I'm sure it's not news to you that all of the good nonconference matchups in college basketball's regular season take place in November and December. Things like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. However, to stand apart a bit, the SEC and Big 12 decided to move their one-day Challenge to the middle of the season last year. I think that's a great idea for a break from the monotony of conference play, and that returns this Saturday with 10 games -- there are only 10 Big 12 teams, so four SEC teams are out of luck. You can see all 10 on some form of ESPN, and one clearly stands above the rest. The Big 12 has won the previous three Challenges.
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Providence at Marquette (-9)
Big East game at 2 p.m. ET with no national TV. This screams letdown game to me for Marquette off its stunning 74-72 upset of No. 1 Villanova on Tuesday. The Golden Eagles were down 17 at one point and led for less than 30 seconds overall in the game. Katin Reinhardt hit two free throws with 11.6 seconds left for the winning points. It was the second time Marquette beat the AP's No. 1-ranked team. The Golden Eagles, led by Dwyane Wade, beat Kentucky in the 2003 NCAA Tournament. The Villanova win will be a tad costly to the school as it was fined $5K by the Big East after fans stormed the court. The school will donate that money to charity, so everyone wins. That victory obviously hugely helps Marquette's at-large NCAA tourney chances.
At 13-9 overall and 3-6 in the conference, the Friars won't be going back to the Big Dance barring an unlikely Big East Tournament title. This was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing stars Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to the NBA Draft. PC lost a second game in a row Wednesday, 91-86 as host St. John's scored the game's final six points. Not often you lose a game when shooting 62 percent as a team as Providence did. The Friars won two thrillers against Marquette last year.
Key trends: The Friars are 5-2 against the spread in their past 7 Saturday games. Marquette is 2-5 ATS in its past seven on Saturday. Providence is 0-8 ATS in its past eight trips to Milwaukee.
I'm leaning: Providence to cover, not win.
No. 5 Baylor at Ole Miss ( +10.5 )
Challenge game at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The Bears reached No. 1 in the polls a couple of weeks ago for the first time in school history and could get back there with a win here and a Gonzaga upset loss at Pepperdine later Saturday (not likely). Baylor has just the one loss at West Virginia and has won four straight since. On Wednesday, it escaped a Texas Tech upset attempt in Waco, 65-61. Despite hitting a season-low 35.4 percent from the field, the Bears' 26-for-28 performance from the free-throw line saved them as they extended their program-best start to 19-1. Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Johnathan Motley had 25 points, including 15 of 16 free throws, with nine rebounds.
The Rebels had a two-game winning streak snapped with an 80-76 loss to former Big 12 school Texas A&M on Wednesday. Ole Miss shot 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3, but A&M shot 50.9 percent overall and crushed the Rebels on the boards. Ole Miss entered the game ranked second in the SEC in rebounding and had been beaten on the glass only four times all year. Sebastian Saiz, among the national rebounding leaders at 11.5, was held to seven rebounds. Ole Miss is 0-3 vs. ranked teams this season, with the closest loss by seven at Florida.
Key trends: The Bears are 2-5 ATS in their past seven overall. The Rebs are 9-1-1 ATS in their past 11 on Saturday.
I'm leaning: Might Baylor be looking ahead to Wednesday at Kansas? I think so. Take the points.
No. 2 Kansas at No. 4 Kentucky (-7)
This Challenge game and potential National Championship preview is at 6:15 p.m. ET on ESPN. Sadly, this did lose a bit of luster when both were upset on that crazy Tuesday night around the country. Otherwise the winner here might be the No. 1 team in Monday's polls. Of course, Kentucky is No. 1 all time in college basketball in wins and Kansas is No. 2. There will be several future NBA players on the floor along with the likely Big 12 Player of the Year in KU senior Frank Mason III and SEC Player of the Year in Kentucky freshman Malik Monk. That's really the story here: the KU veteran backcourt of Mason and Devonte' Graham vs. the UK freshman duo of Monk and De'Aaron Fox.
Fox was in question Tuesday night at Tennessee after hurting his ankle last Saturday but did play and had 17 points and four assists in the 82-80 loss. Monk had 25. It ended Kentucky's streak of seven straight games in which the Wildcats had shot 50 percent or better. I recommended UT plus the points in that one. In all honesty, I was prepared to take West Virginia over Kansas on Tuesday until I saw the opening line of WVU -3. I thought the spread would be flipped, and I let that influence me. The Jayhawks lost 85-69 to end an 18-game winning streak. Mason had just 15, his third-lowest total of the season. KU was also only 6-for-15 from the free-throw line.
Kansas will be without forward Carlton Bragg Jr. for this one as he has been suspended indefinitely. There is a police investigation into alleged rape at a campus dormitory that houses many of the basketball players ongoing, but Bill Self said this isn't related to that. Bragg averages 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds. Kentucky visited Lawrence last year and lost 90-84 in OT. Mason had 13 points and eight rebounds but was only the third or so option on Kansas back then.
Key trends: The Jayhawks are 1-4 ATS in their past five on the road. The Wildcats are 5-0 ATS in their past five after a loss. The favorite has covered six in a row in this series.
I'm leaning: Kentucky.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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