Thanks to the machinations of money, broadcasting deals, and general behind the scenes stuff, the 2022 edition was the final ever ACC/Big Ten Challenge. With the Big Ten off to a new TV deal that doesn’t include ESPN, the network unsurprisingly was not interested in holding another edition.
Have no fear, though, because we have a new event set to begin this year. Starting this November ACC teams will compete in the ACC/SEC Challenge. On Wednesday, we found out the matchups for the inaugural men’s and women’s challenges, and the North Carolina teams will be involved in a marquee matchup in both.
On Wednesday, the Tar Heel men will host Tennessee, while the next night, the women will host South Carolina.
ESPN announces matchups, dates & times for the first annual @theACC/@SEC Men's & Women's Basketball Challenge— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) June 28, 2023
#NCAAMBB | Nov. 28-29
#NCAAWBB | Nov. 29-30
Across ESPN platforms
More: https://t.co/NjUvI0M7tC pic.twitter.com/UmhAU75jFP
The men’s matchup against Tennessee will bring the Tar Heels back up against old enemy Rick Barnes. Infamously in the 1990s while coaching Clemson, Barnes had some run ins with Dean Smith that drew the ire of UNC fans. After he left there and went to Texas, his Longhorns teams played a regular series against Roy Williams’ Carolina teams. UNC also played a home-and-home with the Volunteers when Barnes went to Knoxville. The teams most recently met in Hubert Davis’ first season in the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Connecticut, where UT won.
As of right now, the two teams are generally both projected as preseason Top 25 teams for next year, which Tennessee projected as a Top 10 team by some.
Meanwhile, on paper, the women’s game is an even more marquee matchup. The night after the men’s game, the focus will shift to Carmichael for a game between two potential women’s Final Four contenders.
While the UNC women haven’t yet broken through to that level, coach Courtney Banghart has built a very nice roster featuring some exciting transfers and a very nice incoming freshman class.
As for South Carolina, they have been arguably the preeminent women’s program in recent years. Under Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks won national titles in 2017 and 2022. They’ve been to all of the three most recent Final Fours and have five in total since 2015. This season, they are set to rebuild as bit, as they have to replace 2022 National Player of the Year and #1 WNBA Draft pick Aliyah Boston, but Staley should have another team capable of a deep NCAA Tournament run on her hands again.
This game will arguably be the biggest game the Tar Heels women have hosted on campus in many years. Sure, rivalry games against Duke and NC State are huge, and some other highly ranked ACC teams have come to Chapel Hill in recent years, but it’s not often that you’ll get a chance against the sport’s top dog on a stage like this one will have.
Playing an ACC/SEC Challenge instead of an ACC/Big Ten one is going to take some getting used to. However at least in year one, we’ll see UNC play some interesting matchups.