One of the best scheduling changes to come out of the last few years is the mid-season conference challenge game, pitting some of the top teams in the top conferences against each other as a break from league play. Over the years, it has given us some exciting matchups, and the 2018 tournament should be no different.
This is an important weekend for the Big 12, which smart people know is the top basketball conference in the country... but not everyone is smart.
My best argument for why the SEC is the best conference in college basketball: There are only two teams that are 0-2 in league. Both ranked in the AP Top 25. As Ive said from the beginning, the depth 1-14 in the SEC is unparalleled— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) January 3, 2018
From NewsOK: SEC BASKETBALL BREAKDOWN: Is SEC 'best conference in basketball'? - The notion has been written in these pages and said by coaches and touted by network analysts, but this Saturday, when 20 teams across the SEC and Big 12 face off, the re... https://t.co/hcgOlfZJfh— Mitch's Muse (@nmitch) January 23, 2018
So, Big 12 Basketball teams... it’s time to educate some folks and beat the MIGHTY ESS EEE CEE.
Here’s the lineup:
2018 Big 12/SEC Challenge
All Games Saturday, January 27
No. 14 Texas Tech at South Carolina (ESPN2), 11 a.m. CT
The Red Raiders are in a bit of a swoon lately, falling out of the top ten after losing two of their last three games, to unranked opponents. But Tech is a senior-laden team that knows how to win on the road, and should be able to do just that at SC. The Gamecocks are talented but young, and though they have skins on the wall against Kentucky and Florida, I think Beard’s boys get it done to start the Challenge off right, in an ugly, defensive battle.
Prediction: Texas Tech 61, South Carolina 57
Baylor at No. 20 Florida (ESPN), 11 a.m. CT
Baylor is kind of a mess right now, as inconsistent as any team in the country. Florida, though, is coming off a loss at home to South Carolina. The Gators are the more talented team here, and should hold serve against a Bears’ team that hasn’t been able to string much together since conference play began, and is 0-5 on the road in B12 play.
Prediction: Baylor 56, Florida 70
Mississippi at Texas (ESPN2), 1 p.m. CT
Must win game for the Horns? Absolutely. Texas seems on the verge of turning the corner; wins against a pair of ranked opponents, including a then-top ten Texas Tech squad, preceded an ugly blow out at the hands of the Mountaineers. Kerwin Roach helps in the backcourt, and Mo Bamba is a force inside. Ole Miss isn’t good, and they are terrible on the road, so Shaka’s team absolutely needs to put them away early at the Erwin Center. I think they do just that.
Prediction: Mississippi 67, Texas 84
Georgia at Kansas State (ESPNU), 1 p.m. CT
Intriguing matchup between two teams that don’t scare anyone on paper, but keep finding ways to play top teams close and even beat them occasionally. The Wildcats aren’t going to blow many people away, but Bruce Weber’s squad is fundamentally sound, balanced, and has a couple of burgeoning stars on the roster in Barry Brown and Dean Wade. The Bulldogs don’t score much, but they play good defense and rebound, so this should be a battle from the tip. That being said, K State is better than the Bulldogs, and should get it done at the Octagon.
Prediction: Georgia 52, Kansas State 64
No. 12 Oklahoma at Alabama (ESPN), 1:15 p.m. CT
Trae Young vs Collin Sexton will be a lot of fun, as the two likely lottery pick point guards square off in what should be one of the best one on one matchups of the year, period. Young tried to prove his detractors wrong in his last game - instead of his normal 30+ shots a game, he took just nine, and the Sooners upset Kansas in the process. But there is no chance he doesn’t take the opportunity to one-up his main competition for first PG off the board this summer Saturday, and I expect to see a high-usage, high-scoring “look at me” type game from the superstar. Bama doesn’t do anything all that well outside of Sexton, so the Sooners should be able to roll in this one, giving fans across the country plenty of time to ooh and ahh over two of the best players in college basketball, who are sure to be future stars in the NBA.
Prediction: Oklahoma 92, Alabama 75
TCU at Vanderbilt (ESPN2), 3 p.m. CT
This is another must-win game for the Big 12 and the Horned Frogs, who played their best contest of the year in Monday’s upset of WVU. The Frogs go on the road for just the fifth time this season, to take on a disappointing Vanderbilt squad in one of the most unique venues in the country. The Dores are a sub-.500 team who can’t score, can’t rebound, and don’t share the ball. Even short-handed and on the road, the high-flying Frogs shouldn’t have too many issues bringing a win back home to Fort Worth. The question is more, can Kenrich Williams and Desmond Bane get back involved on offense?
Prediction: TCU 84, Vanderbilt 67
No. 22 Tennessee at Iowa State (ESPNU), 3 p.m. CT
The Cyclones are definitely in rebuild mode, and while they have a pair of talented players in Lindell Wigginton and Donovan Jackson, that’s probably not enough to overcome a top 25 Volunteers team - even at home. Forward Grant Williams does a little bit of everything - and does it all well for a Vols team that is one of the surprises of the season so far. Competing for a SEC title, Tennessee can make a statement with a road win against a good, though not great, Iowa State squad. For the Cyclones, an upset win Saturday could reignite their tournament hopes, and give them momentum heading into the second half of the conference schedule.
Prediction: Tennessee 71, Iowa State 66
Texas A&M at No. 5 Kansas (ESPN), 3:30 p.m. CT
Now we get to the real fun. The battle between the Aggies and Jayhawks looked a lot more exciting early in the season when both were top five teams. But A&M has been hammered by injuries and suspensions, and thus started a disappointing 2-6 in conference play. The Aggies do the little things well; they rebound at a truly impressive rate and have the size inside to keep Kansas off the offensive glass. But Devonte’ Graham and the Jayhawks seem to be clicking at the right time, and after looking vulnerable early on, are right back on the path to a 14th conference crown. If this game were in College Station, I would give A&M a shot - they desperately need a signature win to get back on track. But no shot KU loses another game at home this year, right? Especially outside of Big 12 play.
Prediction: Texas A&M 73, Kansas 81
Kentucky at No. 7 West Virginia (ESPN), 6 p.m. CT
Oh, what could have been. Kentucky, unranked since, oh, before Jack Daniels was a thing, is weak and wounded heading to one of the toughest venues in college basketball to take on a West Virginia team who has to be frothing at the mouth after being stunned by TCU in Fort Worth five days ago. I can’t imagine they allow this version of Coach Cal’s squad to come in and beat them on their home floor, and not only do they need to win, they need to make a statement in doing so. This would have been a game of the year candidate had the talented but raw Cats held up their end of the bargain, but now, it looks like a ho-hum dub for Press Virginia.
Prediction: Kentucky 62, West Virginia 85