Every week that passes, college basketball almost always brings about a new set of National title contenders that are hungry to prove their worth and legitimacy. For a time, the Big 12 appeared to be a conference that was rife with elite programs that were able to ignore their noticeable deficiencies and win consistently. However, the likes of Oklahoma, Texas Tech and even Kansas at times have proved susceptible to being upset regardless of the opponent or where the game takes place. This week, the ACC may go through a similar form of chaos as the likes of Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia will face at least one if not multiple tests against lesser known conference opponents that are looking to shame them while strengthening their resumes for the postseason. Will the Blue Bloods of the ACC continue to win or will they succumb to their weaknesses against either inferior or reputable opposition? Let’s find out.
North Carolina Tar Heels (10) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
Although the Tar Heels regular season seemed to be free-falling downward when they lost to Florida State and Virginia two weeks ago, they have since regrouped and have looked fairly versatile on both offense and defense. Holding three out of their last four opponents to under 70 total points, the Tar Heels have been able to score at a much less frenetic pace, which has allowed both Luke Maye (17.8 PPG, 10.5 RPG) and Cameron Johnson (11.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG) to dominate as the Tar Heels top scoring and rebounding threats. While the Hokies have the high-scoring offense needed to keep up with the gifted Tar Heels (85.6 PPG), their defense has been below average throughout the season (73 PAPG). Even though all five of the Hokies starters are currently averaging double-digit points per game, their propensity for turning over the basketball combined with their lack of a decent defense will come back to haunt them in what should be a thrilling shootout.
Final Score: Tar Heels 86 Hokies 79 Spread: UNC -3.5
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (13)
From one game to the next, it’s tremendously difficult to predict which Cornhuskers team is going to show up. On the one hand, you have the stout defensive program that is tenacious when it comes to forcing turnovers (seven SPG) and blocking shots consistently (six BPG). On the other hand, you have the anemic offensive team that struggles mightily to hit more than 40% of their shots from the field (43 FG%, 73.4 PPG). Conversely, the red-hot Buckeyes have been skyrocketing upwards as both a cerebral defensive program (have held six of their last seven opponents to under 70 points per game) and confident shooting team that can take high-percentage shots with a variety of underrated athletes (48.9 FG%). Although the Cornhuskers streaky defense could emerge and truly test the Buckeyes newly improved offense, Ohio State has been the more consistent team this year and will do enough with their impressive defense to win at home.
Final Score: Cornhuskers 64 Buckeyes 69 Spread: Ohio State -11.0
West Virginia Mountaineers (7) vs. TCU Horned Frogs
In college basketball, it’s incredibly rare to witness a program that never falters throughout the regular season, even if they have the elite personnel and coaching to win consistently. After winning 15-games in a row, the once unstoppable Mountaineers have lost two of their last three games with their inconsistent offense being the culprit in those affairs. Nevertheless, the Mountaineers defense has been as dominant as ever and has kept them competitive in both of their losses that they have sustained this season. Unlike the Mountaineers, the issues that the Horned Frogs are currently experiencing appear to be more than just a mid-season lapse that will eventually balance itself out. A program that has struggled defensively all season long (77.6 PAPG), the Horned Frogs are now going through a cold spell offensively, a facet that was vital to early success in the highly competitive Big 12. Losing four of their last six games, TCU has looked lost on both sides of the court and will most likely be knocked down with another haymaker from a Mountaineers team that is more talented and capable of winning a basketball game in a multitude of ways.
Final Score: Mountaineers 83 Horned Frogs 69 Spread: West Virginia -3.0
Clemson Tigers (18) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (2)
Built from the ground up to suppress opposing offenses with a relentless zeal, the Tigers have lived and died by attempting valiantly to hold their respective opponents to under 70 points per game. Luckily for the tenacious Tigers, this old-school approach has been highly successful as the ranked Tigers three losses this season have all come by single digits, suggesting that this program just needs a slight boast offensively to be truly elite in the ACC. Similarly, the Cavaliers have unabashedly relied heavily on their oppressive defense to stimulate their physical albeit inconsistent offense to score in transition while utilizing their size to score within the painted area. Although this contest may not feature the wild shootouts that have become a staple of this sport, it should be an impressive display of two teams that play well-disciplined basketball despite not having the top tier recruits of other programs. In the end, the size and swiftness of the Cavaliers in transition will be just enough to allow Virginia to secure an extremely close victory at home.
Final Score: Tigers 60 Cavaliers 64 Spread: Virginia -9.5
Kansas Jayhawks (5) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (12)
As Kansas usually does, they have found a way to overcome their weaknesses by honing their strengths over time, which in this case is their highly productive offense (84.2 PPG). With all of five of their starters scoring double-digit points per game, the Jayhawks have an impressive combination of veteran leadership and confident Freshmen that can score from anywhere on the court (50.2 FG%, 41.1 3P%). Of course, the recent struggles for the Sooners, particularly when it comes to turning over the ball, have been devastating to witness. With that being said, it’s hard to be surprised that a team that allows 81.6 PAPG is currently losing to the likes of Kansas State and Oklahoma State. However, while the Sooners appear to be in free-fall mode, they clearly have the skilled players to rebound the ball consistently (41 RPG) and a superstar shooter that is bound to overcome his inconsistent shooting ways sooner rather than later. With the parity that currently exists in the Big 12, I expect the Sooners to spoil the lofty ambitions of the Jayhawks to take firm control of the top spot in the conference standings.
Final Score: Jayhawks 87 Sooners 92 Spread: Oklahoma -2.0
Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Xavier Musketeers (8)
Predominately, the Big East is loaded with high-octane offensive programs that are average to poor when it comes to playing defense. Although the Golden Eagles are currently allowing 75.7 points per game, they have been fortunate to possess one of the better perimeter shooting teams in college basketball (40.6 3P%). More importantly, the Golden Eagles are unselfish when locating the open man that has the best chance of hitting a deep shot, which has allowed them to be fairly efficient with their high-risk offense (16.3 APG). Comparatively, the Musketeers also have severe issues when holding off trigger-happy teams (73 PAPG), but have been able to win games that appear to be out of reach thanks to the likes of Trevon Bluiett (19.1 PPG, 42.5 3P%) and J.P. Macura (47.6 FG%). Considering both teams have the accurate shooters to trade shots back and forth, this should be a fairly high-scoring affair with both teams scoring in bunches throughout. However, the Musketeers have better athletes and enough elite shooters to eventually outshoot the Golden Eagles down the stretch.
Final Score: Golden Eagles 81 Musketeers 88 Spread: Xavier -7.5
Michigan Wolverines (25) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (3)
While Michigan has certainly had better and more well-rounded programs in the past, this years team is nowhere near a pushover. Allowing just 62.5 points per game, the Wolverines have gone away from a relentless, perimeter shooting offense and instead have opted to be opportunistic and strategically aggressive when it comes to taking the ball away from the opposition (seven SPG). However, for how gritty and physical the Wolverines have been defensively, the Boilermakers have matched Michigans intensity in that regard (62.2 PAPG) all the while being a highly efficient offensive team (84.8 PPG) that can gash opposing defenses from within the arch and outside of the perimeter (50.3 FG%, 43.7 3P%). Although this is a revenge game and Wolverines lost by just one point in their last meeting, the Boilermaker’s will be able to thrive off of the energy of their home crowd while executing their dynamic game plan that has been practically unstoppable this season.
Final Score: Wolverines 72 Boilermakers 80 Spread: Purdue -11.0
Virginia Cavaliers (2) vs. Duke Blue Devils (4)
Despite struggling to both shoot and rebound the basketball (69.6 PPG, 32.9 RPG), the Cavaliers have overcome their unimpressive statistics with exceptional coaching and an elite defense that rarely falters (52.4 PAPG). When the Cavaliers do decide to score consistently, it’s almost always because their defense is able to garner a quick steal (seven SPG) and give the ball off to the open man in transition who can usually reach the basket consistently. Although the Blue Devils have only started to find their footing defensively, their offense has been nothing short of exceptional as they have utilized Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter to continuously snag rebounds while Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. can be relied upon in both attacking the basket and hitting outside shots when the situation calls for it. Although the Cavaliers defense will force the Blue Devils to be creative when it comes to scoring, Duke has the elite personnel and the coaching to eventually find a way to win what should be a gritty and highly contentious affair.
Final Score: Cavaliers 74 Blue Devils 81 Spread: -4.5
Texas A&M Aggies vs. Kansas Jayhawks (5)
Not too long ago, the sizeable and physical Aggies were a scary good team that relentlessly rebounded the basketball while converting their additional possessions into impressive scores at the other end of the court. However, the Aggies physically imposing luster has worn off considerably as they lost five games in a row at one point and have only recently become competitive again by winning their last two games against Ole Miss and Missouri. Although the elite Jayhawks will be tempted to look past the downtrodden Aggies, they need to be much more vigilant and well-composed lest they face another near loss situation like they did against Baylor recently. While this contest will be much closer than most think, the Jayhawks will find a way to get the most out of their experienced and youthful superstars to win a nail-biter at home.
Final Score: Aggies 76 Jayhawks 78 Spread: Kansas -7.0
Kentucky Wildcats vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (7)
While head coach John Calipari has had his fair share of young teams that have struggled from time to time, never has he had a team this inexperienced with this many issues. Unranked for the first time since 2014, the Wildcats have flashed moments of being a dynamically talented team, but have lacked the killer instinct and discipline to win contests that are within their grasp. Conversely, the Mountaineers are both disciplined and comfortable with their defensive heavy style of basketball. Even when it does not work, the Mountaineers have the wherewithal and experience to fix their errors to become a better program in the long run. Although the Wildcats have the potential to be great and could pull off a tremendous upset victory in this contest, their recent performances have not been encouraging from a competitive perspective and will most likely prevent them from winning against what is simply a better team.
Final Score: Wildcats 72 Mountaineers 82 Spread: West Virginia -7.5