The Big Ten-ACC Challenge officially started Monday night.
But it really starts Tuesday night.
Because, with all due respect, nobody (outside of Wake Forest and Rutgers fans) cares much about Wake Forest beating Rutgers on Monday, same way nobody (outside of Minnesota and Clemson fans) cares much about Minnesota dropping Clemson later Monday. Those schools are officially a part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, sure. But the high-profile games of this made-for-television event are never on Monday night and always on Tuesday or Wednesday night, and this year is no exception.
So what are the five best Big Ten-ACC Challenge matchups over the next two days?
Here’s a list (with the games ranked in order of intrigue) …
1) No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina
Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
This was always supposed to be, and it still is, the top matchup of this year’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge. It’s the team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason against the team that’s ranked No. 2 right now (and currently getting four first-place votes in the Associated Press poll). Beyond that, this will be the season-debut for North Carolina senior guard Marcus Paige, who missed the Tar Heels’ first six games with a broken bone in his hand. So it’s big on multiple levels. And it’s a huge road test for Maryland, which is 6-0 with four double-digit victories. Prediction: North Carolina 75, Maryland 71
2) No. 24 Louisville at No. 3 Michigan State
Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino said over the weekend that he believed Louisville was, at the time, unranked in the AP poll because voters were focused more on the program’s stripper scandal than the quality of its roster. More likely, though, Louisville was unranked, at the time, because the Cardinals were also unranked in the preseason and playing a schedule that presented zero early opportunities for quality wins. But whatever. We can agree to disagree. It doesn’t matter anymore, really, because Louisville now has a ranking in the AP poll and a big opportunity to enhance that ranking Wednesday night. Should be fun. Prediction: Michigan State 71, Louisville 67
3) Indiana at No. 7 Duke
Wednesday, 9:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Indiana has, through seven games, been among the nation’s most disappointing teams. The Hoosiers have lost to unranked Wake Forest and unranked UNLV even though they were ranked 15th in the preseason, and they’ve been terrible defensively. And that last part — that they’ve been terrible defensively — is worth noting because, late Wednesday, they’re playing a Duke team that’s ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency. Also: It’s a road game for Indiana, more specifically a road game inside Cameron. So a 5-3 start to this season seems much more likely than a 6-2 start to this season. Prediction: Duke 84, Indiana 76
4) Wisconsin at No. 14 Syracuse
Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
You probably know, if you follow college basketball at all, that Bo Ryan has never finished outside of the top four of the Big Ten standings since becoming Wisconsin’s coach in 2001, and that he’s never missed the NCAA Tournament at Wisconsin either. That’s amazing, frankly. But both streaks appear in jeopardy this season given that the Badgers are operating without five of their top seven scorers from last season — including three NBA players — and have dropped three of their first seven games, among them a home game to Western Illinois. Bottom line, there’s little reason to think Wisconsin is likely to win at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday. But I still think the Badgers will keep it close, somehow. Prediction: Syracuse 66, Wisconsin 64
5) No. 11 Purdue at Pittsburgh
Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
Both Purdue and Pittsburgh have performed better than most expected so far this season — although, it should be noted, neither has played a ranked team. Purdue’s best win is probably Florida, and Pitt’s best win is probably … I don’t know … Kent State? My point is that neither has been seriously tested. But that should change Tuesday night, when one of these programs will take its first loss of the season. Prediction: Purdue 70, Pittsburgh 69