Sometimes in life, two completely opposite things can both be true. Take this weekend’s Big 12-SEC Challenge for example.
On the one hand it can be true that this is an awesome event, a fun way to break up the college hoops season, and challenge yourself with a late out of conference game. It shows you where you stand, and how far you have to go with about six weeks left until the start of the NCAA Tournament.
It can also be true that this year’s matchups umm, lack a little buzz. I’m not saying that they’re bad, what I am saying is that the schedule-makers completely misread which teams would be good and which teams wouldn’t when they scheduled these games this summer. Thanks for underachieving, Florida. And thanks for not telling us how good you’d be, West Virginia, Auburn and Arkansas.
Still, if you know me, I’m an eternal optimistic, the man that loves to make lemonade out of bruised lemons, and a dude who is going to watch 12 hours of college hoops every Saturday, regardless of how bad the games are. So yes, I will be watching these games and you should as well.
So which games are the best and most intriguing? Which aren’t? And why should you watch each?
Here is a Power Ranking of all 10 Big 12-SEC Challenge games:
10) Oklahoma State at Texas A&M, 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Again, I’m the eternal optimist, but there just isn’t all that much to get excited about here. Oklahoma State started 7-0, then saw their best player (point guard Isaac Likelike) go down with injury and is 2-9 since. On the other sideline, Texas A&M plays hard for Buzz Williams, but isn’t all that talented or interesting.
In other words, there is nothing really all that redeeming about this game. Well, unless you want to look five years into the future and imagine what A&M might look like under Buzz Williams.
Or you want to look one year into the future and think to yourself “How much will Cade Cunningham regret going to Oklahoma State?”
9) Mississippi State at Oklahoma, 2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Speaking of “nothing redeeming” I present you the Oklahoma Sooners! They’re basically the Colorado Rockies of college basketball: Since Trae Young left, I just can’t think of a single, interesting thing they’ve done. Heck, I’m not even sure Lon Kruger’s family watches this team play.
As for Mississippi State, well, they are actually kind of intriguing.
On the one hand, Reggie Perry has emerged as maybe the best player in the SEC, and is coming off a monster 26-point, 13-rebound performance against Arkansas on Wednesday night. That performance helped give the Bulldogs their third straight SEC win.
Also, with an out of conference resume where their best wins are against Kansas State and Tulane (eww), the Bulldogs need to start stacking wins in a hurry if they want to make a real run at an at-large bid. Winning at Oklahoma on Saturday would go a long way in helping that cause.
8) Kansas State at Alabama, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The next two games on this list are kind of one in the same, matchups where I really enjoy watching one team and couldn’t care less about the other.
In the case of this game, the team I couldn’t care less about is your Kansas State Wildcats. Heck, up until they got mixed up in the Royal Rumble at Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night you kind of forgot they even had a team, didn’t you?
Then there is Alabama, which has quietly become of the great “must watch” teams in college hoops the last few weeks. To Nate Oats’ credit, this team has figured things out, and have won three straight, all by double figures coming into this one.
If you’re looking for a team that’s completely off the radar who could be a threat to sneak into the NCAA Tournament and do some damage this March, the Alabama Crimson Tide is your squad.
7) Missouri at West Virginia, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
In this game Missouri fills the void of “painfully boring, uninteresting team” while West Virginia has turned into one of my favorite teams to watch in college basketball this season. The Mountaineers just absolutely beat the tar out of teams, to the point that I’ve seen more than one opponent just quit mid-game against them. They really are that physical and nasty.
John Calipari said earlier this week that West Virginia is a team that is good enough to win the national championship. And I for one agree.
6) TCU at Arkansas, 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
This game got increasingly more interesting with TCU’s win over Texas Tech on Tuesday night. But in reality this game is about Arkansas.
As has been well-documented the Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back losses (Kentucky, Mississippi State) but are returning home to a sellout Saturday at Bud Walton Arena.
