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ACC – Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part 1 of 3

Editor’s Note: With this week’s ACC – Big Ten Challenge featuring a number of top-ranked teams, we’ve asked our resident experts to prognosticate the nine games that will take place over the next two days. Mark McGrath, our Big Ten staff writer, and Bill Thayer, our resident ACC expert will analyze Tuesday’s games. They’ll be predicting Wednesday’ games in this space tomorrow, and we’ll breakdown the final results in Part 3 of this feature later in the week. Enjoy!

ILLINOIS AT MARYLAND

Bill Thayer: This is a great way to kick off the Challenge. I think
these are the most exciting teams in each conference. Maryland is seeking
to avenge last year’s loss to the Fighting Illini in the Maui Invitational,
while protecting a home non-conference winning streak that dates back to
1989. The tempo will be fast and furious, as each team loves to spread the
court and run as much as possible.

Mark McGrath: Forget Duke, this is the tournament’s marquee match-up. The thing to look for is the huge battle between two of the nation’s top backcourts. The Illini’s Frank Williams and Corey Bradford will attempt to neutralize the Terp’s tandem of Steven Blake and Juan Dixon.

BT: I think Frank Williams, who is truly the focus of the Illinois offense, will have his hands full with Steve Blake. While Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon get most of the publicity for the Terrapins, Blake may be the
most important player on that team. Remember how well Blake did defensively
against Jason Williams last season. He has quick hands and is good at
stopping penatration. However, Blake can’t gamble too often while pressing,
as he tends to get burned while attempting to do so.

MM: However, Maryland’s big frontline could be the difference in this physical game, but I don’t think it’s going to happen Tuesday.

BT: For Illinois, Brian Cook and Robert Archibold will need to stay out of foul trouble or else
Baxter could have a big day. This will be one of those games where the
winner will be whoever has the ball last.

MM: The call? Look for Williams to explode and for Illinois to squeak by in a relatively conservative game. Illinois 70 Maryland 67

BT: Not so much. Look for Dixon and a sold-out Cole Field House to be the difference as the Terrapins knock off the Illini. Maryland 93, Illinois 89

NORTH CAROLINA STATE AT OHIO STATE

BT: This is the type of game the Wolfpack
has lost in recent years. In the Herb Sendek era, the Wolfpack have had
many games where they have less talent than their opponent and somehow put
up a fight before losing. They have also had many games where they have had as
much, if not more talent than their opponent, and still find a way to lose.
There may be no team with as much depth on the wings in the ACC than NC
State.

MM: While the wings may be deep in Raleigh, both teams suffered numerous losses to their frontcourts in the offseason. As a result, both the Buckeyes and Wolfpack will depend largely on their guards to provide scoring. I really like freshman Julius Hodge, a McDonald’s All American last year. He may provide that extra spark necessary to cover an inexperienced frontcourt.

BT: Right, along with Hodge, the Pack have tried Archie
Miller, Clifford Crawford, Scooter Sherrill and Anthony Grundy at the point, and none of them have answered the
question of who can play inside.

MM: How about the Buckeyes’ depth? Brian Brown is one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten, finally
breaking out of the shadow of Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn last year to help
the Buckeyes reach the NCAA Tournament.

BT: Sure, Brown can play either guard
position, which helps when you also have players like Brent Darby, Boban
Savovic, Sean Connolly and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham on your squad. I think the Wolfpack need this game more to jump start their season, a season that will make or break Sendek’s era in Raleigh, but Jim O’Brien’s Buckeye squad will be
too much and win. Ohio State 88, NC State 84

MM: Although the Buckeyes will pressure the perimeter with tough defense, the Pack has the benefit of depth at the guard position to overcome their Ohio hosts. North Carolina State 65, Ohio State 55

DUKE VS IOWA (in Chicago)

MM: In the “other” marquee match up, Iowa returns to the site of last year’s Big Ten championship, the United Center, where they surprised everyone by sweeping through the tournament.

BT: Hold on, here. Neutral court? It’s ridiculous that Duke won’t play on the road
in this tournament. Somehow they avoid a tough home game (see Illinois
last season) to get a neutral court war. First off, the Blue Devils are not
the world beaters some people may have you believing. They are a very
talented squad, but they will miss Shane Battier’s interior defense and size
too much.

MM: You don’t think Jason Williams dominance on the perimeter will make up for Battier’s departure?

BT: Look, here is no other player I would want on my
team in the clutch than Jason Williams, and I’m guessing Iowa’s point guard-by-committee of
Chauncey Leslie, Pierre Pierce and Brody Boyd will be overmatched against
Williams. Iowa will have to do everything in their power from turning this
into a track meet.

MM: For my money, Carlos Boozer is one of the better performers in the paint, and only gets better with every game. As long as he can avoid foul trouble, he’ll provide the interior presence necessary for grabbing boards against Iowa’s Dan Evans.

BT: If Williams and Chris Duhon can turn up the tempo, they
will run the Hawkeyes off the court. While I like Boozer and the development of his game, with only he and Casey Sanders
inside, Reggie Evans could turn easily in a 20-20 game.
Duke needs to hit their open shots, as they will have a difficult time
getting second and third attempts due to Evans’ presence on the glass.

MM: Duke’s lack of depth on the bench could spell trouble for the nation’s number one team. Look for Luke Recker to outperform Jason Williams, but it will be Iowa’s bench that will be the key in the Blue Devils’ first loss of the year.
Iowa 68, Duke 66

BT: Luke Recker against Mike Dunleavy will provide the game’s most interesting match up. Both are
smooth on the perimeter and can knock down the open shot. I like Duke’s big
game experience. Blue Devils win another tight battle. Duke 85, Iowa 76

MINNESOTA AT WAKE FOREST

BT: This is the sleeper game of the two days. Wake
Forest showed the nation that they are still very good in their run in the
Preseason NIT.

MM: Sleeper? This is the “no fluke” game, as Wake Forest will attempt to prove that their run in the preseason NIT was not a fluke against an improving Gopher team. And I believe the Deacons may be for real.

BT: As do I. Josh Howard is an exciting small forward who is flourishing
in Skip Prosser’s wide open offense. Darius Songaila finds a way to score,
mostly with second and third attempts. And very few players in the ACC are as
good on the offensive glass as Songaila.

MM: Songaila will have an interesting matchup against Minnesota’s talented freshman Rick Rickert. After the trials (both figurative and literal) of the Gopher hoops program, their 15-3 start last year, plus the recruiting of Rickert for their frontcourt, Minnesota looks to regain some of the national respect they lost in the Clem Haskins aftermath.

BT: I haven’t had a chance to see Rickert play yet, but from everything I’ve heard, he’s a versatile big man who can
step outside if needed. If that’s true, he’ll need to take Songaila away
from the basket, which would allow Jerry Holman and Dusty Rychart control
the glass.

MM: I like the Demon Deacons however, and I think they’ll build on the surprising promise they showed in the NIT, and will beat the Gophers unless the foul-prone Songaila and Howard get into trouble early. Wake Forest 55, Minnesota 48

BT: This will be a game where the team that controls the tempo will
control the game. I like the Gophers size as they win in the mild upset. Minnesota 77, Wake Forest 73

Mark and Bill will preview Wednesday’s games tomorrow in Part 2 of the ACC – Big Ten Challenge Preview.

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