Challenge Talk: An ACC Fan Gets Real With A Big Ten Fan

AP Photo/Eugene Tanner

In advance of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which begins tonight, Shane Ryan and Mark Titus exchanged e-mails discussing Duke, Ohio State, the nature of the Challenge, and a few odds and ends, including a new game called Azerbaijan. And after much fanfare, picks were made.

Shane:

Mark,

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge is about 24 hours away, and I have a few questions for you. But first, for the folks at home, it’s probably worthwhile to lay out the background.

So, as you may have already known or guessed, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is an annual two-day basketball event that pits teams from the ACC against teams from the Big Ten. Each team plays one game, and the conference with the most wins is declared the winner. It began in 1999, when the ACC won 5-4. In fact, the ACC would go on to win the first ten competitions, right up through 2008. But in ’09, trailing 5-4, Wisconsin upset no. 6 Duke and no. 15 Ohio State beat Florida State to give the Big Ten its first victory. The northern aggressors prevailed again last year withanother 6-5 result. The 2011 schedule, beginning tonight, looks like this:

Tuesday:

7:15 — Northwestern at Georgia Tech — ESPNU
7:30 — Illinois at Maryland — ESPN
9:00 — Michigan at Virginia — ESPN2
9:00 — Miami at Purdue — ESPN2
9:15 — Clemson at Iowa — ESPNU
9:30 — Duke at Ohio State — ESPN

Wednesday:

7:15 — Indiana at N.C. State — ESPN2
7:15 — Penn State at Boston College — ESPNU
7:30 — Florida State at Michigan State — ESPN
9:15 — Virginia Tech at Minnesota — ESPN2
9:15 — Wake Forest at Nebraska — ESPNU
9:30 — Wisconsin at UNC — ESPN

Here are some other details from history:

• There are exactly two undefeated teams in the Challenge history: Boston College (5-0), and Nebraska, a team that just joined the Big Ten and has yet to play a game. BC will almost certainly lose that perfect record against Penn State this year, if performances to date are any indication.

• Because the conferences had uneven numbers before this year, the ACC would typically leave its worst team out of the Challenge. Since 2007, the explicit rule stated that the last-place team in the conference wouldn’t play in the following year’s event. Before 2004, when the ACC had just nine basketball teams, two Big Ten teams would sit out.

• This year, for the first time in Challenge history, there are an even number of games (12). A tie is now a potential outcome.

• No team in the Big Ten has a winning record in the Challenge. Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska are each at .500.

• Aside from Boston College, Duke has the best Challenge record in the ACC at 11-1. Wake Forest is 9-2, Maryland is 9-3, and Clemson is 8-4. Surprisingly, UNC is just 6-6.

• The Challenge has come down to the final game just twice, in ’99 (Florida State over Northwestern) and ’09 (Ohio State over Florida State).

• In the 12-year period of the Challenge, six teams from the two conferences have gone on to win national championships (Michigan State, Maryland, Duke twice, UNC twice). Duke is the only team to lose a Challenge game (to Wisconsin, in ’09) and go on to win the national title.

So, Mark. These results, fascinating or not, are less important than perception. Does anyone really care about the larger ACC-Big Ten Challenge? Is there meaning beyond the individual games? A quick, semi-relevant digression: My friend Kyle and I invented a sport called “Azerbaijan” where the object is to throw a machete (Kyle’s) inside a giant tractor wheel (mine) from a distance of about 15 yards. We try to play at least once a year. Point is, I wouldn’t bore you with the results because the fact is that no one cares (thought you might be interested to know that there have been just two legendary seven-point shots in history, when the machete lands blade down in the grass between the tire).

For a long time, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was a bit like Azerbaijan. I can only give the fan’s perspective, but for years and year I didn’t care which conference came out on top. It mattered to me that Duke won. Beyond that, the ACC could go 0-10 and it wouldn’t matter. In recent years, though, I’ve found myself being sucked into the larger competition. In fact, my interest has coincided with the Big Ten’s ascension. Maybe I only started caring when the ACC lost. Or maybe it just took time before I started having feelings for the conference rather than my team alone. I might even root for UNC this year. Strange things are afoot.

