As conference play continues to ramp up, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to determine who are the elite programs and which teams are overrated pretenders. While there will never be a simple answer to the aforementioned issue, the unpredictability of college basketball is what makes this sport an incredibly exhilarating and enjoyable viewing experience night in and night out. For now, the Big 12 is currently the best conference in college basketball as five teams from the conference are currently ranked in the top-16 according to AP Poll. With that being said, several programs from the Big 12 will go to battle against each other this week, which should allow the cream to rise to the top and clarify the state of competition in the wide-open conference. Beyond that, the ACC and the Big 10 will look to compete valiantly against each other this week in an attempt to elevate their respective statuses as being the most competitive conferences in the nation.
Texas A&M Aggies vs. Kentucky Wildcats (21)
After winning their first seven games of the season, the now downtrodden Aggies have been the unfortunate victims of costly injuries and untimely suspensions. Even when DJ Hogg and Adom Gilder have been in the starting lineups for the Aggies, this teams propensity when it comes to turning the ball over has severely hurt their chances of winning essential games down the stretch (14 TPG). Although the Wildcats have not dealt with injuries or off the field issues like the Aggies have, they have been victims of their cocky youthfulness in a few games this season. For every 29-point win the Wildcats have over a competitive program such as Louisville, they also have a head-scratching loss to a talent depleted team such as UCLA. As a result, this contest is particularly difficult to prognosticate as both teams have gone through bouts of being wildly inconsistent. However, the Wildcats have the slight advantage in this contest as their impressive athleticism and elite coaching should propel them to a much-needed victory over a dazed and confused Aggies program.
Final Score: Aggies 74 Wildcats 78 Spread: Kentucky -6.5
Texas Tech Red Raiders (8) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (9)
Without question, this has been the year of the Red Raiders. After finishing with a poor conference record of 6-12 last season, the Red Raiders already have three such wins this year with two of them coming against ranked opposition. While their soul-crushing defense has been great throughout this season, it has been their progressive development of their now prolific offense that has allowed this program to dispatch elite programs within their conference (81.1 PPG). Conversely, the Sooners are almost always perennial competitors within the Big 12 and have made it abundantly clear that they intend to outshoot their opponents rather than play defense in any way, shape or form. Impressively, this one-dimensional style of play has only cost the Sooners two games this season, which is thanks largely in part to the MVP caliber play of sensational playmaker Trae Young (29.4 PPG, 10.2 APG). While you cannot dimish the gifted offense of the Sooners, the Red Raiders are not beholden to any one athlete and are proficient at forcing turnovers (nine SPG), which is the only area where the legendary Young Struggles (4.5 TPG).
Final Score: Red Raiders 82 Sooners 78 Spread: Oklahoma -3.5
Purdue Boilermakers (5) vs. Michigan Wolverines
Say what you will when it comes to the Big 10’s struggles as a conference, but that notion in no way applies to what the red-hot Boilermakers have accomplished this season. Since losing back-to-back contests to Tennessee and Western Kentucky earlier in the season, the Boilermakers have gone on to win 11 games in a row, holding all but one of those opponents to under 70 points scored. With four of their five starters scoring double-digit points per game while pulling down at least four rebounds per game, this is a physical team that plays the boards with ease and is always looking to take high-percentage shots on offense (50.2 FG%). Although the Wolverines have struggled to be effective on offense (76.9 PPG), their severely underrated defense has been spectacular this season as they have held their last seven opponents to under 70 points scored. However, while the Wolverines are capable of scoring in bunches and move the ball decently well (16.4 APG), they do not have the big bodies or deadly shooters needed to overwhelm and defeat a well-rounded program like Purdue.
Final Score: Boilermakers 79 Wolverines 70 Spread: Purdue -2.0
Xavier Musketeers (10) vs. Villanova Wildcats (1)
For a program that does very little when it comes to playing defense (72.2 PAPG), the Musketeers have been incredible in every way that matters on offense. Scoring 85.6 points per game while rebounding the ball 40 times per game, the Musketeers are tenacious and precise when it comes to making the most out of their opportunities on offense. While the Wildcats are not known as an intimidating gang of physical rebounders (35.3 RPG), they more than makeup for it with a plethora of sharpshooters (51.4 FG% as a team) led by Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG) and Mikal Bridges (17.8 PPG). Although the prolific offense of the Wildcats should not be underestimated, the Musketeers proficiency at garnering rebounds consistently will deprive Villanova of the offensive opportunities they need to outscore their respective opponents.
Final Score: Musketeers 87 Wildcats 81 Spread: Villanova -9.0
Oregon State Beavers vs. Arizona Wildcats (17)
Outside of Arizona and Arizona State, it has been decisively underwhelming season thus far for the Pac-12. However, the defensively sound albeit offensively inconsistent Beavers have played well in their last five games as they have held all but one of those opponents to less than 70 points scored. Unfortunately for Oregon State, their lack of ball security skills has prevented them from closing out tight games as four of their five starters turn the ball over at least 1.7 times per game. Despite not having a decent defense to fall back on, the offensively gifted Wildcats have fearlessly and effectively shot the ball well from the field (50.4 FG%) and three of their five starters are currently scoring 15 points or more per game. Although the Wildcats have been prone to relinquishing wins to clear underdogs, the Beavers turnover issues will ultimately allow the Wildcats to win a close contest even if their offense fails to perform at a high level.
