Left wanting more college basketball after Feast Week?

Finally tuning into college basketball after giving up a game-winning touchdown on 4th-and-31 against your archrival?

Ready to puff out your chest and prove a Final Four run was no fluke?

Ready to puff out your chest and prove your blue-blood program can still gobble up veteran Final Four caliber teams on your home floor?

If these storylines sound intriguing, then the inaugural ACC-SEC Challenge is for you.

The Challenge will play itself out over 2 nights, beginning Tuesday with a 7-game slate and concluding Wednesday with 7 more contests. Only Louisville, which finished dead last in the ACC a season ago, misses out on what promises to be 2 compelling nights of hoops.

While the ACC is the more basketball rich league and it has sent 3 teams to the Final Four over the past 2 seasons against a goose egg from the SEC, the SEC is a decisive favorite to win the first Challenge, both in Vegas and in computer metrics, where KenPom ranks the SEC as the nation’s No. 3 league while putting the ACC at 6th — the last of the traditional “Power 6” hoops leagues (ACC, B1G, Big East, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC).

How will it play out? Saturday Road previews — and predicts t– every game in the ACC-SEC Challenge below.

Tuesday’s games

No. 21 Mississippi State at Georgia Tech (7 pm, ACC Network)

The Skinny: State is off to a tremendous start despite being without All-SEC big man Tolu Smith. State is 6-0, with excellent scoring balance (5 players at 8 ppg or more) and a suffocating defense that currently ranks 4th nationally in KenPom defensive efficiency. That’s incredible, given Smith, one of the SEC’s best rebounders and post defenders, isn’t yet in the fold. This will be State’s first road game, but it’s unlikely that Georgia Tech, which has been unable to guard early in the year, can mount much of a threat to the streaking Bulldogs.

Prediction: Miss State 80, Georgia Tech 67

Notre Dame at South Carolina (7 pm, SEC Network)

The Fighting Irish are in Year 1 under new head coach Micah Shrewsberry, and while that was one of the best hires of the offseason, there’s not much in the cupboard in South Bend in year one. Freshman Markus Burton has been revelatory (18 ppg), but he’s had little in the way of offensive help. South Carolina, meanwhile, is off to a pleasantly surprising start, with a nice win over Virginia Tech and a Feast Week title at the Arizona Tip-Off event last week. Wofford transfer BJ Mack has been marvelous, averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds a night, and another pair of transfers, Myles Stute (Vanderbilt) and Ta’Lon Cooper (Morehead State/Minnesota) have given the Gamecocks 3-point snipers they lacked last year. Expect a late surge to lift South Carolina at home.

Prediction: South Carolina 77, Notre Dame 69

LSU at Syracuse (7 pm, ESPN 2)

One of the more stylish games because both teams can score and want to run. The Orange, playing at home in the JMA Wireless Dome, have the best player in guard Judah Mintz (18.3 ppg, 4.2 assists). LSU, however, enters having won 3 in a row, including a Charleston Classic game over a Wake Forest team picked to finish ahead of the Orange in the ACC. The battle underneath, with Will Baker and Jalen Reed of LSU battling it out against undersized Benny Williams, could be a defining mismatch. But give us the home team in a great environment.

Prediction: Syracuse 74, LSU 72. 

No. 8 Miami at No. 12 Kentucky (7:30 pm, ESPN)

The Canes were talking about this game at ACC Media Day, with head coach Jim Larrañaga telling Saturday Road that the Hurricanes “were honored by the challenge of representing the ACC in that historic arena,” before adding “it is nice that is who we were paired up with, because it is an opportunity to compete with the types of programs so many times we are told we aren’t good enough to compete against. But you media types make those narratives, not us.”


Both teams can shoot, with prolific guards in Miami duo Wooga Poplar and Nijel Pack and Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves, Rob Dillingham and DJ Wagner. Experience underneath, and jack-of-all-trades FSU transfer Matthew Cleveland, could be the difference in what will be a high scoring affair.

Prediction: Miami 84, Kentucky 80

Missouri at Pittsburgh (7:30 pm, ESPN U)

This is a fun game between two teams that were underrated last season and didn’t get much love in the preseason despite NCAA Tournament runs. Pitt’s Blake Hinson, an Ole Miss transfer, is one of the nation’s most underrated players. He can score at 3 levels and is a menace defensively.

