Virginia’s best road victory in Tony Bennett’s four seasons as coach was at Wisconsin in last season’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Cavaliers and Badgers will reunite in this year’s edition, at John Paul Jones Arena on Dec. 4.
The conferences and television partner ESPN announced the 12 games Wednesday.
As matchups like Michigan-Duke, Indiana Syracuse and North Carolina-Michigan State suggest, the Challenge, in its 15th year, seeks to pair the conferences’ top teams. And Virginia and Wisconsin should be contenders next season.
Well, the Badgers fit the bill most every year. They’ve played in 15 consecutive NCAA tournaments, the last 12 under coach Bo Ryan. That’s tied with Gonzaga for the fourth-longest active streak behind Kansas (24), Duke (18) and Michigan State (16).
Led by guard Ben Brust and forward Sam Dekker, Wisconsin expects to return three of its top five scorers from a team that went 23-12, 12-6 in the Big Ten and lost to Ole Miss in its opening NCAA game.
Also 23-12, Virginia reached the NIT quarterfinals and expects to return six of its top seven scorers. Moreover, the Cavaliers add South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill and redshirted guard Malcolm Brogdon.
Virginia and Wisconsin — Bennett is a former Badgers assistant coach — are known for stifling, half-court, man-to-man defenses that often slow games to a crawl. Among 347 Division I teams last season, the Cavaliers and Badgers ranked 328th and 318th, respectively, in possessions-per-game, according to Ken Pomeroy’s website.
So not surprisingly, Virginia-Wisconsin was a defensive struggle last year, the Cavaliers winning 60-54 behind All-ACC wing Joe Harris’ 22 points. The Badgers finished No. 32 on the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index, and the last time the Cavaliers had a more impressive road conquest was 2007 at No. 28 Maryland.
Virginia is 8-5 in the Challenge and riding a three-game winning streak after victories over Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
With the Big Ten at 12 teams and the ACC 15, the latter’s three lowest RPI teams from last season — Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson — were excluded.
I thought Maryland, which is leaving the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014-15, deserved to be bumped, but here’s guessing ESPN preferred the Terps to Wake Forest.
The conferences split 12 games in last year’s Challenge. The ACC won the first 10, the Big Ten the next three.
Here’s the complete Challenge schedule, with times and networks to be determined:
Tuesday, December 3: Indiana at Syracuse; Michigan at Duke; Notre Dame at Iowa; Florida State at Minnesota; Penn State at Pittsburgh; Illinois at Georgia Tech.
Wednesday, December 4: North Carolina at Michigan State; Maryland at Ohio State; Miami at Nebraska; Wisconsin at Virginia; Boston College at Purdue; Northwestern at North Carolina State.
Here’s the ACC’s release on the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
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