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Preview: College basketball fans, say hello to the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge

Scott Ratcliffe

acc sec challengeFor fans of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, it’s that time of the year to put the success and skill of the member institutions to the test against another league. For years, the ACC has gone up against the Big Ten in late November for its inter-conference showdown event, but there’s a new bull in the ring to lock horns with.

Say hello to the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge, presented by Continental Tire — 28 total games over the next three days for both the men’s and women’s teams — which tips off tonight with the first set of contests on the men’s side (see full schedules below).

Tonight’s slate is highlighted by a top-10 affair between Miami and Kentucky at Rupp Arena on the men’s side, followed by a matchup fit for the gridiron as Clemson travels to Alabama in the nightcap.

On Wednesday, the North Carolina men’s team will face Tennessee in another top-20 showdown, while Duke will go up against Arkansas. The ladies’ event gets underway Wednesday with a pair of top-25 affairs, with Notre Dame traveling to Tennessee and Louisville taking on Ole Miss.

Former UVA star Dawn Staley and her top-ranked Gamecocks will battle against the Tar Heels Thursday night in a border war, and it will all conclude with a Final Four rematch between No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 7 LSU.

After beating up on the Big East for a few years in the late 80s-early 90s, the ACC dominated the first decade of the men’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which began in 1999 and ran for 24 years, claiming victory in each of the first 10 competitions. The Big Ten finally got on the board in 2009, edging the ACC, 6 games to 5.

In the 24 seasons of the now-defunct men’s Challenge, the ACC won 13 times and lost eight times, with three ties sprinkled in. The conference’s schools came out on the winning end in 152 of the 279 games played (.545 winning percentage).

The ACC women’s teams also enjoyed tremendous success in the event against the Big Ten, winning 11 of the 15 matchups that began in 2007, including five of the last six.

Now it’s time to begin a new tradition with the SEC, a conference with a proud history which currently has five ranked teams in the men’s Associated Press poll (seven, if you include future members Texas and Oklahoma) and five in the women’s poll (Texas would make it six, and Oklahoma is just outside the top 25).

Altogether, there will be eight ranked men’s teams and 11 ranked women’s teams going at it on the hardwood in the brand-new event over the next three days. Bragging rights will be on the line across the country to determine which league emerges victorious in the new system, and perhaps some new rivalries will come to fruition.

The Commonwealth’s two participating schools — Virginia and Virginia Tech — will have some fresh, interesting opponents to tangle with from the Southeastern Conference.

The UVA men’s team will host No. 14 Texas A&M on Wednesday night (7:15 p.m., ESPN2), while the women’s team welcomes Missouri to John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday at 5 (ACC Network).

As noted, the Hokies’ women’s team will go up against defending national champion LSU in Baton Rouge at 9 p.m. on Thursday (ESPN), while the Tech men’s squad travels to face Auburn at 9:15 on Wednesday (ESPN2). Here’s a deeper dive into each of those four matchups:

Men’s Hoops: Texas A&M at Virginia

After hanging on by two against West Virginia last week, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers are off to a 5-1 start, including a 3-0 mark at JPJ so far this season. Wednesday’s game will obviously be the toughest battle by far — at least on paper, as the Hoos will be squaring off against their first ranked opponent of the season.

Virginia’s first and only loss came last Monday against Wisconsin in the opening tilt of the Fort Myers Tip-Off, a game in which the Cavaliers were outscored by 24 and outrebounded by 27, including a 20-3 deficit on the offensive glass.

Reece Beekman (11.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.7 rpg, 2.8 spg) and Ryan Dunn (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.8 spg, 2.5 bpg) have been impressive on both ends of the floor through the first six games, and sophomore guard Isaac McKneely (9.8 ppg, 55 percent from 3-point territory) is back in the lineup after returning from an ankle injury that kept him out for the Texas Southern win on Nov. 16.

The Aggies (6-1) are a perfect 2-0 in true road games to start the season after picking up back-to-back victories at Ohio State and SMU earlier this month.