Final Score: Beavers 73 Wildcats 76 Spread: Arizona -15.5
Michigan Wolverines vs. Michigan State Spartans (4)
Although this highly anticipated contest may not have the cache that it has had in years past, any affair that pits two hated rivals against each other almost always results in a very close and contentious conclusion. With a top-12 ranked defense, the Wolverines have been able to win fairly consistently even when their up and down offense has gone cold (77 PPG). With Charles Matthews (15.6 PPG, 56.7 FG%) and Moritz Wagner (14.1 PPG, 55.6 FG%) being the Wolverines only consistent high-percentage shooters, it is paramount that both of these athletes play at a high-level if they hope to topple a highly versatile Spartans program. Speaking of which, the Spartans have rarely faltered this season, with their most recent loss to Ohio State being the only time Michigan State has looked out of sorts. Scoring 86.5 points per game while holding their respective opponents to 62.5 points per game, the Spartans have consistently been able to implement their impressive game plan on both sides of the court. This will certainly be a physical and close contest throughout, but the Spartans simply have more playmakers and a proven defense that will do enough to win this game in the waning minutes of the second half.
Final Score: Wolverines 70 Spartans 75 Spread: Michigan State -9.5
TCU Horned Frogs (16) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (9)
With two offenses that will continue to shoot until the final buzzer sounds, this contest between TCU and Oklahoma will be a high-scoring affair that will most likely come down to who has the ball last. Averaging 19.7 assists and 86.9 points per game, the Horned Frogs are a cerebral offense that is designed to find the open man regardless of where they are positioned on the court (50.5 FG%, 40.3 3P% as a team). It also helps that the Horned Frogs are physical enough to play the boards effectively to garner extra opportunities to score more points (38.1 RPG). However, as great as the offense for TCU is, the Sooners are far and away the best shooting team in the country (94.4 PPG). Equally as efficient at shooting the basketball from a percentage standpoint as the Horned Frogs, the X-factor for the Sooners is unquestionably the playmaking and gracefulness of Wooden Award front-runner Trae Young. As both defenses have been largely ineffective this season, this contest will come down to who can put up the most shots. Fortunately for the Sooners, they will have the best player on the floor in Young, a vital contributor that will do more than enough to provide his team with a shootout victory.
Final Score: Horned Frogs 89 Sooners 93 Spread: Oklahoma -6.5
Creighton Blue Jays (25) vs. Xavier Musketeers (10)
Seemingly, every time the Blue Jays find a way to break back into the top-25, they ultimately lose a competitive shootout that slightly demotes them to a position of a team on the outside looking in. Still, Creighton has effectively maintained a fast-paced and prolific offense that has rarely faltered even in their losses (90.2 PPG, 19.9 APG). Comparatively speaking, the Musketeers are nearly identical to the Blue Jays in terms of their over-reliance on a gifted offense that is predicated on scoring points quickly. Normally the best rebounding team in most contests they participate in, the Musketeers are actually neck and neck with the Blue Jays in that particular department (Blue Jays: 40.1 RPG, Musketeers: 40 RPG). Undoubtedly, this is an evenly matched contest that could go either way, but the Blue Jays have been playing a bit better defensively as of late and should be able to get enough stops and rebounds to eventually win this contest.
Final Score: Blue Jays 83 Musketeers 80 Spread: Xavier -3.5
West Virginia Mountaineers (2) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (8)
Arguably the most important and competitive contest of the week, the top two teams in the Big 12 will go to battle to determine who deserves to be the clear leader in the conference this week. Since losing their first game of the season to Texas A&M, the Mountaineers have been tremendous as both a high scoring offense (84.5 PPG) and a suffocating defense that has worn their opponents with a frustratingly effective full-court press (65.7 PAPG). However, from a statistical standpoint, the defense of the Red Raiders has actually been much better than that of the Mountaineers (59.2 PAPG). Furthermore, Texas Tech has been able to transform from a defensively reliant unit to a proficient offense that can score with the big boys in the nation (81.1 PPG). While both teams are gifted on offense and defense, the Red Raiders appear to be ever so slightly better on defense, a critical albeit slim advantage that will allow them to win this incredibly important contest at home.
Final Score: Mountaineers 76 Red Raiders 77 Spread: Texas Tech -5.0
Miami Hurricanes (18) vs. Clemson Tigers (19)
A notable ACC contest that does not feature Duke, North Carolina or Virginia, the under the radar but an ever important matchup between Miami and Clemson should an exciting defensive grudge match to behold. Although the Hurricanes have struggled mightily when it comes to scoring the basketball consistently (73.8 PPG), they have usually been able to overcome this deficiency thanks to a formidable defense that never quits (59.9 PAPG). Although Clemson is slightly better when it comes to shooting the basketball (77.9 PPG) they are just as reliant on their stout defense as the Hurricanes are to win close match ups over elite opposition (63.5 PAPG). While it may not always be pretty, this will certainly be a close contest that will see the streaking Tigers win down the stretch thanks to their marginally better passing game (14.3 APG).
Final Score: Hurricanes 67 Tigers 69 Spread: Clemson -5.0