Big Ten holding its own in Challenge this year

In its nine years, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has never been terribly challenging for the ACC. Since the early season tournament was drummed up in 1999 by the two conferences with the help of ESPN [which holds all broadcast rights], the ACC holds a 56-31 overall record and has won every Challenge. The ACC has essentially wiped the floor with the Big Ten in the past two Challenges, and most expected the same in 2008 âÄì thatâÄôs hardly been the case. After two days and six games, the conferences are level at 3-3. The Big Ten may well fall short again tomorrow, but if the first two days of the tournament are any indication, it wonâÄôt go without a fight. Say what you will about how one-sided the Challenge has been, itâÄôs provided plenty of fireworks so far this year. Three games have been decided by two points. The ACC has come out on top in two; Boston College over Iowa 57-55 and Clemson over Iowa 76-74. WisconsinâÄôs Trevon Hughes knocked down an off-balance floater with .9 seconds remaining to ward off a late surge by Virginia Tech and give the Badgers a 74-72 victory. Then thereâÄôs Ohio State, a team that wasnâÄôt supposed to topple No. 22 Miami (FL) âÄì it did, 73-68. Of course, the ACC had an answer in the form of No. 4 DukeâÄôs 76-60 drubbing of No. 9 Purdue. The Blue Devils remain perfect in the Challenge at 10-0. The final game Tuesday night featured Minnesota and Virginia. In last yearâÄôs Challenge, the Cavaliers throttled Northwestern 94-52 while the Gophers fell 75-61 to Florida State. A year later, fortunes were reversed. Minnesota pulled away in the second half for a 66-56 win thanks to key turnovers and runs of 12-0 midway through the first half and 10-0 to start the second. Gophers head coach Tubby Smith was happy his team did its part in the Challenge thatâÄôs far from over. âÄúWe feel like we want to hold up our end of the Challenge because it is a matchup between premier conferences in the country,âÄù he said. ThereâÄôs been plenty of speculation recently about whether the Big Ten is indeed a premier conference anymore, thanks in large part to the ACCâÄôs utter dominance of this perennial matchup. But unless the ACC runs the table on Wednesday, the Challenge will not be as lopsided as it has been for the last two years. And if anything has been learned from the first two days of the tournament, this year may be a whole lot closer than anyone had predicted.