Panthers guard Carlton Carrington has been one of the nation’s best freshmen early in the season, averaging 15 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game. His matchup against Missouri’s deep backcourt, featuring underrated Nick Honor (13.2 ppg, 2 assists, 1 steal) and Caleb Grill (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rebounds, 1 steal), will be worth the watch.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 75, Missouri 70

NC State at Ole Miss (9 pm, ESPN 2)

This is the first real test for Ole Miss under Chris Beard, who has managed to stay unbeaten with 3 wins in games decided by 5 points or less. The Rebels don’t look like a Beard team just yet — as their 156th KenPom Defensive Efficiency rating suggests — but there were signs of life when they led Temple for most the game in Philadelphia last week. Beard’s backcourt of Auburn transfer Allen Flanigan (20.2 ppg), All-SEC senior Matthew Murrell (14.4 ppg), and Jalen Murray (12.4 ppg) has been electric early in the year.

What has struggled for the Rebels is the frontcourt, though outside of DJ Burns Jr., the Wolfpack don’t have much to test that. Instead, this is a battle of guards,  with Casey Morsell and NC State searching for another win over a SEC opponent after beating Vanderbilt in Las Vegas during Feast Week.

Prediction: Ole Miss 74, NC State 71

Clemson at No. 23 Alabama (9:30 pm, ESPN)

The Crimson Tide were overwhelmed by Ohio State at the Emerald Coast Classic last week, but bounced back with a win over a good Oregon team in the consolation game. Nate Oats’ team is scoring at will, but the hard-nosed defense that paced last year’s No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed is missing this season with All-American Brandon Miller to harass the opponent’s best guard and Charles Bediako to clog things up in the middle. Both Oregon and Ohio State shot over 50% from the field against Alabama in the first 2 Power 6 games for the defending SEC champions.

Clemson is unbeaten, largely by protecting the offensive glass (9th in offensive rebounding percentage allowed) and the sensational play of PJ Hall, the All-ACC big who can score at 3 levels, pass out of double teams and get to the line at a prolific rate. Hall will keep this game interesting, but Alabama has been marvelous at home under Oats and that will continue Tuesday night.

Prediction: Alabama 88, Clemson 79

Wednesday’s games

No. 10 Tennessee at No. 17 North Carolina (7:15 pm, ESPN)

The Volunteers finished 4th at the Maui Invitational, losing to Purdue and Kansas in games that could be seed line type contests come Selection Sunday. Tennessee is a different team this year than last year’s Sweet 16 group, and in the best way. Dalton Knecht, the Northern Colorado transfer, has been ready for prime time, giving the Vols a pure scorer the team lacked a year ago. Knecht is averaging 17 points per game against the nation’s toughest schedule to date. That’s a massive upgrade personnel-wise from a squad that plodded at times in 2022-23, and the Vols are much more skilled with Uroš Plavšić no longer commanding minutes and mauling opponents inside. Even though Tennessee lost — it was impressive the way they went skilled player for skilled player with No. 1 Purdue. Once Zakai Zeigler begins to feel healthy, the Vols could take off. Right now, Zeigler looks rusty, averaging just 4.2 ppg with a 30.4 turnover rate, numbers much worse than he put up a year ago.

Early returns on the Tar Heels are better too, thanks to Harrison Ingram, a former 5-star who transferred in from Stanford. He’s giving the Heels a stat-sheet stuffer whose athleticism has helped the them play in transition almost 5% more than a season ago (19.3% of possessions, per Synergy). A fast Carolina is a better Carolina, and but for an untimely spell of bad defense against Villanova, the Tar Heels would have won the Battle 4 Atlantis. They were especially impressive routing Arkansas in the 3rd-place game.

This will be a back and forth, fun affair, but Rick Barnes and the Vols can get stops, and we don’t know if the Tar Heels can consistently at this point in the young season.

Prediction: Tennessee 76, North Carolina 71

Florida at Wake Forest (7:15 pm, ESPN U)

The Gators looked underrated at the NIT Tipoff event, blasting Pitt 86-71 in the semifinals and playing one of Feast Week’s best games in a rollicking, high-scoring duel with Baylor in the championship. The next step for Todd Golden’s team is to win close games against good teams. Florida has lost 2 close games — by 3 to Virginia and 4 to Baylor — to open the season, passing the “eye test” but lacking a signature win. Florida is 4-0 with its full complement of players, though, as transfer guard Zyon Pullin, who has been magnificent since returning from a 3 game suspension, missed the Virginia game, and 7-foot big man Micah Handlogten missed the Baylor game after suffering an ankle injury early in Florida’s win over Pitt. Florida ranks 3rd in offensive rebounding percentage early in the season, and if Handlogten can play, the Gators will test Wake Forest’s mettle underneath.

Wake Forest, meanwhile, is off to a sluggish start and in dire need of a résumé win. The Gators would be it, and they’ll rely on a fantastic quartet of scorers, led by Gonzaga transfer Hunter Sallis (18.3 ppg), who looks like Steve Forbes’ latest magician job in the portal, and fantastic import Cam Hildreth (17.8 ppg), to test a Florida defense that has been leaky at times in the season’s first month.

