Texas Tech @ #18 TCU
Saturday, December 31st 11:00 AM CT, ESPNU
Big 12 conference play officially begins with a morning tip between #18 TCU (11-1) and Texas Tech (10-2). The Horned Frogs escaped their nonconference slate with only one loss (a relatively bad one to Northwestern State, but no season killer). TCU also notched wins against the likes of then #25 Iowa, Cal, SMU, Utah, and Providence. The Frogs’ go-to guy is certainly Mike Miles Jr., who averages 18.1 ppg. On the other side of the court, Texas Tech pushed through nonconference play with only two losses to Ohio State and then #10 Creighton. The problem for the Red Raiders, however, is they don’t really have any notable wins. So TCU is certainly more battle tested at this point. I especially like them to get the win at home.
#12 Baylor @ Iowa State
Saturday, December 31st 1:00 PM CT, ESPNU
#12 Baylor (10-2) has had a somewhat shaky ending to its nonconference schedule, at least in terms of some score margins. Honestly, that doesn’t worry me much though given they’re on a five game winning streak that includes neutral site victories over then #14 Gonzaga and Washington State. The Bears also have a win against then #8 UCLA, and their two losses were against Marquette and then #16 Virginia. Baylor has plenty of talent, led by Adam Flagler who’s averaging 16.1 ppg. Iowa State (9-2) also had a pretty good nonconference slate, which included a win over then #1 North Carolina and wins over Villanova and St. John’s. Their losses were to then #20 UConn and Iowa. Similar to last year, Iowa State is a team that’s going to rely on defense first, as they only have three players averaging double digits and none of them are averaging more than 14 ppg. Usually, Ames is a pretty scary place to play. However, Scott Drew’s teams tend to seem unfazed as the Bears have not lost in Hilton Coliseum since 2018. I like the Bears here in a defensive battle.
Oklahoma State @ #4 Kansas
Saturday, December 31st 1:00 PM CT, CBS
#4 Kansas (11-1) had a nearly spotless nonconference run, save their loss to then #22 Tennessee, where the Jayhawks could only amass 50 points. Outside of that, Kansas picked up wins over the likes of Duke, Wisconsin, Seton Hall, Missouri, Indiana, and NC State. So the Jayhawks have plenty of battle experience and are led by Jalen Wilson, who is averaging an eye-popping 21.1 ppg. The name of the game for other Big 12 schools will be slowing him down. On the other side, Oklahoma State (8-4) had one of the rockiest nonconference slates in the Big 12, which saw losses to Southern Illinois, UCF, then #8 UConn, and Virginia Tech. Their most notable win was... Wichita State? Tulsa? So the Cowboys are at a heavy disadvantage in this one in terms of experience, which I think will show.
#6 Texas @ Oklahoma
Saturday, December 31st 1:00 PM CT, ESPN+
#6 Texas (11-1) has looked highly impressive on the court. Off the court, there has been plenty of drama surrounding head coach Chris Beard and his family violence arrest. The Longhorns have kept the ship on course even through that turmoil, with their sole loss coming to then #17 Illinois. They also have wins over Gonzaga, Creighton, and Stanford. They’ll be thrown right into the fire in conference play, as they travel to rival Oklahoma (9-3). The Sooners have had three losses to Sam Houston, Villanova, and then #9 Arkansas. They have wins over Florida, Ole Miss, Seton Hall, and Nebraska. The Sooners are going to lean heavily on Grant Sherfield, who is far and away the team’s leading scorer, averaging 18 ppg. While I think the head coach turmoil at Texas will catch up to them during conference play, I’m not sure it happens here.
#24 West Virginia @ Kansas State
Saturday, December 31st 6:00 PM CT, ESPN+
#24 West Virginia (10-2) had a pretty solid nonconference run, which snuck them into the top 25. Their two losses came against Xavier and then #24 Purdue. They have wins against Pitt and Florida. The Mountaineers rely on a balanced offensive attack, with four players averaging double digit scoring. Kansas State (11-1) has an impressive record so far under first year head coach Jerome Tang. However, the quality wins have been lacking for the Wildcats, as their most notable wins have been against mid-caliber teams like LSU, Cal, Wichita State, and Nebraska. Their one loss was at Butler. For KState, it all starts with Keyontae Johnson, who is averaging 17.7 ppg. I actually like the Wildcats to notch an upset here at home, since I think these teams are pretty evenly matched.
66-62 Kansas State