With the SEC/Big 12 Challenge being this weekend, my previews will not be as in-depth as my normal SEC matchups. But the challenge will provide a good check of where SEC teams stand on a national stage.
Yes, Alabama has been running away with the league standings, but their game against Oklahoma will allow them to show how good they are on a national level.
I mentioned on Twitter this week that I still wish the matchups for this challenge were announced closer to the dates, but this year most things worked out pretty well. It would be nice to see Alabama face off against one of the higher teams in the Big 12, but they’re still getting a red-hot Oklahoma squad that can give them some problems.
It’s also a little bit sad that Kentucky and Texas had to cancel their game, but that was going to be much different than expected because Kentucky has been down all year and Texas was already dealing with some COVID issues coming into it. The good thing from that is that there can now be a definite winner of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge since a 5-5 tie is no longer an option.
Alabama at Oklahoma
What would have been a matchup between the best team in the SEC and a slightly lower Big 12 equivalent has actually turned into a pretty big matchup over the last few weeks.
Alabama continues to be on a big roll in SEC play, but they’ve started to look at least beatable in their last two games against Mississippi State and Kentucky. The Crimson Tide have found ways to pull away and close the door in the end, but it’s a different type of game compared to the complete blowouts they were having against Arkansas and LSU.
Oklahoma on the other hand is coming into this game with back-to-back wins over Kansas and Texas and is currently on a four-game winning streak. Sure, Kansas seems to be in a slight lull right now, but the win over the Jayhawks followed by a road win at Texas is still rightfully putting more eyes on the Sooners.
I think that Alabama is the better team, but in a challenge like this, I also like to lean on the “hotter” team at the moment. Alabama didn’t necessarily look bad against Mississippi State and Kentucky, but they at least looked beatable. The way Oklahoma is playing right now, I think they can capitalize if Alabama plays like that again.
The Sooners’ offense is one of the best in the country, so playing on their home court might give them the extra advantage in this game against a very good Alabama defense.
Prediction: Oklahoma 78, Alabama 75
Texas A&M at Kansas State
Since Vanderbilt is out of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge this year, the SEC couldn’t offer up the worst team to face Kansas State, but at least Texas A&M isn’t much better and this matchup doesn’t have to be wasting a decent team from either league.
Neither team is particularly good on either side of the ball, but Texas A&M’s defense should be good enough to keep Kansas State slightly under the small number of points the Aggies can muster.
With this being at the same time as the Alabama-Oklahoma game, hopefully, too many people don’t have to watch it. It might be a close game, but it’ll be between two really bad teams and probably a very slow, ugly game.
Prediction: Texas A&M 55, Kansas State 49
Florida at West Virginia
If this was a normal West Virginia team that was heavily led by their defense, I might have leaned toward Florida since the Gators just had a really good showing against a Tennesee team with supposedly great defense.
However, West Virginia also has an efficient offense this season led by Sophomore guard Miles McBride. The Mountainers are also coming off an impressive win over Texas Tech and managed to put up 88 points on the Red Raiders.
With this being in Morgantown and West Virginia having a little bit longer to prepare, I think they will be too much for the Gators. I think this will be the first game where the Gators really miss Keyontae Johnson. Florida has been playing well without him, but I think this game is a slight step up compared to the quality of competition they’ve faced lately in the SEC.
Prediction: West Virginia 80, Florida 76
Texas Tech at LSU
LSU managed to pull away late against a bad Texas A&M team, but before that, they had two straight losses to Alabama and Kentucky. Texas Tech has also lost two straight games, but there’s were closer and to Baylor and West Virginia.
The Red Raiders even came close to knocking off West Virginia in their last game. Texas Tech has one of the best defenses in the country and will likely be the best defense that LSU has faced since the Alabama game where they scored just 75 points and lost by 30.
The Tigers are going to need all four of their key players, Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart, Cameron Thomas, and Darius Days, to be on if they want to score enough against Chris Beard’s defense.
I’m tempted to pick LSU because they are playing at home and the end of the Texas A&M game once again showed what they are capable of. However, I think the Tigers’ defense is too bad, and Mac McClung and other Red Raiders will be able to score with little resistance, and they’ll have a solid defense to back them up against LSU’s great offense.
Prediction: Texas Tech 72, LSU 69
TCU at Missouri
TCU is on a four-game losing streak and now they have to go all the way to Columbia, Missouri to face the Tigers. Missouri was looking like one of the best teams in the SEC prior to the Auburn loss and I think the loss might have been the motivation they needed to bounce back even stronger to prove they are still a top contender in the SEC and nationally.
The Tigers had issues trying to handle Sharife Cooper against Auburn, but I don’t think Mike Miles for the Horned Frogs will be as troublesome against the Missouri defense. Jeremiah Tilmon will continue to give opposing frontcourts all they can handle and will once again carry the Tigers to another win.
This looks like one of the clearest wins for the SEC, but that could also mean that it ends up going completely in the opposite direction.
Prediction: Missouri 68, TCU 60
Arkansas at Oklahoma State
Alongside Kansas and Texas, this will be one of the best matchups of the day, featuring two teams that are just two spots apart on KenPom as I’m typing this out.
The Cowboys were playing without top freshman Cade Cunningham in their last two games, but it appears that he will be back and available for this game. Against Baylor, Oklahoma State lost by 15, and Cunningham still probably wouldn’t have changed that, but then they bounced back with a 21-point win of their own against Iowa State.
