Call it a revenge game, a resume builder or a conference season tune-up, but whatever you do, don’t call the Orange’s draw of Wisconsin in this year’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge easy. The Badgers return their top nine scorers after last year’s tumultuous season that ended in a Sweet 16 appearance. Regardless, the matchup lacks luster. While this game potentially features two Top 25 teams come November 24, is it what the fans want? The purpose of the Challenge is to showcase two of the best conferences in college hoops by matching up similarly talented teams. But the Big Ten and ACC dropped the ball on this game in particular. While the Badgers bring back the aforementioned nine leading scorers who accounted for essentially 100% of the team’s points, Syracuse loses its top three scorers and returns only 25.4 points per game (approximately 35% of last season’s scoring.) Something doesn’t add up here.
The rematch aspect of this game is the biggest blow to the excitement. Part of the fun of the non-conference schedule is seeing unfamiliar faces. The last time these teams met, Bo Ryan roamed the Wisconsin sidelines, Kaleb Joseph played meaningful minutes and Tyler Lydon couldn’t grow facial hair. Much has changed since then, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a sense of familiarity between the two teams without the rivalry feeling.
Maryland poses as a more fitting matchup for Syracuse. Luckily for SU, these Terrapins wouldn’t be running end to end with lacrosse sticks. The Terps are trending in a similar direction as the Orange. Maryland lost Robert Carter to the NBA, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman to graduation and could watch Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble jump to the pros. That leaves Jim Boeheim and Mark Turgeon in similar positions: searching for answers. For Boeheim, he will tinker with a new starting lineup after losing Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson. There will likely be some reshuffles of the starting five early on in the season, a concept unfamiliar to Orange fans after Boeheim ran out the same quintet for all 37 games last season. Turgeon will also be retooling his lineup, which probably features internet sensations Jared Nickens and Jaylen Brantley.
The conferences have two teams in mirror-like situations. It seems like a match made in heaven for the 2016 Challenge, but the Orange will see a different Big Ten team in red come November.