Monday, December 1, 2014

College Basketball Picks - December 1 (ACC/B1G Challenge)

A lean, welcome 8 game slate tonight.  Two of those games kick off the ACC/Big Ten (B1G) Challenge, which we'll preview at the end of this post.  As for the other six...

Marshall +7.5 v. South Carolina.  I really, really, REALLY don't want to take either of these teams.  But this is South Carolina's first true road game and the Herd seem to be improved this year, despite losing 3 straight.
Marshall was 5/29 from the floor at the half.  That's not very good.  0-1.

Siena -6 @ Fordham.  Fordham just lost to Maryland Eastern Shore.
And now Siena just lost to Fordham.  0-2.

Boston College -13.5 v. Marist.  Marist is 54-128 since Matt Brady left for James Madison in 2009.
This was a struggle for a while - it was 41-36 at half - but the Eagles eventually pulled away.  1-2.

East Tennessee State +7 @ Morehead State.  This has close game written all over it.
63-59 to the visitors.  Right on.  2-2.

Weber State -5 v. Oral Roberts.  As usual, the Golden Eagles are really small.  That might be a problem dealing with Weber's star big man Joel Bolomboy.
ORU should've won this game.  They were up 6 with 48 seconds to go and lost to a Jeremy Senglin 3 with 4 seconds to go.  2-3.

Baylor -22 v. Texas Southern.  If you can blow out Memphis on a neutral floor, you can handle Texas Southern on your home court, right?
Yes you can.  3-3.

ACC/B1G Challenge

This is always my favorite events of the year, although it's not the same as it used to be because my school has switched sides.  I'm still not sure I'll be particularly rooting for the B1G like I always did the ACC - I simply don't have the pride after 4 months in the conference - but at least I won't have to feel dirty about rooting for Duke, UNC and (ughhhhhh) N.C. State anymore.  Here's the history of the challenge, which has its Sweet 16 this week.

2013: 6-6
2012: 6-6
2011: B1G 8-4
2010: B1G 6-5
2009: B1G 6-5
2008: ACC 6-5
2007: ACC 8-3
2006: ACC 8-3
2005: ACC 6-5
2004: ACC 7-2
2003: ACC 7-2
2002: ACC 5-4
2001: ACC 5-3
2000: ACC 5-4
1999: ACC 5-4

Yes, the ACC won the first TEN challenges.  Duke was unbeaten in the Challenge until a few years ago, North Carolina was strong other than the Matt Doherty years. Maryland was strong, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech used to always be good (it's true, I swear) and N.C. State was solid too.  Look at the blowouts between 2003 and 2007 - the halcyon days of the ACC.  Meanwhile, the B1G lacked depth after Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois.  Indiana was strong in the earlier years but then fell off a cliff and Michigan and Ohio State hadn't risen as programs yet.  It's been closer in recent years due to the dilution of the ACC and the increase in depth in the B1G.  How will this year's Challenge play out?  Here's a day by day, game by game preview.

Nebraska @ Florida State.  The Seminoles have actually lost six straight in the Challenge, despite some solid teams.  The Huskers have only been in the Challenge the past three years but they've won their last two.  This is a suspicious line with the Huskers only being 2 point favorites, although they were suspiciously low favorites at Rhode Island and lost in overtime.  FSU is due and this just seems like a home win spot.  Nebraska won at Michigan State last year but for the most part was a poor road team.  They simply don't play the same away from their fortress of a new home Pinnacle Bank Arena.  Florida State (1-0 ACC)
This was stupid.  Nebraska's the considerably better team and dominated most of this game before nearly collapsing late but making some big plays down the stretch to hold on.  0-1.

