What a fantastic start to the college basketball season we have had. With all of the various preseason tournaments, we have seen some huge non-conference matchups already. Games between Duke and Gonzaga, Tennessee and Kansas, Duke and Kentucky, and Kansas and Michigan State have headlined some great early season action between great teams. But as much fun as tournament basketball can be, nothing beats having to go on the road for a true road game.
That is what makes the ACC- Big 10 Challenge such a great event year in and year out. These are major college basketball programs playing true road games in each other’s buildings. These aren’t neutral site games or three games in three nights tournaments. These are great early season tests between what I see as the two best leagues in the country this season. The challenge kicks off this year with a game between the Clemson Tigers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The Clemson Tigers host the Nebraska Cornhuskers tonight in a matchup of two teams that are hoping to sneak back into the top twenty-five. The Tigers were ranked to start the season but fell out of the top twenty-five this week with a loss to Creighton in the finals of the Cayman Island Classic. The Cornhuskers were ranked early in the year as well and dropped out after losing to Texas Tech in the Hall of Fame Classic finals.
Both of these teams are 5-1 on the season and fall into the also receiving votes category of the AP poll. Whichever team wins this game will likely see themselves jump right back into the rankings, as well as pick up a big signature win that will go a long way on Selection Sunday. The Tigers are small -3-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 136 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 PM PST from Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers have one of the best basketball teams they have ever had. Unfortunately, that doesn’t say too much as Nebraska has never won a single NCAA tournament game. That is pretty crazy to think about when you look at a school that has such a high-profile football program, that they haven’t even won a single game in the tournament. This year could be the season where that streak finally comes to an end.
The Cornhuskers are led by a trio of possible NBA level players. James Palmer Jr is the best prospect of the bunch, and when he pulled his name from the NBA draft pool last year after dipping his toes in the NBA waters, the NCAA tournament expectations went through the roof for Nebraska. The Huskers have had a decent start to the season, and the win over Seton Hall didn’t look all that great at the time, but with the Pirates picking up the Wooden Legacy Tournament title last night by beating Miami, it is looking better by the day.
The lone loss on the season for Nebraska was against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lost basically all of their production from last season, and expectations were low coming into the year, but Tech is 6-0 on the season, so that might not turn out to be nearly as bad of a loss as it looked like at the time.
Clemson has had a similar start to the year as they don’t have any marquee wins yet and their one loss came to a team most didn’t expect too much out of, in Creighton. But that one was fairly explainable as well as it was a three games in three nights scenario that saw Creighton guard Ty-Shon Alexander catch fire as he buried seven threes and scored thirty-six points. Sometimes you just run into a hot shooting team.
The Tigers have a balanced attack with four players averaging double-digit scoring with senior guard Marquise Reed leading the way at nearly twenty points a game. Reed scored twenty-seven in the loss to Creighton but shot 0-5 from three, and that was the difference in the game as Clemson came up short.
This is a great game with a couple of really good backcourts facing off against each other. Palmer was an early season pick for Big 10 player of the year, and Clemson features both Reed and his running mate Shelton Mitchell, to make up one of the best guard tandems in the ACC. When you look at the strengths of both of these leagues, the ACC clearly has the better top tier with Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina. But when you look top to bottom, it might be the Big 10 that gets more teams into the tournament this year.
I just think it is going to be too much to ask for Nebraska to go on the road against a legit top thirty team and knock them off. Clemson has one of the best records of any ACC teams in the challenge’s nineteen-year history, and if last year’s challenge is any indication, the ACC is the side you want to be on. Last year, the ACC dominated the Big 10, with an 11-3 record, the most lopsided in the history and the event. I think that trend continues tonight with Clemson finding a way to beat Nebraska.
This game should be a close one and very competitive, and I expect both of these teams to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. But tonight, I lean on the home team. The number is going to be a tough one to cover, and I don’t see Clemson winning this by double-digits, but I do think they find a way to sneak in the cover tonight. Give me the Clemson Tigers laying -3-points tonight at home in the kickoff game of the ACC- Big 10 Challenge!