So, as someone who played for Ohio State, I’m curious to hear your perspective. When you were playing in these Challenge games, did you guys care what happened to the larger Big Ten? Was it a big deal when the conference won for the first time in 2009? Would you root for a rival like Wisconsin during the Challenge even though they’d become bitter opponents later in the season? Enlighten me.

Mark:

First of all, let me say that you couldn’t be more wrong about my feelings toward Azerbaijan. My friend and I once created a game during high school PE called trashball, which essentially just consisted of us trying to throw a dodgeball into a trash can from 50 feet away. If we can find a way to mix the intensity that I’m sure Azerbaijan brings to the table with the excitement of trashball, I can’t think of a single reason why Trasherbaijanball couldn’t supplant Baseketball, Slamball, or the XFL as the greatest morphing of two sports together ever. I’m thinking that trying to throw the machete into the trash can seems much more exciting than throwing a dodgeball into a tractor tire, but that’s a discussion I think we’re going to have to save for another time.

As for the real issue at hand here, I can’t speak for everyone but I definitely think there’s a sense of conference pride among the players. Obviously when I was at Ohio State (by the way, saying I “played” at Ohio State was awfully kind of you) I was like you as a Duke fan in that I would’ve rather we won our game and the rest of the conference lose than the other way around. But that’s not to say that I didn’t care about how the rest of the Big Ten did, especially since it took so long for us to finally win the thing.

In 2008, I remember beating Miami at their place and then watching the rest of the games with my teammates the next night, and pretty much all of us were pulling for the Big Ten team in every game we watched. Like you mentioned, it’s weird to cheer for a rival, but I think the player mentality is that you want your conference to look as good as possible because when you prove later on in the year that you’re the best team in your conference, you want that to actually mean something. Plus, there’s an element of wanting to be the team to knock the good teams in the conference off their thrones, so you cheer for them in hopes that they’ll be undefeated when you play them.

Just ask Kentucky fans how they feel about North Carolina losing to UNLV. UK’s game with the Tar Heels Saturday is still going to be a huge game, but with North Carolina losing that game is suddenly not quite as big as it was supposed to be. Same thing with these games. If I was Wisconsin, I’m cheering for Ohio State to beat Duke on Tuesday and be undefeated heading into the game in Madison in February, so I could ruin their undefeated season again this year. It just wouldn’t mean as much to beat a seventh-ranked 19-3 team versus beating a top-ranked 22-0 team. This sort of thing matters to players more than it probably should.

I also remember in 2009 when we beat Florida State at home and clinched the tournament for the Big Ten for the first time ever, and there was definitely a sense of responsibility heading into the game and a sense of accomplishment after the game from all of us on the team. At halftime of our game, word spread throughout the locker room after a manager checked the Wisconsin-Duke score on their phone that our game was likely going to be the deciding game in the Challenge, and while it may be hard to believe, most of the guys on the team really did get excited over the fact that the fate of the Big Ten was in our hands. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly rank clinching the first ever win for the Big Ten in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge above going to the 2007 Final Four or Evan “The Villain” Turner trying to fight me three different times on the list of accomplishments in my career at Ohio State, but it would definitely make the list. And considering the prestigious career I had, I think that’s somewhat significant.

I think for Big Ten players and fans, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was a little bit like the Ohio State- Michigan football rivalry. For a long time, it was hard for the Big Ten (playing the role of Michigan in this analogy) to care that much because we were getting our asses handed to us year after year. Sure we still wanted to win the thing and sure there was excitement surrounding the event (and especially the marquee games over the years), but after almost a decade of getting either dominated or coming up just short, most of us lost optimism for the conference as a whole and instead became selfish and just wanted our teams to win.

But then in 2009, we had a breakthrough and finally beat the ACC (Ohio State) for the first time (kinda like Michigan beating Ohio State for the first time in eight years on Saturday), which completely changed how a lot of us Big Ten people viewed the event. Now instead of hoping for the best and expecting the worst, there is a heightened sense of rivalry because we know that as a whole we can actually beat the ACC. Strangely, I think there might be a chance the Big Ten players and fans are going to again become disinterested in the Challenge but for a different reason this time, because this year looks like it’s not only going to be the third win in a row for us, but it also might be the most lopsided victory for either conference in the history of the event.

