Breaking down the ACC/B1G Challenge with TMill of Hammer and Rails

Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

We talked hoops with Travis Miller of Hammer and Rails, including Miami's match-up with Nebraska and all 12 ACC/B1G games on tap Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

A few years back, when the world only knew of Shane Larkin as Barry's son, and we were pushing the 'Canes as a future ACC  Hoops juggernaut from a site called Category 6,  Miami faced off against Purdue in the ACC/B1G Challenge and we partnered up with Travis Miller of Hammer and Rails to break it down.

A lot has changed since then.  Category 6 is no more, absorbed into machine that is State of the U.

Everyone now knows about Shane Larkin, and Miami is coming off a Sweet 16, as well as ACC Regular Season and Tournament Championships.

But some things have remained the same.

TMill remains a blogging friend and ally (heck he even braved the cold to watch Miami pound Pitt with Miami alum Mrs. T Mill, on black Friday).

And heck, the guy can really break down basketball.

So for the third consecutive year, I have enlisted Travis to take a  closer look at this year's B1G/ACC Challenge.

Here is the full Q&A:

SOTU: With the landscape of both the ACC (adding Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Pitt this season and Louisville next) and B1G (adding Maryland and Rutgers next year) changing so dramatically, do you see this series continuing? Which conference will ultimately carry the mantra as the best for hoops?

TMill: I  definitely see it continuing because it is ratings gold for the Big Ten and each team involved knows it is going to get a quality non-conference game. Wins in this event often boost a team’s schedule strength and it is certainly better than a paycheck game against Directional State. This year Purdue has home non-conference games against Northern Kentucky, Rider, Siena, Maryland Eastern Shore, Eastern Illinois, and Central Connecticut State. We need a game against someone like Boston College just to have any legitimacy to our NCAA profile.


SOTU: As the Managing Editor of Hammer and Rails, can you give UM fans a little update on how Purdue's Basketball team is fairing this season?

TMill: It is much better than last season for sure. After a bad trip to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic Purdue is 6-2, but has had some unexpectedly close games. We survived our opener against Northern Kentucky by a point and even trailed by 4 with less than a minute left. Rider was a close game and both games with Siena (we played them at Mackey Arena last Sunday then against yesterday in Orlando) were too close for comfort.

Purdue looks better and handled adversity far better than last year, but two bad halves in Orlando were the reason we were in the 7th place game. Purdue was in foul trouble early against a very good Oklahoma State team and trailed by 23 at halftime, but played a great second half and even cut the lead to four with about three minutes left. The next day against Washington State the opposite happened. Purdue led by 10 at halftime but was outscored 52-27 in the second half.

That carry over lasted into the second half last night, where Purdue trailed by 16 before closing the game on a 38-17 run, including the last nine points of the game. We’re playing four freshmen and three sophomores big minutes with only one four-year player (Terone Johnson) getting a lot of time. A pair of graduate transfers have come in to stabilize things, but it looks like we’re going to be in for an up and down year. I just hope we find 14 more wins to get an NCAA berth.


SOTU: Which game is the best of the bunch and why?

TMill: Well, the shine has gone off of a lot of games with North Carolina losing to Belmont and UAB while Michigan dropped a game to Iowa State. I am most curious to see what Indiana does against Syracuse. The Hoosiers looked completely baffled last season by the Orange in the NCAA Tournament and they get another crack at it. It wasn’t even that they struggled with the zone. It was more like they were shocked that Syracuse was playing it. Indiana has the talent to make this a competitive game an even win, but I question if they have the coaching.



SOTU: For UM fans who know very little about Nebraska, can you give us a brief breakdown on the Cornhuskers Hoops team?


TMill:  We call it Nebrasketball and for the most part it is harmless. The Cornhuskers struggle quite a bit because they are a basketball team at a football school. How much attention did Miami basketball get in the early 2000’s when the football team was rolling? That’s Nebraska, only you guys were actually good at basketball then.

Nebraska had a lot of turnover from a team that wasn’t that good last season and got some transfer guys active, so they are a mystery to me. They ended up ruining Iowa’s season with a crippling late February win that certainly impacted Iowa’s NCAA resume. They also knocked us off in the Big Ten Tournament after we beat them by 9 in Lincoln. In their first year in the Big Ten they beat Indiana, but that is about it. This year they are expected to be in the bottom four of the league with Northwestern, Penn State, and Minnesota and not be a real threat for the NCAAs


SOTU: Please give me a prediction for each game, and a brief breakdown?


