Baylor @ #20 Florida
Saturday, January 27th 11:00 AM CT, ESPN
This is a huge opportunity for Baylor (12-8) to pick up a much needed resume win. The Bears will be heading to Gainesville to take on #20 Florida (14-6) who is currently #2 in the SEC standings. The key for the Bears in this game, like pretty much every game this season, will be Manu Lecomte. The Bears’ defense has been just as good as in years past, holding most opponents to well below their scoring averages. The offense just hasn’t been able to make the plays it needs when it needs to and that starts with Manu. However, Baylor’s defense will need to be in peak form to win this game, as the Gators bring a very balanced offensive attack. The Gators have four players averaging over 11 points a game in Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov, Chris Chiozza, and KeVaughn Allen. While Hudson leads the pack, this is a far more balanced scoring attack than most teams have. If the defense can keep these four below their season averages and the offense can click more than it has recently, then the Bears have a shot. Along with production from Manu, I’d like to see Terry Maston get things going. He seemed to bring some much needed offense in the limited minutes he had against Kansas State during the week. All in all, the deciding factor could be the fact that this game is at Florida. Baylor is 0-5 in opposing stadiums this year. So I’ll go with Florida to win, but I am really pulling for a Baylor W.
#14 Texas Tech @ South Carolina
Saturday, January 27th 11:00 AM CT, ESPN2
#14 Texas Tech (16-4) is the other Big 12 team to get the challenge tipped off in the 11:00 AM slot as they travel to South Carolina (13-7). Texas Tech was able to stop their two game losing streak with a win against Oklahoma State during the week. The key for Texas Tech is a strong performance from star Keenan Evans, who is averaging 17.1 points per game, with 26 in their last game against Oklahoma State. South Carolina is coming off of a Final Four run last year but doesn’t seem to have a player with the “it” factor like they did last year. Their best player, Chris Silva, is averaging 14.7 points per game. Only one other Gamecock, Frank Booker, is averaging double digits. I like the Red Raiders to win this game behind strong defense, even with it being on the road.
74-60 Texas Tech.
Texas vs. Ole Miss
Saturday, January 27th 1:00 PM CT, ESPN2
Texas (13-7) matches up with an Ole Miss (11-9) that is better than their record looks. Texas will need a good game from Mohamed Bamba, who is averaging a double double this year. For Ole Miss, they have an extremely balanced offensive attack with five players averaging double digit scoring. Deandre Burnett leads the pack with 14.8 points per game and 4.7 assists per game. For those who like to decide games based on trends, both teams have trends that should lead to a loss. Texas has had exactly one win and one loss each week of play since December 22nd, before conference play started. They already have their one win of the week, so if that trend (that really means nothing but nevertheless) holds, the Longhorns should lose this game. But the more important trend is Ole Miss’s away record. They are 0-5 on the season in opposing stadiums. Much like my Baylor prediction above, I don’t think the Rebels will get their road losing woes fixed against a Texas team that is likely a tournament squad.
Kansas State vs. Georgia
Saturday, January 27th 1:00 PM CT, ESPNU
Kansas State (15-5) has had a surprisingly strong start to conference play, with a chance for first place on the line this Monday when they face the Jayhawks. You have to wonder if the Wildcats will be peaking ahead when they face Georgia (12-7). Kansas State’s Barry Brown has been near automatic offense for most of the season. He averages 17.8 points per game, dropping 34 in his last game against Baylor. Dean Wade isn’t far behind, scoring 16 points per game. The Wildcats round off their scoring sheet with two other players, Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed, averaging double digits. Georgia is much less balanced in the scoring department. They rely heavily on Yante Maten, who averages 19.9 points per game. They have no other players that average double digits. Plus, this game is sandwiched between a double overtime loss to Arkansas and an upcoming, pivotal game against #20 Florida. I like the Wildcats to win this game based on their much more balanced offense.
85-70 Kansas State.
#12 Oklahoma @ Alabama
Saturday, January 27th 1:15 PM CT, ESPN
You’re probably sick of hearing it from everyone by now, but Trae Young is the real deal and the reason #12 Oklahoma (15-4) is sitting at #2 in the Big 12. Young is averaging a mind blowing 30.3 points per game. The Sooners have two other players that average double digits in Christian James and Brady Manek. Alabama (13-7) has its own star in Collin Sexton, who is averaging 18.5 points per game. I will never forget the performance he had against Minnesota, when him and only two other teammates had to play against a full team and nearly came back and won. Nevertheless, Oklahoma is elite and proved just as much with their last win over Kansas. While Alabama has three other players that average double digits, I don’t think the Crimson Tide have enough defense to stop the best player in the country.
So at the halfway point of my preview, I have the Big 12 leading the challenge 4-1. Check out part 2 here to see the final prediction for the Big 12/SEC challenge!