Kentucky's first road test highlights SEC-Big East Challenge

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Previewing key college basketball matchups for Tennessee, Georgetown, Florida and more

<p> Kentucky faces Notre Dame in South Bend in SEC-Big East Challenge, but emerging Tennessee and Georgetown teams also meet in a key game.</p>

If the unofficial start of the SEC-Big East Challenge began in the Bahamas on Friday, the Big East is in good shape.

Louisville defeated SEC newcomer Missouri 84-61 in a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal, but, of course, the game was not part of the official Challenge, which begins Thursday and continues through Saturday. Neither Louisville nor Missouri are taking part in the 12-game event.

The field, though, is filled with interesting matchups, including Kentucky’s first road game of the season, a pairing of two surprise teams in Tennessee and Georgetown, and a meeting of two teams who saw their aircraft carrier-openers canceled in Florida and Marquette.

Some games are must-see events. Others are duds. We hope this helps you sort them out.

SEC-BIG EAST CHALLENGE PREVIEW
Best game: Kentucky at Notre Dame
The Wildcats play their first true road game of the season against a team that’s tough to beat on its home court -- Notre Dame is 34-1 in South Bend the last two-plus seasons. The Irish are a veteran team, starting two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, so this will also be a key test for the Wildcats’ freshmen. Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have the talent advantage, but Notre Dame’s experience and defensive pressure could cause problems for the Wildcats.

Don’t overlook: Tennessee at Georgetown
The Hoyas seem to perform better when they’re out of the preseason spotlight. Despite playing with a roster of 10 freshmen and sophomores, this season has been no exception. Georgetown defeated UCLA 78-70 in the Legends Classic -- a final that doesn’t look as impressive after the Bruins lost to Cal Poly on Sunday. But Georgetown also took Indiana to overtime thanks to a comeback in the final four minutes. Tennessee has aspirations of making noise in the SEC this season but lost its toughest game thus far to Oklahoma State 62-45. Jarnell Stokes has delivered for the Volunteers with 13.8 points and eight rebounds per game, but he could use help in the frontcourt once Jeronne Maymon is healthy.

Mismatch: Syracuse at Arkansas
Syracuse is doing just fine with assist machine Michael Carter-Williams running the point. Despite sophomore point guard B.J. Young and junior forward Marshawn Powell returning, Arkansas has been one of the biggest disappointments early this season with losses to Pac-12 bottom feeder Arizona State and Wisconsin in the Las Vegas Invitational.

Snoozer: Villanova at Vanderbilt
Viewers may already know Rutgers-Ole Miss and DePaul-Auburn won’t be great games. That’s true. But don’t be fooled by name recognition in Villanova-Vanderbilt. The two teams are a combined 5-6. On Friday, Vanderbilt lost 50-33 to Marist -- yes, that’s a final score -- and Villanova previously lost by 18 to Columbia.

Most to gain: Marquette
The Golden Eagles’ lone loss this season was on a desperation heave at the buzzer against Butler in Maui. After missing out on the winners’ bracket in the Maui Invitational and a season opener against Ohio State due to court conditions on the USS Yorktown, Marquette will have another opportunity for a resume-building game at Florida. Two of the cornerstones for Marquette have been up and down so far -- Jamil Wilson was shut out against Butler but scored 30 total points against Mississippi State and USC while Vander Blue is nursing a knee injury.

Most to lose: Cincinnati
The Bearcats have played well this season, though they won’t be tested by a ranked opponent until Dec. 27 against New Mexico, and after that, not until Big East play. Led by veterans Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati could contend in the Big East, but a loss at home to a mid-level SEC team might change that perception.

Players to watch:
Ryan Harrow, Kentucky. The Wildcats weren’t hurt by Harrow’s absence due to an illness and a family matter. Without Harrow, freshman Archie Goodwin has drawn comparisons to Tyreke Evans and Dwyane Wade since taking over the point, and Jarrod Polson was a pleasant surprise off the bench. Big men Nerlens Noel and Kyle Wiltjer also contributed in the assist column. How John Calipari works Harrow, the projected starter at point guard to open the season, back into the lineup will be worth watching.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida. The Gators point guard had his best game since missing the first three games, including the Georgetown game canceled at halftime, against UCF last week. Against the Knights, Wilbekin came off the bench to score 17 points with eight assists and five rebounds. Florida coach Billy Donovan has been frustrated with starter Mike Rosario’s turnovers, so the Marquette game could be a chance for Wilbekin to claim the starter’s role.

Otto Porter, Georgetown. Prior to the season, Porter was projected as one of the Big East’s breakout players after a late burst last season. The 6-8 forward has delivered. He doesn’t lead the Hoyas in any major category except blocked shots, but he’s been a contributor across the board. He’ll be matched up against another player, Jarnell Stokes for Tennessee, who transformed his own team late last season.

SEC-Big East Challenge Roundtable picks

THURSDAY (All times Eastern) David Fox Braden Gall Mitch Light Mark Ross Nathan Rush
Kentucky at Notre Dame, 7 p.m., ESPN2 Kentucky Kentucky Kentucky Kentucky Kentucky
S. Carolina at St. John’s, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU St. John's St. John's St. John's St. John's St. John's
Marquette at Florida, 9 p.m., ESPN2 Florida Florida Florida Florida Florida
Seton Hall at LSU, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU LSU LSU LSU LSU LSU
FRIDAY          
Tennessee at Georgetown, 6:30 p.m., ESPN G'town G'town G'town G'town G'town
Georgia at USF, 7 p.m., ESPNU USF USF USF USF Georgia
Syracuse at Arkansas, 8:30 p.m., ESPN Cuse Cuse Arkansas Cuse Cuse
DePaul at Auburn, 9 p.m., ESPNU DePaul Auburn Auburn DePaul DePaul
SATURDAY          
Mississippi State at Providence, noon, ESPNU Prov. Prov. Prov. Prov. Prov.
Rutgers at Ole Miss, 2 p.m., ESPNU Ole Miss Ole Miss Ole Miss Ole Miss Ole Miss
Alabama at Cincinnati, 3 p.m., ESPN2 Cincy Cincy Cincy Cincy Cincy
Villanova at Vanderbilt, 5 p.m., ESPN2 Nova Nova Nova Vandy Vandy

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