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Big 12/SEC Challenge Preview

Get to know more about the other 9 matchups outside of TCU’s in the cross-conference series.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow, the 4th annual Big 12/SEC Challenge will take place throughout the day on 10 campuses, 5 from each conference, and all of the games will be shown on either ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPNU. Seventeen teams in the top 100 of the RPI (through games on January 25th) and five teams ranked in the AP Top 25 will be competing, including #2 Kansas and #4 Kentucky, who are set to square off in Lexington. The highly anticipated matchup between the two college basketball blue bloods will also be hosting College GameDay.

The Big 12 has won the Challenge each of the past three seasons and has a combined 20-10 record in those games. Four teams have never lost a Big 12/SEC Challenge game: TCU (3-0), Oklahoma (3-0), Baylor (3-0), and Alabama (1-0). Last season, the Big 12 went 7-3, including 5-0 in their home contests.

Because the SEC has four more teams than the Big 12, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi State, and South Carolina will not compete in the Challenge this season. Instead, they will play two conference games tomorrow. Now, let’s check out the matchups we will get to see.

The Matchups

Texas A&M Aggies @ #18 West Virginia Mountaineers

TV: ESPN | Time: 11:00am CST

West Virginia struggled last week, losing at home to Oklahoma and in Manhattan against Kansas State. However, the Mountaineers will be riding into tomorrow’s matchup with a lot of confidence after knocking off #2 Kansas in Morgantown on Tuesday. They enter tomorrow’s matchup 16-4 overall and 5-3 in Big 12 play, which is tied for 3rd in the conference. They are currently ranked #32 in the RPI and seem set for another NCAA Tournament berth. Press Virginia once again possesses one of the best defenses in the nation and should cause problems for the Aggies. Surprisingly though, West Virginia is the only Big 12 team that is 0-3 in the Challenge, despite being ranked going into it the past two seasons.

Winners of two-straight, the Aggies will be coming into tomorrow’s trip to Morgantown at 11-8 overall and 3-5 in SEC play. They have moved up to #72 in the RPI following a pair of narrow victories at home against Georgia and at Ole Miss over the past week. So far in non-conference play, A&M is 0-3 against teams from other Power conferences, all of which were against Pac-12 teams. They have a decent offense, but some of their guards are turnover-prone, which is a recipe for disaster against the ‘eers. West Virginia should be able to carry their momentum from knocking off the Jayhawks into tomorrow and come away with a 1-0 start in the Challenge for the Big 12.

Score Prediction: West Virginia 84, Texas A&M 67

#25 Florida Gators @ Oklahoma Sooners

TV: ESPN | Time: 1:00pm CST

Last week, it appeared that the Sooners had begun to turn the corner on their season, beating Texas Tech at home and upsetting West Virginia on the road, thanks in large part to the return of four-year starter Jordan Woodard. However, after a tough loss at home to Iowa State and a heartbreaking loss at Texas, Oklahoma has started to fall back toward the bottom of the Big 12. The Sooners are 8-11 overall and 2-6 in conference play and are ranked #128 in the RPI. They are a young team that is starting to put things together, but facing a tough defense like Florida’s may be problematic for Oklahoma.

The Gators, led by guards KeVaughn Allen and Kasey Hill, have quietly put together a good year. They enter tomorrow 15-5 overall, 6-2 in the SEC, and ranked #11 in the RPI, which means they should likely be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. They dominated in Baton Rouge on Wednesday night, winning 106-71 and draining a school-record 19 threes. Of their five losses so far this season, only a narrow 2-point defeat at home versus Vanderbilt came against a team not currently ranked in the AP poll. Despite the game being played in Norman and the return of Jordan Woodard, I expect the Gators to get the win here.

Score Prediction: Florida 74, Oklahoma 65

Kansas State Wildcats @ Tennessee Volunteers

TV: ESPN2 | Time: 1:00pm CST

After falling 70-65 at Iowa State on Tuesday night, the Wildcats will be looking to make a statement in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Kansas State comes into the game with a 15-5 overall record and 4-4 in the Big 12, but a weak non-conference schedule prior to conference play has them ranked #42 in the RPI and close to the bubble. A home win over West Virginia should help their case, but a road win over an SEC team might look even better, especially if it’s Tennessee.

