For my predictions and analysis of the six Big Ten/ACC games on Tuesday, click here. Let's preview Day 2 of the Challenge:
Indiana at North Carolina State, 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Prediction: Indiana wins, 82-80
Why: It would appear, based solely on statistical output through six games, that Indiana is easily better than NC State. Sure, Indiana has dominated a slate of cupcake opponents, with its only notable win coming over what appears to be a thoroughly mediocre Butler team Sunday, but they've looked good doing it. The Hoosiers are ranked No. 20 in adjusted efficiency after their first six games. The addition of touted freshman center Cody Zeller has made this team more balanced, more likely to retrieve its own misses and less susceptible to constant (dumb) fouls. The emergence of guards Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey has given the Hoosiers viable slashing and perimeter scoring options. And yet, doubt remains. Before a win at Evansville this season, Indiana had yet to win a true road game in the Tom Crean era. And NC State is not Evansville. Sure, this team is improved. But is it improved enough to beat a (finally) well-coached and talented NC State team? The Wolfpack hung with Vanderbilt for 40 minutes and rallied in the final minutes to beat Texas 77-74 at the Legends Classic. Can they do it on the road? I'll guess yes, but I have no clue. The jury is still out.
Penn State at Boston College, 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Prediction: Boston College wins, 62-59
Why: How bad are Steve Donahue's Eagles right now? The losses -- to Holy Cross, UMass, St. Louis and New Mexico -- are one thing. The margins -- 86-64, 82-46, 62-51, 75-57 -- are another. (Strangely enough, the only respectable margin of defeat came against St. Louis, the only top 25 team on the docket. Weird.) The Eagles appear to have joined Wake Forest and the usual batch of candidates in the "worst power-six team in the country" race. Penn State, for its part, is in a similar rebuilding phase, but at least the Nittany Lions have a go-to player (Tim Frazier, averaging 19.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 2.4 steals per game) and have shown the ability to hang with teams of the caliber of, say, Holy Cross. Then again, Penn State did look thoroughly ugly in a 65-47 loss at Saint Joseph's Saturday, so who knows? One thing's for sure: This is the worst matchup of the Challenge. I hate to pile on, but yeah. It's bad.
Florida State at Michigan State, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Prediction: Michigan State wins, 59-55
Why: This one is all about capital-D Defense. Florida State is probably the nation's best defensive team and they have been for the past two seasons. They're off to a rousing start on that end of the floor in 2011-12. Michigan State, meanwhile, didn't flash much offensive touch in its season-opening losses to Duke and North Carolina, but the Spartans did show an ability to get stops on a per-possession basis. They're ranked No. 6 in defensive efficiency thus far while Florida State is ranked No. 4. Thus, predicting a low-scoring affair is not exactly rocket science. Frankly, it's tough to find the difference here. Perhaps home court can provide it. Perhaps having the best player on the floor, as Michigan State does in forward Draymond Green, can help, too. Green's versatility and ability to handle the ball in spots outside the paint could give the Spartans a little more room to work their offense. But with big FSU forward Bernard James patrolling the paint, that room is always going to be minimal. In any case, it won't be pretty. But it should be fun.
Virginia Tech at Minnesota, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Prediction: Virginia Tech wins, 73-60
Why: That seems like a large margin of victory for a team like Virginia Tech to maintain over a team like Minnesota. The Hokies aren't that good, are they? Well, probably not. But they have been more impressive than expected early in the year, giving Syracuse a serious run in the first half of their 69-58 loss in the NIT Season Tip-Off last week before bouncing back to drop Oklahoma State 59-57 a night later. Even so, this expectation is more about Minnesota. On Sunday night, in an 86-70 loss to Dayton in the Old Spice Classic, Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe tore his ACL. He will be out for the year. It's hard to describe how devastating this injury is. It's devastating to Mbakwe -- it is likely to end his collegiate career -- but it's devastating to Minnesota, too, as Mbakwe was the bruising, dominating centerpiece of a team that after two straight seasons of personnel defections and untimely injuries had almost no margin for error or loss. It's going to be difficult to move on without Mbakwe. Expecting the Gophers to do so by Wednesday seems borderline unfair.
Wake Forest at Nebraska, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Prediction: Nebraska wins, 75-65
Why: After one of the worst years in program history, Wake Forest remains a work in progress. An 84-56 loss to Arizona State -- a 2-4 team that itself has lost to Pepperdine, New Mexico, Fairfield and DePaul -- is evidence enough. In another year, even a bad Wake team might stand a decent chance at Nebraska, but it would appear the Cornhuskers are a little bit more game this season. Nebraska got a pretty impressive little win at USC (in double-overtime, no less) on Nov. 14, and their only negative result thus far is a reasonable home loss to Oregon. Do guard Bo Spencer (16.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game) and company have enough to get to the NCAA tournament this season? I'm not sure. Do they have enough to handle Wake at home? It would seem so.
Wisconsin at North Carolina, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Prediction: North Carolina wins, 68-65
Why: Tough break for Wisconsin. After all, if you're going to play North Carolina in Chapel Hill, it might as well be when the Tar Heels are ranked No. 1 overall. As it is, the Tar Heels lost to UNLV Saturday night, losing their No. 1 ranking in the process. What's worse, any hope the Badgers had of catching UNC on one of those less-engaged, let's-just-coast kind of nights -- which is rare in the first place -- is essentially zero now. Chances are, this is North Carolina's win. The Tar Heels have more talented at nearly every position and they’re taller and faster and more athletic. Wisconsin is many things, but athletic and fast are not included.
What the Badgers are -- and why this game may be a bit closer than most expect -- is everything a Wisconsin team should be. The Badgers are deliberate (another word for “slow”), which is deserved when you average the fewest number of possessions per game in the country. They are excellent defensively, ranked No. 1 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage and No. 1 in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage and, as you might assume, No. 1 in overall defensive efficiency. They are excellent offensively, ranked No. 4 in effective field goal percentage and No. 2 in 3-point field goal percentage. Led by Jordan Taylor and complemented by a batch of just-right shooters and role-player types, the Badgers do almost everything well.
Of course, it's still early, and Wisconsin has yet to try to contain a team with North Carolina's explosive fast-break offense. The Badgers may have some issue keeping the Tar Heels in check. They will have to make shots and prevent long rebounds. They will have to control the pace of the game by running down the shot clock to its final seconds. But these are all things the Badgers do already. If North Carolina's athleticism forces the Badgers into bad shots, they'll have no chance. But if the game is in the 60s in both pace and points, Wisconsin can keep it close.