The once-loved ACC Big 10 Challenge has disappeared after new TV deals emerged and conference realignment has taken center stage. However, do not worry, as the ACC SEC Challenge steps in to give college basketball lovers yet another fun week of hoops.
The ACC SEC Challenge will arguably be a better product to watch. The ACC and SEC teams typically play similar styles and matchups will be entertaining. Expect plenty of fast-paced hoops with five stars all over the court.
2023 ACC SEC Challenge Preview
Mississippi State Bulldogs @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The Bulldogs are quietly ranked with some solid high-major wins. Freshman Josh Hubbard came in and got to work quickly. This team is tough and they are no fun to play against. Jimmy Bell has been a great addition averaging nearly a double-double. While they won’t shock you, this is a team that will be around that 8-9 line come March and be an annoying team for a one-seed to play.
The Yellow Jackets are off to a terrible start. Damon Stoudamire can’t be having too much fun. Miles Kelly is getting buckets with ease but that is about the only positive you can say so far. A loss to UMass Lowell and a blowout to Cincinnati have things looking bleak.
The pick: Mississippi State. Too physical, and too consistent for Georgia Tech.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ South Carolina Gamecocks
The Fighting Irish are ushering in the Micah Shrewsberry era. It has been an up-and-down start, to say the least, but Markus Burton has been fantastic. The rest of the group is not quite strong enough to compete in the ACC yet. They really need some threes to start falling.
The Gamecocks are paced by transfers. Meechie Johnson and BJ Mack have been excellent so far. While they aren’t blowing anyone out or playing major competition, they are winning. It is not a team that will likely appear in your bracket, but they are good enough to win this one.
The pick: South Carolina. At home with the two best players on the court. Not a great viewing experience.
LSU Tigers @ Syracuse Orange
The Tigers are led by several transfers, most notably Will Baker. Baker’s size and footwork make him a difficult cover for anyone. Expect a big game from him here. They have played a ton of close games and dropped a few of them. One of the main issues has been turnovers, averaging nearly 13 per game. The other is a lack of true playmakers, with only Jordan Wright averaging more than 2 assists per game.
This is the new-look Orange. Jim Boeheim has retired and Adrian Autry is at the helm. Amazingly, minimal 2-3 zone is being played in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse is led by Judah Mintz and JJ Starling who have been dominant. Mintz has elevated his game drastically and is now a threat with his jumper. Syracuse has played some tough games, especially in the Maui Invitational, and made things interesting for about 35 minutes each game then fell apart.
The pick: Syracuse. Guards are too talented and it is in the dome which is historically a tough place to shoot.
Miami Hurricanes @ Kentucky Wildcats
The Hurricanes are flying under the radar. Last year, they reached the Final Four and have continued that superb play to start this season. They absolutely smacked Kansas State and now head to Rupp Arena. While some stars left, new ones emerged. Wooga Poplar has quickly elevated his game to All-ACC level. The addition of star transfer Matthew Cleveland is the next great do-it-all small-ball forward for Miami. That does not even touch their two returning studs from last year which leads to four starters averaging 15 points per game or more.
Kentucky is loaded with talent. Calipari recruited a phenomenal class. Rob Dillingham has made the best impression so far but returner Antonio Reeves has shot the lights out. The freshmen will continue to improve and that is a scary thought. Kentucky also hopes to get two of their star bigs on the court soon and when that happens they do not have a weakness. Buy stock now.
The pick: Kentucky. Narrowly. Miami has great guards with so much experience but I expect Rupp to be rocking. If one of the centers can play for Kentucky I’d like them even more in this one.
Missouri Tigers @ Pittsburgh Panthers
The Tigers lost quite a bit from last year’s group. They have struggled to find their rhythm so far and dropped a few games because of it. Sean East II needs to play well for them to win games because when he doesn’t they play in close games. Ultimately, the correct number of scorers just is not evident yet.
The Panthers return plenty of last year’s surprising team. Blake Hinton has been fantastic and Carlton Carrington quickly etched his name as a freshman to watch. Pittsburgh is always physical and always has tough shotmakers. They really should build on last year’s success and make a run.
The pick: Pittsburgh. Hinson is phenomenal and elevates his game when it is needed most.
NC State Wolfpack @ Ole Miss Rebels
The Wolfpack are still looking to break through. They return some stars from last year’s group, mainly DJ Burns who continues to dominate. Keatts chooses to play with some size and that makes them tough inside. The question will be whether or not Burns is their best playmaker. If he is, that could be problematic. If a guard bursts through, they can make some noise.
The Rebels are squeaking by but winning. This team went through some changes this offseason, most notably signing Chris Beard. They landed great transfers in Allen Flanigan and Jamarion Sharp but it just has not completely clicked yet. On paper, they are certainly better than what they have put on film.
The pick: Ole Miss. Arguably the biggest coinflip of the ACC SEC Challenge. I’ll take the scoring of Flanigan and the size of Sharp to cause problems.
Clemson Tigers @ Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tigers always fly under the radar. Coach Brownell was thrilled to see PJ Hall back in an orange uniform and he has been fantastic. Clemson always plays tough and makes other teams earn it. The question is will they have a guard that can take over a game late and win it. That question seems to still remain even with the addition of Joe Girard.
The Crimson Tide just continually reload. Grant Nelson is as good as advertised. Mark Sears has been everything you want in a lead guard. Alabama is boat-racing teams, although the competition has not quite been there. They will have to earn this one but the talent level is different.
