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Monday, May 14, 2012
ACC/Big Ten highlighted by UNC-IU

By Eamonn Brennan

Yes, it's that time of year again -- the time we all join together around the fireplace (or MacBook Air, or whatever) and learn what the upcoming year's edition of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will see fit to bring us.

It's like Christmas in May! OK, it's not really like Christmas. It's considerably less awesome than Christmas. Honestly, it's considerably less awesome than the ACC/Big Ten Challenge itself, because at least that features actual basketball, rather than the mere promise of it. But it is May. Right now, this is the best we can do. (Besides, it beats talking about conference realignment.)

Anyway, as usual, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge will bring us quite a lot. Below you can find the matchups, as released by the conferences at 2 p.m. ET Monday:

Tuesday, Nov. 27

Minnesota @ Florida State
North Carolina @ Indiana
NC State @ Michigan
Maryland @ Northwestern
Iowa @ Virginia Tech
Nebraska @ Wake Forest

Wednesday, Nov. 28

Purdue @ Clemson
Ohio State @ Duke
Georgia Tech @ Illinois
Michigan State @ Miami, FL
Boston College @ Penn State
Virginia @ Wisconsin

The first day of competition, Nov. 27, is practically guaranteed to be the best. Why? Because it offers North Carolina at Indiana and NC State at Michigan, the former of which is the first time the two bluebloods have met since Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton rolled into Bloomington in 2005, just one stop on the way to an eventual national championship. The 2012 edition will offer a decidedly different flavor. Indiana is the program expected to compete for a national title, while UNC -- though still very talented, with a deep coterie of guards and a marquee big man in sophomore James Michael McAdoo -- will be in some ways rebuilding from the losses of Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall, all of whom left bound for the NBA.

The latter matchup, NC State at Michigan, will give us a great early glimpse of two teams with designs on conference titles -- and a great look at how the relatively young Wolfpack, featuring veterans C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown but also top-ranked recruits Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis, will adapt to the challenges of winning big games on the road.

There are other attractions too, of course, including Ohio State's trip to Duke on Nov. 28. Iowa at Virginia Tech probably intrigues me more than it should. Minnesota at Florida State will be fascinating; sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe vs. that interior defense? Yes please.

You get the idea. The real question here: Can the Big Ten continue its streak of Challenge victories? After starting 0-10 -- an entire decade of failure -- the Big Ten has now won the past three matchups against the ACC. The first two were 6-5 squeakers, but, in a sign of how much better the Big Ten was than the ACC in 2012 (which even the staunchest, most provincial ACC fan would not deny), the Big Ten handled the competition with ease, winning by a final score of 8-4.

In a vacuum, you'd expect the Big Ten -- which most project to be the best league in the country next season -- to prevail with similar comfort in 2012. (A win would put the overall tally at 4-10. The Big Ten has a lot of ground to make up.) But strange things happen in two days in November. We'll just have to wait -- and wait and wait and wait -- and see.

Which brings us to the most depressing part of this little annual May tradition: realizing that these games are something like 220 days away. As is tradition, I ask that anyone with proprietary time-travel technology please contact the blog with any ideas you may have for erasing the huge gap between now and the start of the new basketball season. Failing that, I might have to freeze myself like Eric Cartman waiting for a Nintendo Wii. What could possibly go wrong?