The ACC/Big Ten challenge gets going in earnest tonight with the ACC looking to re-wrest control of an event they dominated for most of time since its inception in 1999. They hold a 10-4-2 edge all time in the series, yet haven’t won outright since 2008-2009. On paper, and thanks to some fortunate matchups, you’d have to give the edge to the ACC this year in a fairly significant way. They split two games last night with Wake Forest edging Rutgers and Minnesota downing Clemson, so it is essentially a 12 game tournament from here. Virginia, Miami and Duke will be large favorites. North Carolina is laying six against Maryland tonight at home, and Pitt, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech have fortunate home draws against teams who would otherwise be favored by a handful of points.
It is going to be a nice week of interesting college basketball, but I could see the ACC getting as many as 9 or 10 wins. Hopefully we can be as successful. We took a beating last night with LSU firmly displaying that having the most pro-ready player doesn’t equate to a good team in 2015. They lost at College of Charleston and really C of C controlled the game throughout after jumping to a 37-19 halftime lead. Yes, C of C is a quality mid major program who has had some success, but if LSU is a legit contender to do ANYTHING this season, you can’t lose games to C of C, NC State and Marquette in a row.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Maryland Terrapins at North Carolina Tarheels -6
This is fantastic! Two former ACC rivals and familiar foes are going to meet tonight and more importantly, are going to meet at full strength. Marcus Paige has been cleared to return which sets the stage for one of the best non-conference games of the season. Two of the top teams, two of the top rosters and two of the best point guards in American on the same floor.
North Carolina was the preseason number one team, and now that they have their floor leader back I expect them to once again LOOK like a Final Four contender. However, asking Marcus Paige to jump right back into action and outplay Melo Trimble is a pretty tough ask. There is a lot on the line for these two teams; an inside track on a #1 seed and an inside track for first team All-American status for their dueling point guards.
The game will really come down to how well Maryland can handle the athletic frontcourt of North Carolina. Justin Jackson, Bryce Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are all averaging over 12.5 ppg and are all shooting over 50%. Maryland will need a big, mature game from freshman Diamond Stone who will have his hands full. Jake Leyman will need to avoid foul trouble as he will have more players putting offensive pressure on him than a normal night. However, his ability to pick and pop and stretch the floor will make UNC react defensively as well.
Basically, my point is that each team has similar strengths and is VERY good. Which is why I like a close, tense game. I’ll give Trimble the slight, slight edge at point given the potential rust and excitement of Paige tonight. I’d give the UNC frontcourt a slight edge for athleticism. An X-factor tonight is Rasheed Sulaimon, who knows UNC well from his Duke days, keeping the floor spaced by knocking down some big threes. IF he can do that, and I think he will, Maryland has a chance to win.
When a team has a chance to win AND is getting more than five points, you have to consider them a great play, even on the road in a tough Chapel Hill environment.