In 1999, ESPN created the Big Ten/ACC Challenge as a made for television “event,” with the purpose of trying to drum up interest in preconference college basketball. Generally, interest in college hoops at this time of the year, during the NCAA Tournament, is on par with the Super Bowl.
The rest of the year, it’s probably about as popular as Major League Soccer. However, the B1G/ACC Challenge is kind of a thing, sort of, as it matches up what are usually the two best leagues, annually, in the nation. This March Madness, however, has been real rough so far for both conferences.
We’ll start with the Big Ten, as that league entered this tourney with an astounding level of hype. So far it’s been mostly sizzle and little steak.
#1 seed Illinois, the third overall seeded team in the field, is already out as they continued their dreadful tradition of getting bounced in the round of 32. Ohio State, a #2 seed, didn’t even get that far, as they fell victim to #15 seed Oral Roberts on day one of the tournament.
A #15 over a #2 is extremely rare, but here we are, it happened again and this time it’s the Buckeyes’ turn in the barrel. Purdue, a #4 seed, lost to a #13 seed in North Texas, which again, usually doesn’t happen. Coming off three straight sweet sixteen appearances, this was certainly a setback for Matt Painter’s program. The league’s bellwether program, Michigan State, had a down year and had to settle for a mere First Four appearance in 2021.
The Spartans blew a 14 point second half lead to UCLA in their play-in game and found themselves eliminated before the big dance really even began. Overall, the league is 6-5 thus far with Wisconsin and Rutgers winning their first round games, but then exiting in the round of 32. Iowa, Michigan and Maryland won their March Madness openers, and they all tip off their second round action later today.
There really is no positive spin to be put on any of this. Even the BTN (Big Ten Network) couldn’t put lipstick on the pig that is the Big Ten’s postseason showing so far. The conference was overrated beyond belief. In the final AP poll before the tournament, Illinois was #2, Michigan #4, Ohio State #7, Iowa #8 and Purdue #20.
The Midwestern league was also dominant in the NET rankings, but that means absolutely nothing now.
And honestly, we should have seen this coming too. The league actually had a losing record, overall, against power five conference competition during the regular season. Their “best” win in preconference play, was Penn State over Virginia Tech. Essentially, the Big Ten was a big time fraud and that got exposed this weekend.
They boosted their metrics by beating up on each other, and everything you’ve heard about how great the league is was essentially all hogwash.
As for the ACC, their rough showing was actually to be expected. Their co-banner program, Duke, didn’t compete in the conference tournament due to covid-19 and ended their season. The Blue Devils were really down this year and were a bubble team at best anyway.
The other co-standard bearer in the league, North Carolina, were a bubble team until a couple weeks before the tourney, but they got hot at the right time. It didn’t last however, as they were the team beaten by the aforementioned Wisconsin. Virginia, still the reigning champions until a new one is crowned on April 5, entered the tournament ranked #15 in the country and seeded #4, but got ousted by #13 seed Ohio from the MAC.
Tony Bennett’s program once again crashed out early, but that wasn’t too surprising, given how COVID issues put them in doubt of even competing in the big dance.
Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech were all one-and-done in this tourney while Syracuse, conversely, advanced to the sweet sixteen as an #11 seed.
Additionally, Florida State won their first round game, and the #4 seeded Seminoles will take on the #5 seed Colorado Buffaloes later today. Overall, the ACC is 3-5 so far in the tourney.
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Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.Follow paulmbanks