ACC wants to flex muscles against Big Ten in Challenge

Annual matchup gives early-season best conference bragging rights

NC State guard Lavar Batts Jr. shoots against Tennessee during the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis in Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort. The Wolfpack will try to bounce back at home against Penn State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge after two straight losses. (Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)

The basketball teams at Duke, North Carolina and NC State all learned a lot about themselves during their Thanksgiving tournament travels last week.

Now they’ll get a chance to start putting those lessons to practical use while representing their conference as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.


The annual event, which matches teams from the nation’s top two college leagues in a series of games each November, got underway Monday with the ACC jumping out to a 6-1 lead behind wins from Syracuse, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Florida State. Wake Forest was also among the winners, beating Illinois in Winston-Salem on Tuesday.

Today’s featured schedule includes Duke at Indiana in a rare true road nonconference game for the top-ranked Blue Devils, while UNC and State are at home with the Tar Heels taking on Michigan and the Wolfpack playing Penn State.

The ACC leads the all-time series against the Big Ten 11-5-2, but last year’s 9-6 victory was the conference’s first since its 10-year winning streak ended in 2008.

Here is a breakdown of today’s matchups involving state teams:

Duke at Indiana, 9:30 p.m., ESPN: The Blue Devils won the Motion bracket of the PK80 tournament in Portland, Ore., last weekend, but it was anything but easy.

  Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s freshman-dominated team had to rally from a 16-point deficit to beat Texas in overtime to advance to Sunday’s championship game. It then went one better by roaring back from 17 points down in the final 10 minutes to take out Florida for the title.

  In doing so, freshman star Marvin Bagley III and the Blue Devils showed that they have plenty of heart to go along with all that raw talent. But as Bagley pointed out after the Florida game, he and his teammates are still far from a finished product.

  “We started playing hard,” Bagley said of comebacks. “Now the next step is trying to figure out we can do that in the beginning instead of having to fight back the whole time. We just got keep continuing to learn and get better. I think we’ll figure it out.”

  They’ll have a chance to do that against a Hoosiers team that has suffered lopsided losses to Indiana State and Seton Hall on the way to a 4-2 start under new coach and former NC State point guard Archie Miller.

UNC vs. Michigan, 7:30 p.m., ESPN: The Tar Heels went 3-1 on their West Coast road trip, but that one loss — a 63-45 walloping at the hands of Michigan State — was an eye-opening experience for coach Roy Williams’ defending national champs.

  “We did some really good things on the road trip, we really did, and then (Sunday) we did nothing,” Williams said on his weekly radio show of a game in which UNC set school records for futility by shooting just 24.6 percent from the floor and making only one of its 18 3-point attempts. “We put the uniforms where the front was on the front and the back was on the back and after that we didn’t do anything right. We sent five guys out there to start and then that was it.

  “But there are things that you lear. We’ve got to do a better job defensively and we’ve got to do a better job defending the big guys.”

  UNC (5-1) will get a chance to do just that against a big Michigan team that will try to slow the pace, force the Tar Heels into a halfcourt game and take advantage of its inexperience inside.

NC State vs. Penn State, 7 p.m., ESPNU: The Wolfpack made headlines at the Battle 4 Atlantis by beating then-No. 2 Arizona in the opening round, but that victory was devalued by the Wildcats also losing their next two games in the Bahamas.

  State, meanwhile, also sputtered while losing to Northern Iowa and Tennessee.

  In the process, though, coach Kevin Keatts may have found two unexpected stars in sophomore big man Omer Yurtseven and freshman point guard Braxton Beverly. But he also learned that his team has a lot of work to do on both ends of the floor in its halfcourt sets.

  “It was a great experience for us,” Keatts said Tuesday. “When you think about the Arizona game, what a great game, especially when you talk about a new staff and a new bunch of players, early in the season. I thought our guys were good on both ends of the floor.

  “I thought in the Northern Iowa game we missed a lot of shots we normally would make and then the Tennessee game I thought we left a lot of the free throws on the rim. I thought both of those games were winnable games for us. But we can learn from both of them just as much as we can learn from the win.”

  Depending on which version of the Wolfpack shows up, State (5-2) should be favored against the Nittany Lions (6-1), but Penn State has a history of playing well in the ACC/Big 10 challenge, having won in each of the past three years.