November is the time for made up events is college basketball. Some of them are great. Others are ridiculous. For my money, though, the king of the pre-season spectacles in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. It's so simple yet elegant - every Big Ten team plays an ACC team, and the conference that wins the most games is the winner. The ACC has a 10-5-2 edge in the series but has lost the last two. This year's edition got started on Monday night with Florida State and Northwestern earning wins to start things off with a split. The event really gets rolling with six games Tuesday night and six more Wednesday. Here's how the 12 games set up (odds from BetOnline):
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Pittsburgh (+4.5) at Maryland: These teams are of a very similar caliber, but they get things done differently - Pitt is an offensive squad, while Maryland defends well. Pitt has a dynamic duo on the wings of Michael Young and Jamel Artis, who combine to average 42.6 points per game. Pitt, meanwhile, will have to deal with the nightmare of containing Melo Trimble. I like Maryland at home, but not by much.
Georgia Tech (+7) at Penn State: This is not going to be the best game of the Challenge. Neither team is a real threat to make the tournament, and neither does anything well enough to get excited. Josh Pastner, long the coach at Memphis, is now at Georgia Tech, though, and that is enough for me. I like Tech to win outright, so this line is attractive.
Syracuse (+6.5) at Wisconsin: This is a good showdown of ranked teams, but it will not be an offensive thrill ride because both teams prefer to smother rather than explode. Neither of these teams are where they want to be right now, so this is a work-in-progress game, and we'll see which team is further along the path. I like Wisconsin to win but don't think that they are bettable at this price.
North Carolina State (pick) at Illinois: It's only the location that makes this one a pick 'em game. On the basis of what they can do, N.C. State has the edge. I can imagine the Wolfpack finding their way onto the right side of the bubble in March. Illinois has basically no chance. N.C. State is a very comfortable pick in my eyes.
Iowa (+11) at Notre Dame: Judging by the line, this game isn't that interesting. The line is right. Led by Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame is a tournament team with a lot to offer. Iowa's pretty exciting because of their pace, and Peter Jok scores a ton, but they just aren't good enough when it comes down to playing top teams. Notre Dame is going to win.
Michigan State (+11.5) at Duke: Michigan State has played a ridiculously tough schedule already, and they have looked lousy when it matters. Things won't be any better here. Duke is not as deep as they need to be, but they are in a much better place than the Spartans right now, and the struggles will continue for the road team. Duke wins handily, but there isn't much value here.
Purdue at Louisville: These are Top 15 teams that both could use a defining win here. Louisville lost to Baylor in their last tournament final - the Battle 4 Atlantis - so they need to get back on track. The Cardinals will have their hands full with Caleb Swanigan, but the edge of playing at home will be the difference. Louisville wins.
Virginia Tech at Michigan: Michigan looked spectacular in their preseason tournament win, and then looked almost impossibly bad against South Carolina. Will we see Jekyll or Hyde here? The only need their B+ game here against the Hokies at home, and we should see that. Michigan is the pick.
Rutgers at Miami: Rutgers is 6-0, but that is the most meaningless record out there because they have played no one at all. This is their toughest opponent, and even though Miami has flaws this year they will be far too much for the Scarlet Knights. Miami is the pick.
North Carolina at Indiana: This is a strong matchup, though it is a little tougher to get excited about it after Indiana lost a shocker to Fort Wayne. I likely would have leaned towards North Carolina anyway because they seem a little deeper and tougher, but now the pick becomes reasonably easy.
Ohio State at Virginia: These teams are both 6-0, but this is the end of the winning line for Ohio State. They are a very young team, and Virginia plays a very tough defense that will be too much for the road team. Virginia wins this one handily.
Nebraska at Clemson: This is a dud of a game. Neither team can shoot, and there is a shortage of deep talent on the two teams. I wouldn't recommend watching this one. I would pick Clemson to win, though.
The bottom line: Based on how the games break down, I see the ACC ending their two-tournament losing streak and coming out on top quite comfortably this year.
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