Iowa State @ #16 Auburn
Saturday, January 25th 11:00 AM CT, ESPNU
So on paper, #16 Auburn (16-2) should certainly win this home game against Iowa State (9-9). However, there are a couple of things to consider with that. First, Auburn lost its first two games of the season back-to-back last week. They recovered with a win over South Carolina, but still they have been trending down recently. One of those defeats was a nearly 20 point loss to Alabama. Iowa State beat that same Alabama team earlier in the season, 104-89. Iowa State also regained some confidence, beating Oklahoma State in their last game. Solomon Young gave the Cyclone a huge performance with 27 points. I would be tempted to pick Iowa State in this game if it was in Ames, but I don’t see it on the road. However, if Iowa State could pull off this early win that would be a great sign for the Big 12 as the challenge moves forward.
Missouri @ #14 West Virginia
Saturday, January 25th 11:00 AM CT, ESPN
#14 West Virginia (15-3) is a confusing team. They lost to Kansas State by almost 16, giving the Wildcats their only conference win. Then, they immediately followed that up by cancelling the Texas Longhorns’ entire basketball season, winning 97-59. So WVU can be really, really, really good. And they can be quite bad. But they’re usually more good than bad. Missouri (9-9) is just pretty bad. Their sole conference win was against Florida and they’ve lost their last three games to Mississippi State, Alabama, and Texas A&M. This game being in Morgantown should be an easy pickup for the Big 12. Opposite of the game above, if West Virginia loses this game that’s a terrible sign for the Big 12.
84-63 West Virginia
LSU @ Texas
Saturday, January 25th 1:00 PM CT, ESPN
LSU (14-4) is one of the hottest teams in the country right now. They are in sole possession of first place in the SEC with a perfect 6-0 conference record. They are also on a seven game winning streak. You might be wondering why they aren’t even in the top 25 then. Well, they have yet to beat a top 25 team. Their only opportunity so far ended up in a loss to then #15 Utah State. Still, Texas (12-6) is far from a top 25 team. They’re on a two game losing streak, which includes their monumentally bad loss to West Virginia. Also worth noting: LSU has been pretty good on the road, posting a 3-1 road record. A team with a bad, two game losing streak just isn’t going to get it done against a team with an impressive seven game winning streak.
Mississippi State @ Oklahoma
Saturday, January 25th 1:00 PM CT, ESPN2
This could be a huge game for both Oklahoma (12-6) and Mississippi State (12-6), who are both bubble teams that need a few more key victories to make their case to the selection committee. A nice non-conference win could do that for either team. Mississippi State is on a three game winning streak in SEC play, significantly boosting their record and tournament chances. Oklahoma has only won one of its last four, blowing out TCU but losing to Iowa State, Kansas, and Baylor. However, the Sooners did have a chance late in their last game against #1 Baylor, just missing a go-ahead three. Both teams look pretty similar statistically. However, I think Oklahoma is ready to pour some points on an opponent that doesn’t have an elite defense like Baylor or Kansas. Mississippi State seems to be that unlucky foe, especially with this game in Norman.
Tennessee @ #3 Kansas
Saturday, January 25th 3:00 PM CT, ESPN
#3 Kansas (15-3) has some... distractions to overcome as they host Tennessee (12-6). Kansas will be missing both Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack after an ugly brawl against Kansas State. Neither player is a huge loss, although McCormack does average 16 minutes a game. If Devon Dotson were still hurt I would be seriously worried about Kansas and their depth. However, as it stands, Kansas will still have its dynamic duo of Dotson and big man Udoka Azubuike. As long as the Jayhawks have mentally moved on from their skirmish, they should be able to handle Tennessee just fine. However, if there is any distraction, the Volunteers could take advantage. They have won four of their last five, blowing out Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in their last two. I would be shocked to see Kansas lose to an unranked foe at home, but hey this has been a season of crazy twists and turns. I’ve got Kansas but this is an important game to watch for the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Oklahoma State @ Texas A&M
Saturday, January 25th 3:00 PM CT, ESPNU
While there are a number of good matchups in this challenge, this might be the worst. And not because the game will be bad, both of these teams are pretty evenly matched. Rather, these teams are just not very good from a talent perspective. Oklahoma State (9-9) is dead last in the Big 12, posting an 0-6 conference record so far. Texas A&M (9-8) is actually 3-3 in conference, with their most recent game being a two point win over Missouri. However, the Aggies had an atrocious non-conference, dropping a four game streak to Harvard, Temple, Fairfield, and Texas. Oklahoma State showed that they can get a hot hand, as they did against Baylor. But, that seems to be a strong statistical outlier more than anything. I’ll take the home team that has some conference wins.
