Baylor Bears

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Big 12 offseason reset: The Streak broken, will Kansas get back on top?

Leave a comment

The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Big 12.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

How will Kansas react with The Streak snapped?: You’d have to go back to John Wooden’s UCLA teams to find a program as dominant in a major league as Kansas has been under Bill Self. The Jayhawks won 14-straight Big 12 regular season championships, winning a national title and going to three Final Fours over that time, too. It all came to an end last year, though, as a roster that first failed to live up to expectations and then crumbled with injuries and off-court issues as that 14-year run – known around the conference simple as ‘The Streak’ – was halted by Kansas State and eventual national runner-up Texas Tech.

The Jayhawks, however, have retooled and are going to be the favorite to win the league again. Things change, but they stay the same, too, ya know?

Kansas will have one of the best frontcourts in the country with Udoka Azubuike back from injury and Silvio De Sousa surprising ruled eligible by the NCAA after sitting out last season. Quentin Grimes transferred to Houston, but the other half of the 2018 five-star backcourt is back with Devon Dotson seemingly turning a corner late in the season. Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss provides some athleticism and outside shooting.

That’s a strong foundation for getting back on top of what’s been the best league top-to-bottom in recent years. If Kansas can get contributions from Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji or the freshmen, they could separate themselves from the conference.

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Can Texas Tech reload?: The Red Raiders sustained major losses from last year’s national finalist, including a lottery pick in Jarrett Culver along with stalwarts Matt Mooney, Brandone Francis, Tariq Owens, Khavon Moore and Norense Odiase, but we said that after their 2018 Elite 8 appearance and we saw how that turned out, right?

Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke, who was suspended by the Hokies last season for off-court issues, is sure to figure in largely in this retooling effort, as does Stephen F. Austin transfer T.J. Holyfield. So the cupboard does have some talent for Chris Beard to work with, and Beard has shown in his three years in Lubbock what he can get out of rosters, especially on the defensive end. We’ve got the Red Raiders ranked in our preseason top-10, so we’re betting Beard has it figured out.

After “miserable” season, will Bob Huggins and West Virginia regain their footing?: ‘Press Virginia’ helped Huggins and the Mountaineers make the transition to the Big 12 after a rocky start, then got them to four-straight NCAA tournaments with three Sweet 16s. It all fell apart last season, with West Virginia stacking losses and Huggins admitting to just how horrible all of that losing was with a team that just could never get going until it was already well too late with a 4-14, last-place Big 12 campaign.

There looked to be some signs of progress late after a number of players were sent packing, with the Mountaineers beating Iowa State at home and then two games in the Big 12 tournament, leading to questions of addition by subtraction. Can that continue on to this season or will things continue to be the kind of slog that wears on Huggins, who wears his emotions on his sleeve?

What will Iowa State be?: Steve Prohm’s team was one of the most difficult to figure out in all the country last year with the Cyclones sometimes looking like the class of the Big 12 and a Final Four contender and then at others looking like a mess. That team, which won the conference tournament but bowed out in the first round of the NCAAs, won’t much resemble this season’s squad with Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker all gone, the last two to early entry decisions.

Prohm isn’t without talent, though, as Tyrese Haliburton is back with NBA buzz while the frontcourt could be interesting with Michael Jacobson, Solomon Young and George Conditt all proven Big 12 players to varying degrees. Prentiss Nixon, a transfer from Colorado State, is expected to be a major contributor, as is Rasir Bolton, who hopes to get a waiver to play immediately after a standout freshman season at Penn State. The Cyclones have considerable upside, but plenty of questions, too.

Can Texas finally get going?: Shaka Smart arrived in Austin with huge expectations after his game-changing stint at VCU, but after four years, the Longhorns have yet to win an NCAA tournament game in just two appearances. Their best finish in the Big 12 is fourth while they finished dead last once. That’s despite a parade of first-round NBA Draft picks coming through the roster. Texas cares a lot more about what Tom Herman is doing over with the football program, but at what point do the Longhorns get impatient?

