As the well-known elite and lesser-known programs continue to compete against each other, fans and pundits will begin to see some separation between the pretenders and contenders in college basketball. For every Duke or Michigan State, there is almost always a Wichita State or Xavier that, while they lack the glowing reputations of their power five counterparts, have talented athletes of their own that can compete just as fiercely. Although conference play will be enticingly intriguing, non-conference affairs are essential for competitive programs that play in weak conferences later in the season. Although the temptation exists to conserve both emotional and physical energy for the long road ahead, programs with NCAA Tournament aspirations will bring the same competitive fire and grit to non-conference affairs as do when conference contests inevitably commence.
Florida State Seminoles vs. Florida Gators (5)
While it would be easy to dismiss the Seminoles as a middle of the pack ACC program, their blemishless record combined with their efficiency on the offensive end of the court could allow them to rise through the ranks quickly. Led by Terrance Mann (15.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG), the Seminoles have a roster that is rife with unselfish playmakers, something that will be vital if they hope to take down the Gators. Leading the nation in points per game (99.5), the Gators have a fantastic sharpshooter in Jalen Hudson (21.7 PPG, 55 FG%) and an instinctual passer in Chris Chiozza (6.8 APG). While the Seminoles are disciplined and effective offensively, attempting to match the firepower of the Gators will be too tall a task for Florida State to overcome.
Final Score: Seminoles 83 Gators 98 Spread: Florida -9.0
Virginia Cavaliers (15) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (18)
Thus far, the Cavaliers have been one of the best defenses in the country (50.6 PAPG) while also having what can be considered an anemic offense (70.5 PPG). Nevertheless, the Cavaliers are 7-0 and will attempt to suppress the prolific offense of the West Virginia Mountaineers (89.6 PPG). While the Mountaineers are well known for their frustrating full court press defense (66.6 PAPG), they also possess two electric scorers in Jevon Carter (19 PPG, 44.6 FG%) and Daxter Miles Jr. (14.9 PPG, 47.7 FG%). Although the Mountaineers appear to be the more dynamic team on paper, West Virginia has proven to be susceptible to persistent defenses, an Achilles Heel that will be exploited by the oppressive Cavaliers.
Final Score: Cavaliers 69 Mountaineers 62 Spread: West Virginia -4.5
Michigan State Spartans (3) vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
While the Michigan State Spartans were expected to be one of the best defenses coming into this season (62.3 PAPG), it is the growing potency of their offense that could allow this team to be tremendously dominant on a consistent basis (81.5 PPG). Shooting 50.2% from the field as a team, the Spartans have players such as Miles Bridges (14.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 44.8 FG%) and Joshua Langford (13.4 PPG, 49.4 FG%) that consistently take high percentage shots while playing cerebral defense on the other end of the court. To their credit, Rutgers has quietly been one of the best defensive teams in the country (56.3 PAPG) thanks to Geo Baker (1 SPG) and Deshawn Freeman (9.3 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG). However, Rutgers’ lack of production on offense (72.9 PPG) will be to their detriment against a much more talented Spartans program.
Final Score: Spartans 85 Scarlets Knights 73 Spread: Michigan State -15.0
Villanova Wildcats (4) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (12)
Aside from a win over Tennesse, the Wildcats do not have a marquee win on their resume. Still, the dynamic abilities of the Wildcats on offense (86.4 PPG) and defense (61.6 PAPG) cannot be overlooked as both Mikal Bridges (17.9 PPG, 2.5 SPG, 6.3 RPG) and Jalen Brunson (17.9 PPG, 4.5 APG, 64.6 FG%) are exceptionally versatile enough to keep the Wildcats ultra competitive. However, unlike the Wildcats, the Bulldogs have been battle tested throughout the season as they have defeated opponents such as Texas and Creighton en route to a 7-1 record. Under the leadership of Johnathan Williams (15.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1 BPG) and Josh Perkins (14.3 PPG, 4.5 APG, 1.1 SPG), the Bulldogs have the two catalysts needed to be well-balanced and competitive. While the Wildcats have some great athletes that will lead their team to another strong finish, the Bulldogs have more two-way players that will give them a noticeable edge in this affair.
Final Score: Wildcats 77 Bulldogs 83 Spread: Villanova -4.5
Nevada Wolf Pack (22) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Undefeated and disciplined on offense (85 PPG, 18.5 APG), the Wolf Pack have quickly emerged as an intriguing competitor from the Mountain West Conference. With Caleb Martin on offense (19 PPG, 55.3 FG%) and Cody Martin on defense (6.4 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 2 BPG), the Wolf Pack have two fantastic impact players that can lead by example. Conversely, the Red Raiders have a persistent defense (60.1 PAPG) led by Keenan Evans (2 SPG) and Zach Smith (1.1 SPG, 1.6 BPG). While Texas Tech’s depth when it comes to defensive playmakers is impressive, the Wolfpack have more explosive offensive weapons that will overwhelm the Red Raiders disciplined defense.
