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BIG 12 / SEC Challenge Preview

BIG 12 / SEC

Written by: David Dorman

It is late January and we are deep into conference play but this Saturday two power conferences step out of conference. The SEC and BIG 12 will take center stage of the college basketball world. These games will be much more meaningful than conference bragging rights. Some teams need a big win to get on the right side of the bubble while others are jockeying for seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament starting in just six weeks.

Below I have picked my 5 favorite matchups of this challenge, breakdown the games and make picks.

(All times EST)

West Virginia @ Arkansas

2 pm on ESPN2

Arkansas -8

Total 144

This game is a matchup of two teams squarely on the bubble and looking to pile up victories before Selection Sunday. West Virginia is heading in the wrong direction as we hit February. There are zero easy games in the BIG 12 and the Mountaineers are in the midst of a 4 game losing streak. Two of the losses are to top 5 teams in the country in Kansas and Baylor, another loss to a top 20 team in Texas Tech and the other L to Oklahoma. All are tough games but at some point you need to win games to impress the committee. After this challenge the schedule does not let up at all for West Virginia as they play Baylor again Monday night, this time on the road in Waco.

Arkansas comes into this home game at Bud Walton on a roll. The Razorbacks have won five in a row and are a confident bunch heading into Saturday. Only one of those victories came against a top 20 team but it was a huge road victory against LSU that will definitely impress the selection committee.

Pick: I look for this to be a close game with Arkansas pulling it out in the end.

Take West Va and the 8 points.

Oklahoma @ Auburn

2 pm on ESPN

Auburn -9.5

Total 142

The Auburn Tigers roll into this game ranked #1 in the nation and on a 16 game win streak. Jabari Smith is Auburn's do it all freshman who has a game as smooth as anyone in the country. Smith is playing so well that I currently have him as a first-team All American. He can play inside or out and guard anyone on the court defensively. Auburn had a scare earlier this week as they escaped with a 1 point victory at Missouri but I feel that was due to the situation. The Tigers had just come off a huge emotional home court victory over Kentucky last Saturday after trailing at halftime. The home crowd has given Auburn a huge boost all season and the building will be electric again as the Sooners come to town.

Oklahoma comes into this game as losers of 4 of their last 5 games. This would be a great spot for the Sooners to turn their season around but it will take their best effort of the season. Oklahoma is currently on the good side of the bubble but a victory here would make the Sooner faithful feel much better and put them on safer ground. If Oklahoma is going to pull off the upset they will need a big game from big man Tanner Groves. Tanner and his brother, guard Jacob, both transferred into the program from Eastern Washington. The Groves brothers led Eastern Washington to the NCAA Tournament last year where they gave Kansas all they could handle in the first round. Look for Sooners coach Porter Moser to feed the ball to Tanner down low early to establish a force in the paint. Auburn likes to push the tempo so it will be very interesting to see if Moser plays it slow and deliberate tomorrow down on the Plains.

Pick: I think Auburn has too much fire power on offense for the Sooners to hang for 40 minutes. Tigers pull away in the 2nd Half. Lay the 9.5

Baylor @ Alabama

4:00 pm on ESPN

Baylor -2

Total 143

The reigning National Champion Baylor Bears were supposed to be reloading this year after cutting down the nets last April. Baylor had to replace two super studs in Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. All the Bears have done to start the season is roll off 15 straight wins and now sit at 18-2 overall. Freshman star Kendall Brown has stepped up and given Coach Scott Drew another big time scorer to play alongside LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler.

Alabama on the other hand has not been steady and consistent like their opponent tomorrow. Alabama has lost 4 of their last 6 games and the upcoming schedule is brutal. After Baylor the Tide play on the road at #1 Auburn then home to #12 Kentucky. The road for Bama is tough but on the positive side it gives them plenty of opportunities. They don't need to win all three (Baylor, Auburn, Kentucky) upcoming games, two would be great and one is mandatory to stay on the good side of the bubble. Alabama has already gone to Spokane earlier this season and beat Gonzaga on a "neutral court" that was much closer to a Zags home game. In a few days Bama might have a resume with wins over Gonzaga, Baylor and Auburn. No one in the country will have 3 better wins. The Tide have the talent and coaching in Nate Oats to knock off Baylor but which Bama team shows up Saturday at home?

Pick: I think Alabama rises to the occasion at home and beats Baylor in a thriller.

Tennessee @ Texas

8:00 pm on ESPN

Texas -2.5 Total 126.5

Let's name this game the Barnes Bowl. Welcome back to Austin, Rick Barnes. Barnes, the current Tennessee coach, was at the helm in Austin for 17 seasons. Barnes took the Long Horns to the tournament every year except one in his tenure including a trip to the 2003 Final 4. This is going to be a defensive battle with points coming at a premium. Tennessee is off to a solid 5-3 start in SEC play, winning 4 of their last 5 games. Tennessee also did solid work in the non conference beating North Carolina (who hasn't beat UNC this season) and Arizona. Texas went into TCU earlier this week and came away with a huge road victory. Any conference win in the BIG 12 and SEC are big this year but road W's are enormous as the selection committee tells us every March. The first team to 55 might come away with the victory in this battle of the Orange "T" Teams.

Pick: Texas stays hot and gets a tough, gritty win at home.

Kentucky @ Kansas

6:00 pm on ESPN

Kansas -4.5

Total 146

Two of college basketball's true Blue Bloods square off at Phog Allen in this year's BIG 12/SEC Showdowns marquee game. Kentucky is hopeful they will have TyTy Washington back in the line up after leaving the Auburn game last week with a twisted ankle. Washington's game is about speed and quickness and the Wildcats will need TyTy running the point if they want to pull off the upset. Kentucky is 9-2 in their last 11 games which is no surprise to anyone who follows Coach Calapari's Kentucky squads. They are always very young and it takes time for Cal to get his youngsters to buy into his defensive mindset and physicality. When Kentucky lost Washington in the first half in Auburn last Saturday they had the lead and were playing solid team basketball. It is very possible they leave Auburn with a victory if Washington doesn't hurt his ankle. Kansas is 17-2 on the season and is as talented as any team in the country. Kansas Coach Bill Self might have the Naismith Player of the year in Ochai Agbaji. Agbaji is a super talented senior guard averaging over 21 points per game. He is also shooting an outstanding 47% from 3 point range. Agbaji can do it all on the court and Kentucky's defense is going to need to limit his scoring and touches or he will take over this game. Look for a wild high scoring game between these squads.

Pick: Lay the 4.5 with the Jayhawks.

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