Saturday is the big day. With the biggest game of the season (in my opinion) coming to the PMAC this weekend, against the best player in college basketball, Buddy Hield, and the number 1 ranked Sooners, here's a status report for the Tigers and the rest of the teams participating in the marquee match-ups of the challenge.
LSU (KenPom: 65)
SEC/Big 12 Challenge opponent: Oklahoma (KenPom: 1)
Offense has been strong for LSU (ranked 47th in the nation adjusted for pace) but the defense has continued to be abysmal (ranked 103rd adjusted for pace.) While the Tigers play fast and exciting (currently playing at 73.5 possessions per 40 minutes, which slots them at 14th fastest in the country) and have the nations top talent in Simmons, their strength of schedule is abysmal, both overall ( 91st in the nation) and particularly non-conference (an ungodly 305th in the country.) Teams that are sub .500 in these two categories (.5665 and .3774) generally don't make the tournament/are easy outs if they do. Yikes. That .3774 number is what is really concerning, and if they don't give us a competitive showing on Saturday against the Nation's top team, the Tigers may fall off the tournament map altogether, even with the media powers that be doing everything humanly possible to get Simmons in the tournament. Oklahoma should be approached as a must win (thank god it's at home, because if it were at their place, virtually no one would give LSU a shot.) I digress....
Texas A&M (KenPom:7)
SEC/Big 12 Challenge opponent: Iowa State (KenPom: 10)
Notched another win after their match-up with LSU (which was closer than I expected it to be) against Mizzou at home, and now look onward to a game at Arkansas and than against ISU at home for the SEC/Big12 match-up. That game will be one to keep your eye on, especially after the Cyclones have notched huge wins in recent weeks over #1 Oklahoma and most recently #4 Kansas. This will be a good test to see how A&M does against other power-conference heavy-weights, as their out of conference schedule ranks at 131st in the nation.
Kentucky (KenPom: 22)
SEC/Big 12 Challenge opponent: Kansas (KenPom: 16)
Kentucky has continued to play well, albeit inconsistent, since their loss to the Tigers, most recently handily winning games at Arkansas and then home against Vanderbilt. Poythress, at one point an NBA lottery prospect who has since then fallen off boards completely and been forced to return to school multiple times, showed flashes of steadying force in their win over Vanderbilt but has otherwise been unable to assert himself with consistency. If he, or less likely, Skal Labissiere, figure out how to be the guy Kentucky can get a reliable performance from night in and night out, these Wildcats will be DANGEROUS. This game against Kansas should be a good test, as the Jayhawk guards will likely carve the Wildcat perimeter defense up. Whenever blue bloods go at it there's a chance the game is going to be special, and the Wildcats have lost their last three trips to Lawrence.
Florida (KenPom: 26)
SEC/Big 12 Challenge opponent: West Virginia (KenPom: 6)
After losing a nail biter to Vanderbilt (in Nashville), this Florida team should be expected to enter their match-up with number 9 West Virginia extremely motivated to get a signature win and make some noise on a national stage. The Gators have a strong record over all, but have failed to beat any of their ranked opponents so far this season (losses against Purdue, at Miami, at Michigan State, and at Texas A&M.) The Gators defense continues to perform at an elite level, and it'll be tough for West Virginia (in Bob Huggins' first ever game against the Gators) to score against Florida's guards (though the inverse is equally true, as the mountaineers boast the best defense in the country), so this is another game you'll likely want to circle on your calendars.
Vanderbilt (KenPom: 32)
SEC/Big 12 Challenge opponent: Texas (KenPom: 34)
Commodores up and down play has continued thus far into SEC play, with a bad loss to Kentucky and then a bounce-back win against Florida taking them into their game against Shaka Smart and Longhorns. This SEC/Big 12 match-up is starting to look much closer than it was earlier in the year, likely a pick-em, with two defensive minded teams with their share of talent. Though Vandy has underperformed to expectations so far this season, this could be a turning point for a Commodore team that is clearly talented and capable.
Other games: Georgia @ Baylor, Mississippi @ K State, Tennessee @ TCU, Oklahoma State @ Auburn, and Texas Tech @ Arkansas
South Carolina (KenPom: 47)
Quick note on South Carolina, who isn't in the challenge: After an uncharacteristic and unlikely road loss to the Volunteers, the Gamecocks got right at home against a downward trending Miss. State team. They'll have two more tough road games (at Georgia and at A&M) before they get the Tigers at home during early February, in what could be a crucial game for SEC standings (Tigers are in sole possession of 2nd currently.) Frank Martin's team has cooled down after their unbeaten start, but should still be seen as a team that could make an impact come March.