Six Takeaways From the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on February 1st, 2016

The Big 12 backed up its best league in college basketball label on Saturday with a 7-3 victory over the SEC to clinch a third straight Big 12/SEC Challenge victory. While there were a number of close games, all of the Big 12 home teams held serve and, of the three road losses, one was in overtime and the other was a back-and-forth affair until the final few minutes. The interesting takeaway from the event is its timing during the last weekend in January — stuck in the midst of conference play, it represents more than an early season measuring stick but it’s not quite the postseason either. Here’s a look at some of the fallout for several of the participating teams.

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas and Kentucky’s Seeding Implications. First of all, let’s do this on campus every second and third year. It was a refreshing break for this overtime matchup to take place outside of the sanitized Champions Classic in mid-November and it completely delivered. Everyone already knows the Wayne Selden (33 points on 12-of-20 shooting) and Tyler Ulis (26 points, eight assists, but two key turnovers down the stretch) angles, so let’s look at this from a bracketing perspective. Kansas will stay in the #1 seed hunt (its resume is shockingly identical to that of Iowa) but with Oklahoma currently profiling as the top overall seed, the Jayhawks will likely need to beat out the Sooners for one or both of the Big 12 titles. Kentucky remains somewhere between its dominant #1 seed and middling bubble team years, but they’ve been trending more in the direction of the former than the latter over the last couple of weeks. John Calipari won’t care about that after leading for most of the second half of Saturday night’s game, but his team couldn’t hold on down the stretch of regulation nor withstand foul trouble in the extra session.

  • Oklahoma is More Than Just Buddy Hield. A No. 1 team won on the road! That by itself is a commendable achievement this season, but what was especially impressive was how Oklahoma found a way to battle back from a 13-point second half deficit to come up with the win. Everyone has spilled ink on #BuddyBuckets this season, but despite Hield’s 32 points and seven rebounds, this was an Isaiah Cousins win. The much-maligned senior guard has put together some brutal shooting performances this season (2-of-10 vs. West Virginia; 2-of-14 at Kansas) but he’s come up with some big shots in recent games, including Saturday’s game-winning pull-up from the left elbow with four ticks to play (in addition to 18 points, seven assists and four steals). The reason why Oklahoma would assuredly be the top overall seed if the bracket were released today is that Lon Kruger has surrounded his superstar with players like Cousins, Jordan Woodard and possible Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Khadeem Lattin, who contribute by consistently making winning plays.
  • Florida Making Some Waves. Michael White‘s team shot the ball on Saturday against West Virginia like it knew that the game represented its only top 20 RPI win chance (other than Kentucky) for the rest of the season. Winning emphatically behind a ridiculous 12-of-20 from three-point range as well as an impressive 24-of-31 at the foul line made the Gators arguably the biggest bubble winner of the weekend. A banner total of 89 points and 1.26 points per possession against the nation’s most efficient defense is surely a needed confidence boost and one that White can leverage in the second half of the SEC season.
Florida Unloaded on the Nation's Best Defense Saturday (USA Today Images)

Florida Unloaded on the Nation’s Best Defense Saturday (USA Today Images)

  • Iowa State’s Road Woes. How about those final four minutes from Texas A&M against Iowa State on Saturday? The Aggies flipped a late 58-56 deficit into a double-figure home victory and Reed Arena hasn’t rocked like that since things like this happened. As for Iowa State, the loss represented another notch in a disturbing trend — the Cyclones’ .500 road record (3-3) stands in stark contrast to their 10-1 mark at Hilton Coliseum this season. Steve Prohm’s team scored just 0.86 points per possession on its end before letting Daniel House get whatever he wanted — including a couple of exclamation point dunks — in those calamitous final four minutes. Iowa State will need to become a better team away from home if it wants to sell itself as a conference and national contender.
  • Vanderbilt’s Disappointing Season. The Commodores have established themselves as one of the most disappointing teams nationally and Saturday’s listless performance in a loss to Texas provides more fuel for that fire. The problem is obvious: Vanderbilt’s offense doesn’t make any sense. Damian Jones had 26 points and Matthew Fisher-Davis chipped in 19 of his own, but only three other Commodores scored at all (13 points on 4-of-20 shooting). In scoring only 58 points, they failed to top 60 for the third straight game, and a surprising win in Knoxville two weeks ago remains their only road victory of the season. With Saturday’s loss, it is now a distinct possibility that the preseason No. 2 team in the SEC will miss the NCAA Tournament altogether.
  • Texas Tech Suffers Another Heartbreak.  Ho hum, just another utterly devastating loss for the Red Raiders. Since beating Texas to open Big 12 play, Texas Tech has now dropped seven of its last eight games, many of those in heartbreaking fashion. In Saturday’s latest disappointment, Tubby Smith‘s group battled back from an 11-point second half deficit against Arkansas to take a five-point lead with five minutes to play. Like so many other games this year, the Red Raiders just couldn’t hang on before meekly surrendering to the Razorbacks in overtime. Texas Tech’s RPI is still among the top 50 (No. 43) and there will be more chances for big wins, but they were down only three points at Iowa State late and couldn’t win that; they were tied with Kansas at the under-12 media timeout and couldn’t win that; they led West Virginia by four points with a minute left and couldn’t win that; and Baylor’s Lester Medford beat them at the buzzer. Add another missed opportunity to the ledger of a team that is running out of time to notch some quality wins.


Andrew Gripshover (15 Posts)

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