ACC vs Big Ten: Foreshadowing Expectations In The NCAA Tournament

The ACC Big Ten Challenge this year ended up in a 6-6 tie. For an early season foreshadower, that result actually favors the ACC given the Big Ten was/is regarded as the toughest conference in the nation. In a key indicator for conference strength the Big Ten finished 2nd with an 80% non-conference winning percentage, compared to the ACC finishing 4th with a 76% non-conference winning percentage, slightly favoring the Big Ten.  Nothing really to hang your hat on in either  of those two conference comparisons really. The question has to be asked “is comparing conferences as a whole worthwhile?” for forecasting what might happen come the NCAA Tournament?

The NCAA is more often than not about the top few teams in a conference and not the conference itself. Frankly the bottom part of a conference can give a false indication of the expected results for Final Four or NCAA Champion due to the fact that the conference bottom is “strong but not strong enough”, and make for the suggestion that while the bottom shelf teams indeed do make the conference stronger than other conferences, they are not strong enough to get into the NCAA or if they do, not strong enough to make any substantial run in the NCAA when playing against other conferences top teams. Given that both the ACC and the Big Ten are 12 team league, let’s look at what might be expected from the top five teams. These are the teams that represent the strongest of the strong for both the ACC and the Big Ten, and barring some rare Cinderella story would be the ones expected to have the real go power to make a strong NCAA run. Based on that, the 5 teams that represent the comparison league vs league are as follows:

Big Ten: Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin

ACC: Miami, Duke, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia

The ACC Big Ten Challenge was long ago, and the teams in involved are changed teams due to the seasoning against the rigors of their schedule, however that said the results between the ten listed ACC and Big Ten teams in head to head matchups is of interest and worth mentioning. So:

Duke defeated Ohio State 73-68

Indiana defeated North Carolina 83-59

Miami defeated Michigan State 67-59

Michigan defeated NC State 79-72

Virginia defeated Wisconsin 60-54

That is a 3-2 advantage to the ACC with regard to top shelf matchup games in the ACC Big Ten Challenge. However once again that is long ago, and most games except the Indiana vs North Carolina game were close, so these results are not all that good for foreshadowing the NCAA expectations now.

Given that the NCAA tournament involves top teams against non-conference opponents on neutral courts, one way to take a good at look at NCAA success expectations wise, and to foreshadow how the top 5 ACC teams and the top 5 Big Ten teams might do in the NCAA, is to look at each team’s and each conference’s results for games played against Top 25 teams, games played against non-conference teams, and games played on neutral courts. This data can provide some insight, and so is provided below in Table 1 for the ACC and Table 2 for the Big Ten.

Table 1 – ACC Top 5 Teams NCAA Foreshadowing Stats

ACC Team


Neutral Court

Top 25









North Carolina




NC State












Table 2 – Big Ten Top 5 Teams NCAA Foreshadowing Stats

Big Ten Team


Neutral Court

Top 25





Michigan State




Ohio State
















What can be taken from the data in Table 1 and Table 2 above is that while non-conference win/loss results are similar for both the ACC and Big Ten conferences the Big Ten has a distinct advantage in the more important win/loss stats of neutral court and Top 25. So foreshadowing might suggest that taken as a whole, using the top 5 teams from each conference, the Big Ten indeed might be expected to do better than the ACC in the NCAA tournament. However that is speaking conference wise, and not individual team wise, noting when the rubber hits the road it is a game of matchups when it comes to what team can actually make it to the Final Four and win a National Championship. With that in mind, using the above tables individual team results for the foreshadowing stats, one might expect the top teams that have the best shot at making it to a Final Four and/or National Championship, listed in order, to look something like this: Duke, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia, Michigan State, NC State, Wisconsin, Miami, and North Carolina.

Another item worth looking at, because the NCAA tournament is definitely where top impact players can have big games and decide games, it to look at what teams in the ACC and Big Ten have as part of their roster a Top 50 player. Now using the midseason list put together by CBS Sports you get this list of top talent players on each team, the teams put in order of their top talent content:

Duke: #1 Mason Plumlee, #40 Seth Curry

Indiana: #5 Cody Zeller, #16 Victor Oladipo

Michigan: #3 Trey Burke, #25 Tim Hardaway

Ohio State: #15 DeShaun Thomas, #32 Aaron Craft

North Carolina: #36 James McAdoo

Michigan State: #39 Keith Appling

So while a Duke might be expected to have the best chance of an Top 50 player taking over a game and winning games due to that player’s impact performance carrying the team, compared to any of the other teams, still the Big Ten has a decided advantage as a league in this regard.

Of course there’s a lot left out of this foreshadowing analysis, such as the impact of coaching, the bracketology effects, etc., etc., etc..  It can be said that NCAA Tournament wise certainly a coach like Coach Izzo or Coach K would give their team bonus impact with regard to NCAA foreshadowing, while a coach like Coach Beilein, who has underachieved mightily in post season play, well not so much.

Thus individual team foreshadowing wise the ACC’s Duke might be expected to do best this year compared against other ACC and Big Ten teams using the above analysis, and using the same analysis the Big Ten as conference truly does have the advantage over the ACC in the NCAA expectations gam. The Big Ten teams top 5 are stronger than the ACC’s top 5. So which is best for determining a Final Four or National Championship to arise from a conference?! The ACC has likely the best team geared for success, while the Big Ten has the most teams geared for success. You choose!

UPDATE: Virginia was snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Them and Maryland. The Hoops Prophet has written about some of these ACC and Big Ten teams above are among the second round of 64 teams could suffer potential upsets. Who do you think will go the farthest and do the most damage in the NCAA tournament of the ACC and Big Ten teams. Vote below and leave a comment justifying your vote.

UPDATE POLL: Which ACC/BigTen Team Will Go Farthest In The NCAA Tourney?

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