May 25, 2024

Monday Madness: Big 12 vs. SEC Challenge

Staff writer Dalton King covers the week in college basketball in his new column, Monday Madness.

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It was the Big 12 versus the SEC.

The Wild West versus the Dirty South.

This weekend’s Big 12-SEC Challenge was one to remember.

Welcome to this week’s Monday Madness.

With the Big 12 being the most powerful force in college basketball, the conference did not disappoint. The Big 12 finished the weekend with a 7-3 record against the reeling Southeastern Conference.

Let’s take a look at this weekend in college basketball:

Game of the Weekend: No. 20 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Kansas

It was an overtime thriller, with the Kansas Jayhawks slightly edging the Wildcats 90-84. Kansas star Wayne Selden Jr. led the game in scoring, exploding for 33 points. Two of those came on potentially the dunk of the year, with Selden driving the lane, and slamming it over Kentucky phenom Skal Labissiere. America loved that one.

Going into the challenge, there was no question this was going to be the highlight of the weekend. The marquee matchup, broadcasted prime time on ESPN.

This matchup featured two of college basketball’s most prominent programs. The Jayhawks and the Wildcats have combined for 11 national championships, 31 Final Four appearances, and have dominated their conferences for essentially the existence of time.

While some say this year is a “down year” for coach John Calipari and the Wildcats, this matchup nonetheless consisted of some of the nation’s most elite talent.

It was coach Bill Self versus Coach Cal, modern legends of the game. This was Kansas vs. Kentucky.

Most Intriguing Matchup: Ben Simmons vs. Buddy Hield

When one sees, “LSU vs. Oklahoma”, you normally wouldn’t think basketball. If Leonard Fournette and the Tigers didn’t disappear down the stretch of this year’s football season, LSU vs. Oklahoma could have been a College Football Playoff matchup.

But instead, this year the Sooners and the Tigers BASKETBALL programs are under the national spotlight.

The Sooners are the no. 1 team in the nation. Their starting five is the most experienced group in college basketball. Oh, and they have the more-than-likely national player of the year in Buddy Hield. The senior star from the Bahamas is the second-leading scorer in the country, pouring in 26.2 points per game.

LSU burst onto the national stage, bringing in the THIRD ranked recruiting class in 2015. This great, young team is led by Ben Simmons, the Australia-born, do-it-all phenom. Simmons is 6-foot-10 and his most elite skill? Surprisingly, his passing. He is truly a basketball anomaly. Simmons is the unanimous top prospect for the 2016 NBA Draft.

So with these two players facing off, all eyes were on this basketball game. The legendary duo of Dick Vitale and Brent Musburger even called the game.

Showing all the signs of a major upset, the Tigers were once leading by 14 points. Then, the Sooners (Buddy Hield) took over.

Hield hit seven of his eight 3-pointers in the second half, finishing with 32 points. But it was the senior point guard, Isaiah Cousins, who played the role of hero in the final moments. Cousins hit the game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining, with the Tigers failing to answer in the final seconds.

In the final 10 minutes of the game, Ben Simmons was nowhere to be found, only attempting one shot.

The Sooners had successfully defended their throne at the top of college basketball, winning 77-75.

Let’s compare the two player of the year candidates’ box scores:

Buddy Hield: 32 points, seven rebounds, one assist, 8-of-15 from three, Win

Ben Simmons: 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists, 6-of-7 from the field, Loss

Advantage: Buddy Hield

Biggest Surprise: Florida upsets No. 9 West Virginia

Being overshadowed by matchups such as LSU vs. Oklahoma and Kansas vs. Kentucky, this game was on the back burner for the day.

West Virginia is a top-10 team, Florida is fifth in the SEC, it wasn’t a must-see game.

But the Gators had other plans. Florida hit 12 3-pointers on its way to a massive, 17-point victory. Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith contributed five of those 3-pointers, finishing with 24 total points.

But because of the hype for the other matchups of the Big 12-SEC Challenge, this game didn’t make as much noise as it should have.

With the loss, the Mountaineers fell to No. 14 in Monday’s AP poll.

Fun Facts of the Week:

  • In Monday’s AP poll, the Duke Blue Devils dropped out of the Top 25 for the first time in more than EIGHT YEARS. The Blue Devils had been ranked for 167 consecutive weeks, the 5th-longest streak in AP Poll History. (ESPN Stats & Info)
  • The Lady Vols stayed ranked in the AP Poll for the 563rd consecutive week. This is the longest streak in AP Poll History, men’s or women’s. (ESPN Stats & Info)

What to Watch For this Week:

No. 2 North Carolina at No. 19 Louisville, 7 p.m., ESPN, Monday

No. 9 West Virginia at No. 14 Iowa State, 9 p.m., ESPN2, Tuesday

No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 15 Miami, 7 p.m., ESPN2, Wednesday

That’s all for this edition of Monday Madness.

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Dalton, a firm believer that sporting events are best spent on Twitter, is an Assistant Sports Editor for TNJN and a sophomore studying Journalism at the University of Tennessee. Two of his favorite pastimes include beating his roommates at 2k and remaining in awe of the amount of stories fellow editor David Bradford writes. Twitter: @dk_writes