Thursday marked the release of this season’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge schedule, and as usual there are some phenomenal games on tap for the event, which will take place Jan. 28. With teams from the two leagues comprising eight of the top 14 in Gary Parrish’s current Top 25 And 1, it figures to be a heavyweight battle as the leagues take a temporary reprieve from conference play.
The Big 12 owns a 48-41 all-time edge over the SEC in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, but as the event gears up for its 10th edition in the upcoming season, the SEC is gaining ground. After the Big 12 won the first three challenges and the fourth ended in a tie, the SEC has won three of the past five, including the last two.
Last season’s swing game turned out to be one of the best matchups, as Kentucky crushed eventual national champion Kansas 80-62 on the road in the lone game won by a visiting team. Though the tipoff of college basketball is still months away and the Big 12/SEC Challenge even further, let’s take an early peak at how the matchups play out.
Here is a ranking of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge games in order from most appealing to least appealing. Rankings are from Gary Parrish’s Top 25 And 1.
1. No. 8 Kansas at No. 4 Kentucky
Kentucky’s 80-62 beatdown of the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse last season looks even nuttier in retrospect when you consider how the season ended for both teams. The Jayhawks went on to win the national title, while the Wildcats fell victim to one of the all-time great NCAA Tournament upsets with a first-round loss to Saint Peter’s. Kansas will be looking to avenge that defeat in a battle of the blue bloods.
This will be a rematch of Baylor’s 81-72 victory over Arkansas in the 2021 Elite Eight as the Razorbacks visit visit Waco, Texas, in a battle of programs who have played their way to the top of the national heap over the last couple of seasons.
3. No. 12 Texas at No. 9 Tennessee
Texas welcomed Rick Barnes back to Austin in last year’s event by squeaking out a 52-51 victory over its old coach. It wasn’t the prettiest game to watch, but it did feature the most dramatic finish of any game in the 2022 SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
4. No. 13 Auburn at West Virginia
Auburn will be making its first trip to West Virginia since a 59-58 victory over the Mountaineers in the 1984-85 season. A Bruce Pearl vs. Bob Huggins coaching matchup should be fun.
Oklahoma’s time on the Big 12 side of this series is limited as the Sooners prepare to join Texas in moving to the SEC, likely in time for the 2024-25 season. For now, though, the Sooners are repping the Big 12 and will hope to fare better than they did in a tough matchup with Auburn last season.
6. Texas Tech at LSU
These are two of the more mysterious teams in their respective leagues as the Red Raiders welcome back only a couple of rotation players from a Sweet 16 team. Meanwhile, LSU’s roster will be virtually unrecognizable following the transition from Will Wade to Matt McMahon.
7. No. 14 TCU at Mississippi State
TCU hasn’t been among the Big 12’s top basketball schools over the past decade, but the Horned Frogs do boast a 5-4 record in SEC/Big 12 Challenge games. Expectations will be high for the Horned Frogs, who will be taking on an overhauled Mississippi State roster led by first-year coach Chris Jans.
8. Florida at Kansas State
Four of the final five games on this list feature first-year coaches, but Florida at Kansas State is the only featuring two newbies on the bench. Given the expectations of success at both Florida and K-State, this could be a high-pressure spot for both Todd Golden (Florida) and Jerome Tang (Kansas State) as they acclimate to their new digs.
9. Ole Miss at Oklahoma State
The Rebels and Cowboys have met three times previously, but all three games came at neutral sites and Oklahoma State won each meeting. The last game — a 78-37 OK State win in November of 2019 — was particularly lopsided.
10. Iowa State at Missouri
The former Big 12 foes will square off in the challenge for the second year in a row after Iowa State’s 67-50 home victory last season. With the Tigers rebooting under first-year coach Dennis Gates, they will look to hold serve at home.