Late on Thursday, CBS/Fan Rag’s Jon Rothstein revealed the 2018 ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchups, including the Syracuse Orange’s road trip to face the Ohio State Buckeyes. The ACC has since confirmed the opponent pairings and added dates (we’re on November 28).
But Syracuse-OSU is one of just 14 games to take place during the non-conference event. And while ours may not be the best contest in that group, it’s still probably one of the more intriguing ones on the list.
So which do we want to watch the most (and the least)? We ranked all 14 matchups, which somehow include Pitt, in terms of overall quality and intrigue.
A year after UNC ran by the Wolverines in a 15-point win, the two teams try it again in Ann Arbor this time. Most importantly for the Heels, Luke Maye returns. And on the Michigan side, Charles Matthews returns for this season’s national runner-ups. They’re both top 15-20ish squads this season, one of only two ACC/B1G matchups between two ranked teams right now.
Two teams that made it to at least the Sweet 16 last year, but only one is probably happy about where things wrapped up. FSU parlayed a nine-seed into a four-point loss to Michigan in the Elite Eight, while Purdue had a two-seed but lost to Texas Tech in the Sweet 16. This year, Carsen Edwards leads the Boilermakers again as they’ll try to knock off the Terance Mann-led ‘Noles.
Nick Ward and MSU are title contenders yet again, so it’s probably best they avoid Syracuse in this event. Instead, they’re facing a revamped Louisville squad led by new coach Chris Mack, formerly of Xavier. This one’s fun from a narrative perspective, if only because it’ll be one of our first glimpses of what the Cards can be with an experienced coach post-Pitino.
4. Syracuse Orange at Ohio State Buckeyes
Keita Bates-Diop leaving the Bucks takes some of the luster off of this matchup, but Ohio State is still a strong program after last year’s second round NCAA Tournament exit. Syracuse is obviously better with Tyus Battle back, and this serves as one of several early tests to see just how high he pushes the Orange’s ceiling.
Indiana brings back Juwaan Morgan, while Duke trots in another round of mercenaries in its starting five. But the Blue Devils are set to be so good that this one could just end up a blowout, no matter how much the Hoosiers are improved. Then-No. 1 Duke took last year’s matchup in Bloomington by 10 points.
Seeing this game so high may surprise, but both traditionally football-focused schools do have quality hoops squads this year. Tech was a strong club last year and return Justin Robinson plus two more top scorers from 2017-18. Penn State ended up winning the NIT and as a result, lost Tony Carr to the NBA Draft. But Lamar Stevens, Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins are all back, making PSU a potential tournament team for the first time since 2011.
This game jumps a spot from a quality perspective, if only because of the history between the programs from back in the Terps’ ACC days. But UVA will be a top-10 team once again, while Maryland will be trying to figure out how to replace Kevin Huerter. Even on the road, expect the Hoos to win this one pretty easily.
Nebraska received a gift with James Palmer and Isaac Copeland returning to school. Coincidentally, the Tigers also received some good news, with Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell coming back as well. Clemson’s ceiling is much higher after a Sweet 16 run and a near upset of Kansas too, while Nebrasketball is an at-large contender with more modest goals in mind.
9. N.C. State Wolfpack at Wisconsin Badgers
Losing Omer Yurtseven does the Pack no favors, though Torin Dorn’s return does, and should help NC State with an anchor to last year’s surprising success. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is coming off its first losing season since 1995. The Badgers will rebound, but it’s tough to tell how quickly. At least they still have Ethan Happ.
Jordan Murphy is Minnesota’s best hope to get back into contention near the top of the Big Ten, and his continued presence is worth tuning into the Gophers. BC showed a lot of progress in 2017-18, though it came with the cost of Jerome Robinson staying in the NBA Draft pool. Ky Bowman returns, however, and that could put them in the at-large conversation.
Without leading scorer Leron Black, Illinois is less impressive, but also have quite a bit of highly-touted inbound talent as they pick up the pace on the recruiting trail. Notre Dame is probably hitting a bigger reset without Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. However, Mike Brey also seems to figure his roster out, no matter who stays ro goes.
In a rematch of the closest game from last year’s challenge (a 52-51 Tech win), a lot has changes for these teams. Northwestern loses senior leaders Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh, and could very well be in for a major rebuild just like the Wreck. Georgia Tech loses seniors Ben Lammers and Tadric Jackson, plus Josh Okogie will stay in this year’s NBA Draft pool.
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Miami Hurricanes
If this game had been in New Jersey, Miami could’ve used it to recruit future students. Instead, struggling Rutgers takes on a Hurricanes squad looking to sort out what it is without Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker. By returning Dewan Huell and adding transfers, they may simply be reloading. But that won’t make for a competitive basketball game.
Pitt only gets in by way of the rule where an ACC team can’t miss in consecutive years (sorry, Wake). And even with a coaching change to the well-regard Jeff Capel, it’s still going to take time to turn the Panthers into something. No matter what Iowa is after a tough 2017-18, they’re not that -- especially with Tyler Cook returning.