SEC/Big 12 Challenge Odds, Predictions: Saturday’s Full Betting Preview
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images. Pictured: LJ Cryer (Baylor)
There are very few events during the college basketball season that give us a better idea of how teams stack up in March than the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
This Saturday marks the ninth year of the challenge, with the Big 12 leading the all-time series, 48-41.
This season’s slate includes 10 total games stretching from Noon to 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.
So far this season, the Big 12 has been superior, which is reflected by seven of its 10 teams being projected to make the NCAA tournament. The other three remaining — West Virginia, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — are all currently listed in Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out” category.
As a result, nine of the 10 Big 12 members are firmly in the NCAA tournament conversation.
On the other side, the SEC currently has five teams projected to make the NCAA tournament, with Florida listed in the “Next Four Out” category.
Overall, the SEC has been relatively dominated by both Alabama and Tennessee, who have just one conference loss between them. In addition, Texas A&M, Auburn and Kentucky all sit within striking distance.
In order to get a better understanding of which conference has the upper hand come Saturday, I have previewed each game below in the order of occurrence.
No. 15 Auburn vs. West Virginia
Auburn boasts a 6-2 record in the SEC and as a result, sits in sole possession of fourth place.
On the other side, West Virginia sits at the bottom of the Big 12 with a 2-6 record. Although this record is poor, the Mountaineers have managed to win two of their last three conference games, taking down TCU and Texas Tech.
Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers have been most successful on the defensive end. The Tigers rank 15th nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (92.3) as a result of defending both the rim and the perimeter effectively.
Offensively, the Tigers are at their best when creating penetration, scoring 54.3% of their points from 2-point range, the 80th-highest rate in the country.
On the other side, the Mountaineers rank inside the top 35 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This defensive efficiency comes as a result of the pressure Bob Huggins’ team is able to create. West Virginia ranks 38th nationally in defensive turnover percentage.
West Virginia has derived its offensive consistently from its ability to get to the charity stripe. This can be shown in West Virginia accounting for 22.2% of its points from the free-throw line.
This is a game between two teams both wanting to win via their play on the defensive end and ability to get to the free-throw line.
Where West Virginia has the upper hand is in its ability to turn its defense into turnovers. This is an area Auburn has struggled in this season, turning the ball over on 19.3% of its possessions.
This, combined with the Mountaineers playing at home (second-largest home court advantage, according to KenPom), makes them worth a play at the right number.
Pick: West Virginia +2 or Better
No. 2 Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Much like our first matchup, this meeting between Alabama and Oklahoma is a contest between two teams taking different paths in conference play.
For the visiting Crimson Tide, this game is another opportunity to make a statement on the national stage, as they sit at 18-2 and a perfect 9-0 in the SEC.
On the other side, Oklahoma needs to seize this opportunity in order to boost its tournament resume. The Sooners sit at a decent 11-9, but have only won two games in Big12 play.
The Crimson Tide have the fifth-best defense in the country from an adjusted efficiency perspective, allowing teams to score just 64.3 points per game in their three most recent outings.
The Tide combine this with an offense torching opponents from deep, as they score 36.1% of their points from beyond the arc.
The Sooners are actually equipped to limit the Tide from the perimeter, as they only allow 30.9% of their opponents’ shots to come from beyond the 3-point line (19th-lowest rate in the country).
The offensive end is where the Sooners may struggle to keep up. They have struggled with turnovers, offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line this season. Oklahoma ranks outside the top 250 in all of these categories.
In the end, I expect this game to be lower-scoring than anticipated given the effective perimeter defense from Oklahoma.
Overall, I would lean towards taking the points with Oklahoma if the public drives this number too far towards the Tide.
Lean: Oklahoma +6.5 or Better | Under 144 or Better
No. 12 Iowa State vs. Missouri
Iowa State travels to Missouri in what will be an electrifying matchup between two teams that have been comfortable relying on their offenses to win games.
Iowa State has been effective on the offensive end by creating penetration, sharing the ball and crashing the glass. The Cyclones score 57% of their points from inside the 3-point line (57th-highest rate in the country).
