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Big 12/SEC Challenge Betting Preview: Baylor Bears at Florida Gators

CBB

Tomorrow, the seventh-annual Big 12/SEC Challenge will feature ten games between the two major conferences. These crossover events can help provide bettors with needed context for both later conference play, but also for the postseason. While the sample size is obviously small, bettors who take in these games can get a better idea of the strength of a conference, and how its teams may fare in the NCAA or NIT tournaments that are to come. While there are plenty of quality matchups in this event, including Tennessee at Kansas, and Kentucky at Texas Tech, let’s focus on the prime-time game featuring #1 Baylor playing at unranked Florida. 

Baylor is taking its turn at the top of the AP Rankings, becoming the seventh team already this season to be named number one. It’s hard to argue with the decision, given Baylor’s body of work. Baylor is 16-1 SU, with the only loss coming in early November against Washington on a neutral floor in Anchorage. That defeat was by a mere three points, and Baylor actually led that game by five with less than three minutes to go. Since then, the Bears beat Villanova, Arizona, and Butler in non-conference play. However, it was a two-game stretch in early January that really solidified Baylor’s status as a title contender. In a five-day span, Baylor went into Lubbock and beat Texas Tech by five, before heading to Allen Field House and winning for the first time ever on the road to Kansas. The 67-55 victory was no fluke, as Kansas were bewildered by Scott Drew’s defensive scheme, and Baylor’s four-guard lineup had no real issues with Kansas’ size advantage. Since then, Baylor has reeled off three straight games against lesser opposition, and should be plenty confident for this trip to Gainesville. 

Florida, on the other hand, has been somewhat disappointing to start this season. If you had told college basketball observers that there would be seven number one teams by late January, most of them likely would have been certain that Florida would have been one of them. The Gators started the year as the sixth-ranked team in the nation. The team was only twelfth in KenPom’s preseason rankings, but with a solid recruiting class, the arrival of transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., and the return of Andrew Nembhard, this was a team plenty believed could end up in the Final Four. There were concerns about the fluidity of the offense, and whether this talented group would play unselfishly, and unfortunately, they proved to be well-founded. The Gators offense stumbled out of the gates. In the second game of the season, Florida were humbled 63-51 at home against rival Florida State. Florida recorded only six assists. In a 62-59 loss at Connecticut the Gators had only nine. However, the Gators seem to have discovered an identity in conference play. The offense is much-improved, and the team is 4-2 in the SEC, with a high-quality blowout win against Auburn. Although Florida is coming off a loss at LSU, the team scored 82 points, and had four players score at least 15 points. The ceiling for this Gators’ offense is very high, and Florida will need a big performance against Baylor, who is one of the best defensive teams in the nation. 

Baylor is surrendering only 0.75 PPP so far this season, ranking in the 99th-percentile nationwide. This defense is built on the athleticism of its guards and wings, the fantastic rebounding ability of some undersized forwards, and a high amount of switching that has bothered every team it has faced. The Bears excel both in transition defense and in the half-court, ranking in the 90th and 98th percentiles in points per possession allowed respectively. One area that Baylor look a touch susceptible is in the pick and roll. In this action, Baylor is surrendering 0.71 PPP, ranking only in the 59th-percentile. Florida’s pick and roll attack has not been as good as it should this season, but the pieces are there. This is an area that the Gators simply have to win on this day to have a chance to grab the win. Point guard Andrew Nembhard has been better of late, and this looks to be a good matchup for his skill set.  

While Florida’s home floor is no longer the fortress it once was (Between 2011-2015, the Gators went 49-2 at home), this is still a very difficult place to win as a road team. The recent domination of Auburn on this floor should give Florida a ton of confidence in this spot. The Gators certainly have the athleticism to hang with Baylor and from a pure talent perspective, there’s a solid argument to be made that Florida has more at its disposal. While Baylor deserves to be at the top of the pile right now, no one else has been able to hang onto top spot for all that long.