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Points in the Paint: Big 12 Challenge could give the SEC a very public, very prominent black eye

Even a winless B12 team would be favored over half the SEC. No, that’s not a joke.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, we begin the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. On paper, very few matchups appear favorable for the SEC — forget using this year to show off the results of a half-decade of spending on the sport and prove that the gap has been narrowed.


Because the gap between Big 12 hoops and everyone else is as noticeable as the gap between SEC football and everyone else; it’s more a chasm than a gap.

Consider this: the “worst” team in the Big 12 is the Texas Tech Red Raiders, sitting at 10-9 overall, and winless in B12 play. Sagarin ranking? 45th. Ken Pom? 64th. Bart Torvik? 52nd Fully half of the SEC is below that “bad” team — one that, at worst, is a Q2 opponent.

Who is their opponent this weekend? The worst SEC team — LSU. And if that contest is within 20 points, I’ll eat my hat.

What about the next worst team? The West Virginia Mountaineers, sitting at 1-6 in B12 play. They are ranked between 26th and 39th in literally every composite analytic ranking out there. Vegas will almost certainly have the visiting Auburn Tigers as a slight favorite this weekend. But on paper, the ‘Eers are at least as good as the Tigers, and probably better, given their opponents to-date.

And so on down the line. What looked to be laughers (or toss-ups) in the SEC’s favorites, are apt to swing in favor of the Big 12.

Then there are the games where the B12 is flat-out favored and out to be:

  • Kansas, losers of 5 straight conference games, is favored on paper by 8.5 points over Kentucky...on the road. Will that be the Vegas spread? Likely not. But if I’m the Wildcats and just now getting my feet under me, this is the last team I want coming to my gym.
  • Baylor, sitting with 5 losses and at .500 in conference play, hosts Arkansas without its two best players. Baylor began the season in the Top 5, and no one outside of the Big 12 has beaten them.
  • Middling Florida, a team that has scored 80 points just twice, and gone 0-fer Power 5 conferences in OOC play, travels to face No. 5 Kansas State. Jerome Tang’s group has played five straight ranked opponents — and won four of them.
  • 9-11 Ole Miss hosts 11-9 Oklahoma State...and analytically will be a 12.5 point underdog on their own floor.
  • TCU has six losses...and is ranked 19th. They host 12-8 Mississippi State, and appear to be a 9.5 point favorite.

In fact, only one of the ten games this week looks to be a clear mismatch in favor of the SEC (No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 53 Oklahoma) — and even then, the Sooners are still a Bubble Team. That “struggling” Sooners team? They went to the 0-Dome, beat Florida by 11, and held the Gators to just a shade over 50 points.

In fact, only two games appear to even be a tossup: No. 6 Texas vs. No. 3 Tennessee, and Auburn/WVU. If I’m Greg Sankey, I’m readying myself for a lot of Maalox this weekend. That, or tar heroin.

Advanced stats reckon the SEC goes 3-7 this weekend…and that’s assuming Auburn can win a nasty road game against Huggy Bear’s suffocating Mountaineers; that the Vols defense can hold against the skilled Longhorns; and that Alabama handles its business — not a trifecta I would place any amount of money on.

I suspect 1-9, 2-8 is the actual outcome, with 4-6 being a wildly optimistic outcome.

Every single game on the schedule this weekend is a losable one for the SEC; because the B12 is playing a different sport at a different gear than the rest of the nation.

As a result, the SEC could take a serious prestige tumble this weekend, if the Challenge plays out as expected. After a few years of steadily climbing the ranks to become a Top 3 hoops conference, the SEC has already slipped to No. 4 in the country, behind the B12, B1G, and Big East — and the ACC isn’t far behind them.

The bad ole’ days of the league being a 3-4 bid conference, with bad offenses, and teams lacking star power, seem to have made a return appearance on the national stage this season.

Here’s our weekly run-down of where ‘Bama stands by the numbers in the 2022-2023 season.

  • Ranking: AP 2 (LW 4) / Coaches 2 (LW 4)
  • RPI: 1st (LW 1st)
  • SOS: 4th (LW 5th)
  • KenPom: 3rd (LW 4th), 13th offense (LW 12th), 5th defense (LW 8th)
  • Sagarin: 2nd (LW 2nd)
  • Bart Torvik: 3rd (LW 4th); 16th adj. offense (LW 14th); 6th adj. defense (LW 10th)
  • True Tempo: 1st overall — 78.3 adj. possessions per game; 1.073 points per possession
  • Offense PPG: 84.1 PPG
  • Defense PPG: 69.0 PPG
  • NET ranking: 3rd (LW 3rd)
  • Projected Brackets: Jerry Palm — 1st MW, No. 2 overall seed (LW 1st East, No. 4 overall seed); Lunardi — 1st MW, No. 2 overall seed (LW 1st S, No. 3 overall seed).

Roll Tide!


Do you think the Big 12 / SEC challenge will play a meaningful role in tourney seeding and/or public perception?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Yes, how could it not.
    (136 votes)
  • 23%
    No, it’s one of those gimmicky midseason OOC events that means little beyond W/L
    (103 votes)
  • 44%
    Only if the SEC springs a lot of upsets: it’s no secret that the B12 is ahead of everyone at the moment.
    (193 votes)
432 votes total Vote Now