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Big Ten should win Challenge again

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge -- or the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, depending on the tournament's rotating name and/or your own conference allegiances -- used to be pretty easy to forecast. After all, the ACC dominated the contest for a decade, winning the first 10 Challenges. The Big Ten finally, mercifully ended that futility in 2009-10, squeaking out a 6-5 win on the strength of Wisconsin's upset of Duke at the Kohl Center, not to mention Illinois' come-from-way-behind victory at Clemson. Finally, the Big Ten was off the schneid. (Sure, 1-10 is not exactly braggable, but it's better than 0-10, right?)

Now the tournament forecast is far more murky. The Big Ten looks like 2010-11's toughest conference, while the ACC -- with one real power in Duke but no strong complementary teams to back the Dukies up -- looks merely OK. The match ups of the 2010 Big Ten/ACC Challenge, released today, bear that out. And, as a bonus, they look mighty entertaining, too.

Those match ups are as follows:

Monday, November 29

Virginia at Minnesota

Tuesday, November 30

North Carolina at Illinois

Ohio State at Florida State

Michigan at Clemson

Georgia Tech at Northwestern

Iowa at Wake Forest

Wednesday, December 1

Michigan State at Duke

Purdue at Virginia Tech

North Carolina State at Wisconsin

Indiana at Boston College

Maryland at Penn State

It's far too early to know exactly how each team will look by the end of November and December; there's a lot of time between now and then to settle on rosters, figure out styles, develop young players, and so on. But as it stands today, the Big Ten should get its second Challenge win.

For kicks, let's go quickly down the line: Virginia at Minnesota should be a win for the Gophers. North Carolina gets a tough draw with Illinois; the Tar Heels have enough talent to beat a number of the Big Ten's teams, but playing a talented, experienced Illinois team at home is a difficult ask. Ohio State at Florida State should be a Buckeyes victory. Michigan at Clemson is a toss-up, so let's say Clemson. Georgia Tech and Northwestern isn't cut and dry, but Northwestern will return previously injured star Kevin Coble and a team that flirted with the NCAA tournament for the past two years. Iowa at Wake Forest is a Wake win.

Michigan State at Duke is a great, great game, and either team could win, but let's give Duke their requisite home court advantage. Purdue at Virginia Tech is a match up of what should be each conference's No. 2 teams, and that's a pretty good barometer of why the Big Ten should be considerably better than the ACC in 2010: Purdue is a potential Final Four team. Tech is not. Like North Carolina, N.C. State will have enough talent to beat many of the Big Ten's teams, but expecting a win at the Kohl Center this early in the season is questionable at best. Indiana-Boston College is bad, but let's give it to Boston College simply because the Hoosiers have been so abysmal at home in their recent rebuilding phase. And let's say Maryland beats Penn State at Penn State.

That gives us ... drum roll, please ... 6 wins for the Big Ten, enough to seal a win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. And that's a relatively conservative estimate; BC-IU is a toss-up, as-is Michigan-Clemson, and Penn State is capable of toppling 2010's Grievous Vasquez-less Maryland team at home.

Of course this is all just a spitball exercise, one that will probably look completely different from what actually happens in November. But in terms of expectations, the Big Ten is looking pretty good. Improving to 2-10 would be nothing to brag about, either. But it sure is better than before.