Texas’ roster is fine, but it doesn’t look strong enough to compete at the highest level in the Big 12. Given the resources the program has – with a new arena forthcoming – and Smart’s current salary, is that enough?

(Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: The Lubbock native played his way into the lottery with a sensational sophomore season, and he’ll be hard to replace.
  • Dedric Lawson, Kansas: The Memphis transfer went pro after a productive individual season in Lawrence in which he was the most consistent Jayhawk in a difficult season.
  • Quentin Grimes, Kansas: There were serious expectations for Grimes in Lawrence, but he never lived up to them. He’s at Houston now after toying with going pro.
  • Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State: The Cyclones knew they were losing NWB and Shayok and presumed Wigginton would go pro, but Horton-Tucker’s decision was one they hadn’t anticipated until late in the winter. If either he or Wigginton had returned, the Cyclones would have been formidable. Instead, they’re a bit of a question mark.
  • Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade, Kansas State: It’s the end of an era in Manhattan with these three accomplished players moving on.
  • Jaxson Hayes, Texas: Hayes’ rise to first-round NBA Draft pick was a surprising one, but Texas has been churning out NBA big men under Smart
  • Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski, Texas: Two all-league caliber players who Texas will be hard-pressed to replace.
  • Christian James, Oklahoma: James gave the Sooners much of their scoring punch, and they’ll be in need of scoring on the perimeter.
  • Alex Robinson and Kouat Noi, TCU: Robinson was an assist machine and a steady hand on the offense while Noi was a major matchup problem. Robinson graduated while the Australia-native Noi is pursuing a pro career overseas after pulling out of the draft.

WHO’S BACK

  • Devon Dotson, Silvio De Sousa and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks have no shortage of talent, and their frontcourt is going to be a major problem for the rest of the leagu.
  • Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State: The former- three-star recruit blossomed into an pro prospect last year, and he’ll be given the reins of the Cyclone offense this year.
  • Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: The Italian guard was a huge part of Texas Tech’s national title-game run last year, and he’ll have the chance to step into a bigger role.
  • Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra, Kansas State: Sneed flirted with going pro while Diarra battled injury last year. Both could be primed for huge seasons.
  • Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler and Mark Vital: Baylor: Clark’s return from a knee injury is huge for the league while Kegler and Vital are major pieces.
  • Matt Coleman, Jericho Sims and Jason Febres, Texas: Coleman is solid at point while Sims, expected to be a breakout performer last year, played second-fiddle to Jaxson Hayes and Febres is consistent from outside. This doesn’t even take into account Andrew Jones, who continues to work his way back from a battle with leukemia.
  • Brady Manek, Oklahoma: Trae Young’s one-time sidekick is going to have to run the show for the Sooners.
  • Desmond Bane, TCU: The guard is one of the country’s best 3-point shooters, converting at 42.5 percent last year.
  • Lindy Waters and Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have mostly overachieved in Mike Boynton’s two years in charge, and if it’s going to be three, these two will be a huge part of it.
  • Derek Culver, West Virginia: The second-team all-Big 12 pick was one of the few bright spots last year for West Virginia.

WHO’S COMING

  • Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia: The top-30 recruit could help anchor the defense at the center position for Bob Huggins.
  • Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, Baylor: Scott Drew will rely heavily on this transfer pair as the Bears look to return to the NCAA tournament – and maybe push toward the top of the league.
  • Chris Clarke, TJ Holyfield and Jahmius Ramsey, Texas Tech: Chris Beard restocks with high-level transfers and a top-rated recruit.
  • De’Vion Harmon and Austin Reaves, Oklahoma: Lon Kruger welcomes in a top recruit and a transfer from Wichita State who fires away from 3.
  • Will Baker, Kai Jones and Donovan Williams, Texas: Shaka Smart gets reinforcements with a trio of top-75 recruits.
  • Prentis Nixon, Iowa State: The 6-foot-1 guard filled it up at Colorado State, but will be Iowa State’ defensive stopper on the perimeter.
  • Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, Kansas: Moss brings experience and shooting while WIlson and Enaruna are highly-ranked recruits.
  • P.J. Fuller, TCU: The top-75 recruit will help Jamie Dixon on the perimeter.
  • Jonathan Laurent, Oklahoma State: Former Minuteman shot 46.7 percent from 3-point range last year.
(David Purdy/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG 12 TEAM

