The SEC/Big 12 Challenge claimed a lion’s share of airtime in men’s college basketball over the weekend. For the most part the games lacked late drama but nevertheless produced some surprising results.
In the marquee contests, Kansas survived a tense atmosphere at Kentucky to snap a three-game skid, and Tennessee turned in a top-five caliber performance on its home floor in a wire-to-wire triumph against Texas.
Overall the Big 12 took the series winning seven of the 10 contests. But did the SEC’s results actually – mean more? Yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist.
We will say this much – there were encouraging signs for the two afore-mentioned victors. The way Kansas was able to keep Oscar Tshiebwe and the Wildcats off the offensive glass, addressing a recent bugaboo for the Jayhawks, was a major positive. The Volunteers, meanwhile, were able to run effective sets and shoot 55.6% against the Longhorns, which combined with their usual defensive prowess will make them quite formidable if they can keep it up.
We’ll delve into other matchups in that series as well as the rest of the hardwood happenings around the country in this week’s edition of winners and losers.
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The Big 12
As mentioned, the Large Dozen-minus-two claimed the overall series against the SEC helped by winning the two closest contests. Baylor and West Virginia picked up three-point wins at home over Arkansas and Auburn, respectively.
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The Kansas State forward posted 13 points and 11 rebounds to help the Wildcats beat Florida. Afterward, he was able to enjoy a few moments with some former Gator teammates – more than two years after collapsing on the court while paying for Florida.
With arguably the most important win of the challenge, the Tigers took down a red-hot Iowa State squad, building a 10-point cushion at intermission and never relinquishing the lead thereafter. Mizzou improved to 16-5 overall and banked a key Quad 1 win that will help its Selection Sunday prospects.
After needing a last-second bucket to beat Michigan State the first time, Zach Edey and the Boilermakers were in no mood to let the Spartans hang around in Sunday’s rematch. Purdue was in control on its home court from start to finish in a 77-61 win as Edey scored 38 and grabbed 13 rebounds.
The Bluejays kept their recent hot streak going with a huge win against Big East leader Xavier. Creighton pulled away late to earn a season split with the Musketeers and is now on a four-game run.
Sunday’s 70-65 triumph against Villanova wasn’t so much a good win as it was an avoidance of a damaging loss for the Friars. But with the ‘W’ secured Providence keeps pace with Xavier and Marquette atop the Big East.
After a rocky start in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers have rattled off five wins in a row. The latest came Saturday at the expense of Ohio State, which is now just a game above .500 and falling farther and farther from the NCAA bubble.
Occupying an entry in the losers section last week, the Panthers made amends with a huge home victory against Miami Saturday. Pitt probably still has work to do to secure its dance card but is now in a much stronger position heading into the second half of its ACC slate.
The Saint Mary’s freshman guard lays claim to shot-of-the-weekend honors. His fadeaway jumper with a second left gave the Gaels a 57-56 road win at BYU. The victory kept Saint Mary’s unscathed in West Coast Conference play just a week before its first clash with perennial league power Gonzaga.
Speaking of the Zags, Strawther poured in 40 points including eight treys as Gonzaga took care of business at Portland. The junior’s previous high this season was 23 points against Xavier.
The Pride outlasted the College of Charleston 85-81 on the road to snap the Cougars’ 20-game winning streak. The upset victory has Hofstra in a second-place tie with Towson in the Colonial Athletic Association just a game behind Charleston.
With Charleston’s loss, the nation’s longest winning streak now resides in Boca Raton, where the Owls won their 20th consecutive game Saturday with a 70-63 decision against Western Kentucky to remain comfortably atop the Conference USA ladder.
Losing on the road is one thing. But the way the Crimson Tide were run out of the gym by Oklahoma, which is most assuredly not among the Big 12’s upper echelon this season, had to be quite vexing for coach Nate Oats and his staff as the team was completely uninterested in playing defense. Ultimately, the damage to Alabama’s overall profile will be minimal, and if the team takes the lesson to heart that it can’t simply rely on its shooting each time out, the result could still prove useful.
Losing to a talented team like the Jayhawks is forgivable, but it was nonetheless a missed opportunity for the Wildcats, who have a few less forgivable results on their ledger that must be overcome if they want to feel more comfortable on Selection Sunday.
The lone truly damaging result of the challenge from the Big 12’s perspective was the Horned Frogs’ overtime loss at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are still hovering around the top 60 in the NCAA’s NET rankings but own just one SEC victory to date. TCU isn’t in trouble by any means, but this result could cost the Frogs a spot or two on the seed line.
The offensively-challenged Badgers continued their downward trajectory Saturday in a 61-51 loss to Illinois. It was Wisconsin’s third consecutive loss and sixth in its last seven outings to drop them below .500 in the Big Ten standings.
The Demon Deacons also dropped a third consecutive game Saturday. This one could prove particularly costly as Wake squandered a 10-point second-half lead at home to fall 79-77 to fellow bubble dweller North Carolina State.
Holding on to the top spot in the Atlantic 10 has been problematic this season. The Rams lost their share of the league lead thanks to Saturday’s home loss to St. Bonaventure. Saint Louis is now alone at the top after its sixth consecutive conference victory.
The Wolf Pack were hoping to follow up Monday night’s thrilling double-overtime victory against New Mexico with a rivalry win at UNLV. The Rebels had other ideas, however, taking down the visitors from Reno 68-62 late Saturday.