Why does a road win over Tennessee look better? Well, for starters, the Volunteers are coming off of a 82-80 victory over #4 Kentucky at home on Tuesday night. Road wins are tough to come by, so Kansas State will really be hoping to get this one. The Wildcats only have one road win this season, but will have a good chance for a second one in Knoxville. The Vols enter the game 11-9 overall, 4-4 in SEC play, and ranked #49 in the RPI. Two seasons ago, Tennessee beat Kansas State 65-64 in Knoxville as part of the Challenge, but I expect the Wildcats to take this one.

Score Prediction: Kansas State 78, Tennessee 77

LSU Tigers @ Texas Tech Red Raiders

TV: ESPNU | Time: 1:00pm CST

The Red Raiders nearly pulled off a major upset on Wednesday night, narrowly falling 65-61 at #5 Baylor. It was their second straight loss after getting blown out at home by Oklahoma State and dropped Tech to 14-6 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play, which put them in a tie with TCU for 6th. The Red Raiders put up a good record in non-conference, but the competition was not ranked highly, resulting in Tech’s #78 RPI ranking. They lost their only matchup with a school from a Power conference, falling 67-65 to Auburn in the Cancun Challenge. Tomorrow’s game presents a chance to add a non-conference win over a Power conference opponent and help make their case for the NCAA Tournament.

LSU, who started the season 9-4, have lost their last six games and are now hovering at the bottom of the SEC standings. They are 9-10 overall and are 1-7 in conference, with their only win coming over last-place Missouri. The team struggles defensively, giving up over 80 points per game, and does not take care of the ball well. They are led by Antonio Blakeney, but one man cannot do it all. I expect Tech to get ahead early and stay ahead until the final whistle against the Tigers.

Score Prediction: Texas Tech 78, LSU 65

Texas Longhorns @ Georgia Bulldogs

TV: ESPN | Time: 3:00pm CST

The Longhorns have struggled so far this season and are currently sitting in a three-way tie at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. They go into tomorrow’s matchup 8-12 overall and 2-6 in conference play, but have some momentum coming off of a 84-83 victory over Oklahoma on Monday night. Freshman Andrew Jones nailed a three with 1.8 seconds to go in that game to put Texas on top. The Longhorns have a young, talented group but they are still trying to figure things out in Austin. Unless they find a way to win the Big 12 Tournament, I doubt they’ll be playing any games after it.

Georgia enters tomorrow coming off of a 20-point rout at the hands of Alabama, which dropped them to #54 in the RPI. They are currently 12-8 overall and 4-4 in SEC play, but need a win to help bolster their tournament resume, even if it is just Texas. They have a solid pair of bigs down low that should help them compete with Jarrett Allen and Shaquille Cleare and they shoot at a high percentage. If they can take advantage of the Longhorns’ youth, then the Bulldogs should be able to come away with the win at home.

Score Prediction: Georgia 69, Texas 62

Iowa State Cyclones @ Vanderbilt Commodores

TV: ESPN2 | Time: 3:00pm CST

Iowa State appears to once again be heading toward an NCAA Tournament berth, but they are not yet in a place where they can afford to slip up. The Cyclones are currently 13-6 overall and are tied with West Virginia for 3rd in the Big 12 at 5-3. They will be looking for a road win Saturday in order to boost their #40 RPI ranking, which could hurt them in the seeding. However, the Cyclones do not really have any bad losses. Four of their six losses have come against teams that are currently ranked and the other two were on the road against Iowa and TCU.

Vanderbilt has usually been an fairly decent basketball program, but are struggling in new coach Bryce Drew’s first season with the team. They go into tomorrow’s game 9-11 overall and 3-5 in SEC play, but a road win at Florida has their RPI at #62. However, losses at home against Bucknell and at Middle Tennessee State will likely keep them out of the NCAA Tournament unless they run through the SEC Tournament. I doubt that happens as they are reeling, having lost five of their last six games. I expect the Commodores to keep it close thanks to home-court advantage, but Iowa State and Monte Morris should find a way to win this.

