Big12/SEC Challenge: Predicting Saturday’s Winners


The Big 12/SEC Challenge is a nice break in conference play for both fans and players. After a couple weeks of battling out with conference foes, it gives teams a break from their treacherous schedules and provides fans with some marquee in-season match ups we are not always accustomed to. Last year the conferences tied at five wins apiece. Prior to that, the Big 12 won the first three challenges, with an overall record of 20-10 in those three seasons. This year looks to favor the Big 12 again, but the SEC has a number of exciting players and teams. It should lead to fireworks on Saturday.

Baylor at Florida

No one may be happier to get a break from Big 12 play than Baylor. The Bears are 2-6 and tied at the bottom of the Big 12. In typical Big 12 seasons, this team would be middle of the pack, but in this year’s Big 12, they are struggling to win the close games against stiff competition. They will head to Gainesville to face a Florida Gator team that finds themselves a half game out of first in the SEC. The Gators, while falling in and out of the Top 25, are still waiting for consistent play from last year’s leading scorer, Kevaughn Allen. If they get that, this team can be SEC champion good. I like the Gators at home; I don’t think they will drop two games at home in the same week.

Tennessee at Iowa State

This is not a favorable game for Tennessee. It’s easy to look at Iowa State’s record and say the Vols should role, but the Cyclones are at home. Iowa State’s two conference wins come at home, and one is against Texas Tech in a game where they walked all over the Red Raiders. Lindell Wigginton is one of the best freshman that no one is talking about. That said, I’m not letting my Big 12 bias get the best of me. I’m going with the Vols. I think Tennessee has the advantage upfront and Grant Williams could have a big game. Give me Tennessee, but it will be close.

Texas A&M at Kansas

This is the most challenging game to predict, in part because Texas A&M has been hard to predict. Kansas is at home, they don’t lose at home. Except this year they’ve already lost twice at home, three times if you include their loss to Washington in Kansas City. Texas A&M hasn’t been able to put a full roster together yet this year, so they’re hard to evaluate. Their biggest advantage is playing Robert Williams and Tyler Davis together down low. They are two legit post players, and Kansas really only has one, Udoka Azubuike. Their advantage down low will be a disadvantage on the other end, trying to guard Kansas’ four guard perimeter attack. I’ll take Kansas at home, coming off a loss.

Georgia at Kansas State

Kansas State has been one of the biggest surprises in the country. The Wildcats are tied for second in the Big 12, and sit 15-5 overall. Of all the Big 12 stars, Barry Brown flies under the radar more than anyone. The junior is averaging close to 18 points a game this year. Georgia has the best individual scorer in Yante Maten, but he has zero support. Brown, along with Dean Wade will be more than enough for KSU to win at home.

Oklahoma at Alabama

This is the premier ‘match-up within the match-up’ game. Everyone knows about Trae Young, but Colin Sexton is one of the most exciting freshman in the country as well. A week ago I would have leaned Alabama after seeing the Sooners struggle. Seeing Trae Young bounce back Tuesday night against Kansas though, is making me take Oklahoma. Young didn’t force anything. He shot only nine shots and took exactly what Kansas gave him. He also had role players step up. I think he takes more than nine shots in this one, but continues to efficiently distribute the ball. Oklahoma wins.

Oklahoma State at Arkansas

Oklahoma State has the best player on the floor in Jeffery Carroll. Arkansas has the major advantage in the backcourt with Jayln Barford and Daryl Macon. If this game was at home, Oklahoma State would fair a little better, but I’ll lean towards a seasoned Arkansas team at home here. Oklahoma State can score, but I think Arkansas is good enough defensively to lock down anyone not named Jeffery Carroll. With no support, it would be tough for the Cowboys to pull off a win. Chalk one up to the SEC here.

TCU at Vanderbilt

This game is tough. Vanderbilt’s home court is a big advantage for them. But TCU is the better team in this game. Even without guard Jaylen Fisher, the Horned Frogs were able to top West Virginia at home this week. Alex Robinson has been great in place of Fisher though, averaging nearly 13 points and 11 assists in three games. Give me the better team and the better coach on the road in this one. The home court advantage could make it closer, but not enough to overcome TCU.