Shane:

A couple quick things before I force myself to talk about the matter at hand:

1. Have you ever had a moment when you’re having a good conversation with somebody, and then they say something completely fascinating and off-the-wall, and then just continue as if nothing happened? And you want to be like, “WHOA whoa whoawhoawhoa! Whoa. Whoa. I heard a sliver of an anecdote which requires some expounding, my friend.” And then you just keep saying “whoa” until everyone’s looking at you, even people who weren’t part of the original conversation, and then you clear your throat and go: “Did you say Evan Turner tried to fight you three times?”

This was one of those moments. I’m not trying to pry out the if this is a story for another time, but I do feel an obligation to speak for the people here. They want to know. I am the pleading, disembodied voice of the internet.

2. Trashball sounds awesome. In fact, its principles sound quite similar to Azerbaijan. I don’t want to get too hung up on this, because folks are here for the odd grain of basketball wisdom you and I (but especially you) can impart, but what if instead of combining the sports, we incorporated both into an event in the vein of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge? Namely: The Olympiad of Savage Civility. Basically, my idea is that competitors will participate in pairs of similar games. One of the pair, such as Trashball, will be of our civilization and constitute harmless implements like a trash can and a ball. The other, such as Azerbaijan, will incorporate dangerous elements such as a machete. Another game pair could be like laser tag (civilized) and a beebe gun hunt (barbaric). In this crazy world, a dude has to be a master of both savagery and civility, so this would essentially be the ultimate test of a person.

You don’t have to give me a firm yes or no right now. Take a week to think it over. Talk with your investment people. When you’re ready, we’ll have lunch and I’ll slip a piece of paper across the table to your lawyer with a figure representing what I’ll need from your end to kick things off.

Back on topic: I am very glad to hear that you Buckeyes cared about the Challenge. And, weirdly, I’m also glad to hear there was a self-serving motivation behind it. Of course it’s more awesome when your conference is badass, and of course it’s more satisfying to beat your rival when they’re strong! That just stands to reason. It makes me glad because in order to foster any conference loyalty, people need to know what it’s in it for them. Otherwise, we’re screwed. The rivalries are going to tear us apart.

Let me tell you, man, I don’t know what the scene is like in Big Ten country, but there’s some bad stuff going on down in the North Carolina Triangle region. You’ve got UNC people who obsess about Duke and have an inferiority complex, Duke people who can never quite hide their elitism, and then N.C. State folks who are the true common men of the state and hate the affectations of both schools, and are either ignored or treated like rednecks in return. Then there’s Wake Forest. I’m not sure what their deal is. Bottom line, you have to stretch the imagination to envision any of us getting along. But maybe the idea of elevating the conference, and eventually benefiting ourselves, is the missing ingredient. So thanks for that.

By the way, you mentioned Wisconsin upsetting you guys last season in Madison (I feel like I can use the general “you” here since you were actually on the team, while some might be offended if I used “we” in regards to Duke, since I mostly eat crackers and swear unhelpfully at the players during games). That was a great fight, no doubt, but one of my clearest memories from last year was Ohio State’s response back in Columbus. Not only did OSU annihilate Wisconsin 93-65, but you put up the highest single-game efficiency number I’ve ever seen- 163.2. (For the laymen out there, that means that if Ohio State was given 100 possessions that game, they would’ve scored 163.2 points I’m not sure how they would have gotten that .2 of a basket, but I bet Titus knows a trick shot that could make it happen.)

Anyway, that’s by far Ohio State’s highest efficiency at least since 2000, which is as far as statsheet.com goes back, and because it will probably be impossible for anyone to disprove, I’m going to say it’s the best single-game offensive performance in Ohio State history. Y’all shot 68.1 percent from the field. You shot 14-15 from three. And this was against the team with the second-slowest tempo in college basketball, and the second-most efficient offense, if you believe Kenpom. Ohio State has played a lot of crappy teams over the years, and yet you’ve never performed better than you did in a revenge game against a very good Wisconsin team.

So, after that long-winded intro, my question: what the hell was going on that night? Was there something in the air? Was everyone pissed off about the loss in Madison? Was it the craziest display of perfect basketball you’ve ever seen?

