Big 12-SEC Challenge
January 26, 2018
By Brian Edwards
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Before delving into the marquee Big 12/SEC Challenge game that’ll go down in Morgantown on Saturday night, let’s look at the rest of the menu.
On second thought, a few quick points beforehand: First, I love this format where the Big 12 and SEC schools get to play in late January (rather than similar events that are in November or December) with a chance to pick up a quality non-conference win. Secondly, what a shame that Auburn, the team flying solo atop the SEC standings, isn’t in this event based on not finishing in the Top 10 of the league last year.
Florida (14-6 straight up, 10-9 against the spread) opened as a 6.5-point home favorite vs. Baylor at BetOnline.ag late Friday afternoon. This game will tip at noon Eastern on ESPN.
Mike White’s team fell out of a first-place tie with AU and to 6-2 in SEC play after Wednesday’s 77-72 loss to South Carolina as a 10.5-point home ‘chalk.’ Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson scored 16 points apiece in the losing effort.
UF had re-entered the Associated Press’s Top 25 at No. 20 this week. The Gators are No. 37 in the RPI Rankings, sporting a 5-3 record against the Top 50 and an 8-6 mark versus the Top 100.
Texas Tech was a 2.5-point road favorite at South Carolina early Friday night at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. The Red Raiders will take on the Gamecocks at noon Eastern on ESPN2.
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks are underdogs for a sixth straight game. They have compiled a 3-1 record both SU and ATS in their last four outings. Meanwhile, Texas Tech is mired in a 0-5 ATS slide with only two outright victories in that span. The Red Raiders are 1-3 both SU and ATS in four road contests. They’ve seen the ‘under’ go 5-1 in their last six games.
Oklahoma will invade Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama at 2:15 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. As of early Friday night, most spots had the Sooners as one-point favorites.
Lon Kruger, the only coach to take five different (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma) schools to the NCAA Tournament, has the nation’s best player in Trae Young, who leads the nation in scoring (30.3 points per game) and assists (9.6 APG). OU avoided a three-game losing streak by besting Kansas 85-80 in Norman on Tuesday night.
Young needed only nine shots (seven buckets) to score 26 points against the Jayhawks. The freshman guard also had nine assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals. Young and Alabama freshman guard are both expected to be lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft.
But Sexton missed two games with an abdominal injury before returning for Tuesday’s loss at Ole Miss. Without Sexton, Alabama won back-to-back home games over Auburn and Mississippi State, but the Crimson Tide’s four-game winning streak was snapped in Oxford. Sexton hit only 2-of-13 shots from the field in 20 minutes of action.
Nevertheless, Sexton is averaging team-highs in scoring (18.5 PPG) and assists (3.4 APG). However, he’s a shoot-first point guard and ‘Bama players got more touches and shots in the two-game stretch without him. Where am I going with this? If Sexton puts up another 2-for-13 type of clunker and the Tide loses to OU, we’ll keeping an eye on whether or not chemistry issues start to develop on Avery’s Johnson’s third team in T-Town.
Texas will host Ole Miss at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. The Longhorns were 6.5-point home favorites as of early Friday evening. The Rebels are winless in five road assignments with a 2-3 spread record, while Shaka Smart’s squad is 9-2 SU and 4-3 ATS at home.
Georgia is the SEC team most in need of a win Saturday when it plays at Kansas State. UGA blew a 14-point halftime lead at Auburn last Saturday and then dropped a double-overtime affair at home to Arkansas on Tuesday. (Yes, I’m still bitter about my ‘under’ that was still a winner after the first extra session!) The Bulldogs are 1-4 both SU and ATS in their past five games.
Bruce Weber’s team is 10-1 SU and 4-4 ATS at home. The Wildcats have covered the number in five consecutive contests while winning four games outright. The only loss? A 73-72 setback at Kansas.
Speaking of KU, it hosts Texas A&M at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. The Jayhawks, who have seen the ‘under’ cash in four straight games, were seven-point home favorites early Friday night. Bill Self’s squad is 9-2 SU and 5-5 ATS at home.
Texas A&M (13-7 SU, 7-10 ATS) is 2-6 in SEC play and 1-4 SU on the road. The Aggies are 2-3 versus the number in five road outings. They’re looking for a bounce-back win after losing 77-65 at LSU on Tuesday.
Tennessee joins UF and Arkansas as the only SEC favorites for its trip to Ames to face Iowa State. The Volunteers were favored by four points over the Cyclones early Friday night. UT is 4-2 SU and 5-1 ATS on the road, while ISU is 7-3 SU and 3-4 ATS at home.
Rick Barnes’s team has seen the ‘under’ cash in four consecutive contests to improve to 10-7 overall. Since losing 59-55 at Missouri on Jan. 17, the Volunteers have won back-to-back games at South Carolina and vs. Vanderbilt. They’re 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS in their past six games.
Finally, as of early Friday evening, Arkansas was favored by 7.5 points for Saturday’s game vs. Oklahoma State. The Razorbacks have won 10 of 11 home games while posting a 6-5 spread record. The Cowboys are winless in four road assignments with a 1-3 ATS ledger. (Quick Thought: Will Eddie Sutton be in attendance when his former teams collide at Bud Walton Arena?)
**Kentucky at West Virginia**
-- The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas opened West Virginia as an eight-point home favorite, which was exactly what I guessed the number would be on my podcast Wednesday.
-- This is not a vintage John Calipari Kentucky team, folks. Like I’ve said on several radio shows this week, don’t confuse this squad with the 2014 team that was shaky during the regular season, but then caught fire in March and advanced to the finals with thrilling wins over Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. The mock drafts say differently, however, but I’m cool with that. NBADraft.net has four UK players listed to be picked in the first 16 selections of its latest mock, including Kevin Knox (10th), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th), Hamidou Diallo (14th) and Jarred Vanderbilt (16th).
-- I watched every second of UK’s home loss to Florida this past Saturday. If there was a high first-rounder wearing blue and white at Rupp Arena, I sure as hell couldn’t spot him. The Gators had a miserable shooting night, going 22-of-66 from the field (33.0%), 4-of-20 from downtown (20.0%) and 16-of-25 from the FT line (64.0%), and they still won in Lexington.
-- Kentucky (15-5 SU, 9-11 ATS) bounced back from the loss to UF with Tuesday’s 78-65 win over Mississippi State as a 7.5-point home favorite. P.J. Washington was the catalyst with 22 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. Knox added 19 points and six boards on just six shots (five makes) from the floor, and he drained all four of his attempts from long distance. Gilgeous-Alexander contributed 16 points, four boards and six assists without a turnover.
-- UK is 2-2 both SU and ATS in four true road assignments.
-- This is UK’s third game as an underdog this year. The Wildcats failed to cover the number as four-point ‘dogs in a 76-65 loss at Tennessee, but they did take the cash in a 65-61 loss to Kansas as 4.5-point puppies at the United Center in Chicago.
-- Knox is averaging 14.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, but he has a 33/52 assist-to-turnover ratio. Diallo is averaging 12.6 points and 4.6 RPG, while Gilgeous-Alexander (12.1 PPG) has handed out a team-best 87 assists and buried 42.3 percent of his 3-balls.
-- Vanderbilt has averaged 12:40 of playing time in his first three games since returning from an injury that caused him to miss the first 17. He is averaging 4.0 points and 6.0 RPG.
-- Bob Huggins has dominated Calipari through the years, going 8-3 in 11 head-to-head meetings that date back to their days at Cincinnati and UMass. Huggins’ WVU team denied Cal’s club – on that featured future All-Star ‘Boogie’ Cousins and John Wall -- a trip to the Final Four with its 73-66 win at the Carrier Dome in the 2010 East Region finals. Joe Mazzulla stole the show with 17 points filling in for the injured Truck Bryant. Since that victory, however, Kentucky has won back-to-back games over the Mountaineers both SU and ATS, including a rematch in the Round of 32 in 2011. Then in the 2015 Sweet 16, Kentucky hammered WVU by a 78-39 count as a 13.5-point ‘chalk.’
