Previewing Kansas vs. Kentucky and the Rest of the 2019 Big 12/SEC Challenge

Non-conference play will resume, even if only for a day, on Saturday as the 2019 Big 12/SEC Challenge will pit 10 teams from each conference against each other in on-campus venues. While Kansas-Kentucky is the headlining matchup, it’s not the only game between top-25 teams.

Here’s a preview of each Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup.

Alabama at Baylor, 12 p.m. ET

What a weird season it’s been for Baylor, who has an 8-4 record in non-conference play with home losses to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin, but has beaten Texas Tech and Iowa State in the last two weeks.

The Bears could really use another quality non-conference win because here’s how their non-conference resume looks entering Saturday, broken down by quadrants.

Quadrant 1: 1-1

Quadrant 2: 1-1

Quadrant 3: 1-0

Quadrant 4: 5-2

Baylor has two Quadrant 4 losses and just one win in each of the first three quadrants. A home win over Alabama (No. 50 NET) would in no way offset Baylor’s bad losses and general lack of quality wins outside of Big 12 play, but it would still be a Quadrant 2 win.

Alabama is in slightly better shape and currently among the First Four Out, according to Bracket Matrix, but the Crimson Tide could also use a Quadrant 1 win.

Here’s a look at Alabama’s non-conference resume, broken down by quadrants.

Quadrant 1: 0-1

Quadrant 2: 5-0

Quadrant 3: 1-2

Quadrant 4: 3-0

It would be the Crimson Tide’s first Quadrant 1 win in non-conference play and its best road win of the season.

No. 24 Iowa State at No. 20 Ole Miss, 12 p.m. ET

When the season started, who would have thought this would be the second-best matchup behind Kansas-Kentucky? Iowa State was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll and Ole Miss finished last in the SEC preseason poll.

Now, the Cyclones enter the week tied for first in the Big 12 and Ole Miss is tied for third in the SEC, just a game behind first-place Tennessee. Iowa State ranks in the top 20 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, and it plays four-guard lineups with big guards and wings.

Fifth-year senior guard Marial Shayok — who is 6-6 — leads the way for Iowa State with 19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game as he’s flourished in his final year of eligibility after playing for three seasons at Virginia, where he never solidified himself as a full-time starter. Shayok shares a backcourt with Nick Weiler-Babb, Tyrese Haliburton and Talen Horton-Tucker, who collectively take care of the ball and provide three-point shooting. A win on Saturday would surpass a home victory over Missouri as Iowa State’s best non-conference victory, and it would be the Cyclones’ first and only road win in non-conference play.

Few teams have had a better record than Ole Miss since the start of December. The Rebels are 10-1 during that span and they’ve been one of the biggest surprises in the sport this season. First-year coach Kermit Davis inherited a team that went 12-20 (5-13 SEC) last season, but Ole Miss has already surpassed its win total from last season and cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2013.

Junior guard Breein Tyree is averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game – nearly a seven-point improvement on slightly less than two more shots per game as compared to last season.

Florida at TCU, 12 p.m. ET

Both Florida and TCU could use a pick-me-up after Florida forward Keith Stone (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) suffered a torn ACL that will force him to miss the rest of the season and former TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher (12.1 ppg, 2.7 apg, 2.4 rpg) announced that he’s leaving the program after an injury-plagued stint in Fort Worth.

The Gators have one of the biggest disparities between their record and their ranking in advanced metrics. Despite a 10-7 record, Florida is No. 23 on kenpom.com and No. 35 in the NET. The Gators haven’t won more than three games in a row this season and they’ve lost to the five best teams they’ve played.

A road win at TCU (No. 31 NET) would be Florida’s best victory to date and the Gators will hope that the phrase “defense travels” holds water because they have the nation’s seventh-most efficient defense.

Despite Florida’s woes, the Gators still represent TCU’s best potential win of the season. The Horned Frogs have an 11-1 non-conference record entering Saturday, but none of those 11 wins fall under Quadrant 1. With Fisher officially out of the picture, freshmen RJ Nembhard and Kendric Davis could see an uptick in minutes.

Texas at Georgia, 2 p.m. ET

There’s a pretty wide gap between what a win or loss would mean for Texas and Georgia. A victory for the Bulldogs over the Longhorns in Athens would immediately become Georgia’s best victory of the season and perhaps the marquee win for the first year of the Tom Crean era.

A road win at Georgia would fall under Quadrant 2 for Texas and a loss could drop the Longhorns closer to the wrong side of the bubble. They do a good job of taking care of the ball with just a 16.2 percent turnover rate and that’s a weak spot for a Georgia defense that otherwise does a good job at protecting the rim, contesting twos and limiting open looks from behind the arc.

The Bulldogs also have the size and athleticism inside with 6-8 Rayshaun Hammonds, 6-11 Nicolas Claxton and 6-9 Derek Ogbeide, who can all match up with Texas bigs Dylan Osetkowski and Jaxson Hayes.

Both teams struggle with three-point shooting, but Texas should have the advantage in its guard play with Kerwin Roach II (14.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Matt Coleman (10.7 ppg, 3.6 apg).

