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SEC/Big 12 Challenge will feature marquee nonconference games

SEC/Big 12 Challenge will feature marquee nonconference games

Conference races across the country are getting tight as the regular season winds toward the finish.

The Big 12 and Southeastern conferences will take a break from league games on Saturday to play each other, gifting college basketball fans with some marquee midseason nonconference games.

The 10th SEC/Big 12 Challenge will feature 10 games between the two conferences, including eight involving ranked teams.

Topping the marquee will be No. 10 Texas at No. 4 Tennessee.

The Vols have one of the nation’s best defenses and moved up five spots in this week’s AP Top 25 after lopsided wins over Mississippi State and LSU.

The Longhorns lost three spots in this week’s poll following a loss to No. 12 Iowa State and a win over West Virginia.

Two blue-blood programs heading in opposite directions will face off when No. 5 Kansas plays at Kentucky.

The Jayhawks last week had consecutive losses in the state for the first time since 1989 after losing in overtime to rival Kansas State and being blown out by TCU at home. Kansas continued its downward trend against No. 17 Baylor on Monday night, losing 75-69 for its fourth three-game losing streak under Self.

Kentucky is no longer ranked, thanks to some lackluster losses, but seems to be rounding back into form. The Wildcats blew out Georgia and beat Texas A&M by 10 points last week.

Baylor beat Kansas for its fifth straight wins, but has another difficult game against Arkansas on Saturday.

The Razorbacks were near the top-10 most of the season before hitting a rough patch of four straight losses. Arkansas bounced back with a win over Mississippi State last week, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Razorbacks in this week’s poll.

No. 2 Alabama has its highest ranking since reaching No. 1 in 2002-03 and is right behind top-ranked Purdue, receiving 23 first-place votes from a 62-person media panel in Monday’s poll.

The Crimson Tide host Mississippi State on Wednesday before what will likely be a tough road game at Oklahoma.

Kansas State hopes to keep its momentum after an emotional win over Kansas last week helped it climb to No. 5 in this week’s poll, the program’s highest ranking since reaching No. 3 in 2010-11.

The Wildcats have a huge test at No. 12 Iowa State, then host Florida on Saturday.

The Cyclones, coming off a two-point loss to Oklahoma State, have to follow up playing Kansas State by heading to Missouri on Saturday to face a team desperate to get back on track after losing three of four.

TCU handed Kansas one of its worst losses in 20 years under coach Bill Self with its 83-60 win on Saturday. That helped the Horned Frogs move up three spots to No. 11 in this week’s poll. They play Oklahoma on Wednesday before hosting Mississippi State on Saturday.

No. 15 Auburn has been on a nice run, winning five straight since a rough stretch last month. But the Tigers may have the toughest road draw in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge by playing at West Virginia.

The Mountaineers lost five of their first six Big 12 games, but they play a physical game and Morgantown is always a difficult place to play.

PURDUE BACK ON TOP

After a four-week run at No. 1. Purdue dropped out of the top spot in the poll with a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2.

The Boilermakers bounced back from their only loss of the season with six straight wins to move back atop the AP Top 25 this week.

Purdue has what could be a pair of difficult games this week, at Michigan on Thursday and at home against Michigan State Sunday.

BIG EAST BATTLE

No. 13 Xavier has a half-game lead over No. 16 Marquette at 8-1 in the Big East, with Providence a game back at 7-2.

The Musketeers had their 11-game winning streak come to an end with a surprising loss to sub-.500 DePaul last week, but bounced back to beat Georgetown.

They’re next game, Wednesday against No. 19 UConn, won’t be easy.

Connecticut is 5-5 in Big East play, but is still ranked No. 19. The Huskies beat Alabama early in the season and climbed to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 before plummeting through a stretch of five losses in six games.

UConn is top 12 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and have one of the nation’s best big men in Adama Sanogo.

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