Mississippi at Texas

This may be the most lopsided game of the showdown. Texas is a strong home team, with a record of 9-2. Their only losses are to Kansas and Michigan, not bad opponents. They have one of the nation’s best shot blockers in Mo Bamba. His presence in the paint will be effective in keeping Ole Miss’s trio of guards out of the paint. Texas has had their best wins of late when Kerwin Roach is scoring. At home, I think Roach can tally 15+ and Bamba will protect the rim. Texas at home.

Texas Tech at South Carolina

Texas Tech is another team that has cooled off slightly after routing Kansas in Phogg Allen earlier in the year. The Red Raiders still have one of the nation’s best defenses, but have struggled at times to put the ball in the basket. It seems as if Keenan Evans isn’t scoring 20+ a game, TTU doesn’t have much on offense. South Carolina is similar in the sense that Chris Silva is the focal point of their offense. Whoever has the better game between Silva and Evans, their team has the edge. I think Silva will have a strong game, but Evans will be just a bit better. He will get just enough support and Texas Tech will squeak out the road win.

Kentucky at West Virginia

This game has potential to be the ugliest game, but knowing this Kentucky team, they’ll step up just enough to keep it close. This game comes down to one thing. Kentucky is still looking for that point guard play that makes a Joan Calipari team thrive, and West Virginia has the best defensive point guard in the country in Jevon Carter. West Virginia is a scary place for any team to play, let alone the youngest Kentucky team Calipari has ever coached. I think Kentucky comes out with an edge coming off a loss, but this is too tall of a task for a young team on the road. I’ll take West Virginia.

So there are the ten games. My predictions have the Big 12 winning at 7-3. Couple games wouldn’t surprise me if they went the other way, but we’ll see how it pans out this weekend. It stinks that Auburn was left out, but it’s tough to anticipate them having the season they are when this schedule was made. It’s also unfortunate to see Tremont Waters left out of the challenge. He’s one of the most exciting players in the country. He’s also a Hoop Group alumni. Nonetheless it should be another fun day of basketball.

What Happened This Weekend in College Basketball

It was a wild weekend in the college basketball world. Championships were won and lost all week. Some teams showed us they can be better than expected, others the opposite. Here’s your College Basketball weekend recap.

Villanova Wins Battle 4 Atlantis

In a tournament where Purdue and Arizona played in the last place game, it was Villanova who cruised to a championship in the Bahamas. The Wildcats look like a well-oiled machine with a top six that is as good as any in the nation. Donte DiVincenzo looks like the sixth man of the year and Jalen Brunson has looked like Big East Player of the Year. It should not come as a surprise, but Villanova will live within the Top 5 in the Polls for most of the year.

Arizona State Appears a Year Ahead of Schedule

Bobby Hurley is building something at Arizona State. Anyone who has kept an eye on the program would be able to tell you that. After edging Kansas State on Thanksgiving, the Sun Devils dominated number 15 Xavier on Saturday night to move to 6-0. Hurley’s top two returnees, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, have been great so far. Holder erupted for 40 against Xavier, and has another 30+ points game on the young season. Freshman Romello White has already showed why he was highly touted, and contributing for ASU. With a couple key rotation players still missing, Arizona State could compete in the Pac-12 sooner than later.

Alabama Played 3 on 5

In the category of “Something You Don’t See Everyday,” Alabama played the last 10 minutes of their game against Minnesota with three players. The Tide lost their entire bench in the second half for leaving the bench area in the midst of an on court scuffle. They then saw one player foul out, and another leave with injury, leaving Avery Johnson with three eligible players for over 10 minutes. All that said, they still lost to a ranked team by just five points. While there are no morale victories, that’s impressive. The story here is Colin Sexton. The freshman found shined in the loss, going off for 40 points on 55% shooting. He showed why he is one of the most exciting players in the country.

Trae Young Outscored Oregon

That’s not a typo. Trae Young has been as good as advertised thus far in Norman. Young has upped his scoring in all five games this season, and capped the weekend off with a 43 put outburst against Oregon, who only managed 42 points as a team. This outburst comes just two days after he dropped 33 on Portland. Young has been nothing short of sensational thus far, averaging 28.2 points and 8.6 assists for Lon Kruger. I’ve mentioned before that Young could be the best freshman in the Big 12 since Kevin Durant, and he’s supporting that statement five games in.

