In my mind, there are a lot of toss-up games. Trevor Mbakwe's injury at the Old Spice Classic will be a blow to Minnesota in its home game against Virginia Tech.
The marquee match up is Duke at Ohio State on Tuesday. Duke has played a much better schedule, but the Buckeyes are tough at home, so I like Ohio State. I'll also take North Carolina over Wisconsin.
Here's the key to the Challenge: road wins. I like Michigan at Virginia, IU at North Carolina State and Northwestern at Georgia Tech. Get those wins, and the Big Ten should make it three in a row.
Purdue will face a good opponent in Miami, which has won all of its games at home. The Hurricanes lost their first road game, an overtime affair at Mississippi, but that's not bad at all. New coach Jim Larranaga is in his first season with Miami after 14 years at George Mason. It was there, of course, where he took the Patriots to a Final Four. There's no question that the guy can coach, so you should expect a very determined Miami team on Tuesday night.
Following the Miami game, Purdue must travel to Cincinnati on Friday for a tilt with a ranked Xavier team on Saturday afternoon. It will be Purdue's second visit to the Musketeers' on-campus facility, and as you'd expect, Xavier is very tough at home. Xavier also plays a tough game on Tuesday, when it pays a visit to Nashville for a meeting with a ranked Vanderbilt team.
As far as Purdue is concerned, I felt the Puerto Rico trip played out very well. With Iona and Temple in the Boilermakers' bracket, getting to the championship game was not easy. The team showed it could compete in tight games and come away with wins. I think they competed well against Alabama, which had plenty of motivation after losing to the Boilers the past two seasons.
So far, Coach Painter and his staff have basically gone with a 10-man rotation, but much of that has been due to using three centers on a consistent basis. Jacob Lawson has been a pleasant early surprise.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson has logged more minutes than I predicted early in the year, and I doubt that will change. He's earned his time, and should only get better.
It's true that Purdue must lean heavily on its seniors if the year is to be a success. I think it's quite remarkable what Robbie Hummel has been able to do considering his situation. The Boilers will need his scoring on a nightly basis. Ryne Smith also has to keep shooting to make this team dangerous, while learning to get himself shots against more athletic teams like Alabama.
To this point in the season, I've been encouraged. I think we'll learn more about this team by the end of the week.