The annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge is arriving this weekend with some intriguing matchups on the schedule as teams fight for conference supremacy and look to add a final non-league victory to their resumes. Last year's event ended in a 5-5 tie, and the leagues split the crown the two years prior.
While the Big 12 owns an all-time record of 40-30 in the event, it's been an even 20-20 split over the past four years. So, in respect to competitive balance, the scheduling has been pretty good over the past four years.
Here's the complete schedule for Saturday's SEC/Big 12 Challenge:
- No. 9 Alabama at No. 24 Oklahoma, Noon (ESPN2)
- Texas A&M at Kansas State, Noon (ESPNU)
- Florida at No. 11 West Virginia, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
- No. 10 Texas Tech at LSU, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
- TCU at No. 12 Missouri, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Auburn at No. 2 Baylor, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
- Arkansas at Oklahoma State, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Iowa State at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
- No. 15 Kansas at No. 18 Tennessee, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
- No. 5 Texas at Kentucky, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
However, since the matchups are determined in the preseason, the slate leaves something to the imagination, thanks in part to Alabama's unexpected rise in prominence.
The No. 9 Crimson Tide are scheduled to play at Oklahoma, and facing the Sooners (9-4) should be a nice challenge for Alabama. But given that coach Nate Oats' has already defeated most of the supposed frontrunners in the SEC, it would be great to see it face one of the Big 12's front runners. So, with that in mind, here are a few matchups that would have made this year's showcase a bit more appetizing:
Five SEC/Big 12 Challenge games we'd like to see
Baylor vs. Alabama
At the beginning of this week, Baylor ranked No. 14 nationally in made 3-pointers per game at 10.2 and No. 6 in points per game at 86.1. Alabama ranked No. 3 in made 3-pointers per game with 11.2 and No. 25 in points per game at 81.8. Long story short, a game between the No. 2 Bears and No. 9 Crimson Tide would create an offensive showcase that would have been unimaginable in college basketball just a few a seasons ago. These teams are riding the trickle-down wave of the NBA's 3-point craze to great success, and it would be captivating to see them square off. Maybe we'll get to see it in March, but it would be great if it were on the schedule Saturday.
Auburn vs. Oklahoma State
Sharife Cooper vs. Cade Cunningham? Yes, please. Cooper has played just five games since getting cleared but has been spectacular, averaging 21.2 points and 9 assists while emerging as the frontrunner in a pack of star prospects to be the SEC's Freshman of the Year. Meanwhile, Cunningham remains a candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. It just so happens that both these teams are also facing postseason bans. Auburn's ban is self-imposed, but Oklahoma State is appealing its ban to the NCAA. If that appeal fails, these teams should schedule game with each other in March just so we can see see Cooper and Cunningham face off.
Tennessee vs. Texas
The last time these teams played was the 2007-08 season, when Bruce Pearl was Tennessee's coach and Rick Barnes was at Texas. It's time for that to change. Sure, the idea of Barnes returning to play against his old school in the era of reduced capacities is kind of lame. But this game needs to happen while Barnes is still with the Volunteers and Shaka Smart is still the coach at Texas. With Texas ranked No. 5 and Tennessee having surged as high as No. 6 earlier this season, it would have been a great season to make it happen.
LSU vs. Kansas
If we're pitting Oklahoma State and Auburn against each other in a battle of teams facing postseason bans, then let's see LSU and Kansas square off in a battle of teams awaiting their punishments amid alleged NCAA violations. Here's an idea: winner only gets a one-year postseason ban while the loser gets a two-year ban. In all seriousness, this would be a great meeting between NCAA Tournament bound squads with opposite strengths. LSU ranks near the top nationally in offensive efficiency but struggles on defense. Kansas, on the other hand, boasts the reigning Naismith Defensive Player of the Year in Marcus Garrett. Top-ranked Gonzaga is the only team to have surpassed 72 points on Kansas this season, and it would be interesting to see if LSU -- averaging 84.1 points per game -- could be the second to do it.
Kentucky vs. Texas Tech
Run it back? The Wildcats won it 76-74 in overtime last year in what turned out to be something of a down year for the Red Raiders after their Final Four run. So it would only be fair to have a second round this year as the Wildcats try and find their way after some well-documented early season struggles.