Importance, interest of every ACC/Big Ten Challenge game

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge has survived conference realignment and team-swapping (Maryland jumps the border this year) for 16 iterations for one reason: The leagues are good enough that interconference bragging rights actually have some meaning.

But not every game is created equal. Some are simply sexier than others; some are more critical ... and those two aren't always one and the same, as rated and explained below:


Nebraska at Florida State, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Interest: 3
Hey, maybe Tim Miles will tweet something funny during a media timeout.

Importance: 5
The Cornhuskers' bandwagon lost some members with the loss to Rhode Island; another L here could leave only stragglers.

Rutgers at Clemson, 7 p.m., ESPNU

Interest: -2
Theoretically, someone somewhere is interested in this game. That person, however, remains elusive to find.

Importance: 0
Fairly certain not even the CBI bracketologists are concerned about this one.


Pittsburgh at Indiana, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Interest: 3
That's outside the Bloomington ZIP code, where Hoosier fans, still stung by that Eastern Washington loss, are very much interested in this team's future.

Importance: 5
Still not sure where either of these teams will factor in the grand scheme of things.

Syracuse at Michigan, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Interest: 7
Big programs and big coaches will always merit some attention, but the truth is, though both are good, neither is as good as it has been recently.

Importance: 6
This won't make or break either team, but neither the Orange nor the Wolverines have a whole lot of meat left on the nonconference schedule (Villanova for Syracuse, Arizona for Michigan).

Minnesota at Wake Forest, 7 p.m., ESPNU

Interest: 2
Would have rated higher if the Gophers had beaten St. John's in New York.

Importance: 5
Minnesota has the makeup of a decent team, which is why it can't afford to lose to the Demon Deacons.

Illinois at Miami, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Interest: 4
An NIT team facing a no-tourney team understandably doesn't add up to a head-turner.

Importance: 7
The high-scoring Illini are 6-0 but have just one decent win (against Baylor). Miami is 7-0, but the signature win against Florida looks less glamorous by the week. Good barometer game.

NC State at Purdue, 9 p.m., ESPNU

Interest: 3
Both teams are in resuscitation mode, so not necessarily a big draw.

Importance: 6
Truth is, the Boilermakers are considerably better, and the Wolfpack are, too. Curious to see which team is better.

Ohio State at Louisville, 9:30 p.m., ESPN

Interest: 6
The Buckeyes are still a little bit of an unknown and maybe even a touch vanilla, hence the hedge on the interest meter.

Importance: 8
Aside from a game against Kentucky, the Cardinals' nonconference schedule is close to irrelevant. The Buckeyes' slate, with just North Carolina ahead, isn't much better. Résumé-builder here.


Michigan State at Notre Dame, 7:15 p.m., ESPN2

Interest: 7
A good, marquee-name matchup.

Importance: 6
Judging the Spartans in November or December is silly, but still, coming off the loss to Kansas, it will be interesting to see how Michigan State responds.

Virginia Tech at Penn State, 7:15 p.m., ESPNU

Interest: 0
Alas, this wouldn't even qualify as a must-see football game.

Importance: 4
Essentially, this is a can't-lose game for a Penn State team attempting to build any sort of résumé.

Iowa at North Carolina, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Interest: 5
The Tar Heels always generate a buzz.

Importance: 5
The Hawkeyes can ding UNC, but that's about it.

Virginia at Maryland, 9:15 p.m., ESPN2

Interest: 6
The one-time regional/conference rivalry is now relegated to a game left to the mercy of the scheduling gods.

Importance: 8
The Terps already have served notice of their return, with the win against Iowa State. This, especially sans Dez Wells, would sound the gong even more loudly.

Georgia Tech at Northwestern, 9:15 p.m., ESPNU

Interest: 2
Neither team has been a factor in a long time.

Importance: 3
Are these teams legitimately better, or are their inflated records simply by-products of savvy scheduling?

Duke at Wisconsin, 9:30 p.m., ESPN

Interest: 10
Terrific matchup between two of the best teams in the country, plus the top freshman big man versus the versatile senior big man means there's a lot to see here.

