Alex Roux, BTN.com editor, June 8, 2017
The matchups for the 2017 B1G/ACC basketball challenge are out, and you can view a more visually appealing list here.
This announcement sneaks up on me every year, but it's always one of my favorite schedule releases. It's one of the only schedule announcements that affects the entire conference at once, and it's almost always packed with intrigue and fun predictions.
Instead of making way-too-early predictions or ranking the matchups, I'm going to take a look at some of the best players we can expect to see take the floor when these teams square off over three days in December. These guys won't all match up one-on-one or necessarily be their teams' best players, but should all have a big impact on how their teams perform in the battle for conference supremacy.
I've split the games up into home and away categories for Big Ten teams. The full list is below.
Purdue (Vince Edwards) vs. Louisville (Quentin Snider): Edwards will be looked at to become the Boilers' "go-to-guy" following the departure of Caleb Swanigan, and fellow senior Snider returns as a foundational four-year PG for the Cardinals. Both guys will be looked to late for a bucket if the game is close, which it probably will be.
Michigan State (Miles Bridges) vs. Notre Dame (Bonzie Colson): Bridges' return for his sophomore season was the biggest offseason news in the Big Ten, and the attention was well-deserved. Bridges nearly averaged a double-double last season as the Spartans' leading scorer, while Notre Dame's Colson put up similar numbers for the Irish. Colson's decision to return for his senior season meant the Irish can count on–rather than replace–his 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 52 percent shooting each night.
Indiana (Robert Johnson) vs. Duke (Grayson Allen): Johnson was the only player out of four Hoosiers–OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr.–to pull out of the 2017 NBA Draft and return to school. Johnson comes back to a new coach and expectations that he'll shoulder a large portion of Indiana's offensive production. Fellow rising senior Grayson Allen is also returning, and all eyes will be on him for two obvious reasons: he's a fantastic player, and it's always possible he might trip someone.
Minnesota (Amir Coffey) vs. Miami (Lonnie Walker): Coffey was a standout freshman on a resurgent Gophers team last season, averaging 12.2 points while giving Minnesota an added layer of athleticism and versatility. We're not sure what Walker will give Jim Larranaga's Miami squad as an incoming freshman SG, but as a Top 15 recruit and McDonald's All-American, I have a hunch that Walker will be worth watching in this one.
Ohio State (Kam Williams) vs. Clemson (Shelton Mitchell): Williams will be looked to to provide scoring stability under a new coach and depleted roster, and Mitchell has similarly-sized shoes to fill for the Tigers with the departure of leading scorer Jaron Blossomgame.
Nebraska (Glynn Watson) vs. Boston College (Jerome Robinson): Watson and Robinson will both be the leading returning scorers, and will face off in the roles charged with making their respective teams go. Both the Huskers and Eagles are coming off rough seasons and will need the pieces surrounding Watson and Robinson to step up.
Rutgers (Corey Sanders) vs. Florida State (M.J. Walker): Sanders is undoubtedly the most electrifying player on Rutgers' roster, and Walker has the potential to occupy the same space on for the Seminoles. Walker is an incoming freshman and a McDonald's All-American, and a lot will be asked of him following the NBA departures of Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac.
Michigan (Moe Wagner) at North Carolina (Joel Berry II): Wagner ensured that at least half of Michigan's two-headed "breakout player" monster from last season (D.J. Wilson is going to the NBA) will be returning in 2017-18. And the Wolverines will probably need the skilled German to shine against the defending national champions. The Tar Heels lose a lot of firepower as well, so it will be on the senior Berry (14.7 ppg last season) to bridge the gap for UNC as their next crop of talented underclassmen adjusts.
Wisconsin (Ethan Happ) at Virginia (Devon Hall): We know Happ is an elite college player, and that a lot will be asked of him in the post Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig era. A lot will likely be asked of the Cavaliers' Hall as a junior on an incoming Virginia roster that features five freshmen and lost three players to transfer. Hall will be the leading returning scorer for a program that is known to struggle to score the basketball.
Iowa (Tyler Cook) at Virginia Tech (Chris Clarke): This game features two programs on an upward trajectory, and should also feature a fun battle in the post between sophomore bigs. Cook put up 12 points and five boards per game as a freshman, and Clarke turned in 11 and seven before suffering a torn ACL. Assuming both are healthy, this could be a good old-fashioned slugfest down low.
Maryland (Anthony Cowan) at Syracuse (Tyus Battle): Both rosters are young, with the Orange trotting out their youngest team in a decade under Jim Boeheim. This backcourt batttle between Cowan and Battle should be intriguing, as both promising players will be looked toward to take on larger roles this season.
Northwestern (Bryant McIntosh) at Georgia Tech (Josh Okogie): Northwestern has a handful of very solid returning players, but when McIntosh plays well, the Wildcats are especially dangerous. He's dual-threat, able to facilitate and feed Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law while filling up the scoring column any given game. Okogie put up great numbers as a freshmen on a Tech team that made some noise in the NIT, but Northwestern should have the edge in this one.
Illinois (Mark Smith) at Wake Forest (Bryant Crawford): Mark Smith is a hugely anticipated arrival for Illini fans as a high-profile recruit under new head coach Brad Underwood, especially after losing leading scorer Malcolm Hill to graduation. The Demon Deacons are dealing with roster holes of their own, as John Collins departed for the NBA and Crawford is now their leading returning scorer. These were bubble teams last year playing a game that could have bubble implications in 2018, as well.
Penn State (Tony Carr) at NC State (Torin Dorn): I think Carr has the most promise in a touted and talented 2016 Penn State recruiting class, with a likely sophomore leap in store. Dorn, is a guard who can score and rebound, but a lot will be asked of him under a new coach after the departure of freshman phenom Dennis Smith Jr.