Interesting decision by ESPN, the Big 12 and the SEC to stage their annual Big 12/SEC Challenge entirely this Saturday -- every game televised on some member of the ESPN family -- instead of in December with all the other nonconference events. I actually like the idea of breaking up the monotony of conference play with a one-day Challenge, and it certainly will get more publicity now, with no football at all on Saturday, then it does in December with the NFL and NCAA football still going. If the ratings are really good, we might see other such events also moved after football season.
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No. 14 Iowa State at No. 5 Texas A&M (-3.5)
This Challenge game tips at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN. I won't often say I told you so because I certainly get my share of these predictions wrong, but I called Arkansas' home upset of Texas A&M on Wednesday even though the Razorbacks were on a three-game losing streak. The Aggies are a fine team, I'm sure, but they aren't as good as their now 17-3 record. The SEC simply stinks again. A&M was a 3-point favorite in Fayetteville but lost 74-71 to see its 10-game winning streak end. DJ Hogg missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer. So now all three losses have been to unranked clubs. The Aggies turned it over a season-high 21 times and shot just 39.6 percent against that Arkansas pressure defense. The only Aggie to make better than half his shots was Danuel House, who had 24 points. A&M had beaten that same team by 23 in College Station earlier in the season.
I'm a huge Iowa State guy this season and the Cyclones have been kryptonite against Top-25 teams in 2015-16. The Cyclones (16-4) already have beaten No. 22 Cincinnati, No. 1 Oklahoma and Iowa when unranked but with the Hawkeyes now in the Top 5. On Monday, ISU beat No. 4 Kansas 85-72 in Ames for its fourth straight victory. The Cyclones trailed by seven at the half. Monte Morris finished with 21 points and Georges Niang 19, with 15 after intermission. The 13-point win was the largest by the Cyclones in the series since 1985. ISU is 14-0 this season when holding opponents under 80 points.
Key trends: ISU is 7-1-1 against the spread in its past nine road games. The Cyclones have covered 10 of their past 13 on Saturday. They are 5-2-1 ATS in their past eight nonconference games. A&M is 8-3-2 ATS in its past 13 after an ATS loss. It is 2-5-1 ATS in its past eight vs. the Big 12.
I'm leaning: First meeting between schools since A&M left the Big 12. Tough call here. I have no doubt ISU is better, but the Aggies are unbeaten at home. Might the Cyclones be a bit flat off the Kansas win? Plus they have another huge conference game Tuesday vs. No. 9 West Virginia. I'll still take Iowa State.
Boston College at No. 2 North Carolina (-26.5)
This ACC matchup is at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Why am I previewing what might be the biggest mismatch of all the games on Saturday? This looks to be a potentially huge look-ahead game for the Tar Heels as they visit surging No. 16 Louisville on Monday night. Might the Heels (18-2, 7-0) also be a tad rusty? They haven't played since Sunday's 75-70 escape at Virginia Tech, the Heels' 11th straight win. Brice Johnson, who has to be the ACC Player of the Year, had 19 points and 17 rebounds. It was Roy Williams' 350th win at the school, becoming the first coach to win 350 at two Division I schools. Johnson was named the ACC Player of the Week on Monday for the third time this season, and the Heels did rise to No. 1 in the USA Today poll.
Boston College (7-13, 0-7) is pretty terrible as you can see. The Eagles lost their seventh straight Tuesday at home vs. Florida State, 72-62. The Noles scored 13 unanswered points -- five to close the first half and eight to open the second -- to take command with a 45-32 lead. Eli Carter had 16 points and eight assists for BC and he could start for any ACC team but that's about all the Eagles have. Boston College has lost seven straight in the series, last by 18 in the 2015 ACC Tournament. It was only by 11 in Chapel Hill last season. The last time BC faced a No. 1 team it upset unbeaten Syracuse in February 2014.
Key trends: Heels are 2-6 ATS in their past eight conference games. They are 6-15 ATS in their past 21 vs. teams with a winning percentage below .400. The Eagles have covered four of their past five in Chapel Hill.
I'm leaning: BC obviously won't win, but I'll take all those points.
No. 20 Kentucky at No. 4 Kansas (-5)
The marquee Challenge matchup is at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN between the two winningest programs in NCAA history. Back when the season started this looked like a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup -- both were No. 1 at one point -- but the blue-blood programs have mildly disappointed with matching 16-4 records. I still expect deep runs this March from the Wildcats and Jayhawks because they are so talented; there will be several future NBA players on the Allen Fieldhouse court. Coaches John Calipari and Bill Self are hoping their five-star freshmen will jell with the veterans over the next month-plus before postseason play begins.
Kentucky appears to be playing better right now as it has won three straight in blowout fashion since being stunned at Auburn. All four of UK's losses have come away from Rupp Arena, where the Cats never lose. Kansas has lost three of its past five overall and was dominated in the second half in Monday night's loss at Iowa State. The Jayhawks too often settle for jump shots. KU has won 34 straight games at home but is 6-22 all-time vs. Kentucky. They last played Nov. 18, 2014, in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis with No. 1 Kentucky stomping No. 5 Kansas 72-40. UCLA and Vandy are common opponents this season. Kansas beat both in Maui. Kentucky lost by 10 at the Bruins but waxed the Commodores in Lexington.
Key trends: Kentucky is 4-10-1 ATS in its past 15 road games. It is 2-7 ATS in its past nine nonconference games. KU is 4-0 ATS in its past four out of conference. The favorite is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings.
I'm leaning: I'd go the home team in this rivalry in any pretty much any situation. So Kansas it is.
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