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Big 12 Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and a return to glory for the Kansas Jayhawks

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big 12 Conference.



It finally happened.

For the first time since President George W. Bush’s first term, Kansas did not win the Big 12 regular season title.

It was a remarkable run of 14 years, but it came to an end thanks to a roster that just wasn’t up to the task after an injury to Udoka Azubuike when combined with the ascendancy of Texas Tech and Kansas State. Those Red Raiders now look to be potentially a perennial threat to the Jayhawks after Chris Beard got them to within seconds of a national championship last April despite roster losses from the previous year that looked too large to overcome.

Despite last year’s results, Kansas is again the heavy favorite heading into this season after retooling the roster. Other 2019 contenders suffered major losses, but there is enough talent and experience across the league to think the Jayhawks will have to truly earn the start of a second streak.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. KANSAS REMAINS KING

The Jayhawks’ 14-year streak of winning at least a share of the Big 12 title came to an end last spring, but don’t get it twisted. The Jayhawks remain the class of this conference. They struck gold with Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson electing to return alongside Silvio De Sousa, whose impermissible benefits suspension was reduced by the NCAA to make him eligible this season. Other contributors return while Iowa sharpshooter Isaiah Moss grad-transferred in. Kansas is not only the Big 12 favorite, but a leading national title contender.

Of course, the on-court exploits is just half the story this year for Kansas. The NCAA leveled an aggressive notice of allegations on the program stemming from the FBI’s investigation into the sport, and the Jayhawks, along with Bill Self, will be facing plenty of questions – and perhaps developments from – the situation all year. There may not be, however, a program more adept at successfully dealing with controversy than Kansas.

Unless it involves Snoop Dogg. Then they’re not great at it. So just avoid Snoop for the foreseeable future, fellas.

2. TEXAS TECH ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE

We all came to appreciate just how great Texas Tech was last year, but it’s worth revisiting how they got there. Remember back to the spring of 2018. That’s when Chris Beard and Keenan Evans being a badass and Zhaire Smith turning into a top-20 NBA draft pick as the Red Raiders made the Elite Eight. Those two then left, along with Zach Smith and Justin Gray. Those are massive losses to endure, and, yet, somehow, Texas Tech got even better. Seconds away from a national title better. Pretty insane.

So despite another spring of heavy losses, including top-10 pick Jarrett Culver, the prevailing wisdom is not only will Beard’s team be a Big 12 contender again, they’re a preseason top-10 team. Doubt them at your own peril after what they pulled off last year. Graduate transfers Chris Clarke and TJ Holyfield are probably going to be the keys to how far Texas Tech can go in replicating last year’s success.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

3. BAYLOR IS A TITLE CONTENDER

Scott Drew really has done an amazing job in Waco. It’s been fascinating to watch his career progression, from being the butt of national jokes to now being nationally recognized for being a legitimately skilled coach. The Bears used to be a team that would load up on huge talent, but have been a grittier group as of late.

Now it seems like Drew has a nice mixture of both, even if it doesn’t feature the NBA draft lottery talent of yesteryear. Tristan Clark returns after a knee injury cost him the second half of last season after he had been on a tear. Much of the nucleus from last year’s team also returns while transfers MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell are also going to contribute.

The Bears are going to be good.

4. THE BEST NBA PROSPECT IN THE LEAGUE LIVES IN AMES

Iowa State was the Big 12’s most talented team last year, and it saw two players (Talen Horton-Tucker and Marial Shayok) go in the second round of the NBA draft and a third (Lindell Wigginton) land an Exhibit 10 contract. The Cyclones’ best NBA prospect, however, returned to school for his sophomore season without so much as even testing the NBA waters.

Tyrese Haliburton is the envy of plenty NBA decision makers as a lengthy 6-foot-5 guard with high shooting percentages and an even higher basketball IQ. He was relegated to a supporting role last year on a loaded Cyclone roster, but he’ll take on a huge amount of responsibility this season. If he can show that he can shoulder it – and more of a scoring load – he could find himself in the lottery conversation.

5. TEXAS IS NOTHING IF NOT INTERESTING

I think there’s only one of two ways this goes for Texas this season. Either the Longhorns are really good, and Shaka Smart is lauded for finally having his breakthrough season in Austin despite not having the lottery picks he’s had in the past, or the Longhorns aren’t great and the only discussion anyone wants to have about them is regarding Smart’s job security.

If Texas is so-so or even just merely good, that’s probably not enough to quell the questions given the level of expectations – and piles of cash – that were heaped on Smart when he arrived from VCU. So, either win big or face a lot of questions. Either way, it’ll interesting to track from the outside.

(David Purdy/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This will be the fourth season on campus for the 7-foot-1, 270-pound, but we’ve only seen one healthy season from him. That year was pretty dang impressive, though, as Azubuike averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting 77 percent from the floor (insert eye and flame emoji here). He missed most of last season with a bum wrist, but eschewed going pro to return to Lawrence, where he’s likely a preseason All-American. He’s a old-school, back-to-the-basket big, which while out of vogue, is incredible difficult to stop when it comes in such a large and skilled package like Azubuike. He’s a singular force in the league – and maybe the country.

THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM

  • TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State: An NBA draftnik darling, Haliburton had a strong freshman season, but will step into a much bigger role as a sophomore.
  • DEREK CULVER, West Virginia: West Virginia won’t have a ton of talent this year, but Culver is the exception.
  • DEVON DOTSON, Kansas: After a bumpy start, Dotson blossomed late last season and should be even better this season.
  • CHRIS CLARKE, Texas Tech: Clarke put up nice numbers at Virginia Tech, but this is a bet that Chris Beard can wring even more out of him.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • DESMOND BANE, TCU
  • OSCAR TSHIEBWE, West Virginia
  • TRISTAN CLARK, Baylor
  • DAVIDE MORETTI, Texas Tech
  • BRADY MANEK, Oklahoma

BREAKOUT STAR: Lindy Waters, Oklahoma State

At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds with athleticism and a pure jumper, Lindy Waters is the type of player coaches across the country covet. He’s steadily improved all three years he’s been in Stillwater, and now looks poised to potentially be the type of star that could propel Oklahoma State into the surprise team in the league. A double-digit scorer with length that shot 45 percent from 3-point range last year, Waters has a lot of tools to be great.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Shaka Smart, Texas

After years of turning down big jobs, Shaka Smart finally left VCU in 2015 to take one of the plummest jobs in the country. Texas has big money and a big brand, but modest expectations. Smart’s arrival was supposed to awaken the Longhorns after years of malaise under Rick Barnes. Instead, Barnes has made Tennessee a national contender while Smart and Texas have languished in mediocrity. It, simply, just hasn’t worked out very well.

That’s not to say it’s been a catastrophe – it hasn’t been – but two NCAA tournament appearances, zero tournament wins and one last-place finish just doesn’t match the expectations of what Texas could and should be. This year’s team is probably going to be just fine, but, again, is that the goal? Texas doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to move on from Smart – or his $10 million buyout – but if it’s another so-so year, does Smart look for the exit on his own, potentially with a lucrative landing spot that’s a better fit?

Shaka Smart (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

The Big 12 is again one of the strongest leagues in the country, but probably doesn’t have as many Final Four threats as it’s had in years past.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …

Kansas winning a national title and giving Snoop Dogg – and his acrobatic dancers? – a championship ring.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Nov. 5, Kansas vs. Duke
  • Dec. 8, Iowa State vs. Seton Hall
  • Dec. 7, Baylor vs. Arizona
  • Dec. 10, Texas Tech vs. Louisville
  • Dec. 21, Kansas vs. Villanova

PREDICTED FINISH

1. KANSAS: Last year would have been perfectly acceptable for most programs across the country, but the Jayhawks ain’t that, are they? So they’re back this season as one of the two or three best teams in the country, and not only will they likely start a new Big 12 streak, but they could get Bill Self that second national title as well.

2. BAYLOR: It’s easy to forget that Tristan Clark was one of the most productive players in the Big 12 last year before his injury, but his return to Waco makes the Bears formidable with much of last year’s core also back and transfers MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell also in the fold.

3. TEXAS TECH: The Red Raiders are essentially trying to do this year what they did last: Replace a huge amount of talent and production without missing a beat. Given they’re projected by most as a top-10 team, there’s a lot of confidence they’ll be able to pull it off. That’s a vote of confidence in Chris Beard that few other coaches – especially with a relatively limited head-coaching track record – are given. Beard, though, is that good.

4. IOWA STATE: The Cyclones lost five of their top seven players from last year’s team, but there’s optimism in Ames with starters Tyrese Haliburton and Michael Jacobson returning, Solomon Young back from injury and the injury sophomore center George Conditt IV stepping into a bigger role. The reason to be real bullish on Iowa State, though, the newcomers who should bolster the roster in a big way. Prentiss Nixon is eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Colorado State while Rasir Bolton, who averaged 11 ppg as a freshman at Penn State, is immediately eligible and fills a huge scoring need on the perimeter. The Cyclones lost a ton, but probably won’t take a significant step back.

5. OKLAHOMA STATE: Last year was a total and complete train wreck for the Cowboys. Players got kicked off the team, and the team mostly got kicked around the Big 12. Here’s guessing that changes this year. All five starters are back, including the aforementioned Lindy Waters. Isaac Likekele was one of the standouts at the FIBA U19s for Team USA. Yor Anei is one of the best shot blockers in the country. Thomas Dziagwa and Cameron McGriff are proven Big 12 players. That’s a great foundation.

Mike Boynton (John Weast/Getty Images)

And on top of that, Mike Boynton welcomes a top-25 recruiting class and UMass grad transfer Jonathan Laurent, who shot 46.7 percent from 3-point range last year. They could easily be the surprise contender in the conference this season.

