Alabama at Baylor
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Where: Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
Records: Alabama (12-6) , Baylor (12-6)
Radio: 95.3 FM
A year ago, the SEC/Big 12 Challenge was the best thing that could have happened to Alabama men’s basketball.
The Crimson Tide hosted Oklahoma in the event, drawing a sellout crowd, resulting in the most raucous atmosphere of the season and a large national television audience tuned in to see freshman phenoms Collin Sexton and Trae Young. The fact Alabama recorded an 80-73 win in a season when every win was needed for an NCAA Tournament selection did not hurt matters either.
The surrounding hoopla isn’t quite the same this season as Alabama travels to Baylor on Saturday for its 2019 SEC/Big 12 Challenge game. There are no one-and-done lottery picks on either team, although that doesn’t mean there is a lack of talent.
The teams have identical 12-6 records, achieved in fairly similar patterns with some strong wins and some perplexing losses. Like last year, both teams are harboring NCAA aspirations and a solid Power 5 win couldn’t hurt.
That’s why Alabama head coach Avery Johnson was an advocate for the Challenge when he spoke on this week’s SEC teleconference while some coaches — notably Kentucky’s John Calipari — said the SEC was “strong enough now” and did not need a resume-boosting event in the middle of the conference schedule.
“Our league is strong enough,” Calipari. “We can get (NCAA) bids on our own.”
Baylor will present a strong challenge, having won its last three games, including road wins at Oklahoma State and West Virginia. The Bears are strong around the basket with 6-foot-9, 240-pound Tristan Clark who is shooting nearly 75 percent from the field (86 of 115) to go with 6-7, 230-pound Mississippi State transfer Mario Kegler.
The Bears will also have a familiar name to Alabama fans on the floor, if not exactly a familiar face, in Jared Butler. The 6-foot-2 freshman originally signed with Alabama in 2018 and was enrolled during the summer although he was never cleared to practice due to what sources indicated was a medical issue. Alabama has not officially commented due to privacy issues. He transferred to Baylor and is a starter.
“We recruited him for a reason,” Johnson said. “He’s a great kid. He can shoot it from anywhere on the floor. I think he’s shooting 41 percent (on 3-pointers) in the Big 12 games. His passes up the floor are like a quarterback. So we’re not surprised he’s having success.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.