TMill:


Indiana at SyracuseHas Tom Crean figured out what a 2-3 zone is? Syracuse is vulnerable after barely getting past St. Francis of New York at home and Indiana has a ton of talent. Indiana’s lone loss was to UConn in New York, but they had a close call with LIU-Brooklyn. I have to go with Syracuse here because Boeheim coached circles around Crean last year when Indiana had a better, more experienced team.

Illinois at Georgia Tech – The Fighting Illini are undefeated, but have been far from pretty in doing so. Valparaiso and IPFW nearly beat them at home, but they got a nice road win last week at UNLV. Illinois is also tied with Purdue for the longest active win streak in the Challenge from either conference, as both teams have won four straight. Illinois makes it five, because Georgia Tech hasn’t played anyone of consequence.

Penn State at PittsburghI really thought Penn State would be better this year with the back court of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, but I don’t know if they have enough to go in and beat an undefeated Pitt team. If this were in State College I think Penn State has a chance, but I will go with Pitt.

Michigan at Duke – I am starting to think neither one of these teams is as good as their preseason ranking. The two losses from Duke are far from bad, but how on earth did Vermont hang around at Cameron Indoor? Michigan lost to Iowa State and UNC-Charlotte. I think they are missing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. more than they expect. That, and only fools pick against Duke at home in non-conference games.

Notre Dame at IowaI want this game banished because Notre Dame shouldn’t be participating in this even until they are a full ACC member. Either you’re in with football or you’re out, Irish. The ACC is not some hot chick you screw on the side. Iowa was lambasted last season for a weak non-conference schedule and it cost them an NCAA bid. They get a good win for their profile here.

Florida State at MinnesotaI thought Minnesota was going to be one of the weakest teams in the Big Ten this year and I don’t know what to think about Florida State. The blowout of VCU was nice, but they dropped close games to Michigan and Florida while barely beating Northeastern. They are still probably a lot better than Minnesota.

Maryland at Ohio StateSo this is a conference game next year, even though no one I know really wants Maryland or Rutgers in the Big Ten. I thought Ohio State lost a lot with Deshaun Thomas but they are rolling so far. Aaron Craft is going to piss off Maryland fans as he is one of the best defenders in the country. Ohio State is my pick.

Wisconsin at VirginiaBo Ryan is a wizard and always manages to have a bruising 6’9" white power forward with a Polish last name that suffers from a tragic lack of vowels. Virginia has played no one aside from VCU, and they lost that game. The Badgers win easily.

Northwestern at North Carolina StateNorthwestern has already lost four games and barely beat IUPUI. It is going to be a long first year for Chris Collins, but at least Northwestern fans won’t have another string of agonizing February losses that knock them out of the NCAAs. NC State wins big here.

North Carolina at Michigan StateYou’ve lost to Belmont and UAB, North Carolina? Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. Michigan State looks like a juggernaut that is only going to get better as all Tom Izzo teams do. I question if North Carolina even makes the NCAAs.

Boston College at Purdue – Purdue seemed to be at a crossroads at halftime yesterday against Siena and responded with a great second half. I hope that means there is a carry over, because this game needs to be a win along with a neutral site game against Butler in Indianapolis in a week and a half. Boston College is not very good and Purdue needs to not lose at home.

Miami at NebraskaYou guys sure like to make things exciting this year with three overtime games and three more decided by five points or less. This could be the deciding game of the challenge depending on what happens in West Lafayette. I’ll give it to you guys because at least you’re learning what to do in a close game.

Full Schedule of the Games:

Date Time (ET) Game Network
Tue, Dec 3 7:15 p.m. No. 20 Indiana at No. 9 Syracuse ESPN
Illinois at Georgia Tech ESPN2
7:30 p.m. Penn State at Pitt ESPNU
9:15 p.m. No. 10 Michigan at No. 6 Duke ESPN
Notre Dame at No. 25 Iowa ESPN2
9:30 p.m. Florida State at Minnesota ESPNU
Wed, Dec 4 7 p.m. Maryland at No. 8 Ohio State ESPN or ESPN2
Wisconsin at Virginia ESPN or ESPN2
7:30 p.m. Northwestern at NC State ESPNU
9 p.m. No. 12 North Carolina at No. 3 Michigan State ESPN
Boston College at Purdue ESPN2
9:30 p.m. Miami at Nebraska ESPNU

Thanks again to TMill for working with us.  The next couple of nights should be a lot of fun, featuring some high quality hoops.

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