Former VT head coach Buzz Williams is now in his fifth year in College Station, and his Aggies’ first and only loss was against Final Four participant Florida Atlantic on Friday in the ESPN Events Invitational in Kissimmee, Fla., which helped move the Owls up from 19th to 13th in the polls after also defeating Virginia Tech in the tournament’s championship game.

Junior guard Wade Taylor IV leads A&M in scoring at exactly 20.0 points per contest. Senior forward Henry Coleman III, a Richmond native who was offered a scholarship by the Cavaliers coming out of high school, leads the team in rebounds with 8.3 per game to go along with a scoring average of 14.2 points

Another familiar name, Hokie transfer Tyrece Radford (13.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg), spent his first two seasons in Blacksburg before following Williams to the Lone Star State. Neither Coleman (ankle) nor Radford (breathing problems) suited up for the Aggies’ bounceback win over Iowa State on Sunday night.

Andersson Garcia, a 6-7 senior forward, doesn’t score a ton (3.6 ppg), but cleans up on the glass with 7.6 rebounds per night. A&M is averaging 43.4 rebounds per game, compared to 32.5 for the Hoos. UVA will need to step up its efforts on the boards or it could end up being another lopsided result on the scoreboard.

Men’s Hoops: Virginia Tech at Auburn

As mentioned above, the Hokies (5-2) advanced to the ESPN Events Invitational final, but were blasted by FAU, 84-50. Aside from that, the only other blemish thus far was a heartbreaking, 79-77 defeat at the hands of South Carolina in Charlotte in the second game of the season.

Despite the few bumps in the road in the early going, VT head coach Mike Young loves what he has seen out of 6-10 senior center Lynn Kidd, who leads the team in scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg). The deadly backcourt duo of Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor has combined to average over 30 points and just under five 3-point makes per outing (4.86).

The Tigers (4-1) fell by six points against then-No. 20 Baylor in the season opener in Sioux Falls, S.D., but have ripped off four-straight convincing wins since then. Bruce Pearl’s team has been dominant in those four victories, prevailing by an average margin of 21.5 points per game.

The most impressive wins came during the Vivid Seats Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn a few weeks back, when Auburn defeated Notre Dame by 24 points before taking care of St. Bonaventure by 17 in the championship game.

Junior big man Johni Broome (15.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) is the team’s top scorer and rebounder and will be a tough matchup down low for Kidd and the rest of the Tech frontcourt.

Freshman guard Aden Holloway (13.2 ppg) has knocked down a team-high 15 triples and is the only other Auburn player averaging double figures, so the Hokies will certainly want to keep an eye on him.

Women’s Hoops: Missouri at Virginia

The Wahoos (4-2) went 6-8 in their 14 ACC/Big Ten Challenge contests over the years, but will look to start the new annual event on a winning note under second-year head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton.

UVA has gotten its usual steady production from senior forward Camryn Taylor, who is once again leading the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game to go with her 5.3 rebounding average.

Northwestern transfer Jillian Brown (8.8 ppg) has stepped right in and has been highly productive in a starting role, leading the Hoos with 7.7 rebounds per contest.

Ruckersville native Sam Brunelle (11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) missed the first few games while still recovering from an injury, but has put her stamp on her final season of college basketball, while two more local stars — freshmen Kymora Johnson (11.2 ppg, team-high 4.8 apg, 3.7 rpg) and Olivia McGhee (8.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg) have been impressive to start their Cavalier careers.

In addition to Brunelle returning to full health, Arizona sophomore transfer Paris Clark and senior guard Kaydan Lawson are also back in the rotation after sitting out the first few games.

Virginia is 15-2 in non-conference games under Coach Mox, with the only losses coming earlier this month against ranked opponents Oklahoma and LSU.

Meanwhile, the Tigers (5-2) are coming off of a 67-64 loss to Kent State in the Daytona Beach Classic over the weekend, and will bring some size to Thursday evening’s matchup.

