dame

4. Wisconsin at Syracuse

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    When: Dec. 2

    Previous challenge meetings: None

    Two of the most accomplished—and prone to gripe about officiating—coaches in college basketball will pit their revamped teams against each other in the Carrier Dome. It will be the first meeting between Syracuse and Wisconsin since the 2012 Sweet 16 when Syracuse claimed a one-point victory.

    Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan have combined for more than 1,600 wins and Final Fours in each of the past three seasons. This will not be one of the games Boeheim has to miss as part of NCAA sanctions levied in March on the Orange program, as his nine-game suspension doesn't begin until ACC play.

    Wisconsin lost five of its top seven scorers from last season's national title game participant, while Syracuse graduated big man Rakeem Christmas and lost freshman forward Chris McCullough to the NBA draft.

    Syracuse is 1-1 in this series, having lost last year at Michigan, while Wisconsin is 7-9 but just 2-6 on the road.

    Prediction: Wisconsin

3. Indiana at Duke

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    When: Dec. 2

    Previous challenge meetings: Duke 2-0 (won 75-67 at Indiana in 2005; won 54-51 at home in 2006)

    Defending national champion Duke won't really resemble the team that started last season with wins over Big Ten schools Michigan State (in the Champions Classic) and Wisconsin (Big Ten/ACC Challenge) and then ended it with a victory against Wisconsin for the NCAA title.

    But do many teams look the same from one year to the next anymore? And will that matter here, as Duke will put its perfect home record in this series—and 116-game home-court nonconference win streak—on the line against Indiana?

    The Blue Devils sent three freshmen to the NBA, while guard Quinn Cook graduated, yet they reloaded with another monster recruiting class that features four 5-star players who essentially will just replace the departed stars.

    Indiana avoided a similar fate by holding on to everyone of significance other than sophomore guard Stanford Robinson, who transferred. The Hoosiers also bring in 6'10" power forward Thomas Bryant, a 5-star prospect who should give them the inside presence they lacked last season in losing during the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

    Prediction: Duke

2. Louisville at Michigan State

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    When: Dec. 2

    Previous challenge meetings: None

    A rematch of the unlikeliest Elite Eight game from earlier this year, Louisville gets a chance to avenge that loss but will have to do so playing at the Breslin Center. Tom Izzo is 2-1 against Rick Pitino, who now has a trip to East Lansing on a 2015-16 schedule that also includes games at Kentucky and the ACC slate of Duke, Notre Dame and Virginia.

    "This schedule may put me in my grave," Pitino told Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

    Louisville will look vastly different this season, as Wayne Blackshear graduated, Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier turned pro and guards Anton Gill and Shaqquan Aaron transferred. The Cardinals added graduate transfers in Damion Lee (Drexel) and Trey Lewis (Cleveland State) along with a solid recruiting class.

    Michigan State had what appeared to be a top-level class as well, but prize recruit Caleb Swanigan decommitted last week. The Spartans should still be loaded, though, as only Branden Dawson and Travis Trice have graduated, and they get former West Virginia guard Eron Harris eligible.

    Louisville beat Ohio State at home last year in its first game in the challenge, while MSU is 6-9 and has lost three in a row.

    Prediction: Michigan State

1. Maryland at North Carolina

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    When: Dec. 1

    Previous challenge meetings: None

    While the recent announcement by dismissed Duke star Rasheed Sulaimon that he would transfer to Maryland sparked plenty of hope he'd get to face his old team in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge's marquee pairing, the organizers probably already had their matchups set beforehand.

    A game featuring teams that could be battling for No. 1 in the polls isn't a bad consolation prize.

    The addition of Sulaimon to a Maryland team that brings back Melo Trimble and Jake Layman, gets former Georgia Tech standout Robert Carter eligible and brings in highly touted big man Diamond Stone makes the Terps a viable candidate for one of the top spots in the preseason polls. CBS Sports already has them second in its early rankings, with North Carolina conveniently at No. 1.

    "The Big Ten-ACC challenge will again provide maybe college basketball's most anticipated non-league game next season," wrote Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg, noting last year's Duke-Wisconsin clash that ended up being a preview of the NCAA title game.

    UNC brings back more talent than nearly any other team in the country, losing only surprise NBA early entrant J.P. Tokoto but bringing back its entire front line as well as scorer Marcus Paige. The Tar Heels also landed former VCU signee Kenny Williams, who backed out of that pledge after Shaka Smart left to coach Texas.

    The former ACC rivals met 179 times from 1954-2014 before Maryland moved to the Big Ten, with UNC winning eight in a row.

    Prediction: North Carolina

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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