Udoka Azubuike, KANSAS (BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
Tyrese Haliburton, IOWA STATE
Devon Dotson, KANSAS
Chris Clarke, TEXAS TECH
Derek Culver, WEST VIRGINIA

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. KANSAS: The Jayhawks were knocked from their perch last year, but it took quite the sequence of events – along with one of the country’s best teams (Texas Tech) and one of it’s most experienced (Kansas State) – to finally make it happen after 14 years. If Bill Self and Co. can avoid the turmoil, this team should be good enough to reclaim the crown they were so hesitant to give up. Udoka Azubuike is a throwback big whom the league will have few answers for while the backcourt should improve from last season.

2. TEXAS TECH: This time last year, we were wondering how Chris Beard would try to replace Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith well enough to get back to the NCAA tournament. The task is similar this year, but the expectations are raised. What we know is that Beard is going to get this team to defend, and if they can squeeze some offense out, the Red Raiders can follow the same blueprint they’ve ridden to so much success the last two seasons.

3. BAYLOR: The Bears overachieved last year, and with Clark back in the fold plus strong transfer reinforcements, Baylor is going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. Scott Drew has gone from everyone’s favorite joke to make to being a coach you can count on to get the most out of his teams.

4. IOWA STATE: This is probably a best-case scenario for the Cyclones, who will be replacing a lot from last year’s team but have a solid core returning. Steve Prohm’s team could play big this season with two bigs, and that will put considerable pressure on the backcourt of Tyrese Haliburton and Prentiss Nixon to produce. The key could be whether or not Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton gets a transfer waiver. He’s got the scoring skills the Cyclones sorely need.

5. TEXAS: A little bit of shooting would go a long way for the Longhorns, but Texas’ season will likely hinge largely on just getting its returners to take a leap forward. If that doesn’t happen, the Longhorns are probably on the outside looking in on the NCAA tournament and questions about Smart’s job status will get louder – especially with all the success happening out in Lubbock.

6. KANSAS STATE: Bruce Weber has a lot of production to replace, but Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra are nice building blocks from which to start.

7. OKLAHOMA: Losing Christian James is going to put pressure on Brady Manek to step up offensively while Kristian Doolittle should take a step in his development as well. Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves’ ability to stretch defenses will be huge.

8. TCU: Jamie Dixon seemingly nearly left for his native Southern California and the UCLA job, but instead returns to his alma mater in Fort Worth with the roster not in as strong a position as it has been the last two years. Looks like rebuilding for the Horned Frogs.

9. OKLAHOMA STATE: Mike Boynton has done an admirable job with a tough situation in Stillwater. Isaac Likekele is drawing strong reviews with Team USA’s U19 squad and both Lindy Waters and Cam McGriff are proven Big 12 players, but there are too many question marks here to feel strongly about the Cowboys breaking through.

10. WEST VIRGINIA: It’s not particularly hard to see this ranking prove to be considerably off given what we’ve seen Bob Huggins transform some rosters into, but last year was such a debacle that it’s difficult to peg the Mountaineers making a major move up the standings.

NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis West Region

Getty Images
1 Comment

The West Region has an intriguing draw with Gonzaga gaining the top seed and Michigan, a Final Four team from last season, getting the No. 2 seed. This region has some potential darkhorse Final Four team and some trendy potential upsets to keep an eye on during the first weekend.

The No. 1 seed is Gonzaga. Despite a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game, the Bulldogs still earned a No. 1 seed out west as they face the play-in winner between No. 16 seeds Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M.

It should be a matchup of a lot of length and athleticism when No. 8 seed Syracuse and No. 9 seed Baylor collide. The health of Orange star guard Tyus Battle (hip) and Bears senior guard Makai Mason (toe) could very well decide who advances in that one.

