We had a nice start to the Big Ten – ACC Challenge, going 2-0 ATS last night. Syracuse did exactly as described in the opener; smothering Indiana with their zone and exploiting the Hoosiers outside shooting deficiencies. Indiana is still a good basketball team and will be a tough tourney out by the end of the season. But at this point in the year, the Syracuse Orange was about the worst possible matchup for them.
In the second pick, Notre Dame looked as good as they have all season offensively with their new smaller lineup. Unfortunately, they couldn’t guard anyone with the squad on the floor, so their 90 points they scored weren’t enough to win. They fell 97-90, but still easily covered the spread, giving us a perfect night of college hoops.
Tonight, we will boot it back up with a pair of Challenge picks, but first a quick note of caution to everyone proclaiming the ACC the runaway winner (they are up 4-2). All six home teams won last night, and all but one of the ACC’s top teams have already played (in mostly favorable matchups. The Georgia Tech win over Illinois being the lone exception). Tonight things even out a bit matchup-wise so stay tuned for a close finish.
North Carolina Tarheels at Michigan State Spartans -9.5
So which UNC team shows up tonight? The one that just lost to UAB by three this weekend? The one that beat the snot out of Louisville the week before at the YUM Center in Louisville? Or the one that missed 29 free throws at home to lose to Belmont?
That’s the problem with this year’s UNC team. They are a little like the Miami Heat in the NBA, talent to beat anyone but a displayed propensity to play their worst against lesser opponents. I’m pretty sure a trip to the Breslin Center to meet the #1 ranked Michigan State Spartans suffices as a legitimate opponent. It SHOULD wake up the Tarheels tonight.
Not that being “awake” will enough to beat the nation’s top-ranked team on their home floor. However, Michigan State has gotten a TON of mileage off their season-opening win over a young Kentucky team also playing their first game together (and on a neutral floor). Since then, they haven’t played that overwhelmingly well. They’ve let inferior teams like Columbia, Portland and Oklahoma hang around way longer than they should have. It’s understandable that they were a little bored and lethargic, but something worries me about a team playing that many virtual scrimmages in a row facing an angry, tested and talented team.
I don’t think they pull the upset tonight, but I like Carolina to stay in this game and make Sparty work.
Wisconsin Badgers at Virginia Cavaliers -4
Is UVA really a legitimate ACC contender this year? Well, tonight’s a great opportunity to find out. Home court means a ton in sports, especially college basketball, but I am still a little surprised they are a four-point favorite hosting Bucky Badger tonight. Wisconsin (stop if this sounds familiar) isn’t loaded with NBA talent, but they defend well as a team, have tremendous size and stretch the floor with big guys who can shoot. They’ve used that formula to race off to an 8-0 start that includes wins over Florida, West Virginia, St. John’s and St. Louis.
Virginia is off to a good start too at 7-1, though their early loss to VCU is one they’d love to have back. It’s not a bad loss by any means, but it was a game they could have won, and it is never fun for the dominant state school to lose to the “mid major” upstart. However, the rest of their schedule is pretty soft. Their best wins are over Davidson (who has seven losses) and a three-point win over SMU.
I’ve found it wise over to the years to avoid underestimating Bo Ryan and the Badgers, Tonight feels like another one of those spots. I get Wisconsin AND points?? Sign me up.