The SEC/Big 12 Challenge is an annual breath of fresh air in the busy college hoops season that pits programs from each conference against one another midway through each respective conference's schedule.
And it's here on Saturday. Starting with Iowa State vs. Ole Miss, Alabama vs. Baylor, and Florida vs. TCU -- and running all the way into the night culminating with Kansas-Kentucky, the event will feature quality programs duking it out for bragging rights.
Since the event's inception in 2013, the Big 12 owns a 29-21 overall record against the SEC. But after winning each of the first three seasons, it was a tie in 2017 -- and the SEC won its first challenge last season.
Here's how I see it shaking out this season. I've ranked the games 1-10 from most watchable to least.
1. No. 9 Kansas at No. 8 Kentucky
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
- Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
- The matchup: The preseason No. 1 (Kansas) vs. the preseason No. 2 (Kentucky). This matchup always figured to be the headliner, though it's maybe lost a bit of luster. Kansas and Kentucky are both 15-3 coming in, respectable marks, to be sure, but they've not performed up to their preseason billings -- yet.
- The pick: Two mirroring records, but two teams with different momentum. Kansas comes in having lost two of its last six and consistently playing tight games to inferior opponents, meanwhile Kentucky is turning a corner and comes in winners of five-straight. I like the Wildcats here in a tight one to pull off the win in front of BBN. Pick: Kentucky 84, Kansas 78
2. No. 24 Iowa State at No. 20 Ole Miss
- When: Saturday, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
- Where: The Pavilion at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi
- The matchup: Iowa State needs a win. So, too, does Ole Miss. Combined, they've gone 5-5 over their last five games, and are slipping a bit in momentum -- and in the polls. A win can be a pivot point for one team to breath new life before going back into the grind of league play
- The pick: What Kermit Davis has done at Ole Miss this season is remarkable. But what Steve Prohm has done at Iowa State is equally as impressive. He has the Cyclones barreling towards a top-4 finish in the Big 12, only a year removed from finishing last in the standings. Between Marial Shayok, Talen-Horton-Tucker and Michael Jacobsen, they just have too much firepower for the Rebels to withstand. Pick: Iowa State 75, Ole Miss 70
3. Florida at TCU
- When: Saturday, 12 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Where: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas
- The matchup: Florida is a metrics darling; despite limping in with an 11-7 record, it ranks 26th in KenPom, 38th at Massey, and 33rd at Sagarin. This is a good ball club despite some close Ls. But TCU is for real as well. The Horned Frogs have lost just once at home all season, and bring in one of the more stingy defenses the Gators have faced all year.
- The pick: Tough call. But with Kevaughn Allen playing his best ball of the season, and freshmen Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke coming into their own, I like Florida to win this one and swing the series in the SEC's favor early on. Pick: Florida 70, TCU 67
4. West Virginia at No. 1 Tennessee
- When: Saturday, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
- Where: Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee
- The matchup: Tennessee last lost on Nov. 23. West Virginia last lost on Jan. 21. And Jan. 15, and Jan. 12, and ... you get the picture. It's a lopsided matchup pitting a struggling Big 12 team up against the top team in the sport.
- The pick: Maybe if Vandy hadn't scared the Vols back to reality on Wednesday, I'd be more emboldened to pick a close one. But the Vols not only flexed their biggest muscle, Grant Williams, who scored 43, but survived a close road game. They'll be on alert and more prepared to face a significantly less-talented West Virginia team. Pick: Tennessee 81, West Virginia 56
5. Arkansas at No. 14 Texas Tech
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Where: United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas
- The matchup: Neither Arkansas or Texas Tech has put up much of a fight of late; the Razorbacks have lost four of five, and the Red Raiders have lost their last three. But Tech has been stingy at home this season, with wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma, and only one loss -- against Iowa State. Meanwhile, Arkansas is 2-2 on the road and 0-2 away from Fayetteville, Arkansas against top-100 clubs.
