Opportunities abound in SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Published 10:20 am Friday, January 26, 2018

A look at the upcoming week around the Southeastern Conference:

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: Most of the SEC will be competing in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and a good performance on Saturday could be a boost in March if some of the league’s teams are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. There are several interesting matchups, including Kentucky’s trip to No. 7 West Virginia. The best game might be in Tuscaloosa when Alabama hosts No. 12 Oklahoma. The Sooners have one of the country’s best players in freshman Trae Young, who is averaging more than 30 points and nearly 10 assists per game. Alabama counters with its own star freshman Collin Sexton, who returned earlier this week after missing two games with an abdominal injury.

LOOKING AHEAD: How can Kentucky get better?: Kentucky is out of the Top 25 for the first time since March 2014. The Wildcats are even younger than usual this season, and although they have plenty of future first-round picks on their roster, they lack the true superstar they’ve had in years past. Kentucky needs to do a better job of protecting leads. The Wildcats led by nine in a loss at Tennessee and blew a 14-point edge at South Carolina. Although Kentucky trailed most of the way in a 66-64 home loss to No. 20 Florida , the Wildcats did grab a late 56-53 advantage before falling short. Kentucky responded to its drop out of the Top 25 with a victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday.

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NUMBERS GAME: No. 19 Auburn (18-2, 6-1 SEC) is enjoying its best 20-game start in nearly two decades – and its fourth-best 20-game start in school history. Auburn started 19-1 in 1927-28, 1958-59 and 1998-99. … South Carolina owns an 8-4 record against Top 25 teams over the last two seasons. The Gamecocks host No. 14 Texas Tech on Saturday. … Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance scored no points in the first half and 25 in the second half Tuesday in a 67-62 loss to No. 22 Tennessee . The senior guard ended up two points off his career high despite going scoreless in the first half. … Tennessee’s Jordan Bowden is shooting 53.8 percent (35 of 65) from 3-point range. That figure would lead all Division I players if Bowden had enough attempts to qualify. … In its last 10 games that were decided by one possession, Arkansas has won nine of them.

IMPACT PERFORMERS: Arkansas seniors Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon give the Razorbacks one of the nation’s more dynamic backcourts. Barford averages 19.4 points and has scored at least 23 points in each of the Razorbacks’ last three games. Macon averages 16.3 points and has reached the 20-point mark in Arkansas’ last two contests. Barford ranks second and Macon seventh in the SEC in scoring. Macon and Barford combined for 49 points Tuesday as Arkansas rallied from a 16-point deficit to win 80-77 at Georgia in double overtime .

ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: No. 2 Mississippi State has earned its highest Top 25 ranking ever. The Bulldogs moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 after winning 71-52 at Tennessee , which dropped from No. 6 to No. 10 after the loss. … No. 21 Georgia (18-2, 6-1) already has exceeded its win total from last season and has guaranteed itself a winning season. Georgia, Tennessee and Green Bay are the only Division I programs to have a winning record every year since 1981-82.