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ACC/Big Ten Challenge preview

Caitlin Clark blocks a shot last weekend. Iowa Athletics photo.
Caitlin Clark blocks a shot last weekend. Iowa Athletics photo.

Taking place this Wednesday and Thursday will be the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, where two of the best women’s basketball conferences will face each other for superiority. Each has five teams ranked in the AP top 25, with the ACC at nine and the Big ten with seven, via ESPN’s bracketology. Many of the 14 games have very interesting storylines within:

Illinois vs. Pitt

When: Wednesday, 5 p.m. EST

Where: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

How to watch: ACC Network


Syracuse vs. Purdue

When: Wednesday, 6 p.m. EST

Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Indiana

How to watch: Big Ten Network

Key Storyline: Both of these two teams have been slowly turned around by young head coaches. First-year Syracuse head coach Felisha Legette-Jack has the Orange at eighth in the ACC at 5-1, and has them as a pretty solid defensive team, allowing teams to shoot just 33 percent from the field, and averaging six blocked shots and 10.7 steals per game. Second-year Purdue head coach Katie Geralds continues to build off of their tournament appearance last season, as they are currently sixth in the Big Ten at 6-1 with an offense that is averaging 81.6 points per game, shooting 50 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range.


Virginia vs. Penn State

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST

Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, Pennsylvania

How to watch: Big Ten Plus

Key Storyline: New Virginia head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton has turned around a team that finished dead last in the ACC last season at 5-22, and currently has them at 8-0 at the top of the ACC. Penn State is in a very similar head coach, as fourth-year head coach Carolyn Kieger has improved her team’s record every single year and looks to be doing the same this year as the Nittany Lions are currently third in the Big Ten at 7-0.


No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 18 Louisville

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky

How to watch: ACC Network

Key Storyline: These are two teams that are heading in two completely directions, given the expectations they had coming into this season. The Ohio State Buckeyes were ranked No. 14 in the preseason poll and are currently ranked No. 4, thanks to a high-powered offense that is averaging 94 points per game, the third-most in the nation. The Louisville Cardinals were ranked No. 7 coming into this season and have fallen all the way to No. 18, due to a struggling offense that puts so much of a burden on Hailey Van Lith to score, without much help.


Wake Forest vs. Minnesota

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m. EST

Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota

How to watch: Big Ten Network


Northwestern vs. Duke

When: Thursday, 5 p.m. EST

Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

How to watch: ACC Network

Key Storyline: Even though Duke had high expectations coming into this season, not just thanks to the addition of highly-touted recruit Ashlon Jackson, and already having good shooters such as Celeste Taylor and Shayeann Day-Wilson, they haven’t really reached their full potential this season. This is because their offense has been very standard, with just 68.7 points per game, and Taylor is their leading scorer with 11.7 points per game. 


No. 20 Maryland vs. No. 7 Notre Dame

When: Thursday, 6:30 p.m. EST

Where: Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, Indiana

How to watch: ESPN2

Key Storyline: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have taken a big step this year behind Olivia Miles, Sonia Citron, Maddy Westbeld and Kylee Watson. Being third in the ACC standings, They are tied for fifth in the nation, averaging 90 points per game. They also lead the ACC in field-goal percentage at 48.9 percent, and are second in 3-point range, at 36.8 percent. This is because they really do play as a team, leading the ACC in assists with 18.3 per game and Miles leads in individual assists with 6.7 per game.


Nebraska vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech

When: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST

Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Virginia

How to watch: ACC Network

Key Storyline: The Virginia Tech Hokies have definitely lived up to the hype coming into this season with the return of ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, and the addition of Ashley Owusu through the transfer portal. Head coach Kenny Brooks really has these women locked in, in his seventh season, as Kitley is still top five in both points and rebounds, and Georgia Amoore, Taylor Soule and Cayla King continue to contribute at a high level. He also really does a great job of emphasizing both sides, as the Hokies are scoring 81.8 points per game and allowing only 44.8 points, leading the entire ACC.


No. 12 NC State vs. No. 10 Iowa

When: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa

How to watch: ESPN2

Key Storyline: This might be the most intriguing matchup of all, as the Wolfpack take on the Hawkeyes, who have maybe the nation’s most exciting basketball player in Caitlin Clark, while boasting two other elite offensive players in Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock. However, NC State is more than capable of getting into a shootout with them with players such as Diamond Johnson, Jakia Brown-Turner and Jada Boyd. They are averaging 83.1 points per game and are second in field-goal percentage at 48.4 percent, and first in 3-point percentage at 38.6 percent, making them more than capable of keeping up with a team as explosive as Iowa.


No. 17 Michigan vs. Miami

When: Thursday, 9 p.m. EST

Where: Watsco Center, Coral Gables, Florida

How to watch: ACC Network

Key Storyline: The Miami Hurricanes have been very interesting to follow this season, as they are currently off to a 6-2 start and have won their first three games without their head coach Katie Meier, who was suspended for the first three games of this season as a part of Miami’s cooperation with an NCAA investigation of an “enforcement matter.” It is truly amazing how they story just came and went and we still don’t know exactly what happened there.


No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Indiana

When: Thursday, 6 p.m. EST

Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana

How to watch: Big Ten Network

Key Storyline: No one should really be surprised by what the Tar Heels have done this season, given the talent that they have and the fact that they advanced to the Sweet 16 last season. The best guard duo in the ACC, Deja Kelly and Alyssa Utsby, are still playing like it. Kennedy Todd-Williams and Eva Hodgson have also really improved from last season. Head coach Courtney Banghart has dialed up her team’s offense to 11, as they went from averaging 73 points per game last season to averaging 82 points per game this season. 


Florida State vs. Wisconsin

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wisconsin

How to watch: Big Ten Plus

Key Storyline: To me, at least, the Florida State Seminoles have been the biggest surprise of the season so far and a lot of that is due to freshman phenom Ta’niya Latson, who has won ACC Player and Rookie of the Week two weeks in a row. I wrote a column about this, so you can check that out for more detail.


Georgia Tech vs. Michigan State

When: Thursday, 8 p.m. EST

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan

How to watch: Big Ten Network

Key Storyline: The Georgia Tech Yellowjackets are definitely a leading candidate for biggest disappointment in the ACC so far this season. Even though they are 5-2, they have had trouble beating teams such as Georgia State, Kennesaw State, Air Force and Belmont that really have no trouble beating. You could point to several factors, including the seven new players that they have to work in, an extremely poor offense that is averaging the fewest amount of points in the ACC with just 58.1 points per game, or the fact that they only average nine assists per outing as a team, also at the bottom of the ACC. There is still time for head coach Nell Fortner to turn things around, but she must figure out a way to help her team score more points.