Rutgers @ Clemson.  This is the Scarlet Knights first Challenge.  They've already lost at home by 18 to Saint Peter's.  At least they're not 1-2 against the Big South like Clemson is.  The Tigers sat out last year's Challenge but hosting this year will make it four out of their last five in the event at Littlejohn Coliseum.  This will not be a pretty basketball game and both teams tossing up tons of bricks might be Rutgers' only hope of covering the 9 point spread.  But I'm not going to pick them to do that because they're Rutgers.  Clemson (2-0 ACC)
Brad Brownell needs to not keep his job.  0-2.

Pittsburgh @ Indiana.  Pitt showed fairly well in Maui, taking third place with a dominant win over Kansas State.  This is just their second year in the Challenge and seeing as how they played Penn State at home last year, this is their first real game in the event.  Indiana's 5-1 but the one loss was a bad one - at home to Eastern Washington.  They've had high profile matchups with UNC and at Syracuse the past two years but this one's a little more low key.  This is a big game for the B1G, they're looking at 1-1 at best after Monday and could be 0-3 right off the bat if the Hoosiers don't hold serve.  I like Pitt and Indiana's really young and unproven.  Pittsburgh (3-0 ACC.)

Minnesota @ Wake Forest.  This is a must win for the B1G.  They've got the far superior road team.  Wake didn't play last year but split with Nebraska the two years before that and beat an 11-20 Iowa team before that so this is their toughest Challenge game in a while.  A perpetual bubble team, Minnesota's Challenge game always seems to be of maximum importance but they probably won't gain much from a win here.  They will win, though.  Minnesota (3-1 ACC.)

Syracuse @ # 17 Michigan.  The first game of the Challenge between teams who have a legitimate chance of making the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and a Final Four rematch from two years ago.  The Wolverines won a cagey affair 61-55 and this game should be similar.  This is just the Orange's second Challenge game ever after blowing away Indiana last year.  Both teams have just one loss and both losses came in New York City but Michigan's was in a hard fought game throughout in Brooklyn against Villanova only decided by an epic JayVaughn Pinkston block whereas Cuse's was an ugly performance (particularly in the second half) against Cal.  A B1G comeback is starting!  Michigan (3-2 ACC.)

# 24 Illinois @ # 15 Miami (FL).  This is the fourth straight year the Illini will be coming in to the Challenge unbeaten.  Their offense is humming, having topped 100 twice already and hitting 89 and 88 in two other games and they come in after beating Baylor in Las Vegas.  The Hurricanes meanwhile have had an even more ballyhooed start, winning at Florida and winning the Charleston Classic.  This should be a really fun game.  These teams are 4th and 13th in three point percentage respectively and Miami is 4th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.  Angel Rodriguez and Rayvonte Rice will be an excellent matchup of transfer guards as well.  This game is a total tossup - the two are separated by just two spots on KenPom - and could be one of the best of the entire event.  I'm gonna go ahead and grab the Illini here - they've been quite strong in challenging games away from home early in the season under John Groce.  Illinois (3-3)

North Carolina State @ Purdue.  This is the first game away from the friendly confines of the RBC Center for the Wolfpack and it's Purdue's first game since pulling off the mild upset of BYU to take 5th place in Maui.  It was a pretty good tournament for the Boilermakers, who played a good K-State team hard in the first round before stomping Missouri the next day (82-61 doesn't reflect how much of a blowout it was) and then beating the Cougars in OT.  They also have wins by 40 points over hapless Samford and 52 over even more hapless Grambling.  N.C. State's win over Northwestern snapped a five game losing streak in the Challenge and they have a couple of decent wins themselves over Richmond and Boise State in their last two games but I'll take the impressive hosts here.  Purdue (4-3 B1G)

# 14 Ohio State @ # 5 Louisville.  It's the first ever Challenge for the Cardinals and they're gifted a high profile home game like Syracuse was last year.  Ohio State's # 14 ranking is entirely on reputation as their best win so far is Marquette but they've been highly successful in this competition winning 5 of the last 6 years.  Ironically, however, this is one of the easiest picks of the entire event for me.  Louisville is almost unbeatable at home, their crowd will be rocking for this top 15 battle in their first ever game in this event and they have the best defense in the country.  The Buckeyes problem over the past few years has been offense, which doesn't bode well here.  Louisville (4-4)