6. TEXAS: There are a lot of nice pieces in Austin, but probably no lottery pick, which is something Shaka Smart has had the benefit of early in his tenure. You could argue this might be Smart’s least-talented team. Again, plenty of solid players, but are there any true gamechangers?

7. OKLAHOMA: Kristian Doolittle and Brady Manek return from last year’s NCAA tournament team while Long Kruger also gets Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves and top-50 recruit De’Vion Harmon, but the rest of the roster looks thin.

Kruger is one of the country’s best coaches, so he could get enough out of this group to get another tourney appearance, but it’ll be tough sledding against the rest of the Big 12. Luckily for them, flirting with .500 in this league keeps you in the Selection Sunday discussion.

8. KANSAS STATE: Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade are gone, ending an era in Manhattan that saw an Elite Eight and a Big 12 title. Those three, particularly Wade, were really the face and heart of the program in its recent run of success. Their losses will be hard to overcome.

The Wildcats do, though, return Xavier Sneed, a bona fide NBA prospect along with Makol Mawein, Carter Diarra and Mike McGuirl. That’s a solid group, but is there enough scoring there? And can they be as excellent defensively as the last two years?

9. TCU: By many accounts, Jamie Dixon would be the coach at UCLA in his native southern California if the Bruins would have ponied up the $8 million it would have cost to buy him out of Fort Worth. That didn’t happen, though, and Dixon remains with his alma mater, albeit with a weaker roster than he’s had the past couple seasons.

The Horned Frogs suffered quite a bit of attrition, but still have Desmond Bane, one of the league’s best shooters, and Kevin Samuel, one of the conference’s promising young big men. RJ Nembhard, who has shown promising flashes, steps into a bigger role and George Mason transfer Jaire Grayer will help, but it’s hard to see this TCU team competing near the upper-half of the conference.

10. WEST VIRGINIA: Bob Huggins didn’t hide his disdain for his team throughout last year’s last-place finish, but the Mountaineers did show some signs of life late in the year after booting a couple players. Still, Huggins called last year’s campaign “miserable” as losses mounted.

West Virginia could be in line for a similar season despite bringing in McDonald’s All-american Oscar Tsheibwe, a center with a 7-foot-5 wingspan that could remind those in Morgantown of Sagaba Konate. It’s usually not a good idea to doubt what Huggins can get out of his teams, but looking at his roster relative to the rest of the Big 12, it looks like another last-place finish is in order.

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

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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 South Region

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The South Region is led by some top seeds who were bounced early in the NCAA tournament last season as Virginia and Tennessee look to redeem themselves after strong seasons.

The South Region is led by No. 1 seed Virginia. Following last season’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round, the Cavaliers will get a chance to redeem themselves against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, the champions of the Big South.

The No. 8/9 matchup is a matchup between SEC and Big 12 as Ole Miss and Oklahoma battle. The Rebels were one of the most pleasant surprises of any team in the field this season while Oklahoma has won some games down the stretch to earn another bid.

Wisconsin draws the No. 5 seed as the Ethan Happ-led Badgers get a major test in No. 12 seed and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon. Although the Ducks struggled during the regular season — particularly after the loss of star freshman Bol Bol — they’re a dangerous team with two recent wins over Washington.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

The No. 4 seed is Kansas State as they are still hoping to get senior forward Dean Wade (foot) healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament after he missed all of last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. They’ll face No. 13 seed UC Irvine, the champions of the Big West.

Defending champion Villanova drew no favors from the committee with the No. 6 seed. There hasn’t been a No. 6 seed in the Final Four since 1992 as the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to make the Final Four for the third time in four years. They draw No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s as the Gaels gained a lot of momentum in winning the WCC title over No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Earning a surprising share of the Big Ten regular-season title this season, Purdue draws the No. 3 seed as they get a tough first-round opponent in No. 14 seed Old Dominion.

The committee also didn’t help No. 7 seed Cincinnati as the Bearcats had an impressive showing in an AAC title-game win over Houston on Sunday. The Bearcats will face No. 10 seed Iowa in a clash of styles and tempo.

After falling short in the SEC tournament title game, No. 2 seed Tennessee gets a matchup with No. 15 seed Colgate — a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Although the Raiders feature the Patriot League Player of the Year in forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, they’ll face one of the best frontcourts in the tournament with the Vols’ veteran combo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

Bubble Banter: It’s the final weekend of the regular season

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There is now just under a month left in conference play, so it is time for us to go all-in on the “who’s-in-who’s-out” discussion. Bubble Banter has never been more important!

