Wisconsin fans have to wait one more day to lock horns with one of the most storied college basketball programs ever, but this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge began tonight. It got off to a pretty rough start, I might add, with Iowa dropping a dreadful game at home to Wake Forest. The Hawkeyes missed 11 of their 18 free throw attempts, halting any possible comeback from the 16-point halftime deficit.
The ACC teams get four out of five at home tomorrow night. Unfortunately, the one Big Ten host is Indiana, already a heavy favorite versus Georgia Tech. Before I prognosticate, keep in mind that the Big Ten has never won this challenge. No matter how confident I am going into the week, the ACC always wins the majority of the swing games and pulls a minor upset or two. The fact that I have little hope for the conference to reverse the trend this year can only mean good things.
The one game that I think might surprise some people starts at 6:30 CST. Is the Tubby revolution for real in Minnesota? The Gophers will have to go on the road to prove it, but Florida State is a beatable foe.
As for Wisconsin ... coming into the season, I really liked how the Badgers matched up with the Devils. I would have predicted a victory in October. However, after getting to see each team play a couple of times, I give Duke the edge by virtue of the greatest home court advantage in the nation.
If I had seen a little more out of Landry, Butch and the freshman so far, I would be more at ease. Landry still could have a breakout game, though, because he will be challenged from the start. He cannot disappear. I really want to see how he responds on both ends of the court to facing a younger player like Kyle Singler. A big game from Landry gives UW a good chance at winning.
As I see it, Duke perimeter players have a distinct advantage as shooters and playmakers, with Hughes being an exception. Pop will definitely eat up Greg Paulus. Duke is playing more aggressively and explosively, however, so Hughes has to be focused from the onset and avoid getting rattled by pressure and his first road test of the year. This should be his coming out party nationally, possibly in the same way that Tucker dominated Pittsburgh last season. The game is one of two gems in ESPN's challenge lineup, so it doubles as a good recruiting tool for Bucky.
Wisconsin cannot afford to get behind by very much at any point. The bottom line is that every Badger needs to play well to pick up the victory in a hostile environment against Duke. As I've said before, I think Michael Flowers will be the catalyst. Can he guard Gerald Henderson or DeMarcus Nelson and still be efficient offensively? He hasn't been very effective for a full game yet.
But I'm contradicting myself anyway and picking Wisconsin to beat the Evil Empire out of principle. Counting the Iowa game, I see the Big Ten posting a 4-7 record and retreating to the Midwest with its tail between its legs yet again. *Sigh* ...
(predicted winners in bold)
Wake Forest @ Iowa - LOSS
Georgia Tech @ (15)Indiana
Northwestern @ Virginia
Minnesota @ Florida St.
(20)Wisconsin @ (7)Duke
Purdue @ (18)Clemson
North Carolina St. @ (13)Michigan St.
Boston College @ Michigan
Illinois @ Maryland
(2)North Carolina @ Ohio St.
Virginia Tech @ Penn St.
Yes, that's the road teams winning 5 of 10 ...
: : :
Not sure what ultra-young players are grabbing the UW staff's attention recruiting-wise, but a couple of youngsters are already making their mark for Milwaukee Bay View. Freshmen Darnell Harris is a 6'6" forward who teamed with Johnnie Lacy to beat defending champion Oshkosh West last week.