- The pick: The struggles Arkansas has faced away from home and Texas Tech's success at home leaves me with no choice: Red Raiders by a dozen. Pick: Texas Tech 75, Arkansas 63
6. Alabama at Baylor
- When: Saturday, 12 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Where: Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas
- The matchup: Alabama's recent track record may not show it, but the Crimson Tide are on the verge of making an NCAA Tournament push. They are 3-3 in SEC play overall, but have been ultra-competitive: A one point loss to Texas A&M, a three-point loss to Tennessee, and a nine-point loss to LSU are the only defeats they have suffered since early December. Baylor's in the same spot. The Bears, after starting 9-6, have reeled off three straight.
- The pick: Baylor and Bama is perhaps the most evenly matched contest of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Both clubs are in a similar spot, and both are fringe tournament quality. A win would do the resume good. I'm going with Baylor at home to win, but think this will be a tight one. Pick: Baylor 69, Alabama 67
7. Texas at Georgia
- When: Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Where: Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia
- The matchup: If not for the venue of this game being located in Athens, I think this game would be unwatchable. The Bulldogs have been bad -- five losses in six games, including a 46 point beatdown by Tennessee, a 15 point defeat at the hands of Auburn, and double digit losses to Kentucky, Florida and LSU. But at home, they've at least kept things closer than 46.
- The pick: Texas should win here. Georgia is in the midst of a Sam Hinkie-like rebuild under Tom Crean -- minus the imminent acquisition of draft capital -- and the Horns will be up for the challenge of kicking UGA while it's down, if only just to rub the 2019 Sugar Bowl outcome in the face of Dawgs fans once more. Pick: Texas 80, Georgia 67
8. Vanderbilt at Oklahoma
- When: Saturday, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Where: Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma
- The matchup: Nevermind that Vandy hasn't won a game yet in 2019, or that its projected lottery pick, Darius Garland, is out for the season, or that a chance to take down No. 1 Tennessee this week was squandered. The Commodores have been competitive. Away from Nashville, however, things get a bit dicey: They are 1-2 in true road games this season. Still, OU hasn't been perfect at home, and Wednesday proved it is far from flawless in a tougher-than-expected road win over Oklahoma State.
- The pick: You know what? I'm doing it. I'm picking the upset. Coming off an emotionally-exhausting 19-point comeback win over rival OSU, the Sooners are in a tough spot here to get up for a game at home they'll be expected to coast in. Vandy has the goods to sneak up on them in Norman, Oklahoma especially if Aaron Nesmith can continue his strong play. Pick: Vanderbilt 70, Oklahoma 69
9. Kansas State at Texas A&M
- When: Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
- Where: Reed Arena in College Station, Texas
- The matchup: Kansas State started Big 12 play 0-2. Now it has won five straight, replete with victories over Iowa State and OU on the road. This Bruce Weber-coached defense is legit, and is going to give Texas A&M fits.
- The pick: A week after mustering only 43 points in a home loss to Mizzou, a team that has a defense ranked outside the top-50, I'm definitely not counting on Texas A&M to put up points at a high clip against K-State and its top-10 defense. The Wildcats are surrendering only 87.8 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom, which ranks No. 4 in the country. A&M is going to be fortunate to put up 60 here. Pick: Kansas State 69, Texas A&M 60
10. South Carolina at Oklahoma State
- When: Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma
- The matchup: This one could get out of hand in a hurry. South Carolina is surging, having won six of its last seven, while Oklahoma State is tanking, having lost three-straight. And worse: The Cowboys kicked off three scholarship players this past week, leaving them with only seven scholarship players. They actually had to hold walk-on tryouts last week to be able to field a full practice team.
- The pick: South Carolina's the move here. Oklahoma State's depleted and quickly running out of steam with its short bench, which should make for an easy day's work at the office for Frank Martin and Co. Pick: South Carolina 80, Oklahoma State 61