Michigan State, Duke Win PK80

In a tournament that lived up to the hype, we saw Michigan State and Duke walk out of the PK80 with championships. For Michigan State, they dominated early and often against North Carolina. They completely shut down the Tar Heels’ offense and got 23 points from Josh Langford. It showed how scary the Spartans can be, winning handily against a top 10 team without huge performances from Jaren Jackson or Miles Bridges. The story was the defense however, as Tom Izzo’s squad held UNC to 25% shooting, the lowest total in program history.

Duke’s path to victory was very different. The Blue Devils were punched in the mouth early by a sizzling hot Florida club. They trailed by as many as 17 before mounting their championship comeback. Like the rest of the PK80, this championship game was just another national stage for Marvin Bagley to shine on. The freshman phenom poured in 30 and recorded 15 rebounds on his way to a MVP performance. Teams are not entirely put together during most of these early season tournaments (i.e. Arizona) but that’s scary for college basketball because it shows how high Duke’s ceiling can be.

Marvin Bagley Looks Like a Top Pick

Coming off the tough news concerning Michael Porter Jr, Marvin Bagley showed us why he is worthy of the number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bagley’s talent is much more than his scoring. Sure he put in 34 against Texas and had another dominant game against Florida, but what makes Bagley so special is he’s always moving. He is always around the rim, getting numerous tip ins and second chance points and he’s a man on the boards. He’s definitely got NBA scouts salivating.

The SEC is Far From Just Kentucky

Florida made it to the Finals of the PK80 Motion Bracket. Texas A&M beat number 10 USC in California. Missouri made it to the Finals of the Advocare Invitational and almost took down number 23 West Virginia. Even Tennessee and Georgia beat ranked teams in Purdue and St. Mary’s this weekend. Add in a full strength Alabama team that went toe to toe with Minnesota, and the SEC could be the second best conference in college basketball this year. Of course time will tell, but don’t be surprised if Kentucky is not at the top of the SEC standings by end of year.

SEC Basketball 2017-18 Conference Preview

More seasons than not, the SEC is viewed as “Kentucky and then everyone else,” by those unfamiliar to the conference. Even when teams like Florida have been good, or McDonald’s All-Americans like Malik Newman have been in the conference, Kentucky has always been heads above the rest of the conference. That will remain true this season, but on a smaller level. The SEC will be very good this season, and have loads of talent all across the board.

Projected Finishes

  1. Kentucky – This Kentucky team has the talent in the freshman class that rivals Wall/Cousins/Bledsoe, Davis/Kidd-Gilchrist & Towns/Booker/Lyles. The issue is this Kentucky team has ZERO upperclassmen. The Wildcats have one returner who played significant minutes last season. That will cause some growing pains initially. Eventually, I expect the trio of Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green to run this team. Calipari is great at getting players to buy into their roles and Kentucky is littered with guys who serve specific roles.
  2. Florida – Nipping on the heels of the young Wildcats will be Mike White’s Florida Gators. The Gators return a back court of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza, who each serve different purposes on the floor. Allen led the team in scorring, while Chiozza is more defensive minded. The Gators also add two Top 100 recruits to a front court that brings back John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes.
  3. Texas A&M – The Aggies have my Player of the Year pick in Robert Williams. Williams impacts the game on both ends of the floor and I think will take a giant step forward this year. A&M gets back most of it’s production from last year. Joining Williams, Tyler Davis, DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder bring back a strong core from last season. Freshman JJ Caldwell and Savion Flagg only add to the depth of this team.
  4. Alabama – Alabama could be the third best team in the SEC, but uncertainty regarding Colin Sexton forces me to put them below A&M. Sexton is a tremendous and exciting player. If deemed eligible, he we be one of the best players in the conference. In addition, Alabama returns basically everyone from last year and is one of the more veteran teams in the conference. Add to the mix another Top 100 player in John Petty and Alabama will be good. A cleared Sexton will make them great.
  5. Missouri – Missouri is one of the most interesting teams in the country, let alone conference. Obviously they have Michael Porter Jr, potential #1 pick and the 1A/1B recruit in the country with Bagley. The challenge will be mixing a strong freshman class, which also includes Jeremiah Tillmon, Blake Harris and Johntay Porter, with returning players like Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips. The talent is there for Mizzou to compete, the question is will they?
  6. Arkansas – Arkansas showed everyone last year that they are a tough out. They’re chaotic defense causes fits for opponents, as Seton Hall learned, and UNC was lucky enough to escape. That defense will remain a constant this season. The Razorbacks also have a good tandem in Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford to lead the charge.
  7. Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt was an NCAA Tourny team last year, and should have won their first game if not for some late mishaps. The Commodores bring back a trio set on not making the same mistake twice. Seniors Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson will give Vandy strong leadership to compete in a tough SEC. And with the home court advantage they have, that’s all they can ask for.
  8. Auburn – This is an important year for Bruce Pearl and Auburn. For one, they have the FBI Investigation looming over them. Next, they have multiple players suspended indefinitely to start the season. Third, Auburn has under performed despite strong recruiting classes the past two years. Bruce Pearl has brought in five Top 100 recruits during his time as head coach, and he will bring in two more this season. This should add up to wins eventually, but it hasn’t yet.
  9. Mississippi State – Similar to Bruce Pearl and Auburn, Mississippi State returns a great 2016 recruiting class that featured four Top 100 recruits. Ben Howland has another Top 100 recruit in Nick Weatherspoon coming in. Add to this youthful mix, All-SEC second team Quindarry Weatherspoon and you should expect the Bulldogs to make a jump from last season.
  10. Ole Miss – Andy Kennedy sees his leading scorer return in Deandre Burnett. Burnett will get assistance on offense from Terence Davis, who averaged 15 points a game last year. Those two should be able to handle a the timely baskets, and Memphis transfer Markel Crawford should pitch in as well. Combined, these three should ease the pain of losing Sebastian Saiz.
  11. Georgia – The Bulldogs have one of the best players in the conference in Yante Maten. He’s a SEC Player of the Year candidate despite a Georgia being so lowly ranked. The problem is behind Yaten there isn’t much of anything. JJ Frazier is gone and unless someone else steps up, it’ll be a one man show in Athens.
  12. South Carolina – South Carolina’s run last year was nothing short of incredible. With Frank Martin inspiring on the sidelines, you can expect Carolina to compete on a nightly basis. The issue is the talent. The gamecocks lost a lot from last year’s Final Four club. Chris Silva is their most experienced returner but he was not a go to scorer on offense. There is a lot of opportunity for players to step up this year.
  13. LSU – Will Wade is turning LSU around, but he may need another year to really make an impact. Antonio Blakeney leaving hurts for this year, but LSU does have scorers coming back in Duop Reath and Brandon Sampson. Newcomers Tremont Waters (ESPN #34 recruit) and Randy Onwuasor (So. Utah transfer) will help as well, but LSU is a year away from making a significant jump in the conference.
  14. Tennessee – Tennessee returns two of its top four scorers, but combined they account for 20 points a game. Tennessee lacks size. Their three biggest players are a junior (Kyle Alexander) who averaged 3 points and 4 rebounds last year, and two freshman (Zach Kent and John Fulkerson). Struggle to score and lack of size does not bode well against the Kentuckys, Floridas and Texas A&Ms of the world.

Projected Awards

Player of the Year – Robert Williams (Texas A&M)

Maten and Porter Jr will be names tossed around for this award all year, but I’m going with Williams making a big jump in his second year. He passed on the NBA to return and better his draft stock. Dominating a on both ends in what is a much better SEC Conference will surely do that. His ability to block shots at a high rate, as well as bring in double-doubles nightly make him more than qualified to be POY.

Freshman of the Year –  Michael Porter Jr (Missouri)

Kevin Knox and Colin Sexton are going to be tremendous to watch. They are not Michael Porter Jr. The hybrid 3/4 will be dynamic for Missouri. This Tigers group is in need of a leading scorer, someone who can take over. Porter will be that guy and as the season goes on, he will get more and more sets run for him specifically to break down his defender and score.

Coach of the Year – Mike White (Florida)

Finishing behind Kentucky is no easy task, when A&M and Alabama are as good as they are this year. The difference between one and four is as minimal as its ever been in the SEC. I think White will have his Gator team behind Kentucky all season. I think he’ll cause fits defensively for the conference’s diaper dandies and have Florida marching into the tournament ready to make a run.

Projected All SEC Teams

First Team *

Robert Williams – Texas A&M

Yante Maten – Georgia

Michael Porter Jr – Missouri

Kevin Knox – Kentucky

Quindarry Weatherspoon – Mississippi State

Second Team

Colin Sexton – Alabama

Austin Wiley – Auburn

KeVaughn Allen – Florida

Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky

Matthew Fisher-Davis – Vanderbilt

*Pending Sexton’s eligibility, if cleared sooner than later, he will be First Team All-SEC