Badger to Watch: Junior Guard Trevon Hughes (14.2 ppg)
Hokie to Watch: Sophomore forward Jeff Allen (16.8 ppg)
Wisconsin rebounded from its first loss of the season by limiting UW-Milwaukee to just 26.3 percent shooting and 46 points in a 21-point win on Saturday. The Badgers got double-digit scoring outputs from their big three: Hughes and seniors Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry. The Badgers are going to need that sound defense and scoring output to match the Hokies, as forward Jeff Allen, guard A.D. Vassallo and guard Malcolm Delaney all average over 16 points per game.
After losing their final two games in San Juan, Puerto Rico (one on a half court buzzer-beater), the Hokies struggled against Elon in their first game back, needing to win the game from the free throw line over the final two minutes. However, Va Tech has had plenty of time to rest, as the Hokies haven't played since November 26.
After those three players for Virginia Tech, no Hokie is averaging over six points a game. It's going to be a quick turnaround for Wisconsin, but the Badgers depth and defense should carry them to a narrow road victory if they can keep their legs under them.
Pick: Wisconsin, 1-0 Big Ten
Tuesday, December 2
Hawkeye to Watch: Freshman Guard Anthony Tucker (15.1 ppg)
Eagle to Watch: Senior Guard Tyrese Rice (18.2 ppg)
Iowa had all systems go after beating up on five consecutive cupcakes until busting, getting blown out by West Virginia in the Las Vegas Invitational. The Hawkeyes didn't leave Vegas empty handed, as senior Cyrus Tate made a layup at the buzzer to get a two-point win over Kansas State. Although Tate has been involved, this year is definitely the youth movement for the Hawkeyes, as Iowa's top two scorers are freshmen starters Anthony Tucker and Matt Gatens.
After being suspended for the team's first game for violating team rules, Rice has been the key to the Eagles success, leading the team in points, three-point shooting (48.1 percent) and assists (1.2 per game). The two games he struggled this year, Boston College lost (he shot 2-for-14 in a loss at St. Louis and 4-for-12 in a setback to Purdue). After Rice, the Eagles have some depth, having three other players averaging over 11 points per game.
The trip to Vegas showed a glimpse of how good the Hawkeyes actually are and a road trip to Chestnut Hill is going to be tough for Iowa to handle, especially when they try to guard Mr. Rice.
Pick: Boston College, 1-1
Buckeye to Watch: Sophomore Forward Jon Diebler (13.0 ppg)
Hurricane to Watch: Senior Guard Jack McClinton (15.8 ppg)
We don't know too much about the Buckeyes and their new-look lineup other than they won a four-point squeaker against Bowling Green and held Samford to just 22 points on Saturday, the fewest points by an opponent in 69 years. With no seniors and six freshmen on the roster, the Buckeyes are definitely going with a youthful group that is led by William Buford and his 11 points per game and Dallas Lauderdale's 6.5 blocks per game.
Like Wisconsin, Miami's lone loss on the season came at the hands of Connecticut in the Virgin Islands. The Hurricanes bounced back the next day, however, beating San Diego by 35 points and shooting 46 percent from the floor. Miami has balanced scoring up and down its bench, as five players are averaging seven points of more.
It's a battle of question-mark teams, but the Hurricanes have the edge in experience and the home court.
Pick: Miami, 2-1 ACC
Illini to Watch: Sophomore Forward Mike Davis (14.2 ppg)
Tiger to Watch: Junior Center Trevon Booker (14.0 ppg)
Led by sophomore guard Demetri McCamey 23 points, Illinois won a six-point decision at Vanderbilt, a win that raised some eyebrows to the potential the Illini have this season. But it was a trip to the South Padre Island Invitational that has given the Illini the nickname ‘the refuse-to-lose gang.' Sophomore center Mike Tisdale was named MVP of the tournament, helping the Illini to wins over Kent State in overtime and a four-point victory over Tulsa, hitting a couple of clutch shots in the final minute.
The Tigers have played seven games in just two weeks, which was in large part to three ‘road games' at the Charleston Classic and a one-point road victory at 1-5 Charlotte. Booker has done a bit of everything for Clemson through the first two weeks of the season, leading the team in points (14.0 ppg), rebounds (9.7 per game), blocks (2.6 per game) and steals (1.6 per game).
