Wake Forest at Rutgers
The evolution of Wake senior big man Devin Thomas will be on display. The forward has seen his numbers improve each season as one of the best rebounders in the ACC. Now it’s time for him to take the next step developing into a consistent double/double guy and limiting the mental errors.
Winner: Wake Forest
Clemson at Minnesota
Two teams that took a step backwards last season look to regain some momentum. Minnesota lost a healthy chunk of its production with the departures of Maurice Walker, Eliot Eliason, and Andre Hollins. I’m intrigued to see how Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame assumes the role of leader for this team – I see a little of KJ McDaniels game in him. Possibly a reach, but definitely high praise. He can be that good.
Michigan at NC State
It might not get the limelight, but this might be among the most interesting matchups. NC State came out of nowhere last year and ended up in the Sweet 16, while the Michigan men had a year to forget. Injuries to rising star point guard Derrick Walton and do-it-all stud Caris Lavert left them reeling last season. Both return, and if they’re great, Michigan has a shot to be special. There’s no Trevor Lacey for the Pack, but NBA prospect Cat Barber returns. This game will be won by the backcourt – Michigan’s is better.
Northwestern at Virginia Tech
Neither of these teams fare well in this challenge with the Hokies holding a 3-6 record all time, and Northwestern not much better at 6-10. The beauty of this game, though, is that someone has to come out victorious. Northwestern has built a nice nucleus of talent under the third year coach Chris Collins led by big man Alex Olah who’s a load down low. Olah is one of the most improved and most underrated players in the country – he’ll be the difference.
Virginia at Ohio State
Play this a year ago and it would’ve been the sexiest matchup on the docket with Justin Anderson versus D’Angelo Russell. Both are gone to the NBA, and now this game has lost the majority of its luster. However, UVA returns the bulk of its productivity with Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes leading the way. With too much experience on the Cavaliers side, advantage Wahoos.
Purdue at Pittsburgh
Whoever said size does not matter is a liar. Purdue has one of the most dangerous teams in the country because of the flagrant size on its frontline. AJ Hammons, Isaac Haas, and Michigan State decommit Caleb Swanigan give the Boilermakers one of the best frontlines in the land. These guys will be bullies on the block all year long. Give me yo milk money, Panthers!
Miami at Nebraska
Remember when Tim Miles was one of the hottest names in college basketball? Those days are a distant memory. With the departures of Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford, things just got infinitely tougher for the Cornhuskers. Shavon Shields is has to become a star – does he have what it takes? We will see. For now, Miami’s explosive backcourt will prove to be too much. Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan will take this one over.
Maryland at North Carolina
One of the two headliner games of the challenge – Indiana vs. Duke the other – with all the makings of an epic showdown. The star power in this one is at a whole other level, but it will be decided by the point guards. Van Wilder, better known as Marcus Paige (seems like he has been there forever right?) vs. Melo Trimble will take center stage. I still can’t believe Trimble came back for his sophomore season. I’m glad he did because this one is going to be fun. UNC physicality will be too much for the Terrapins, but it’s going to be a blast no matter what.
Winner: North Carolina
Louisville at Michigan State
The MSU fan’s excitement level for the upcoming season has been tempered, only slightly. With the okey dokey decommitment move by Calib Swanigan and the OWI arrest of Eron Harris, Sparty has hit its a few road blocks this offseason. But don’t get too down on the Spartans with Denzel Valentine returning and ready to break hearts. After a fantastic postseason that ended with a final four run, expect Valentine to pick back up with where he left off.
Winner: Michigan State
Wisconsin at Syracuse
You got Nigel Hayes and you have Bronson Koenig back from the team that came oh-so-close to winning the national title a year ago, but who’ll step up alongside them? For Syracuse, the backcourt returns great experience in two talented seniors Michael Gbinje and Trevor Cooney. The X factors for the Orange, though, come in the interior. Can Dejuan Coleman replace Rakeem Christmas and can Tyler Roberson find consistency? If the inside can be above average, once again Boeheim’s boys will be dangerous.
Penn State at Boston College
Next. This is the one game that’s going to be the hard one to watch, but it all counts in the challenge final tally.
Winner: Anyone who finds a better use of their time. Boston College.
Indiana vs. Duke
Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, and James Blackmon bring a nice big three back to Bloomington. The true difference-maker for the Hoosiers is newcomer Thomas Bryant, a true interior presence that IU has lacked the last few seasons. He’ll be the anchor down low defensively and a scoring presence on the block. This should be one of the top five teams in the country, but it’ll be challenged. The reigning national champs are no slouch with Grayson Allen now leading the way on a team losing way too many one-and-doners. Get ready for Brandon Ingram to explode on the scene – think a very young Kevin Durant. Yup, he is THAT good. IU’s experience gets the best of Duke in this one, but don’t be surprised to see these team’s matched up again late in March.
Notre Dame vs. Illinois
No Tracy Abrams again this season is a devastating loss for the Illini. The Irish have some next level talent coming back to take over where Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton left off. Demetrius Jackson is one of the most talented point guards in the country, and his counterpart Zach Auguste on the interior provides consistent productivity in post. The Irish will win with a potent offense once again, but the caliber of athletes Coach Brey continues to bring to South Bend make them capable defensively as well. Expect another dangerous Irish team, and it starts to show why with a win over the Illini.
Winner: Notre Dame
Florida State at Iowa
Iowa needs to find a more consistent offense this year looking to Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff to provide that balance. The success of the Hawkeyes, however, rests on Adam Woodbury, who needs to spend less time poking eyes of the opponent and more rebounding and interior scoring. There’s not much depth with these Hawkeyes, so expect some struggles. FSU’s length, athleticism, and defensive intensity will be overwhelming.
Winner: Florida State