In total, 57.8% of Iowa State’s shots come off an assist, which is the 38th-highest rate in the country.
The Cyclones are able to combine these high-percentage shots with a 34.2% offensive rebounding percentage, which results in key extra possessions.
Similarly, Missouri has established the seventh-best offense in terms of adjusted efficiency through its ability to stretch defenses. The Tigers take 42.2% of their shots from beyond the arc (66th-highest rate in the country).
This outside shooting will be effective against an Iowa State defense allowing teams open looks from 3-point range. In total, the Cyclones allow 45.8% of their opponents’ shots to come from long range.
On the defensive end, both teams will look to create pressure in order to disrupt the opposing offense. Iowa State and Missouri have two of the top four steal percentages in the country.
Overall, I expect both offenses to have success in what will be a highly-entertaining matchup between two teams trending in the right direction.
Texas Tech vs. LSU
If there was such a thing as a toilet bowl in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, this would be it.
Both Texas Tech and LSU sit in last place in their respective conferences, combining for just one total win in league play while losing 13 games in a row.
Fortunately for both teams, someone is walking away with a victory on Saturday.
The problem for both of these squads has been finding consistent success on the offensive end.
Texas Tech has been limited by injuries and turnovers. Four members of the Red Raiders’ rotation have missed at least two games due to injury this season, including key transfer Fardaw Aimaq, who has missed all but three games.
In addition, Texas Tech has turned the ball over on 20.4% of its offensive possessions by allowing a 10.5% steal percentage.
On the other side, LSU ranks outside the top 200 in almost every significant offensive category, including effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, 3-point percentage and 2-point percentage.
The only bright spot for the Tigers has been center KJ Williams, who is averaging 17.4 points per game due to his unique versatility.
This is a game I can’t stomach backing either side, and I don’t trust either offensive to find consistent success.
Arkansas vs. No. 17 Baylor
Arkansas and Baylor meet on Saturday afternoon in a game many will look to in order to determine the competition level of the Big 12 in relation to the SEC.
This is mostly due to a Razorbacks team that has lost five of their six games to SEC opponents.
Baylor, on the other hand, is red-hot. The Bears have rattled off five straight conference wins, including an impressive victory against Kansas in their last outing.
Baylor has found this success through its potent offensive attack. The Bears rank second nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency given their ability to share the basketball, connect from beyond the arc and get to the free-throw line.
This ability to get to the free-throw line can be utilized against an Arkansas team struggling to defend without fouling. The Razorbacks allow their opponents to score 22.1% of their points from the charity stripe (41st-highest rate in the country).
On the other end, Arkansas’ offense has been dependent on its ability to get to the rim. The Razorbacks score 59.2% of their baskets from 2-point range, which is the 17th-highest rate nationally.
This will be a challenge against a Bears defense allowing just 50.2% of their opponents’ points to come from inside the 3-point line.
In the end, I believe Arkansas’ struggles in the SEC transfer over to a matchup against one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
Pick: Baylor -6 or Better
No. 11 TCU vs. Mississippi State
This contest between TCU and Mississippi State is a beautiful contrast of styles.
The Horned Frogs are one of the fastest teams in the country, ranking 46th nationally in Adjusted Tempo through their ability to get out in transition.
This style is challenged by a Mississippi State team making a living slowing teams down. The Bulldogs have the third-highest steal percentage in the country, allowing them to create turnovers on 23.9% of their opponents’ possessions.
In addition to this defensive pressure, Mississippi State ranks 327th in Adjusted Tempo, averaging just 63.8 possessions per game.
This level of success on the defensive end is critical given that the Bulldogs’ offense ranks 164th in adjusted efficiency.
Overall, Mississippi State ranks outside the top 300 in effective field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage.
These offensive numbers will be preyed upon by a TCU defense that ranks 10th national in adjusted efficiency.
Overall, whichever team is able to impose their style of play on the other will come away with a win.
Florida vs. No. 5 Kansas State
Similar to the matchup between Arkansas and Baylor, this meeting between Florida and Kansas State will go a long way in determining the depth of talent in each respective conference.
The Florida Gators, who are currently on Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out,” could desperately use a resume-boosting win.
