Big 12 Q&A: Previewing The SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2016

The SEC and Big 12 regular season races are taking shape, but the leagues take a break on Saturday for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. This year’s format has all 10 games on the same day and gives the SEC a rare mid-season chance to measure itself against arguably the best conference in the country. It’s also a penny from heaven for teams like LSU and Vanderbilt that are desperate for marquee wins, if they can take advantage. The Big 12 microsite’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) was nice enough to catch us up on the Big 12 and preview a few of Saturday’s match ups.

Kentucky will face something familiar in Lawrence: a team that has struggled to find consistent front court production (Photo:

Kentucky will face something familiar in Lawrence: a team that has struggled to find consistent frontcourt production (Photo:

It’s almost February and Kansas hasn’t locked up the regular season title. What gives? Is the Jayhawks’ streak actually at risk? 

CS: Very much so. Kansas is now 5-3 in Big 12 play despite having played only the seventh toughest league schedule so far. Bill Self and company still have to travel to Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas before the season is up. Recent numbers from KenPom suggest the Jayhawks now have only a 10 percent chance of winning at least a share of a 12th straight regular season title. Honestly, that sounds about right.

We know the SEC has a lot at stake since it can measure itself against a better overall league. What can various Big 12 teams get out of this weekend? 

CS: The Big 12 seems poised to send at least six teams to the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas all seem well positioned to make the field, as long as nothing catastrophic happens in the second half of league play. All six of those teams have resume-building opportunities in the Big 12-SEC Challenge that could help bolster their cases for higher seeding come March. Iowa State and West Virginia, in particular, have chances to prove themselves on the road against quality competition in Texas A&M and Florida.

Kentucky’s frontcourt struggles have been well-documented. Kansas seems to be having similar issues. What will the Wildcats be dealing with down low in Lawrence? 

CS: If Bill Self’s shortened rotation holds steady, then the answer is a whole lot of Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor and very little Cheick Diallo. After starting in the Jayhawks’ loss to Oklahoma State, Diallo has played just four minutes over the past two games. The benching appears to be the result of mental lapses and a meeting that Self held with his four co-captains. While Lucas and Traylor are serviceable bigs, they aren’t the kind of NBA quality frontcourt players that Kansas opponents are normally subjected to.

Buddy Hield comes to Baton Rogue as a POY favorite (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield comes to Baton Rogue as a POY favorite (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield or Ben Simmons. One game for all the marbles. Make a case for Hield being the player you pick.

CS: Although calling Buddy Hield the college version of Steph Curry is quite a stretch, it’s definitely not a reach to call Hield the most exciting player in college basketball. He isn’t the creator off the dribble that Curry is, but when Hield puts up a three-pointer, opponents all find themselves thinking, “that one’s going in.” The senior is shooting a blistering 52.3 percent from deep, the 10th best mark in the country. He makes himself available in transition and does a great job moving without the ball in the half court. While Simmons is the better NBA prospect and more physically gifted athlete, Hield has the experience and moxie that could carry his team to a national title.

Other than Oklahoma, Florida figures to be West Virginia’s toughest away game to date. What can we expect from the Mountaineers’ unique style? Does it travel well? 

CS: Watching West Virginia is sort of like watching a football game. The Mountaineers are an incredibly physical team that uses a full-court press to run down more talented teams and create offense via turnovers. Because of the high pressure, their games are usually fast paced, but just like football, the action is often interrupted. West Virginia ranks dead last in the country in defensive free throw rate, so Florida fans should be ready for plenty of trips to the foul line. While we don’t have a lot of data to analyze how the press will travel this season, the Mountaineers nearly beat Oklahoma in Norman earlier this month. The biggest factor in this one may be if Florida can get some sweet, sweet home court calls.

Iowa State will face a great defense Saturday in College Station. Is this the same all offense, defense-optional team the college basketball world came to know under Fred Hoiberg?

For as much as new head coach Steve Prohm talked about improving the Cyclones’ defense early in the season, Iowa State is pretty much still the same as it was under Hoiberg. Point guard Monte Morris and versatile forward Georges Niang headline one of the best offenses in the country while the Cyclones’ defense continues to lag behind. A bigger concern for Iowa State is the status of Jameel McKay, the Cyclones’ long rim protector. McKay left Monday’s win over Kansas with a knee injury and while he’s going to play in College Station, it’s unclear how effective he can be.
Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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