Big 12-SEC Challenge: What Should You Know About The SEC?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 29th, 2016

With the Big 12-SEC Challenge taking place on Saturday, we teamed up with our sister microsite to get caught with what’s going on in the SEC. Joining us for this one is SEC microsite writer Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell).

  • There are quite a few matchups in the Challenge and plenty of them have NCAA Tournament implications. What SEC team needs a win the most?
Greg: The SEC needs as many wins as it can get Saturday to help its always-sagging basketball reputation. But that’s a cop out. Vanderbilt is probably the pick. The Commodores (more to come below) are the league’s most disappointing team and came up empty during the non-conference season for a marquee win. Beating Florida on Tuesday was the best win they can offer so far, and that’s not going to cut it. Great wins are few and far between in the SEC, so a road win against Texas is quite an opportunity. LSU is clearly in a similar spot with a lackluster non-conference and the #1 team coming to Baton Rouge, but the Tigers have generated a little more positive momentum in league play.

Buddy Hield and Ben Simmons will face off in Baton Rouge on Saturday. (Photo Credits: USA Today Sports)

  • Two blue bloods are having trouble finding significant roles for their highly touted big men. Kansas has Cheick Diallo and Kentucky has Skal Labissiere. What’s keeping Labissiere from playing a bigger role for the Wildcats? 
Greg: Labissiere simply isn’t strong enough right now. He’s struggled to establish position in the post and routinely gets bodied out on the glass. Part of this might be that the “prep school” – or whatever you would like to call it – he spent last season at was reportedly playing glorified church league games and it stunted his development. But he’s 19 years old and also playing in a country he wasn’t born in. Like Diallo, sometimes these guys can’t always be Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns. Labissiere still has plenty of potential and could even develop into a more important piece this season as he’s used more as a spot-up shooter.

  • Buddy Hield is likely the frontrunner for National Player of the Year, but LSU freshman Ben Simmons has been putting up gaudy statistics all season. Does Simmons have a POY case? 
Greg: The kind of numbers Simmons is putting up are incredible (19.8 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 4.9 APG) and the advanced metrics are even better (28.3 DRB%, 27.7 AST%). Combining that with the unscientific “buzz” factor – you aren’t tired of hearing ESPN pimp him out, right? – should make him a viable POY contender. But since LSU is unranked and fighting for its NCAA Tournament life, it seems more likely he is beaten out by someone like Hield or Denzel Valentine.
  • Texas A&M is coming off its first loss in SEC play after giving up 74 points and eight threes to Arkansas. How good are the Aggies and what can their impressive defense do to slow down Iowa State
Greg: Texas A&M has the potential to make a deep run in March since they are an elite defensive team with a solid offense. The Aggies are anchored by four seniors: two with NBA potential (Jalen Jones and Danuel House) and two rock solid role players (Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins). Billy Kennedy brought in a dynamic freshmen class and has gotten solid production out of bruising big man Tyler Davis and wing DJ Hogg. This match-up is intriguing because the Aggies are great at disrupting passing lanes and forcing turnovers. How that plays against a high-flying offense that takes great care of the ball should be must-watch TV. Reed Arena has also seen a resurgence this year and has probably been the league’s best atmosphere outside of Rupp Arena.
  • With A&M’s loss, there are now four SEC teams with two or fewer losses. So, who’s going to win the league?
Greg: We’ve had no drama the last two years with a pair of 18-0 champions. So it’s refreshing that a real race is shaping up this season. The safe money is on Texas A&M and Kentucky separating themselves from the pack. Between those two? It’s a tough pick. Both are great defensive teams and have freshmen (Tyler Davis for Texas A&M, Jamal Murray for Kentucky) who could continue to develop into game changers. They only meet once in College Station in late February, with the Aggies having a tough schedule up to then and the Wildcats closing with some difficult games after. I’d give the slight edge to Texas A&M since it’s the more balanced team at this point, especially in the front court.
  • Texas has won a few big games this season and is likely slightly over performing what we expected of them. Their opponent Saturday, Vanderbilt, meanwhile is maybe the most disappointing team in the country. What’s gone wrong for Vanderbilt? 

Greg: Vanderbilt has two potential top-15 picks next year (Damian Jones, Wade Baldwin IV), another emerging pro prospect (Luke Kornet), and a number of deadly three-point shooters. But despite that, the Commodores offense just hasn’t been as good as expected. The record might not be entirely indicative of how good the team is since poor late game execution cost Vanderbilt against Baylor, Dayton, and Arkansas. Kornet also missed some time to injury, and this was significant since the seven footer formerly known just for shooting three’s has been a force protecting the rim. Despite a rough night in Rupp Arena last weekend, Vanderbilt has been better the last few weeks and will look to build on that in Austin.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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