There are only two teams in the top 25 with two losses.
And they just happen to be playing each other Tuesday night in the marquee game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
No. 22 Michigan heads to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday to take on No. 10 Duke. It’s a big game because of the big teams involved, but it’s a real big game because these teams could both use a big win.
Michigan suffered back-to-back Sunday-afternoon losses at Iowa State and to upstart Charlotte in Puerto Rico. A third loss would likely knock them out of the top 25. Duke, meanwhile, still remains in the top 10 because its losses have come against top-ranked teams: Kansas and Arizona.
But regardless of the records, these teams are packed with talent. Michigan boasts the Big Ten’s top scorer in Nik Stauskas (whose status is questionable as he battles an injury), preseason All-America forward Mitch McGary and another top player in Glenn Robinson III. Duke has the guy who could be the No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft in Jabari Parker, who’s averaging 23 points per game, and another guy lighting up the scoreboard in Rodney Hood, who’s averaging 20 points per game.
Michigan knows that Parker gets top billing but that plenty of other Blue Devils deserve attention, too.
"Everybody talks a lot about Jabari Parker, and obviously he's special,” Michigan coach John Beilein said at a press conference Monday. “He comes in there — he does things that Kobe (Bryant) did as a first-year pro, things LeBron (James) did as a first-year pro. He's a tremendous, tremendous player. But Hood is really good. I think they have six, seven players who are in their third, fourth year of college, even though they have some young players playing. Hood has really been good, and they run a lot of things through the two of them."
Robinson said he and Parker are good friends, which adds a bit more motivation to Tuesday night’s battle.
"He's a great player, great scorer, great overall player, defensive-wise also. He's the key to their success, their offense, and around him they have a lot of great players. So it's not just him, it's other guys that we've got to focus on also,” Robinson said Monday. “I know Jabari, pretty close as a friend, and we talk a little bit. So I know he's a great player, I've been at a lot of camps with him. Just can't wait to match up against him one more time."
A win over Duke on the road would fall into the “very impressive” category for the Wolverines, a signature win in a non-conference slate that has been tough, tough enough that last year’s national runners-up already have a pair of defeats.
"You don't remember every win,” Beilein said. “You remember wins against top-flight, top-coached teams on the road. And that's the objective: try and go down there and get one and come back with a victory."
Michigan and Duke tip off at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.
Here’s a look at the rest of the games on the first night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Indiana at No. 4 Syracuse, 6:15 p.m., ESPN. This rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen showdown is another top game to watch on Night 1 of the Challenge. The fourth-seeded Orange knocked off the one-seeded Hoosiers in that game, but both teams are in a very different spots now. Syracuse is now one of the country’s top-four teams and playing in its first Challenge as a new member of the ACC. Meanwhile, Indiana is on the outside of the top 25 looking in. Tom Crean’s crew is without all those top players from a year ago, but that doesn’t mean the Hoosiers won’t bring a fight, as point guard Yogi Ferrell is averaging 18.1 points per game — good for fourth in the Big Ten — while freshman Noah Vonleh is the conference’s top rebounder, hauling in 10.4 boards per contest.
Illinois at Georgia Tech, 6:15 p.m., ESPN 2. Illinois just grabbed its first win over a quality opponent on the road last week with a two-point victory over UNLV. Well, now the Illini are spending the week in Atlanta, first taking on Georgia Tech and then hanging around for a game against Auburn. Tuesday night hands the first national stage to Rayvonte Rice, a Drake transfer and the Big Ten’s reigning Player of the Week. He’s averaging more than 17 points per game, including a 25-point effort vs. UNLV.
[BIG TEN FOOTBALL: Buckeyes, Spartans dominate All-Big Ten teams, year-end honors]
Penn State at Pittsburgh, 6:30 p.m., ESPN U. One of three newcomers to the ACC — all of which will be in action Tuesday — this is obviously Pitt’s first time in the Challenge. Surprisingly, it’s also the first time these in-state foes have clashed since 2005. Pitt, however, is riding a five-game winning streak in the series, though we’ll find out just how good that backcourt duo for Penn State really is if it can put up a fight against the Panthers. D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier are combing to average nearly 40 points per game, while Frazier also leads the conference in assists. You might want to make a point to check out at least a little of this battle for the Keystone State.
Notre Dame at No. 23 Iowa, 8:15 p.m., ESPN 2. Had the Irish not suffered an early-season upset to Indiana State, this could have been a showdown between two ranked teams. Instead, the Hawkeyes are the only ones with a number in front of their names, but don’t let that underrate this contest. Another one of those ACC newbies, the Irish’s first Challenge game will also be their first vs. Iowa since 1995. And Notre Dame will have to work on stopping Roy Devyn Marble, who’s putting up great numbers for the experienced Hawkeyes. He leads the Big Ten in steals, ranks sixth in assists and eighth in scoring.
Florida State at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m., ESPN U. A pair of teams that could make more noise than expected this season. Richard Pitino’s Gophers are off a not-so-great trip to Maui that saw them falter against improved competition. But they only fell to top-ranked Syracuse by single digits, perhaps a sign of improvement. Meanwhile, Florida State has earned support to be ushered into the top 25 thanks to a great showing against Michigan down in Puerto Rico, a game that needed to be decided in overtime.