Hawkeyes draw UNC in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Three Mr. Iowa Basketball honorees will be in action when the Iowa men’s basketball team travels to North Carolina on Dec. 3 as part of the 2014 ACC/Big Ten Challenge presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods.

The Tar Heels’ Marcus Paige claimed the 2012 Iowa Mr. Basketball award at Linn-Mar, while the Hawkeyes’ Jared Uthoff (Cedar Rapids Jefferson) and Peter Jok (West Des Moines Valley) garnered the 2011 and 2013 selections, respectively.

Iowa and North Carolina both return three starters from NCAA Tournament teams a year ago and will meet for the fourth time ever and the first since 2004. The Tar Heels won the last meeting, 106-92, in the championship game of the 2004 Maui Invitational and went on to win the national championship that season.

Both teams enter with high expectations again as North Carolina is ranked sixth in the ESPN.com early preseason top 25 poll, while the Hawkeyes are No. 25.

“We are excited about the opportunity to play North Carolina in this year’s Challenge,” said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. “North Carolina is a talented basketball team that is extremely well-coached. This game will enhance our non-conference schedule and be a good road test for us early in the season.”

Iowa skidded to a 20-13 record last year and placed sixth in the Big Ten but still earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006. The Hawkeyes lost an opening round game against Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, but return 10 letterwinners including starters Aaron White, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury.

White earned third-team all-Big Ten recognition the last two seasons and led Iowa with 6.7 rebounds, while finishing second in scoring at 12.8 points per game.

Roy Williams led the Tar Heels to a 24-10 mark as UNC tied for third in the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina was edged 85-83 by Iowa State in the Round of 32, but returns Paige, a Sporting News second-team All-America honoree. The Marion native led UNC with 17.5 points per game and played on the same All-Iowa Attack AAU team as Gesell and Woodbury.

The Tar Heels also return starting forwards J.P. Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks.

ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU will combine to televise all 14 games of the three-day event, Dec. 1-3, in the battle for conference supremacy and the Commissioners Cup. The conferences split the series the last two years with each league winning six games.

The 16th annual cross-conference event expands to 14 games this year with the debut of Maryland and Rutgers as members of the Big Ten, and Louisville with the ACC. The ACC won the first 10 Challenges (1999-2008) while the Big Ten claimed the next three (2009-11).

The Challenge tips off Dec. 1 with Nebraska at Florida State and Rutgers at Clemson.

Other battles between ranked foes include No. 2 Duke at No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 21 Syracuse at No. 24 Michigan. Additional Challenge teams that made the poll include No. 7 Virginia, No. 8 Louisville and No. 18 Michigan State.