The start of December also marks the start of the revamped SEC/Big East Challenge. Unlike in years past, every team in the SEC will be participating, while the Big East will have 12 of their 16 teams participating. Another change is that the games will be taking place at the campuses, rather than in "neutral" arenas. The "neutral" arenas were normally held in places where one team was close enough that it would be a "home" game, such as by playing in Tampa or Pittsburgh where there are nearby local teams(UF and Pitt).
The slate looks a lot better than it did in the beginning of the year. Home teams are on the right.
Providence Friars vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
St. John's Red Storm vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Ole Miss Rebels vs. DePaul Blue Demons
Georgetown Hoyas vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
Florida Gators vs. Syracuse Orange
Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Louisville Cardinals
Auburn Tigers vs. Seton Hall Pirates
**LSU Tigers vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights**
Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Connecticut Huskies
West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Tennessee Volunteers
LSU vs. Rutgers is at 6:00 CT and is scheduled for ESPNU
Overall, the games mostly look to be competitive. Kentucky kind of got off easy, but I imagine that since they play North Carolina on the 3rd, they didn't want to match up with a heavyweight this year. St. John's won't be a pushover, though. Other than that, most of the games look to have spreads in the single digits.
Before the season started, I though that the SEC would go 4-0 on the first day, 0-4 on the second day, and 1-3 on the third day, with LSU being that lone win. Here's a little bit more in depth of how I think this entire 3 day stretch will go.
Providence against South Carolina is one of the games most people won't even know is being played. Overall, both teams have struggled for most of this past decade and more. Both teams were last NCAA tournament teams in 2004, but never made it out of the first round. USC has had some success in postseason play, though, as they won two NIT tournaments in a row. Providence really hasn't been good since they had God Shammgod in the 90's, when they reached the elite 8. South Carolina has never reached the elite 8. As for this game, I think the firepower of Providence will be too much. Gerard Coleman and Vincent Council are each capable of scoring 30 points in any game. The Friars' style of play is highly offensive, and defensively they give up a lot of easy baskets. I just don't think an inexperienced team like South Carolina will be able to score enough to keep up.
St. John's travels to Rupp to take on Kentucky tonight in what I think will be an entertaining game. Both teams are loaded with young, talented players. Kentucky has an edge in the talent department, but neither team has any real experience to speak of, except for Darius Miller on UK. Calipari is yet to lose at home, and I don't really think that will change tonight. Keeping with the "God" theme, St. John's forward God's Gift Achiuwa will need to have a big game defending against Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. Both Davis and Jones are highly athletic, and Jones has shown that he has a good shooting touch for a forward. I don't think the Redmen will have enough to match up against both of them, though. UK can't get too overconfident, though, as St. John's has Nurideen Lindsey at the guard position, and he can make a ton of plays off the dribble and cause problems in a similar way that Devan Downey did for SC a couple of years ago. Sometimes, though, the Red Storm stall on offense and get selfish, and that can't happen if they hope to pull off the upset against the #1 ranked Wildcats.
Ole Miss travels up to Chicago for a game against perenial loser Depaul. Although it will probably be a boring and mistake filled game, it will be competitive. Cleveland Melvin is one of the best kept secrets in the country. The power forward for the Blue Demons is averaging almost 20 points a game for the short season, and it isn't a fluke that he is doing so. DePaul has to be cautiously optimistic about this game, as they are 4-1 on the season and have a pair of wins over Arizona State and Texas Tech, with their lone loss being to Minnesota. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is coming off a big overtime win over Miami(FL), though they were blown out by Marquette for their lone loss on the year. Other than that, there isn't much to speak of from the schedule. I see DePaul taking this game by winning on the offensive end of the court. The key statistic here is that the Blue Demons shoot at nearly 48%, good for 44th in the country, while Ole Miss shoots at around 39.5%, 291st in the country. Ole Miss has balanced scoring, but they need to be efficient if they are going to pull out a road win tonight
The last game for tonight looks to be very competitive, and also will do a lot for future seeding in the tournament. The Georgetown Hoyas travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the 13th ranked Crimson Tide. Despite being unranked, and despite my hatred for Georgetown, they probably should have been ranked themselves considering they beat Memphis, who is a ranked team with more losses than GTown. Alabama has a few decent wins so far over Purdue and a revenge win over Wichita State, but is yet to play a battle tested team like Georgetown.
Like I said, I hate Georgetown, but they are a team that routinely travels the country in non-conference play and also has high strength of schedule most years. Sometimes it gives them big boosts in seeding, but sometimes it tires them out during the crucial month of March. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have both stepped into their roles nicely after the departure of their "big 3" Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Julian Vaughn. Henry Sims has also improved quite a bit. Alabama is "who we thought they were" so far and are led by their dynamite duo of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Alabama struggled last year with Big East teams, losing early in the year to Providence and Seton Hall, so it remains to be seen how they will do against a team that can match their size. Georgetown can definitely shoot the ball better, but Alabama will have a big edge in rebounding. I'm not sure if Alabama has seen a team like GTown run the Princeton offense, so that could give them problems. This will be the best game of day one, but right now I give the edge to Alabama at home, where they were awesome last year.
So for now, my revised predictions are that the conferences split day 1, Providence, DePaul being the winners for the Big East, and Kentucky and Alabama winning for the SEC. To keep this from becoming TL;DR material I'll save some stuff for tomorrow.