For the second year in a row, the Big 12/SEC Challenge is taking place in the middle of conference play and should serve as a nice break from the normal conference matchups. Once again, the Big 12 is way ahead of the SEC when you compare the two conferences from top to bottom, but some of the matchups this season should be pretty good, and I’m not just talking about Kansas traveling to Kentucky.
The Big 12/SEC Challenge was off to a great start last year with each conference winning three games a piece through the first six games of the day. However, the Big 12 went on to win each of the last four games to win the challenge overall with a record of 7-3. Florida, Texas A&M, and Arkansas were the only SEC teams to record a victory in the challenge last season. Over the last three years, the Big 12 has won the challenge each year with a combined record of 20-10 over the SEC.
This season Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU will look to stay undefeated overall with no undefeated SEC teams taking part in the challenge this season. On the opposite end, West Virginia, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt will be looking for their first ever wins in the challenge. Georgia only competed in the challenge last season, but the other three teams are all coming in with an 0-3 record over the past three years.
With all of the history of the challenge aside, here’s what you should look for in this season’s edition of the Big 12/SEC Challenge as well as who I think will win in each of the matchups.
Texas A&M at (18) West Virginia - 11:00am CT on ESPN
Last season Texas A&M picked up a big win for the SEC after taking down Iowa State in the only ranked matchup other than Kansas and Kentucky. This season the Aggies will once again face a ranked foe, but they themselves have been struggling and are certainly not in the AP Top 25. Despite a short two game losing streak, West Virginia is coming into this game fresh off an upset of the Kansas Jayhawks. Texas A&M still has a quality front-line to their name, but they’ve been missing a solid point guard all year.
Of all positions to really be lacking, a point guard and guards in general, are not something you want to struggle with against West Virginia. The Mountaineers were just able to handle even one of the best backcourts in the country when they took down Kansas’s wonderful duo of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. West Virginia is playing at home, has one of the most disruptive defenses once again, and should smell blood from the beginning knowing Texas A&M struggles at the guard position. This might end up being on of the most lopsided results of the challenge this season.
Prediction: West Virginia 90, Texas A&M 64
(25) Florida at Oklahoma - 1:00pm CT on ESPN
Another team that has taken quite a drop off from last season to this season is the Oklahoma Sooners. Everyone knew Buddy Hield was great, but it has been super apparent how much he and the other seniors meant to this Sooners team. Unlike Texas A&M, Oklahoma at least gets to host the Florida Gators which should serve as some advantage. Home court advantage or not, Florida is clearly one of the top SEC teams and has drawn a matchup with a struggling Oklahoma team that has already been taken down by Auburn, who at this moment isn’t even near the top of the SEC.
Florida has typically won with defense this season, but after dismantling LSU on Wednesday night with a school record 19 three pointers, the offense seems to be clicking at the perfect time. An offense that can knock down shots paired with Florida’s defense that has been top notch almost all year long would be a nightmare for almost any coach. In this case, it’s Lon Kruger that has to deal with it. Kruger has accomplished quite a bit in his career including a Final Four trip just last season, but his team this season won’t be a match for the Florida Gators.
Prediction: Florida 75, Oklahoma 62
LSU at Texas Tech - 1:00pm CT on ESPNU
Trying to keep with the theme of transitioning between each game with a convenient segue, Texas Tech is also one of the Big 12 teams to lose to the struggling Auburn Tigers in the non-conference slate. This time the Red Raiders will get their shot at another Tigers team from the SEC and this one looks to be an easy win. Texas Tech has been up and down throughout Big 12 play and comes into this game riding a two game losing streak to Oklahoma State and Baylor. The two game losing streak pales in comparison to the ugly six game losing streak the LSU Tigers currently hold in which they are giving up an average of 91.8 ppg.
Texas Tech is one of the most experienced teams in college basketball this season and they’ll certainly be looking for a nice win to take their mind off of the brutal conference play that takes place in the Big 12. A win should come easy and maybe the Red Raiders can benefit from beating LSU like several SEC teams have done and use it to spring them into a win in the following game on their schedule as well. Is it even worth giving a reason why Johnny Jones and his squad will lose this game, especially playing on the road?
Prediction: Texas Tech 88, LSU 68
Kansas State at Tennessee - 1:00pm CT on ESPN2
After three pretty simple games to predict featuring seemingly totally mismatched teams, we finally get our first good matchup of the Big 12/SEC Challenge when the Kansas State Wildcats travel to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. This game features two teams that I like with Kansas State, who I currently have sitting one spot outside of my Top 25 Rankings and Tennessee who was 7th in my most recent SEC Power Rankings even before knocking off Kentucky on Tuesday.
Robbert Hubbs and Grant Williams shined in the huge upset over Kentucky and the young Tennessee team finally looks like it is nearing its peak after suffering through a brutal non-conference schedule. Although Kansas State is coming off of a narrow road loss to Iowa State, the Wildcats just recently took down at top team as well when the knocked off West Virginia on their home court. Thompson Boling Arena served as quite a nice home court advantage against the Wildcats from the SEC and it might make the difference against a different Wildcats team this Saturday. Tennessee will have to play well for a second straight game instead of facing a hangover after the major upset but I think if the Vol faithful can provide another good environment, the young Volunteers can get it done.
Prediction: Tennessee 78, Kansas State 74
Arkansas at Oklahoma State - 3:00pm CT on ESPNU
Despite finishing non-conference play with just two losses, both coming to top 50 teams, Oklahoma State started Big 12 play with six straight losses before their current two game winning streak over Texas Tech and TCU. Arkansas one-upped the Cowboys in non-conference play by suffering just one loss at the hands of Minnesota on the road and are also 5-3 in SEC play and currently riding a four game winning streak. Oklahoma State will get the advantage of playing at home, but Arkansas has already proved that their fast paced style of basketball can travel by winning four road games so far this season including one over fellow Big 12 team, Texas.
Since both teams are riding winning streaks and both have pretty fast styles of play, this has the potential of being one of the top scoring matchups of the challenge. Typically up-tempo play will favor the home team but if Oklahoma State isn’t careful, the Razorbacks could wear them down and make a late run like they did in their most recent win over Vanderbilt. Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley will have to be really good to pull off another road win but I’m not picking against the home team that has a player as good as Juwan Evans.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 94, Arkansas 86
Texas at Georgia - 3:00pm CT on ESPN
Georgia had a realistic option of being 14-6 overall and 6-2 in the SEC coming into this game but after blowing a late lead against Texas A&M and getting pummeled by Alabama at home, the Bulldogs come in riding a two game losing streak. Texas certainly hasn’t been great either and are 8-12 overall with just two wins in Big 12 play so far. The Longhorns have some talented pieces but Shaka Smart just hasn’t been able to figure it out this season.
Texas is certainly the worse team based on what we’ve seen so far this season and Georgia really needs to get a home win after squandering their last two opportunities in league play. Jarrett Allen will keep Yante Maten’s hands full, but J.J. Frazier’s experience as a senior should help give Georgia the advantage over Texas’s young guards. With Kentucky coming up after this game, Georgia really needs a win to prevent a continued free fall in the SEC.
Prediction: Georgia 72, Texas 60
Iowa State at Vanderbilt - 3:00pm CT on ESPN2
At this point in my predictions, the Big 12/SEC Challenge would once again be split evenly at three wins apiece heading into the final four games. Obviously momentum won’t mean much for the teams since they’re all playing in completely different games and probably couldn’t care less about what other teams do on Saturday except for maybe the SEC teams needing a little more recognition for their conference. Vanderbilt comes into this game at 9-11 overall with just a 3-5 record in the SEC including two wins to start and an odd upset over Florida on the road last weekend. Iowa State is in a much better situation with a 13-6 record overall and an impressive 5-3 record in the Big 12.
Both teams thrive off of “magic” when they play at home, but in this instance Memorial Magic will have its chance to shine instead of Hilton Magic. This would certainly be another great win for Bryce Drew and Vanderbilt but they can’t collapse down the stretch like they did against Arkansas this week. Iowa State has one of the best point guards in the country in Monte Morris and the senior should be able to pick this Vanderbilt defense apart. Vanderbilt will need a great home crowd and more hot shooting from outside to stand much of a chance in this game.
Prediction: Iowa State 75, Vanderbilt 68
Auburn at TCU - 5:00pm CT on ESPNU
Before this season started I thought Auburn had a good opportunity to finally get their first win in the Big 12/SEC Challenge when they were assigned a game against a TCU team that struggled last season and came into this season with a brand new coach. However, finished non-conference play with an impressive 11-1 record although admittedly those 11 wins came over some weaker teams for the most part. Auburn also had a good showing against teams that ended up being worse than anticipated and finished their non-conference schedule 10-2. Both teams are also 3-5 in conference play, but it’s no secret that 3-5 in the Big 12 is certainly better than Auburn’s 3-5 in the SEC.
Auburn’s young team had some good showings on the road in the non-conference schedule but so far in SEC play the Tigers have lost three road games by an average margin of 22.7ppg with their lone road win coming by 5 points at Missouri. This Auburn team has an offense that could certainly rise to the occasion and pull off a big win to get them back on track, but TCU is also looking to get back on track after a three game skid over the past two weeks. Jamie Dixon has done a really good job in year one and he’s poised to hand Auburn yet another loss in the Big 12/SEC Challenge to move the Tigers to 0-4.
Prediction: TCU 82, Auburn 74
(5) Baylor at Ole Miss - 5:00pm CT on ESPN2
Remember how I predicted a few lopsided victories at the beginning of the Big 12/SEC Challenge slate? Well, this one could be another game that won’t be a lot of fun to watch unless you still don’t think Baylor is a legit team and haven’t had the pleasure of watching the Bears play this season. After 1, 2, and 4 all lost this week, Baylor will likely move up to at least the 2nd spot in the AP Poll once again with a win here and it’s up to Ole Miss to spoil the party on their home court. Baylor is 17-1 overall with just a single loss at West Virginia while Ole Miss is just 12-8 overall so the upset certainly won’t come easily.
Ole Miss has a solid double-double machine in Sebastian Saiz, but even he likely won’t be any match for Johnathan Motley and his crew (sorry, I couldn’t resist after hearing almost every broadcaster make this joke so far this season). Ole Miss has already faced a top 10 team at home this season and it didn’t go very well so I don’t think facing a top 5 team will be any prettier.
Prediction: Baylor 85, Ole Miss 70
(2) Kansas at (4) Kentucky - 5:15pm CT on ESPN
Finally, the one everyone waits for each year. The battle of two Blue Bloods that have been at the top of their respective conferences for a long, long time. The hype of this game was dampened slightly when both Kansas and Kentucky each lost this week will likely fall slightly in the updated AP Poll next week. However, because the polls don’t update until Monday, this is still technically a top 5 matchup. In fact, with both coming in with a loss in their most recent game, it almost adds more excitement to the game since neither team wants to go on a two game losing streak and potentially lose their shot at a 1-seed come March.
This will be a true battle between two of the best back courts in the country this year. Kansas is represented by Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham while Kentucky features Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox as well as Isiah Briscoe. While both back courts are excellent, we can’t overlook the potential mismatch between the two teams in the front court. Kansas has struggled down low and things only got worse when Udoka Azubuike went down for the year. While Kansas has struggled, Bam Adebayo for Kentucky has been heating up in conference play. Kentucky will have the advantage of Big Blue Nation on Saturday but their inside game should prove superior on the court as well.
Prediction: Kentucky 95, Kansas 88
Despite a win by Kentucky in the final game, the Big 12 still walks away 4-0 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge all time with a 6-4 advantage this year according to my predictions. Maybe Auburn, Vanderbilt, or Arkansas can prove me wrong and pull out a win to even the challenge, but it will take a lot of great basketball from the SEC for the conference to get its first ever win in this challenge.
Regardless of another year where the SEC isn’t favored to win, the Big 12/SEC Challenge will give all of us a nice break from normal conference play and in SEC fan’s perspective, at least we won’t have to watch two bad teams both playing each other even if some games could wind up being pretty ugly blowouts.
Want to make your own picks for the Big 12/SEC Challenge? Come and check out the weekly SEC Basketball Pick’em that I host on my Twitter. It’s never too late to start playing and with the Big 12/SEC Challenge this week, there’s some added fun for everyone.