Over the last few years, college basketball has taken some big steps to become more relevant in the national consciousness before non-conference play. The second annual Big 12/SEC Challenge will attempt to drum up some early December interest in basketball before bowl season hits in earnest. The Big 12 won last season’s rendition with seven victories in 10 games and will look to pick up the pieces of its fractured national reputation after a middling March performance. Here’s a quick look at the top five match-ups of next season’s edition.
- Texas at Kentucky (December 5) – Just 12 months ago, Rick Barnes was squarely on the hot seat. Now he finds his team in the Challenge’s marquee game against last year’s national runner-up and what is sure to be the preseason #1 team in the country. Both squads will enter this game with crazy depth, so look for this one to be decided by how each team’s coach handles its pieces at this early juncture. The Longhorns will have a slight leg up on Kentucky in experience with Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh to side with blue-chip prospect Myles Turner, but much of Kentucky’s frontcourt will be back too after Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced their returns in surprising fashion. The guard battles will be nothing to sneeze at, either, with Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland going up against the loaded Kentucky backcourt of Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis.
- Florida at Kansas (December 5) - Andrew Wiggins nearly led the Jayhawks to an improbable comeback in Gainesville last season, but Kansas ultimately fell short in that effort. They’ll have a chance to make it good at Allen Fieldhouse, where despite their overall struggles last season, was a relative safe haven for Bill Self’s team. Wiggins and Joel Embiid are of course now gone, but Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhaliuk will step in, and hopefully Bill Self will find a steady point guard who can be relied on to make everything come together. Florida’s Final Four core has moved on as well, so this will be a great chance to see how incumbents Michael Frazier, Kasey Hill, Chris Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith handle a big early test on the road. Read the rest of this entry »