Some quick housekeeping before we dive into it:

  • This page will be updated throughout the weekend, so be sure to check back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the games get played. 
  • We’ll update them best that we can, but the NET rankings will be accurate through Friday morning. 
  • If you see something we missed, if you have an issue with a team we left out or if you want to congratulate us on a job well done, drop a comment below or hit us up here: @RobDauster and @phillipshoops.
  • The cut-off we will be using this year for teams that are “on the bubble” is the No. 9 seed line. If your favorite team is seeded as a No. 9 or better in our most recent bracket, they will not be discussed below. This does not mean that those teams are locks, but it means they need to do something dumb before they are in danger of missing out on the tournament. 
  • On Thursday, our Dave Ommen released an updated bracket, and these eight teams were placed in an 8-9 game: Wofford, Baylor, St. John’s, Ole Miss, Syracuse, Ohio State, Auburn and N.C. State.

Onto the weekend’s action.

WINNERS

MURRAY STATE (NET: 52, SOS: 215): The Racers don’t have to worry about the bubble anymore after clinching an autobid over Belmont in the OVC title game. Ja Morant and Murray State are back into the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. Learn all about this dangerous double-digit seed here.

SETON HALL (NET: 61, SOS: 27): No bubble team in the country had a better week than Seton Hall. After Saturday’s Big East win at home over Villanova (25), the Pirates have now knocked off the Big East’s two best teams in back-to-back games with their backs against the wall. Following the win over Marquette earlier this week, Seton Hall should feel comfortable about likely getting in. Now standing a very solid 6-6 in Q1 games, Seton Hall is all but assured an at-large entry on Selection Sunday. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Pirates perform in the Big East Tournament because they’ve been one of the most inconsistent teams in the country. A three-game winning streak turned into a three-game losing streak and now Seton Hall just took down the league’s two top teams. Who knows what we’ll see in the postseason?

TCU (NET: 53, SOS: 34): Massive Q1 road win for TCU over another bubble team in Texas (34) on Saturday as both were in an uncomfortable position. The Horned Frogs can feel a little bit safer knowing they earned potentially the biggest bubble win of the day with this Q1 road victory. Although TCU has been shaky in the Big 12 (7-11) with just average Q1 (3-8) and Q2 (5-4) results, this could be the win that gives them a little bit of breathing room heading into the Big 12 tournament. Beating Texas stopped a three-game slide and also hurts another bubble team in the process. It would certainly help the Horned Frogs to get another win or two in the Big 12 tournament, but this win on Saturday was a home run for now.

TEMPLE (NET: 55, SOS: 80): The Owls might have just solidified an at-large bid thanks to a Q1 home win over UCF (26) on Saturday. Winners of six of their last seven games, Temple has been teetering on the bubble because of a soft recent conference schedule. Knocking off the Knights pushes the Owls to a 3-6 record against Q1 teams coupled with a solid 5-1 record in Q2 scenarios. Even more important for Temple, the UCF win provides Q1 insurance, as Missouri (75) is right on the edge of becoming a Q2 win. With high-quality wins over Houston (6) and UCF, that could be enough to get the Owls into the Field of 68 in Fran Dunphy’s final season.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 80, SOS: 81): A bizarre trip to the Midwest for the Hoyas this week as they followed up a blowout loss to DePaul (98) with a shocking road win over Marquette (29) on Saturday. The Hoyas still have very shaky computer metrics thanks to a very underwhelming non-conference schedule. They’ve also knocked off the two best teams in the Big East as they’ve proven themselves to be a dangerous opponent in conference play. Even with this Q1 road win (to move the Hoyas to 4-6 in that mark), they likely need to pick off a few teams at Madison Square Garden next week to get in. Marquette is doing everything they can to keep the Big East bubble teams afloat these last few games, and Georgetown will thankfully take its extended bubble life for another week.

INDIANA (NET: 55, SOS: 48): Suddenly-surging Indiana has won four straight games to get themselves firmly back in the at-large picture. Sunday saw the Hoosiers take down Rutgers (97) at home for a Q3 victory. While knocking off the Scarlet Knights isn’t going to give Indiana a significant jump, at this point in the season, any win helps. It also gives Indiana a matchup in the Big Ten tournament against another bubble team in Ohio State in the 8/9 game next week. Depending on what the Buckeyes do later on Sunday, that game could be a win-and-get-in/loser-goes-home scenario that could make for a must-see matchup.

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 71, SOS: 67): Helping its cause with a road win over in-state rival Arizona (89), the Sun Devils continued their solid play down the stretch. Beating the Wildcats means Arizona State has won five of their last six games — including two straight on the road. This Q2 win pushes the Sun Devils to a solid 8-2 record against that group while they remain a decent 3-3 against Q1 teams. If Arizona State avoids a bad loss in the Pac-12 tournament (and there are plenty of opportunities for pitfalls) then they should be able to be the second Pac-12 team to make the Big Dance.

CLEMSON (NET: 40, SOS: 32): The Tigers did what they needed to do in knocking off Syracuse (42) for a Q2 home win. For a team currently hovering at “First Four Out” status, getting two wins this week just helps keep the Tigers in the at-large picture. Now 6-3 in Q2 games, it’s the 1-9 mark against Q1 opponents that has Clemson concerned at this point in the season. It will likely come down to the ACC tournament in terms of the Tigers getting into the field as they need to continue to win at this point in the season.

