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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Around the SEC: Basketball edition

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While a nonconference matchup in the middle of conference play in SEC football may see schools like Alabama demolishing smaller mid-major universities, a nonconference matchup in SEC basketball could not be any dissimilar. This week two top basketball conferences slug it out to see which conference can claim the title of winner of the 10th and final Big 12/SEC Challenge.
No. 2 Alabama @ Oklahoma
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Lloyd Noble Center — Norman, Okla.
1 p.m. on ESPN
Alabama was expected to be a good team coming into the 2022-23 season, but I don’t think anyone outside of Tuscaloosa expected “No. 2 in the country” good. Led by National Freshman of the Year candidate forward Brandon Miller, the Crimson Tide have looked dominant, and are the only undefeated school in SEC play. Oklahoma will have their hands full against Alabama, and while they have shown they can compete with tough competition-also, knocking off No.17 Baylor last week, it will be an uphill climb for the Sooners. Oklahoma will have to shoot at a high percentage on their first shot, as Alabama is No. 13 in the country in rebound margin. Pair that with them also being No. 13 in scoring offense, I don’t see Oklahoma pulling this one out. It may be close at times, but the Crimson Tide will extend their win streak to 10.
Final Score: Alabama 75, Oklahoma 61
Arkansas @ No. 17 Baylor
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Ferrell Center — Waco, Texas
3 p.m. on ESPN
In a matchup that probably seemed better on paper at the beginning of the season, Arkansas looks to build up their resume as they take on No. 17 Baylor. The Razorbacks were picked to finish second in the SEC but now sit at 10th in the standings. Baylor was picked to finish first and currently sit at fifth in the Big 12. In Arkansas’ defense, they lost preseason SEC Freshman of the year candidate in guard Nick Smith to a knee injury in their win against Bradley, as well as sophomore forward Trevon Brazile to a torn ACL. It hasn’t been exactly smooth sailing for Arkansas. I do think this game will end up being close, in fact I could even see Arkansas winning if it was in Fayetteville. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it’s not. Arkansas turns it over 13.2 times a game, 223rd in the country, and while Baylor is not particularly known for forcing turnovers, the Razorbacks have a young roster that may struggle on the road. Pair that with their lack of a consistent outside shooter, I think Baylor pulls this one out.
Final Score: Baylor 68, Arkansas 62
No. 15 Auburn @ West Virginia
Saturday, Jan. 28 — WVU Coliseum — Morgantown, W.Va.
11 a.m. on ESPN
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Auburn had their country-leading 28 game home winning streak snapped by Texas A&M. It doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers, as they head to Morgantown to play West Virginia. This one could sneak up on Auburn, as the Mountaineers currently sit on the bubble, and are looking for quality wins. To win, Auburn needs more production from their guards not named Wendell Green Jr. The junior guard scored 16 points on 40% shooting, however this wasn’t enough to overcome the Fightin’ Farmers. They will need guards like Zep Jasper or K.D. Johnson to step up. Sophomore center Johni Broome has been a force for Auburn defensively, currently ranked 9th in total blocks, helping Auburn to be No. 3 in blocks per game and No. 33 in scoring defense. However, West Virginia is tied for 11th in free throw attempts per game, so in a few swings of the arm and a few blows of the whistle, the game could get ugly for Auburn, but ultimately I think the Tigers pull out a close one.
Final Score: Auburn 66, West Virginia 61
Florida @ No. 5 Kansas State
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Bramlage Coliseum — Manhattan, Kan.
5 p.m. on ESPN
Kansas State has been the real shocker in college basketball this season. First year head coach Jerome Tang has assembled a formidable team through the transfer portal, and it is all led by a former Florida player in senior guard Keyontae Johnson. Johnson was preseason SEC Player of the Year in 2020 for Florida, but collapsed on the court due to an undiagnosed heart condition against Florida State. After over a year of uncertainty, he was cleared to play by Kansas State medical staff, and to say it has worked out for him is an understatement. On the other side, Florida’s entire team runs through senior center Colin Castleton. Ultimately, I think this will be Florida’s downfall in this game. The Wildcats get too much production for their guard play in Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell for Florida to rely solely on their big man, and I think Kansas State runs away with this one.
Final Score: Kansas State 83, Florida 65
No. 9 Kansas @ Kentucky
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Rupp Arena — Lexington, Ky.
7 p.m. on ESPN
Two blue bloods battle it out in this matchup as Kansas takes on Kentucky. To many Wildcat’s standards, Kentucky has underperformed this season. With reigning National Player of the Year returning in senior forward Oscar Tshiebwe, as well as a slew of impact transfers and freshmen, the expectation for Kentucky was to be ranked nationally. But after a disappointing start to conference play, including a stunning loss to South Carolina at home, many wrote Kentucky off. The Wildcats have stormed back, however, winning four straight. This includes wins on the road against Tennessee and at home against A&M. Kansas is on a complete opposite trajectory, having dropped three-straight games, only the fourth time this has happened in the Bill Self era for the Jayhawks. Kentucky has the momentum, and if they can get production from their guards, like seniors Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves, I think the Wildcats can steal this game from Kansas.