The pick: Alabama. Sears and Nelson are the two best players on the court. Nelson gets his first major TV game…look out.
Tennessee Volunteers @ North Carolina Tar Heels
The Volunteers left Hawaii as the 4th place team. That might sound bad but that tournament was loaded. The Vols are a veteran group led by Santiago Vescovi and transfer Dalton Knecht. They are still incredibly physical and make your life difficult. The one thing they lack is a consistent three-point threat.
The Tar Heels struggled against Villanova but certainly look better than last year. The roster is significantly different with transfers throughout. However, Armando Bacot and RJ Davis still stir the drink. Davis is one of the most underrated players in the nation. He is so consistent and constantly creates for his teammates. North Carolina has not shot it well yet but on paper, they are a good shooting group. Bacot started slowly and seems lost at times; that has to change.
The pick: North Carolina. Tough matchup. Probably a game that comes down to turnovers and foul trouble. UNC at home gives them the nod with a big game from Davis.
Texas A&M Aggies @ Virginia Cavaliers
The Aggies are good. Much the same as last year, they are led by Wade Taylor IV and Tyrece Radford. Buzz Williams always has a fun group and this team is no different. They will defend, dive on the floor, play with a ton of emotion, and make tough shots. Ultimately, they may not be as good as their ranking states but they are good enough. Can they keep their head on straight is the main question. That cost them against FAU.
The Cavaliers are similar to years past. They can really defend and are led by DPOY Reece Beekman. However, they have two players averaging double digits and cannot make threes. Beekman will have to take over on offense or they will need one of the young guys to take on a big scoring load. Bennett is as good a coach as anyone, but he has his work cut out for him.
The pick: Texas A&M. Surely, this is the lowest-scoring game of the ACC SEC Challenge. First one to 50 wins.
Florida Gators @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The Gators have played very well this year. Another team full of transfers, it has taken some time to come together. Walter Clayton Jr is the guy to watch. He is a transfer from Iona and has a ton of skill to go with great speed and shiftiness. In March, Clayton is the kind of guy that can win you games.
The Demon Deacons can score. Four starters average over 15 per game and they are led by Hunter Sallis from Gonzaga. They are a really fun team to watch because every single guard can absolutely go. This will be a sneaky fun matchup with Florida.
The pick: Florida. Guards win and Florida’s guards are better, just barely. I trust Florida’s defense more too. Another coin flip game but a really fun one.
Duke Blue Devils @ Arkansas Razorbacks
The Blue Devils bring arguably the best roster in the sport to Fayetteville. Kyle Filipowski is off to a phenomenal start and Tyrese Proctor is one of the best lead guards in the nation. With four freshmen, the early season is always tough. Duke did drop one at home to a tough Arizona team but quickly righted the ship. They will be tested heavily in this game.
The Razorbacks are off to a strange start. They have a home loss to UNCG and a tough game against Stanford that they tried to lose. Would you be surprised to know that the three leading scorers on Eric Musselman’s team are transfers? Me either. Would it surprise you to know they are all guards? Me either. The Muss bus rolls on. Hopefully, Tramon Mark is healthy after a scary incident in the Bahamas.
The pick: Duke narrowly. Jeremy Roach hits a shot down the stretch to seal the deal. Easily the best environment and game of the ACC SEC Challenge.
Boston College Eagles @ Vanderbilt Commodores
The Eagles go as Quinten Post goes. He is off to an incredible start and needs more attention. Boston College is one of those sneaky teams that has enough experience and talent to win games that they probably should not. They do not do anything wrong.
The Commodores have started really slow and Jerry Stackhouse is on the hotseat. Part of the issue is he has not recruited as well as some people thought he would. This group is led by Ezra Manjon but they do not have a ton to offer. Every game they play has been close and the competition has not been there.
The pick: Boston College. Too much Post and they will not do anything to lose this game.
Georgia Bulldogs @ Florida State Seminoles
The Bulldogs and Mike White are solid. Interesting statement for a team that is 3-3 but don’t let that fool you. They have okay losses to good teams. They have plenty of talented combo guards and any of them can get hot at any given time.
The Seminoles and Leonard Hamilton roll on. They got smacked by Florida and lost key pieces from last year’s group but Baba Miller is here. Miller is a stud and is only going to get better as the season rolls on. As always, good luck figuring out which Seminole is going to make the play to beat you.
The pick: Florida State. That switching defense is a killer if you don’t see it often.
Virginia Tech Hokies @ Auburn Tigers
The Hokies brought back both Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor. These guys can fill it up with ease as can Virginia Tech as a whole. Cattoor already shoots 45% from deep as well. He is in for a huge season if he keeps that up. Virginia Tech is another team that will not beat themselves they just need to make threes. Don’t sweat the blowout against Florida Atlantic.
The Tigers lost a tough one to Baylor to start the year but have been dominant since. They have a good mix of experience and youth. The other big perk for the Tigers is the amount of energy they play with. Johni Broome and Aden Holloway lead the way and are both electric. This one will be fun.
The pick: Auburn. Close one that the home team steals. It will be hard to speed up the Hokies but Auburn will score just enough.
ACC SEC Challenge Result
It is going to be a close one and comes down to the last game. Seems like the SEC will pull this out 8-6. KenPom rankings would agree the SEC is the stronger conference. Either way, we are in for a treat with some excellent basketball.