CREIGHTON (NET: 54, SOS: 14): Pulling out a home win over DePaul (98), this Q3 victory won’t do too much to enhance Creighton’s credibility. But as a team sitting in “Last Four In” status entering this game, avoiding a loss is just as important. The win for the Bluejays earns them a bye into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament as they get a dangerous Xaver team in the opening matchup. Creighton will need to take care of the Musketeers if they want to keep its tourney hopes in tact.

N.C. STATE (NET: 35, SOS: 211): Avoiding a bad loss was more important than the win N.C. State earned over Boston College (113) on Saturday. Although the Eagles are an ACC bottomfeeder, the road win still merits a Q2 result — pushing the Pack to a very solid 6-0 in that category. But, as we’ve discussed all season, N.C. State’s dreadful strength of schedule is going to be the fascinating subplot for them the rest of the season. With a comparable SOS to mid-major teams on this list like Belmont and Murray State (see below), how will the committee evaluate a team like N.C. State on Selection Sunday? The 2-8 record in Q1 territory doesn’t help. Continuing to win is really the only recipe to ensure that the Wolfpack get in.

UNC GREENSBORO (NET: 57, SOS: 116): Advancing to the SoCon tournament finals with a win over another bubble team in Furman (41), UNC Greensboro continues to help its cause. Knocking out the Paladins not only helps the Spartans with a Q1 win — it also hurts one of the teams UNC Greensboro is directly competing with for an at-large bid. The Spartans are now 2-5 in Q1 games with Sunday’s result. Facing another Q1 opponent in Wofford in the SoCon finals will also help UNC Greensboro — regardless of outcome. The win would obviously take the Spartans off the bubble and into the Field of 68 with the autobid. But even a loss to a Q1 team like Wofford is going to continue to elevate UNC Greensboro’s rapidly-rising SOS — which is continuing to look even better when compared to other mid-major bubble teams like Belmont, Lipscomb and Furman.

VCU (NET: 31, SOS: 49): Knocking off Saint Joseph’s (171) for a home win won’t do much to help VCU’s at-large cause. Beating the Hawks at home is only good enough for a Q4 win at this point in the season. Avoiding the disastrous Q4 loss is the most important thing about Friday’s win for the Rams. Winning the A-10 regular season by two full games, VCU should continue to win in order to feel safe next weekend.

LOSERS

BELMONT (NET: 45, SOS: 192): It’s going to be a long week for the Bruins. Falling to Murray State (52) in the OVC title game, Belmont is hoping other bubble teams continue to lose while bid poachers don’t knock off teams like Buffalo or Wofford. On the bright side, if Belmont was going to lose to anyone in this OVC title game, falling to a Q1 opponent like Murray State is as good as they could have hoped for. With a 2-1 record against Q1 teams and a 3-2 mark against Q2 opponents, Belmont’s profile has a lot to like. But the mediocre strength of schedule, coupled with a mediocre 3-2 mark against Q3 opponents, could hurt the Bruins on Selection Sunday. Ultimately, Belmont, Furman and Lipscomb will be the major test cases for the committee as they weigh the merits of picking a quality mid-major program or a barely-.500 power conference team with better computer numbers.

FURMAN (NET: 41, SOS: 182): Furman might be in bubble trouble after falling to UNC Greensboro (57) in the SoCon semifinals. The Paladins drop a Q2 game with the loss, but it came to one of their main bubble competitors while eliminating a chance to get a crack at Wofford. Sitting at 1-5 against Q1 teams and 3-1 versus Q2 teams, Furman might not have enough to get into the field after a full week of other bubble teams earning wins. Adding to the glut of mid-major bubble teams with no more games like Belmont and Lipscomb, it’s going to be fascinating to see how this week unfolds and where that group stands by the end of it.

LIPSCOMB (NET: 42, SOS: 210): It might be an even longer week for Lipscomb after the Bisons lost at home to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun conference tournament title game. The Q2 loss drops Lipscomb to 1-3 against that group while they’re 2-3 against Q1 teams. On the positive side, the Bisons only have one Q3 loss (3-1 overall) and no Q4 losses as they’ve beaten most of the teams they’re supposed to take care of. But now that both Belmont and Lipscomb are vying for an at-large bid, the Bisons could be in dangerous territory. Belmont has a slightly better NET, SOS and a winning record against both Q1 and Q2 opponents. Much like the Bruins, Lipscomb likely needs a lot of things to go its way this week if they want to get in the field.

