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Basketball

VIEWER’S GUIDE: All eyes on the Big 12

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Morning Block

A Good One: (20) Duke at North Carolina State | 1:00 PM, CBS

Duke and NC State, two teams that reached the Sweet Sixteen (and beyond) a year ago, have lost a collective eight games since Jan. 2. And the Blue Devils’ three-game slump—its first in nine years—is certainly no secret. Their 122nd ranked defense will get a much-needed break here, as the Wolfpack are dismal shooters (297th nationally in effective FG%), and they only go seven deep. Surprisingly, Duke hasn’t won in Raleigh since 2011.

KenPom Line: Blue Devils by 2

Matchup to Watch: Cat Barber vs. Grayson Allen 

A Better One: (6)West Virginia at Texas Tech | 12:00 PM, ESPN News

I’ll warn you now: we may not eclipse 100 points in this game. But don’t be upset if that comes to fruition because there’s a lot to like about this game. Lubbock can be any team’s bugaboo if you come to town unprepared, and West Virginia has to be fried after losses to Oklahoma and Texas. Texas Tech has dropped four of five but finally came alive offensively in a Monday win at TCU. Defensively, it’ll be critical for the Red Raiders to force bad shots and get out in transition. They’re not built to beat the press.

KenPom Line: Mountaineers by 3

Matchup to Watch: Norense Odiase vs. Devin Williams

GAME OF THE DAY: (1) Oklahoma at (13) Baylor | 11:00 AM, ESPN2

I guess we’ll find out by about 1:00 PM if Baylor is for real. The Bears are 5-1 and all alone atop the Big 12 standings with 4-2 Oklahoma trying to avoid its first back-to-back losses since, well, exactly a year ago in Waco. Baylor has lost just two home conference games in nearly three years, but I can’t imagine that will matter much to a Sooner squad that’s still a little salty after losing in Ames just hours after being crowned No. 1. Prince-Hield is hands down my favorite individual matchup of the season so far.

KenPom Line: Sooners by 1

Matchup to Watch: Taurean Prince vs. Buddy Hield

Afternoon Block

A Good One: (17) Louisville at Georgia Tech | 3:00 PM, ESPN2

There’s not much to say about this one, but it can at least be your Plan B at 3:00 if Kentucky-Vanderbilt happens to go south. Despite being ranked just 17th by the AP, Louisville is a KenPom darling this season, currently sitting at No. 2 behind Villanova. Georgia Tech has lost four of five but had the Cardinals on the ropes in this matchup last year before falling 52-51. Tech will get the nation’s toughest defense here, a Rick Pitino staple, and needs an efficient shooting night to have a chance.

KenPom Line: Cardinals by 6

Matchup to Watch: Adam Smith vs. Trey Lewis

A Better One: Vanderbilt at (23) Kentucky | 3:00 PM, ESPN

I feel like we’re getting close to Kentucky leveling off to where they should be in the national conversation. The Wildcats aren’t the best team in the country, but I don’t think their 23rd either. Building on a good road win at Arkansas will be key because Vanderbilt is hot since losing at South Carolina a couple weeks ago. It’s been five years since Kevin Stallings has gotten the better of John Calipari. And if the Commodores’ top-ranked 3P% defense can stifle UK’s talented backcourt, things could get interesting in Lexington. 

KenPom Line: Wildcats by 4

Matchup to Watch: Tyler Ulis vs. Wade Baldwin

The Best One: (7) Maryland at (11) Michigan State | 5:30 PM, ESPN

As dreadful as Michigan State has been lately, this is still the best game of the afternoon. You have to believe Tom Izzo gets things right after three straight losses—Sparty hasn’t suffered four straight in nearly a decade—especially with Maryland coming in a bit rattled after an overtime scare against Northwestern. MSU has to win the battle in the paint or this could be over quickly. Diamond Stone is drawing over nine fouls per game in Big Ten play.

KenPom Line: Spartans by 3

Matchup to Watch: Matt Costello vs. Diamond Stone

Evening Block

A Good One: (8) SMU at Temple | 7:00 PM, ESPNU

Even with a postseason berth out of the question, SMU is certainly playing like it has something to prove. 18-0 looks good on paper, but the Mustangs’ best performance so far was probably a 12-point win at Tulsa. Temple has been up and down since week one but still boasts three impressive wins: two over Cincinnati and a roadie at UConn. Nic Moore and Ben Moore (unrelated) is one of the best one-two punches in the country. The Owls’ 301st ranked effective FG% could be especially damning in this matchup. 

KenPom Line: Mustangs by 5

Matchup to Watch: Jaylen Bond vs. Jordan Tolbert

A Better One: (18) Butler at Creighton | 6:30 PM, FS1

After starting 11-1, Butler has lost four of six and won’t be ranked come Monday. A Kris Dunn buzzer-beater on Jan. 12 has turned out to be the only thing keeping Creighton from a four-game win streak, and the Blue Jays have been producing offensively, scoring 83 points per game in their four Big East wins. If things are clicking in the Butler backcourt, the Bulldogs should be able to survive this road test. Kellen Dunham is averaging 19 ppg since the new year. 

KenPom Line: Blue Jays by 4

Matchup to Watch: Maurice Watson vs. Roosevelt Jones

The Best One: (12)Arizona at California | 7:30 PM, ESPN

Starting PG Tyron Wallace is going to be an enormous loss for a Cal team that has failed spectacularly to live up to preseason expectations. The Golden Bears have lost three of four and will play host to an Arizona team that is scoring—ready for this?—a whopping 90 points per game in conference play. The Wildcats only go seven deep, but Cal is young and pretty shaky defensively. I think KenPom’s 1-point line is generous for Cal, but what do I know?

KenPom Line: Wildcats by 1

Matchup to Watch: Jaylen Brown vs. Ryan Anderson

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