Not Much of a Challenge

By Jeff Lippman - August 22, 2007


Several years ago, basketball conference bigwigs got together and decided that two of the best conferences in men's college basketball, the ACC and the Big Ten, should have rivalry games each year to determine which was the better conference.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge was born, and for the most part has been very successful on the men's side. So successful, in fact, that the women's portion of the two conferences decided to get together and copycat what the men established.

But while the ACC owns the Big Ten on the men's side, as far as the ladies are concerned, the Big Ten doesn't even deserve to carry the ACC's gym bag.

The ACC teams like Maryland, Duke and North Carolina continue to reload, and Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Florida State continue to improve, but the Big Ten's big three only took a step back this season, all losing important pieces to last year's squads.

Ohio State lost the No. 2 WNBA draft pick in center Jessica Davenport, Michigan State lost their leading scorer and third leading scorer in Victoria Lucas-Perry and Rene Haynes and Purdue lost everything when Katie Gearlds graduated and then later forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton tore her ACL and will miss the entire season.

Sure Duke lost Alison Bales and Lindsey Harding and North Carolina lost Ivory Latta. Both teams still have superstars. Oh, and Maryland lost Shay Doron, a tough hit, sure, but Doron is slightly less important to the team than say Jessica Davenport was to OSU.

OK, I hear the arguments coming out of East Lansing and Columbus already. West Lafayette is keeping quiet.

Sure the Spartans bring back 6-foot-9 Allyssa DeHaan who is just a sophomore, but DeHaan plays soft and as of now has yet to become the offensive force she projects to be.

Sure the Buckeyes have incoming freshman center 6-foot-4 Jantel Lavender to pick up some of the slack left by the departure of Davenport, but as a freshman, will most likely defer team leadership to the 'Eyes returning star in Marscilla Packer.

Ohio State will be the best team in the Big Ten, hands down, but the ACC/Big Ten Challenge has the Buckeyes playing against, who else, Maryland in College Park. Sorry Buckeyes, you lose.

Michigan State actually has the best chance for a Big Ten team to take out an ACC squad, as they host Clemson. But as Clemson isn't a top three ACC team, that matchup is decidely unfair. The Spartans should be meeting Duke or Carolina.

But it is Purdue that gets the pleasure of traveling to Chapel Hill for a date with the Tar Heels. Duke, meanwhile, doesn't get to stay at home as they must head to Happy Valley for a dance with Penn State. I think the Dukies have that one.

So what is the predicted count as of right now? ACC 3, Big Ten 1. Let's find out how the other teams should fare.

Michigan goes to Miami on Nov. 19 - almost a week before the bulk of the action begins - and I honestly don't have a prediction for that one. This would be a heck of a football matchup though.

In a battle of the league's two worst teams, Wake Forest has the pleasure of going to Northwestern, a team that went 8-22 last year but recruited well and will be decidedly better this season. With that said, Wake only went 9-20 last year and finished their ACC season 0-14. I'm taking the Wildcats in this one.

Georgia Tech's Chioma Nnamaka and Janie Mitchell will be seniors for the Yellow Jackets next season and you can fully expect them to help GT have one of their better teams in years. With that said, the Jackets must travel to Field of Dreams country and face a tough Iowa squad. Tough, but beatable, as the Jackets shouldn't have trouble with this one, even on the road.

The Fighting Illini will travel to Raleigh, N.C. for a matchup against Kay Yow's N.C. State bunch. This is actually a very intriguing matchup as I expect Illinois, despite their legendary coach Theresa Grentz retiring, to be a very solid team this next season. The Wolfpack will once again be an inspired bunch, but with them losing emotional leader Ashley Key and Gillian Goring, all the pressure lands on Khadijah Whittington's shoulders. I still think, in Raleigh, the Wolfpack pull this one out. But it could go either way.

The Big Ten picks up another win when Virginia Tech hosts Minnesota as the Golden Gophers return four of their five top scorers and the Hokies lose a combined 37.5 points per game to graduation.

Wisconsin heads to Charlottesville for a meeting with Virginia in another solid matchup. While the Badgers boast USA basketball veteran Jolene Anderson and return their top four leading scorers, they will be at a big disadvantage when they meet the Cavs. With junior Lyndra Littles, who averaged a near 17 points and nine rebounds last year, and sophomore Monica Wright, another USA vet who plays the point and is very versatile, the Cavs will be tough to beat.

Florida State heads up to Bloomington, Ind., to meet the Hoosiers. Did I say meet? I meant beat the Hoosiers, as this one shouldn't be much of a contest. Indiana returns many of their best players but it shouldn't prove enough against an up-and-coming FSU team that went 24-10 last year. Remember this name: Jacinta Monroe, FSU's 6-foot-4 sophomore center.

So that makes the final score of the mock 2007 ACC/Big Ten Challenge 7-3-1 in favor of the ACC, with Michigan and the Hurricanes drawing.

The bottom line is, this tournament and tournament's and events like it make money for all team's involved and it gives an otherwise inane game a bit of flash and circumstance. But, in the end, while the ACC and Big Ten are comparable in the men's game, on the women's side, talent-wise, they remain lightyears apart.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 02:42 PM on August 22, 2007
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