Saturday once again reminded us just how right the Big 12 and SEC got it when they moved their conference challenge event out of December and into the midst of conference season. Even as the Big 12 may not be enjoying the exposure from the event as much this year.
We sang the praises of this event a year ago, and it rings true again today: having this event in January has provided a nice jolt to the college basketball season, in a time of year when conference play starts to turn into a slog and it’s still a little too early to obsess about bracketology (for most, anyway). It gives us something talk about, and we’re not just talking about Kansas and Kentucky playing.
Part of the talk after this year’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, though, has to be about the Big 12 having a decidedly mixed performance. The leagues split their 10 games, and while the scoreboard says neither league won or lost, this decidedly has the feeling of being a net win for the SEC, and a slight letdown for the Big 12.
While Kansas and West Virginia won, Texas Tech took care of business against LSU and Oklahoma State looked really good in blowing out Arkansas, the Big 12 also took some licks. Florida destroyed Oklahoma 84-52-in Norman. Tennessee topped Kansas State, a win that just might get the Volunteers in the NCAA Tournament in March (it sounds a little crazy now, but don’t laugh if UT keeps winning).
Iowa State was dumped by a mediocre Vanderbilt team. TCU-which has received considerable good pub in Jamie Dixon’s first year-was beaten at home by Auburn. And even though Baylor finally won at Mississippi, the Bears’ 78-75 margin and their relative struggle against a likely NIT team-even on the road-isn’t going to pass anyone’s eye test.
The SEC can and should feel good about its performance here, and at least has a little room to crow, particularly for teams like Florida and Tennessee.
On the other hand…the term “nothing to gain” is a regular (and tiresome) modifier for non-conference games in November and December, a lame excuse given for why teams from the richest leagues won’t play good teams from lower budget circuits. In that vein, though, if one really did subscribe to that theory, it would have to be asked: isn’t the Big 12 right now thinking it has more to lose than gain from this event right now, given how much better it has been in hoops than the SEC in recent years?
Of course, we don’t subscribe to any of that (with the exception of the fact that the Big 12 has been better than the SEC for a while). But we do hope this event continues, and in its current location in the season calendar, so long as it stays as a relative delicacy.
Non-conference games in January or early February are kind of like that Phi Slama Jama-inspired legacy of players putting first names on the back of their jerseys instead of last names: it’s fun in moderation. We don’t need an entire playdate where the nation takes a Saturday break from league play, but it does make life a little more fun when we have some good intersectional matchups to talk about. And the benefits for teams and leagues who win these games are real.
Side Dishes: Saturday featured more huge individual performances than can be quickly documented.
- Among the top ones for the day, Central Michigan scoring machine Marcus Keene did it again, rolling up 41 points and also adding 10 boards in the Chippewas’ 105-98 overtime win at Kent State.
- Right behind Keene for putting on a show was Richmond’s superb senior T.J. Cline, who put up the first triple-double in school history with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a 101-90 win over Duquesne.
- Colorado State star Gian Clavell tortured San Diego State for 37 points, including the game-winning basket with 3.8 seconds left in a 78-77 Rams win.
- Charles Williams of Howard scored 37 points, but the Bison lost to Savannah State 73-70.
- Tanner Leissner of New Hampshire scored 36 points but his Wildcats lost a 105-103 double-overtime thriller at Maryland-Baltimore County.
- Luke Kennard scored 34 points and hit the game-winner in Duke’s 85-83 comeback win over Wake Forest.
- Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ scored 32 points of the Badgers’ 61, literally carrying his team for much of the game in a hard-fought 61-54 overtime win over Rutgers at Madison Square Garden.
- Eastern Michigan center James Thompson put up a 20-20 with 26 points and 20 rebounds in EMU’s 74-57 win at Miami (Ohio).
- Finally, a call to Kyle Holmes of NAIA Fisher (Mass.) College, who scored 36 in his team’s 97-73 loss to Massachusetts-Lowell.
- The day is bookended by a pair of rivalries. Start if off with Michigan taking the trip to Michigan State (1 p.m. Eastern, CBS). The Spartans most definitely need this one worse. Then, end the day in the Pac-12, where Stanford is at California (8:30 p.m., ESPNU) for the renewal of their Bay Area feud.
- A big-time late January non-conference game in Philadelphia, where Virginia is at Villanova (1 p.m., FOX).
- North Carolina State is coming off a big win at Duke; now, what does the Wolfpack have for Louisville after the Cardinals pummeled Pittsburgh by 55 last time out?
- St. Peter’s is at Iona in a good matchup of two old MAAC charter members.
- MVC leaders Illinois State and Wichita State are both on the road, with the Redbirds with a tricky test at Evansville and the Shockers at still-young Bradley (4 p.m., ESPNU).
- Purdue also has a trap game-type of road trip to Nebraska (4:30 p.m., Big Ten Network). Following that on the same channel, Indiana goes to Northwestern (6:30 p.m.), and the Hoosiers now have another injury to deal with as James Blackmon is out indefinitely with a lower leg injury.
Have a relaxing Sunday.