Prediction: Florida 82, Wake Forest 79

No. 14 Texas A&M at Virginia (7:15 pm, ESPN 2)

Two of the nation’s best guards square off in Charlottesville when Reece Beekman of Virginia meets Wade Taylor IV of Texas A&M. No one in college basketball gets downhill and initiates contact better than Taylor IV, who is taking on an even more aggressive role as a junior for Buzz Williams and the Aggies.

Taylor IV isn’t shooting well from deep yet (just 26%), but his ability to drive and orchestrate for teammates is why the Aggies feature one of the nation’s most efficient offenses (5th in KenPom).

Taylor IV hasn’t faced a defender like Beekman this year, though. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year and preseason All-American held Florida star Riley Kugel scoreless for a half in Virginia’s win over the Gators in Charlotte, and he’ll be tasked with slowing Taylor IV in what should be a marvelous environment in Charlottesville.

If Taylor IV is neutralized, a supporting cast battle would seem to favor the Aggies, though Virginia’s Ryan Dunn may be the lone future lottery pick in the game.

Prediction: Virginia 63, Texas A&M 60

No. 7 Duke at Arkansas (9:15 pm, ESPN)

The signature game of Night 2 presents a third test on the young season for Jon Scheyer’s veteran Duke team, but the first in a true road environment. The Blue Devils were mauled on the glass in a loss at Cameron Indoor to Arizona, hinting at a potential weakness, but Arkansas lacks the bigs to exploit it, with only rangy Trevon Brazile averaging over 5 rebounds a game early in the season. Arkansas will play better at home than it has on the road and on neutral floors, but right now, the Hogs’ only win over a Power 6 squad came in double overtime against Stanford, and UNC Greensboro has already left Bud Walton with a buy game dub. Duke becomes the second team from the Old North State to conquer the arena this month on Wednesday night.

Prediction: Duke 81, Arkansas 73

Boston College at Vanderbilt (9:15 pm, SEC Network)

Is it possible for two teams that entered the year with high hopes to be desperate in November?

If it is, this game qualifies, with Boston College a disappointing 4-2 and Vanderbilt 3-3 thanks to a head-scratcher of a loss on opening night to Presbyterian.

The Commodores looked a bit more like the team that nearly played their way into the NCAA Tournament last March with Tyrin Lawrence back in the fold last week, but it still lost both its Feast Week games, falling to NC State and Arizona State at the Vegas Showdown.

Boston College, meanwhile, needs someone beyond Quinten Post to show life offensively. Post is averaging an All-American caliber 21 and 9 early in the campaign, but only one other Boston College player is shooting better than 44% from the field (forward Devin McGlockton).

Give me the home team in a rock fight.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 68, Boston College 65

Virginia Tech at Auburn (9:15 pm, ESPN 2)

Auburn fans probably wish this game fell on a Tuesday. Anything to forget 4th-and-31, at least for 2 hours.

Virginia Tech is usually the kind of team that gives Auburn trouble, with good guards who can limit turnovers and outstanding patience offensively. Mike Young’s teams force you to guard for 30 seconds, which can be a weakness for Bruce Pearl teams.

The issue for the Hokies, and one that FAU torched over the weekend in the ESPN Events Championship, is the lack of a quality big to keep teams from playing inside-out. Johni Broome will give the Hokies fits (much like Vlad Goldin did) and Auburn will pull away to a convincing win late.

Prediction: Auburn 78, Virginia Tech 66

Georgia at Florida State (9:15 pm, ACC Network)

To the constant irritation of Florida fans, Leonard Hamilton dominated Mike White when White led the Gators, winning all but 1 of their rivalry contests. Will that trend continue now that White is leading Georgia?

The Seminoles were clobbered at Florida but recovered to win the Sunshine Slam, beating a terrific Colorado team in the championship. The Dawgs had the opposite Feast Week experience, losing both of their games at the Baha Mar Bahamas Classic. Georgia did recover to beat Winthrop over the weekend, but the Dawgs are a mess offensively, thanks primarily to poor shooting. They take a lot of 3s (42.2% of their shots) but don’t make many (29.9%).

FSU’s length and athleticism bothered Colorado in ways they won’t impact this Georgia team, which is wing heavy and likes to play fast (27th in possession length, 72nd in tempo). Expect and up and down and somewhat ugly game, with the home Seminoles making enough shots to win late.

Prediction: Florida State 79, Georgia 77

Overall Prediction: SEC wins, 8-6