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Monday, November 29, 2010
Saddle Up: ACC-Big Ten quietly kicks off

By Eamonn Brennan

Like its Morning After and Afternoon Links brethren, Saddle Up -- our nightly rundown of the hoops your TV wants you to watch -- returns for another season. To the previewmobile!

Virginia at No. 17 Minnesota, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Big Ten-ACC Challenge doesn't exactly begin with a bang. Tuesday and Wednesday night are the big draws, featuring five games -- and most of either conference's quality teams -- in a veritable onrush of interconference competition. But the ACC-Big Ten Challenge does officially kick off Monday night, and it does so with an opportunity to see what appears to be a high-quality Minnesota team in action. So, you know, that's something.

The Gophers have already cemented their non-conference bonafides with wins against Western Kentucky, North Carolina, and West Virginia in consecutive games in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last week. How? By dominating on the inside. Thanks in large part to the return of Trevor Mbakwe and the ongoing development of forward Ralph Sampson III, Tubby Smith's team grabs offensive rebounds at a high rate, prevents opposing teams from doing the same, gets to the foul line frequently, and rarely returns the favor on defense. Al Nolen and Rodney Williams will miss tonight's game with injuries, but Mbawke, Sampson and sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber (the team's leading scorer thus far) will all be on hand, and that's probably bad news for Virginia.

Speaking of Virginia, just how bad are the Cavaliers in Tony Bennett's second year? The Cavaliers already have three losses, and though none of them will disgust fans quite as much as Wake Forest's home loss to Stetson, Boston College's home loss to Yale, or Georgia Tech's loss to Kennesaw State -- that's laugh-or-cry stuff for ACC die-hards -- Virginia hasn't looked competitive any time it's faced a major-conference team not named Oklahoma. (The Sooners don't count. That might be the worst BCS conference team in the country.) Now UVA travels to the barn to face a quality Minnesota team. In the words of Scooby Doo: Ruh roh.

Everywhere else: It's a pretty quiet night in college hoops, hence the lack of another featured matchup here. What else is out there? Not much. No. 4 Kansas State welcomes the mighty Emporia State Hornets, a Division II team, to Manhattan, Kan., and I'm going to go ahead and guess that Emporia State won't extend Division II's exhibition-season upset fun at the Octagon of Doom ... No. 13 Baylor should likewise have no problem with 1-6 Prairie View A&M, a SWAC team stuck playing a typically brutal SWAC team road schedule ... USC will attempt to prove it's not completely horrible; the Trojans play suddenly newsworthy future Big East member TCU in Fort Worth ... and a surprisingly undefeated 7-0 Cleveland State team will have an interesting test at home against 2-2 Robert Morris, a solid if slightly slipping mid-major program. After that, it's pretty ugly, so rest up for tomorrow night. That's when this week's real fun begins.