#7 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State
Friday, December 29th 6:00 PM CT, ESPNU
Big 12 conference play starts off with the highest ranked team in the conference, West Virginia (11-1) traveling to Oklahoma State (10-2). In case you haven’t been following Big 12 basketball for the past few years, West Virginia has gone all in on Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” defense, which has the Mountaineers forcing backcourt pressure on nearly every possession. This type of defense causes a lot of mistakes and teams generally need exception point guard play to weather it. West Virginia has its own standout point guard in Jevon Carter. Luckily, the Cowboys are in pretty good hands themselves with transfer Kendall Smith. Nevertheless, this is still going to be an ugly game that most fan bases have gotten somewhat accustomed to when playing WVU. The Mountaineers are a tough draw for anyone’s first conference game, and I think they start with a win.
66-58 West Virginia.
#18 Baylor @ #22 Texas Tech
Friday, December 29th 7:00 PM CT, FCS
#18 Baylor (10-2) heads to Lubbock to take on #22 Texas Tech (11-1) in the first top 25 conference matchup of the weekend. The Bears will still be missing invaluable sixth man Terry Maston. With a thin line up, Baylor will need solid production from Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., along with the rest of the team. Given Texas Tech’s defensive prowess, this is especially true. Three point shooting will be essential, so it could be a game decided by whether or not shots are falling for Baylor outside the arc. Road games never seem to be particularly favorable for such performances. Nevertheless, Texas Tech will have to overplay the interior where Baylor outsizes them. If some shots can fall from the outside, that will loosen the defense and the Bears should have plenty of offensive opportunities.
#11 Kansas @ Texas
Friday, December 29th 8:00 PM CT, ESPN2
All eyes will be on #11 Kansas (10-2) as they start their campaign for at least a share of their 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season title. Some weaknesses have been exposed in Kansas’ back to back losses to Washington and Arizona State, but this is still a great team with a crushing home court advantage. If there’s any hope for Kansas not to win another title, other conference opponents need to defend their home court. Texas (9-3) could provide the rest of the conference a needed Kansas loss this weekend when the Jayhawks visit Austin. Texas will need a strong performance from outstanding freshman big man Mohamed Bamba. Texas was so close to pulling big upsets over Duke and Gonzaga earlier in the season, they have the pieces to be a strong team. I think they prove that on their home court and surprise the Jayhawks.
Kansas State @ Iowa State
Friday, December 29th 8:00 PM CT, ESPNU
This game isn’t going to get the recognition of some of the other games featuring top 25 teams, but this could be the most important matchup of the weekend for the teams playing it. Kansas State (10-2) and Iowa State (9-2) are both in danger of being only good teams in a conference of great teams, threatening both teams with a dead last finish. Iowa State lost two games early but has looked good, with sparks of something more, since then. Will Lindell Wiggington and company be able to keep the feared Hilton Magic alive? Or will Barry Brown and KState (which includes Amaad Wainright, Ish Wainright’s younger brother) be able to start conference play with a critical road win? I think Iowa State’s home court advantage will get them some wins they maybe shouldn’t get on paper. This is one of those games.
69-66 Iowa State.
#12 Oklahoma @ #10 TCU
Saturday, December 29th 1:00 PM CT, ESPN2
The second top 25 matchup of the weekend features #12 Oklahoma (10-1) visiting #10 TCU (12-0). TCU, coming off of an NIT championship last year, has strung together a perfect non conference performance behind studs like Vladimir Brodziansky and Jaylen Fisher. But, TCU’s non conference was notably weaker than Oklahoma’s. Oklahoma suffered an early season loss to Arkansas, but has strong together impressive performances since then with wins over #25 USC and a road victory over #3 Wichita State. A large portion of OU’s success has been fueled by possibly the best player in the conference, Trae Young. TCU is a good team, but I don’t think they are a sustainable top 10 quality team. Oklahoma will expose weaknesses and get a critical road win.