#17 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State
Monday, January 6th 8:00 PM CT, ESPN2
#17 West Virginia (11-2, 0-1) was a team of two halves in their last game. The first half they looked incredible in Lawrence against Kansas. Oscar Tshiebwe was absolutely lighting up the Jayhawks and the Mountaineers defense was in control, as WVU held a 30-24 halftime lead. Then things fell apart and Udoka Azubuike took control, scoring 17 points with a perfect 6 of 6 shooting effort. The Mountaineers ultimately fell to Kansas, 60-53. Now they need to get themselves back in gear as they face Oklahoma State (9-4, 0-1). The Cowboys took an absolute beating on the road at Texas Tech, falling 85-50. While West Virginia is coming off of a tough loss, I suspect they should get their offensive mojo back against a Cowboys team that just had a horrendous defensive showing.
72-58 West Virginia
#4 Baylor @ #22 Texas Tech
Tuesday, January 7th 8:00 PM CT, ESPN2
This is a huge road test for your newly top 5 ranked Bears. #4 Baylor (11-1, 1-0) demolished Texas defensively on Saturday, holding the Longhorns to their lowest scoring total ever under Shaka Smart, 44. While the defense was electric, the offense showed rooms for improvement. Baylor only scored 59 points in that game and obviously had plenty of opportunities to drive that score up higher. On the other hand, #22 Texas Tech (10-3, 1-0) accomplished a complete dismantling of Oklahoma State both offensively and defensively, winning 85-50. Kendall has already posted a great preview of this BU-TT game here. However, that Oklahoma State win by Tech shouldn’t be as daunting as it looks for the Bears for a few reasons: 1. Baylor plays much better defense than the Cowboys, so I don’t see Texas Tech pulling away like they did against Oklahoma State. 2. Texas Tech had one of its best offensive performances in recent memory on Saturday. I expect them to revert more to their own statistical trends, even without considering Baylor’s strong defense. 3. Likewise, Baylor had a bad offensive day against Texas. I expect the Bears to come back up toward their stronger offensive showings, even if Texas Tech has a decent defense (which they do). While this game is unlikely to be a high-scoring shootout, I think both teams can score somewhere in the 60s. Tech’s home crowd might keep them in it, but Baylor ought to pull away late.
TCU @ Kansas State
Tuesday, January 7th 8:00 PM CT, ESPNU
TCU (10-3, 1-0) wrenched victory from the jaws of defeat against Iowa State in its conference opener. They now travel to Kansas State (7-6, 0-1) who is fresh off a close loss to Oklahoma. I like Kansas State to defend its home court here: TCU looked really average on Saturday and needed a buzzer beater three just to push overtime against a bad Iowa State squad. ESPN’s BPI gives KState a 58.6% chance of winning, which seems a bit low to me. While this is one of the more difficult games to predict this early in conference play, I think the Wildcats beat the other purple team by double digits off a strong performance by forward Xavier Sneed.
72-61 Kansas State
#3 Kansas @ Iowa State
Wednesday, January 8th 7:00 PM CT, ESPN+
Typically, when #3 Kansas (11-2, 1-0) comes to town to face Iowa State (7-6, 0-1) all bets are off and Hilton Magic finds a way to make things interesting. However, it seems that Hilton Magic might instead be Hilton Average this year, as the Cyclones are one loss from a neutral record only one game into conference play. The Cyclones have already lost two home games to rival Iowa and Florida A&M. The Florida A&M game made apparent that the Cyclones rely heavily on Tyrese Haliburton, who was out that game. Even with him back, however, Iowa State couldn’t hold it’s late lead against TCU, who broke their hearts in overtime. Now there is strife with the fans, many of whom are over head coach Steve Prohm. With the way this season has gone, that seat has certainly gotten hot in short order. They now have to face Kansas who is fresh off a big win against a great West Virginia squad. I just don’t see how the Cyclones will be able to hang with the Jayhawks unless my assessment is wrong and there is still some magic left for this season in Ames. Barring that, Kansas wins big.
Oklahoma @ Texas
Wednesday, January 8th 8:00 PM CT, ESPN2
Red River Shootout, part 1! Texas (10-3, 0-1) hosts rival Oklahoma (10-3, 1-0) in what will surely be an emotional battle. Similar to Iowa State above, Texas fans have seemingly had it with head coach Shaka Smart, who is firmly on the hot seat after the Longhorns scored their lowest point total under Smart against Baylor on Saturday. That’s tough to bounce back from, but luckily for the Longhorns, Oklahoma has a much weaker defense than Baylor. The Sooners nabbed a close win against Kansas State this past Saturday. Neither Texas nor Oklahoma is leaps and bounds better than the other, so in situations like this I like to go with coaching and home court advantage. The coaching advantage is clearly in Lon Krueger and the Sooners’ favor. The home court advantage goes to Texas. However, with fan disappoint already setting in, one has to wonder just how strong that advantage will be (granted, its a rivalry game so fans should show up and be rowdy regardless). Nevertheless, I like Oklahoma here and I think Kristian Doolittle nabs 20 or so points to eke out a narrow victory.