ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Day 2

Virginia (4-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN2

When a live badger proved too dangerous, Wisconsin temporarily replaced it with a raccoon. Sure, that seems safer.

What to watch: ….. No seriously, while the pace of this game is not to my personal liking, it should be an intriguing matchup of styles between two slow-paced coaches who try to make it as difficult as possible on their opponents defensively while being as efficient as they can on offense. So we’ll see if that works out.

Random Wisconsin facts: Wisconsin used a live badger mascot in the 1940s, but – as you might imagine – with live animals, there are sometimes problems. Turns out, the badger didn’t like football and would often try to bite everyone in sight, even escaping its handlers a number of times. And so they replaced him with a raccoon named “Regdab” (which is “badger” backwards). There are no stories of it attacking anyone. But it was only a matter of time.

Prediction: Wisconsin, 45-38. I’m not trying to be funny with this prediction. Well, maybe a little. But how could this game go any other way?

Purdue (2-3) at Clemson (4-1), 7:15 PM, ESPNU

Try not to let this clown-like head of an old version of Purdue Pete haunt your nightmares. I really wish it didn’t carry a weapon.

What to watch: How will Milton Jennings’ absence affect Clemson? The Tigers’ leading scorer might be running out of chances at Clemson – he’s been suspended multiple times in the past few years, and he’ll be suspended for tonight’s game after an arrest for marijuana possession. Without Jennings, there’s only one player 6-9 or taller available for Clemson – the 6-10 rarely-used freshman Landry Nnoko. Purdue has struggled this year, but they have plenty of big bodies – four are 6-9 or taller. Not to mention Clemson will have to find a way to replace his scoring.

Random Purdue facts: Creepy Purdue Pete is not Purdue’s official mascot. No, that’s a Boilermaker Special (a train). It’ resembles a Victoria-era locomotive that is still operated today. A miniature model of it still shows up at football games. And hey, not many mascots can say they’ve damaged a police car.

Prediction: Purdue, 63-55. Purdue has lost three games this year, but none of them were blowouts and both of their wins were by significant margins. Clemson without Milton Jennings is more likely than not a team that’s not capable of scoring enough points.

No. 13/14 Michigan State (5-1) at Miami (3-1), 7:30 PM, ESPN

A Sparty cartoon by Chris Morris of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

What to watch: How will Shane Larkin play on a national stage? Shooting guard Durand Scott is back in the lineup for Miami after a three-game suspension, but even before his return, Larkin has been great. The sophomore point guard is averaging 17.3 points on 58% shooting, dishing out 4.5 assists per game. He is averaging 3.5 turnovers, but he’s upped his minutes to over 36 a game and he’s had to carry the load offensively as essentially the Hurricanes’ most consistent player so far. He’ll be facing off against Michigan State’s junior point guard Keith Appling, who’s the Spartans’ best player. He’s averaging 16.8 points and shooting 47% from the floor, and he’ll be a tough cover for Larkin. But Larkin will challenge Appling as well.

Random Michigan State facts: “Sparty” is perhaps best known for his cameo in one of the best “This is SportsCenter” ads, where he helps carry Kerri Strug across the newsroom.

Oh, and Draymond Green (who graduated last year after a productive eight-year stint at Michigan State) earns points for admitting that as a kid, he was terrified of Sparty.

Prediction: Michigan State, 74-61. Hmm. A Tom Izzo-coached team going into a far-from-intimidating road environment, against a team that has already lost to Florida Gulf Coast? Yeah, I’ll take the Spartans, even in a down year.

Georgia Tech (4-1) at No. 22 Illinois (7-0), 9:00 PM, ESPN2

Illinois was forced to retire this mascot in 2007, but he continues to show up in an unofficial capacity.

What to watch: Georgia Tech’s veterans. Ask North Carolina how it worked out for them last night when they went into a hostile road environment and their veterans didn’t play well. Georgia Tech’s veterans have been fine – Mfon Udofia is averaging 10.2 points and Kammeon Holsey is averaging 10.6 – but Daniel Miller, Brandon Reed and Jason Morris have been virtually invisible this season. Miller in particular, who ended last season well, is averaging 5.6 points on less than 50% shooting. The Yellow Jacket freshmen have been impressive, but it would be asking a lot of them to carry the team at Illinois this early in their careers.