OHIO STATE (NET: 52, SOS: 59): Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin (15) has to really sting for the Buckeyes. With a chance to earn a Q1 win that would give Ohio State some much-needed breathing room heading into the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes instead collapsed in overtime after rallying from 23 points down in the second half. Sitting at “Last Four Byes” status before a long weekend of bubble wins for other teams, the Buckeyes might be right on the edge of the cut line going into a very important all-bubble matchup against Indiana. Thursday’s No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed showdown against the Hoosiers in the Big Ten tournament could very well decide an NCAA tournament bid with the loser of that one being left out in the cold. We’ll have to see how brackets look after this weekend, but it could come down to that simple result on Thursday.

TEXAS (NET: 34, SOS: 7): The perplexing bubble case of Texas just got even more confusing with a home loss to TCU (53). The Q2 loss means the Longhorns are now 4-4 in that group (meh…) but they still have a solid (for a bubble team) 5-9 mark against Q1 teams. Just how long can the goodwill of wins over North Carolina, Purdue and Kansas last? Texas is now 16-15 overall and many brackets have them right on the cusp of making it. And that was before this Saturday defeat. Now that they’ve lost to TCU, Texas likely needs at least one or two wins in the Big 12 tournament to have a shot at getting in. The Longhorns might be the biggest indicator of how the committee feels about strength of schedule and NET rating on Selection Sunday.

FLORIDA (NET: 34, SOS: 39): Just when Florida was trending in a great direction on a five-game winning streak a few weeks ago, the Gators have now lost three straight games entering the postseason. Saturday’s loss at Kentucky (5) isn’t a backbreaker — but the Gators also would have potentially punched their ticket with a Q1 win of that magnitude. The SEC tournament now becomes the focus for Florida. At only 3-11 against Q1 teams, if Florida can enhance that mark while earning some more wins, they might just be able to sneak into this field. For now, it feels like Mike White’s team is doing everything they can to play in the NIT.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 62, SOS: 69): Falling to Xavier (73) on the road, St. John’s continues to make its bubble life more difficult. Losing four of their last five games, the Red Storm are struggling entering a Big East tournament in which they now need to play a Wednesday play-in game to even make the quarterfinals as a No. 7 seed. Now 5-5 against Q1 teams, and 5-3 against Q2 teams, St. John’s desperately needs to win its opening game on Wednesday to avoid disaster. As long as St. John’s wins the opener, they should be okay but they certainly aren’t making things easy on the committee.

ALABAMA (NET: 57, SOS: 25): Dropping a third consecutive game, Alabama is in real trouble entering the SEC tournament. Falling to Arkansas (65) on the road, the Crimson Tide are now an underwhelming 3-9 in Q1 settings with a 6-3 record in the Q2 sector. Sitting at “First Four In” status in our latest bracket entering this game, this loss could push Alabama into risky territory as they’ll need to win a few games next week to get in. Given the way Alabama is limping into the postseason, that doesn’t seem very likely.

BUTLER (NET: 59, SOS: 20): It’s probably time to take Butler off the bubble after its latest loss to Providence (76). Losers of four of their last five games, the Bulldogs haven’t helped themselves at all over the last several weeks — even as other Big East bubble teams like Creighton, Georgetown and Seton Hall improve their chances. Now standing 16-15 overall with a suspect 1-10 record against Q1 opponents, a Q2 loss (now 8-3 there) is especially damaging for Butler. The Bulldogs need to likely win the Big East tournament to be dancing.

MINNESOTA (NET: 55, SOS: 40): Squandering a valuable opportunity for a Q1 road win at Maryland (28), the Golden Gophers probably didn’t hurt themselves too badly in defeat. After beating Purdue (12) earlier this week at home, Minnesota gave themselves a little bit of a bubble cushion. But this Maryland game is the kind of win that would have all but guaranteed Minnesota’s at-large hopes had they won. As it stands, the Gophers are now 3-9 in Q1 scenarios and 7-3 against Q2. Richard Pitino’s bunch doesn’t have any bad losses and their strength of schedule is solid. As long as they don’t bow out in the first Big Ten Tournament game, it feels like they should be safe.

No. 18 K-State beats Oklahoma 68-53, wins share of Big 12

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MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kamau Stokes scored 19 points and No. 18 Kansas State clinched a share of the Big 12 regular-season title with a 68-53 victory over Oklahoma on Saturday night.

Barry Brown added 15 points and Dean Wade had 11 as the Wildcats (24-7, 14-4) finished atop the conference for the second time in 42 years.

Kansas State is co-champions with No. 8 Texas Tech (26-5, 14-4), which topped Iowa State 80-73 earlier Saturday.

Kristian Doolittle scored 14 points and Jamal Bieniemy 12 for the Sooners (19-12, 7-11).

K-State was dominant on the offensive boards, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring 16 second-chance points.

Stokes started the second half by scoring eight straight points for the Wildcats, which gave K-State a 42-23 lead with 17 minutes to play.

The Wildcats never looked back and led by as many as 29 in the win.

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma: The Sooners are playing much better since the middle of February and look much better than they did six games ago.

