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FOLLOW LIVE: Texas football opens Big 12 play with No. 17 TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium

Big 12/SEC Challenge: Ranking all 10 matchups top to bottom


Highlights

Big 12 likely to face more difficult time against rising SEC.

Enigmatic Texas A&M has huge opportunity game at Kansas

Rick Barnes brings ranked Tennessee back into Big 12 country.

The Big 12 has never lost a men’s basketball challenge series to the SEC.

Saturday’s fifth challenge — 10 nationally televised matchups between the leagues — looks like the toughest yet for the Big 12, the nation’s top-rated conference, according to all the computers.

More than a tour de force in football, the SEC is vastly improved and has moved up in the RPI from No. 6 to No. 5 to No. 4 over the past three seasons.

“The SEC is on a serious uptick,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Kentucky and Florida are national contenders. Arkansas is usually near the top. Teams like Alabama and Auburn that haven’t been in the tournament lately are making a dent.”

The fifth-ranked Jayhawks face dangerous Texas A&M in Allen Fieldhouse. The Aggies, who opened 7-0 and 11-1, were ranked as high as seventh this season before being torn apart by injuries and suspension. A&M is 2-6 in its last eight games but is starting to get its best players back.

“They present challenges because what they do great is what we don’t do well,” Self said. “They’re big, they crash the glass, and we’re not a big rebounding team. They are long with guys who can stretch it around the arc. They’ve got the pieces, and we’re very aware of that. Once they have it all together, they will make a real strong push.”

The Big 12 is 25-15 in the challenge series with the SEC and 53-35 in challenge series over the past decade, although it managed only a split with the SEC last year.

The one flaw with this year’s setup is that 19th-ranked Auburn won’t be involved. The SEC, which has 14 teams, takes the top 10 from last year, when the Tigers were a bottom feeder.

Ranking Saturday’s 10 games, from best to worst:

1. Kentucky at West Virginia, 6 p.m. (ESPN): John Calipari and Bob Huggins are old friends, but this figures to be a brawl. The Wildcats have something to prove after falling out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2014. The seventh-ranked Mountaineers have dropped three of their last four, and Huggins is grousing about having “clueless players.” Expect a 62-60 tug-of-war.

2. Oklahoma at Alabama, 1:15 p.m. (ESPN): It’s not football, but it’s pretty good stuff. Darn strong. The Tide, coached by Avery Johnson, puts four players in double figures, headlined by Collin Sexton, averaging 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Oh, by the way, the Sooners have a pretty fair freshman guard, too.

3. Texas A&M at Kansas, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN): Any team with a front line of 6-10 Tyler Davis, 6-10 Robert Williams and 6-9 D.J. Hogg cannot easily be dismissed. An upset in Lawrence would be an enormous boost to the Aggies’ tournament chances.

4. Baylor at Florida, 11 a.m. (ESPN): The Bears are in similar shape to the Aggies — underachieving for various reasons, yet with enough talent to win most nights. The Gators are one of the slickest 3-point shooting teams in the country.

5. Texas Tech at South Carolina, 11 a.m. (ESPN2): Frank Martin’s balanced Gamecocks have beaten Kentucky and Florida in the past two weeks, so the 14th-ranked Red Raiders are likely to be slim underdogs.

6. Tennessee at Iowa State, 3 p.m. (ESPNU): Our old pal Rick Barnes takes a Top 25 team into Hilton Coliseum, where the rebuilding Cyclones destroyed Texas Tech by 18 points in their last home game.

7. Oklahoma State at Arkansas, 5 p.m. (ESPN2): The Razorbacks are hellbent on avenging last year’s 99-71 blowout loss to the Cowboys in Stillwater.

8. Ole Miss at Texas, 1 p.m. (ESPN2): The Rebels are kind of a nondescript, middling team, but they do own wins over Florida, Alabama and South Carolina.

9. Georgia at Kansas State, 1 p.m. (ESPNU): Teams headed in opposite directions. The Bulldogs have lost four of five; the Wildcats have won four of five.

10. TCU at Vanderbilt, 3 p.m. (ESPN2): Too bad the Horned Frogs aren’t playing Auburn (17-2). The Commodores (7-13) are a mess.



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