The best lead-guard matchup of the first round goes down in Hartford with No. 5 seed Marquette and All-American Markus Howard battling OVC champion and No. 12 seed Murray State and Ja Morant. The Golden Eagles struggled down the stretch in Big East play as they went from Final Four darkhorse into a potentially-popular first-round matchup.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

A dangerous No. 4 seed could be Florida State as the Seminoles just knocked off Virginia in the ACC tournament over the weekend. Coming off of an Elite Eight appearance last season, the Seminoles could be a sleeper Final Four team out of this region. The Seminoles collide with No. 13 seed Vermont, a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The America East champions had a beatdown of UMBC in the conference tournament title game.

After an impressive season in the MAC in which they became a consistent top-25 team, Buffalo gets a No. 6 seed. The Bulls could get a fascinating first-round matchup as they await the winner of the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Arizona State and St. John’s. If the Sun Devils advance past Dayton, it’ll be a matchup of Bobby Hurley-coached programs as he left Buffalo for Arizona State a few years ago.

Texas Tech earned the No. 3 seed out of the Big 12 following an impressive regular-season title. Although the Red Raiders made the Elite Eight last season, the roster is almost entirely different from last season. But the Red Raiders have a star in Jarrett Culver and the nation’s best defense. Northern Kentucky, the No. 14 seed, draws Texas Tech after winning the Horizon League title.

Following a disappointing regular season, Nevada is a No. 7 seed facing No. 10 seed Florida. The Wolf Pack had preseason top-10 hype but failed to deliver results in the regular season behind a loaded roster that is mostly in-tact from last season’s Sweet 16 team. The Gators needed some late wins this season to get in — most notably over LSU in the SEC tournament. Florida is dangerous but extremely inconsistent.

Rounding out the West is No. 2 seed Michigan as the Wolverines attempt to return to the Final Four. Guard Charles Matthews recently returned from injury as Michigan appears to be near full-strength heading into the Big Dance. The Wolverines face No. 15 seed Montana to open things up as the Grizzlies represent the Big Sky.

No. 13 Kansas tops Baylor 78-70, stays undefeated at home

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Cutting through Baylor’s long zone defense, Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji came down with the ball in the low post double-teamed by a pair of Baylor defenders. The freshman quickly offloaded the ball to fellow freshman David McCormack, who slammed the ball home over the top of Baylor’s Freddie Gillespie.

The dunk was an early indication of the day McCormack would have, as the young forward continues to grow into Bill Self’s Kansas squad.

“He played terrific, I should have played him more. He was our best offensive player of the first half, and he made some good, strong moves,” Self said. “The first move he had he didn’t go to his left hand jump hook and ended up taking a good shot, but after that I thought he was really good.”

Dedric Lawson scored 23 points, including 11 of 12 from the free-throw line, to help No. 13 Kansas beat Baylor 78-70 Saturday and stay undefeated at home.

The performance came hours after Lawson was announced on the ballot for the John R. Wooden Award that goes to the nation’s outstanding college basketball player.

Yet on senior day in Allen Fieldhouse, a trio of Kansas freshmen impressed. Devon Dotson, McCormack and Quentin Grimes had 15, 12 and nine points, respectively. Kansas (23-8, 12-6 Big 12) fielded no seniors for the first time since 2007. The Jayhawks’ lone senior Lagerald Vick left the team earlier this season for personal reasons.

Jared Butler led the way for Baylor (19-12, 10-8), scoring a career-high 31 points in 36 minutes. The freshman entered averaging 9.6 points.

Kansas took advantage of Baylor’s zone defense throughout the game, scoring 36 points in the paint. That included 18 of Kansas’ 32 points in the first half. Baylor’s strong rebounding presence was heavily tested, and both teams finished with 43.

“I think first half I only had two rebounds so coach was getting on me about that,” Lawson said. “It’s going out there and being aggressive and going after the ball and finishing plays on the defensive end.”

Kansas led 32-29 at halftime. A four-point possession five minutes into the second half turned the game in the Jayhawks’ favor.

