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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas coach Mike Anderson communicates with his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Fayetteville, Ark. Kentucky won 80-66. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)

FAYETTEVILLE -- SEC men's basketball coaches recognize the opportunity Saturday's Big 12-SEC Challenge presents the conference, but they shared split opinions on the timing of the 10-game series, which comes just before the midway point of the league schedule.

"I'm not jumping up and down about it, to be honest with you," said Georgia Coach Mark Fox, whose team has to travel to LSU and Baylor this week. "If I had a home game beforehand, maybe I'd be a little more excited about it."

Ben Howland's Mississippi State team is one of four SEC schools not competing in the challenge, and he's fine with it.

"I did that a number of years at UCLA and we were playing a nonconference game in the middle of the season and I never liked that concept," he said. "If you're one of the Power 5 conference,s it takes away from the notoriety of the conference race."

Former Big 12 coaches Mike Anderson of Arkansas and Frank Martin of South Carolina sounded more enthusiastic about it.

"We certainly want to get some national attention with this series, and I guess I was one of the guys who said, 'Let's do it,' " Anderson said.

Arkansas will host Texas Tech, the school where Razorbacks guard Dusty Hannahs started his collegiate career. The Red Raiders are coached by Tubby Smith, the former head coach at Georgia and Kentucky, who led the Wildcats to the 1998 national championship in his first season.

Martin's Gamecocks are not involved in the challenge, but he said playing a nonconference game helps break up the "monotony" of playing 18 consecutive league games.

West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins, whose team plays at Florida on Saturday, said, "It's like most other high profile nonleague games, it's made for TV.

"You're playing for league pride. Obviously it's a great team and it's a team that if you beat, you'd have a great win under your belt in terms of selection for the [NCAA] tournament."

Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl, always a staunch advocate of promoting the SEC, equated the Big 12-SEC Challenge to the league's football prowess.

"When Alabama wins the national championship, the crowd chants, 'SEC! SEC!' and I've heard that at Auburn before," said Pearl, whose Tigers host Oklahoma State. "We've got to try and create that same attitude and pride within the framework of our basketball programs."

Marquee matchups

Two matchups of ranked teams highlight the 10-game Big 12-SEC Challenge. on Saturday

The most highly anticipated of the 12 games will pit No. 20 Kentucky at No. 4 Kansas at 6 p.m. ESPN's GameDay crew will set up in Lawrence, Kan., for coverage of that battle of blue bloods.

Another game with national implications will be No. 5 Texas A&M hosting No. 14 Iowa State at 1 p.m. at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.

LSU's home game against No. 1 Oklahoma, with national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield, will also be a marquee draw.

"They're another team with great experience, playing as well as anyone in the country," LSU Coach Johnny Jones. "Buddy Hield has done a great job and is maybe staking a claim to being the top player of the year in college basketball."

The four SEC schools not participating in the challenge will meet Saturday, with South Carolina hosting Alabama and Mississippi State traveling to Missouri.

Knuckleheads

An announced crowd of 22,975 showed up at Rupp Arena for Kentucky's 76-57 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday despite a snowfall total of more than 7 inches around the city, more than 12 inches around the region and tough travel conditions.

"These knuckleheads figured out how to get here," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. "I have no idea whether they came two days ago because they heard about the storm, or whether they were stuck on the highway and walked here."

Slicing in

Arkansas, which hosts Texas A&M on Wednesday, has played weird games lately against the Aggies, who routed the Razorbacks 92-69 in the conference opener on Jan. 2 at College Station, Texas.

In last year's game at Walton Arena, the Hogs led Texas A&M by 24 points on two occasions -- the last at 49-25 on an Anthlon Bell's three-pointer with 1:20 left in the first half -- before holding on for an 81-75 victory.

The Aggies cut their deficit to two points, on Danuel House's layup with 1:30 remaining, to make it 72-70. House missed the free throw on a chance for a three-point play and the Razorbacks padded their lead after that.

"We got our butts kicked the first half at Arkansas last year, so our guys remember that," Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said Monday on the SEC coaches teleconference.

Moody sits

Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody, who injured a hamstring in the Rebels' 77-74 overtime loss to South Carolina last Tuesday, sat out Saturday's 83-77 road loss to Mississippi State. Moody, the conference's leading scorer with 24.3 points per game, is listed as day to day with Mississippi preparing to host Auburn on Wednesday.

In addition, Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State without its best post player, Sebastian Saiz, and starting guard, Martavious Newby, who were both sidelined by eye issues.

Saiz underwent eye surgery last Tuesday to repair a partially detached retina and is expected to miss at least two weeks. He leads the Rebels with 9.8 rebounds per game and is second with 12.8 points per game.

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy lauded his team's effort with the depleted roster.

"I'm proud that they battled, but ultimately that was not good enough in this league," he said.

Tough two

Missouri will wrap up as tough of a two-game stretch as any SEC team will face this season when the Tigers take on Kentucky on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Rupp Arena.

The Tigers, using an effective zone defense for much of the game, gave then-No. 10 Texas A&M a good run before falling 66-53 on the road Saturday.

Davis update

Texas A&M freshman Tyler Davis sat out the Aggies' 66-53 victory over Missouri on Saturday while wearing a walking boot. Aggies Coach Billy Kennedy said he expects to have the 6-10, 265-pounder for Wednesday's game at Arkansas.

"We could have played Tyler on Saturday if we thought it was something that was in the best interest of him and the longevity of our season," Kennedy said. "In talking to our medical staff, he had some discomfort in his foot. They said resting it a couple of days should help it."

48 hours

Arkansas lost both ends of a Thursday-Saturday combination of games last week for the first time in five years under Coach Mike Anderson. It didn't help the Razorbacks that the games came at home against resurgent Kentucky and on the road at Georgia.

Arkansas had split their Thursday-Saturday games in Anderson's first three seasons, then went 2-0 last year, beating Alabama 93-91 in overtime at Walton Arena two days before edging Missouri 61-60 at Columbia, Mo.

Newman's 3s

Mississippi State freshman Malik Newman made 7 of 10 three-pointers and scored 25 points as the Bulldogs broke a five-game losing streak with a 83-77 victory over Ole Miss on Saturday.

"No question, we got that monkey off our back," Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said.

Vandy blues

Vanderbilt's 76-57 loss at Kentucky was its 13th consecutive setback against a top 25 team dating to the 2011-2012 season. The Commodores are 0-6 against teams ranked in the top 30 of the RPI ratings this season.

Tip ins

• LSUs 72-70 victory at Alabama was its fourth in a row in the series.

• Florida's 95-63 victory over Auburn on Saturday was its ninth in a row in the series. The Gators have won 11 games in a row at the O'Connell Center over Auburn and 19 of the past 20 games in the series.

• Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith was named SEC player of the week Monday after averaging 22 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in victories over Mississippi State and Auburn.

• Kentucky guard Jamal Murray was named SEC freshman of the week Monday after averaging 18.5 points and 7.0 assists in victories over Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Sports on 01/26/2016

Print Headline: Challenge a challenge for coaches

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