ESPN released its 15th annual Big Ten-ACC challenge schedule Aug. 12, and there are 14 matchups to salivate over with expansion hitting both major conferences. There are nine ranked teams playing in the challenge and three games pit ranked foes against one another. Here are the top games to watch for in the 2014 Big Ten-ACC challenge:
No. 1: Duke at Wisconsin Dec. 3, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
This showdown could end up being a Final Four preview in early December. The Blue Devils replace freshman standout Jabari Parker and reliable swingman Rodney Hood with a crop of new talent picked right from the ESPN top-100.
They bring the No. 1-rated point guard, Tyus Jones, and No. 1 center, Jahlil Okafor, from the class of 2014. Okafor followed in the footsteps of his fellow Chicagoan, Parker, in deciding to attend Duke.
Wisconsin returns four of five starters from a team that marched all the way to the Final Four in 2013-14. Big man Frank Kaminsky is coming off a monster NCAA tournament, where he could have been considered the best player of the first four rounds.
His 7-foot-1 frame makes it nearly impossible to block his shot, and he can play facing and with his back to the basket.
Watching Kaminsky and Okafor go at it will bring back memories of Michigan’s Chris Webber facing off against the experience of Duke’s Christian Laettner in the early 1990s. It is Duke that has the true freshman now and must prove itself against a senior-laden group of Badgers.
If Wisconsin cannot come away with the early-season victory, it will not be because they’re athleticism is lacking. It will instead be a show of how fast Coach K has brought along his young and talented team.
No. 2: Syracuse at Michigan Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
This game is almost as intriguing as Duke-Wisconsin because it pits the defending Big Ten champions against a Syracuse team that spent the majority of its time in the top 10 in 2013-14. Both teams, however, lose a lot of talent from their NCAA tournament teams a season ago.
The Orange lose their floor general, point guard Tyler Ennis, to the NBA and the Phoenix Suns. Ennis became well known for his silk smooth finishes at the rim and his ability to perform with poise under pressure.
He was nearly perfect from the free-throw line in close games and hit a shot against Pittsburgh that will live on forever:
It will be interesting to see how Michigan, a 3-point field goal hoarding team, will play against the Syracuse zone. We could see the Wolverines take an excess of 3-pointers to try and soften the zone or perhaps Caris LeVert have an early coming out party.
Either way Michigan-Syracuse will be a close matchup and an indicator on how they’ll both fare in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
No. 3: Iowa at North Carolina Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m. on ESPNThe Iowa Hawkeyes will be without All-Big Ten selection Roy Devyn Marble in 2014-15, but they continue to be one of the most dangerous teams in the Big Ten Conference. Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni give the Hawkeyes size and shooting range in the front court.
The Tar Heels will counter the Hawkeyes’ depth on the inside with athleticism on the wings and poise at the point guard position. Marcus Paige is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.5 points-per-game and 4.2 assists-per-game, and figures to continue to improve on his court vision and shooting range.
North Carolina continues to fight scandal in its major sports programs, but they will have little problem filling the seats for this matchup.
As long as basketball brings in the dollars for the school, North Carolina basketball will always attract eyeballs.