Although we are just nine weeks into the college basketball season, there have already been several jaw-dropping upsets and intriguing shakeups within the power five conferences. With that being said, there are still many more twists and turns that have yet to transpire as conference play commences this week for most college basketball programs. While there will still be an immense amount of parity this year, programs that have coasted through their non-conference schedules to garner inflated records will inevitably be exposed. Simultaneously, the under the radar competitors will finally have a chance to prove that their athletes and unique strategies are more than capable of toppling the perceived juggernauts in their respective conferences. This week, the top teams of the Big 12 will battle fiercely to determine who is the most resilient and consistent program of the conference, at least for this week.
TCU Horned Frogs (16) vs. Baylor Bears
In any sport, it can be easy to give in to recency bias and swiftly judge a program that suffered a dramatic loss early in the season. Although the Horned Frogs loss to Oklahoma knocked them down a few notches in the AP Poll, this is still a scary great offensive team that can score quickly and efficiently (88 PPG). With all five of their starters averaging double-digit points per game, the Horned Frogs are not beholden to one dominant superstar and can divvy the ball around to any one of their trustworthy playmakers. While Baylor has flashed moments of being exceptional on offense and defense, it has been the lack of competitive continuity that has severely damaged this program’s chances of being a legitimate competitor in the Big 12. Even though the Bears are more than capable of pulling off the upset in this contest considering their talented and well-balanced roster, the Horned Frogs have an established identity that has faired extremely well against the reputable opposition.
Final Score: Horned Frogs 88 Bears 85 Spread:
Texas Tech Red Raiders (18) vs. Kansas Jayhawks (10)
While it may be easy to scrutinize Texas Tech’s lackluster schedule and assume that they are due to be humbled by a superior opponent, the Red Raiders have dominated all but one of the unranked opponents that they have faced (defeated every unranked opponent aside from Boston College by 20 points or more). Even in their close wins, the Red Raiders have rarely deviated from their obvious strength which is a relentless defense that tirelessly stifles their opposition to minimal scoring opportunities (58.2 PAPG). Unlike the Red Raiders, the Jayhawks have been wildly inconsistent and were fortunate to win a game against Nebraska to avoid a three-game losing streak. Luckily for Kansas, the starting five for the Jayhawks are outstanding shooters (four of the Jayhawks five starters are averaging 15 points or more per game) that can hit a variety shots from anywhere on the court. With that being said, the talented starting five for the Jayhawks have been prone to cold spells from time to time, a weakness that the defensively sound Red Raiders will look to exploit and take advantage of early and often.
Final Score: Red Raiders 77 Jayhawks 70 Spread:
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Oklahoma Sooners (7)
In a top-heavy Big 12 conference, the scrappy Cowboys have done well enough to stay relevant but are still technically a bottom of the barrel conference program despite a record of 10-3. With an offense that has been unreliable and anemic at times, the Cowboys have failed to overcome all but one of the ranked opponents they have faced despite their well-rounded pedigree. Conversely, the Sooners have unabashedly poured all their efforts into being one of the best shooting and passing teams in college basketball. While their defense has been nothing short of atrocious this season, Oklahoma has continuously overcome this blatant deficiency thanks largely in part to the electric play of Trae Young (29.6 PPG). Although the one trick pony tactics of the Sooner will certainly cost them some crucial games eventually, their offense is firing on all cylinders as of now and will likely overwhelm the capable but inconsistent defense of the Cowboys.
Final Score: Cowboys 80 Sooners 95 Spread:
Houston Cougars vs. Wichita State Shockers (9)
Although the American Conference may not appear particularly noteworthy at an initial glance, there are actually quite a few competitive programs that have quietly performed well up to this point in the season. Despite a 12-2 record and leading the way in the division, hardly anything has been said about the well-balanced and physical Houston Cougars. While the Cougars do not have a prolific scorer outside of Rob Gray (19 PPG), they do have tremendous depth on their roster when it comes to reliable rebounders (40 RPG). Ironically, despite being the 9th ranked team in the country, the Shockers are actually three spots behind the Cougars in the American Conference, although this has more to do with Wichita State playing one less game on the season rather than there being a noticeable competitive disparity between these two programs. With an offense that is multi-dimensional and cerebral, the Shockers have a clear advantage over a red-hot Cougars program that is probably on the verge of coming back down to earth.
