The College Basketball Notebook

November 30, 2010 7:00 AM

The Big Ten-ACC Challenge Begins

VirginiaMinn.jpgAnother Big Ten-ACC Challenge started last and while the Big Ten won this event last year for the first time, the boys from Tobacco Road got off to a good start in the Virginia-Minnesota opener. The Cavs came to Williams Arena, where Tubby Smith's Gophers were off to a good start and ranked in the Top 20. In a game where both teams shot the ball well, Virginia got the line with more consistency, outscoring the hosts 25-12 and churned its way to an eight-point win.

Virginia's forwards of Mike Scott and Mustapha Farrakhan combined for 40 points and Scott grabbed 12 rebounds. In the backcourt, Joe Harris scored 24. Minnesota had good individual performances from guard Blake Hoffarber, who scored 19, and Trevor Mbake up front, who had an 18/11 night. But they didn't get enough help to avert a disappointing home loss and a disappointing start for the Big Ten.

The Challenge goes all-out on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Tonight's featured game will be North Carolina-Illinois. These programs are a long way from the 2005 national championship game, won by the Tar Heels. UNC may have another crown in the intervening years, but backcourt problems relegated them to the NIT last year and has them off to a slow start in November. Illinois hasn't produced a real national power since the '05 team and Bruce Weber is feeling the heat. No college basketball game in November is really "big", but this one has the makings of a key test.

Duke-Michigan State highlights the Wednesday card, with the defending national champion facing a program that's become a perennial Final Four team. The Blue Devils are playing well again early, while Michigan State suffered an upset loss to UConn in the Maui Classic, depriving this game of a #1 vs #2 juice. Duke's breaking in a new point guard in Kyrie Irving, and we'll see how he matches up with Kalin Lucas, one of the best in the country at his position. Another key game on Wednesday is Purdue-Virginia Tech, both teams who aspire to win conference championships this year.

On Thursday, we'll look back at the entire Challenge and see what we learned moving forward. Between now and then be sure to check the Notebook's college football & NFL arms (links below) for daily football talk.

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football , game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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