Non-conference games in late January? Here’s a quick look at the premier match-ups in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday.
Baylor Bears at #20 Florida Gators—Noon, ESPN
Baylor enters Saturday in need of a win as they are 12-8 overall, having lost their last two games at #5 Kansas and home against Kansas State. A non-conference win on the road against a ranked opponent in Florida could serve them well if they hope to climb onto the good side of the bubble come March. Manu Lecomte will need to have a big game if the Bears plan on upsetting the Gators on Saturday. Lecomte leads Baylor in scoring at 16.6 points per game. Florida has had a rollercoaster of a season, but enters the Big 12/SEC Challenge at 14-6, having won six of their last eight games. After beating then #18 Kentucky, the Gators lost a midweek home game to South Carolina. If Florida is to come away with a win over Baylor on Saturday, it will likely be due to the play of their senior leader Chris Chiozza who is one of the most valuable players in the SEC. Chiozza is averaging 12.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. Look for Florida to shoot their way past Baylor at home.
Florida 77, Baylor 66
#12 Oklahoma Sooners at Alabama Crimson Tide—2:15, ESPN
Trae Young leads Oklahoma into Tuscaloosa fresh off a home win over #5 Kansas on Monday. The Sooners (15-4) will look to grab a non-conference win on the road in pursuit of a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Young, the nation’s leading scorer and assist man (averaging 30.3 points and 9.6 assists per game), will put his skills to the test against Alabama’s Collin Sexton (averaging 18.5 points per game) who is also projected to be a top ten pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Protecting home court will be key for Alabama (13-7) as they look to secure a signature win and land on the right side of the bubble come tournament time. Look for the Sooners led by Young to outlast Sexton and the Crimson Tide on the road.
Oklahoma 81, Alabama 73
Texas A&M Aggies at #5 Kansas Jayhawks—4:30, ESPN
Texas A&M returns to Lawrence to take on Kansas for the first time since they were Big 12 opponents. The Aggies are one of the most disappointing and unpredictable teams in college basketball this season. At 13-7, Texas A&M is in need of a key win to push them to into the field come March. With five players averaging double figures, the Aggies have a balanced offensive attack and are talented enough to come away with a win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. If Texas A&M is able to pull off the upset, it will likely be due to their strength inside. Tyler Davis is averaging 14.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Robert Williams, a possible lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft, is averaging 10.4 and 9.9 rebounds per game. The Aggies need to feed their big men in the post and hope to get Kansas’ only post threat Udoka Azubuike in foul trouble. Kansas will look to counter Texas A&M’s inside scoring with a barrage of three pointers. The Jayhawks live and die by the three. If Kansas wins, they will look for big games from senior leaders Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk who are averaging 17.8 and 16.5 points per game, respectively. I expect this to be the closest game of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Kansas 74, Texas A&M 71
Kentucky Wildcats at #7 West Virginia Mountaineers—7, ESPN
After losing at home to Florida last Saturday, Kentucky (15-5) fell out of the rankings for the first time since 2014. The young Wildcats responded with a win over Mississippi State on Tuesday night and will look to pull off an upset of #7 West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday night. Kentucky has struggled to take care of the ball so far this season. The Wildcats average 14 turnovers per game. Kentucky’s guards will need to be prepared to face West Virginia’s full court press in a hostile environment. Kevin Knox (averaging 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game) has been inconsistent this year, but the Wildcats need him to have a good game if they hope to win. On the other hand, West Virginia (16-4) has lost three of their last four games. The Mountaineers will look to turn it around against Kentucky. The Mountaineers balanced attack, led by Jevon Carter, will need to focus on stronger shot selection to take down the Wildcats. Look for West Virginia’s full court press and a raucous home court crowd to come up with a victory at home.
West Virginia 71, Kentucky 65
My picks for the rest of the games in the Big 12/SEC Challenge:
#14 TEXAS TECH at South Carolina
Ole Miss at TEXAS
Georgia at KANSAS STATE
#22 TENNESSEE at Iowa State
TCU at Vanderbilt
Oklahoma State at ARKANSAS
Projected winners in BOLD
Based on these projections, my pick is for the Big 12 to win the 2018 Big 12/SEC Challenge 7-3.