Forward Hayley Frank, a 6-1 senior, leads Missouri in both scoring (17.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg), and has also blocked a team-high 6 shot attempts. In addition, Mizzou has three talented guards who can fill it up — 6-1 sophomore Ashton Judd (16.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg), 6-2 freshman Grace Slaughter (13.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 5-6 senior Mama Dembele (10.9 ppg, 6.9 apg). The Tigers were picked to finish 11th in the SEC’s preseason poll.

Women’s Hoops: Virginia Tech at LSU

In a top-10 rematch of last season’s national semifinal, the Hokies (5-1) will look to two-time reigning ACC Player of the Year Liz Kitley for another superstar performance in this marquee primetime clash.

Through her first six games, the 6-6 senior center is averaging a double-double with 24.3 points and 11.5 rebounds to go along with a team-high 2.8 blocks per contest. Sharpshooting senior guard Georgia Amoore (17.0 ppg, team-best 8.3 apg) is also off to another hot start, knocking down 17 triples on the young season.

This won’t be the first big-time test for the Hokies, however, who went toe to toe with then-No. 3 Iowa on Nov. 9 in Charlotte, but came up short, 80-76, as Caitlin Clark put up 44 points. Kenny Brooks’ squad went 9-6 in their 15 career ACC/Big Ten Challenge games.

The Tigers (7-1) were the top-ranked team in the preseason SEC voting and the AP poll, but were upset by Colorado in the season opener, 92-78. Kim Mulkey’s team has played its last four games without one of their superstars in conference preseason Player of the Year Angel Reese, who averages a double-double of her own (17.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg).

Fortunately for Mulkey, she has five other players who are averaging double figures in scoring, led by DePaul junior transfer guard Aneesah Morrow (18.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Morrow poured in 37 to help the Tigers hold off the Cavaliers in the Cayman Islands.

Freshman guard Mikaylah Williams (17.5 ppg), Louisville transfer guard Hailey Van Lith (12.9 ppg, 5.0 apg) and sophomore and Flau’jae Johnson (11.4 ppg) have also been reliable contributors. It should be a fun, exciting ballgame between two very talented teams in front of a nationally televised audience to conclude this year’s inaugural events.

2023 ACC/SEC Challenge

Men’s Schedule

Tuesday’s Games

  • 21 Mississippi State at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. (ACCN)
  • Notre Dame at South Carolina, 7 p.m. (SECN)
  • LSU at Syracuse, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • 8 Miami at 12 Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Missouri at Pitt, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • NC State at Ole Miss, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Clemson at 23 Alabama, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Wednesday’s Games

  • 14 Texas A&M at Virginia, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • 10 Tennessee at 17 North Carolina, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Florida at Wake Forest, 7:15 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • 7 Duke at Arkansas, 9:15 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Boston College at Vanderbilt, 9:15 p.m. (SECN)
  • Georgia at Florida State, 9:15 p.m. (ACCN)
  • Virginia Tech at Auburn, 9:15 p.m. (ESPN2)

Not participating: Louisville

Women’s Schedule

Wednesday’s Games

  • 18 Notre Dame at 20 Tennessee, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Florida at Georgia Tech, 5 p.m. (ACCN)
  • Vanderbilt at 5 NC State, 7:15 p.m. (ACCN)
  • Miami at 21 Mississippi State, 7:15 p.m. (SECN)
  • 22 Louisville at 19 Ole Miss, 9:15 p.m. (ESPNU)

Thursday’s Games

  • Missouri at Virginia, 5 p.m. (ACCN)
  • Duke at Georgia, 5 p.m. (SECN)
  • 1 South Carolina at 24 North Carolina, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Arkansas at 15 Florida State, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Boston College at Kentucky, 7 p.m. (SECN)
  • Alabama at Syracuse, 7 p.m. (ACCN)
  • 9 Virginia Tech at 7 LSU, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Clemson at Auburn, 9 p.m. (SECN)
  • Texas A&M at Wake Forest, 9 p.m. (ACCN)

Not participating: Pitt

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.