Importance: 4
Aside from a systematic butt-whooping from either team, this won't change much for the Blue Devils or the Badgers. There's not much room in the standings for the winner to move up, and the loser shouldn't drop far.


1. Watching Butler put the finishing touches on its upset of North Carolina, a nagging question kept popping up:

What if Brandon Miller waltzed into Hinkle Fieldhouse on Monday morning and said he not only was ready to end his medical leave, but he was also ready to get back to work immediately as the Bulldogs' head coach?

"Then I would say, 'OK, you're the head coach,''' athletic director Barry Collier said when given that very scenario. "When and if he's healthy and ready to take over, the job is still his.''

That's not a very likely scenario, of course, but the fact that it's even a possibility underscores just how strange this all has been. Butler announced Miller would take an undetermined medical leave on Oct. 3 and promoted Chris Holtmann, the one-year assistant, to the interim spot.

Miller hasn't been heard from since, nor has anyone intimated what his plans might or might not be.

Collier and Holtmann have both handled the awkward tango with grace and dignity, while staunchly protecting Miller's privacy and insisting the job is his so long as he wants it. Collier said he has given Miller neither a cutoff date nor an ultimatum but does expect some sort of resolution "by the first of the year.''

But just what the endgame will be remains to be seen.

"He'll either be back, or he won't be,'' Collier said. "I have no idea.''

Regardless, there needs to be some closure here. The program needs some stability, and the recruits are going to need some answers, but more than anyone, it's the current players -- working on their third coach (and league) in as many years -- who really deserve some permanency.

They have been more than resilient, somehow focusing through the chaos to streak to a 5-1 start. Along with Carolina, the Bulldogs beat Georgetown in Atlantis and dropped a more than forgivable loss between the two to Oklahoma. Coming off a disappointing 14-17 finish, that's a pretty good rebound under really tricky circumstances.

"Everyone talks about how they want their kids to deal with what is in front of them,'' Collier said. "These guys have done in a very tough situation.''

2. Butler's sizzling season start, by the way, headlines what's been a pretty impressive -- and surprising early -- run for the Big East overall. The league opened with just one ranked team (Villanova), but through Sunday's games, it is 46-10 against nonconference foes.

That includes Butler's upset of UNC, Villanova's decisive mauling of VCU and tight win against Michigan, Providence's dismissal of Notre Dame, and Creighton's big win against Oklahoma.

All of a sudden, people are talking about what the Big East is instead of what it was, and that's a crucial distinction for the league in its second year.

"It's not gonna be the old Big East,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said after his team's win at the Legends Classic. "But it's going to be what it is, and that's a very good basketball conference.''

Free Throws

• Don't look now, but the other sure thing in the SEC doesn't look so certain. Florida will lug an albatross of a 3-3 record -- the Gators' slowest start since the 1996-97 season -- to Kansas on Friday. That season ended as dismally as it started, at 13-17.

• Last week, Montana State coach Brian Fish called Kentucky one of the best basketball teams he's seen. As an assistant at Oregon, Kansas State and Creighton, he's had a decent view, but there are more-informed sources. For example, people who actually played for some of the greatest teams. Christian Laettner and Bill Walton have heard the hyperbole but suggested everyone take a deep breath. "If they have a great season, write it at the end of the season. Right now, it's just added pressure,'' Laettner said. Echoed Walton via email: "I prefer to be right rather than first. Let's watch them play a bit, learn them and see where this goes.''

• Seventy-two: The number of FBS schools that scored more points than Rutgers basketball (26) managed against Virginia.

• Incarnate Word is 4-0 after beating the best collection of who-in-the-world-are-they teams perhaps ever assembled. By ESPN.com abbreviations: TXTY(Texas-Tyler), HUS (Huston-Tillitson), AMI (Texas A&M International) ... oh, and PRIN, a little school called Princeton.

• Player of the week honors to Belmont's Craig Bradshaw. In three games last week, the junior scored 99 points and swished 17-of-29 from the arc. Of the 99, 42 came in a win against Ohio, including the game-winning floater with a second to play.

And One