Two seasons ago a small, independent blog called Category Six contacted me about Purdue's pending ACC/Big Ten Challenge game with Miami. Purdue went on to defeat my wife's Hurricanes, but those guys at Category Six have all grown up. They have taken over the SB Nation Miami blog State of the U and even won a local Miami Web Award for best new blog.
It was an honor to be the grandfather, of sorts in that award, as I helped Jerry and the guys get set up with SB Nation from that initial meeting two years ago. Earlier today Jerry contacted me about doing a joint preview for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and I was happy to help out again. Even though we're not playing the Hurricanes, it was great to get some perspective from the ACC side of the ledger. My comments just went live over at State of the U, while Jerry had this to say about the ACC:
T-Mill: Miami has been in and out of the Challenge a few times, but is coming off of a very successful season. Do they become a permanent member now?
Jerry: Very good question. I think going into this season, and especially after an opening game loss to St Francis NY, there may have been some doubt. But this team is scrappy. They are coming off what should be a major confidence builder in a 70-67 win over a good Arizona State squad. I worry about their prospects in the ACC, with basically 7 guys including 2 true freshman, playing major minutes. Can they hold up? But Jim Larranaga has done a masterful job thus far getting the team to play as hard as they can every time out. Even in their three losses, they were in the games, losing 2 in OT. True freshman Davon Reed is a star in the making. Seniors Rion Brown and Garrius Adams are making the most of expanded roles. I think UM does just enough this year that we see them in the ACC/B1G challenge next year. And that should be a real treat. Miami has a very nice class coming in, and transfers Angel Rodriguez And Sheldon McClellan will be eligible, so this could very well be a top 25 team by this point next season.
T-Mill: Does the Big Ten have to take Maryland? Do we get their all-time ACC record too?
Jerry: HA!! That question would be best suited for Jim Delany. Personally I have never been a fan of the shell game that has become conference expansion. Maryland geographically may not make sense, but from a hoops perspective they should be fun for the B1G. They still need a point guard, but Mark Turgeon is doing a great job recruiting and they are a fun and talented (if not complete) team.
T-Mill: How does Miami take last year's success and build on it in recruiting, and why did you have to take Corn Elder from us? Have you seen our football team? We need him, Shayon Green, and Deon Bush.
Jerry: So far so good. It may not show in the record for year's team, or it may (the Canes have been maddeningly unpredictable). But they have a very good class featuring a top 50 recruit in Philadelphia PG JaQuan Newton on the way. When 2nd team Big 12 PG Angel Rodriguez decided to transfer from K State, I am sure being closer to his family in Puerto Rico was a major factor, but so too was last season's success. Ditto Texas' leading scorer Sheldon McClellan. Though there are still empty seats in the Bank United Center for a lot of games, season ticket sales are at an all time high.
As for Elder, he has a slightly torn meniscus and is out for the remainder of football season. He was going to play hoops as well but that too is now up in the air. He has ridiculous talent (true 4.4 speed) and should/could be a major factor at some point in two sports. Sorry Boilermaker fans, but we are not sorry we beat you to him!! Deon Bush has had a very disappointing sophomore season but a lot of that is due to injury. Shayon Green has had a solid senior campaign, but as poorly as UM's defense has been, I am frankly surprised that any team in the country wants a few of Miami's defenders!
T-Mill: What can you tell us about Boston College?
Jerry: Boston College has shocked me with their struggles. The roster is loaded with talent, but it has not shown on the floor so far with a 3-4 record including losses to Toledo, UMass, and Providence (we will forgive the loss to UConn). Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan make up what should be one of the best back courts in the country. You should be in pretty good shape when F Ryan Anderson (ACC freshman of the year 2 years ago, 19 ppg this season) is your third best player. But with the exception of PF Eddie Odio and Hanlan they do lack elite athleticism. And while Hanlan, Alex Dragicevich, and Patrick Heckmann give them plenty of shooters, there appears to be very little semblance of interior presence outside of Anderson. The Eagles remain a mystery to me. If they ever get it together, watch out. They have the talent to be an NCAA Tourney team, and the back court to make a run. But it seems like there is something missing nonetheless. If Purdue wants to subdue them they need to expose their lack of physicality on the interior and their lack of explosive athletes in transition.
T-Mill: Finally, picks for each game?
Jerry: Ok, this is never easy but here we go:
I like the Cuse at home over the Hoosiers, because they are in the Carrier Dome, CJ Fair is the best player on the court, and freshman PG Tyler Ennis has turned the corner his last few times out.
Illinois is getting nice contributions from players who previously were in Brandon Paul's shadow. And Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice has been a revelation. They get it done in Atlanta and beat GT.
Pitt is my ACC sleeper this year. Very balanced squad led by wing Lamar Patterson and big man Talib Zanna. They dismantle Penn State easily.
Michigan will need to expose the subpar perimeter defense of Duke and drive the lane often, where Duke has poor rim protection, to win in Cameron. But despite the Dookies' defensive flaws, Rasheed Sulaiman, All world freshman Jabari Parker, and a few whistles should keep the Coach K and the Crazies happy at home.
Notre Dame and Iowa should be a fun one. Both teams can light it up, but Iowa is a little bigger and more formidable inside. Despite the heroic efforts of Jerian Grant, I like the Hawkeyes at home.
Minnesota is still learning the ways of Richard Pitino. So there will be growing pains for the Gophers. FSU is a deep team, and with Ian Miller healthy and Devon Bookert playing well, they will come out victorious in Minneapolis.
Wisconsin and Virginia are sure to give the shot clock a work out. But Joe Harris will make enough contested shots for the Hoos to win this one.
Northwestern/NC State is a real toss up. TJ Warren and Anthony "Cat" Barber are the most talented guys on the floor though, so I will go Wolpack.
North Carolina was exposed yet again Sunday Night in Birmingham VS a very good under the radar UAB squad. UNC is just not the same with out PJ Hairston. Michigan State might run them clean out of the building. The #1 team in the country has a true star in Gary Harris, and athleticism (Branden Dawson) and brute force (Adreian Payne) to boot. Sparty by 20.
Miami fans know from 2 years back how hard it is to play in Mackey Arena. BC is going to find out Wednesday evening. The Johnsons (Ronnie and Terone) do enough to keep Hanlan in check, and AJ Hammons has a big game inside and the Hammer and Rails crew celebrate a nice win!
Canes and Huskers, and we're not talking gridiron battles with National Championships on the line? What in the Tommy Frazier/Warren Sapp/Melvin Bratton/Ken Dorsey to Andre Johnson is going on here? Ok, taking a step back and focusing on hoops. I can't say much about the Huskers as they are possibly the only team in this challenge I have not seen play live even once. But I like how hard Miami competes. Reed is John Salmons with athleticism. Donnavan Kirk is dunking on people. James Kelly can play! UM just beat ASU in Pac 12 country! Look for the 'Canes to build a little momentum and win one in the Shawn Eichorst bowl.