Random Illinois facts: Everyone knows Illinois as the Fighting Illini, and while that is still their official mascot, they no longer use the official manifestation (Chief Illiniwek). When the NCAA began cracking down on Indian mascots, Illinois got the dreaded “hostile and abusive” tag and was forced to get rid of it in 2007. There is some controversy about whether or not the mascot offended the local Sioux tribe, who it was intended to honor, and the students have continued to keep the mascot alive as best they can at sporting events.

Prediction: Illinois, 71-59. The Illini are ranked this season after cruising through the Maui Invitational field. Their best win so far is Butler, but other than a one-point win over Gardner-Webb a few days after getting back to the mainland, they’ve beaten everyone convincingly. Georgia Tech has improved quite a bit, as they showed by hanging with Cal and knocking off St. Mary’s last week in Anaheim, but they’re not ready to win this game yet.

Boston College (2-4) at Penn State (3-2), 9:15 PM, ESPNU

Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers made a rather interesting fashion choice during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off earlier this month, but he’s got an interesting backstory.

What to watch: How healthy is Ryan Anderson? BC’s leading scorer has struggled on a sprained ankle the last few weeks, and it’s shown in BC’s results. After blowing out FIU and narrowly losing to a then-ranked Baylor team, the Eagles looked great, and so did Anderson. They’ve lost three of four since, including a game to Charleston that he didn’t play in due to the injury and a home game to Bryant (he shot 4-of-14). If he’s not healthy enough for BC to beat a team like Bryant – at home – he’s certainly not going to be capable of helping carry the Eagles to a win at Penn State.

Random Penn State facts: Penn State’s head coach Patrick Chambers might look like your typical middle-aged coach, but he’s pretty hardcore. About ten years ago, he was jumped in a bar and stabbed in the neck with a broken vodka bottle. He still has the bag of bloody clothes and shoes he was wearing the night it happened, and he’s been known to break it out on occasion and show it to his players.

Prediction: Penn State, 61-53. I’m sorry, Boston College. I still have a deep amount of affection for you, but I can no longer trust you.

No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) at No. 2 Duke (6-0), 9:30 PM, ESPN

Uh….I guess the current Buckeye is much better looking?

What to watch: How far has Duke’s defense really come? The Buckeyes have the No. 5 offense in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy. Last year, Duke went up to Columbus and allowed Ohio State to shoot over 59% in an 83-65 loss, providing the first indication that their defense might not be up to normal Duke standards. Ohio State has always had one of the more efficient offenses in the country and plenty of athleticism in its lineup, and this year is no different. Louisville and Kentucky are the best teams Duke has played – Louisville is offensively-challenged at times, and Kentucky was/is inexperienced. This will be probably the toughest defensive test Duke will face heading into ACC play.

Quinn Cook vs. Aaron Craft. Duke’s sophomore point guard’s confidence is sky-high right now; the reigning ACC Player of the Week averaged 13.7 points, 4.8 assists and two steals per game in Duke’s three games in the Bahamas. Duke beat three very good teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and his knack for making big plays in key moments had a lot to do with that. He’s turning those flashes of potential into something consistent, and Duke feeds off his energy. But Ohio State feeds off of senior point guard Aaron Craft, too. A notoriously annoying defender, Craft is a coach’s son and all the normal clichés apply. Cook held his own just fine against Louisville’s Peyton Siva, and Craft will test him mentally as well.

Random Ohio State facts: Ohio State adopted the Buckeye (a type of nut from Ohio’s state tree) in 1965, and the first costume was made of papier-mâché that was basically an enormous head (see above picture). In 1975, a reworking of the costume with “a prune-like head” was unveiled, but booed off the field. The redesign was essentially the creepy Buckeye we see today.

Prediction: Duke, 85-78. It’s very difficult to win in Cameron, and the Blue Devils are a much better defensive team than they were a year ago. Even if they struggle at times to get stops, the momentum of the home crowd often helps them pick up their defensive intensity another notch. This team is full of enthusiastic defenders anyway, and they’ll feed off of the crowd to get stops in key moments.

 

ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Day 1: 3-3

Last week: 21-6

Overall: 54-15

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