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This week marks the beginning of the 9th Annual ACC Big Ten Challenge. ESPN created it in 1999 as a promotional series in an effort to establish itself as a leader in a college-ball market traditionally monopolized by CBS. The tournament has, in fact, grown into a perennial slugfest in which one outcome is always predictable: the losers hail from the Big Ten. In fact, the only team in the Big Ten that holds a winning record in the series is Michigan State at 4–3. Duke has never lost a game in the challenge.

This year looks to be much of the same. Most of the match-ups pit Big Ten teams that are far less competitive on the road against their ACC opponents. Bottom line: the ACC wins this one in the most lopsided series ever. As I see it, ACC 9 and Big Ten 2. I can just hear Dicky V now….

The Challenge aside, there have been some telling things in the first real week of action in the Big Ten.

The Illini handled Maui with respectable poise. Sure, their loss to Duke was a disappointment, but their performances against Arizona State and Oklahoma State made everyone — or this columnist, at least — think twice about the springtime possibilities. This is this first squad generated by the Bruce Weber recruitment machine, and they are going to play a different type of basketball than the Illini of old. Hear it now: This thoughtful, defense-heavy team carries the potential for a late-season surprise.

And there are other glimmers of hope around the Big Ten. Indiana Hoosier Eric Gordon, the freshman flip-flopping phenom, has performed in amazing fashion, averaging 28.8 points per game in his first five outings. But his team faltered in the championship game of the Chicago Invitational, losing badly to Xavier 80–65. The Hoosiers’ performance begs these questions: Are they anything more than a Sweet 16 team? Or can they grow to rely more on team play instead of the show-stopping performance of an over-achieving frosh?

Purdue almost gave third-season head coach Matt Painter his first real disappointment at Keady Court when the squad came out looking like a JV high-school team against Lipscomb, the 1–5 whipping post from the Atlantic Sun Conference. Down for most of the game, Keaton Grant buried a three to ice it with a few ticks left, but that left a sour taste in the Boilers’ mouths: They took Loyola (Ill.) to school on a Saturday and left with a 29 point win over the once mighty Ramblers. Needless to say, with the best overall freshman class in the conference, Purdue’s moments of brilliance will be coupled with growing pains of a young team.

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The biggest surprise thus far has to be Minnesota, as they remain undefeated with convincing wins against Iowa State and Central Michigan. Tubby Smith seems determined to help put them back on the map by getting them out of the cellar, and with the way that Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan and Iowa performed this week, things are looking up for the Golden Gophers. Those four teams combined for seven losses over nine games this week, offering significant glimpses into what might be the Big Ten bottom rungs this season.

Let’s see what’s on tap for November 25–December 1.

Predictions start now.

Last week’s record: 18–4
Season record: 18–4

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25

Central Florida 75
Penn St. 68

Ohio State 89
Virginia Military 73

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26

Wake Forest 76
Iowa 72

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27

Indiana 71
Georgia Tech 65

Florida State 70
Minnesota 64

Clemson 82
Purdue 73

Virginia 86
Northwestern 64

Duke 76
Wisconsin 69

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 28

Michigan State 78
North Carolina State 73

Maryland 79
Illinois 77

Virginia Tech 89
Penn State 73

Boston College 83
Michigan70

North Carolina 74
Ohio State 73

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 30

Iowa 86
Louisiana-Monroe 74

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1

Northwestern 64
Savannah State 61

Purdue 79
Indiana State 71

Illinois 73
Weber State 69

Michigan State 89
Jacksonville 63

Southern Illinois 81
Indiana 75

Minnesota 74
California-Riverside 53

St. Josephs 67
Penn State 63

Harvard 75
Michigan 70

Butler 67
Ohio State 65