The Atlantic Coast Conference is off to a good start as it seeks to win its eighth straight ACC/Big 10 Challenge, which continues with five games Tuesday night and concludes with five more matches Wednesday, including the huge Ohio State-North Carolina contest that has March preview written all over it.
The North Carolina State Wolfpack put a mark in the win column for the ACC Monday night with a 74-67 victory over the Michigan Wolverines in Raleigh. NC State is now 5-0 under new head coach Sidney Lowe, while Michigan suffered its first loss of the season after winning its first seven games.
A couple of 7-0 teams tip off Tuesday’s Challenge action when the Maryland Terrapins visit the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign. Maryland, 4-3 in Challenge games, won its last outing, an 81-63 decision over High Point last Friday. But the Terrapins allowed the Panthers to shoot 50% from the field. On the other side, Illinois (3-4 in Challenge games) won a couple of close games over the weekend in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, beating Miami-Ohio 51-49 Friday and Bradley 75-71 Saturday. The Illini are listed as 3 ½-point favorites for Tuesday’s game vs. Maryland.
The 4-1 Florida State Seminoles travel north to take on the 5-1 Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center Tuesday night. FSU hasn’t exactly been an ACC power over the years, but the Seminoles are 5-2 in Challenge games. Meanwhile, UW has been one of the Big 10’s better teams in recent seasons, but sports just a 2-5 mark in the Challenge. This game features a couple of the best forwards in the nation in Florida State’s Al Thornton and Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker. The Seminoles suffered their first loss of this season Friday at Pittsburgh 88-66, allowing the Panthers to shoot a gaudy 63% from the floor. The Badgers also went down to defeat for the first time this season over the weekend, falling to (Southwest) Missouri State in the South Padre Island Invitational on Friday before bouncing back to beat Auburn on Saturday. Wisconsin is posted as 10-point home chalk for Tuesday’s game vs. FSU.
The Indiana Hoosiers, 3-1 thus far this season under new head coach Kelvin Sampson, head to Tobacco Road to meet up with the 5-1 Duke Blue Devils Tuesday night at Cameron. IU, 2-3 in Challenge games, hasn’t played since beating Chicago State 90-69 nine days ago. Meanwhile, Duke, which is 7-0 in Challenge games and 5-1 this season against the spread, is coming off a 75-47 win over Davidson Saturday as 21-point home favorites. The Dukies, who are starting three freshmen, are listed as 13-point chalk vs. the Hoosiers Tuesday night.
In other Challenge games Tuesday, the 5-1 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-1 vs. the number this season) are 15 ½-point home favorites over the 4-1 Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0 ATS), while the 3-2 Northwestern Wildcats are listed as one-point home chalk over the 4-2 Miami Hurricanes.
Wednesday’s Challenge slate features a matchup of two teams expected by many to make it all the way to the Final Four this season. The North Carolina Tar Heels, 4-1 after a loss to Gonzaga and a win over Tennessee last week but overrated and just 1-3 against the spread this season, host the newly-crowned top-ranked team in the nation, the 6-0 Ohio State Buckeyes. And not only is OSU undefeated, they’re 6-0 against the spread (all as favorites), with their closest game being an 87-75 victory over Loyola-Chicago three weeks ago.
Wednesday’s other Challenge matchups include the 2-3 Iowa Hawkeyes at the 3-2 Virginia Tech Hokies; the 6-1 Michigan State Spartans, whose only defeat was a 62-60 loss to Maryland a couple of weeks ago, visit the struggling 2-2 Boston College Eagles; the 4-0 Virginia Cavaliers at the 4-1 (and 3-1 ATS) Purdue Boilermakers; and the 7-0 Clemson Tigers at the 2-4 Minnesota Gophers, who are 0-4 against the spread this season and have lost games to Marist, Southern Illinois and Montana.
The ACC has won each of the seven previous Challenges with the Big 10, and with N.C. State’s victory Monday has won 41 of the 65 games played in the Challenges.