ACC/Big Ten Challenge Previews and Predictions

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2012 marks the 14th season of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and after losing the event’s first 10 matchups, the Big Ten is looking to make it four straight victories this year.  And while the Big Ten is widely regarded as the nation’s best conference this season, the ACC boasts three teams in the most recent AP Top 25, including Duke who has compiled the country’s best resume so far this year.

Here’s a rundown of this season’s matchups, complete with players to watch and a prediction for each one.

acc-big-ten-challenge-2012

Tuesday

Minnesota (6-1) at Florida State (4-1)

Time: 7:15 EST
TV: ESPN2

Minnesota Player to Watch: Andre Hollins (14.0 ppg, 4.0 apg, 1.1 spg)

Hollins isn’t necessarily the best player on the Gophers, but it’s fair to say he’s the most important.  His play at the point sparked the team late last season, and while his shooting percentages don’t look great so far, Hollins has continued to do a solid job as the lead guard.  And just in case you were too busy shopping on Friday and missed the Minnesota-Memphis game, Hollins went off for 41 points in a Gopher victory.

Florida State Player to Watch: Michael Snaer (16.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 40.7 3P%)

After going just 2-for-11 in FSU’s season-opening loss to South Alabama, Snaer has rebounded to score at least 14 points in each of the last four games.  During that stretch, he’s connected on 11 of 21 three-pointers.  Snaer has done an outstanding job of getting to the stripe as well, and given his ability as a defender, he’ll put plenty of pressure on the Gophers on both ends of the floor.

Number to Know: 47.3

Minnesota’s offensive rebounding percentage this year.  Grabbing nearly half of their own misses speaks for itself, but the fact that Florida State ranks 245th in defensive rebounding percentage is a huge red flag for the ‘Noles.  Look for Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams, and company to crash the glass hard against a stingy FSU defense.

Prediction: Minnesota

This one should be a close, competitive game that I could see either team winning.  Florida State’s ability to force turnovers could be huge here given Minnesota’s high turnover rate, but I’m going with the Gophers based on their edge in depth and experience up front and on the glass.

Iowa (5-1) at Virginia Tech (5-0)

Time: 7:15 EST
TV: ESPNU

Iowa Player to Watch: Aaron White (12.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 spg)

White wasn’t a highly touted recruit coming into last season, but he had a terrific freshman year and was a popular pick as a breakout player for 2012-13.  The good news for White is that he’s scored at least 13 points in five out of six games, and he’s also posted a ridiculous 137.8 free throw rate.  The bad news is that he’s only made one field goal in each of Iowa’s last two games.  In what should be an evenly matched game, the Hawkeyes need more from their sophomore forward.

Virginia Tech Player to Watch: Erick Green (24.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, 2.0 spg)

After averaging over 15 points last season, Green has ramped up his scoring in James Johnson’s first year at the helm.  He has scored at least 21 points in each game, but he’s still managed to pace the team with 5.2 assists per contest.  Iowa will have their hands full trying to slow down such a prolific scorer, particularly since Green does such a great job of drawing fouls and getting to the stripe, where he hits over 86 percent.

Number to Know: 42.7

Virginia Tech’s three-point shooting percentage.  The Hokies take over 38 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc, and Jarrell Eddie, Robert Brown, and Will Johnston are all making 40 percent or more of their long-range bombs.  The Hawkeyes have allowed their opponents to shoot a paltry 25.4 percent from deep, but it’s tough to figure out whether that is a function of strong defense or poor shooting.  Either way, Virginia Tech’s perimeter shooting will play a key role in the outcome of this one.

Prediction: Virginia Tech

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Iowa wins this game, but I’ll give the slight edge to the Hokies since the game is in Blacksburg.  Iowa’s defensive numbers have improved this season, but they’ve also only played one team inside of Pomeroy’s Top 140.  Virginia Tech’s offense is clicking, albeit against a similarly poor level of competition. But I’ll take my chances with Green, who will be the best player on the floor.

North Carolina State (4-1) at Michigan (5-0)

Time: 7:30 EST
TV: ESPN

North Carolina State Player to Watch: C.J. Leslie (10.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 52.5 FG%)

Following a strong finish last season, many were surprised to see Leslie return to Raleigh for his junior year.  He is an exceptional athlete who has the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, but consistency has been an issue over the course of his career.

The same has held true with Leslie this season, as he scored just two points in NC State’s loss to Oklahoma State.  He played just 17 minutes before fouling out with his final foul coming on a technical with 17 minutes left to play.  When Leslie is focused, the Wolfpack can play with virtually anyone in the country, so his play against the Wolverines will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

Michigan Player to Watch: Tim Hardaway Jr. (18.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 61.8 FG%, 47.6 3P%)

After a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, Hardaway has bounced back with a strong start to his junior campaign.  In Michigan’s two NIT games at Madison Square Garden, he totaled 39 points and 11 rebounds en route to being named the tournament’s MVP.  Hardaway is making over 70 percent of his two-pointers and boasts one of the nation’s best Offensive Ratings, thanks in part to strong work on the defensive glass.  Point guard Trey Burke runs the show, but when Hardaway is playing at a high level, the Wolverines have Final Four potential.

Number to Know: 16.8

Michigan’s defensive free throw rate, which is the best in the country.  The Wolverines have been improved defensively, and they have been outstanding at limiting their opponents’ trips to the free throw line.  If they can continue that trend against a Wolfpack squad that has posted an impressive 43.5 free throw rate of its own, I like Michigan’s chances to win.

Predicted Winner: Michigan

Both of these teams are among the most efficient in the country on the offensive end, and this game’s best matchup will be at the point guard spot, where Trey Burke and Lorenzo Brown will square off.  To this point the Wolverines have been improved defensively thanks in large part to their ability to limit second chance points and keep their opponents off the foul line, and I think their improved efficiency on that end of the floor will be the difference in this one.

Maryland (4-1) at Northwestern (6-0)

Time: 9:15 EST
TV: ESPN2

alex len maryland basketball

Alex Len

Maryland Player to Watch: Alex Len (15.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 55.6 FG%)

Len sat out the first 10 games last season and struggled to get into a rhythm once he returned, maybe because it was hard to get integrated into the offense or maybe because Terrell Stoglin was jacking up shots at such a high rate.  Either way, he’s been a different player this season.

Len opened the year with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks against Kentucky, and he’s scored in double figures and grabbed at least seven rebounds in each of Maryland’s last four contests.  While Northwestern has a bit more size inside than they have in years past, slowing down Len won’t be easy.

Northwestern Player to Watch: Reggie Hearn (13.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.8 apg, 56.3 FG%, 57.1 3P%)

While Drew Crawford was expected to pace the team offensively following the graduation of John Shurna, fellow senior Hearn has stepped up as well and is tied with Crawford for the team lead in scoring.  He’s done more than just score though, ranking second on the team in assists and third in rebounds while knocking down a ridiculous 57.1 percent of his three-pointers.  Hearn has tallied at least 12 points in each game, and Northwestern will need another strong performance from him to emerge from this game with a win.

Number to Know: 49.5

Maryland’s offensive rebounding percentage, which is tops in the nation.  The Terps grabbed 23 offensive boards against Kentucky and have maintained a torrid pace on the glass since then.  To Northwestern’s credit, they have posted a strong defensive rebounding percentage so far this season, but this is also a team that was routinely manhandled on the offensive glass last season.

Prediction: Maryland

What I don’t like about the Terps is that they turn the ball over at a high rate, but Northwestern’s defense doesn’t force miscues at a high enough rate to take advantage of that.  And while Maryland doesn’t the shoot the ball all that well, they should have a large advantage on the offensive glass.  If Northwestern stays hot from long range though, that could swing this game in their favor, but I think Len will prove too much for them to handle inside.

Nebraska (4-1) at Wake Forest (3-2)

Time: 9:15 EST
TV: ESPNU

Nebraska Player to Watch: Brandon Ubel (15.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 62.5 FG%)

After spending his first few seasons in Lincoln as a role player, Ubel has been asked to do more in Tim Miles’ first year at the helm for the Huskers.  He has scored at least 11 points in each game and has posted a pair of double-doubles.  Ubel has always been an effective rebounder, but he’s turned himself into a formidable offensive threat as well.

Wake Forest Player to Watch: Travis McKie (15.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.2 spg)

McKie has been a double-digit scorer throughout his career at Wake, and this season is no exception.  He’s notched at least 11 points in all five games while ramping up his rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor.  As has been the case over the course of his career, McKie has been adept at getting to the free throw line, averaging nearly nine trips to the stripe through five games.

Number to Know: 59.2

Wake Forest’s free throw rate, which ranks third in the country.  While I’m inclined to chalk this up to a few ridiculous marks posted against subpar competition, it’s worth noting that Nebraska ranks 243rd in defensive free throw rate.  In a game where neither offense is all that impressive, getting to the line could be the difference.

Prediction: Wake Forest

This one could be pretty ugly, as the Huskers are still learning Tim Miles’ system, and the Demon Deacons are breaking in a number of young players.  I’ll give Wake the edge here thanks to the duo of McKie and C.J. Harris, both of whom are averaging better than 15 points for Jeff Bzdelik’s club.

North Carolina (5-1) at Indiana (6-0)

Time: 9:30 EST
TV: ESPN

North Carolina Player to Watch: James Michael McAdoo (16.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.7 spg, 50.6 FG%)

Based on UNC’s personnel last season, McAdoo was used sparingly as a freshman, but he has been extremely effective so far this year.  He has posted double-doubles in three of the first six games and missed a fourth by just one rebound.  McAdoo has one of the highest usage rates in the country and is an effective rebounder on both ends of the floor.

He has also racked up 10 steals this seasons, but he’s had issues with committing turnovers of his own with nearly four per game.  McAdoo is dangerous in transition as well as on the offensive glass, so the Hoosiers need to limit his opportunities in those areas to slow him down.

jordan hulls indiana basketball

Jordan Hulls

Indiana Player to Watch: Jordan Hulls (13.0 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 57.4 FG%, 54.3 3P%)

Much has been made of the recent influx in talent on the IU roster, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of a senior like Hulls.  He has seen the program at rock bottom, and his leadership has helped pull the Hoosiers out of the wreckage.

And while his role on the team was somewhat uncertain coming into this season based on the addition of Yogi Ferrell, Hulls has emphatically made it clear that the two can do more than just co-exist.  He made countless clutch shots en route to being named the MVP of the Legends Classic and followed that up by scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Ball State.

Hulls has canned at least three triples in each game, and the Heels, who were burned by a sharp-shooting Butler team in Maui, need to keep track of Hulls if they want to pull the upset in Assembly Hall.

Number to Know: 43.2

North Carolina’s offensive rebounding percentage.  Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg did a great series of “all-access” pieces with Long Beach State in preparation for their game with UNC.  The first thing mentioned on the scouting report: “Their best offense is a missed shot.”  McAdoo and Joel James have the best OReb% on the team, but the Heels boast a number of players who can attack the offensive glass in search of second chance points.

The Hoosiers have to get a body on North Carolina’s rebounders in this one, which may prove difficult in what should be an up-and-down affair.  Perhaps the best measuring stick will be IU forward Christian Watford, who is at his best when he’s aggressive on the defensive boards.  He has three double-doubles this season, including the Hoosiers’ last two games.

Prediction: Indiana

Both teams want to get out and run, so this should be a fast-paced, entertaining contest.  The Heels have 10 players averaging double-digit minutes, but they will be without P.J. Hairston, who will miss the game after hurting his knee in practice.  The Hoosiers have shown solid bench play of their own even without Derek Elston, Hanner Perea, and Peter Jurkin in the rotation.

This game also features a matchup of two highly rated freshman point guards with Yogi Ferrell for IU and Marcus Paige for the Heels.  Keep an eye on the turnovers for both players, particularly Paige who has posted an ugly 34.6 turnover rate so far.

There is no shortage of talented wing players in this matchup with Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey for the Hoosiers and the hot shooting duo of Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald for UNC.  Indiana can’t lose track of shooters on the outside as they did against Georgetown, while it will be important for the likes of Oladipo and Sheehey to attack the basket instead of settling for long jumpers.

Finally, North Carolina has to find a way to slow down Cody Zeller inside with inexperienced players like Joel James and Desmond Hubert.  Zeller is looking healthy again after being slowed by illness for a few games, and he has done an outstanding job of drawing fouls, as evidenced by his impressive 88.0 free throw rate.  His ability to run the floor will come up big in a game like this.

Continue reading to find out how the teams playing Wednesday stack up.

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About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms

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