ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Day 1

Iowa (5-1) at Virginia Tech (5-0), 7:15 PM, ESPNU

This mascot is kid-friendly?

What to watch: Virginia Tech’s defense. The Hokies have allowed their last three opponents to shoot 40% or better. That’ s not terrible, but the problem is their last three opponents are VMI, UNCG and Appalachian State. And those three teams averaged 81 points against the Hokies in some closer-than-expected Virginia Tech wins. The Hokies can score, but if they hit a drought against a decent team, they have to get some stops.

Random Iowa facts: Herky the Hawk hasn’t always been so perky (see what I did there). In 1997, his head was badly damaged in a melee. It started when the Minnesota band members – for some reason – picked him up and rammed him headfirst into the goalpost. In the fourth quarter, they “played his head like a drum”, and so he threw a cup of cold water in one of their faces. In December. In Minnesota.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 81-73. Iowa hasn’t really beaten anyone, and the one decent team they played – Wichita State – beat them by 12. But neither has Virginia Tech. Still, the Hokies are shooting the ball well and they’re at home, so they get the edge.

No. 21/UR Minnesota (6-1) at Florida State (4-1), 7:15 PM, ESPN2

Minnesota is known as the gophers because of this 1857 political cartoon.

What to watch: Florida State’s shooting. Don’t look now, but the Seminoles are rolling offensively, shooting 52% and averaging 80.4 points. Minnesota’s defense will certainly test that, but if FSU can knock down shots – particularly from three – they should win fairly easily, even in a grinder. And they are going to have to because their defense is not great yet. Minnesota’s offense hasn’t exactly looked like a well-oiled machine, but the Gophers get second shots (their offensive rebounding percentage is 47.3%, third in the country) and get to the foul line.

Random Minnesota facts: The Gopher mascot came from an 1857 political cartoon satirizing the railroad tycoons as gophers with human heads. It’s become a symbol of the state, and this page of Minnesota state symbols is too awesome for words. Beer, parasites, folk dance and soup.

Somehow this seems less appropriate than the alternate definition of tail-chasing:

Prediction: Florida State, 69-58. This is exactly the type of game you look at and say, “Florida State lost to South Alabama. How can they win this game?”, and then they win anyway.

No. 18 NC State (4-1) at No. 3 Michigan (5-0), 7:30 PM, ESPN

Michigan used to have a live wolverine. At least they didn’t let it roam around the sidelines.

What to watch: NC State’s psyche. Yes, it’s November. Yes, it’s silly to worry too much about NC State’s blowout loss to Oklahoma State and close shave with UNC-Asheville. But with all the preseason expectations heaped on this team, are they handling their early struggles well, or will they collapse under the weight of it all? Michigan is also the type of team that doesn’t turn it over a lot, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes defensively and can go on a run in a hurry. It can be frustrating to play a team like that, and especially if they start hitting shots. It’s a daunting task for even the most proven teams, much less a group that’s struggling to find confidence right now. But the Wolfpack are good enough to stay in this game, and even win it – they just can’t make silly mistakes.

Random Michigan facts: Michigan has had a live Wolverine mascot for quite some time, but they’ve never had a costumed mascot. I want to respect this decision. Then I read the reasoning behind it, and found myself overcome by the snobbery:

Michigan does not have a live mascot comparable to Ohio State’s Brutus Buckeye.  The Athletic Department has steadfastly maintained that such a symbol is unnecessary and undignified and would not properly reflect the spirit and values of Michigan athletics.

Prediction: Michigan, 72-65. If this were later in the season, I might pick NC State because I think they’ll be in a much better place than they are right now. But either way, we’ll learn a lot about the Wolfpack tonight. A good game against the Wolverines would speak volumes about their ability to bounce back and would bode well for them for the rest of the year.

