BOZICH | It's a first: Rick Pitino to The Izzone, Tom Crean to Cameron
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Rick Pitino has coached in Madison Square Garden, the Smith Center, Allen Fieldhouse and dozens of hot spots in between.
Pitino has never paced the sidelines at the Breslin Center.
That's the home of Michigan State. The Spartans' crowd is student-oriented. Coach Tom Izzo has long been an advocate of students packing the lower bowl.
Earplugs are mandatory in East Lansing. The place starts loud and stays loud.
Indiana's Tom Crean has coached in Madison Square Garden, Rupp Arena, Freedom Hall and other Must See college hoops venues.
Duke's homecourt needs no glowing introduction. Crean has never worked at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That will change in 203 days.
ESPN confirmed the news Tuesday when the network announced the matchups for the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge in men's college basketball.
Louisville visits Michigan State – for the first time since 1994.
Indiana travels to Duke – for the first time 2006.
Rick Pitino vs. Tom Izzo – for the fourth time since 2009.
Tom Crean vs. Mike Krzyzewski – for the third time the third time in their careers.
If you're ranking the Challenge assignments, it's tough (Michigan State) and tougher (Duke). In 2013, Jason King of ESPN.com ranked Cameron Indoor Stadium the second most difficult place to play in college basketball. King ranked the Breslin Center and Izzone sixth.
Those two games qualify as Bucket List moments for both coaches.
With those two games, we'll have early answers on how good Louisville and Indiana will be next season. The Cards figure to be a borderline Top 25 team in November, while Indiana is expected to begin the season in the Top 15.
Michigan State? I wouldn't be surprised if the Spartans returned to the Final Four.
The Spartans were ranked 10th in the consensus Top 15 poll that I calculated from nine early 2015-16 polls on Sunday. (Link here.)
Michigan State returns three starters from the team that earned a spot in the 2015 Final Four by beating Louisville, 76-70, in overtime in the East Regional final.
The two players departing from that team, guard Travis Trice and forward Branden Dawson, contributed 26 points and 16 rebounds.
But Michigan State adds guard Eron Harris, a transfer who averaged more than 17 points at West Virginia. Deyonta Davis, a McDonald's all-American, moves into Izzo's frontcourt.
Louisville, remember, will be without Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackhshear. They carried the Cards in Syracuse, scoring 57 points with 20 boards.
Duke and Indiana both landed in the consensus pre-season Top 15 – Duke at seven, Indiana 13th.
Duke will be young, losing Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook from the Blue Devils' national championship team.
But Mike Krzyzewski has collected the nation's top recruiting class with four Top 25 prospects. Veterans Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson also return.
Indiana is expected to return its top eight scorers and add center Thomas Bryant. The Hoosiers will travel to Durham less than a week after they return from the Maui Invitational.
Duke and Indiana have played seven times with the Blue Devils leading the series, 4-3. Duke is 2-0 against the Hoosiers in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
When Crean coached Marquette, he split two games against Duke and Coach K, winning in 2006 and losing in the final of the Maui Invitational the following season.
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