This is one of those toss up games that the ACC has traditionally won in past challenges. So, I will stupidly pick the Illini in a close game.
Pick: Illinois, 2-2
No.4 Duke (7-0) at No.19 Purdue (5-1)
Boilermaker to Watch: Sophomore Forward Robbie Hummel (14.2 ppg)
Blue Devil to Watch: Sophomore Forward Kyle Singler (16.7 ppg)
The Boilermakers were the trendy pick by the media to win the Big Ten conference this year for the simple fact that Purdue returned every key component to a team that surprised a lot of people last season. Purdue is led by a bunch of sophomores – E'Twuan Moore (16.7 ppg), preseason player of the year Hummel (48.3 from three-point range and 6.5 rebounds) and JaJuan Johnson (9.8).
Duke's challenge record is unmatched in the previous nine challenges: a perfect 9-0 record over some of the best Big Ten teams the conference has had, including a 24-point win over Wisconsin last year in Durham.
Duke is already off and running this season, winning its first seven games by an average of 22.9 points and winning the 2K Sports Classic Championship at New York's Madison Square Garden. The only hiccup so far for Duke was a nail-biting three-point home win over Rhode Island.
Four of Duke's five starters are averaging over 11 points per game and its sophomores (Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith) are carrying the load offensively for a team that is littered with second-year and third-year players.
In Purdue's first real test of the season, the Boilermakers fell in overtime against 11th-ranked Oklahoma in the Preseason NIT Tip-Off. If Purdue wins this, they'll a) make up for its slip up against the Sooners and b) earn a huge victory for the conference.
Pick: Purdue, 3-2 Big Ten
Virginia (3-2) at Minnesota (6-0)
Gopher to Watch: Junior Guard Lawrence Westbrook (14.2 ppg)
Cavalier to Watch: Freshman Guard Sylven Landesberg (20.8 ppg)
The Gophers might have the most balance of any team in the Big Ten. Minnesota has seven players that average over seven points and 18 minutes per game with Lawrence Westbrook being the main catalyst for Tubby Smith's squad.
Virginia's Sylven Landesberg has been solid in his first five games as a college basketball player, ranking third in the ACC in scoring per game. Another freshman, Sammy Zeglinski, has been another nice surprise, chipping in 13.8 points, to give the Cavaliers one of the best freshmen 1-2 punches on the East Coast. The early season has been full of close calls for Virginia, winning its first three games by four points and two points twice and losing its last two games by four points and three points.
Minnesota is clicking with its veterans, which should be enough to hold off a youthful Virginia team.
Pick: Minnesota, 4-2 Big Ten
Wednesday, December 3
Hoosier to Watch: Freshman Forward Tom Pritchard (15.8 ppg)
Demon Deacon to Watch: Sophomore Guard Jeff Teague (21.0 ppg)
Nothing has been easy for Hoosier head coach Tom Crean in his first year in Bloomington. Indiana barely survived beating IUPUI at home and had to hold its breath to beat Chaminade in the seventh-place game at the Maui Invitational.
Forward Tom Pritchard leads the Hoosiers in points and rebounds, but the Hoosiers aren't getting much help anywhere else. But with 14 new players on the roster, just four players with any Division I experience and only three taller than 6-foot-6, the lack of consistency isn't a surprise.
Wake Forest won the preseason 76 Classic in Anaheim on the heels of Teague, who scored 24, 29 and 14 points in the three games in Southern California. In the Deacons win over Baylor Sunday, all five Wake Forest starters scored in double figures (three of them had double-doubles) and out rebounded Baylor 62-38.
Next to Duke, Wake Forest (7-1) loves playing in the challenge. Needless to say, the Deacons are going to love playing the Hoosiers, as this one will be a slaughter.
Pick: Wake Forest, 4-3 Big Ten
Nittany Lion to Watch: Sophomore Forward Talor Battle (19.4 ppg)
Yellow Jacket to Watch: Sophomore Forward Gani Lawal (19.2 ppg)
Penn State has been solid in the early weeks but really hasn't played any top-notch competitors. The Nittany Lions went 2-for-3 in the Philly Classic Tournament, losing their only game to a Rhode Island team that nearly won in Durham. Penn State's big three have been dominant in the early goings, as Battle, senior Jamelle Cornley (15.0 ppg) and senior Stanley Pringle (14.9 ppg) will be counted on to led PSU back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000-2001.
Tech has only played four games this season, including a six-point overtime win at Mercer and a three-point win over 0-5 Jacksonville. Tech's best player is Lawal, who leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks, but the Yellow Jackets are getting double-digit outputs from three other sources.
Another toss up game as the starters on these two team are evenly matched. Penn State relies on more upperclassmen to make its offense tick and have been road tested. I'll pick PSU by a couple.
Pick: Penn State, 5-3 Big Ten
Wolverine to Watch: Sophomore Guard Manny Harris (22.3 ppg) Terrapin to Watch: Sophomore Forward Greivis Vasquez (17.0 ppg) Prediction: Michigan is solely responsible for the upset of the non-conference thus far, beating No.4 UCLA in the 2K Sports Challenge, the first time Michigan beat a top-five team in 11 years. Of course, this is the same Wolverine team that trailed by 20 at halftime and needed overtime to be Savannah State by only two in Ann Arbor.
Manny Harris and junior DeShawn Sims are a solid one-two punch for the Wolverines, but Michigan doesn't have another player averaging over five points a game.
Maryland was flying under the radar until it picked apart a banged up and fifth-ranked Michigan State team in the first round of the Old Spice Classic, beating the Spartans by 18. Of course, the Terrapins follow up that victory by losing to 22 to Gonzaga and 27 to Georgetown.
Unlike Michigan, Maryland has six players averaging over 7.4 points per game, which should provide some problems for Michigan. The problem is: what Maryland and Michigan team is going to show up?
Pick: Maryland, 5-4 Big Ten No.1 North Carolina (7-0) at No.13 Michigan State (4-1)
Tar Heel to Watch: Senior Forward Tyler Hansbrough (21.0 ppg)
Spartan to Watch: Junior Forward Raymar Morgan (19.0 ppg)
Hansbrough, the reigning national player of the year, missed his team's first three games, is playing at roughly 75 percent and still scored 34 points against No.8 Notre Dame. North Carolina dominated its way to the EA Sports Maui Invitational by 29.7 points per game, but Roy Williams thinks the Tar Heels can get a lot better. Come on, seriously?
North Carolina looks poised to grab its second national championship for head coach Roy Williams and the Heels are doing it with offense, scoring over 98 points in their last four games and have six players scoring 10 points per game (three over 15 points). Hansbrough didn't play on Sunday to rest his aching shin as the Heels still beat UNC-Asheville 116-48.
Michigan State rebounded from its first loss of the year by scoring 94 points against Oklahoma State and overcoming a halftime deficit to beat Wichita State by eight in Orlando. Morgan leads the team in points and sophomore Kalin Lucas is as sure handed as they come, leading in assists and steals.
With the game being played in Ford Field (this year's site of the NCAA Final Four) both teams definitely want this to be the first of two trips to Detroit. Wednesday night should serve as a dress rehearsal for North Carolina, although there won't be any net cutting until later.
Pick: North Carolina, 5-5
Seminole to Watch: Senior Forward Toney Douglas (19.0 ppg)
Wildcat to Watch: Senior Guard Craig Moore (19.0 ppg)
In theory, it will all come down to this game and relying on Northwestern to save your conference's dignity is not a good sign.
The Wildcats are 2-7 in the challenge (the worst record of any team in either conference with at least four appearances) and lost its first tough challenge of the year in a four-point setback at Butler. The Wildcats are more balancing offensively than in past years as Moore, Michael Thompson and Kevin Coble all average over 11 points per game.
In their last game the Seminoles, Toney Douglas scored 28 points and Uche Echefu added 17 points to lead Florida State to an 80-77 victory against California, making the FSU the champions of the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas after FSU beat Cincinnati a day earlier.
Florida State is 4-0 on the road this year, which is not a good sign for the Wildcats, as the ACC should make it a perfect 10-for-10 in the challenge.
Pick: Florida State, 6-5 ACC