Did you ever think we’d reach a point where the Big 12 and SEC were arguably battling to be the college basketball season’s best conference? The Big 12, sure, is a reliable source of top teams. But the SEC? Being on the same level as the ACC and Big 10 is uncharted territory, but Joe Lunardi currently has eight SEC teams making the dance. If you want to know more on how we got here, check my What’s Gotten Into SEC Basketball? take. Either way, that’s where we are now and this weekend, which usually is an afterthought to the Big 10-ACC Challenge, is going to tell us a lot about what to expect come March. Is the SEC actually this deep or did they just snag a few non-conference upsets and keep riding that hype? Find out today.
The folks at the BarnBurner are here to give match-ups and predictions for all the fun (somewhat sorted by how hyped I am for them).
Oklahoma at Alabama
This one features two of the best freshman in the country. Hell, you could even say it features two of the best players in the country. You know all about Trae Young and his flashy play and insane stat lines (he’s currently averaging around 30 and 10), but Collin Sexton can get buckets too and has been Alabama’s go-to guy as they sit tied for third in the SEC. Oklahoma is coming off a big home win against Kansas and might not have the energy here. Alabama needs a resume booster and gets the Sooners at home. I’m taking Alabama in the upset.
Kentucky at West Virginia
The Mountaineers love to press and force turnovers. Freshman give up a lot of turnovers. Kentucky has a lot of freshman. Get where this is going? Against West Virginia, it’s all about composure and breaking the press. Kentucky has some real talent on the roster, but I don’t think they’re ready for what Press Virginia is going to throw at them defensively. Couple that with a home crowd excited to knock off a blue-blood, and I think Bobby Huggins and West Virginia get this one done.
Texas Tech at South Carolina
Chris Beard must know what he’s doing in Lubbock. In his first year last season he took the Red Raiders to the NCAA tournament. This year he has them off to a 16-4 start as they look to build on last year’s success. Speaking of success last season, South Carolina shocked the country and went to the Final Four as a 7-seed. This season, they’ve fallen back to Earth, though. 13-7 and 4-4 in the league is respectable and they did just steal a win in Gainesville, but I think Texas Tech comes to Columbia and takes this one on the road. This is the first game to tip but it might be the one that decides which conference takes home the crown.
Texas A&M at Kansas
The Aggies are truly a tale of two halves of the season. After starting 11-1 and reaching number 5 in the polls, they have since lost 6 of 8 and have plummeted to the bottom of the SEC. Still, Tyler Davis is an NBA player and there is some talent on that team. Kansas just lost a tough one at Oklahoma and will be looking to bounce back against a team that’s on its heels. They also have a real superstar in Devonte’ Graham. Kansas takes care of business at home, but, unless the Aggies have just thrown in the towel at this point, they could make this one scary for the Jayhawks.
Tennessee at Iowa State
Tennessee has arguably been the surprise of the SEC season. They were picked to finish 13th in the conference at the start of the year but have since knocked off Purdue on a neutral court and started 5-3 in conference play, good enough for a tie for third as it stands. Grant Williams has the ability to put the entire team on his shoulders and there are plenty of other scoring options around him, as well. Iowa State sits last in the Big 12 and this match-up was probably slated when everyone thought Tennessee would struggle too. The Cyclones get the Vols at home so it might not be too ugly, but Tennessee is the vastly better team and should win comfortably.
Georgia at Kansas State
Georgia star Yante Maten declared for the NBA draft last year but ultimately returned to college. He’s a double-double machine and is averaging almost 20-10. Kansas State has gotten hot as of late, though, winning four out of five including wins over Oklahoma and TCU. The only loss was by 1 point at Kansas. The Wildcats have a whole bunch of scoring threats and shouldn’t have any problem outscoring the Dawgs in this one. Plus, the game is in Manhattan. That’s enough for me to give this nod to Kansas State.
Baylor at Florida
Baylor and Florida have had similar seasons in that they’ve both played very well at times and very badly at other times. Baylor started 10-2 and spent most of the non-conference schedule in the Top 25. Since then, they’ve gone 2-6 in Big 12 play. Florida was a sexy preseason pick and opened the season in the Top 10 before dropping four out of five early in the season, including a shocker to Loyola-Chicago. Now, they seem to have recovered and sit second in the SEC at 6-2. Baylor is a good team, but they’re catching Florida on a good run of form, even coming off the South Carolina loss. Florida gets this one done at home.
TCU at Vanderbilt
If you don’t already know, Vanderbilt has the worst court in college basketball. There are no sidelines and the teams’ benches are on the baseline underneath the basket. If Vanderbilt were any good, it would be a real home-court advantage. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, and no offense to my boy Bryce Drew, they aren’t any good. TCU, meanwhile, is. They’ve stumbled lately after an extremely hot start, but they’re coming off a win over West Virginia and have a balanced and talented offense with five players averaging double digits. Vanderbilt has shown flashes at times this season and they have a few nice home wins over LSU and Alabama, but TCU handles the Commodores today.
Oklahoma State at Arkansas
This might be the most vanilla match-up of the day. Both teams are playing decent basketball. Neither team is playing good basketball. Arkansas does have a star in Jaylen Barford who’s put up 28, 23, and 24 in his last three while shooting 65% from deep so he should be the one fun thing about this game to watch. Oklahoma State got their highlight of the season when they beat rival Oklahoma at home last week, but they’re probably going to have to settle for that. Arkansas at home is too much for the Pokes and I’ll give them the win here.
Ole Miss at Texas
To Texas’s credit, they’ve played a tough slate. They’re 13-7 but their losses include Michigan, Duke, West Virginia, and Kansas. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re just not that good with their only notable win being at home over Texas Tech. Ole Miss isn’t any good, either. We’ve hit the bottom of the barrel in these match-ups. Texas is the better team and plays this one at home. Texas gets the win.
That gives us a final tally of six for the Big 12 and four for the SEC which surprised me. I thought the SEC would win this one. However, the SEC really got hosed in this one as their best team in Auburn doesn’t get a game. Switch out Auburn and Vanderbilt and the SEC would have a real chance. If you’re looking for the important games in determining who wins this challenge, Texas Tech – South Carolina and TCU – Vanderbilt are the SEC’s best chances to steal wins, I think. Either way, should be a fun day of college hoops. Let me know how I do in the comments below.
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