Tomorrow we will face #12 Alabama as a part of the Big East/SEC Challenge. In addition to this game, eleven other games will take place over three days to determine which conference is the best. Technically, this is the first year of The Challenge. The past four years of the Big East/SEC Invitational were designed for matches on neutral courts. This was scrapped in favor of a format the mirrors the ACC/Big 10 challenge with teams meeting on an opponent's home court. Previously, the conferences have split the 16 games played over the four years 8-8.
In this breakdown we will examine the matchups and provide our predictions on the winners of the 11 games besides our own. When the match-ups were first announced I thought this would be a cake walk for the Big East, with the good guys winning something like 10-2 or 9-3. After one money of basketball, the Big East is looking shaky, and this could become a lot more competitive of a challenge.
St. John's @ #1 Kentucky 7:30pm ESPN
This was originally billed as the top 2 recruiting classes in 2011 going head to head. Three members of St. John's vaunted recruiting class, however, never made it to campus. St. John's has little hope in this game. Not only are they down three recruits, but they will also be with out the services of Steve Lavin who has missed a number of the Red Storm's games while recovering from prostate cancer. St. John's has already lost to three teams much worse than Kentucky. This one should be a blow out.
Providence @ South Carolina 7pm ESPNU
Yeesh this is an ugly match-up. Neither team is expected to be very good and will be struggling to stay out of the last spot in their respective conferences. Providence has the better record, and the home court advantage didn't previously help the Gamecocks when they lost to Tennessee State (South Carolina also lost @ Elon), so Providence has a good chance to go in to Columbia and get a win.
DePaul vs. Ole Miss 9pm ESPNU
DePaul already has wins against Texas Tech and Arizona State (neither team is very good, but this is definitely improvement for DePaul) and is looking like they have a chance to climb out of last place in the Big East. Ole Miss has had two challenging games to date, being blown out by Marquette and defeating Miami in overtime. Both teams force turnovers, but DePaul does a better job holding on to the ball. Ole Miss is much better on the boards, but DePaul is a much better shooting team. This game is a complete toss up, but I'll give the edge to the home team.
Syracuse vs. Florida 6:30pm ESPN
One of the two marquee match-ups features two top 10 teams. Syracuse as usual has not been tested much their best competition coming against a weak preseason NIT field. They remain in the state of NY as usual for this game. Syracuse beat Florida in 2009's edition of the BE/SEC invitational in Tampa and in 2008 in the CBE classic in Kansas City, Missouri. Doubt anything changes this time around when the Orange are at home.
Louisville vs. Vanderbilt 8:30pm ESPN
The second marquee mach-up was supposed to also feature two top 10 teams, but Vanderbilt stumbled out of the gates and now sits at #19. Louisville was my pick to win the BE at the beginning of the year and they should have no problem taking down the Commodores at home. Vanderbilt while talented has been with out center Festus Ezeli who returns for this game, but that will not solve all their problems.
Cincinnati @ Georgia 7pm ESPNU
Cinci has to be one of the most under-achieving teams this year. They started out in the top 20 and were predicted to finish 5th in the Big East. Now both those look doubtful after losses to Presbyterian and Marshall. If you're going to have a weak out of conference schedule you better win all your games and Cinci has already stumbled twice. I had questions about a team that relied on defense yet lost their best defender, but I expect them to turn it around by the Big East season and be a tough out. Georgia isn't a very good team and has been blown out by the decent teams they have played. They are lead by freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Another toss up game, but I predict the more veteran Bearcats to pull out another victory for the Big East.
Seton Hall vs. Auburn 9pm ESPNU
Seton Hall has been surprisingly good so far this year. They have solid wins against VCU and St. Joesph's and their only loss is to Northwestern in the finals of the Charleston Classic. They're completely dependent on their big three of Seniors Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope and Sophomore Fuquan Edwin. Auburn is a football school and consistently a bad basketball team. Kenpom has Seton Hall winning and they're at home, so I'll go with that.
UConn vs. Arkansas 3:15pm ESPN
People were pretty disappointed that the defending national champs did not get a better draw. After a disappointing trip to the Bahamas this game is likely to be closer than initially thought. Arkansas has not been tested minus a game against Houston which they lost. UConn should have won the Battle 4 Atlantis and they should win this game.
Pittsburgh @ Tennessee 5:15pm ESPN
Another game that wasn't supposed to be close but as the game approaches looks like could be a very good match-up. Pitt has underachieved to date falling to Long Beach State and scrapping by LaSalle and Rider. Tennessee put up a decent showing in Maui giving Duke and Memphis tough games. Tennessee should win this game but it'll be closer than previously expected.
Rutgers vs. LSU 7pm ESPNU
Two more bottom of the barrel teams squaring off. Rutgers has losses to Miami, Illinois State and Richmond. LSU has loses to Costal Carolina, Northwestern, and South Alabama. LSU's losses are a little worse and Rutgers is at home. Rutgers should not lose this game.
WV @ Mississippi St 9pm ESPNU
WV was predicted to be decent middle of the pack Big East team while Mississippi state was a team full of potential but not necessarily going to achieve it. The bulldogs have looked good in the early going knocking off Arizona and Texas AM after an early loss to Akron. WV does not look too good in the early going as they have a young team folding to Kent State. Mississippi looks like the smart choice here.