Baylor forward Flo Thamba was called for a flagrant-one foul after the referees deemed he purposely pushed his hand into the face of Lawson. He made both free throws and was fouled again by Thamba after the inbounds play, with Lawson making both again.

Kansas took a 44-35 lead after the possession and maintained it the rest of the game.

“I think it was pretty big,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said of the flagrant. “It’s hard to come back on Kansas here; we’ve done it a couple of times but it’s really hard to do.”

With their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal opponents already decided and neither team playing for the regular-season title, there was little at stake aside from an improved resume come Selection Sunday.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks finish the season 16-0 in Allen Fieldhouse, marking the 20th time in program history that Kansas has done so. It’s the first time since 2015-16 than Kansas has accomplished the feat and the seventh time during the Self era.

Baylor: Despite the loss, the Bears finished the Big 12 regular season with double-digit wins for the sixth time in 10 seasons. Before 2010, they hadn’t finished conference play with double-digit wins since 1988 when they competed in the Southwest Conference.

DOUBLE-DOUBLE DREAMS

With his final stat line of 23 points and 14 rebounds, Lawson recorded his 20th double-double of the season. He is only the third Kansas player to record 20 double-doubles or more in the Self era, joining Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson.

UP NEXT

Kansas: The Jayhawks enter as the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. They will play 6th-seeded Texas on Thursday.

Baylor: Will play Iowa State on Thursday in the Big 12 Tournament.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Bracketology: Race is on for No. 1 Seeds

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Leave a comment

We’re just under two weeks away from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show, and the race is on for the coveted spots along the No. 1 seed line.

Gonzaga seems like a lock to lead the West Region.  At this point, a loss in the West Coast Conference tournament will do little to change the Zags’ overall profile.  What it would do, however, is send ripples along the bubble, because as we stand now, the WCC appears to be a one-bid league.

Tennessee earns the final No. 1 seed today.  Kentucky and North Carolina are equally strong contenders.  And let’s not sleep on Michigan if the Wolverines win their rematch against Michigan State and surge to a Big 10 tournament title.  We also have another matchup between Duke and UNC as we await news about the availability of Zion Williamson.

NBC Sports Top 25 | Bubble Watch

On a housekeeping note … with conference tournaments beginning this week, we’ve eliminated the CAPS referring to automatic bids; those will be reserved now as teams officially punch their tickets (exceptions made for teams traditionally known by their acronym – such as VCU).

UPDATED: March 4, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Temple vs. Seton Hall
WEST REGION Minnesota vs. Arizona State
EAST REGION Iona vs. Norfolk State
WEST REGION Prairie View vs. St. Francis (PA)

EAST Washington, DC   WEST – Anaheim        
Columbia Salt Lake City
1) Virginia 1) Gonzaga
16) Iona / Norfolk St 16) Prairie View / St. Francis
8) Auburn 8) Syracuse
9) St. John’s 9) VCU
San Jose Hartford
5) Mississippi State 5) Kansas State
12) Temple / Seton Hall 12) Minnesota / Arizona St
4) Kansas 4) Florida State
13) UC-Irvine 13) Vermont
Jacksonville Tulsa
6) Villanova 6) Nevada
11) Texas 11) Florida
3) LSU 3) Texas Tech
14) Yale 14) Texas State
Des Moines Des Moines
7) Buffalo 7) Louisville
10) Utah State 10) TCU
2) Michigan State 2) Michigan
15) Loyola-Chicago 15) Montana
MIDWEST – Kansas City SOUTH – Louisville
Columbus Columbia
1) Tennessee 1) Duke
16) Campbell 16) Sam Houston St
8) Washington 8) Baylor
9) Oklahoma 9) Ole Miss
San Jose Hartford
5) Virginia Tech 5) Maryland
12) Lipscomb 12) Belmont
4) Wisconsin 4) Marquette
13) New Mexico St 13) Old Dominion
Salt Lake City Tulsa
6) Iowa State 6) Cincinnati
11) Alabama 11) NC State
3) Houston 3) Purdue
14) South Dakota St 14) Hofstra
Jacksonville Columbus
7) Wofford 7) Iowa
10) Ohio State 10) UCF
2) North Carolina 2) Kentucky
15) Colgate 15) Wright State

