Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: Big Ten Dominates Day One of ACC/Big Ten Challenge

December 09, 2020

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge got off to a rough start on Tuesday as Purdue blew a 20-point lead to lose to Miami. However, the conference bounced back in a hurry as the Big Ten swept the other six games on Tuesday including a pair of high-profile primetime matchups.

The Big Ten entered the 2020–21 season with sky-high expectations, and Tuesday provided another opportunity for the conference to flex its muscles.

Purdue is now 3-0 against mid-major teams and 0-2 against the ACC after losing to Clemson earlier in the season. The loss to Miami wasn’t a good look as the Hurricanes were playing without point guard Chris Lykes as well as 5-star freshman Earl Timberlake, but I wasn’t high on the Boilermakers coming into the season anyway. Trevion Williams, the team’s best returning player, has struggled mightily and Purdue is relying heavily on a good group of freshmen.

In the second game of the day, Minnesota outlasted Boston College 85-80 in overtime n Minneapolis. Point guard Marcus Carr has gotten off to a prolific start this season and led the way again for the Gophers with 22 points, even if he didn’t shoot well from 3. Transfers Both Gach and Liam Robbins have made a difference, but the Gophers still look like a bottom-half team in the Big Ten.

No. 22 Ohio State got a 17-point second half and a 19-point, 12-rebound double-double from sophomore E.J. Liddell in a 90-85 win at Notre Dame. Cal transfer Justice Sueing has been solid this season and Liddell, a top-50 recruit, looks to have made a big leap. Ohio State hasn’t even had Harvard transfer Seth Towns on the court yet. Ohio State is 4-0 thus far, which is what I expected. Chris Holtmann is a really good coach and he has enough talent to work with to make the Buckeyes a top-half team.

The biggest surprise of the night came from Penn State. Fresh off blowing a game against Seton Hall, the Nittany Lions ran a previously unbeaten and 15th-ranked Virginia Tech team off the floor on the Hokies’ home court. Penn State led by close to 30 when I flipped over to that game before settling into a 75-55 win. Penn State shot 12-of-23 from deep and got 20 points from Izaiah Brockington to improve to 3-1.

No. 21 Rutgers hosted Syracuse and pulled away late for a 79-69 win. Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights are 4-0 despite losing point guard Geo Baker to an ankle injury nine minutes into the season. Baker is the guy who got the most recognition coming off an upstart 2019–20 because he’s hit some big shots late in games, but for my money, Ron Harper Jr. was the best player on the team by far last year and he’s been a monster so far this season. The son of the former NBA standout put up 26 points on Tuesday and is averaging over 22 points this season on terrific shooting percentages. Montez Mathis and Jacob Young have made huge leaps and top-50 recruit Cliff Omoruyi has made an impact as a day-one starter in the middle.

The biggest games of the day both featured matchups between top-20 teams and proved once again how strong the Big Ten is.

First, No. 3 Iowa rained 3s and overcome an uncharacteristically inefficient game from Luka Garza to take down No. 16 North Carolina in Iowa City. Jordan Bohannon, CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp combined to shoot 17-of-30 from 3 while Garza finished with 16 points on 6-of-20 shooting. The biggest story is Bohannon, who had been brutal (11 points on 4-of-18 shooting including 3-of-14 from deep) in Iowa’s first three games coming off the hip surgeries that cost him last season. On Tuesday, he shot 7-of-16 from 3 and finished with 24 points. If he gets back to pre-injury form, Iowa is a different team.

The final matchup on Tuesday was a top-10 showdown between No. 6 Illinois and No. 10 Duke, and the Illini controlled the action most of the game. Ayo Dosunmu continued his All-America season with 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists while the one-two punch in the middle of Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili combined for 24 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Freshman guards Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo have brought a lot of juice to the lineup and should only get better as the season goes on. Illinois’ lone loss is to No 2 Baylor; no shame in that.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 issues have hit at multiple programs leading to the cancellation or postponement of three of the games in the event — Louisville at Wisconsin, North Carolina State at Michigan and Michigan State at Virginia. Losing Wisconsin and Michigan State’s games hurts both in terms of seeing how the Big Ten stacks up against the ACC and seeing how the top teams in the Big Ten compare to each other. The Hawkeyes, Illini, Badgers and Spartans are all ranked inside the top-15.

With those three games off the schedule, it leaves four games on Wednesday, which means the Big Ten has already clinched the head-to-head win (unless the other games get rescheduled). Maryland at Clemson, Indiana at Florida State, Pittsburgh at Northwestern and, of course, Georgia Tech at Nebraska will close out the challenge.

Through Wednesday morning, the Big Ten was a combined 51-7 this season. However, the only loss to a team not from another high-major conference belongs to the Huskers. Nebraska will get a chance to make up for that Nevada loss and show how much improvement its made from last season in the rematch with the Yellow Jackets.

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