The Gators have struggled due to their inability to find consistent offensive success. Overall, Florida ranks 199th in adjusted efficiency due to its inability to create second chances and inability to connect from beyond the arc.
This outside shooting is not likely to see any progression against a Kansas State team allowing just 25.5% of its opponents’ points to come from the 3-point line.
Similarly, I expect the Gators to be most successful in limiting Kansas State’s offense, as Florida has the 12th-highest Adjusted Defensive Efficiency in the country.
This is a result of a Gators team that defends the perimeter and the rim equally well. Florida only allows 31.2% of its opponents’ shots to come from long range, along with having the 17th-highest block percentage in the country.
It’s often hard to determine what type of offensive execution you will get from this Florida team, and as a result, I am opting to stay away from betting on either side in this matchup.
Instead, I believe the under is worth an investment.
Pick: Under 141 or Better
No. 10 Texas vs. No. 4 Tennessee
The Texas Longhorns travel to Knoxville to take on Tennessee in what is one of the more anticipated matchups of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Both of these teams have had success this year, with their only losses coming to teams ranked inside the top 55.
For the Longhorns, their success is derived from their high-powered offense led by guard Marcus Carr. In his second year with Texas, Carr is averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game.
The offensive success does not stop with Carr, though, as the Longhorns rank 13th nationally in adjusted efficiency, scoring 80.5 points per game.
What makes this matchup so intriguing is the battle between Carr and the Longhorns’ offense and Tennessee’s No. 1-rated defense.
Defensively, the Volunteers rank No. 1 in the nation in adjusted efficiency, effective field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
However impressive these numbers, Tennessee has shown some vulnerability, particularly against Arizona and Kentucky, who both rank inside the top 20 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.
Additionally, Texas has defeated TCU and Oklahoma State on two separate occasions, both of whom rank inside the top 10 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
This is a game where I think the Big 12 makes a statement through Texas’ high-powered offense.
Pick: Texas +6.5 or Better
No. 9 Kansas vs. Kentucky
There are few matchups better than Kansas vs. Kentucky. This is the fourth duel between these two blue-bloods since 2019, with Kentucky winning two of the last three.
The Jayhawks roll into Rupp Arena riding a rare three-game losing streak, while Kentucky has found a new identity resulting in a four-game winning streak.
These recent struggles for Kansas have been due to its play on the defensive end. Over the last three games, the Jayhawks have given up an average of 80.3 points per game.
These numbers need to improve against a Wildcats team that ranks 19th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.
The success for the Wildcats is a result of a newfound starting lineup that includes Cason Wallace at the point guard position and Sahvir Wheeler providing a spark off the bench.
Additionally, this lineup has reignited reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe, who will need to take advantage of an undersized Jayhawks lineup.
On the other side, Kansas looks to get back on track against a Kentucky defense struggling to find consistency. The Wildcats rank outside the top 55 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency due to an inability to create pressure and consistently prevent penetration.
Even though this is a great spot to back Bill Self in a desperation spot as a potential underdog, I believe there is more value in backing both offenses in this matchup.
Pick: Over 143 or Better
Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State
Ole Miss travels to Stillwater, OK, to take on an Oklahoma State team that has had a rollercoaster season in the Big 12.
The Cowboys have won three of their last four games, including a marquee win over Iowa State last Saturday.
This recent success can be attributed to the Cowboys’ consistent play on the defensive end. Oklahoma State ranks seventh nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, allowing just 63.3 points per game.
This level of defensive production will be important against an Ole Miss team struggling to score this season. The Rebels have lost nine of their last 10 games as a result, with their only win coming against South Carolina.
Offensively, Ole Miss has combined an inability to take care of the basketball with an effective field goal percentage of just 48.4%, which is 273rd nationally.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has had its own struggles taking care of the basketball. The Cowboys turn the ball over on 21.2% of their offensive possessions (315th nationally).
Luckily for Oklahoma State, Ole Miss has struggled at creating pressure, forcing a turnover on just 18.4% of its opponents’ possessions, which is below the national average.
The only worthy play in this game is on the Cowboys.
Pick: Oklahoma State -8.5 or Better
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