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Florida Minnesota Georgetown Providence
Texas Arizona State Clemson Memphis
NC State Temple Furman UNC-Greensboro
Alabama Seton Hall Xavier Creighton

TOP SEED LINE: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, and Tennessee

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): PURDUE, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas

SEC (8): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Campbell (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Colgate (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Wade, No. 16 Kansas State hold off Baylor 66-60

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Leave a comment

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Dean Wade had 20 points to lead No. 16 Kansas State over Baylor 66-60 on Saturday night.

Kamau Stokes had 16 points and Xavier Sneed scored 14 for the Wildcats (24-5, 12-4), who held off the Bears to maintain a share of the Big 12 lead with No. 11 Texas Tech. Both teams have two games left.

Mario Kegler led Baylor (19-10, 10-6) with 13 points, Makai Mason had 11 and Jared Butler scored 10.

The Wildcats used a 20-2 run in the first half to take a 24-9 lead, but the Bears pulled within 32-30 at halftime.

Wade slammed home a monstrous dunk to give Kansas State a 43-40 lead and spark a 12-1 run. The Wildcats were in control until Mason hit a jumper and Freddie Gillespie dunked to make it 63-60 with 22 seconds left. Stokes followed with two free throws, and Gillespie turned the ball over to kill Baylor’s rally.

Wade played perhaps his best game of the season, going 9 of 15 from the floor. He hasn’t practiced for the past three weeks while dealing with a foot injury.

The Wildcats scored 21 points off 19 Baylor turnovers.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears played well after a lousy stretch in the first half. They will be a tough out in the Big 12 Tournament.

Kansas State: The Wildcats are two wins away from a Big 12 title and could clinch it next Saturday when they host Oklahoma on the final day of the regular season.

Best Bets: Previewing Tennessee-Kentucky, Big 12 title race, Nevada-Utah State

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.

As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPomTorvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 4 KENTUCKY at No. 7 TENNESSEE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 74, Kentucky 71
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 73, Kentucky 72

The biggest game of the weekend could end up acting as the de-facto SEC title game, as two of the three teams currently tied for first in the SEC standings will square off in a rematch of a blowout that happened in Rupp Arena two Saturdays ago.

The final score of that game was 86-69, as P.J. Washington went for 23 points, Keldon Johnson finished with 19 and Kentucky used a 14-0 run to open the second half and blow Tennessee out of the water. That game was won, however, by the job that Reid Travis did on Tennessee’s all-american forward Grant Williams and the strength that Travis has in the paint. His absence — assuming his knee injury keeps him out — may end up being the difference-maker on Saturday afternoon.

Let me explain.

Tennessee’s offense is unique in the sense that they are a hyper-efficient team that relies more on two-pointers than any hyper-efficient offense I can ever remember seeing. In an era of analytics and Morey-ball and the Golden State Warriors, the Vols operate on post-ups and mid-range jumpers. Just 24.3% of their point come from three-pointers, which is 333rd nationally. Villanova, they are not.

So much of that offense is created by the way that they run offense through Williams, running actions that A) get him isolated in the low- and mid-post, and B) use his strength to seal off shot-blockers when Tennessee’s guards drive. Travis is uniquely suited to being able to take that away because of just how strong and physical he is:

By no means does that mean that Kentucky cannot win this game.

For starters, E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards are actually better offensive rebounders than Travis, and that may actually be the most exploitable part of Tennessee’s defense. And if there is a real weakness in Kentucky’s defense, it is their ability to run people off of the three-point line.

And all of that comes before the simple fact that Tennessee’s guards are not going to have it easy trying to break down Kentucky’s perimeter defense. That’s the knock on them. Their backcourt is not a game-changing backcourt, and if there is something Kentucky’s guards do well, it’s guard the ball.

