Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: Auburn/Duke, UNC/Alabama highlight 10 key storylines for the 2024 ACC-SEC Challenge

Alabama v North Carolina
Alabama v North Carolina / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages
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Virginia/Florida, Pittsburgh/Mississippi State to rematch

Early last season, Virginia and Florida faced off against each other as part of the Hall of Fame Series in Charlotte, North Carolina in November. The Cavaliers would go on to win 73-70. 

Now set to face each other in Gainesville, Virginia will look different with leading scorer Reece Beekman and big man Ryan Dunn departing for the pros. Florida, a projected top-25 team, will be led by one of the SEC’s purest scorers in Walter Clayton Jr. while welcoming FAU transfer Alijah Martin.

Another intriguing matchup is Pittsburgh traveling to Mississippi State, a rematch of the 2023 First Four in which the Panthers narrowly escaped, prevailing 60-59. Although Pittsburgh lost star freshman Carlton “Bub” Carrington to the pros and Blake Hinson to graduation, Jeff Capel landed Temple/Houston guard Damian Dunn and Florida State big man Cam Corhen from the portal. The Panthers retained Ishmael Leggett, Jaland Lowe and Zack Austin, cementing themselves firmly in the NCAA tournament mix. 

Mississippi State, on the other hand, shouldn’t skip a beat either with one of the more dynamic backcourts in college basketball. Josh Hubbard -- one of the SEC’s best freshmen last season -- followed by Florida transfer Riley Kugel, Penn State transfer Kanye Clary and Charleston Southern/Boston College transfer Claudell Harris Jr. gives Chris Jans a plethora of weapons with his guards to work with next season in Starkville. This First Four rematch should be a fun one.

Syracuse/Tennessee: the battle of the orange (and yet another rematch)

Another rematch set to take place is the battle of the orange: Syracuse at Tennessee. Last season, the Orange took on the Volunteers in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational, where Tennesse comfortably Syracuse, 73-56. Although Dalton Knecht won’t be running the show next season, Rick Barnes landed a pair of high-scoring transfers in Hofstra transfer Darlinstone Dubar (17.8 PPG) and North Florida transfer Chaz Lanier (19.7). Both should complement well with Zakai Zeigler running the point.

Syracuse, on the other hand, lost their leading scorer, Judah Mintz, to the 2024 NBA Draft. Yet, retaining JJ Starling and adding Hofstra transfer Jaquan Carlos (10.4 PPG, 6.3 APG), Colorado transfer Eddie Lampkin (10.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and Delaware transfer Jyare Davis (17.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG) gives reason for optimism in year two of the Adrian Autry era. A daunting challenge now awaits in Knoxville.