# 19 Michigan State @ Notre Dame.  In most years this would be a lot more high profile of a matchup but both programs are a little down this year.  The Spartans have actually lost 5 out of their last 6 in the Challenge but three of those are to North Carolina, one was to Duke and the other was to Miami in its ACC championship season two years ago so the competition has been stiff.  Meanwhile last year was Notre Dame's first year in the Challenge and they lost a 98-93 thriller at Iowa.  Their only loss this year was by a point to Providence in the Mohegan Sun championship but their only notable win is in that same competition against UMass.  I'm taking them to pull the upset here though because they're always really tough to play at Joyce and more importantly MSU is coming off a physical war in an Orlando (nee Old Spice) Classic title game loss to Kansas.  Notre Dame (5-4 ACC)

Virginia Tech @ Penn State.  I refuse to write about this game.  Picking Penn State because they're at home and more importantly they're not Virginia Tech.  Penn State (5-5)

Iowa @ # 12 North Carolina.  I noted above that the Hawkeyes won their Challenge game 98-93 last year.  They could be in a similarly high scoring game this year as two of the 50 fastest teams in the country match up.  The Hawkeyes played decently in the 2K Sports Classic in NYC but lost two tough games to Texas and Syracuse, the latter after they mounted a frantic second half comeback.  The Heels were shocked by Butler in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, giving up 29 offensive rebounds, but pasted UCLA and easily handled Florida the next two days.  This is just a brutal spot for the Hawkeyes having to go on the road to face a team with considerably more firepower than they have and they would be one of the most shocking winners of the event in my opinion.  North Carolina (6-5 ACC)

# 7 Virginia @ # 21 Maryland.  Hey wait isn't this a conference game?  Nope, the Terps are in the B1G now.  On the bright side, this should mean sexier matchups for my school after getting stuck with a putrid Indiana, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern four years straight before losing by 16 at Ohio State in their ACC swan song last year.  This year they get the team they beat in overtime in their last ever ACC home game and both teams come in unbeaten but reeling a bit.  Maryland's best player Dez Wells broke his wrist last week whereas Virginia emerged victorious in the leader in the clubhouse for ugliest game of the year: 45-26 over Rutgers after inexplicably trailing 18-17 at the half in the Legends Classic "championship."  I actually think the Wells injury may be a blessing in disguise for the Terps as they'll be forced to play much more of a team offense - like they did in their upset win over Iowa State to win the CBE Classic - but the Wahoo defense isn't the unit you want to face in the immediate aftermath of losing your star guard.  Virginia (7-5 ACC)

Georgia Tech @ Northwestern.  Revenge game for the Yellow Jackets?  They lost to the Wildcats by 16 on their home floor in this event three years ago.  They've put together a decent start thus far with an opening night rivalry win over Georgia (it wasn't as bizarre as the football game) and going 2-1 in the Orlando (nee Old Spice) Classic.  These two teams are not blowout experts - each only has one win by more than double digits suggesting maybe there's a bit of a talent dearth.  GT has a far more respectable loss though; by 2 to Marquette as opposed to by 19 against Northern Iowa.  This could end up swinging the competition, as it's a tossup between two lower division teams.  Georgia Tech (8-5 ACC)

# 4 Duke @ # 2 Wisconsin.  And here we go.  Saving the best for last.  Neither has lost.  Both have looked entirely dominant.  There might not be a better big man matchup all year than Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky.  The Badgers beat Duke 73-69 in this event five years ago and this game could be even tighter and better.  There's really not a lot else to say here - this will be highly entertaining between two of the five best teams in the country.  I expect Wisconsin's experience - and the red hot Kohl Center atmosphere - to win out over Duke's youth and talent.  It's not enough to rescue the Challenge for the B1G though.  Wisconsin (8-6 ACC.)

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