K-State: Won their first Big 12 regular-season title in six years and the second under Weber. K-State has won five of its last six games heading into the conference tournament.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma: Takes on 10th-seeded West Virginia on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.

K-State: Will play the winner of No. 8 seed TCU and ninth-seeded Oklahoma State on Thursday.

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

Best Bets: Previewing Duke-North Carolina, Michigan-Michigan State, Saturday’s slate

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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 DUKE at No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 84, Duke 83
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85

This game is going to be one that is difficult to project because we don’t have an absolute answer on Zion Williamson’s status as of this writing. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski hinted at the idea that he would not be playing after their 71-70 miracle win over Wake Forest in Cameron on Tuesday night, so I would guess that he will likely be out.

I also have no feel for what the line or the total is going to end up being because there is no way that Vegas is going to rely on the projections for this one. Put another way, if the line opens at North Carolina (-2), I will bet everything I own including the dog on the Tar Heels.

Remember, this is a North Carolina team that went into Cameron and beat the Blue Devils by 16 points when Zion Williamson wasn’t playing. This time, they will be playing at home with a chance to land a sweep over their archrivals with a share of the ACC title — or, if Virginia loses to Louisville earlier in the day, the outright ACC title — on the line.

PICKS: We have talked plenty about just how much Williamson’s absence affects Duke, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Without him, they lose rim protection. They lose their best rebounder. They lose the guy that forces live-ball turnovers and pick-six layups. They lose the guy that they can put on Luke Maye and know that they’ll have him neutralized.

But beyond that, they lose a guy that can score in transition and a guy that can get them easy buckets on the offensive glass. North Carolina isn’t exactly known for being a defensive powerhouse, but they are 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and Duke, as we know, can struggle to score when they are forced into the halfcourt and their shots aren’t falling.

Put another way, there is no chance that I am going to be on the Duke side of this bet. The question is just how high the line needs to be before I think the Tar Heels lose value, and for me, it’s probably right around (-9). I also want no part of betting the under here, but I would probably only consider the over if the total opens around the mid-150s.

No. 7 MICHIGAN at No. 9 MICHIGAN STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 69, Michigan 65
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan State 68, Michigan 66
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 70, Michigan 64

A rivalry game between two top ten teams with a Big Ten regular season title on the line. That sounds like a great way to end the final Saturday of the college hoops regular season.

The first time these two teams got together, Michigan State was playing just their second game after Nick Ward fractured a bone in his hand. We don’t have a definitive answer on Ward either way, and there was some speculation earlier this week that he might be ready to go, but for now I am going to operate with the mindset that he is not playing. The same can be said about Charles Matthews.

When these two teams squared off just 13 days ago, Michigan State changed the way that the defend ball-screens to tailor their defense to Michigan’s personnel: They went way under every ball-screen that Zavier Simpson was involved and, when it was Jon Teske setting those screens, they switch 1-to-5. The Wolverines haven’t played since Sunday, meaning that John Beilein will have had a full week to figure out a way to attack that defense.

I also think that it’s important to note that Zavier Simpson is as competitive as anyone in the country, and that he is not going to be happy about just how badly Cassius Winston cooked him when they played. Winston had 27 points and eight assists, and of the 57 possessions that Michigan State had before the Wolverines started fouling, 36 were a result of Winston ball-screens and another nine were run through Winston. He shoulders a massive load offensively, and Simpson is going to be the guy tasked with stopping him.

PICKS: This will likely be a stay-away from me, depending on what the lines opens at. I don’t want to bet on Michigan on the road, but I also don’t want to bet on Michigan State sweeping their archrival without three of their top seven or eight players. I fully expect this game to be close, so if the line gets to, say, Michigan (+5.5), I’ll buy the Wolverines.

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No. 8 TEXAS TECH at IOWA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPNNews)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, Iowa State 68
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 68
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 72, Iowa State 67

These are two teams trending in very, very different directions.

Texas Tech has won eight in a row and ten of their last 11. They are currently tied for first in the Big 12 title race with Kansas State, and a win on Saturday afternoon would guarantee at least a share of — and possibly the outright — Big 12 regular season title. Iowa State, on the other hand, has lost two in a row and five of their last seven. They were blown out at Texas and at West Virginia in the last six days and they have lost three games in Hilton Coliseum this season.

The Red Raiders lost at home against the Cyclones earlier this year, but that was a different time and place for both of these teams. Texas Tech has been the best shooting team in the country over the course of the last six weeks, vaulting themselves from outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency into the top 40. Iowa State, on the other hand, may or may not have had a fight in practice that may or may not have resulted in Marial Shayok possibly breaking a toe by kicking a door. He did not play against WVU. On Wednesday night, Talen Horton-Tucker and Michael Jacobson had a bit of a shoving match on the court in the second half.

It’s a mess in Ames right now.

PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens. up. The average of the projections is about Texas Tech (-2.5), and while this game is going to be played in Ames, I think that number will climb. Considering that the Red Raiders have won three straight road games by an average of 15 points and that they will be playing with the Big 12 title on the line, I’d probably take Tech up to about (-8). There’s only one side that I want to be on in this game.

OKLAHOMA at No. 18 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Oklahoma 59
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 60
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 61

The first thing to note here is that Kansas State is going to know what they are playing for. If Texas Tech wins, they will be playing for a share of the Big 12 title. If Texas Tech loses, they get to be the first team not named Kansas to win an outright Big 12 title since Oklahoma State in 2004. Either way, there is a ton of motivation here for K-State.

I also think it is worth noting that Oklahoma more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a win over Kansas on Tuesday night. Now they are turning around and playing on the road against a team that beat them by 13 points in Norman.

PICKS: Oklahoma has finished the season strong after losing five straight in the middle of Big 12 play. They’ve won four of their last five games, and while their defense has regressed to the mean a little bit, they are still better on that end of the floor than they are offensively. I think they can make it interesting, and I think that brings the over into play.

But the best bet here is, I think, Kansas State (-5.5) or so. I’ll be a little bit worried if the line climbs past (-7.5) because, like I said, I can see Oklahoma hanging with the Wildcats.

That said, this game will be played on Senior Night in Bramlage Coliseum, which has been known as the Octagon of Doom. They will be playing for the right to either be co-Big 12 champs or outright Big 12 champs in the first year that Kansas has not one the league in 14 years. To get a sense of what that rivalry means to Kansas State, the Wildcat fans stormed the floor after beating Kansas earlier this year despite the fact that they were in first place in the Big 12 at the time.

That building will be rocking on Saturday.

No. 5 TENNESSEE at AUBURN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 76, Auburn 75
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 76
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 75

Do you trust Tennessee’s defense? In the last two games, the Vols have put together their best two defensive performances of the season. They held Kentucky to 52 points and Mississippi State to 54 points. They’ve forced 17 turnovers in each of the last two games and held them to a combined 31 percent shooting from the floor and 25.7 percent shooting from three. Auburn, as we know, shoots a ton of threes, and the two biggest weaknesses the Vols have had defensively this season have been the defensive glass and running opponents off of the three-point line.

And that brings me to a larger point: The status of Austin Wiley. Wiley is a guy that might be able to play the role that Reid Travis did for Kentucky the first time the Vols and the Wildcats played, someone that can keep Tennessee from sealing in the paint and force Grant Williams out of the lane. He’s missed the last three games and has say eight of the last 14 in SEC play. There are only two high-major programs — Arkansas and Washington — that are worse on the defensive glass that Auburn, and Tennessee does have some guys that can create second chance points.

PICKS: Auburn is going to have a lot to play for here — they really don’t have many great wins — but I have a hard time seeing Tennessee losing. The Vols will be playing for an SEC title, and while LSU plays after them, the Tigers are playing Vanderbilt (0-17 in the SEC) at home. The Vols have to win, and rolling the way they are rolling, I can’t see them losing.

And the more I think about it, the more I like the under … despite the fact that I said the opposite on the podcast. (Whoops.) Tennessee’s defense is playing much better and so much of what Auburn does offensively comes off of their ability to force turnovers. They lead the nation in defensive turnover rate. Tennessee is 23rd nationally in offensive turnover rate.

No. 23 VILLANOVA at SETON HALL, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68

Seton Hall more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night with a come-from-behind win over Marquette, and while they’ll still have something to play for — better seeding in the NCAA and Big East tournaments, senior night, etc. — Villanova will have a lot more on the line. The Wildcats are playing for the outright Big East regular season title. Win and they get it.

PICKS: I am probably staying away from this game. I have no interest in betting against Villanova to win a championship of any sort. I also have no interest in betting on Villanova to win on the road when they have lost their last four games on the road.

No. 12 HOUSTON at No. 20 CINCINNATI, Sun. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Cincinnati 63, Houston 62
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Cincinnati 64, Houston 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Cincinnati 65, Houston 64

Houston picked off SMU on Thursday night, but Cincinnati could not fulfill their side of the bargain. The Bearcats lost at UCF, which means that the Cougars now hold a one game lead on Cincinnati. Instead of a game that is being played for the outright AAC regular season title, Cincinnati is hoping to earn a share of the crown.

PICKS: When it comes down to it, in a game like that, I tend to lean towards the home team. Unless Houston is getting three or four points, I’ll probably end up on Cincinnati.

FLORIDA at No. 6 KENTUCKY, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 58
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 67, Florida 59
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 56

The is a must-win game for Florida, who has found a way to lose close quite a bit this season. They are 17-13, but thanks to the fact that they haven’t lost a game by more than 14 since Nov. 6th, they are still 30th in KenPom and 32nd in the NET.

PICKS: That is more or less where I am at with this game. Kentucky has struggled in the last weeks. Florida has lost two in a row, both at home, but they almost always play teams close.