And yes, I agree, I’m worried for the ACC in this year’s Challenge. I hope they can avoid an embarrassment, but it’s not looking great at the moment. The most lopsided result was 7-2 (’03 and ’04, both ACC wins), and I would agree that the record is certainly in danger. You’ve laid down the gauntlet for a blowout, so let’s hear your picks.

Mark:

To address your first point, the marketer in me says I should tell you to buy my book when it comes out in March because I write all about the up-and-down relationship between The Villain and myself (and why I nicknamed him The Villain) and you can read about it there. But the nice guy in me that doesn’t want to leave you hanging will say that these fights were a result of Evan having a very short fuse and me being a champion antagonist, and they usually resulted in me getting under his skin at the exact moment when I probably should have just shut up. In short, he would often talk down to me because I was a walk-on, and because Aaron Tippin taught me a long time ago that I had to stand for something or I’d fall for anything, I stood up for myself and made fun of him when he was most vulnerable. I’m just going to leave it at that for now because I have a family to feed and I need to sell some books to do so, which is my way of saying I absolutely don’t have a family to feed but my shark jetski/submarine combo thing isn’t going to pay for itself.

Now on to the important stuff — Trasherbaijanball. I’m digging what you’re saying about tying the two sports together instead of just morphing them into one, but I’m still going to call this the Trasherbaijanball Project because that might be the best name I’ve ever come up with for anything. I think we’re on the right track here and this might be the start of something special, so I say we stop talking about this now because I don’t want any readers to take our idea and run with it. It’s not that I don’t trust them, it’s just that when an idea is this good and this obvious of a home run, it’s hard to not be a little protective of it. We’ll hash this out in the future, sometime before we inevitably celebrate our millions from our ingenious idea by twirling our mustaches as we look down on the peasants from our penthouse offices, lighting our cigars with $100 bills, and literally swimming in our riches like Scrooge McDuck.

Moving on, I first feel the need to clarify that I wasn’t on that Ohio State team last year (I graduated in 2010), but I still call the team “us” because I like to think that I’ve been hired as a volunteer shooting consultant for the team since my graduation. And as a self-proclaimed volunteer shooting consultant, let me tell you that that rematch with the Wisconsin Buzzcuts (I refer to Wisconsin as the Buzzcuts because 99 percent of Wisconsin’s players under Bo Ryan have had Buzzcuts. Look it up — it’s a fact) was one of the proudest moments of my young shooting consultant career. I wish I could tell you that our guys were pissed about losing to the Buzzcuts earlier in the year and they just were feeling it that night, but to be honest I think it had more to do with the fact that I was nothing short of a fantastic shooting consultant. In October I was handed a slimy turd of a team from a shooting standpoint and over the course of the season I somehow transformed that turd into probably the best offensive team in Ohio State history. That rematch with the Buzzcuts was the culmination of months of my hard work and will forever be my Sistine Chapel as a shooting consultant. I’m glad at least one person appreciated my brilliance

As for the predictions for the games, here’s how I see them:

Northwestern over Georgia Tech

Glen Rice Jr.’s sophomore season a year ago doesn’t even Palin comparison to the season he’s having so far this year for the Yellow Jackets, but I think this is finally the year Northwestern makes their first NCAA Tournament (which is something I think I’ve said for the past four years now) so I’m giving them the nod in this game because it’s an early must-win for them and their Tournament aspirations. Plus, Northwestern beat the same LSU team that Georgia Tech lost to just three days later, which has to count for something, right?

Illinois over Maryland

This one is a bit of a toss-up for me. On the one hand, Illinois is undefeated and seems to be the better team on paper. But on the other hand they haven’t really played anybody and they’re coached by Bruce Weber, who along with Paul Hewitt has been the most efficient coach in college basketball over the past few years at doing the exact opposite of getting the most out of his players. Meanwhile Maryland was picked to finish ninth in the ACC, and while Illinois would be their biggest win of the season to date, their two losses were against a really good Alabama team and a sneaky-good Iona team that leads the nation in scoring. Still, I’m going to inexplicably give Weber the benefit of the doubt here and go with Illinois, which is a pick that I would feel much more confident with if Illinois was playing at home.

