Conference challenges are great for college sports. They’re engaging and create high-quality matchups and games. The Big 12/SEC challenge was no exception on Saturday with the conferences splitting ten games with five wins apiece, as the Big 12 salvaged the draw via Baylor’s statement victory over Florida to end the day. Here’s a game by game look at the action and takeaways.
Auburn 80 Iowa State 76
The recap: Auburn was up 78-74, having watched a large lead slip away, and Iowa State had a wide open look for three from the corner. The Cyclones missed the shot, and Auburn secured the rebound and ultimately hung on. It was a less than inspiring finish to an otherwise solid game from the Tigers who have won two straight following their 2-game skid.
The Takeaway: Auburn is not a national title contender. The Tigers continue to struggle against inferior competition. Their wins against South Carolina and Iowa State have not inspired much confidence following a horrific two-game stretch against Florida and Alabama.
West Virginia 74 Missouri 51
The Recap: One of the few yawners in this challenge, the #14 Mountaineers grinded their way through a sluggish first half before lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 50 points in the second half to pull away for the dominant victory, improving to 10-0 at home.
The Takeaway: West Virginia is clearly a Big 12 contender: In our initial roundtable, I picked West Virginia to win the Big 12. It was a shot in the dark, but the Mountaineers are making me look good, turning in a strong performance today and looking like the clear third best team behind Kansas and Baylor.
LSU 69 Texas 67
The Recap: In a thrilling matchup of unranked teams, LSU built a large halftime advantage and held off a furious Texas rally. The lead changed hands several times in the final minutes, but the Tigers ultimately finished the job on the road, improving to 15-4.
The Takeaway: LSU are road warriors: The Tigers are now 4-1 on the road, and that could bode well for LSU when it comes time to leave the comforts of their own court and play some elimination games on neutral courts in March.
Oklahoma 63 Mississippi State 62
The Recap: Oklahoma leaned on a big day from Brady Manek, who dropped 18 points, to hold off the Bulldogs in a game that was tight all the way through. Mississippi State was plagued by poor shooting, and they ultimately could not make one more shot to push them over the edge on the road.
The Takeaway: Mississippi State needs a secondary scorer: On a day when Oklahoma honed in on the Bulldog’s primary scorer in Reggie Perry, the Bulldogs could not find an answer, putting up a poor offensive performance. Their defense performed extremely well, and it should have been enough for a key road win, but Mississippi State proved themselves to be overly reliant on one man.
Arkansas 78 TCU 67
The Recap: Arkansas continued their dominance at home, improving to 11-1 on their court with an easy win over the Horned Frogs. Desi Sills poured in 18 for the Razorbacks and Arkansas claimed a relatively easy victory for the SEC.
The Takeaway: Kevin Samuel is an extremely impressive player: All due respect to Arkansas, but I pretty much knew that they were extremely good at home and average on the road. So my biggest takeaway is TCU’s Kevin Samuel. The man put the Horned Frogs on his back on Saturday, and although he couldn’t single-handedly take down the Sooners, he put up 24 points and collected 18 rebounds. If TCU can find some help for Samuel, they could make some noise.
Kansas 74 Tennessee 68
The Recap: Devon Dotson put up 22 points, and Udoka Azubuike battled through foul trouble, scoring 18 and grabbing 11 rebounds. Tennessee pushed hard on the road, but ultimately the Jayhawks never surrendered their advantage and edged the Volunteers.
The Takeaway: Kansas still needs to find their identity. I believe the Jayhawks are a title contender, but they need to figure out who they are, especially on offense. The Jayhawks looked lost at times without Azubuike on the floor. When he was there, they clicked, driving in the paint, finding Azubuike for a bevy of dunks and layups, or kicking out for open 3s. Without him on the floor, Kansas seemed to have no system, taking bad shots, turning the ball over and generally looking lost with the ball in their hands.
Oklahoma State 73 Texas A&M 62
The Recap: Oklahoma State flashed their balance, as their leading scorer posted just 13 points on the day, but the Cowboys looked much better than the Aggies in both halves and steadily pulled away for an easy victory.
The Takeaway: Neither team is making a run this year. This was a somewhat close game, but it was a relatively boring battle between two average squads featuring very few stars with mediocre verging on below-average offenses. Neither of these two teams looked like a tournament team to me, and overall, it was one of the most boring games of the challenge.
Alabama 77 Kansas State 74
The Recap: Alabama had all five starters score in double-digits, highlighted by Kira Lewis Jr. and his 26 points, and the Crimson Tide squeaked past the Wildcats 77-74 in a game that was tight all the way.
The Takeaway: Alabama is a basketball school. Well, not really, but I think this is the best basketball team out of Tuscaloosa in a long time, and with a stud in Lewis and a solid supporting cast, I could see the Crimson Tide making a decent run in a few months.
Kentucky 76 Texas Tech 74
The Recap: A thriller from start to finish, Kentucky avoided disappointment after giving away their late lead to edge the Red Raiders in Lubbard in overtime. It was a huge win for the Wildcats who are looking to move past the inconsistencies that have plagued them this year.
The Takeaway: This was the turning point in Kentucky’s season. The Wildcats are an extremely talented group that have lost several games they had no business losing. But if any game can get them to start playing consistently, it is an emotional overtime victory in an electric atmosphere against a Top-20 opponent. The Wildcats impressed me, and I think they’ll start to look like the Kentucky we’re used to seeing in the coming weeks.
Baylor 72 Florida 61
The Recap: Baylor ended the first half on a 13-2 run to claim a comfortable 11-point halftime advantage. They pushed the lead out to 17 points in the second half and never let the Gators make a serious comeback threat, throttling Florida on the road.
The Takeaway: I was wrong about Baylor. I picked Florida to win this game. Baylor had looked a little weak in recent games, and I really liked the way Florida was playing. But this game was never close in the second half, and the Bears simply outclassed the Gators in every phase of the game on Saturday to claim a big win for their program and the Big 12, as the victory salvaged the split with the SEC in the challenge.