Maryland (4-1) at Northwestern (6-0), 9:15 PM, ESPN2

Maryland and Northwestern facing off in 1958. I’m sure this image will cause many coaches in the Big 10 to weep nostalgically for the good old days without a shot clock.

What to watch: Maryland’s sloppiness. The Terps have been very good so far this year, but they have shown a tendency to play some bad basketball in stretches: in ugly home wins over Morehead State and Georgia Southern, they turned it over 20 and 17 times, respectively. They’re not hitting three-pointers and their free-throw shooting is spotty, but they hit the offensive glass as well as any team in the country. Problem is, Northwestern isn’t the type of team that allows a lot of second shots and it’s certainly a team that will make Maryland pay for those mistakes.

Random Northwestern facts: Northwestern may be the only BCS team not to have ever gone to the NCAA Tournament, but there are more fun facts about their futility. Per Wikpedia: Northwestern has only finished above fourth place in the Big Ten twice since World War II and not since 1968. They’ve never advanced past the second round of the NIT (which they’ve made six times). But….wait for it….they have a Helms Foundation national championship title from 1933!

Prediction: Northwestern, 74-68. Maryland can win this game, but Northwestern is just too well-coached to let winnable games slip away, particularly at home and this early in the season. Simply put: I trust Northwestern more at this point, though I think Maryland is the better team in general.

Nebraska (4-1) at Wake Forest (3-2), 9:15 PM, ESPNU

Sassy.

What to watch: Which team can be less bad? Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith referred to last night’s Monday Night Football game between the Panthers and the Eagles as “the battle of the bads”. And it played out true to form. This game reminds me a lot of that game. Wake Forest got absolutely destroyed by Iona a week ago and Nebraska was thumped by Kent State at home this weekend. Their best win is against Valparaiso, and it was a two-point win. Oh, and the Cornhuskers are one of the slowest teams in the nation. So, yeah. Avoid this game unless you really love either team, or just hate yourself. Or both.

Random Nebraska facts: Nebraska used to be known by names like “Rattlesnake Boys” and “the Bugeaters”, the latter of which was after an insect-eating bull bat. A disappointing season ended that nickname, but come on. That would easily be the best mascot ever.

Prediction: Wake Forest, 54-51. Wake is favored by Ken Pomeroy to win three more games this year. One of them is this one. Difficult to trust the Deacons against any opponent, but they have had success against Nebraska, so there’s that.

No. 14/13 North Carolina (5-1) at No. 1 Indiana (5-0), 9:30 PM, ESPN

This is a real t-shirt for sale.

What to watch: Three-point shooting. UNC caught fire from three during its four-game stretch away from home, shooting 45-of-107 (42.1%) from three in that span. But in the loss to Butler, Carolina shot just 7-of-22 from three (32%). Without that game, they shot 45% from three in wins over Long Beach State, Mississippi State and Chaminade but attempted over 38% of all their shots from beyond the arc in those games. Against those outmatched opponents, that seems a little high. Particularly considering one of UNC’s best three-point shooters, P.J. Hairston, will miss the game with an injury, Carolina can’t afford to fall in love with the three too much.

Indiana is shooting 41.4% from three and in six games, five Hoosiers have already made four or more three’s. Everyone who has played double-digit minutes has attempted at least one, even the seven-foot Cody Zeller (he missed it). Everyone on the team is a threat to make a three at any given time, and Carolina hasn’t been guarding the three all that well lately – their last two opponents, Butler and Chaminade, have combined to hit 25-of-59 (42.4%). And that’s just Butler and Chaminade.

Random Indiana facts: A Hoosier is not a real thing – in fact, no one really knows what it means – Indiana used to have different mascots over the years. This one was my personal favorite:

Go Bison-Hoosier!

Prediction: Indiana, 82-70. And Carolina hits a three-pointer at the buzzer to hit 70. Calling it now. And it is a bold prediction, considering UNC doesn’t have Hairston to launch one up.

Last week: 21-6

Overall: 51-12

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