Michigan over Virginia

As much as it pains the Buckeye in me to say it, Michigan could end up being the second best team in the Big Ten this season and will certainly at worst be the third best team (cue the Michigan State uproar). They aren’t exactly an elite team, but they are a legitimate Final Four contender this year that probably won’t get the respect they deserve until they smack the Buzzcuts around in Ann Arbor in early January (you heard it here first). I’m taking Michigan in a bit of a blowout.

Purdue over Miami

At this point I’m starting to feel a little biased for picking all Big Ten teams so far, but I swear I’m trying to be as objective as possible here. Having said that, the Big Ten streak is going to continue with this one simply because Mackey Arena is one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten (probably only behind Wisconsin’s Kohl Center in that regard) and Robbie Hummel is by far the best player in the country who has had two ACL surgeries in the past 20 months. Miami is one shot away from being undefeated right now, but Purdue has played a tougher schedule, has looked like the better team thus far, and they’ve got the home-court advantage in this one.

Clemson over Iowa

Ok, fine, I’ll give the ACC a win. On the surface, Clemson doesn’t seem too bad considering the combined margin of defeat in the two games they lost was just three points. But then you realize that they likely haven’t played any teams that are going to make the NCAA Tournament, so really if they were even halfway decent they would’ve been blowing these teams out. Luckily for Clemson, though, they’re playing Iowa, who lost by 16 less than a week ago to a Campbell team that was picked to finish ninth in the Big South Conference, which is why I’m going with Clemson in a game that I couldn’t possibly be any less interested in.

Ohio State over Duke

Look, there’s no point in me explaining why I like Ohio State to beat Duke. As a former Buckeye basketball player and a lifelong Duke hater, I couldn’t possibly be more biased in picking this game. So instead of giving my reasons why I like Ohio State to win, I’m just going to link to a video of Austin Rivers’s Punchable Face teaching us his go-to move and tell you that if I ever get the chance to guard him for whatever reason and he tries to make this move on me, there’s no way I wouldn’t just backhand him in the balls as he goes up for the shot. Only seven games into his career Austin Rivers’s Punchable Face has somehow already given me an unprecedented amount of douche chills to the point that I’m going to start a campaign to rename the term “douche chills” to “Rivers quivers.” Admit it — even a Dukie like yourself is on board with this.

NC State over Indiana

This one is probably the hardest of the 12 games for me to pick. With a great recruiting class coming in next year and stud recruit Cody Zeller in Bloomington now, Indiana is certainly a program on the rise. But in watching their first six games, I get the feeling that they’re nothing more than a decent team that’s just not quite there yet (“there” being back to national relevance). Sure they beat the mess out of two-time defending national runner-up Butler on Sunday, but nobody who has any idea of what they’re talking about thinks Butler is any good this year, so that’s not as impressive as it may initially seem to a casual fan. In truth, the Hoosiers haven’t really been tested yet so it’s hard to get a good read on them. NC State, on the other hand, has been tested and pulled off the comeback of the year in college basketball thus far when they overcame an 18-point second half deficit to beat Texas a little over a week ago. Since they’re playing at home and since they’ve played a tougher schedule, I’m going to give the slight nod to NC State even though it wouldn’t surprise me if Indiana won.

Penn State over Boston College

Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that either one of us is interested in this game. I’m taking Penn State because I’m admittedly Big Ten biased, but also because I truly do think Penn State sucks just a little bit less than Boston College this year, not to mention the fact that it’s an embarrassment to the event that Boston College is the only team with a perfect record from either conference. In truth, I have zero interest in this game and I’m sure you feel the same way, so let’s just move on.

Michigan State over Florida State

I lied about the Indiana-NC State game because this one is the toughest for me to pick. If it were being played in Tallahassee and if Florida State hadn’t just played in a game in which it took them over 11 minutes to score their first point, I’d really like the Seminoles here. They were one boneheaded foul away from beating defending national champion UConn, they destroyed the same Central Florida team that did beat UConn, and they play some of the best defense in the country (if not the best). But since Michigan State has been surprisingly good so far this year (only two losses are against North Carolina and Duke and they’ve blown out everyone else on their schedule), since they’re playing at home, and since I can’t shake the fact that IT TOOK FLORIDA STATE OVER 11 MINUTES TO SCORE EVEN ONE FREAKING POINT AGAINST HARVARD, I gotta go with the Spartans here.