Final Score: Wolf Pack 79 Red Raiders 74 Spread: Texas Tech -5.5
Minnesota Golden Gophers (14) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
When it comes to possessing notable playmakers on offense, the Golden Gophers have some of the most intimidating scorers in college basketball. While Jordan Murphy is far and away the most talented player on the Golden Gophers roster (21 PPG, 12.9 RPG), Reggie Lynch also has the size and ability to be a consistent contributor as a scorer and rebounder (11.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG). While the Cornhuskers do not possess any athletes of the same caliber, James Palmer Jr. (14.3 PPG) and Isaac Copeland (12 PPG, 6.3 PPG) have been vital in keeping the Nebraska relevant this season. Although Nebraska has been competitive and scrappy thus far, they have not faced an opponent with as much talent or size as the Golden Gophers.
Final Score: Golden Gophers 88 Cornhuskers 71 Spread: Minnesota -9.0
Nevada Wolf Pack (22) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (20)
Having to face another competitive Big 12 opponent in the same week, the Wolf Pack will find out what they are made of against a Horned Frogs program that is elite when it comes to passing the ball (20.1 APG). With Jaylen Fisher being featured as the Horned Frogs cerebral passer (5.8 APG), TCU also has a consummate rebounder in Kenrich Williams (10.1 RPG), which provides their overall offense (87 PPG) with the essential opportunities they need to score quickly. While the dynamic playmakers of the Wolf Pack are intriguing, the abilities of the Horned Frogs to both move and rebound the ball consistently will give them a slight edge in this contest.
Final Score: Wolf Pack 80 Horned Frogs 83 Spread: TCU -1.5
Colorado Buffaloes vs. Xavier Musketeers (13)
Given how well the Buffaloes have performed on defense this season (67.7 PAPG), you have to wonder how great this team could be if they establish some type of continuity on the offensive end of the court (76.3 PPG). Aside from McKinley Wright IV (16.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.1 APG), the Buffaloes are devoid of offensive playmakers and are mainly reliant on George King (8.6 RPG) to garner them the crucial rebounds needed to prevent opposing offenses from receiving second-chance opportunities. While the Musketeers have already made themselves known as a prolific shooting program, their defense has improved markedly since earlier in the season (69.9 PAPG). Even if the Buffaloes perform more effectively on defense than the Musketeers, Xavier has several sharpshooters to carry them to victory, the most notable of which is Trevon Bluiett (20.8 PPG).
Final Score: Buffaloes 79 Musketeers 90 Spread:
Florida Gators (5) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (17)
Looking to continue their high-scoring ways, the Gators will be severely tested against the formidable defense of the Bearcats (61.3 PAPG). Despite not having a high scoring player on their roster, the Bearcats have a talented rebounder in Gary Clark (8 RPG) and a high-percentage inside shooter in Jacob Evans (52.1 FG%). While the Bearcats will be able to keep the Gators from scoring 100+ points due to their tenacity as a rebounding program (43 RPG), they simply do not have the capable offensive playmakers needed to outlast the relentless shooting barrage of the Gators.
Final Score: Gators 87 Bearcats 80 Spread:
Arizona State Sun Devils (16) vs. Kansas Jayhawks (2)
With the offenses of both Arizona State (92.7 PPG) and Kansas (91.9 PPG) playing at an unbelievable level, this should be one of if not the most exciting shootout contest of the week. For the Sun Devils, their high-octane offense is effectively run by Tra Holder (22.1 PPG, 5.1 APG) while Romello White is fantastic at taking care of business as a physical rebounder (9.3 RPG) and as an inside shooter (15.7 PPG, 69 FG%). Given how competitive the Jayhawks have been over the last decade, it’s no surprise that Bill Self has once again established Kansas as one of the best teams in the nation. Out of the Jayhawks notable starting five, Devonte’ Graham is by far the most aggressive and well-rounded athlete that can do it all as a shooter (18.6 RPG), rebounder (8 RPG) and passer (4.6 APG). Assuming both teams are playing their best basketball coming into this contest, this will be a thrilling shootout that will see the Jayhawks escape with an incredibly close win at home.
Final Score: Sun Devils 88 Jayhawks 90 Spread: