The Big Ten-ACC Challenge was just that this year---a challenge. The Big Ten came up a little short, losing 6-5, but at least it was competitive this year. It gives reason for hope that the conference will be stronger up and down as we head into the rest of the December non-conference schedule.
At the top was where the difference was made. ACC powerhouses North Carolina and Duke visited Big Ten co-favorites Michigan State and Purdue respectively, and the Tar Heels & Devils rang up huge wins. UNC blew MSU out of Ford Field with a 98-63 trashing, while the Dookies crushed the Boilers on the boards (44-26) in a 76-60 win at West Lafayette. Robbie Hummel was the only frontline player able to have any impact for Purdue.
But if the ACC has the power teams, the Big Ten did very well in the middle, where true conference strength is often measured. Wisconsin pulled out a win at Virginia Tech, when Trevon Hughes went coast-to-coast with one second left to cap the 74-72 nailbiter. Minnesota & Ohio State each did it with defense, forcing 18 turnovers. The Gophs did it at home against Virginia in a ten-point win, while the Buckeyes went south to #22 Miami, a team that finished last season on a roll, and rallied from a 14-point deficit to win. This was the most impressive win of the entire event for the Big Ten, although it must be noted that the Hurricanes were without Jack McClinton.
Penn State eked out a win against Georgia Tech behind 22 points from Stanley Pringle. In an 85-83 win, the PSU defense was at least able to stop the Yellow Jackets from behind the arc. I suspect this win is a harbinger of things to come for the Nittany Lions. I realize I may be on my annual December/January trap of thinking their basketball program is about to make a splash, but this team is one that I'm projecting right on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament, and probably sneaking in. Now is when they cash in the benfits from losing Geary Claxton to injury last year, as it forced a lot of players into minutes and roles they are now more prepared for this season.
On the down side of the ledger, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois all dropped close games, to Maryland, BC and Clemson respectively. And the key swing vote in the entire event was Indiana-Wake Forest. The decimated Hoosier program was destroyed by Wake Forest, in the kind of matchup that the Big Ten could normally have won, and with it gotten their first-ever triumph in the Challenge. The tainted Kelvin Sampson legacy looms over not only IU, but the entire Big Ten.