Final Score: Kentucky 87, Kansas 84
Texas Tech @ LSU
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Pete Maravich Assembly Center— Baton Rouge, La.
1 p.m. on ESPN
A contest between two schools on a skid, Texas Tech Visits LSU in Baton Rouge. LSU was a big question mark coming into the season, as they brought in Matt McMahon from Murray State, with star players in senior forward K.J. Williams and senior guard Justice Hill following him. It appeared as if LSU could be a surprise in the SEC, starting the season 12-1. Since then, however, they have lost seven straight, and are desperately searching for something to stop their streak. The Red Raiders, despite playing close games, have yet to secure a Big 12 win. While Texas Tech may seem like the right pick based on pure talent on the roster, they will be without freshman guard Pop Isaacs and senior forward Fardaws Aimaq. Pair that with being on the road, I think LSU manages to break their skid.
Final Score: LSU: 67, Texas Tech: 60
Ole Miss @ Oklahoma State
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Gallagher-Iba Arena — Stillwater, Okla.
7 p.m. on ESPN
A matchup between two cellar dwellers, Ole Miss stumbles into Stillwater to take on the Pokies. This is probably the most lackluster of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge games. Neither team has any real chance at postseason play, and they are really just playing for bragging rights. Despite this, there is a chance that this could actually end up being a decent game to watch. If junior guard Matthew Murrell can heat up for Ole Miss, it could get interesting. However, Oklahoma State has a quality conference win against Iowa State,a game where their home attendance was less than 50 percent,so they’ve shown they can handle stiff competition. Oklahoma State will more than likely pull this one out, cranking Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis’ seat up from hot to scorching.
Final Score: Oklahoma State: 77, Ole Miss 65
No. 11 TCU @ Mississippi State
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Humphrey Coliseum — Starkville, Miss.
3 p.m. on ESPN
TCU is looking like their ranking at this point in the year, with wins against teams like Kansas, Kansas St. and Baylor halfway through conference play. Mississippi State is an interesting case, with little expectations coming into the season, they surprised many early, even earning a top 25 ranking. However, that did not last long. The Bulldogs have slid heavily in conference play. Defensively, Miss. St. can hang with anyone, being ranked 7th in the country. Their offense , however, is an abysmal 321st. TCU has too much firepower, especially with junior point guard Mike Miles Jr. TCU forces almost 17 turnovers a game and are first in the country in fast break points. It may be tough sledding early, but TCU’s pace will eventually break the Bulldogs and they won’t be able to answer to TCU’s offense.
Final Score: TCU: 71, Mississippi State: 59
No. 12 Iowa State @ Missouri
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Mizzou Arena — Columbia, Mo.
1 p.m. on ESPN
Both Iowa State and Missouri were welcome surprises this year in their respective conferences. The Cyclones were expected to drop off after their star guard Tyrese Hunter unexpectedly left for Texas. However, they have not missed a beat, as they added St. Bonaventure stars in guard Jaren Holmes and center Osun Osunniyi in the offseason. Iowa State is also coming off of arguably its best win of the season in its last outing against Kansas State. Missouri, coached by former Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates, have performed way beyond their expectations with a high-flying offense led by guard senior Kobe Brown and graduate guard D’Moi Hodge being the calling card for the Tigers. This game will be fast and messy, as both schools are top 10 nationally in turnovers forced. The winner will be whoever can control the chaos. With it being a home game for Mizzou, as well as star Missouri St. transfer senior point guard Isiaih Mosley finally being eligible to play, I can see the Tigers pulling the upset.
Final Score: Missouri: 89, Iowa State: 87
No. 10 Texas @ No. 4 Tennessee
Saturday, Jan. 28 — Thompson-Boling Arena — Knoxville, Tenn.
5 p.m. on ESPN
The most anticipated game of the Big 12/SEC Challenge is the Rick Barnes Special, as Tennessee’s head coach welcomes his former school to town. Both schools are dynamic in its own way, but could not be less similar. Texas comes into Knoxville No. 22 in both scoring offense and field goal percent, headlined by senior guard Marcus Carr and sophomore guard Tyrese Hunter. The Volunteers, however, are the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, as well as top 15 in both turnovers forced and rebound margin. The unstoppable force meets the immovable object in this matchup, but I think this game is too big for Tennessee to lose. If players like senior guard Santiago Vescovi, senior forward Josiah-Jordan James and sophomore point guard Zakai Ziegler can get hot offensively for the Volunteers, they could overpower Texas. However, it could get interesting if Tennessee, like in their loss to Kentucky, cannot manufacture enough points, as Carr can easily score 20+ points in a game if you let him.
Final Score: Tennessee 70, Texas 68
SEC wins the the Challenge, 6-4

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