Ranking every game and picking the winners in the Big 12/SEC Challenge
Kentucky vs. West Virgina and Kansas vs. Texas A&M are two games to look forward to
The Big 12/SEC Challenge is different from the other inter-league head-to-heads in that it takes place smack-dab in the middle of conference season. The high-profile matchups allow for a break from the rigors of the league schedule and spice up the end of January for college hoops' calendar.
ESPN released on Wednesday the matchups, dates and tip times for the games that will all be played on Saturday, Jan. 27, of this season. This will be the fifth iteration of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Here are the 10 games we're getting, ranked in order of enticement. All times p.m. and Eastern. Rankings are current poll positions at.
4:30 or 7, ESPN: Kentucky has played Kansas the past two seasons in this inter-conference series, but since the Jayhawks and Wildcats will meet in November at the Champions Classic in Chicago, they were not pitted against each other twice in the regular season. Kentucky's crazy young, but still a consensus top-10 preseason squad. West Virginia brings back Jevon Carter, who could be the preseason Player of the Year pick in the league. Winner: West Virginia
4:30 or 7, ESPN: The Jayhawks will likely be utilizing a four-guard attack. That's a contrast to a talented A&M team that will boast likely future lottery pick Robert Williams, in addition to center Tyler Davis and stretch wing D.J. Hogg. The Jayhawks should be favored, but A&M is probably the most talented team we don't have ranked heading into the season. Winner: Kansas
4, ESPN2: Yep, it seems like a wild card pick to be top-three but remember, TCU returns the majority of its roster and won the NIT last season. The Horned Frogs are in position and strong enough to be a top-four team in the Big 12 this season -- and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, made last season's NCAA Tournament (and won a game) and will have the benefit of getting this game at home. The Commodores aren't viewed as a preseason top-four team in the SEC, so this game might wind up being a pivotal one for the resumé. Winner: Vanderbilt
Noon, ESPN: The top four games in this challenge all have appeal. Baylor will be in a tough spot here, but this is a good game to start that Saturday. Florida was a few plays away from making the Final Four. Scott Drew's Bears could have the best guard on the floor in Manu Lecomte. After speaking with Gators coach Mike White this summer, I think UF could have some early struggles, but expect Florida to round into shape well before this one. Winner: Florida
2:15, ESPN: Exciting matchup between two five-star prospects in the class of 2017: Trae Young (Oklahoma) vs. Collin Sexton (Alabama). Sexton is a load to contain, while Young is a combo point guard with 25-foot range. There's going to be an upset or two in this challenge, you know it, and so why not go with a Sooners team that brings back Khadeem Lattin down low, too. Winner: Oklahoma
2, ESPN2: In the league, SEC coaches on the whole think Andy Kennedy's roster and experience will vault the Rebels into the top half of the league. If that winds up being the case, then Texas is going to have its hands full here. The Longhorns have the benefit of the home floor and a possible top-five pick in center Mo Bamba. Winner: Texas
2, ESPNU: Georgia brings back Yante Maten, while K-State is the most enigmatic Big 12 program heading into this season. But Bruce Weber will get a few nice victories, and this one could keep hope alive for an NCAA Tournament bid. Winner: Kansas State
Noon, ESPN2: I could well be rating this one too low, but South Carolina's projections for the season ahead are murky after losing Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. Texas Tech went 6-12 in a tough Big 12 last season, but does bring back plenty. Hard to go against Frank Martin in this kind of spot. Chris Silva could become his new star. Winner: South Carolina
6, ESPN2: New OSU coach Mike Boynton will have his ups and downs this season, but Jeff Carroll should get plenty of votes for Big 12 preseason first team. Arkansas returns five of its top eight players from a team that was a No. 8 seed and took North Carolina nearly to the wire in the first round of the NCAAs. Winner: Arkansas
4, ESPNU: The Vols head into Hilton Coliseum and will play a Cyclones team that, by the end of January, will certainly have a clearer picture than what we know now. Tennessee is not bereft of talent (it probably will have more than ISU this season), but the Cyclones getting this one on their home floor will probably be the difference. Princeton transfer Hans Brace is one of many new names to know for Steve Prohm's program. Winner: Iowa State
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Kansas, Duke, Tennessee and Gonzaga are also in the top five