South Carolina at Oklahoma State, 2 p.m. ET

Considering they went 5-7 before the start of SEC action, South Carolina is one of the biggest surprises in the SEC after a 4-1 start to conference play. Barring a ridiculous finish to the season, neither of these teams are likely to make the NCAA Tournament.

After all, South Carolina lost at Wyoming (No. 310 NET) and at home to Stony Brook (No. 131 NET). Oklahoma State enters the week on a two-game losing streak and it recently dismissed three players, including the team’s top reserve Michael Weathers (9.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.1 apg), leaving the Cowboys with nine total players on their roster.

Kansas State at Texas A&M, 2 p.m. ET

Kansas State might be the hottest team in the Big 12 right now after four consecutive wins, including road victories at Iowa State and Oklahoma, which leaves the Wildcats in a four-way tie for first entering Monday.

They’re 10-2 with Dean Wade, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, and they’re just 4-2 without him. Three of Kansas State’s four losses have come on the road and two were against top-15 teams in Marquette and Texas Tech.

A win over Texas A&M would give Kansas State its first and only non-conference road win, while the Aggies are desperate for a win of any kind. They’ve lost two in a row heading into a road game at Florida and they’ve dropped five of six, causing their record to fall to two games below .500. Texas A&M recovered from an 0-5 start in SEC play last year to finish with a 9-9 conference record, make the NCAA Tournament and advance to the Sweet 16, but it seems extremely unlikely the Aggies can pull off a similar turnaround given their 6-5 non-conference record.

Vanderbilt at Oklahoma, 4 p.m. ET

Oklahoma isn’t getting nearly the amount of weekly attention that it did last year when it had do-it-all point guard Trae Young, but the Sooners are currently No. 28 on kenpom.com – 20 spots higher than where they finished last year.

They’re just 2-4 in Big 12 play, but they have a solid non-conference resume and the country’s 11th-most efficient defense. Oklahoma has excellent two-point defense and rarely sends opponents to the free throw line, but its offense ranks in the bottom half of the conference.

Vanderbilt is in the middle of a free fall as the Commodores have lost five games in a row, which puts them in sole possession of last place in the SEC. Their trajectory changed significantly when guard Darius Garland suffered a season-ending meniscus injury, which is largely why Vanderbilt only has one game left on its schedule in which kenpom.com gives it at least a 50 percent chance of winning – at home against Arkansas on March 6.

West Virginia at No. 1 Tennessee, 4 p.m. ET

This game could be the most lopsided in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tennessee enters Monday in sole possession of first place in the SEC, while West Virginia is by itself in last place in the Big 12. The Mountaineers, who upset Kansas on Saturday, are great at crashing the offensive boards and getting to the free throw line, but they do little else well.

On the other hand, it’s hard to find something the Volunteers don’t do efficiently. Tennessee, which earned the No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll on Monday for just the second time ever, has the country’s second-most efficient offense and a defense that blocks more than 15 percent of its opponents’ shots and limits them to less than 45 percent shooting inside the arc.

Tennessee has a 94 percent chance of victory, according to kenpom.com. West Virginia hasn’t won a road game all season and it’s unlikely the Mountaineers’ first will come against the No. 1 team.

No. 9 Kansas at No. 8 Kentucky, 6 p.m. ET

For the third time in four seasons, Kansas and Kentucky will play in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Jayhawks won by six the last two times they met in the series, including a win at Rupp Arena two years ago.

But the Wildcats will be favored on Saturday. Kentucky is projected to win 74-70, per kenpom.com.

Kansas and Kentucky started the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll, respectively, but their seasons have had different trajectories. The Jayhawks started the season 10-0 with wins over Michigan State, Marquette, Tennessee and Villanova, but they’re just 5-3 in their last eight games.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is coming off of its best win of the season, an 82-80 victory at Auburn, as it extended its winning streak to four games. The ‘Cats have won seven of their last eight, in large part due to the improved play of freshman guards Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro. A win for Kentucky would mean that the Wildcats beat North Carolina (neutral), Louisville (road) and Kansas (home) in its final three non-conference games, which would offset the neutral-court losses to Duke and Seton Hall.

As referenced earlier, Kansas has a very strong non-conference resume and a win over Kentucky would be icing on the cake. The Jayhawks don’t have a single non-conference road win to their name, which isn’t the end of the world, but a victory on Saturday would remedy that void on their resume.

Even if Kentucky is favored, according to predictive metrics, a loss would be very concerning for preseason No. 1 Kansas, which was 9-0 with center Udoka Azubuike and just 6-3 so far without him.

Arkansas at No. 14 Texas Tech, 6 p.m. ET

Texas Tech had one of the hottest starts in the country with a 15-1 record through the first two weeks of January that made the Red Raiders a legitimate contender to Kansas in the Big 12, but they’ve since lost back-to-back games. Leading scorer Jarrett Culver is on a trajectory that likely makes this his final year of college, but his 12 turnovers and Texas Tech’s suboptimal defensive performances in the last two games leave the Red Raiders desperate to get off the schneid.

A home game against Arkansas, who is 210th in three-point shooting, even worse from the free throw line and has lost four in a row in SEC play, should do the trick.

Texas Tech is projected to win 73-61, according to kenpom.com.