By Dave Wischnowsky -
Eight years ago this week, 12th-ranked North Carolina – all hyped-up and with a full head of steam – rolled into Champaign for a highly anticipated ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown vs. No. 25 Illinois at Assembly Hall.
A couple of hours later, the Heels then rolled out, dragging theirs, after a 92-65 whipping at the hands of the Illini.
Since that evening on Dec. 3, 2002 – way back when Dee Brown and Deron Williams were merely fresh-faced frosh – Michael Jordan’s Alma Mater hasn’t returned to shoot hoops in Central Illinois.
And just like eight years ago, look for the No. 20 Illini (6-1) to again K.O. the Tar Heels (4-2) at Assembly Hall during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
(Unlike eight years ago, don’t expect them to do it again by 27 points.)
However, while Illinois may win the battle, look for the ACC to win the war and recapture the Challenge title after losing it last year for the first time ever.
Already on Monday, the ACC already landed a blow that could tip the scales in the Challenge with Virginia stunning 15th-ranked Minnesota 87-79 in Minneapolis.
Look for the Big Ten to bounce back tonight, though, as I expect unbeaten Northwestern to stay that way with a home victory over a 4-2 Georgia Tech that not only inexplicably played a game at Kennesaw State this season, but also lost there, 80-63.
Clemson will knock off Michigan, but that will be the evening’s lone ACC win as second-ranked Ohio State tops Florida State and the Iowa Hawkeyes manage a victory on the road against a Wake Forest team that’s even worse than they are (the Demon Deacons already have lost to Stetson, Virginia Commonwealth and Winthrop – all at home).
The Big Ten will enter Wednesday with a 4-2 lead in the Challenge, but then it crumble as No. 1 Duke outruns No. 6 Michigan State to victory, while N.C. State tops Wisconsin, Boston College beats Indiana and Maryland wins at Penn State. Only Purdue – bouncing back after its surprising loss to Richmond – will emerge victorious with a close win at Virginia Tech.
Final tally: ACC 6, Big Ten 5, and Minnesota bearing the brunt of the blame.
Virginia 87, Minnesota 79
North Carolina (4-2) @ Illinois (6-1) Winner: ILLINOIS
Ohio State (5-0) @ Florida State (5-1) Winner: OHIO STATE
Michigan (3-2) @ Clemson (5-1) Winner: CLEMSON
Georgia Tech (4-2) @ Northwestern (4-0) Winner: NORTHWESTERN
Iowa (3-3) @ Wake Forest (3-3) Winner: IOWA
Michigan State (5-1) @ Duke (6-0) Winner: DUKE
Purdue (5-1) @ Virginia Tech (4-2) Winner: PURDUE
North Carolina State (4-1) @ Wisconsin (4-2) Winner: N.C. STATE
Indiana (6-0) @ Boston College (4-2) Winner: BOSTON COLLEGE
Maryland (5-2) @ Penn State (5-1) Winner: MARYLAND