Big East/SEC Challenge Preview and Predictions

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Unlike the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, The Big East/SEC Challenge is still in its infant stages.  There is a new format this season as the battle of power conferences increases to a twelve-game schedule with teams playing host for each game rather than meeting at a neutral site which has been the case the past four years.  Since the SEC is a 12-team conference, four Big East teams (Marquette, Notre Dame, Villanova, and South Florida) are not partaking in the event.  Here are my predictions and things to watch out for as the three-day event tips off this evening.

THURSDAY:
Providence (5-2) at South Carolina (2-4), 6:00, ESPNU
The Friars appear to be slightly better than I expected them to be.  A big reason for that is that new head coach Ed Cooley actually has them playing defense.  They haven’t allowed eighty or more points in any of their first seven games which is saying something since they were a rather horrific defensive club the past few years.  On the other hand, the Gamecocks have struggled mightily losing at home to Elon and Tennessee State.  South Carolina could get a major boost with the return of Bruce Ellington who just joined the team Monday after spending the fall playing football for Steve Spurrier.
Prediction: South Carolina 66, Providence 64

St. John’s (4-3) at Kentucky (6-0), 6:30, ESPN2
Both teams have a lot of young talent, but the Red Storm just don’t have the depth to hang with the Wildcats.  St. John’s will likely play a lot of zone meaning guys like Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Kyle Wiltjer will have to knock down some triples.  UK’s length and size on the defensive end will cause major headaches for a small Storm team.
Prediction: Kentucky 87, St. John’s 65

Mississippi (5-1) at DePaul (4-1), 8:00, ESPNU
The Blue Demons won two of their three games at the Old Spice Classic and confetti fell from the rafters like they had won the national title.  Ok, not really, and even though the wins came against two of the worst power conference teams in college basketball, it has to be considered a nice step for a DePaul program that has been a joke the past few years.  The Rebels are coming off an overtime win against Miami which is a nice confidence boost after being blown out by 30 against Marquette at the Paradise Jam.
Prediction: Ole Miss 75, DePaul 70

Georgetown (5-1) at Alabama (7-0), 8:30, ESPN2
As expected, defense has been the name of the game for the Tide this season.  It will be imperative that JaMychal Green stay out of foul trouble since ‘Bama does not have a lot of depth inside while the Hoyas have a ton of length and size.  At times, JT3 has put four players 6’8 or taller on the floor at the same time including a freshman wing I really like, Otto Porter.
Prediction: Alabama 63, Georgetown 57

FRIDAY:
Florida (5-1) at Syracuse (7-0), 6:00, ESPN
Despite the whole Bernie Fine situation going down, ‘Cuse is off to a 7-0 start and have taken advantage of their depth early this season.  Florida will have a hard time matching up defensively with the Orange since they use a three-guard line-up and Syracuse has a lot of size in their frontcourt and on the wing.  However, that three-guard line-up has capable shooters like Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal, and Mike Rosario that can take advantage of the Orange’s 2-3 zone.  The Gators will likely still be without stretch four Erik Murphy who is recovering from a torn meniscus.  If Florida shoots the ball well from the outside though, they win.
Prediction: Florida 72, Syracuse 70

Cincinnati (4-2) at Georgia (4-3), 6:00, ESPNU
The Bearcats have a pair of early season hiccups, losing at home to Presbyterian and Marshall.  This will be their first road test against a young Bulldog team that did knock off Notre Dame at the CBE Classic.  Neither team scores a lot of points so this should be an offensive struggle.  Since Cincy is the better defensive team, I’ll give them the edge.
Prediction: Cincinnati 56, Georgia 53

Vanderbilt (5-2) at Louisville (6-0), 8:00, ESPN
Vandy has looked a bit out of sorts at times with Festus Ezeli still sidelined due to injury.  The Cardinals will challenge the Commodores backcourt with their full-court pressure and I think that serves as a major advantage for Louisville.
Prediction: Louisville 68, Vanderbilt 62

Auburn (4-0) at Seton Hall (5-1), 8:00, ESPNU
Don’t let the Tigers unblemished record fool you since they have played a bunch of cupcakes at home so far this season.  The Hall already has nice wins over VCU, St. Joseph’s, and Yale.  A huge reason for that is the resurgence of Herb Pope who is averaging 20.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.  The Pirates only go one deep off their bench but shouldn’t have any issues winning this one.
Prediction: Seton Hall 78, Auburn 61

SATURDAY:
Arkansas (4-1) at UConn (6-1), 2:15, ESPN
As if Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier aren’t a dangerous enough backcourt, UConn has received a major boost with Ryan Boatright’s suspension coming to an end.  The Huskies will also have a major size advantage inside even though Alex Oriakhi has been an unhappy camper since his minutes have been cut due to the emergence of Tyler Olander and addition of Andre Drummond.  Keep an eye on the Hogs’ young backcourt of B.J. Young and Rashad Madden
Prediction: UConn 86, Arkansas 73

Pittsburgh (5-1) at Tennessee (3-3), 4:15, ESPN
It has been a bit of a struggle for Jamie Dixon’s team early this season as they suffered a rare home, non-conference loss to a good Long Beach State team.  Tennessee is coming off a post-Maui Invite hangover loss to Oakland.  Dante Taylor should be back for Pitt after missing the past two games due to migraines.  He physicality combined with the shot blocking ability of Khem Birch inside should cause problems for the Vols.  I also like Pitt’s experienced backcourt better than the Vols’ young guards that have shown questionable decision making early on.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 78, Tennessee 71

LSU (4-3) at Rutgers (4-3), 6:00, ESPNU
This is a battle of two fairly young teams who are still trying to figure out roles and find an identity.  The Tigers have a size advantage inside but I think this game comes down to which young backcourt plays better.
Prediction: Rutgers 70, LSU 69 OT

West Virginia (4-1) at Mississippi State (7-1), 8:00, ESPNU
The Bulldogs have bounced nicely after an early home loss to Akron.  Dee Bost has done a nice job as their floor leader while Arnett Moultrie has been a force inside and freshman Rodney Hood has added a spark on the wing.  The Mountaineer team also suffered an early blemish, losing at home to Kent State.  They remain a stout defensive team but lack the experience to pick up a big road win this early in the season.
Prediction: Mississippi State 64, West Virginia 60

TOTAL: Big East 6, SEC 6

David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.  David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu.  He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.

You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.

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