73-67 Texas A&M
TCU @ Arkansas
Saturday, January 25th 3:00 PM CT, ESPN2
TCU (13-5) travels to Arkansas (14-4) in a potentially critical, early bubble game. TCU got its mojo back after back-to-back losses to WVU and Oklahoma, soundly beating #18 Texas Tech at home. Arkansas has put together a decent slate of wins, including a road win at Indiana which is looking better and better each week. However, the Razorbacks are on a two game slide with close losses to Kentucky and Mississippi State. Arkansas really needs this game to prevent that streak from getting out of hand. TCU needs this game to build momentum after a huge win. Here’s where I see the difference: Arkansas has defended its home court very well with a 10-1 record. That one loss was to Kentucky in a game they led late. TCU is only 1-2 on the road, with that sole road win being a two point victory against a down Kansas State team. Arkansas holds serve in their own arena.
#15 Kentucky @ #18 Texas Tech
Saturday, January 25th 5:00 PM CT, ESPN
This is probably the best matchup of the Big 12/SEC Challenge in terms of ranked teams with comparable skill levels. #18 Texas Tech (12-6) took a stumble in their last game, getting blown out on the road against TCU. Before that, the Red Raiders had looked good against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Granted, those are two of the bottom teams in the conference. #15 Kentucky (14-4) is 5-1 in conference play and has won six of their last seven, including a win over then #3 Louisville. Texas Tech also beat that Louisville team. Texas Tech has defended its home court well with a 9-1 record, but Kentucky has been fine on the road with a 2-1 record. This game will truly be a test of how good the Tech’s (and potentially the Big 12’s) defense is and it comes down to that for me. Nearly every game Kentucky has won this season, they have scored at least 70 points, if not well into the 80s. All but one of Kentucky’s losses happened when they were held to under 70 points. Meanwhile, in four of Texas Tech’s six losses they didn’t break 60 and one of the two outlier losses they only scored 61. Texas Tech is too one dimensional offensively, with Jahmi’us Ramsey doing most of the heavy lifting. Davide Moretti can certainly change the game from three, but he’s either really on or really off without much middle ground. All that being said, if Tech’s defense starts to slip against Kentucky they will lose this and lose it bad. However, Kentucky has struggled against stronger defense and Tech’s is elite most nights. I’m going to chose to believe that Tech’s loss to TCU was a major outlier for the Red Raiders. But if it wasn’t and they get beat at home, trouble could be brewing for Texas Tech as their next two games are against #14 West Virginia and @ #3 Kansas.
69-66 Texas Tech
Kansas State @ Alabama
Saturday, January 25th 5:00 PM CT, ESPN2
Kansas State (8-10) is, realistically, not making the tournament this year. Alabama (11-7) has given itself a shot with a strong conference showing. The Tide have really helped their chances by opening SEC play with a 4-2 record, including a win over then #4 Auburn. Alabama comes into this game on a four game winning streak. Kansas State has lost five of its last six games, with the sole exception being an outlier win against West Virginia. Kansas State also has similar distraction issues as Kansas, as they have to recover from their late game brawl. Both James Love and Antonio Gordon will be sitting out this game for the Wildcats. Love has only played in one game this season, but Gordon averages nearly 20 minutes of playing time. I would pick Alabama even without the distraction, but that makes it even easier to pick the Tide. But who knows, maybe some anger is what the Wildcats need to fire up their team given their lackluster season so far?
#1 Baylor @ Florida
Saturday, January 25th 7:00 PM CT, ESPN
#1 Baylor (16-1) has a massive target on its back as the top ranked team in the country. They travel to Florida (12-6), one of the better SEC teams. If Baylor wants to remain #1 for more than a single week, they have to win this game. Also, given that this is the last game of the challenge, all eyes will be on this matchup as it could very well decide which conference ultimately wins the Big 12/SEC Challenge or if there is a tie. Baylor brings a much stronger defense than Florida, only allowing an average of 58.5 points by their opponents. Florida allows 66.3 points on average. Florida has a touch better offense at 74 points per game, compared to Baylor’s 72.7. The Gators are tied for third in the SEC with a 4-2 record. Their two defeats were to a bad Missouri team and a two point loss to LSU in their last game. As we all know, Baylor is one of the hottest teams in the country, currently riding a 15 game winning streak. Sometimes you wonder with these non-conference matchups that are jammed in the middle of conference play if coaches are going to have their players give it their all or if some punches will get pulled/lineups experimented with. Scott Drew clearly has pulled no punches, as Baylor holds a 5-1 record over the history of this challenge, the best record by any team in either conference. Baylor’s defense does enough in this game to overwhelm the Gators, shutting down star Kerry Blackshear, Jr. Jared Butler has a typical Jared Butler game, and Tristan Clark continues his steady upward climb back toward making great contributions in the post. I’m not worried about the road environment: Baylor is 3-0 in true road games, including a win in Phog Allen, one of the most difficult venues in college basketball.