The pairings for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, while leaked and/or speculated upon for days now, have finally been released, and Virginia has drawn a road game against Minnesota ... wait a second. Haven't we seen this one before? Oh that's right. This is the second time in three years Virginia will be traveling to Minnesota for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This time, though, what can we expect?
Normally, I would take this opportunity to throw in a snide remark about how the ACC/Big Ten Challenge should be renamed the "ACC/Big Ten Arrangement," or maybe the "ACC Invitational," or perhaps still the "ACC: Does The Big Ten Still Play Basketball?" But my clever (and note to all parties involved, now-trademarked) attempts at rebranding the event have been thwarted due to what can only be described as an apocalyptic phenomenon: the Big Ten actually won the Challenge / Arrangement / Invitational / Still Playing? last year, 6-5. Virginia did not help the cause.
In our last meeting, Virginia dropped the game in a 66-56 decision. Will next year's results be any different?
Virginia's last win in the Challenge / Arrangement / Invitational / Still Playing? came back in 2007, in a lopsided 94-52 home victory over Northwestern. This year, a Virginia squad that was not invited to any of the 18 post-season tournaments will be facing a Minnesota team that dropped a respectable contest to 6th-seeded Xavier in the first round.
By now you know the losses Virginia has suffered during this off-season. The Next Great Thing Sylven Landesberg failed to attend art class and as a result, was suspended for the remainder of the season. He later announced that he would be leaving Virginia to head to the pros. Tristan Spurlock and Jeff Jones, hoping to increase their playing times and show off their talent, have both opted to transfer. Jones has announced he will be at Rider next year, while Spurlock remains undecided. Virginia also lost Jerome Meyinsse, Calvin Baker (he was a captain), and Solomon Tat (yes, not only was he on the time last year, he was actually a captain also) to this little thing called graduation.
Meanwhile, Minnesota graduates Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson, who each averaged over 25 minutes a game and combined for over 22 points a game. They also lose Paul Carter, who is transferring to be closer to his sister, who is battling with cancer. Carter is one of their most consistent bench players, averaging 6.3 points and 15 minutes per game. He averaged 8 rebounds a game during the last 3 games of the season.
Honestly, I'm a little surprised that they've paired Virginia, who, based on post-season appearance, was not in the top 129 teams in the country, with Minnesota, who I suppose is in the top 44. It seems to me that a matchup with Northwestern or Michigan might be more appropriate – they both finished 7-11 in the Big Ten. Northwestern we've played three times now (we've won all three times), but Michigan is fresh blood. Given that both teams are trying to rebuild a respectable program, I would think that this is a decent pairing.
It's entirely too early to be making a prediction on how this game matches up for Virginia, especially since we've got a top 25 recruiting class coming in and have no idea how they are going to fit into Coach Bennett's system (presumably well, since some of them are his own recruits). The Challenge / Arrangement / Invitational / Still Playing? begins on November 29, with Virginia kicking off the action as the only game that night.