Who won the Big 12-SEC Challenge?
It depends on what you mean by "won"?
Officially, the Big 12 was the big winner, as its predictable 7-3 victory was stamped late Saturday night Lawrence, Kansas, scored to the sacred Allen Fieldhouse rite of "Rock Chalk."
Unofficially? No one -- well, no one outside the league offices, anyway -- actually cares.
Saturday's truly interesting stakes were always going to lie in the details. Determining who triumphed and who failed would never be as simple as a glance at the final score. The clash of conferences merely laid down an outline -- and an excellent, unprecedented excuse to watch a bunch of nonconference opponents in January -- onto which the day's real stories would be written.
Here are the real winners and losers of the 2016 Big 12-SEC Challenge:
Winner(s): The (still) No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners, and their (inevitable) national player of the year
The Sooners' trip to LSU was billed as a meeting of Buddy Hield and Ben Simmons, the sport's two best and most Wooden Award-worthy players. It wasn't just a must-see showcase, but a possible turning point in the Wooden race, or LSU's season, or both. It was a turning point, all right: The point when Hield officially put the Wooden trophy on lock.
The Sooners' star had 32 points at LSU, but what made it particularly special -- a moment akin to his 43-point King Leonidas impression at Kansas earlier this month -- was Hield's timing. The All-American scored 21 of his team's final 39, including 7-of-9 from 3 in the last 15:40. By the time it was over, LSU's lead was gone, Isaiah Cousins used a dummy Hield cut to get open for the game winner and Oklahoma's star had gone from the POY favorite to an almost unassailable guarantee.
That was a theme for the Sooners at large. Saturday guaranteed at least another week of OU reign at the top of the poll -- a brief moment of stability, and a statement of long-term intent, in an otherwise topsy-turvy 2015-16.
Oklahoma is great. LSU didn't play poorly. Yet somehow, no one on the losing side left the arena looking better than they arrived. The blown lead; the failure to guard Hield; Simmons' total disappearance in the final 10 minutes, when he attempted just one field goal; coach Johnny Jones' failure to correct this crazy state of affairs ... a two-point loss to the No. 1 team in the country isn't supposed to look this bad. Worse? This was LSU's cosmically rare chance to redeem its 7-5 nonconference disaster and begin securing its March future. All losses hurt. This one hurt more than most.
Winner: Wayne Selden Jr. (and, therefore, Kansas)
An offensive liability a season ago, Wayne Selden Jr. re-emerged in the early days of his junior campaign as Kansas's most efficient, important scorer. When he wasn't blaming himself for playing Selden out of position for two years, giddy KU coach Bill Self could typically be found describing the Jayhawks as "Wayne's team." Then there was a loss to West Virginia, when Selden attempted just one shot inside the arc, and a seven-point night in a rout at Oklahoma State. And then Monday's 1-for-6 effort from 3 in KU's letdown at Iowa State. The Jayhawks' three straight road losses coincided with Selden's slumping play. It's no surprise, then, that Selden's aggressive star turn on Saturday night -- a 33-point burst, on 12-of-20 from the field -- coincided with KU's rousing overtime victory over Kentucky.
You read right. Yeah, sure, Kentucky didn't actually win. Here's the thing: No one wins at Kansas. Ever. And John Calipari's team was incredibly close. If not for foul trouble and sheer exhaustion, the Wildcats might even have pulled it off. The final score matters less than the way they played -- inspired and fearless and led by a point guard (Tyler Ulis: 26 points, 11-of-19, 8 assists, 3 steals) who took on every minute of regulation and overtime. It was a resounding validation of the strides they've made since the Jan. 16 loss at Auburn, even in defeat.
Winner, best beard: The Baylor fan in this clip
Loser, creepiest unicorn mask: The Baylor fan dancing next to him
Winner: Texas A&M
The Aggies dropped a trap game at Arkansas this week, but can you blame them? Saturday's visit from Iowa State was in many ways the biggest game of this surprising team's season to date. A&M won the stylistic tug-of-war -- forcing a team that almost never turns the ball over to do so on 22.2 percent of its possessions -- and coolly closed off a comeback-happy team in the closing minutes. Someone FedEx the game film to Baton Rouge.
Loser: Press Virginia
The Gators have been one of the country's most sneaky and underrated teams for much of the season; they were guarding too well to keep losing close games forever. Maybe this was inevitable. Even so, offense is not Florida's forte. So how, exactly, did the SEC's seventh-best per-trip offense score 88 -- with just 14 turnovers against the press-happy Mountaineers -- in a 70-possession game versus the sport's peskiest defense?
Winner: "I'm gonna blow a gasket"
According to Kansas forward Perry Ellis, this phrase is apparently the thing Self is most likely to scream at Ellis in practice. We prefer to think of it as the popular catchphrase from the syndicated 1990s sitcom version of Self's life, which exists only in our minds. For now.
Winner: The Big 12-SEC Challenge itself
Saturday was the fledgling challenge's third different format in three years. One hopes this iteration sticks.
It gave us the tactical matchup in College Station, Texas. It organized a meeting between Simmons and Hield. It opened the door for the POY’s latest work of godliness. It forced Kentucky to play a true road nonconference game against a fellow blue blood in the sport's best venue. It was, in the end, so much more than a few nonconference games in January. It outstripped the sum of its parts.
However unorthodox it seemed at the outset, by the time Allen Fieldhouse was in full throat on Saturday night, the most pertinent question was why this setup doesn't happen more often. The 2016 Big 12-SEC Challenge set the table for crucial wins and losses. It was also a victory unto itself.