Last year was the first season that the Big East/SEC Challenge went to the 12 per conference team format. Previously it was four teams from each, and it was played as doubleheaders on back-to-back days on a neutral court. The new format spans over three days (this Thursday to Saturday) and each game is played on the home court of one of the two competing teams.
The Big East won the challenge 8-4 last year.
This year's challenge will be headlined by #8 Kentucky at Notre Dame on Thursday night, because, well it's Kentucky. This game features a senior-laden team playing at home in front of a raucous crowd versus a prominently all freshman squad on the road that has struggled a bit in the early going. The Irish looked very good on Monday night home against Chicago St., which may not mean much, but if they can continue their hot shooting (especially from 3) and play with that same intensity on Thursday night, a victory seems more than possible. The Wildcats have the edge in the front court, but the Irish have the edge in the back court. Combine that with their experience, depth and home court, and it should be a good one.
Also on Thursday night, Marquette will head down to Florida to take on the #7 Gators. This is a rematch of a Sweet 16 game from a year ago in which Florida got the best of the Golden Eagles. Like that game, expect the floor to be spread and shots raining down from all over. Like most years it seems, Marquette is flying under the radar early, but that is do to their lack of chemistry, and nothing to do with their athleticism. This team will only get better, and Buzz Williams would like it to start against the Gators on Thursday.
On Friday both #6 Syracuse vs Arkansas and Tennessee vs #20 Georgetown are intriguing games. The Hoyas have shown early on that they can hang with the best, but they can't get too casual with Tennessee, who is likely a borderline tournament team. And anytime the Orange leave Central New York before Christmas it makes headlines. Syracuse is a force and very difficult to match-up with, especially for a team that never sees them. Good luck Razorbacks. You're going to need it.
And if Kentucky vs. Notre Dame does not end up being the best game of the slate, Alabama vs #17 Cincinnati on Saturday very well could be. The Bearcats have looked very good in the early going, scoring in droves and pounding the glass. But they've yet to really be tested (no disrespect to Oregon, but let's see a few more games first). And the Crimson Tide are a fringe Top-25 team, who, like Cincinnati, is undefeated. Expect this one to come down to the wire and even to OT.
The rest of the schedule is below.
And I like the Big East to emerge victorious (whatever that means - respect I guess? bragging rights?) by taking one more than half and going 7-5.
Louisville, Pittsburgh and UConn are the Big East teams that are not participating in the challenge.
Thursday, November 29
#8 Kentucky @ Notre Dame
South Carolina @ St. John's
Marquette @ #7 Florida
Seton Hall @ LSU
Friday, November 30
Tennessee @ #20 Georgetown
Georgia @ South Florida
#6 Syracuse @ Arkansas
DePaul @ Auburn
Saturday, December 1
Alabama @ #17 Cincinnati
Villanova @ Vanderbilt
Mississippi State @ Providence
Rutgers @ Mississippi