The SEC vs. Big 12 basketball challenge was created as a way to boost the resumes of each league’s participants. The timing of it at the end of January means teams get a slight break from the grind of conference play but still have a chance to test themselves against quality competition. This event is a good measuring stick for coaches, as they can assess where their team is at heading into the final stretch of the season. While coaches can benefit from it, the fans gain the most. Debates often arise in basketball and football about which conference is the best. The SEC vs. Big 12 challenge won’t give a clear-cut answer to that question, but it does give fans on either side ammunition to back their claims.
SEC vs. Big 12 Basketball Challenge Preview
The Big 12 is 25-15 in these matchups in the four years of this event. They had won the competition outright each of the first three years before the conferences split the ten games 5-5 in 2017. The SEC has tried mightily to improve its basketball brand in the last few seasons. Upgrades in coaching hires, scheduling, and recruiting have begun to pay off. After a few seasons where only three teams even made the NCAA tournament, the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight in 2017, with the South Carolina Gamecocks reaching the Final Four. The league is even deeper this season, with nine teams currently in the RPI top 50. No one questions the Big 12’s basketball credentials. Despite having only ten teams, the conference is still often looked at as one of the best and deepest in the nation.
Georgia Bulldogs at Kansas State Wildcats
These two teams face off for the third time in four years, with each team having won on the other’s home court in the previous two meetings. Georgia boasts one of the best players in the SEC in big man Yante Maten. He leads the team with 19.6 points per game and is the only Bulldog averaging double figures. The Wildcats are more guard-oriented on offense. Their top six scorers all play on the perimeter. Barry Brown leads them at just under 18 points per contest. This game will feature conflicting styles. Georgia will try to control the paint and slow things down, while Kansas State will look to get its guards going.
TCU Horned Frogs at Vanderbilt Commodores
TCU has had a basketball resurgence under coach Jamie Dixon and may reach the tournament for the first time since 1998. The Horned Frogs’ 3-5 record to open Big 12 play may be a bit concerning, but each of their losses were by five points or less. They need to get better at closing out games. TCU is balanced, with seven players scoring between eight and 15 points per game. Vanderbilt has struggled this season, as it is the only SEC school with a losing record.
Oklahoma State Cowboys at Arkansas Razorbacks
This could be one of the most fun match-ups to watch for the neutral fan. Both of these teams look to get up and down the floor, as they both average around 80 points per game. The Razorbacks are very good on their home floor, so the Cowboys will have a tough task ahead of them. This will also feature two of the more experienced teams, as the two top scorers for both are upperclassmen. This match-up will likely come down to how well the Cowboys protect the ball on the road, and whether Arkansas can make its outside shots.
Tennessee Volunteers at Iowa State Cyclones
The Volunteers are one of the strongest and most physical teams in the nation. Their two leading scorers, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, look like players who would be just as comfortable on the gridiron as the hardwood. The Vols are relentless on the defensive end. On offense, they move the ball well – they’re top 20 in the country in assists – and have multiple guys who can get hot from three. The Cyclones are just 2-6 in conference play, but their home win over Texas Tech proved that they can be formidable in Ames.
Texas Tech Red Raiders at South Carolina Gamecocks
This game will likely be a rock fight. Both of these teams make their living on defense. The Red Raiders are fourth in the country in scoring defense, allowing 61.6 points per game. The Gamecocks are not far behind, giving up only 65 points to their opponents. Texas Tech is guard-oriented and South Carolina may struggle to contain all of their perimeter options. If forward Chris Silva can stay out of foul trouble and dominate in the paint, then the Gamecocks will have a chance on their home floor.
Ole Miss Rebels at Texas Longhorns
This will be another match-up where one team’s inside strength will try to counter the guard-heavy production of the other. This time it is the Big 12’s Longhorns who will have the post advantage. Freshman Mohamed “Mo” Bamba is averaging a double-double, along with four blocks nightly. Ole Miss is led by its backcourt tandem of Deandre Burnett and Terrance Davis. This game will also feature two of the best high flying finishers in Texas’ Kerwin Roach Jr. and the Rebels’ Davis.
Baylor Bears at Florida Gators
The Gators had a torrid start to the season and rose as high as fourth in the country. After a slight stumble, they have regained their mojo in SEC play. Florida is perimeter-oriented and will rely on making its outside shots. KeVaughn Allen continues to be either hot or cold for the Gators; he can go off for 17 or more points, or struggle to make any shots at all. Baylor is off to a poor start in Big 12 play. The Bears need seniors Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. to have big nights if they want to pull off a road upset.
Texas A&M Aggies at Kansas Jayhawks
The Aggies started SEC play 0-5, but now that their roster is back to full strength, they have begun to turn things around. They were a top-five team before injuries and suspensions led them to falter to start conference play. They are led by the interior duo of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. Kansas is once again atop the Big 12 standings, as it has been for the last 14 seasons. The Jayhawks’ balance is key, as they have five players averaging double figures. Senior guard Devonte’ Graham leads this team with his 18.1 points and 7.3 assists per game. These former conference opponents are not strangers; Kansas is 20-1 all-time in the series.
Kentucky Wildcats at West Virginia Mountaineers
ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Morgantown for this one. Much like Kansas in the Big 12, Kentucky is the flagship program of SEC basketball. The team has struggled a bit recently but is starting to get some of its injured players back. The young Wildcats struggled with defensive pressure and an electric crowd in a road loss to South Carolina. Facing West Virginia will be like defensive pressure on steroids. The Mountaineers are as relentless as they are tough. Jevon Carter personifies those traits as much as any player in the nation. He leads the team with 16.9 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.4 steals a night.
Oklahoma Sooners at Alabama Crimson Tide
No, this isn’t a College Football Playoff match-up. This is a showcase game in this basketball event because both teams have one of the most electric players in the country. Freshman guard Collin Sexton has missed two games recently with an abdominal strain, but he should be in the lineup for Alabama. If Sexton does play, it will set up one of the best match-ups of the season against fellow freshman Trae Young. Both of these explosive guards will play in the NBA for a long time. They might both just put up the big numbers we’ve come to expect and cancel each other out. These two youngsters going at it on the court will be must-see TV. Alabama may have a slight edge in depth of talent, but the deciding factor may come down to pace of play. The Tide are more of a grind-it-out team, while the Sooners average 91 points per contest.
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