The Irish learned who another high major OOC opponent would be yesterday when the pairings in the 2015 edition of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge were announced.
After beating Michigan State at home in an OT thriller last season, ND will travel to Illinois in next season's Challenge. The game will take place at Illinois' newly remodeled State Farm Center on December 2. The Illini had a disappointing 2014/15 season which saw them finish with a 19-14 overall record and a 9-9 mark in Big Ten play. In the postseason, they lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to Michigan before losing to Alabama in the first round of the NIT.
Illinois also loses their leading scorer from last season, Rayvonte Rice (16.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), to graduation, but has a solid incoming recruiting class highlighted by Leron Black. The Illini will get guard Tracy Abrams back from injury. The senior had a solid 2013/14 season as the team's second leading scorer, but he missed all of last year with an injury.
While Illinois will undoubtedly be a tough opponent, it's hard not to be slightly disappointed with the matchup. Looking purely at where the two teams finished last year, it seems odd last year's ACC Tournament Champion who finished third in the regular season would be facing a Big Ten opponent that didn't even break .500.
Before the announcement, rumors were swirling that the Irish could face national runner-up Wisconsin or bigger name Big Ten teams like Michigan or Ohio State. Even another game with Michigan State, this time in East Lansing, sounds like a better matchup than Illinois. Despite the minor disappointment, the game will still be one of the highlights of Notre Dame's non-conference slate.
It will also give the Irish a true road game early in the season in what should be a loud building. The addition of Illinois completes the Big Ten portion of the schedule as the Irish will also face Indiana in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis at the end of December. As far as other games go, the highlights look to be Maryland against UNC in what could be a battle of top 5 teams, as well as Wisconsin's trip to Syracuse, and an Elite Eight rematch between Louisville and Michigan State in East Lansing. For reference, the full slate of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchups are below (home team in caps).
|Big Ten Team