Big12/SEC Challenge: Predicting Saturday’s Winners

via SECSports.com

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.

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