If the Razorbacks really are an NCAA Tournament team (which I believe they are) this is a game they simply have to win.
5) Tennessee at Kansas, 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Honestly, the most interesting thing about this game is that “College Gameday” will be in Lawrence, just a few days after well… you know what happened at Phog Allen Fieldhouse the other night. Think Jay Bilas and the guys will have something to talk about in the lead-up to this game?
For that reason alone, it’s worth tuning in for. On the court though? It’s just hard for me to get excited about this one.
That’s because despite Tennessee winning four of its last five, those wins have largely come against the bottom of the SEC. And while Kansas will be shorthanded without Silvio De Sousa or David McCormack in this one, they’ll still have Devon Dotson and Udoka Azibuke.
As long as those two are on the court, I just don’t see the scenario where Kansas loses this one at home.
4) Iowa State at Auburn, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU
This one is actually sneaky-interesting for a few different reasons.
On the one hand, there is Iowa State, which isn’t very good, but does have one of the best players in college basketball, in point guard Tyrese Haliburton. While he isn’t talked about among the best guards in the sport, he is quietly putting together a monster season, where he is averaging 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists per game. I’ll be fascinated to see what Auburn does to try and slow him down.
Really though the story of this game is Auburn, which rediscovered its mojo on Wednesday after back-to-back blowout losses at Alabama and Florida.
Is Auburn really that good? Or are they a decent team which props itself by beating bad competition? We should start to get the answer in this game.
3) Baylor at Florida, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
You guys know I’m not the biggest Mike White guy – I believe I even called him the “Shaka Smart of the Deep South” a few weeks back (more on that coming). But to me, this is an interesting spot for the Gators.
One, Baylor – despite being the No. 1 team in the country – isn’t playing particularly well right now, winning each of its last two games by single digits. Two, the Gators are actually reasonably good at the O-Dome, where they walloped Auburn last weekend.
I’m not saying the upset will happen here, but the seeds have been planted where I can see it happening. And with a resume where Florida’s only even half-decent out of conference wins were against Xavier and Providence (neither of which is very good), this is quietly a win that could be the difference between the Gators getting an at-large berth or not.
A loss here wouldn’t keep Florida from getting an at-large bid. But a win would certainly prop up that resume.
2) LSU at Texas, 2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
If you listened to the most recent Aaron Torres Podcast, you heard me go all-in on Shaka Smart, and with good reason: I’ve never seen a major, power conference team quit the way that Texas did against West Virginia the other night. It was the type of game where, if Shaka were a football coach, he probably would have been fired on the tarmac and forced to find his own way back to Austin.
Still, for as bad as Texas looked, this game is intriguing to me for another reason: Are we sure LSU is good? I mean, they’re not bad, obviously. But while the Tigers sit at 6-0 in SEC, four of those wins have either come in overtime, or on the final possession of the game. As easily as LSU is 6-0 in this league, one or two bounces the other way and they’re 3-3.
I guess the point is, I’m not sure Texas is as bad as they looked the other night, and I’m not sure LSU is as good as their record says either.
Which will hopefully make for a compelling game.
1) Kentucky at Texas Tech, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Considering this is the only Top 25 matchup of this entire event, Kentucky at Texas Tech really needs no introduction.
Still, this one has it all.
Two teams that are good enough to make it to Atlanta this April (don’t be fooled by Texas Tech’s loss – they’re still legit). Multiple players with NBA futures (Tyrese Maxey, Jahm’ius Ramsey, Ashton Hagans among many others). Plus a Hall of Fame coach (John Calipari) and one who seems destined to one day get there (Chris Beard).
As I’ve said before, I once had a friend who worked for Chris Beard tell me “That guy is just different. If something is wrong, he literally won’t sleep until he gets it figured out” and I have no doubt that coming off a loss, the Wildcats will get the best version of Texas Tech.
It will be the game of the weekend, and (in my humble opinion) one of the better games we see this season.
And I for one can’t wait.