Virginia Tech over Minnesota

I’ll give this one to Virginia Tech for the simple fact that Trevor Mbakwe, who was averaging 14 points and 9 rebounds for the Gophers, tore his ACL this weekend. Seeing as how this is going to be Minnesota’s first full game without him, I can’t see how they can possibly figure out how to fill the void left by him this quickly. I have a feeling this is going to be the game that prevents the Big Ten from pulling off the biggest blowout in Challenge history, which is a shame because I think the Gophers win this with a healthy Mbakwe.

Nebraska over Wake Forest

Since for the first time ever there’s an even number of games in the Challenge, can we both agree to just throw this game out so there isn’t the possibility of a tie? I’m pretty sure there aren’t any more than seven people interested in this game anyway, so I say we just refuse to acknowledge its existence and stick with the 11-game format. If for some reason you don’t want to do this (as an ACCer, you absolutely should do this because Wake Forest is atrocious), I guess I’ll pick Nebraska because the coin I just flipped told me to.

North Carolina over Wisconsin

Wisconsin fans probably aren’t going to be happy with me for saying this, but I can’t see how the Buzzcuts have any chance at all of leaving Chapel Hill with a win. That’s not to say that the Buzzcuts aren’t talented. They absolutely are. There isn’t a point guard in America I’d rather have on my team than Jordan Taylor, Mike Brusewitz might be my favorite player in college basketball, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pair of shooters than Ben Brust and Josh Gasser anywhere in the country. But with North Carolina coming off their disappointing loss to UNLV and with their huge game against Kentucky looming, this couldn’t be any worse timing for the Buzzcuts. The Heels will surely be looking to take out their frustration on the Buzzcuts following the UNLV loss, not to mention the fact that they’ll view this game as a tune-up for Kentucky and therefore will want to make sure they’re clicking on all cylinders. I think the Buzzcuts are definitely talented enough to beat North Carolina, but just not on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill, which is why I like North Carolina to pull off a double digit win.

So there you have it. By my count, the Big Ten wins the Challenge this year 7-4 (or 8-4 if you decide to acknowledge the Nebraska-Wake Forest game), which wouldn’t set the record for the biggest blowout but would still be a comfortable win for us nonetheless. Now that I think about it, I’ll backpedal on my prediction of complete Big Ten domination, but I still don’t think you can convince me that the ACC has any shot at winning it this year. I implore you to prove me wrong.

Shane:

Needless to say, that is a book I will be purchasing. And I promise everyone else that this wasn’t a carefully choreographed promotional campaign. If that was the case, I would’ve said when the book was coming out (March 6, 2012) and who was publishing it (Doubleday).

As far as the awful tie scenario, believe me, I would love to just leave Wake Forest off the list. You’ve given me a nice out, and I appreciate it. But if I were to accept, and the ACC somehow pulled off a miracle and won 6-5, it wouldn’t feel right. In truth, there’s only one fair way to deal with a tie- Ryder Cup rules. If it finishes 6-6, the conference who won the year before retains the title. Which, I just realized, makes it even harder for the ACC to win. Crap.

Okay, my picks.

Northestern over Georgia Tech.

Fair warning: I’m going to be picking an ACC school whenever I can muster the slightest justification. Can’t do it here, though. The ‘Cats have looked good, and I like John Shurna. I love that GT has Brian Gregory, the man who led Dayton to the NIT championship over UNC a couple years ago, and I love that Hewitt is gone. But the Jackets are still a couple years away.

Maryland over Illinois

Like I said, if things are even slightly in doubt, I’m going ACC. Maryland’s blowout loss to Iona is not exactly a promising result, but I’m not scored of the deceiving 6-0 Illinois record. And like you, I’m not a big Bruce Weber guy.


Michigan over Virginia

On the other hand, I love John Beilein. Michigan’s win over Memphis in Maui was the classic case of great coaching and a solid system beating sheer talent. Even on the road, the Wolverines are too good to lose this game.