Final Score: Cougars 78 Shockers 86 Spread:
Maryland Terrapins vs. Michigan State Spartans (1)
Aside from losing three out four games earlier in the season, the defensively stout Terrapins have been on the verge of being great as all of their losses have come by a combined total of nine points. The issues for the Terrapins thus far have been getting clutch shots from their offense, with the Terrapins scoring success being predicated on pulling down a high amount of rebounds to garner extra scoring opportunities (40 RPG). Being the top-ranked team in the country, it’s relatively unsurprising that the Spartans are great to exceptional in both offense and defense. Blocking eight shots per game while scoring 88 points per game, the Spartans have the athletes and intelligent playmakers necessary to be proficient in nearly every way. While the Terrapins have fought vigorously in every contest they have participated in, the Spartans simply have more firepower and a better coach to lead them to another conference victory.
Final Score: Terrapins 66 Spartans 78 Spread:
Duke Blue Devils (2) vs. NC State Wolfpack
While it’s had to argue with a 13-1 record, the Blue Devils have been noticeably fallible when it comes to playing defense consistently (73.9 PAPG). With an offense that is ranked in the top two in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, the Blue Devils clearly have the elite talent to go far, they just need to be disciplined and efficient in more ways than one. Similarly, the Wolfpack have also had their issues defensively (70.6 PAPG), although they are not nearly as skilled or athletic as the Blue Devils are on offense. Although the Wolfpack is currently averaging 84.3 points per game, this statistic is not necessarily a strong indicator for a program that has gone through hot and cold spells when it comes to shooting the basketball. Although Duke needs to figure out and fix its defensive woes sooner rather than later, the Wolfpack will not pose much of a threat on defense to thwart the electric offense of the Blue Devils.
Final Score: Blue Devils 96 Wolfpack 87 Spread:
North Carolina Tar Heels (12) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (8)
Arguably the most exciting and important ACC contest of the week pits the dynamically aggressive offense of the Tar Heels against the rock-solid defense of the Cavaliers. Even when the Tar Heels offense is not playing at an elite level, the overwhelming rebounding production from athletes Luke Maye (10.9 RPG) and Theo Pinson (5.3 RPG) has worked wonders when North Carolina needs to prevent the opposition from garnering extra possessions. Unlike the Tar Heels, the Cavaliers are below average at best on offense but are in a league of their own when it comes to playing shutdown defense (52.8 PAPG). Snatching seven steals per game, the Cavaliers are both opportunistic and fundamentally sound when it comes to lulling their opponent into a false sense of security and confidence. Although the Cavaliers have performed admirably with just a phenomenal defense and nothing else, the offensively potent Tar Heels have a multitude of proficient shooters that will eventually overtake a Cavaliers program that will not be able to score enough points to keep up down the stretch.
Final Score: Tar Heels 75 Cavaliers 69 Spread:
Seton Hall Pirates (21) vs. Butler Bulldogs
While the struggles for the Pirates on both offense and defense have been well documented in their two losses, they have somehow managed to win one tight battle after another. Although the will to win is impossible to quantify, the Pirates appear to have this intangible in abundance and have played well enough within the moment to win in thrilling fashion. Although the Bulldogs have struggled with consistency issues of their own this season, they have recently transformed into a relentless offense that is capable of scoring effectively from anywhere on the court (have scored 85 points or more during their four-game winning streak). In the end, this is a toss-up contest that will see both teams go hot and cold offensively throughout. However, the Bulldogs have performed noticeably better recently and will continue their white-hot shooting ways against a Pirates program that has lived on the edge for far too long.
Final Score: Pirates 81 Bulldogs 89 Spread:
Oklahoma Sooners (7) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (6)
Once again, college basketball fans will be treated to yet another crucial and highly competitive Big 12 contest. The hottest offense in college basketball will take on a Mountaineers program that has seemingly done everything right on offense and defense to allow them to overcome one opponent after another. Although the Sooners have just one loss on the season, it was and still is notable because it occurred when the Sooners offense was unable to overcome its propensity for committing unforced errors and turnovers (13 turnovers per game). When you consider that the Mountaineers are exceptional at forcing turnovers (11 SPG), it becomes clear that the prolific offense of the Sooners will most likely not be enough for them to win on the road in a very hostile environment.
Final Score: Sooners 83 Mountaineers 95 Spread:
Kansas Jayhawks (10) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (16)
With the Big 12 taking center stage this week, it seems apropos that the Saturday nightcap will feature two more such programs that are both vying for top honors in the conference. Interestingly, these teams are much alike in that they both struggle on the defensive end but are highly efficient when it comes to shooting the basketball. Aside from the offensive show that will be on full display, it will be compelling to observe which offense exhibits the most patience to find the open man who has the best opportunity to score crucial baskets. Despite their recent loss to Oklahoma, the Horned Frogs have been slightly more consistent on offense, a monumental difference that will be to the detriment of the inconsistent Jayhawks.
Final Score: Jayhawks 93 Horned Frogs 95 Spread: