INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Trevor Mbakwe #32 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers dunks against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Northwestern won 75-65. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The schedule for the 2011 ACC/Big Ten challenge was released today and Virginia Tech will be on the road against Minnesota Wednesday, Nov. 30. The Hokies will try to help the ACC reassert its dominance after dropping the last two challenges. The league won the first 10.
The big difference this year is the opportunity for the leagues to split the challenge. The Big Ten has added Nebraska, giving each league 12 teams and the challenge a 12-game slate for the first time in its history. The Huskers won't get the toughest of initiations into the challenge as they host Wake Forest.
The full schedule (and some picks for the fun of it) is after the jump.
Tuesday, Nov. 29
Miami at Purdue (Purdue, 0-1)
Northwestern at Georgia Tech (Georgia Tech, 1-1)
Illinois at Maryland (Illinois, 1-2)
Michigan at Virginia (Virginia, 2-2)
Clemson at Iowa (Clemson, 3-2)
Duke at Ohio State (Duke, 4-2)
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Indiana at NC State (NC State, 5-2)
Penn State at Boston College (Boston College, 6-2)
Florida State at Michigan State (Michigan State, 6-3)
Virginia Tech at Minnesota (Minnesota, 6-4)
Wake Forest at Nebraska (Nebraska, 6-5)
Wisconsin at North Carolina (North Carolina, 7-5)
I've got the ACC regaining the Commissioner's Cup thanks to a win by UNC. As for the Hokies' game, they've drawn a tough one. Like their opponent in the 2010 challenge, Purdue, the Gophers return a lot of talent, especially inside.
Minnesota received some very good news recently when center Ralph Sampson III decided to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to Ski-U-Mah for his senior season. At 6-11, he'll team with 6-8 forward Trevor Mbakwe for one of the best frontcourts the Hokies will face all season. Mbakwe averaged a double-double in Big Ten play last season, leading the conference in rebounding. Sampson was second in the Big Ten in blocked shots in league play.
The Gophers will have to replace guard Blake Hoffarber, who led the team in assists and three-pointers made. Hoffarber was Minnesota's only outside threat last season. He made 40 of the team's 71 threes against Big Ten opponents. No other Gopher had more than eight.
Minnesota made the 2010 NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed and started the 2010-11 season 16-4 (5-3) before the bottom fell out. The Gophers lost 10 of their last 11 games and weren't invited to any postseason tournaments. The disastrous finish came after the Gophers lost senior point guard Al Nolen. Nolen was averaging 8.4 points and 3.7 assists per game when he broke his right foot Jan. 22 in a win at Michigan.
The Gophers won their next game at home against Northwestern before a loss at Purdue started their terrible finish. How the Gophers are able to replace Nolen and Hoffarber will determine how they're able to rebound from their disastrous 2011 finish. Their frontcourt will keep them in a lot of games and give teams like the Hokies fits, but they need to find dependable guards who can make outside shots and distribute the ball to Sampson and Mbakwe.
In Big Ten play, the Gophers led the conference in rebounding margin and were D.A.L. in turnover margin. That says everything about the difference between their frontcourt and backcourt. If Minnesota's incoming class (which includes two guards in the ESPNU Top 100) can make a difference, this will be a very formidable matchup for the Hokies and everyone else on Minnesota's schedule.
Right now in Tech's late-November game I give the edge to the Gophers because the Hokies will be on the road and won't matchup well with Sampson, Mbakwe
and 6-10 Colton Iverson, who played just under 20 minutes per game last year (Iverson transferred). It'll be similar to last year's game against Purdue.
I have to admit, this is a really enticing road trip. Minneapolis is an easy city to fly to and The Barn offers one of the most unique and exciting atmospheres in college hoops.