Vanderbilt set to face Oklahoma in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge


Emily Goncalves

The Tennessee Volunteers beat the Commodores 88-83 after going into overtime at Memorial Gym on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. (Photo by Emily Gonçalves)

Betsy Goodfriend, Senior Writer

Saturday afternoon, the college basketball world will be tuned in to the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, an annual mid-season showdown between the two conferences.

Head coach Bryce Drew said, “I think it was a genius move by both leagues to do, especially where they put it. This pretty much takes over college basketball for the day, and it’s great publicity. I think it’s nice to get a break from conference play and get outside of that element and play someone from a different league.”

A break from SEC play will surely be welcomed by the Commodores after a heartbreaking loss to Tennessee.

Vanderbilt faces Oklahoma, a team that has been ranked in the top-25 for most of the year. The Sooners came back from a 19-point deficit to beat rival Oklahoma State earlier this week.

Drew said, “Oklahoma plays really good defense. They have a lot of interchangeable pieces, so we’re going to see a lot of switching with equal length and equal size. That will be a challenge on the offensive end. On the defensive end, they’re going to spread it out a lot. They’re very well-balanced.”

Oklahoma is led by senior guard Christian James and sophomore forward Brady Manek. James is averaging 17.2 points and 7.6 rebounds, and Manek adds 11.1 points per game.

The game will be a reunion for James and high school teammate Maxwell Evans, who has been a solid rotation player for the Commodores. The duo starred at Bellaire High School together for two years.

Another reunion will take place in Norman between Vanderbilt’s Yanni Wetzel and Oklahoma’s Matt Freeman, who played at Westlake Boys High School in Auckland, New Zealand.

“We’ve known each other since we were about 10 years old,” said Wetzell. “We went to middle school together, and we’ve been competitors and teammates since then.”

He continued, “We FaceTimed this morning, and there was a little banter going on, but we’re looking forward to seeing each other.”

The game tips off at 3 PM Central on ESPN2.