In one of the truest signs that the college basketball offseason is approaching a quicker end than you might expect, the ACC and Big Ten dropped the matchups for next season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge games. Minnesota vs. Virginia Tech and Pitt vs. Northwestern will open play on the first day of the event. Ohio State-Duke and Indiana-North Carolina are among the headliners on the third day. Sandwiched between them are some underrated matchups that include Louisville-Maryland and Virginia-Michigan. It’s hard to set fair matchups, but overall this year should be pretty even.
The ACC still owns a decisive advantage in the ongoing series that began in 1999 it has won 12 of the 23 events, tied in three of them and lost eight but the Big Ten is gaining ground with a swiftness. After the ACC won the first 10 times from the event’s inception, it has only won twice in 2016 and 2017 since. Oh, the drama! Itching for more college hoops analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take you beyond the hardwood with insider information and instant reactions.
1. No. 24 Ohio State at No. 5 Duke
Duke fell 71-66 on the road to Ohio State last season in its first loss of the season (and only loss before January). This one figures to not only set up as a revenge game for Duke but doubles as one of the first marquee matchups inside Cameron Indoor Stadium for new Blue Devils coach Jon Scheyer, who is taking over the program from the legendary Mike Krzyzewski. The talent level in this game combined with the guarantee of an elite college hoops game atmosphere bumps this one to No. 1 in my rankings over UNC-Indiana.
2. No. 2 North Carolina at No. 16 Indiana
A tough call for me, bumping UNC-Indiana to No. 2 on this list — the reigning national runner-up in UNC taking on a rejuvenated blueblood in Indiana inside the cathedral that is Assembly Hall is sweet theater but this reflects my skepticism more about Indiana than anything. Getting Trayce Jackson-Davis, Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson back, among others, is significant, but the majority of this core that was in place last season was barely good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team. Jalen Hood-Schifino might be the swing piece that helps IU grow from fringe tourney team to fringe Big Ten contender, assuming Jackson-Davis continues his development as one of the best talents in the college game.
3. No. 22 Purdue at Florida State
Purdue is the ranked team and FSU is not, but allow me to predict a way-too-early betting line for this one: FSU -3. The Seminoles are notoriously a tough out at home under Leonard Hamilton. They’ve assembled a really nice incoming class mixed with high schoolers and transfers that, combined with the return of Caleb Mills and Matthew Cleveland, could make this one a sneaky great matchup. Purdue isn’t short on talent, though, and even after losing Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams, a team centered around Zach Edey is a team that will inherently present major mismatch problems in the post.
4. Rutgers at Miami
Higher than you might expect given the names, but love this matchup and think it should be pretty close. The two teams are 1-1 when facing each other since Steve Pikiell took over at Rutgers. Miami’s had a dramatic offseason in retaining Isaiah Wong and acquiring Nijel Pack to build upon a roster that peaked in March last year.
6. No. 25 Michigan State at Notre Dame
This game doesn’t have the same luster it might’ve had if Blake Wesley, Gabe Brown and Max Christie returned, but Tom Izzo vs. Mike Brey is generally appointment viewing.
7. Syracuse at Illinois
Illinois has consistently performed as a top-20 program under Brad Underwood but may be in for a build-back season after losing Kofi Cockburn, Andre Curbelo, Jacob Grandison, Alfonso Plummer and Trent Frazier. But maybe not, depending upon how Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr. and his development. Either way this should be a solid game with Jim Boeheim leading Syracuse into a likely raucous atmosphere.
8. Maryland at Louisville
One of the first major tests for new Maryland coach Kevin Willard after a long and successful stint at Seton Hall. Not an ideal setup — Louisville has never lost at home in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game but the Cardinals are also debuting a first-year coach in Kenny Payne.
9. Wake Forest at Wisconsin
After losing a ton of NBA talent Wisconsin with Johnny Davis and Wake Forest with Jake LaRavia and Alondes Williams — this game on paper lacks some real juice. But this could be a fantastic platform for some potential breakout stars to make their mark. Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn and Wake Forest’s incoming transfer Tyree Appleby going head-to-head could be quality viewing.
10. Penn State at Clemson
Penn State guard Jalen Pickett quietly possesses the star power necessary to will the Nittany Lions into the bubble conversation next season, so facing off against a Clemson team that lost a ton of talent in the backcourt could be a great spot for him to shine. Clemson has been vulnerable on its home court of late in this ACC/Big Ten Challenge series, too.
11. Minnesota at Virginia Tech
Remember Hunter Cattoor, the Virginia Tech guard who blasted Duke for 31 points in the ACC Tournament last postseason? He’ll be a feature piece for the Hokies this year next to Justyn Mutts after losing Keve Aluma. Should be an interesting matchup against a mish-mash unit of Minnesota that includes former five-star Dawson Garcia and Jamison Battle.
12. Georgia Tech at Iowa
After losing Keegan Murray to the NBA, Iowa looks to rebuild behind his brother, Kris Murray, who himself has breakout potential for the Hawkeyes in 2022-23. He’ll be the main attraction for this game as he helps lead Iowa against a Georgia Tech team that will likely rely heavily on transfers Lance Terry and Javon Franklin.
13. Pitt at Northwestern
These two teams faced off both in 2019 and 2020, with Pitt taking both games — most recently in a close 71-70 win. Both head coaches (Jeff Capel at Pitt and Chris Collins at Northwestern) may be facing more scrutiny this year than in recent years. Northwestern hasn’t had a winning season in several years and Pitt still hasn’t had a season above .500 since Capel took over.
14. Boston College at Nebraska
This doesn’t profile as a particularly appealing matchup. Nebraska was the worst team in the Big Ten last season and Boston College was one of the worst in the ACC. And losing Bryce McGowens to the NBA Draft stings for the Cornhuskers. Boston College returning its three leading scorers from last year, including Makai Ashton-Langford, could make the Eagles (and this game) interesting.