Some coaches would rather have SEC/Big 12 Challenge earlier

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The SEC/Big 12 Challenge gives members of each league an opportunity to garner national attention the weekend before the Super Bowl.

But some coaches would rather not have this event taking place Saturday, when they're in the middle of their conference schedules. They'd prefer to have it before the start of league play.

''The conference season trumps your nonconference season, big time,'' said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose second-ranked Jayhawks visit No. 4 Kentucky in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge's headline attraction. ''I mean we're happy to go. We're excited. We'll go there and let it ride. But the bottom line is I think the only reason we're doing it (in late January) is for exposure for our respective leagues.''

Kansas' showdown with Kentucky is one of 10 SEC/Big 12 Challenge games. Other matchups include Texas A&M at No. 18 West Virginia, No. 25 Florida at Oklahoma, LSU at Texas Tech, Kansas State at Tennessee, Arkansas at Oklahoma State, Texas at Georgia, Iowa State at Vanderbilt, Auburn at TCU and No. 5 Baylor at Mississippi.

For the first two years of its existence, the SEC/Big 12 Challenge took place on multiple days before the start of league play. Last year, it became a one-day event on the final week of January in an attempt to gain more exposure.

The move paid off in that regard. ESPN says the 10 games of last year's event averaged 846,000 viewers across all ESPN networks, up 46 percent from the previous season.

''To be able to have (it on) this weekend when the NFL is off was just brilliant by the SEC and Big 12,'' Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. ''I would think if I was another conference, I would say, `Gosh, the SEC and Big 12 have really done something here.' Everyone's going to be paying attention to these matchups now.''

TCU coach Jamie Dixon also said he liked having it in late January and Florida coach Mike White said he had no problem with the timing of the event.

Other coaches aren't happy with the switch. Kentucky coach John Calipari says ''I probably would rather have it before the conference (schedule) starts.''

''We got talked into it,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Tuesday after his Mountaineers beat Kansas . ''The thought was that in would get more media coverage this time of year. I think a game like this (Kansas-West Virginia) gets people thinking a little more about basketball early than maybe playing somebody else. But that was the whole deal.

''It was certainly ESPN-driven. It wasn't the coaches.''

Here are some things to watch in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge:

SEC SEEKING RESPECT: SEC coaches believe their league is stronger than its national reputation suggests. They bristle at the notion the rest of the league can't compare to Kentucky.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin, who previously coached Kansas State, noted Thursday that Kansas dominates the Big 12 more thoroughly than Kentucky has ruled the SEC. Kansas has captured 12 straight Big 12 regular-season titles, while Kentucky has won at least a share of four of the last seven SEC championships.

''I understand how good (the Big 12) is, but then we're viewed as being so bad when we've shown that we're not a one-team dominant league,'' Martin said. ''It's actually spread across different teams.''

Although South Carolina isn't playing in this year's SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Saturday gives the SEC a chance to back up Martin's comments.

ANOTHER BIG 12 WIN: One reason the Big 12 may be held in higher regard is that it owns a 20-10 record in the three-year history of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge (7-3 last season, 6-4 in 2014-15 and 7-3 in 2013-14). The Big 12 will try to continue that Saturday.

LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK: The Kansas-Kentucky game features two top-five teams coming off rare losses. Not only did Kansas fall to West Virginia on Tuesday, Kentucky lost 82-80 to Tennessee .

RPI WATCH: The Big 12 has seven teams in the top 50 of the RPI : Baylor (1st), Kansas (6th), West Virginia (31st), TCU (36th), Iowa State (40th), Oklahoma State (42nd) and Kansas State (45th) The SEC has five teams in the top 50: Kentucky (5th), Florida (12th), South Carolina (17th), Arkansas (29th) and Tennessee (47th).

''This is a huge game from an RPI standpoint and also just the Big 12/SEC Challenge is something we all watched when we were younger,'' Tennessee forward Grant Williams said. ''All the freshmen talk about it.''

WHO'S MISSING: Because the SEC has 14 teams and the Big 12 only has 10, four SEC teams won't be participating. That includes three of the top six teams in the SEC standings: No. 23 South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi State. South Carolina visits Missouri on Saturday while Alabama hosts Mississippi State.

---

AP Sports Writers Luke Meredith in Ames, Iowa, and John Raby in Morgantown, West Virginia, contributed to this report.

---

More AP College Basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.