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Ranking the Big Ten-ACC Challenge matchups from most to least compelling

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
Duke players, from left, Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Quinn Cook react to a teammate missing a shot late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Elon in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013. Duke won 86-48
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Duke will face Wisconsin in the marquee game of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge (AP)

ESPN announced the matchups for next season's Big Ten-ACC Challenge on Thursday. A look at the 14 matchups ranked from most to least compelling: 

1. Duke at WIsconsin (Dec. 3) — The marquee game of this year's Big Ten-ACC Challenge features two of the nation's top five teams entering the new season. Duke fills its hole at center with the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit Jahlil Okafor, which should give the Blue Devils the interior scorer and rim protector they lacked this past season. The return of NBA prospects Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker ensures that Wisconsin will bring back seven of its top eight players from a Final Four team. Only shooting guard Ben Brust is lost to graduation.  

2. Ohio State at Louisville (Dec. 2) — Louisville's debut Big Ten-ACC challenge game will be an attractive home game against a worthy foe. Ohio State lost Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross from a team that struggled to score for long stretches, but Thad Matta is hopeful some new additions will help the Buckeyes improve on offense. Freshman D'Angelo Russell is a big-time scoring wing and Temple transfer Anthony Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 boards last season.

3. Syracuse at Michigan (Dec. 2) — Two teams hurt by early entries to the NBA draft will meet in Ann Arbor for the first time since the Wolverines beat the Orange 61-56 in the 2013 Final Four. Syracuse could struggle to generate offense after losing leading scorer C.J. Fair to graduation and forward Jerami Grant and point guard Tyler Ennis to the draft. Michigan has plenty of perimeter firepower with Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, but the Wolverines are losing their three leading big men.

4. Iowa at North Carolina (Dec. 3) — Marcus Paige already lost to one opponent from his native Iowa when Iowa State ousted the Tar Heels from the NCAA tournament in March. Now Paige will try to avoid a second loss when the Hawkeyes visit Chapel Hill. This should be a high-scoring, aesthetically pleasing matchup between two teams that not only like to run but also have the weapons to do so. The question for the Tar Heels is whether enough outside shooters besides Paige will emerge. The question for the Hawkeyes is if they can get an occasional timely stop or two.

5. Michigan State at Notre Dame (Dec. 3) — The return of star guard Jerian Grant and the development of forward Zach Auguste should make Notre Dame significantly better than the squad that struggled to a 15-17 record this past season. Of course, the Irish will need to be in order to beat Michigan State. Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are gone for Michigan State, but the Spartans could still be a Top 25 team if Denzel Valentine emerges as a breakout star, Branden Dawson has a strong senior season and a point guard emerges.

6. Virginia at Maryland (Dec. 3) — For the first time, Virginia and Maryland will meet in a non-league game. The defending ACC champion Cavaliers should be a contender once again this season thanks to an always-formidable defense and an offense fueled by high-scoring wing Malcolm Brogdon and promising point guard London Perrantes. As for Virginia's opponent, it's hard to know what Maryland will look like in its ACC debut. Three players have already transferred away from the Terps and there has been talk recently that more may leave before the spring is over.

7. Pittsburgh at Indiana (Dec. 2) — How appealing this matchup is will depend on whether Indiana can exceed modest expectations next season. With elite big man Noah Vonleh, veteran Will Sheehey and talented but enigmatic Jeremy Hollowell all gone from a team that failed to make the postseason last year, the frontcourt could be a glaring issue for the Hoosiers. Where they may make up for it is on the perimeter, especially if Yogi Ferrell has an all-conference caliber junior season at point guard and Troy Williams and James Blackmon provide scoring from the wing.

8. Nebraska at Florida State (Dec. 1) — What better way for Nebraska to prove that it's capable of winning consistently away from home than by going into a hostile environment and beating a solid Florida State team. The Huskers return Terran Petteway, Shavon Shields and the rest of the core of a team that earned a surprise NCAA tournament bid last March but went just 3-8 on the road. Florida State missed the NCAA tournament this past season, but has enough returning talent to challenge for a spot in the field of 68 next season.  

9. Illinois at Miami (Dec. 2) — Jim Larranaga probably deserved ACC coach of the year consideration last year for coaxing 17 wins out of a team with modest talent at best. Now he adds two impact transfers in former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez and ex-Texas wing Sheldon McClellan. He'll also have injured wing Deandre Burnett back and promising freshman point guard Ja'Quan Newton in the fold. How quickly all those newcomers jell may determine Miami's fate against Illinois. This isn't a vintage Illini team, but John Groce returns leading scorers Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams, brings back top big man Nnanna Egwu and adds some solid transfers and recruits.

10. Minnesota at Wake Forest (Dec. 2) — If Danny Manning's Big Ten-ACC challenge debut is going to be victorious, Wake Forest will have to hold serve at home against a quality opponent. Minnesota returns four of five starters from last year's NIT team, losing only guard Austin Hollins. Wake Forest returns leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas, which should help the Demon Deacons in their quest to reemerge as postseason contenders this year.

11. NC State at Purdue (Dec. 2) — Can NC State go on the road and beat a Purdue team with a potentially elite big man in A.J. Hammons? That probably depends on how quickly the Wolfpack adjust to life without T.J. Warren, the high-scoring big man who dueled with Jabari Parker for ACC player of the year honors last season. The development of guard Cat Barber, the arrival of Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey and the addition of another nice recruiting class give NC State a chance to return to the NCAA tournament next season. 

12. Georgia Tech at Northwestern (Dec. 3) — Is Georgia Tech ever going to make any real progress under Brian Gregory? Can Northwestern ascend in the Big Ten in year two under Chris Collins? This game should provide an early litmus test. There will be more pressure on the Yellowjackets in this game with Gregory needing to show progress despite losing three of his top five scorers from a team that went 16-17 this past season.

13. Virginia Tech at Penn State (Dec. 3)— This figures to be the day where college basketball fans flip the channel from Duke-Wisconsin during a commercial break, stumble across Virginia Tech-Penn State and recall that somehow Buzz Williams is now the coach of the Hokies. Those who stay with this game for more than a few seconds can enjoy two things: Penn State's all-league-caliber guard D.J. Newbill and the sight of Williams shaking his head and wondering why he didn't stay a few more weeks at Marquette and head to Tennessee or Missouri instead. 

14. Rutgers at Clemson (Dec. 1) — Clemson would have been a NCAA tournament threat had K.J. McDaniel decided to return for his senior season, but he left for the NBA instead. That leaves the Tigers in a familiar position: Wondering how they'll generate enough offense. Still, Brad Brownell's teams are typically stingy on defense and the Tigers will be at home. In other words, they probably have enough returning talent to dispatch of a Rutgers team that returns Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack but didn't fare well in its lone year in the American Athletic Conference this past season.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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