We'll get to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in a minute, but the game of the night had nothing to do with the ACC or the Big Ten.
Georgetown knocked off Missouri 111-102 in overtime at Kansas City’s Sprint Center. What it showed is that the conference that was perceived to be a bit down this season might have emerged as the toughest once again.
The Hoyas, who had already won at CAA favorite Old Dominion and beat NC State to win the Charleston Classic, withstood the surge of Missouri’s frenetic pace that had erased an 18-point deficit. Georgetown’s Chris Wright tied the game in the final second of regulation. And then Jason Clark hit three 3-pointers in overtime. Oh, and Big East player of the year, Austin Freeman, scored 31 for the undefeated Hoyas.
The Big East has already won six major tournaments: in Maui (UConn), New York (Pitt), Atlantic City (Syracuse), Charleston (Georgetown), Anchorage (St. John’s) and Orlando (Notre Dame). Undefeated Cincinnati also won a neutral court-event over Dayton. UConn nearly had a Maui hangover Tuesday, trailing New Hampshire at the half before Kemba Walker hit his season average of 30 points in a seven-point win.
But there is a reason the Big Ten was rated higher than the Big East in the preseason -- the conference had greater depth in terms of likely NCAA-tournament teams.
Some of that was proven true Tuesday, even after Virginia stunned Minnesota on Monday and handed the Gophers their first loss of the season.
Northwestern, which is vying to land its first-ever NCAA berth this season, stayed unbeaten by crushing Georgia Tech by 20 points. On a night when one Princeton-offense protégé in Georgetown coach John Thompson III saw his team score 111 points, another former Tigers’ assistant to Pete Carril, NU’s Bill Carmody, coached his Wildcats to 91 points.
Ohio State, which came up with a rare Sunshine State sweep after already winning at Florida earlier in the month, won at Florida State. Illinois ran past North Carolina in Champaign and has bounced back nicely from a disappointing loss to Texas with two victories over the ACC (Maryland and UNC). Michigan, which gave Syracuse a scare in the Legends Classic, won by eight at Clemson.
The only Big Ten loss Tuesday night was by its worst team, Iowa, which fell to the ACC’s worst (Wake Forest) on freshman J.T. Terrell’s 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining. The Hawkeyes blew an 18-point lead.
So far the ACC’s only two Challenge wins have come from two of its worst teams, Virginia and Wake. For what it’s worth, the one team that wasn’t in the Challenge from the ACC -- Miami -- knocked off Ole Miss by 13 to at least give the league three wins on the night.
Wednesday could be a better day for the ACC with top-ranked Duke hosting Michigan State; Virginia Tech hosting a damaged Purdue, which just lost to Richmond; Maryland going to one of the Big Ten’s worst in Penn State and a tossup with Indiana-Boston College. Expecting NC State to beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center may be asking too much since the Badgers are almost unbeatable in Madison.
Even if Duke, Virginia Tech, Maryland and BC were to win Wednesday and give the ACC six wins to the Big Ten’s five, it still won’t prove the league is deeper in terms of NCAA bids. The Big Ten will win that tag come March.
But what the Big East proved again Tuesday night is that it might trump them all with the most bids in the end.