-- West Virginia (16-4 SU, 8-8 ATS) is led by senior guard Jevon Carter, who is an absolute nightmare defender for opposing point guards. There’s nothing a PG hates more than a stronger individual who is up in your face defending for 40 minutes from baseline to baseline. Carter is averaging team-highs in scoring (16.9 PPG), assists (6.4 APG) and steals (3.4 SPG). The senior guard is also pulling down 5.2 rebounds per game and burying 85.3 percent of his FTs.
-- Daxter Miles Jr. is scoring at a 13.0 PPG clip and has a 71/31 assist-to-turnover ratio, while Lamont West is averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 RPG. Esa Ahmad (10.2 PPG) is also averaging double figures, and Sagaba Konate (9.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG) is averaging a team-high 3.3 blocked shots per game.
-- WVU owns a 10-1 SU record and a 4-3 ATS mark in 11 home games.
-- West Virginia has lost three of its past four games, including Monday’s 82-73 loss at Texas Tech as a two-point road favorite. All five WVU starters scored in double figures with Carter producing 16 points, six rebounds, five steals and seven assists compared to merely one turnover. Konate finished with 14 points, eight boards and four rejections.
-- WVU is ranked seventh in the latest Associated Press poll and 21st in the RPI Rankings. The Mountaineers are 4-4 against the RPI Top 50 and 8-4 versus the Top 100. They own home wins over Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas, in addition to neutral-court scalps of UCF and Missouri. WVU has road wins at Oklahoma State and at Kansas State.
-- Kentucky is unranked in the AP poll this week for the first time since 2014. The ‘Cats are 14th in the RPI, though, thanks to nine Top 100 victories. Cal’s team is 2-3 versus the RPI Top 50 and 9-5 against the Top 100. UK has home wins over Louisville, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Georgia, Va. Tech, Vermont, East Tennessee State and Utah Valley. The ‘Cats own road wins at LSU and at Vanderbilt.
-- The ‘under’ is 9-7 overall for WVU, 5-2 in its home games. The ‘under’ was on a 5-0 run for the Mountaineers until their last two games went ‘over’ the total.
-- The ‘over’ is 10-9 overall for the ‘Cats, but they’ve seen the ‘under’ go 3-1 in their road games. The ‘under’ is on a 7-2 run in UK’s past nine road assignments dating back to last season.
-- Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of ‘Bracketology’ at ESPN.com has eight SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament field. Missouri and Texas A&M are a part of his Last Four Byes (meaning they avoid the First Four in Dayton), while Georgia is in the Next Four Out. Florida is listed as a five seed and would play 12th-seeded New Mexico State in San Diego.
-- Speaking of San Diego, it tops my (bucket) list of great American cities I want to eventually visit:
-- St. John’s star guard Shamorie Ponds is ‘questionable’ for Saturday’s game at Butler due to a quad injury. Ponds is averaging 20.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
-- The two other SEC games are LSU at Auburn (6:00 p.m. Eastern, SEC Network) and Missouri at Mississippi State (8:30 p.m., SEC Network). As of early Friday night, Bruce Pearl’s team was favored by 10.5, while Ben Howland’s Bulldogs were one-point ‘chalk’ to Mizzou.
-- Duke is a four-point home favorite for its ACC showdown vs. Virginia at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
-- Purdue looks like a Final Four team. This team has size, speed, rim protectors, an elite point guard in Carsen Edwards and shooters – lots of shooters! The Boilermakers, who are second in the nation in 3-point accuracy (44.2%!), took Michigan’s best shot Thursday night and prevailed at Mackey Arena to sweep the season series. Vince Edwards dropped 30 points on the WolverinesIt was a helluva game, probably the best I’ve watched all season. Like I tweeted on Friday, you can count the number of teams that would’ve beaten Michigan (at any venue in America) Thursday night on one hand.
-- Consider this: Michigan shot 60.3 percent from the field and drained 13-of-23 (55.6%) treys. Who knocks down better than 60 percent of their shots and 55.6 percent of their 3-balls and loses? Whoever visits West Lafayette these days.
-- Last Calls: Valpo at Illinois State (10:00 p.m., ESPN2), Boise State at Air Force (10 p.m., ESPNU), San Diego State at UNLV (10 p.m., CBS Sports Network) and Stanford at UCLA (10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Leon Rice’s Broncos were a part of Lunardi’s First Four Out.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards
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