The Big 12/SEC Challenge trophy has never left the Big 12 office. The Big 12 won the majority of games in the first three years of the series and the league split the 10 games last year. In a tie the trophy remains with the previous year’s winner.
As was the case in 2017, the conferences look even. The Big 12 has more teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (4-2) and but both are top five leagues according to analytics such as ESPN’s BPI.
“Look, both leagues are really strong this year,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told SECCountry.com. “I would say right now when you look at RPI and all the other things, probably the best two leagues.”
All of this year’s games, which will be played Saturday, are available on one of the ESPN Networks, and here’s how we rank them based on watchablity:
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1. Kentucky at West Virginia, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Schools from the states that gave us the Hatfields and McCoys should play more often. The Wildcats are making their first trip to Morgantown since 1970. West Virginia won a memorable game in the 2010 Elite Eight, as the Mountaineers defeated a Kentucky team of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. The Wildcats won the next two meetings in the NCAA Tournament. This time it’s “Press Virginia” against a Kevin Knox-led all-freshman starting lineup that has dropped out of the AP Top 25.
2. Oklahoma at Alabama, 1:15 p.m. (ESPN)
The best individual matchup is in this game, with Oklahoma freshman Trae Young, topping the nation in scoring and assists, meeting Alabama freshman Collin Sexton, who returned earlier this week after missing two games with an abdominal injury.
3. Texas A&M at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Jayhawks should bounce back from the loss at Oklahoma against an Aggies team that has struggled in SEC play. Texas A&M was 11-1 in nonconference play and beat West Virginia. But it dropped its first four conference games and is tied with Vanderbilt for last in the SEC with a 2-6 record. Five Texas A&M players average double-digits in scoring, but coach Billy Kennedy has wanted better play from his guards.
4. Baylor at Florida, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
The Gators, who are a half-game back of SEC-leading Auburn, do best when they are careful with the ball. Florida is seventh in the NCAA in turnovers, averaging just 10 a game. The Bears will try to win the battle of the boards and keep it a low-scoring affair.
5. Texas Tech at South Carolina 11 a.m., (ESPN2)
This Gamecocks, 13-7, are coming off a win at Florida and a victory here would boost their NCAA Tournament hopes. The Raiders ended a bit of a slump with a win against Oklahoma State on Tuesday, but they have lost their last three road games since winning at Allen Fieldhouse.
6. Tennessee at Iowa State, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
The Vols are in a three-way tie for third place in the SEC and need to win this game to boost their resume. “Hilton Magic” has been hit or miss this season for Iowa State, which is 2-2 in conference home games. The Cyclones are coming off a 73-57 loss at Texas which was their first game after thumping Texas Tech 70-52 at home. Which Iowa State team shows up Saturday?
7. Georgia at Kansas State, 1 p.m. (ESPNU)
Bulldogs coach Mark Fox returns to Manhattan, where he once served as an assistant. Georgia has lost four of five and K-State has won three of four, including two against ranked teams (Oklahoma, TCU). But is there a look-ahead possibility for the Wildcats, who play host to Kansas on Monday?
8. Oklahoma State at Arkansas, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Eddie Sutton Classic. He took both programs to Final Fours. The Hogs are 10-1 at home this season and coach Mike Anderson has the offense running wild again (84.8 points per game, 18th in NCAA). Note the trend in the Cowboys’ results since the start of the year: loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss. Last year, Oklahoam State beat Arkansas in Stillwater, 99-71.
9. Mississippi at Texas, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Rebels are coming off a victory over Alabama and defeated Florida earlier this season. They figure to have a tough time with Texas’ size and shot-block specialist Mo Bamba, who averages a double-double and 4.4 blocks per game.
10. TCU at Vanderbilt, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
Vandy is the only team in the challenge series with a losing overall record. The Frogs, who haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998, usually play the spoiler’s role this time of year. But TCU, coming off a Big Monday victory over West Virginia, need to avoid dropping games like this to maintain its postseason credentials.