BY: JEREMY MORRIS | JANUARY 29, 2018
Since 2013-2014, ESPN has hosted a ten-game slate of matchups between the Big12 and the SEC. The Big12/SEC Challenge was initially an early-December contest but it has been played during late January in the middle of conference play for the last three years. Since moving to mid-season, it’s become a more entertaining and ultimately much more significant weekend in the college basketball season.
With freshman seemingly having greater and greater impacts on the landscape of college basketball and rosters turning over year by year, January games do infinitely than early December ones do more to answer questions about who teams ultimately will be by March. For the handful of Big12 and SEC teams with National Title aspirations, it’s traditionally been a valuable barometer for how they stand up against top national competition. For bubble teams, it’s been an opportunity to add a meaningful non-conference win that could be the difference between the big dance and the NIT.
This year, these games will likely have significant impacts on seeding for the cemented tournament teams and play deciding roles for those on the bubble. Collectively these two conferences have less prohibitive favorites for the Final Four than usual but more potential tournament teams than any in seasons past. The lack of blue bloods at the top but depth of quality top to bottom in this twenty team lineup has meant more questions to answer and also more to gain/lose than any other group of games in the inter-conference competition’s five year run. Some questions are still unanswered and some teams clearly still have work to do but both conferences emerged from the weekend with clearer pictures of themselves and their outlook on the postseason.
Here is a look at the statements, revelations, and takeaways from the 2018 Big12/SEC Challenge:
It Just Means More – on the hardwood, not just the gridiron.
The SEC took this year’s series 6 games to 4. As if Georgia bouncing Oklahoma from the College Football Playoff and subjecting America to an All-SEC football championship game wasn’t enough.
Watch out for Kentucky.
The Wildcats have struggled this season, dropping from Top 10 to out of the Top 25 over the last month. Unlike typical John Calipari teams loaded with highly touted freshman, this team has looked like just that – freshman. To this point, they’ve been freshman who’d better grow up and figure it out quickly or they’d be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. As of Saturday night, they seemed to have grown up and figured things out. Led by Kevin Knox and his four fellow freshman starters, the Wildcats went on the road as 10-point underdogs and knocked off #7 West Virginia in a rowdy WVU Coliseum. Their athleticism dominated the boards and Knox finished the night with 34 points and 7 boards including going 5-8 from 3-point range. Maybe we should listen to Cal when he spends the first two months of every season reminding everyone that “THEY’RE JUST FRESHMAN”.
Avery Johnson has built Alabama into a legitimate basketball program with a legit homecourt advantage.
The Bama/Oklahoma pairing had drawn plenty of attention and hype leading up to their meeting in Tuscaloosa Saturday. Most of it was surrounding the future NBA freshman Point Guards who would be going head to head. OU’s Trae Young is a frontrunner for National Player of the Year and came in averaging over 30 points/game but the Tide’s defense held him to only 17 points. Colin Sexton, Bama’s freshman phenom outscored and outplayed Young while also getting more help from his supporting cast as Bama cruised to an 80-73 win. Young is a better pure scorer and has better vision but Sexton is as athletic as any Point Guard in the country and is a much more well rounded player on both ends of the court. Both will probably be top 10-15 picks in the upcoming NBA draft and both have the makings of being very good NBA guards.. Between now and then, both are going to be dangerous opponents for anyone in their bracket come tournament time.
Kansas is Kansas and their backcourt is second to none.
The Jayhawks’ leading scorer Devonte’ Graham struggled against A&M scoring only 9 points on 2-11 shooting. Their three other starting Guards, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick, and Malik Newman combined for 49 points though and Kansas easily handled a good Texas A&M team. KU should be a 2 seed at worst and can easily beat anyone on any given night.
Florida hasn’t missed a beat since losing Center, John Egbunu, and with veteran leadership, the Gators remain the best team in the SEC.
Led by Senior PG, Chris Chiozza, the Gators went 14 for 25 from beyond the arc. Chiozza along with fellow Senior, Egor Koulechov, and Junior, Jalen Hudson, have something that few other teams with comparable talent have – experience. They’re scrappy, they defend well at every position, and even on off nights, all three starters in their backcourt have the confidence to take and hit big shots with the game on the line. When they’re on… well ask Baylor how that goes…