The 2021 Big Ten/ACC Challenge is set to tip off tonight, pitting two of the nation’s premier basketball conferences against one another in this annual duel.
This year’s version of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is full of quality matchups and should be a tight content, as it has typically been since it began in 1999. The Big Ten has won the last two challenges, a response to the ACC claiming the three before (including one tie, which defaults to the previous winner). The ACC leads the all-time record at 12-7-3. Can the ACC get back on top in 2021, or will the Big Ten retain its crown in the challenge?
Let’s take a deep dive in the 2021 iteration of the competition.
Big Ten/ACC Challenge Deep Dive
Let’s review the full schedule first before diving in (all times Eastern):
Monday, Nov. 29
Iowa at Virginia (7 p.m., ESPN2)
Notre Dame at Illinois (9 p.m., ESPN2)
Tuesday, Nov. 30
Minnesota at Pittsburgh (7 p.m., ESPNU)
Indiana at Syracuse (7 p.m., ESPN2)
Florida State at Purdue (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Clemson at Rutgers (9 p.m., ESPN2)
Northwestern at Wake Forest (9 p.m., ESPNU)
Duke at Ohio State (9:30 p.m., ESPN)
Wednesday, Dec. 1
Louisville at Michigan State (7:15 p.m., ESPN)
Nebraska at NC State (7:15 p.m., ESPNU)
Virginia Tech at Maryland (7:15 p.m., ESPN2)
Miami at Penn State (9:15 p.m., ESPNU)
Michigan at North Carolina (9:15 p.m., ESPN)
Wisconsin at Georgia Tech (9:15 p.m., ESPN2)
Most Marquee Matchup
This is normally an obvious answer, but in 2021, it doesn’t feel like it is. There aren’t any matchups in this Big Ten/ACC Challenge between two teams that are both currently ranked, and some of the teams that were expected to be near the top of the sport have seen themselves fall from grace before the end of November (not that their seasons can’t be recovered, but their reputations can’t be salvaged before this event starts).
Given such limited options, I’m going with No. 1 Duke at Ohio State as the most marquee matchup in the 2021 Big Ten/ACC Challenge. After knocking off Gonzaga, 84-81, the Blue Devils have risen to the top of the AP Poll and are now the team to beat in men’s college basketball. They’ll take their top ranking and perfect record to Columbus to take on a beaten-up Buckeyes team that was ranked No. 17 in the preseason but has since fallen to Xavier and Florida and needed a buzzer beater to outlast Akron.
But there’s tons of talent on this Ohio State team, and with the home court on its side, it’s possible the Buckeyes could come to play and give Duke some trouble. The season is still very young, and growing pains aren’t outlandish. Even if OSU is 4-2 and unranked, this isn’t an opponent the Blue Devils can overlook.
Biggest Toss Up[sociallocker id=”237234″]
There are a few options I could go with here, but I’m settling for Louisville at No. 22 Michigan State. The Cardinals dropped an early game against Furman, but then recently responded with a title in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship after defeating Mississippi State and Maryland in back-to-back contests. Meanwhile, Kansas and Baylor have both clobbered Michigan State, but the Spartans have also picked up tight victories over Loyola Chicago and Connecticut in the season’s first month.
These are both defense-first teams, with each having a defensive efficiency rating that ranks in the top 20 nationally, according to KenPom. Neither have looked like elite-level teams in November, but they’ve both still shown they’ll probably be in the mix in March.
The battle on the glass will be big in this one, with both teams relying heavily on their rebounding to maintain control of the game. Whether or not Louisville’s Malik Williams or Michigan State’s Marcus Bingham gets the better end of the rebounding fight will play a huge role in who leaves the Breslin Center happier.
Frankly, both conferences have been largely disappointing to start the year – the Big Ten even more because of the preseason expectations, but the ACC has just one ranked team heading into this challenge. The losing conference in this event will feel even worse about how its 2021-22 campaign began, and the general lackluster showings from both sides make this a tough one to predict.
But, the people need a prediction, and so a prediction they shall receive: for the third year in a row, the Big Ten will assume supremacy over the ACC.
Even though plenty of Big Ten teams, like Illinois, Ohio State, Rutgers, and Maryland, have started slow, I still have to believe that the talent the Big Ten is bringing to the table in this challenge outweighs what the ACC has to over on a conference-wide scale. I don’t expect this challenge to be a blowout at all – the ACC has some clear advantages in games like Duke at Ohio State, Clemson at Rutgers, and Nebraska at NC State. But the matchups do seem to swing more in the Big Ten’s favor.
There will undoubtedly be some surprise winners, but will it be enough for the ACC to reach that magic number of eight? I don’t think so. I’m calling for another year of Big Ten reign in the challenge, bringing the conference one step closer to evening out the all-time series record.[/sociallocker]