ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Day 2 Previews

Virginia Tech could help the ACC save face tonight in Minnesota.

I went 5-1 in my picks yesterday, and I probably overestimated Georgia Tech against an experienced Northwestern squad. More on what yesterday’s games mean in a later post, but the ACC is now down 4-2 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and it looks like it will lose for a third straight year. And it could be the most lopsided loss yet – the ACC has lost 6-5 the last two seasons, and a tie is the best it can hope for this year, but 7-5 or 8-4 looks more likely. I still think it will be 7-5 based on my picks for tonight:

Indiana at N.C. State, 7:15 PM, ESPN2. This is an intriguing matchup of two historical powers trying to fight their way back to relevancy. Indiana had a nice win over Butler that head coach Tom Crean desperately needed, but the 6-0 Hoosiers really haven’t played anyone else. N.C. State has tested itself already with a close loss to Vanderbilt and a win over Texas. UNC-Asheville and Princeton are arguably better than anyone else on Indiana’s schedule as well. C.J. Leslie has been efficient, averaging 16.7 points on just 9.0 shots per game and adding 2.3 steals and 2.3 blocks. Indiana native Scott Wood has hit 8-of-14 three’s since his return from injury and N.C. State is undefeated with him in the lineup. The Wolfpack is really humming along nicely, and while their defense could be tested (Indiana has cracked 90 points in three games), their offense should be more than enough.

Prediction: N.C. State 88, Indiana 80

Penn State at Boston College, 7:15 PM, ESPNU. Penn State (5-2) hasn’t been that bad and really, that’s all it seems to take to beat Boston College these days. The Eagles should actually be happy with their weekend in the 76 Classic in Anaheim. They got an overtime win over UC-Riverside and hung with No. 23 St. Louis (ranked for the first time since 1994), losing 62-51. They were promptly blown out by New Mexico and now have three double-digit losses to go with two wins over low mid-majors. Penn State has lost only to Kentucky and St. Joseph’s. Star freshman Patrick Heckmann’s stat lines continue to be puzzling, however: in his last four games, he has 11 points, one point, 32 points and six points. He averages 25.5 points in BC wins and 6.0 points in losses. There’s just no way Boston College comes close in this one, although I still think the Eagles will improve as the year goes along. And really, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Prediction: Penn State 70, Boston College 56

Florida State at Michigan State, 7:30 PM, ESPN. Michigan State (4-2) hung tough in losses to North Carolina and Duke this year, but hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard, cracking 75 points just once this season. The offense has struggled all year but the defense has been good and getting better, a bad sign for an inconsistent Florida State offense. Forward Bernard James had a puzzling weekend, shooting just 8-of-27 from the floor in three games. Florida State’s defense should keep Michigan State’s offense in check, but the Spartans almost always seem to do what’s necessary to win, no matter how ugly it is. The Seminoles overtime loss to UConn last weekend was somewhat encouraging, and the ACC would love to believe that the Seminoles are capable of winning a big-time road game like this, but we’ll all believe it when we see it.

Prediction: Michigan State 71, Florida State 66

Virginia Tech at Minnesota, 9:15 PM, ESPN2. Minnesota (6-1) just lost forward Trevor Mbakwe for the season with a torn ACL and center Ralph Sampson III is dealing with an ankle injury. With those frontcourt injuries, Minnesota loses the edge it would have had in this matchup. The Virginia Tech backcourt of Erick Green (14.8 ppg, 52.2% shooting) and Dorenzo Hudson (14.3 ppg, 43.3% shooting) should dominate. This is a huge opportunity for both the ACC and Virginia Tech, as the Hokies need to get this one for its NCAA Tournament at-large hopes. They have already performed well with a close loss to Syracuse in New York followed by a win over Oklahoma State, but can’t lose a game like this one.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 77, Minnesota 68

Wake Forest at Nebraska, 9:15 PM, ESPNU. Wake Forest is actually better this year than last year, but getting crushed by Arizona State isn’t a good omen for the Demon Deacons. Still, Wake Forest is fifth in the league in points per possession (0.93), fourth in loss of ball (15.6%) and first in loss of ball by opponents (21%). Travis McKie was neutralized by Arizona State but has averaged 19.2 points on 49.3% shooting and C.J. Harris has been even better, averaging 19.5 points on 51.4 percent. Nebraska (4-1) is a defensive-minded team, and they’ll likely focus on shutting down Harris and McKie, particularly since no one else on Wake Forest has stepped up to help carry the load.

Prediction: Nebraska 68, Wake Forest 59

No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 5 North Carolina, 9:30PM, ESPN. Harrison Barnes looks like he’s a go for the Tar Heels, which is obviously good news. Some are saying that Carolina’s loss to UNLV has provided a blueprint on how to beat the Tar Heels. Carolina has its share of concerns, including perimeter defense, and the Tar Heels will face one of the best point guards in the country in Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor. Kendall Marshall was not in the game late for Carolina against UNLV, and that could be a result of his struggles on defense. Dexter Strickland will probably spend most of the night guarding Taylor, but it’s a team effort to stop dribble penetration, particularly when it leads to kick-outs to open three-point shooters. Wisconsin will want to slow things down and as long as Carolina can defend the perimeter, it should be fine. Carolina’s bigs will also have to stay out of foul trouble and take smart shots.

Prediction: North Carolina 82, Wisconsin 77

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