This season’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge is anchored by Friday’s prime-time matchup between Texas and Kentucky. But that’s not the only meaningful game of the series. Kansas State-Tennessee, Florida-Kansas, Arkansas-Iowa State and LSU-West Virginia are all interesting, too. And you can watch them all here.
Here are the top 10 players in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
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1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
It’s not easy to stand out on a roster full of future first-round picks. But the freshman and potential No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA draft has emerged as one of the premier talents in Lexington, especially on the defensive end. He has a ridiculous 18.6 block percentage (No. 2 in the country, per Ken Pomeroy).
2. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
After he decided to come back following last season’s solid finish in the NCAA tournament, Johnson changed his body and tweaked his game. He’s second in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage (10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, 60.5 percent from the field) on the No. 1 team in the country.
3. Perry Ellis, Kansas
He was overshadowed by Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins last season, but Ellis is the catalyst for a Kansas team that’s chasing its 11th consecutive Big 12 title. He’s the reigning Big 12 player of the week after earning MVP honors at the Orlando Classic. He scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the title game against Michigan State.
4. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Oklahoma has suffered some tough losses already this season (Creighton, Wisconsin). But the Sooners will get back on the right path with Hield in charge. The 6-foot-4 junior’s stats this season have been impressive. Can’t ignore the 2.3 turnovers per game, but check out the 16.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.2 SPG and 37.5 percent clip from beyond the arc.
5. Georges Niang, Iowa State
He has clearly recovered from the foot injury that sidelined him during the NCAA tourney last season. Niang is shooting a career-low 30 percent from the 3-point line, but his 18.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 88.5 percent mark from the free throw line are all career highs.
6. Juwan Staten, West Virginia
He hasn’t quite matched last season's crazy marks. But 15.1 PPG, 4.3 APG and 1.4 SPG are still respectable numbers. Plus, he’s ranked 12th overall in the Big 12 with a 121.9 offensive rating, per Ken Pomeroy. Staten’s production has been vital for 16th-ranked and undefeated West Virginia.
7. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Somehow, Foster wasn’t even ranked among the best players in Texas as a prep athlete. But multiple colleges now probably wish they’d pursued the sophomore. He’s averaging 14.9 PPG. That’s commendable. His 47.7 percent connection rate on his 3-pointers is just nonsense.
8. Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn
The junior college transfer is an important player for Bruce Pearl. He’s averaging 15.2 PPG and 13.0 RPG for the Tigers. It might be a tough season for Pearl, but Bowers, KT Harrell and a healthy Antoine Mason will keep this program in most games throughout the season.
9. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
He grew a couple of inches in the offseason. And he was a problem before he hit 6-11. Portis (14.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG), a potential lottery pick next summer, is one of the reasons Arkansas possesses a top-20 offense and top-60 defense.
10. Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
Remember that “What will Ole Miss do without Marshall Henderson?” convo? Well, Andy Kennedy’s squad is 5-1 with wins over a previously ranked Creighton squad and Cincinnati. How? Well, Summers (14.7 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 SPG) has become the new leader for the program. He’s an underrated star for a team that needed one after Henderson left the building.