Why the Big Ten Is Going to Win the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

My first inclination when writing this was to simply post Ken Pomeroy’s tweet from Sunday night where he claimed “The ACC basically has no chance” and move on.  I mean, who am I to argue with that considering the source?


But after Michael’s journey through absurdity where he besmirched Pomeroy’s win probabilities, the state of Indiana, and the United States of America (ok, got a little carried away on the last one), I felt like a more formal rebuttal was warranted.  As an aside, since he’s the managing editor of the site, it’s tough to approach him directly about the clear need to tighten up our drug testing here, but believe me, I’m looking into it.


At any rate, I’m not going to indulge his game of mathematical shenanigans.  Instead, let’s get straight to breaking down these games.


Tuesday, November 29th


#15 Michigan at Virginia – 7:00 EST (ESPN2)

The strength-on-strength matchup here is Michigan’s offense, ranked 27th in the Pomeroy Ratings versus a Virginia defense ranked in the Top 10.  For a perimeter-oriented team, it’s interesting to see the Wolverines leading the nation in two-point percentage, which has helped propel them to a lofty eFG%.  UVA has been particularly adept at shutting down opposing outside shooters, which should be the key here.  On the flip side (and as Michael pointed out), Michigan has struggled to defend the three-point line, and Virginia’s poor outside shooting seems like an anomaly.  The other bad news for the Wolverines is that they have been putting opponents on the line with regularity, which is an area where Tony Bennett’s squad has excelled.  Even so, it’s hard to shake the memory of the Cavaliers losing to a poor TCU team in the Paradise Jam opener, and Michigan has played a tougher schedule to date.  Out of sheer benevolence here, I’ll give this one to UVA, but it will be a close (and slow-paced) opener to the challenge.  ACC: 1, Big Ten: 0


Northwestern at Georgia Tech – 7:15 EST (ESPNU)

The numbers would indicate another good Big Ten offense versus good ACC defense storyline here.  Northwestern’s offense has been very efficient and leads the nation in turnover rate despite playing a true freshman at the point.  Both John Shurna and Drew Crawford are scoring about 20 points per game, even with the Wildcats shooting just 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.  Georgia Tech’s defense has been solid so far, although the competition likely has something to do with that.  They have done a nice job of protecting the defensive glass and not putting their opponents on the line, but the Wildcats don’t really do those things well anyway.  The key matchup for Northwestern will be on the interior, because they have struggled to limit offensive rebounds, and the Jackets have a Top 20 OReb%.  It’s also worth noting that both teams played in the Charleston Classic, which Northwestern won while Georgia Tech finished 1-2.  If Paul Hewitt was still on the bench, this would be a no-brainer, but I’m sticking with the Wildcats in a close one.  ACC: 1, Big Ten: 1


Illinois at Maryland – 7:30 EST (ESPN)

Based on how Maryland has played so far, I have no idea how Michael said Illinois’ win probability should be just 42%.  Maybe his blood-alcohol level was 0.42 at the time?  Anyway, the Terps have been absolutely brutal on both ends of the floor.  How brutal?  I’m glad you asked.  The only area where they have excelled on offense is a 51.9 FT Rate, which they have sabotaged by making under 60 percent from the stripe.  On defense, they rank 223rd or lower in three of the “four factors.”  The Illini are relatively inexperienced, but they have been tough defensively, buoyed by a terrific block percentage thanks in large part to soph Meyers Leonard.  The biggest chink in their defensive armor is a propensity to give up three-pointers, but luckily for them, Maryland shoots poorly from the outside.  And the inside for that matter.  Illinois is hitting over 53 percent of their two-pointers and have done well on the offensive glass, which should be the difference here.  ACC: 1, Big Ten: 2

Miami at Purdue – 9:00 EST (ESPN2)

A healthy Reggie Johnson would give Purdue fits inside, but as it stands, neither team boasts a strong inside presence.  The Boilers have been more efficient on both ends of the floor against a tougher schedule, but outside of that, the Canes are in good shape heading into this one.  Miami’s opponents are hitting better than 36 percent from three-point range, which is not good news against a Purdue team knocking down 39.8 percent from long range, led by sharpshooter Ryne Smith and a healthy Robbie Hummel.  On the flip side, the Boilers have allowed just 0.89 points per possession, and Miami’s eFG% ranks outside the Top 200.  I’m not sure whether Kelsey Barlow will guard Durand Scott or Malcolm Grant, but even though he’s a bit of a jackwagon in my estimation, his ability as a lockdown defender is not in question.  ACC: 1, Big Ten: 3


Clemson at Iowa – 9:15 EST (ESPNU)

The Tigers have lost to College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina, while the Hawkeyes recently lost by double figures to Campbell.  Both teams haven’t been particularly impressive on offense, but at least Clemson has shown some ability on the defensive end with Top 50 ratings in opponents’ FT Rate and OReb%.  On the other hand, Iowa’s defense has allowed some pretty gaudy shooting percentages, particularly from two-point range where Clemson is at its best.  The Hawkeyes are hitting over 39 percent from deep, but if I try to formulate an argument for a team that lost by 15 to Campbell, I’ll lose whatever credibility I have left.  ACC: 2, Big Ten: 3 


#4 Duke at #2 Ohio State – 9:30 EST (ESPN)

I do agree with Michael that the 78 percent win probability seems high, particularly given how Duke has played against a tough early season schedule.  That said, OSU’s efficiency numbers are better than Duke’s on both offense and defense.  The main area of concern for the Buckeyes is their ability to defend the three-point shot, which plays into Duke’s hands since they are making nearly 46 percent from beyond the arc.  However, Aaron Craft has the ability to disrupt the Blue Devils and will test Seth Curry’s skills at the point.  Duke also comes in with the 17th-ranked FT Rate, while OSU has rarely sent their opponents to the line, so something has to give.  On the other end of the floor, the Buckeyes rank 18th in eFG% despite struggling from beyond the arc, and the Blue Devils have shown some vulnerability inside.  They also haven’t been able to force many turnovers, and ultimately I don’t think they can contain Jared Sullinger down low.  ACC: 2, Big Ten: 4


Wednesday, November 30th


Indiana at North Carolina State – 7:15 EST (ESPN2)

A couple numbers jump off the page in this one.  First, IU ranks 4th in the nation in FT Rate, while NC State ranks 239th in opponents’ FT Rate.  Second, the Hoosiers are 5th in eFG% and shoot 43.3 percent from three-point range, while the Wolfpack allow their opponents to hit 39.3 percent from deep.  Indiana has been much better defensively in the early part of the season, routinely generating a number of deflections and posting a gaudy defensive turnover rate.  They may see less success in that area against NC State, who has a solid turnover rate of their own thanks in large part to Lorenzo Brown’s play at the point.  The Wolfpack will also test the freshman phenom Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers inside, particularly on the offensive glass.  Still, the defensive limitations for North Carolina State and IU’s newfound defensive intensity will be the difference here.  ACC: 2, Big Ten: 5


Penn State at Boston College – 7:15 EST (ESPNU)

Much to the dismay of at least one Penn State fan, I tweeted out that this game should be blacked out as a public service.  Both of these teams have endured significant roster turnover from a season ago, which has directly contributed to some putrid offensive efficiency numbers.  Neither team can shoot, but Penn State has done a significantly better job on the offensive glass.  The Nittany Lions have also shown more on defense, so I’m picking them to win.  But if I talk much more about this game, I’m going to need to take a shower.  Let’s move on.  ACC: 2, Big Ten: 6


Florida State at Michigan State – 7:30 EST (ESPN)

This game will be played in the 40s and may set basketball back to the 1940s in the process.  Both boast Top 10 defenses, but apparently facing themselves in practice has robbed these teams of any and all confidence on offense.  The Spartans rank 244th in eFG% powered by 23.8 percent shooting from deep.  Their turnover rate is actually worse in terms of national ranking, as Tom Izzo’s search for a reliable point guard continues.  MSU’s best bet is on the offensive glass, where FSU ranks just 253rd defensively.  There will certainly be plenty of opportunities given the sheer volume of expected misses.  For the Noles, their turnover rate is somehow worse than Sparty’s, although their shooting isn’t quite as awful.  Both teams are terrific at limiting their opponents’ eFG%, and both squads do a solid job of forcing turnovers.  In short, these two teams are mirror images of one another, which is ironic since watching either one’s offense will make you want to break a mirror and start cutting yourself with the shattered pieces.  This one is a coin flip, so I’ll give the edge to MSU thanks to the home crowd at the Breslin CenterACC: 2, Big Ten: 7


Virginia Tech at Minnesota – 9:15 EST (ESPN2)

I could throw out a bunch of stats for this one, but the loss of Trevor Mbakwe to a torn ACL is simply devastating for Minnesota.  He is directly responsible for their gaudy OReb% and FT Rate, and he was able to mask many of their shortcomings.  Without him, the Gophers will be more perimeter-oriented, and Virginia Tech has defended the three very well so far.  The Hokies have also hit better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, which is an area where Minnesota has really struggled defensively.  ACC: 3, Big Ten: 7


Wake Forest at Nebraska – 9:15 EST (ESPNU)

After last season, there was no place to go but up for Wake, and they’re already half way to last year’s win total.  On offense, they do have a solid FT Rate, but they struggle to make free throws once they get there.  They also have a decent OReb%, but maybe that’s because they miss so many shots and consequently have so much practice chasing down their own misses.  Nebraska ranks in the Top 40 in defensive efficiency despite not forcing many turnovers.  On offense, the Huskers are hitting 42.2 percent from beyond the arc, while the Demon Deacons rank 229th in opponents’ eFG%.  Maybe the 86% win probability seems a tad high, but Nebraska has better efficiency numbers on both offense and defense.  Chalk up to yet another win for the Big Ten.  ACC: 3, Big Ten: 8


#7 Wisconsin at #5 North Carolina – 9:30 EST (ESPN)

You’d be hard pressed to find a larger contrast in styles.  Wisconsin’s adjusted tempo is the slowest in all of college hoops, while North Carolina’s is the 5th fastest.  Whatever your thoughts on their competition, what the Badgers are doing on defense (0.65 points per possession) is incredible.  Their defensive eFG% ranks first in the nation with opponents hitting just 32.9 percent from two-point range and 22.9 percent from long range.  They also allow the lowest OReb% and rank just outside the Top 10 in opponents’ FT Rate.  On offense, they rarely turn the ball over thanks in large part to Jordan Taylor, and their eFG% is 4th in the country thanks to a staggering 47.2 percent from three-point range.  That number scares many UNC fans after seeing the Heels get lit up from beyond the arc by UNLV over the weekend.  Over their last three games, opponents are shooting 38.4 percent from long range against North Carolina, with many of those coming off of drive-and-kick scenarios thanks to their inability to slow down dribble penetration.  The Heels rarely put their opponents on the line, which won’t phase Wisconsin much since they hardly ever get there to begin with.  That said, UNC is by far the best offense that the Badgers have faced, and Bo Ryan is breaking in a number of inexperienced big men, which is not ideal given Carolina’s front line.  The one potential saving grace is that most of the Wisconsin big men can step out and hit three-pointers, which will help pull UNC’s shot-blockers away from the basket.  Still, North Carolina’s offense is efficient in its own right with a low turnover rate and a strong eFG%.  I do think Wisconsin can win this one, but I’ll go with the Tar Heels in this one in a big game at the Dean Dome.  ACC: 4, Big Ten: 8


So there you have it, another win for the Big Ten.  A couple of the games I “gave” the ACC could easily go the other way, and the Mbakwe injury swings the advantage in that matchup.  So if it’s any consolation, things could actually be worse for the ACC. 


I’ll leave you with something a wise man once said: “The ACC basically has no chance.”


Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball.