Sports

Big Ten/ACC Challenge has limited long-term tournament impact

The long-running made-for-TV showcase that is the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (or, as is the case this year, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge) arrived this week, providing some fascinating matchups (Maryland-North Carolina, Louisville-Michigan State) and some less-than-desirable pairings (Northwestern-Virginia Tech and Wake Forest-Rutgers).

That’s business as usual for the event, which is usually long since forgotten by the time February rolls around. Unless a coach lobbying for an NCAA tournament feels the need to bring up the results, even if the selection process for the postseason event does not emphasize conference affiliation.

Eventual national champions unsurprisingly do quite well in the challenge, going 6-1 and winning a pair of championship game previews – North Carolina over Michigan State in 2008-09, and Duke over Wisconsin last season.

It also shouldn’t come as a giant shock that three of the seven eventual national champions from the two leagues since the challenge began in 1999-2000 (2000 Michigan State, 2010 Duke and 2015 Duke) came from conferences that lost the early season event. After all, whether or not Wake Forest beats Nebraska is hardly a great indicator of season-long strength at the top of a league.

It seems like looking at another early-season variable – exempt tournaments, those two- or three-game events at neutral sites – would prove a logical way to gauge long-term success. And it was for the ACC … at least until it wasn’t.

From 2006 to 2010, the league had seven teams eventually reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. All but one of them (2006-07 North Carolina) won an in-season tournament.

Yet over the last five seasons, while the ACC had 14 Sweet 16 teams (a figure slightly inflated by expansion in that stretch), just four of them (2010-11 Duke, 2012-13 Duke, 2013-14 Virginia and 2014-15 Duke) claimed titles at neutral-site events.

Does it mean anything? Probably not, besides acknowledging Duke is really good on neutral courts in November (and most other times, too).

For this year’s purposes, the ACC probably hopes there is as much to be taken from those tournaments as there usually is from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which is to say very little. After all, Duke (2K Classic), Miami (Puerto Rico Tip-Off), North Carolina (CBE Classic), Syracuse (Battle 4 Atlantis) and Virginia (Charleston Classic) all claimed tournament titles last month.

Trivia

Which two ACC schools have won the most games in the conference’s annual basketball challenge with the Big Ten since 1999?

Eagles’ rough week

With Olivier Hanlan off to the professional level after last season and the addition of a large freshman class and Florida graduate transfer Eli Carter, not much was expected of Boston College.

The Eagles, however, just had a weekend that was an even bigger clunker than anticipated. Boston College (3-3) dropped all three of its games at the Wooden Legacy in California, falling to Michigan State, UC Irvine and Santa Clara by an average of 20.3 points.

Some perspective on that showing: Since 1998-99, 93 ACC teams have participated in three-day neutral site events. The only other one to lose all three games was also Boston College, which stumbled three times in the 2012 Charleston Classic.

Coach Jim Christian wisely constructed an otherwise manageable schedule for the Eagles, who will play five of their last seven nonconference games at home starting with Wednesday’s visit from Penn State (3-2). But last weekend was a sign ACC play could be especially difficult for Boston College.

Barber’s big day

N.C. State guard Cat Barber had 37 points, four rebounds and eight assists in Friday’s defeat of Winthrop. It’s an uncommon line, certainly one not seen in the ACC in the last decade.

According to BBState.com’s database, no ACC player since at least 2005-06 hit those three benchmarks in one game until Barber did. Duke’s Jon Scheyer was close, with 36 points, eight rebounds and nine assists against Gardner-Webb on Dec. 15, 2009.

Answer

Duke, which is 14-2 in ACC/Big Ten Challenge games, predictably leads the ACC in victories in the event as it enters Wednesday’s game against Indiana. But second on the list is Wake Forest, which is 11-4 after edging Rutgers on the road on Monday.

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