The nonconference season is full of all sorts of tournaments and other constructed ways of creating meaning for largely meaningless games. For my money, the Big Ten - ACC Challenge is the best of the whole group of events. I'd take it over most of the silly tournaments played in empty gyms and shown on random television networks. Fourteen games played between reasonably well-matched opponents in home gyms with conference pride on the line. It's a perfect invention for late November or early December in college basketball.
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On the surface you would think that the ACC has dominated the series. After all, their 10-4-2 record in the 16 years of the Challenge is pretty lopsided. A closer look tells a different story, though. The ACC won the first 10 years of the event but doesn't have a win since 2008. The Big Ten won three in a row starting in 2009, then there were two straight ties before the Big Ten again won last year. The ACC still has a big lead, but they are trying really hard to give it away lately.
Here's a quick look at each of the 14 games scheduled starting Monday night with two games followed by six each on Tuesday and Wednesday (odds, when available, are from BetOnline):
Wake Forest (-5.5) at Rutgers: Wake Forest had two big wins at the Maui Invitational over UCLA and Indiana. Danny Manning is earning his money as coach. Rutgers is still Rutgers, and that isn't a good thing. Big edge to Wake Forest here.
Clemson (+1.5) at Minnesota: Both of these teams are works in progress right now, and it's tough to know where either is at. Minnesota should have an edge being at home, and that should be enough for them to win.
Michigan (+1.5) at N.C. State: Michigan lost two ugly games in a row but bounced back with two big wins, including a nice one against Texas last time out. N.C. State also has two tough losses, but they beat LSU and they have the home edge here. This should be another one for the ACC.
Northwestern (pick'em) at Virginia Tech: Northwestern still hasn't made the NCAA Tournament, but hopes are high that this is the year. Virginia Tech is still lousy at basketball. There is plenty of value on Northwestern at this price.
Virginia (-8) at Ohio State: Ohio State is very young and has looked clueless. Virginia continues to be an elite team with very impressive defense. This is at least as much of a mismatch as the price suggests - probably more.
Miami (-4.5) at Nebraska: Miami had a very good trip to Puerto Rico, and that makes it easy to like the team. Nebraska, meanwhile, has been pretty much what we would expect so far - and that's not much. Miami gets the nod here.
Purdue at Pittsburgh: Purdue has the longest win streak in this event at six games. They will make it seven. They have looked fantastic this year and have a shot to win the conference. Should be a clear one for the Big Ten.
Maryland (+6) at North Carolina: What a great game - one of the best of the year so far. Both teams are elite, and they will be looking to make a statement. This is the most healthy North Carolina has been, and they are at home and have the edge - but not by very much. If there is any betting value here it's with Maryland.
Louisville at Michigan State: Denzel Valentine has been as good for Michigan State as any player in the country. This will be another chance for him to make a big statement. The Spartans should be too much for Louisville to handle - especially in East Lansing.
Wisconsin at Syracuse: Wisconsin is talented but very young, and as of yet they really aren't firing on all cylinders - they have three losses already. They should make it four here - this is a very tough spot to get back into form.
Penn State at Boston College: Really awful game - pretty much unwatchable. Boston College gets the nod because they are at home, but it's impossible to have any faith in either squad.
Indiana at Duke: Indiana had a horrible trip to the Maui Invitational - losing to both Wake Forest and UNLV. Duke has work to do to get to their full potential, but they have looked much better than the Hoosiers. Duke should be the clear winner.
Notre Dame at Illinois: Illinois already has four losses - the most in the whole field. Five will be tough for them to swallow, but they'll have to figure out how to handle it because it's happening.
Florida State at Iowa: This would be a much more compelling game in football. Iowa has lost seven straight games in the Challenge already, and it seems more than likely that they are heading for an eighth. They are outmatched in this spot.
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