Purdue over Miami

It sounds like you’re a Hummel admirer, and as someone who watched him play up close, I can’t exactly gainsay you there. But for one reason or another, I’ve always hated him. Which is a probably a compliment, because he’s so intense and effective. I remember being terrified that he’d single-handedly find a way to beat Duke in the ’10 Sweet 16, and already he prevented an Iona upset (who ARE these Iona Gaels??) with some late-game heroics. Still, there’s something about his snarl and his borderline dirty tactics that I don’t love. But they’ve got this one at home.

Clemson over Iowa

I really wish this game was in South Carolina, but I still like the match-up. Brad Brownell is one of my favorite young coaches, and Milton Jennings has the potential to be really good. Plus, watch Andre Young. He’s 5’9″, but surprisingly awesome. Or at least ‘pretty good.’ The ACC needs this game badly if they want to think about winning.

Duke over Ohio State

How dare you impugn Austin Rivers! How dare you! To be honest, I had some questions about Rivers Flow-Mo coming into the year, but more and more I think his facial expressions don’t really give the full measure of the man. I think they’re just a weird defensive mechanism, or something, and that he’s actually a pretty okay dude. Anyway, I love the way Duke is playing. This game is going to be great, because it’ll answer some questions about whether A) Ohio State is among the two-to-three elite teams in the country, or just one of a few very good ones and B) whether Duke has the firepower to stay in the top 5. I still can’t believe how well Mason Plumlee played against Thomas Robinson in the Kansas win, and I still can’t believe Duke won that game with just mediocre shooting. Fluke or not, we’ll find out tonight. And by the way, I just talked myself into a 3-3 opening night. I like where this is going.

N.C. State over Indiana

There’s pride in Raleigh! Mark Gottfried’s got the whole town believing! They beat Texas! They almost beat Vandy! Carolina is scared! Duke is scared! THE WHOLE DAMN STATE IS SCARED! I haven’t seen a quality win from Indiana yet, so I’m going to take your word that they’re a year or two from relevance.

Penn State over Boston College

Steve Donahue, BC’s coach who took Cornell to the Sweet 16 two years ago, is another guy I think is really great. But man, these are rebuilding years. The results so far have been ug-ly. I’d love to take the Eagles in a surprise, but I can’t rationalize it. Not after a 36-point loss to UMass.

Florida State over Michigan State

The scoring wasn’t pretty in the Harvard loss, I grant you, but a day later they almost took down no. 4 UConn in an overtime consolation game. Under Leonard Hamilton, the Seminoles always play excellent defense. And I think the offensive woes against the Crimson was more anomaly than anything. I don’t think MSU has enough firepower to overcome the D and put many points on the board. This is another one that has to go the ACC’s way.

Virginia Tech over Minnesota

Really horrible news about Mbakwe. And you’re right, this is a Challenge game-changer.

Nebraska over Wake Forest

God bless Jeff Bzdelik for coming through that miserable 1-15 ACC campaign last year. I’d love to pick the Deacs on pure emotion and pity, but the Huskers have two decent wins this season already and are, very unfortunately, playing at home.

UNC over Wisconsin

For all the reasons you mentioned. Anything is possible, but I think we’ll see the Heels playing with a lot more urgency than they showed against UNLV. You don’t want to be the club heading into Lexington fresh off two confidence-destroying losses. In a way, this game is like a magic bullet for UNC- they can get their self-esteem back in a hurry.

I hate to say this, amigo, but my predictions just gave the ACC a 7-5 win. Uh-oh! Did you just spit out a mouthful of water? Did you drop a plate full of fancy Big Ten food and stain your fancy Big Ten carpet? Did you just drive your car into an embankment? Did you just say the words, “Well, I never!

Things. Just. Got. Real. See you tonight.

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Filed Under: Clemson, College Basketball, Duke, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Indiana, Miami, Michigan, UNC, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin

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Mark Titus is the founder and author of the blog Club Trillion. His book, Don’t Put Me In, Coach, chronicles his career as a walk-on benchwarmer for the Ohio State basketball team and is on sale now.

Archive @ clubtrillion