Ranking the Big 12/SEC Challenge games

The Big 12 and SEC made the best move possible when they agreed to move their challenge games to Jan. 30. These 10 matchups will now have more of a marquee feel as opposed to being buried among a crowded November/December schedule that included rivalry college football games and league championships.

Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina and Missouri will sit this one out for the SEC. But the league could show its improved depth against the Big 12, which should again be in the conversation when it comes to deepest conferences.

In ranking the 10 games of the challenge, however, the conversation begins and ends with one matchup: Wildcats at Jayhawks.

1. Kentucky at Kansas: It should essentially be an early preview of a NCAA tournament game. Actually it could be even better than that if both teams live up to their considerable potential.

The Kansas Jayhawks have so many pieces returning including guards Wayne Selden Jr., and Frank Mason III. No longer platooning, the Kentucky Wildcats will depend on players like Tyler Ulis and Marcus Lee to step into lead roles since they'll no longer be splitting minutes in half.

The game will feature two of the nation's best young post players in Kentucky's 7-footer Skal Labissiere and Kansas' 6-foot-9 power forward Cheick Diallo and two of its best senior power forwards in UK's Alex Poythress and KU's Perry Ellis.

Unlike their last four meetings -- including the Wildcats' 72-40 beatdown last season -- it won't take place at a neutral site. It will be a true road game in Allen Fieldhouse, where four of the Jayhawks' six wins in the series (UK leads 22-6) have come.

2. Iowa State at Texas A&M: This game could still change drastically before the summer ends if the Chicago Bulls decide to target Iowa State Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg as their new head coach. As for now, forward Georges Niang is looking to lead the Cyclones to heights they haven't seen.

The Texas A&M Aggies still may feel more of a rivalry with their Big 12 opponent than their SEC ones, considering it's just their fourth season in the league. The Aggies returned their top three scorers and welcome four freshmen who were all ranked in the ESPN 100. Their depth should allow them to speed up their tempo, which will make for an entertaining game against an Iowa State team that loves to run.

3. Oklahoma at LSU: The LSU Tigers have the potential to take a giant leap nationally next season. The Tigers feature do-it-all power forward Ben Simmons, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015. Freshmen shooting guards Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson will provide added firepower to a team that ranked just 84th last season in adjusted offense according to Ken Pomeroy.

The matchup could be billed as the old versus the new as the Oklahoma Sooners return four starters including seniors Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins. Coach Lon Kruger will have a veteran team that should be able to improve off its 5-6 record in road games last season.

4. Vanderbilt at Texas: The Vanderbilt Commodores should be playing for a NCAA tournament bid after reaching the NIT quarterfinals last season. Four starters return including center Damian Jones, who was all-SEC first team after leading the Commodores in scoring and rebounding last season.

But this game is more about coach Shaka Smart taking over the Texas Longhorns. Vandy was known for its offense last season. Smart has been known for his defense, which by all indications he plans to install at Texas. The Longhorns playing at a faster pace could make for a matchup that ends with a lot of points on the board.

5. West Virginia at Florida: Had Billy Donovan not taken his head coaching talents to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it might have been a more attractive game. The Florida Gators will be somewhat of an unknown until their roster is solidified for new coach Kevin White.

What we do know is the West Virginia Mountaineers are now that team that likes to press as much as Donovan once did. WVU coach Bob Huggins plans to continue his "Press Virginia" style this season and will be aided by the additions of forward Esa Ahmad and the top scorer in junior college last season, Teyvon Myers.

6. Georgia at Baylor: The Georgia Bulldogs returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. To make it two in a row, they have to find a replacement for leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton. The Baylor Bears will still be solid in the frontcourt led by walking double-double Rico Gathers and leading scorer Taurean Prince.

7. Oklahoma State at Auburn: Auburn Tigers coach Bruce Pearl has already upgraded the recruiting by signing the No. 27th class by Recruiting Nation. It's not high enough to say the Tigers have arrived, but it's a step in reviving a dormant program. By the time they play, Oklahoma State Cowboys coach Travis Ford could have coached himself off the hot seat or right onto it.

8. Texas Tech at Arkansas: Arkansas Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson is as prepared for the shot clock to drop to 30 seconds as any coach in the nation. This matchup could make for an interesting contrast in styles. The Razorbacks averaged the eighth fastest possession length according to Ken Pomeroy, while the Texas Tech Red Raiders, ranked 305th, were a lot closer to the slowest.

9. Tennessee at TCU: Coach Rick Barnes trades talent for experience in his first season with the Tennessee Volunteers. Four of the Vols' top five scorers return from last season, three of whom are seniors. The TCU Horned Frogs are quietly building momentum in coach Trent Johnson's fourth season and they'll be playing in a sparkly, newly renovated arena. That's got to count for something.

10. Mississippi at Kansas State: The roster turnover for the Kansas State Wildcats -- some normal, some forced -- means coach Bruce Weber will basically be starting over by welcoming in six newcomers. Watching Mississippi Rebels 5-foot-10 guard Stefan Moody take and make impossible shots isn't enough to vault this game higher.