Score Prediction: Iowa State 77, Vanderbilt 68

Arkansas Razorbacks @ Oklahoma State Cowboys

TV: ESPNU | Time: 3:00pm CST

This game is probably the best matchup of the 3 o’clock slate, as both teams are coming in with momentum. The Cowboys, who knocked off the Frogs in Stillwater on Monday night, go into tomorrow’s game at 12-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12. However, after losing their first six conference games, they appear to be putting it all together behind great play from guards Jawun Evans and Jeffrey Carroll. A strong non-conference schedule thus far has Oklahoma State ranked #43 in the RPI and should give them a good chance at making the NCAA Tournament if they truly have turned the corner.

The Razorbacks, who have won four straight, will present a good challenge for the Cowboys. They come into tomorrow’s game at 16-4 overall, 5-3 in conference play, and ranked #30 in the RPI, which has Hog fans thinking NCAA Tournament. They are led in scoring by former Texas Tech player Dusty Hannahs, who is averaging 14 points per game over their last four. They are a solid team all around and they have a knack for finding ways to win, but look for the Cowboys to pull this game out for the Big 12. One thing to keep an eye on will be what team can get to the free throw line more, as both teams are near the top in the nation in free throw percentage.

Score Prediction: Oklahoma State 87, Arkansas 81

#2 Kansas Jayhawks @ #4 Kentucky Wildcats

TV: ESPN | Time: 5:00pm CST

This is without a doubt the marquee matchup of the Challenge. College GameDay will be on hand to watch these two storied programs square off yet again, in what should be a highly entertaining game. Kansas enters the game at 18-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big 12, which puts them tied for 1st as they pursue their 13th straight regular season conference title. Ranked #7 in the RPI, they are also competing to once again earn a #1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a win tomorrow would be huge for the Jayhawks. Despite the disappointing loss in Morgantown on Tuesday night, this experienced team should be prepared to bounce back.

Kentucky is once again near the top of the rankings thanks to an impressive group of freshmen. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox will provide quite the matchup for the experienced Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. The Wildcats are heading into tomorrow at 17-3 overall and 7-1 in SEC play, which puts them at the top of the conference standings yet again. They have dipped down to #6 in the RPI after losing on the road to Tennessee on Tuesday, but are still likely to contend for a #1-seed in the NCAA Tournament as well. Their other two losses, against UCLA and at Louisville, are not bad losses.

In terms of RPI, Kansas has a lot more to gain and less to lose by virtue of being the road team. I am going to give the edge to Kansas in this game due to the experience of Mason, Graham, and Landen Lucas, but they have their work cut out with them against these talented freshmen. Either way, both teams will be in fine shape as we approach March, but one will have to turn around a 2-game losing streak and work their way back up the polls in order to earn a #1-seed.

Score Prediction: Kansas 82, Kentucky 78

#5 Baylor Bears @ Ole Miss

TV: ESPN2 | Time: 5:00pm CST

The Bears enter tomorrow’s game 19-1 overall and 7-1 in conference after taking down Texas Tech on Wednesday night. They are ranked #1 in the RPI and are poised to move up to #2 in the AP poll with a win, due to losses by Villanova, Kansas, and Kentucky already this week. Their only loss on the year was a 21-point blowout in Morgantown, which came when Baylor was #1 in the AP poll. They are currently on track to earn a #1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, so they can’t afford to slip up against a lower-ranked opponent like Ole Miss.

The Rebels, who fell 80-76 at home against Texas A&M earlier this week, enter the game at 12-8 overall and 3-5 in SEC play. A weak non-conference schedule and #61 RPI ranking, which is dropping, will make it tough for them to make the NCAA Tournament, but they do have a chance to play spoiler. They find a way to put up a lot of points, but their low assist numbers indicate a lack of ball movement. It will take a massive effort for Ole Miss to knock off Baylor, which I just don’t see happening here.

Score Prediction: Baylor 72, Ole Miss 59

Auburn Tigers @ TCU Horned Frogs

TV: ESPNU | Time: 5:00pm CST

There will be a full preview on this game tomorrow, but I will say that I expect TCU to win.

Overall Prediction: Big 12 wins 8-2