West Virginia @ #17 Texas
Saturday, January 1st 11:00 AM CT, ESPNU
West Virginia (11-1, 0-0) and #17 Texas (10-2, 0-0) start off Big 12 conference play in Austin. The Longhorns have a roster full of talent that hasn’t quite congealed yet under new head coach Chris Beard. They have beaten the teams they should beat but haven’t secured a top 25 win yet. While the Mountaineers aren’t a top 25 team yet, I feel pretty confident that they will be soon regardless of the outcome of this game. Texas has been averaging slightly more points per game and slightly less points against, so statistically they seem stronger but the Mountaineers have made more of their big games, securing a top 15 victory over UConn already. Both of these teams are also very stingy defensively, so I suspect regardless of the winner this will be a lower scoring game. While I think West Virginia will end up higher in the standings than Texas by the end of conference play, these teams are close enough in talent that I’ll take Texas with the homecourt advantage.
#1 Baylor @ #8 Iowa State
Saturday, January 1st 1:00 PM CT, ESPNU
#1 Baylor (12-0, 0-0) starts conference play with a huge test as they travel to Ames to take on #8 Iowa State (12-0, 0-0). When Iowa State is good, Hilton Coliseum is probably the second toughest place to play in the conference behind Phog Allen. If Baylor can get a road win against an undefeated, top 10 squad to start conference play then the Bears will have already made a huge early claim to the Big 12 title, securing their #1 ranking. However, if the Bears lose the sky isn’t falling: This is probably the second toughest game the Bears will play this season in terms of team and hostile environment. While Iowa State has secured some big wins in their nonconference, Baylor is another level up both offensively and defensively. Iowa State’s biggest advantage is that they also play an incredibly stingy defense under new coach T. J. Otzelberger. I wouldn’t be surprised if this game ended up looking something like the Villanova game from earlier in the season. The problem Iowa State has is they are very inconsistent offensively, usually relying on one player to carry them. Baylor’s defense is good enough to shut down whoever might try to get hot. I like the Bears in a tight, low-scoring affair.
George Mason @ #6 Kansas
Saturday, January 1st 4:00 PM CT, ESPN+
#6 Kansas (10-1) has had some terrible luck with teams cancelling on them for COVID related issues. So they’re playing this nonconference game against George Mason (7-5), instead of starting conference play. George Mason did pick up a win at Maryland earlier this year, but the Terrapins have been very underwhelming and already parted ways with their coach. So Kansas should be fine in this game, especially at home. Their only loss was a potentially flukey one against Dayton.
Kansas State @ Oklahoma
Saturday, January 1st 7:00 PM CT, ESPNU
Oklahoma (10-2, 0-0) rounds out the first day of Big 12 conference play as they host Kansas State (8-3, 0-0). It says something about the depth of this league that a team with three losses is likely the second worst team in the conference as we get league play underway. But that’s what we’re looking at. Oklahoma has looked pretty good under new head coach Porter Moser. They secured two top 15 wins against SEC teams, but have also lost to an average Butler and less than average Utah State. So there is some inconsistency with the Sooners. Still, this is certainly a home game Oklahoma should win. If they don’t, there might be deeper concerns for the Sooners longterm. But I’ve got Oklahoma winning this one.