Arkansas is a much better team than Iowa State, but with Cade Cunningham back in the lineup, Oklahoma State is one of the tougher teams to beat in the country.
The Razorbacks are starting to find their groove again, and this would be a massive win to solidify that. Assuming Cunningham is cleared to play and is mostly back to his normal self, I think he gives the Cowboys enough to get the win, with the slight edge of being at home. Arkansas has a lot of weapons, but in this case, I think having the best weapon will provide a better outcome.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 85, Arkansas 78
Auburn at Baylor
Auburn with Sharife Cooper is one of the most exciting teams to watch. To add to that, the Tigers have also become the best shot-blocking team with at least four guys that provide quite a lot of rim protection.
But both will likely be significantly less of a factor against Baylor who has the best defense in the country, specifically in the backcourt, and then also has the nation’s highest three-point percentage.
Sharife Cooper and Auburn are playing well enough right now that they will make this a little closer than it could have been, but the Tigers are still without Justin Powell and I think they’re still a big jump away from Baylor’s level.
I think Auburn’s goal should be to keep this game closer than the Gonzaga game from early in the year and try to keep Baylor from pulling away until later in the game. With no postseason for the Tigers, this is one of Auburn’s biggest games left on their schedule, and knocking off an undefeated, top-2 team would certainly be right up Auburn’s chaotic alley, but I just don’t think they have enough to get it done…this year.
Davion Mitchell gets his revenge over his former team and the Bears show Sharife Cooper what it will be like against the toughest defense he faces this year.
Prediction: Baylor 90, Auburn 78
Ole Miss (3-5) at Georgia (2-6)
The end of the day features the two SEC matchups between teams that were left out of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge this year and they’re both between some of the worst teams in the league.
This seems like a Wednesday night matchup in the SEC Tournament this year and is actually a rematch of one of the few games in the SEC Tournament that actually got played in last season’s event.
Like the SEC Tournament last year, I think Georgia comes away with a win, and it will be needed to convince their fans from jumping further off the Tom Crean train. Sahvir Wheeler is still leading the Bulldogs in different ways and KD Johnson has the opportunity to make a difference from all over the court.
The stats continue to favor the Rebels, and they certainly have one of the best defenses in the SEC, but I think Georgia can pull off the upset in this one with their backs against the way. If I’m wrong, the Bulldogs might fall down with Vanderbilt in the group of teams that I almost completely give up on this season.
Prediction: Georgia 66, Ole Miss 63
Kansas at Tennessee
Both of these teams were in in the top-10 a week ago and now both teams just got wins over average conference teams after multi-game losing streaks. Neither team is someone that I’ve given up on yet, but they both really need this big stage and big matchup to prove that they are still national contenders that need to be taken seriously in the postseason.
The Volunteers have relied on their top defense all year while the Jayhawks are a little more balanced but still lean more towards their defense. Two players that need to step up for both teams after playing below expectations, Marcus Garrett and John Fulkerson, each have the opportunity to give their team an edge.
In each of their losing streaks, they were both losing to good teams, and in Kansas’s case, they lost all of them on the road. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, this one will also be away from Allen Fieldhouse.
This game doesn’t have the luster that it was expected to at the beginning of the season, or even two weeks ago, but both teams are still top-25 teams and have plenty of guys that can step up.
Kansas might be able to take some lessons they learned from facing the top defense in the country two weeks ago and apply it to another one of the best defenses, but I still think Tennessee’s slight homecourt advantage will make the difference and put them back on the right track in the eyes of the national audience.
Prediction: Tennessee 70, Kansas 69
Iowa State at Mississippi State
Iowa State has won just two games so far this season and is 0-6 in the Big 12. Mississippi State hasn’t been great, but they’ve shown they can play with just about anyone and at least put up a good fight each time they go out there.
The Cyclones also just came back from a COVID pause only to lose by 21 to Oklahoma State without Cade Cunningham. Mississippi State is returning home after a two-game road trip and three-game losing streak over the past two weeks.
I think this is a good chance for DJ Stewart and Iverson Molinar to introduce themselves on a national stage, even if most people will likely just be watching Tennessee and Kansas.
If the Bulldogs want to hold onto their chance to play for the top half of the SEC, this is a game they should win and can use to build momentum for another road trip when they return to conference play next week.
Prediction: Mississippi State 72, Iowa State 65
South Carolina (2-3) at Vanderbilt (0-6)
Vanderbilt made a run at the end to make their game closer against Florida, but they’re still winless in the SEC and have just four wins on the year overall. South Carolina bounced back from their big loss to Auburn with a big win of their own against Georgia.
Two high-scoring duos lead both teams but I think South Carolina has a better supporting cast. If Scotty Pippen Jr. can put up his third 30-point game of the season against the Frank Martin defense, the Dores might have a chance at home, but I’m not counting on it.
I think Keyshawn Bryant will be the difference in this game and he will remain one of the best players in the SEC that not many people are talking about.
After a long day with tons of games and the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, it’s unfortunate that this is the way to close out the night, but maybe the matchup between AJ Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant versus Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu will be enough to keep me entertained while I wrap up another long Saturday of SEC hoops.
Prediction: South Carolina 85, Vanderbilt 76