What We Learned From The ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Thanks to Purdue's nail-biting victory over Virginia Tech, the Big Ten won the challenge 6-5 and successfully defended their title. It was a great 3 days of basketball, as some schools solidified their NCAA resumes while others were exposed as pretenders. So let's fire up a highly original column idea and discuss what we learned about the Big Ten and ACC

Duke has a legitimate chance to go undefeated: According to Ken Pomeroy's rankings, Duke has a 9% chance of completing the regular season unbeaten and a 15% chance to run the table in the ACC. That's obviously a long shot, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility, and the biggest reason isn't that Duke is an elite team (although they are clearly the best team in the country right now), it's that the rest of the ACC is way down. If Duke were in the Big Ten, they'd have basically no chance, but in the ACC, there's no one even close to their level. Seriously, who is going to finish second in the ACC? If you were doing power rankings involving both the ACC and Big Ten, Duke would be #1, but then there'd be at least 5 Big Ten teams before you got to the next ACC team.

Ohio State could be as good as they were in 2007: The similarities to the 2007 team that reached the national title game are eerie. Return a solid core of perimeter scorers? Check. Add a dominant, potential All-American freshman big man? Check. Add a poised beyond his years freshman point guard? Check. The Buckeyes have been extremely impressive thus far, easily winning at Florida and at Florida State, and what's most encouraging is that they're winning in different ways. Against Florida, they beat the Gators at their own game, easily handling full court pressure and winning a shootout, and against Florida State they toughed out a win in a slow-paced defensive struggle. The one issue for Thad Matta right now is depth, but the good news is that Ohio State has a long string of cupcakes at home until Big Ten play starts, so their freshmen who haven't yet cracked the rotation will be able to get some game experience and hopefully be ready to go come January.

Purdue is going to have a tough time competing for a Big Ten title:  Yes, Purdue did escape with a win at Virginia Tech, but let's take a closer look at that game. Despite JaJuan Johnson having a monster game (29 of their 58 points), and the Hokies' best player Malcolm Delaney being absolutely horrendous (2 for 19 shooting and several ugly turnovers in crunch time), Purdue still needed overtime to beat a Virginia Tech team that is likely an NCAA bubble team. There are two big problems for the Boilers right now: first, they aren't getting scoring from anyone except Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. In last night's game, their supporting cast was just 6 of 25 from the field, and in their loss to Richmond, they were 8 for 25. Purdue has no shot at a conference title if they don't start getting more balanced scoring.

But the bigger problem for Purdue, a problem I believe will ultimately be their demise, is their front line is extremely under-sized. Matt Painter is going with a 4 guard lineup around JaJuan Johnson, and it's caused Purdue to lose the rebounding battle and have a very difficult time guarding opposing bigs. Against any team with a big, athletic front line (and there are plenty of Big Ten teams fitting that description), the Boilers cannot match up inside. Purdue fans hoped that at least one of Patrick Bade, Travis Carroll, and Sandi Marcius (or as Bob Knight called him last night, "the big Croatian kid") would emerge at the 4 spot, but in the past two games, the trio has played just 18 minutes and managed no points, no rebounds, no assists, no blocks, no steals, 5 fouls, and 2 turnovers. That is so bad it made Vince Scott cringe. Like Ohio State, Purdue has an easy schedule until Big Ten play starts, so I'd expect Painter to give these three a lot of run and hope one of them can emerge as a competent Big Ten player, because Painter has to know that a 4 guard lineup isn't going to fly in Big Ten play.

Michigan is not a pushover:  I'll be the first to admit I was wrong about this Michigan team, as I had them finishing last in the Big Ten before the season. Instead, the Wolverines appear to be a tough out, hanging right with Syracuse and then earning a nice win at Clemson. Darius Morris has been the most improved player in the Big Ten thus far, averaging 13 points and 7 assists per game on 55% shooting, and freshmen Tim Hardaway, Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan all look like solid players. There's too much youth for this to be an NCAA tournament team, but if they stay healthy and keep developing, the NIT is certainly within reach.

Ed DeChellis and Sidney Lowe are on the hot seat: Penn State had looked decent before last night, beating up on mid-majors at home and being competitive at Ole Miss, but they were absolutely horrendous against Maryland, shooting 21% from the field (14 for 68) and 11% on threes (3 for 27). I know it's just one game, but stinking it up that badly at home has to be getting fans upset, and it's looking like it could be another season where ruining Northwestern's NCAA chances will be the highlight (they play Northwestern February 13th and 24th, so prepare yourselves for heartbreak on those two days Wildcat fans).

As for Sidney Lowe, there was a lot of talk about him finally having an NCAA caliber team in year 5 at NC State, but after last night's embarrassment at the Kohl Center, I'm not seeing it. There's generally no shame in losing at Wisconsin, but when you go 10 minutes without scoring and have your players quit in the second half, it's a problem. The Badgers won by 39 points, and to be honest, the game wasn't even that close. With how wide open the ACC is, Lowe still has time to salvage things, but given his track record, I wouldn't hold my breath. He's been so bad, Wolfpack fans are considering getting high off household products to ease the pain.

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