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Big Ten-ACC Challenge: A Back-of-the-Envelope Mathematical Preview

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A number of college basketball observers have been asking whether this is the year the Big Ten finally wins the Big Ten-ACC Challenge--although the less-than-dominating early-season tournament performances by ranked Big Ten teams this past week has probably reduced some of the national-level enthusiasm for Big Ten basketball.

Still, the Big Ten looks like it's 8 teams deep in terms of potential NCAA Tournament entrants.  Is this the year the conference puts the "challenge" in the "Big Ten-ACC Challenge"?  (To be fair, as pointed out by Mike Miller, they have come within one game of winning the thing 5 times in 10 attempts.)

To get some sense of the Big Ten's chances I've approximated game-by-game odds based on the still-early-but-fairly-reasonable-looking Sagarin ratings.  Here they are:

Visitor Home Line Favored
Penn St Virginia (9.0) ACC
Wake Forest Purdue (14.0) B10
Maryland Indiana 6.0 ACC
Northwestern NC State (8.5) ACC
Michigan St North Carolina (3.0) ACC
Virginia Tech Iowa 5.5 ACC
Illinois Clemson (13.5) ACC
Boston College Michigan (2.5) B10
Minnesota Miami (4.5) ACC
Duke Wisconsin 2.0 ACC
Florida St Ohio St (1.0) B10


The numbers aren't very promising, as the ACC team is favored in 8 of 11 match-ups.  And 2 of the 3 Big Ten favorites are favored by very small margins.

The big obstacle is that, of the Big Ten's 6 home games, 2 of them are being played at the venues of the two worst weakest teams in the Big Ten.  Unless Indiana and/or Iowa can somehow hold court and win their games, the Big Ten would need to win the other four home games (including Wisconsin over Duke) and pull off two road victories--with MSU and Minnesota being the best hopes.  As deep as the Big Ten looks in terms of potential tournament teams, the ACC is deeper through the very bottom of the league, with no team ranked lower than #83 in the Sagarin ratings.

So I'll go on record as predicting the Big Ten loses the challenge for yet another year.  But, as the old cliché goes, they play the games on the court, not on paper.  Hopefully I'm wrong, and the Big Ten rebounds from its generally disappointing results thus far in the new season.

Game action starts tonight, with Penn State-Virginia on ESPN2 at 7:00.