Today's Specials: SEC/Big East Challenge kicks off

Will Jack Cooley and Notre Dame be able to overcome Kentucky's talent and pull off the win? (US Presswire)

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge ended in a 6-6 tie, but now it’s time for the SEC/Big East Challenge. There are a couple of key games on Thursday, although no battles between top-five or even top-25 teams.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP poll.

Best game: No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7 p.m., ESPN2). Ryan Harrow is back for Kentucky, but John Calipari said on Wednesday that Archie Goodwin was the team’s point guard. So that’s a fun dynamic to keep an eye on. Against Notre Dame, the key battle will be down low, where freshman Nerlens Noel takes on burly post player Jack Cooley . Cooley is stronger than Noel, but Noel has the edge in athleticism and length. Additionally, Pat Connaughton going against Alex Poythress will be important. Poythress is clearly more talented, although Connaughton can stretch a defense and get hot from the perimeter.

Second-best game: Marquette at No. 7 Florida (9 p.m., ESPN2). Florida has been playing some of the best basketball in the country so far this season, although the win over Wisconsin looks slightly less impressive after the Badgers lost to Virginia on Wednesday. The key for Marquette on the road could be keeping the Florida Gators off the offensive glass. The Golden Eagles are getting good production from their bigs, but defensive rebounding has been a struggle. On the perimeter, Scottie Wilbekin has added a new dimension to Florida’s attack.

Another one to watch: Seton Hall at LSU (9:30 p.m., ESPNU). Another battle in the SEC/Big East Challenge -- and it’s clearly not as good as the top two. Seton Hall has only one loss this season, an overtime defeat at the hands of Washington. Meanwhile, Johnny Jones is off to a 4-0 start in his first season at the helm, but all the wins were over cupcake opponents. Shavon Coleman and Johnny O’Bryant have been a good inside duo for LSU, while Fuquan Edwin is playing the best basketball of his career.

Guaranteed win: Memphis hasn’t been playing well this season, dropping two games in the Bahamas and not looking great in either contest. The LSU Tigers will figure it out -- and it starts against Tennessee-Martin (8 p.m., FOX Sports Affiliates). UT-Martin has lost all four games against Division-I opponents this season, and Memphis will make it five.

Potential upset: La Salle has the potential to be a threat in the Atlantic 10 this season, given the Explorers’ excellent backcourt duo of Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway. However, a short trip to Rider won’t be easy (7 p.m.). Nuri Lindsey has been a big-time scorer since transferring from St. John’s, and the Broncs will look to push the ball.

Three things to keep an eye on:

  1. St. John’s is going to be fun to watch this season despite its inconsistencies, and the St. John's Red Storm host 5-1 South Carolina Gamecocks (7:30 p.m., ESPNU).
  2. Indiana is still No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, but Gonzaga Bulldogs has quietly pushed to No. 2. The Bulldogs host Lewis Clark State (9 p.m., Regional TV).
  3. A nice mid-major battle takes place on the West coast, when Long Beach State 49ers visits Loyola Marymount Lions (10 p.m.). Both teams will have their moments this season. 
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