Although the Big 12 Conference has been getting the lions share of the praise for how deep and competitive they are, there are a plethora of other conferences that are doing their part to become recognized for their parity and competitive fire. In particular, the Big East has been one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball as they are replete with a number of high-octane offenses that can shoot proficiently from anywhere on the court. In terms of a lesser known conference that is on the rise, the Big 10 has quietly asserted themselves as being a defensively efficient conference as programs such as Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State are amongst some of the most disciplined and cerebral programs in the sport. This week, teams from the aforementioned conferences as well as the ACC will face off in highly contentious and crucial ranked vs. ranked affairs that should drastically alter the national rankings come next week.
Duke Blue Devils (5) vs. Miami Hurricanes (25)
Although having a top-ranked recruiting class may entice fans and pundits to automatically anoint said program as the best team in the country, it actually takes time to establish the competitive continuity needed to win comfortably every week. Although the Duke Blue Devils have looked like the best offensive program in the country this year, their youthful talent has struggled throughout the majority of the season to establish a consistent presence on defense. However, the Blue Devils emphatically displayed their potential to be an elite defensive team as they easily dispatched both Pittsburgh and Wake Forest last week (held both opponents to 52 and 71 total points respectively). Conversely, the Hurricanes have rarely wavered on defense (seven SPG, five BPG) but have struggled mightily at shooting from beyond the arch (34.6 3P%) and from the charity stripe (63.2 FT%). While the Blue Devils have been susceptible to being complacent against lesser opponents, they should be able to outscore the Hurricanes down the stretch to secure another crucial victory against an ACC opponent.
Final Score: Blue Devils 79 Hurricanes 70 Spread: Duke -4.5
Kansas Jayhawks (10) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (6)
Despite their ranking as the 10th best program in the country, the Jayhawks have looked anything but elite at times. With their improving albeit inconsistent defense overshadowing what has been by an large a prolific offense (85.8 PPG, 70.2 PAPG), the Jayhawks have a propensity to give up too much ground against merciless defenses that know how to take advantage of their lack of physicality. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, they will have to contend with a Mountaineers team that is not only tough-minded on defense (65.4 PAPG), but that can also attack the rim offensively with a zeal that is difficult to contain. For the Jayhawks to have any chance of winning, they will have to force the Mountaineers to shoot from outside of the paint, the one weakness that has been exposed in both of West Virginia’s losses. In the end, though, the Jayhawks do not have the personnel needed to overwhelm a Mountaineers program that is extremely difficult to intimidate.
Final Score: Jayhawks 78 Mountaineers 85 Spread: West Virginia -6.0
Clemson Tigers (20) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (15)
Another ACC contest that pits a defensively oriented program in the Tigers (64.4 PAPG) against an offensive heavy team in the Tar Heels (82.6 PPG), this is a crucial matchup that is essential for the future in conference success of both teams. Although the Tigers are inconsistent when shooting from the perimeter, they are surprisingly effective when it comes to making shots from within the arch (48.2 FG%) even though they struggle to reach point totals anywhere near 80 points per game. Conversely, the Tar Heels success is predicated on scoring in quick bunches with Luke Maye (18.2 PPG) and Kenny Williams (12.1 PPG) being the main sharpshooters that usually have to carry this program offensively. While North Carolina is capable of overwhelming a Clemson program that has lost a couple of close contests, the Tigers are much more fundamentally sound on defense and possess more high-percentage shooters that are particularly potent if they can get to the basket.
Final Score: Tigers 76 Tar Heels 73 Spread: UNC -6.0
Villanova Wildcats (1) vs. Georgetown Hoyas
Despite just having one loss on the season, the Wildcats have actually been fairly inconsistent on defense (69.6 PAPG). Luckily, they have a plethora of incredibly accurate shooters that can rapidly and consistently hit shots from practically anywhere on the court (51.2 FG%, 41.4 3P%). With all five of their starters averaging double-digit points per game, it becomes clear that the Wildcats have been able to cover up their defensive blemishes with impressive production from their cold-blooded offensive playmakers. Although Georgetown has had its ups and downs this year from a competitive standpoint, they have been respectable as both a scoring and defensive unit (78.8 PPG, 69.9 PAPG). However, when you consider the Hoyas struggles when it comes to competing against the more reputable opposition of the Big East, it becomes hard to imagine the resilient yet decidedly average Hoyas pulling off the upset against a top-ranked program in Villanova.
Final Score: Wildcats 87 Hoyas 76 Spread: Villanova -13.0
Seton Hall Pirates (19) vs. Creighton Blue Jays
For anyone that prognosticates the outcome of sports contest professionally, it can be a bit frustrating to analyze a program effectively such as Seton Hall. Despite allowing 69.9 points per game, the Pirates have only three losses on their resume combined with victories against all three ranked opponents they have faced this season. Unlike the Pirates, the Blue Jays have rarely deviated from their competitive style of shooting and moving the basketball consistently. Yet, the defense of the Blue Jays has been poor more often than not and has prevented this elite offensive program from reaching the pinnacle of being one of the top teams in the Big East. Considering both programs have unique inconsistency issues, I believe this toss-up contest will go to the Blue Jays as their offense is much more reliable and can hang with many of the competitive programs within their conference.
Final Score: Pirates 81 Blue Jays 87 Spread: Creighton -5.0
Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (13)
The only time the West Coast Conference is worth watching is when these two fierce rivals meet up in an attempt to garner a notable victory for their resumes before the NCAA Tournament. While Saint Mary’s has almost always played second fiddle to the Bulldogs from a competitive standpoint, they’ve rarely been an easy out and actually have a well-rounded team this season (80.8 PPG, 65.4 PAPG). Although the Bulldogs do not have a defense anywhere near as efficient as that of the Gaels (69.4 PAPG), they do have a dynamically dominant offense that has both the depth and impressive inside shooting capabilities to baffle even the soundest defensive programs (Bulldogs have six players that average double-digit points per game). Even though the Gaels are scrappy defensively and can score effectively in bunches, they do not have the personnel to keep up with a Bulldogs program that is loaded with shooting talent.
Final Score: Gaels 78 Bulldogs 84 Spread: Gonzaga -7.5
Wichita State Shockers (7) vs. Houston Cougars
Although the American Athletic Conference newcomers in the Shockers have yet to lose to a conference opponent this season, they have yet to contend with an opponent in a revenge-oriented contest. Considering the first meeting between these two programs saw the Shockers blow the doors off the Cougars, you can bet that Houston will be hungry to prove that they cannot be dispatched in the same way twice. Well-balanced on both offense and defense, the Cougars have gone under the radar as a competitive team that can win in a multitude of ways. However, the offensively potent Shockers have gotten to where they currently are because they know how to play to their strengths and can do just enough on defense to give themselves a few extra opportunities to eventually win down the stretch. For this reason, the Shockers will not be susceptible to what will be an extremely hostile environment in Houston and will eventually overwhelm the Cougars with their elevated accurate shot taking from the field.
Final Score: Shockers 83 Cougars 80 Spread: Wichita State -3.5
Oklahoma Sooners (4) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
As it has been mentioned ad nauseam this season, I’m just going to keep it simple and succinct: the Sooners are really, really, really good at shooting the basketball. Leading the nation in offensive efficiency, Oklahoma has rarely been held back by their poor defense and have been overly reliant on Wooden Award candidate Trae Young to carry them in one game after the next. As for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, they are essentially a less extreme version of the Sooners. They possess an above average offense (80.2 PPG) and a relatively average defense (71.1 PAPG) that has allowed them to remain competitive in the Big 12, although their lack of dominance in any one area has prevented them from taking down some of the more elite competition within their conference. As this is a rivalry affair, I expect this contest to be fairly close with the relentless offense of the Sooners eventually winning out down the stretch.
Final Score: Sooners 92 Cowboys 88 Spread: Oklahoma -3.0
Xavier Musketeers (11) vs. Seton Hall Pirates (19)
If you have watched any Big East basketball this year, then you know how divergent and different these two programs are from each other. Recently, the once high-octane and potent offense of the Musketeers has gone cold as they have lost two of their last three games while scoring 72 and 65 points respectively in both of those losses. Simply put, the Musketeers live and die by their high-flying offense and lack the physical firepower needed to intimidate and stifle their opponents defensively. As mentioned previously in this post, the Pirates typically come into each game with a completely different mindset than they did from the last game they played. While Seton Hall is capable of playing both offense and defense effectively, these two aspects rarely coincide, with one competitive form inevitably superseding the other at some point. While the Pirates unconventional competitive style has gotten them into trouble at times, they do have the personnel needed to improvise based on their opponent and should be able to take advantage of a Musketeers program that is currently struggling to play competitive basketball.
Final Score: Musketeers 75 Pirates 81 Spread: Seton Hall -2.0
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Clemson Tigers (20)
It has been a while since the Fighting Irish have been mentioned in the same breath with any type of reputable competition this season. However, Notre Dame has appeared to accept the fact that their offense is a bit of mess right now (77.7 PPG) and have instead opted to pour more their competitive juices into bolstering what has become an elite defense (64.2 PAPG). Similarly, Clemson has focused most of its energy on maintaining a potent defense that can make up for their offensive deficiencies more often than not. As both of these share both similar strengths and weaknesses, this should be a highly competitive affair that sees the Fighting Irish eventually pulling a fast one to shocking the Tigers on the road.
Final Score: Fighting Irish 75 Tigers 74 Spread: Clemson -6.5