PICKS: It will be interesting to see where this line opens, but at first glance I do think I like Tennessee, assuming it ends up around the Tennessee (-3) that the metrics are projecting. Part of that is because the Vols are playing at home. Part of it is because of the absence of Travis.

But I think that it is also worth mentioning here that after the win in Rupp, Tyler Herro told reporters, “I think they’re scared of him, honestly,” referring to the way Tennessee views P.J. Washington. After Tennessee’s win at Ole Miss on Wednesday night, Admiral Schofield told reporters, when asked about the Kentucky game, “Hopefully we aren’t scared of PJ.” That team is aware of Herro’s quote. They are going to be play in a sold out Thompson-Boling Arena. And the concerning part of that is that during this recent Tennessee slide, one of their issues is that they haven’t been playing with the same level of toughness. This is essentially the same team as last year, but where they were a top ten defense nationally last year, this year they are sitting outside the top 35.

I fully expect Tennessee and their roster full of upperclassmen built like body-builders to be up for a fight against a Kentucky team that will start four freshmen and a sophomore.

No. 9 MICHIGAN at No. 17 MARYLAND, Sun. 3:45 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan 65, Maryland 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan 65, Maryland 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 64, Michigan 63

Michigan bounced back from last Sunday’s home loss against Michigan State by absolutely boat-racing a Nebraska team that looks to be dead in the water. Maryland, on the other hand, followed up a week where they won at Iowa and beat Ohio State by losing to Penn State by 17 points.

The x-factor here is going to be the health of Charles Matthews. He did not play on Thursday night after injuring his ankle against the Spartans, but Michigan did push back against a report that said he suffered a serious ankle injury.

I don’t love this matchup for the Terps from a personnel perspective, not when Bruno Fernando is going to have to deal with Jon Teske and Anthony Cowan is going to have Zavier Simpson in his face for 40 minutes. Missing Matthews would be a major loss on the defensive end of the floor, but with Isaiah Livers starting, Michigan should be able to space the floor better.

That said, since the blowout win at Villanova in November, the Wolverines have lost on the road against the three teams ranked highest on KenPom that they’ve played. In total, they’ve dropped three of their last six road games, and Maryland has not lost at home in Big Ten play and has lost just twice in College Park all season long.

PICKS: If I can get Maryland as an underdog at home, I am going to take the Terps and the points. If we get word that Matthews is going to be playing, I like the under as well.

No. 6 MICHIGAN STATE at INDIANA, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 72, Indiana 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan State 72, Indiana 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 75, Indiana 62

Michigan State is coming off of their biggest win of the season — beating Michigan in Ann Arbor — and now get a chance to land a bit of revenge on the Hoosiers for an overtime loss they took at home a month ago that is still, to the day, the single-most head-scratching result of the season.

Before beating Wisconsin in double-overtime on Tuesday night, that win at Michigan State was the only win that Indiana had to their name since January 3rd. They have lost 12 of their last 14 games as their offense has devolved into a stagnant mess.

Sparty has their own issues, however. They are playing without Nick Ward and Josh Langford, which leaves the entire offense on Cassius Winston’s shoulders. He was the initiator on 45 of their 57 possessions in the win over Michigan, and 36 of those 45 possessions involved him using a ball-screen.

Indiana is going to know what’s coming. Can they stop it?

PICKS: This is tough. On the one hand, I think Michigan State has a statement to make, and with a Big Ten title very much within their reach, I expect them to play like it. I think that it is also worth noting here that that game was somewhat fluky. Michigan State shot 8-for-22 from the free throw line and the Hoosiers, who shoot 30.8 percent from three (323rd nationally) made six straight second half threes.

That said, assuming this line ends up around Michigan State (-9) — the average of the metrics — I think I like the Indiana side here. In their last eight games, Indiana has covered that spread seven times.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

No. 5 NORTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 76, Clemson 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 75, Clemson 73
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 78, Clemson 71

This feels like a trap.

