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Instant reaction: Along comes Sparty again for Irish in November hoops game

Tom Noie
ND Insider

Are we really doing this basketball dance again? 

Whoever crafts the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge men’s basketball matchups gets a zero for creativity. Even that might be a little high.

When news broke Friday morning of the annual matchups in a Challenge that dates back to 1999, it likely was greeted with a little less than a shrug from the Notre Dame perspective. Maybe even a yawn. 

Notre Dame and Michigan State have operated like conference colleagues when it comes to the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. They seemingly play each other every other year.

For the third time since Notre Dame joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013, and the fourth time in the last nine seasons, it drew a matchup against Michigan State. Before this recent run, the programs went 35 years between games.

Seriously, Sparty again? 

The teams meet Nov. 30 at Purcell Pavilion. It will be THE marquee non-conference matchup for Notre Dame now that big, bad Kentucky decided to dodge a third straight early-season loss to the Irish. That series is off for a year (and maybe for good). 

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Any game against a gold-standard program like Michigan State is a treat. So is seeing good friends Mike Brey and Tom Izzo share the same sideline. But this is definitely a been-there, done that (way too many times) feel. Like eating steak nearly every night during a week-long stay in Omaha for the College World Series. 

Pass the Pepto. 

What, Iowa wasn’t available? Illinois was too busy? 

When Notre Dame joined the ACC in 2013, one of the attractions from a men’s basketball standpoint was a chance to explore different non-league opponents. See teams and places that the Irish just didn’t see in the Big East. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge was supposed to do that. 

It did exactly that when Notre Dame and Michigan State met for the first time since 1979 in 2014, a game at Purcell Pavilion that went to overtime (the Austin Torres game) before the Irish won 79-78. Three seasons later, the teams met again in the annual challenge at Breslin Center. Fresh from a Maui Invitational championship and ranked in the Associated Press top five, Notre Dame was as hot as it's ever been under Brey. Michigan State was way better, and proved it in a primetime pummeling, 81-63. 

Two seasons ago, when the coronavirus pandemic threatened to torpedo the college basketball season before it ever got started, Brey had the bright idea of opening at Michigan State. It was good, in theory. With Brey suffering the lingering effects of coronavirus, Notre Dame played as lethargic and lackluster as the head coach felt in an 80-70 loss in a game the Irish trailed by as many as 28. 

Now it's Notre Dame-Michigan State Part IV. This will be the 10th season for Notre Dame in the ACC, but when it comes to the Big Ten Challenge, it cannot seem to get off the same three opponent hamster wheel. 

The Big Ten features 14 teams. During its time in the ACC, Notre Dame has played exactly five. That’s it. That’s the list. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge opponent leaderboard is Michigan State (3), Illinois (3) and Iowa (2).  In 2019, Notre Dame traveled back to Brey’s home state and got boat-raced (72-51) by Maryland. During that lost pandemic season, Notre Dame played its most entertaining home game, a 90-85 loss to No. 22 Ohio State.

In nine challenges, Notre Dame is 4-5. It has lost three straight.  

A Notre Dame-Rutgers rematch in November apparently was too good to be true. In March, the teams played arguably the most entertaining game of the entire NCAA tournament in a First Four matchup in Dayton, Ohio. That game featured 12 ties and 17 lead changes. It went to double overtime. The Irish won on a Paul Atkinson, Jr., rebound basket with 1.4 seconds remaining. 

Rutgers is scheduled in this Challenge cycle to go on the road, except instead of going to South Bend, it will head to South Beach to meet  Miami (Fla.). 

What about Purdue? After 10 seasons, the annual Crossroads Classic doubleheader in December featuring Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue dissolved last December. Enough was enough. Notre Dame would rotate playing Indiana in odd years, Purdue in even. With no Crossroads this year, it felt like the perfect time to rekindle on-campus games with Indiana and Purdue. 

Think a Purdue at Notre Dame game (the first time the Boilers would visit South Bend since 2004) would’ve moved the area college basketball meter in November? How about a visit from Wisconsin for the first time since 1968? 

Instead, Purdue gets a trip to Florida State while Wisconsin gets a home game against Wake Forest and Notre Dame gets Michigan State. 

And the ACC/Big 10 Challenge again gets it wrong. 

2022 Men’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge Matchups 

Monday, Nov. 28 

Minnesota at Virginia Tech 

Pitt at Northwestern 

 Tuesday, Nov. 29 

Syracuse at Illinois 

Maryland at Louisville 

Penn State at Clemson 

Virginia at Michigan 

Wake Forest at Wisconsin 

Georgia Tech at Iowa 

Wednesday, Nov. 30 

Ohio State at Duke 

Purdue at Florida State 

Rutgers at Miami 

North Carolina at Indiana 

Michigan State at Notre Dame 

Boston College at Nebraska 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.