SEC dominates Big 12/SEC Challenge over the weekend

Vanderbilt men's basketball upsets TCU 81-78 on Saturday, January 27, 2018 in Memorial Gym. (Photo by Emily Goncalves)

For the first time in the short history of the series, the SEC has emerged victorious from the annual Big 12/SEC men’s basketball Challenge. (cue the S-E-C, S-E-C chants). The series started during the 2013-2014 season and has provided intriguing non-conference matchups each year.

The SEC went 6-4 over the weekend series. Two of the SEC’s teams upset ranked Big 12 opponents.

Note: All AP rankings in this story are from before the series (Week 12).

Both leagues are two of the deepest in the NCAA, and after the Challenge they are the top two leagues in terms of average team RPI. RPI quantifies each team’s record and strength of schedule. Even after losing the challenge, the Big 12 is slightly stronger than the SEC, according to the statistic.

The Big 12 only has 10 teams, while the SEC has 14, so Auburn, LSU, Missouri, and Mississippi State sat out the event this year.

Vanderbilt beat an unranked, but talented, TCU squad 81-78. TCU never once shot a free throw, and seniors Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson both scored over 20 points to lead the Commodores.

Alabama pulled off the series’ biggest upset when it beat the 12th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners 80-73. Alabama held stud freshman Trae Young to just 17 points. Oklahoma’s bench was outscored 25-3.

Kentucky stunned No. 7 West Virginia 83-76 in Morgantown. Kevin Knox contributed 34 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats, who outscored West Virginia 50-28 in the second half.

Another top-25 team, Tennessee, defeated Iowa State 68-45. The Volunteers’ defense held Iowa State to its lowest scoring performance at home since 1959.

The 20th-ranked Florida Gators crushed a promising Baylor team 81-60. The Gators shot an impressive 56% from three-point range.

Arkansas squeaked by Oklahoma State 66-65. Daniel Gafford tipped in an errant shot with 15 seconds left in the game to put the Razorbacks ahead for good in a game that was close for the entire 40 minutes.

The Big 12’s four victories consisted of two blowouts and two fairly tight wins.

No. 5 Kansas crushed Texas A&M 79-68 in a matchup of former Big 12 foes. Kansas never faced any significant challenge from the Aggies and led 45-27 at the half.

Texas’ Mo Bamba took over in a 85-72 win over Ole Miss. Bamba, a likely NBA lottery choice, scored a career-high 25 points to go with 15 rebounds.

Texas Tech, which entered the game ranked No. 14, beat South Carolina 70-63. The game was close until the last 6:17 when Texas Tech sealed the victory with a 17-5 run.

Kansas State gutted out a 56-51 victory over Georgia. Kansas State made no second-half substitutions, but the Wildcats’ defense did not tire and held Georgia to two points in the final 6:30 of the game.

The Big 12 still leads the overall series 29-21, but the SEC will look to close the gap next season. Vanderbilt is in danger of missing out on the series in 2019 because the bottom four SEC teams from the previous season are not selected to participate in the challenge.

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