Because based on the way that the metrics are projecting this game, the line looks like it is going to end up somewhere around North Carolina (-5), and that seems way too low. The Tar Heels are rolling right now. They have won four straight, 11 of their last 12 and 15 of 17 since the loss to Kentucky on Dec. 22nd. In the last 10 days, they’ve won in Cameron Indoor Stadium by 16 points and knocked off both Florida State and Syracuse at home by an average of 13 points. They’ve climbed into the top five of every ranking on the planet, and they are widely considered one of the few teams that can realistically be listed as a national title favorite. Win out, and they are, at the worst, co-ACC regular season champions. Clemson has one win over a tournament team and that came at home against Virginia Tech when the Hokies were without Justin Robinson.

And they’re only giving five?

PICKS: I think I like Clemson here. The Tigers are right on the NCAA tournament cutline — we have them as the first team out — and this will be their last chance at adding a Q1 win to their resume. The last two times that the Tar Heels have played at Littlejohn Coliseum, they struggled. They lost last year and in 2017, the national champion Tar Heels got taken to overtime by a 15-loss Clemson team. I don’t know if Clemson wins, but I do think they keep it close.

No. 11 TEXAS TECH at TCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 68, TCU 64
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, TCU 65
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 71, TCU 64

Part I of the Big 12 title race tips off in the afternoon, as the Red Raiders head to Fort Worth to take on a TCU team that really needs another win or two to seal up an at-large bid. The Horned Frogs are just 6-9 in Big 12 play and have lost four of their last five games. Chris Beard’s club has won six in a row, and the first time there two teams got together, Tech was up 16 by halftime and won 84-65.

PICKS: I like Tech to cover, assuming the line opens around (-5), and I also think that this game goes over the total if it’s in the low 130s. The Red Raiders got the dud out of their system when Oklahoma State took them to overtime in Lubbock on Wednesday. Prior to that game, they had been shooting 47 percent from three in their last five games. The last time these team played, TCU let Tech shooting 9-for-21 from beyond the arc.

BAYLOR at No. 16 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 64, Baylor 60
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Baylor 59
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 64, Baylor 59

Somehow, Baylor is still in the Big 12 title picture despite seeing seemingly half their roster get injured and running out a rotation that includes seven newcomers. If they win at Kansas State on Saturday, they will be in a three-way tie for second place in the conference, just a game off the pace set by Texas Tech. They have to win this game to have a chance.

Kansas State, on the other hand, already owns a win over the Bears — which came in Waco — and are playing for the right to say that they ended archrival Kansas’ streak of Big 12 regular season titles. Motivation abounds.

PICKS: For me, the pick here is Kansas State even if the line opens around (-5), and the reasoning is pretty simple: Dean Wade will be playing. He is the best shooter and the best passer on Kansas State, and the Wildcats have been much, much better against zone defenses with him available. It is worth noting that Cartier Diarra likely won’t play for KSU while Makai Mason and King McClure will be back for the Bears, but I still lean towards Bruce Weber’s club here. I’m betting on Bramlage to turn back into the Octagon of Doom and for Kansas State’s defense to win out.

No. 12 NEVADA at UTAH STATE, Sat. 8:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Utah State 72, Nevada 71
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Utah State 73, Nevada 72
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Utah State 74, Nevada 73

There is so much on the line for Utah State in this game. They need this win if they want to have any sense of comfort heading into Selection Sunday with the Mountain West’s automatic bid. They are also still playing for a Mountain West regular season title — they’ll be tied for first place with Nevada if they can get a win.

But here’s the wildest part: This is going to be the first time all season long that the Wolf Pack will play a game that qualifies as a Q1 game, according to the NET. Other than the win in January at home against the Aggies, Nevada has playing just one team — Arizona State (63) — that ranks in the top 75 of the NET. They’ve struggled on the road this season, including a loss at San Diego State the last time they left Reno, and the Spectrum can get rocking for a big game.

PICKS: All that said, I’m going to have a very hard time betting against Nevada to win a conference game if they are getting a point or two, as all of the metrics suggest. I’m not convinced USU has the perimeter defenders to be able to slow down the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline, and I worry about Nevada being able to go small and play Neemias Queta off the floor.

I’m going to hope Nevada opens around (-3) and take the USU money-line.