On December 8, the annual Big Ten/ACC challenge tip-offed, and there were two high market matchups of sixteenth ranked UNC Tar Heels at third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes and sixth-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini at tenth-ranked Duke Blue Devils.
These four teams are teams that have national championship hopes.
The first game to tip-off was the Tar Heels and the Hawkeyes.
UNC came into this game 3-1, their only loss being to the thirteenth ranked Texas Longhorns, while the Hawkeyes came into this game 3-0 but had not played that tough of opponents. Iowa is led by their senior center considered to be one of the best players in college basketball right now, Luka Garza. On the other side, UNC is led by last year’s ACC most improved player, senior Garrison Brooks. The story of the game was the three-pointers for the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes were making the three-point shot early and often, making 4 three-pointers and taking a 16-7 lead within the first 5 minutes of the game. Iowa continued to hit threes in the first half, making 11 threes and taking a 43-31 lead going into the half over UNC. UNC in the first half was very passive, never pushing the ball inside, passing it around the three-point arc, and having to take ill-advised shots.
Something positive that UNC was able to take from the first half was keeping Luke Garza under control. He shot 2/9 from the field and only 6 points in the first half.
UNC went on a 14-2 point run to cut the Iowa lead down to 3 within 4 minutes of the second half. UNC would keep it close until 9:50 left in the game where they would take a 66-65 lead, their first lead of the night. There would be four lead changes in the next minute of the game but then Iowa took back control of the game. Iowa would go on a 14-0 point run to take a 13 point lead with 6:55 left in the game. Iowa kept a 7 point cushion for the rest of the game and won the game 93-80. UNC’s leading scorer was Garrison Brooks who had 17 points and 8 rebounds but was held back because of four personal fouls. On the other side, Iowa was led by Jordan Bohannon who had 24 points, 6 assists, and shot 7-16 from the three-point line. Luka Garza ended up filling up the stat sheet with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
UNC falls to 3-2 on the season and hopes to improve as the season goes on. They want to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Iowa on the other hand improves to 4-0 on the season and proves that they are a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Iowa displayed their strong team in the game against the worthy opponent, UNC, showing they are more than just Luka Garza. My only concern for this Hawkeye team is the sustainability of the three-point shooting game; a bad shooting game in the tournament could end their national title hopes.
The second high market matchup of the night was the Fighting Illini at the Blue Devils. Illinois comes into the game 3-1 with the only loss to second-ranked Baylor while Duke comes into the game 2-1 with the only loss being to fourth-ranked Michigan State.
Illinois took an early 14-4 lead within the first five minutes of the game. Throughout the first half, Duke was shut down by Illinois’ strong defense. One of Duke’s leading scorers through the first 3 games, Matthew Hurt, picked up his third personal foul in the first 14 minutes in the game, really hurting an already struggling Duke offense. Illinois went into the half with a 43-29 lead, not letting Duke get within more than 8 points after the 14-4 lead. From the three-point line, the two teams were on opposite ends of the spectrum with Illinois shooting 6/8 from three while Duke struggled and shot 0/7. At the half, the Illini had 6 guys with 5+ points while Duke was led by Jeremy Roach who had 11 points in the first half off of the bench.
The second half was more of the same, with Duke not coming within more than 10 points of the Illini. It took 27 and a half minutes of game time for the Blue Devils to make a three-pointer and going 0/11 before that.
Illinois won the game by a final score of 83-68 and the biggest lead of the night at 19. Duke has struggled so far this season to find an offensive identity with their young core and that was very present during this game. Illinois’ offensive was led by Ayo Dosunmu who had 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists. Duke was led by Matthew Hurt who had 19 points and 7 rebounds.
With losses to both Michigan State and Illinois at Cameron Indoor Stadium, this is the first time since the 1982-83 season that Duke has lost multiple non-conference games at Cameron Indoor.
Duke drops to 2-2 on the season but I wouldn’t count them out of a national championship game run if they are able to find an offensive identity throughout the rest of the season with this young group. Illinois improves to 4-1 on the season and is looking like a solid final four team, if not even a national championship game team. Illinois is definitely a team to watch as the season progresses.