Thursday Night College Hoops: Back the Under in Lubbock

The college basketball season continues to march on as many teams across the country continue to kick off their conference schedule with many other teams starting to end their non-conference slates.  

The Thursday Night college hoops slate looks to be the lightest schedule of a loaded week of games, but despite the smaller slate of action, there are still enticing games to jump in on. 

Here are the plays I am backing tonight, including a pick from tonight’s Big 12 heavyweight matchup between 5th ranked Kansas and 14th ranked Texas Tech.

#5 Kansas at #14 Texas Tech

Spread: Texas Tech -3.5
Total: O/U 135.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN

The game of the evening takes us to Lubbock, Texas where 5th ranked Kansas meets 14th ranked Texas Tech in the Big 12 conference opener for both schools.  Each team enters tonight’s contest with matching 6-1 records, with the Jayhawks playing the tougher schedule to date.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk has rattled off six straight wins after their opening loss to #1 Gonzaga, headlined by victories over #9 Creighton and a Kentucky team still finding their way, while Texas Tech lost their lone test of the season 64-53 to then #17 Houston and has wins over teams with a combined 9-20 mark to begin the new year.

While each team enters tonight’s game boasting offenses averaging 75 points per contest, the two teams are likely to play at a much slower pace tonight and defense will almost surely be the focal point of each team. 

Texas Tech enters tonight’s Big 12 opener with the best defensive unit in the country, and Chris Beard’s crew has landed in the Top 10 for defensive efficiency in each of his four seasons in Lubbock.  Their defensive numbers are downright beautiful through the first seven games of the schedule, as the Red Raiders are forcing turnovers on 30% of their opponent’s possessions and are holding teams to just 25% shooting from downtown.

The Jayhawks are not lacking for defense either.  So far this season they stake claim to the 6th overall defensive unit in college basketball and have held their opponents to just 29% shooting from three-point range.

This has all the makings of an all-out slugfest tonight and what else would you expect from two of the best teams in college basketball?

Kansas Players to Know

While Kansas lost a lot of talent when it watched Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike leave for the NBA, Bill Self has once again restocked his cupboard of talent this time with highly-touted freshman Jalen Wilson.

Wilson leads the Jayhawks in scoring with 15.3 points per contest and is shooting the three-ball at a 38 percent clip.  Junior Ochai Agbaji (14.1 ppg, 46% 3PM) and Christian Braun (11.9 ppg, 44.4% 3PM) give Self even more range from outside, while 6-10 junior David McCormack is Kansas’ best rim protector and fourth Kansas starter currently averaging double digits in scoring at just over 10 points per game.

The most important player this evening, however, is likely to be that of senior Marcus Garrett.  While Garrett is not the most dangerous scoring threat on the floor (8.6 ppg), he is Self’s best perimeter defender and a complete pest for the opposition to deal with. 

Why will he be so important?  Well, that’s a wonderful segue into the next section!

Texas Tech Players to Know

The Red Raiders’ best player of the young season has been that of former Georgetown product Mac McClung (14.1 ppg, 33.3% 3PM).  McClung is the catalyst for the entire Texas Tech offensive attack, and how he’s able to handle the relentless defense from Marcus Garrett will tell us a lot of how this matchup figures to go.

If Garrett can lock down McClung in the same manner he’s locked down many other guards across college basketball, the onus to score will fall on the shoulders of sophomore Terrance Shannon (11.8 ppg) and junior Kyler Edwards (11.3 ppg, 38% 3PM). 

Edwards is currently the teams’ most consistent shooter from long range, but collectively Texas Tech is a very poor outside shooting team (35% 3PM, 104th overall).  And they’ve been poor against teams that they are noticeably far inferior to the talent Beard has on the floor. 

The Red Raiders are also a smaller team, with no one in Texas Tech’s regular rotation being taller than 6-8 (Beard has a 7-1 freshman center who has only seen action in garbage time), but Kansas also has a roster comprised mostly of smaller players so their disadvantage in the frontcourt will not be as pronounced in this matchup as it could be further down the road.

Kansas-Texas Tech Prediction & Best Bet

With Baylor looking like the clear favorite to win the Big 12, this matchup will go a long way towards figuring out who the second-best team in the conference is.  Both Kansas and Texas Tech should reside in the Top 15 of the polls for the majority of the season, and each team will once again be a very difficult out in March.

Tonight, however, is a total toss-up in terms of who will come out victorious.  If I had to pick a winner I would lean with the oddsmakers here and take Texas Tech as home favorites, but I feel like the temperature of this game screams “under” as Texas Tech’s smothering defense should slow down the Jayhawks bevy of outside shooters, while Kansas’ tough perimeter defense will make offense for the Red Raiders hard to come by.

I will be taking the under and looking for windows to bet the game live.  If you love defensive basketball, this will be the matchup for you.

Prediction: Texas Tech 68, Kansas 64
Best Bet: UNDER 135.5  

#9 Creighton at St. John’s

Spread: Creighton -6.5
Total: O/U 157.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, FS1

If two Big 12 teams shooting sub 40% percent on the evening isn’t your thing, the Big East has a game for you.

9th ranked Creighton (4-2 overall, 0-1 Big East) looks to bounce back from an 89-84 home loss to Marquette when it pays a visit to conference foe St. John’s (5-3 overall, 0-2 Big East) tonight.

The Red Storm are also looking to bounce back from a recent skid, as they have dropped their first two conference games of the season, most recently a 97-94 OT loss to Georgetown this past Sunday. 

The scoreboard should light up all evening as St. John’s plays at a blistering pace (14th overall tempo in the country per KenPom) under coach Mike Anderson, while Creighton has the 5th most efficient offense in college basketball, shoots nearly 60 percent from the floor and is averaging 85 points per game.

Neither team figures to play much defense tonight, hence why the total is pushing the 160 range, but that should keep the game entertaining, to say the least.

Creighton Players to Know

As we’ve discussed at length in recent pieces highlighting Creighton, the Bluejays have a treasure trove of three-point shooters that they unleash on their opposition seemingly from start to finish.

Greg McDermott’s Bluejays have five players averaging double-figures in scoring and all five players can shoot the three, each shooting better than 34% from distance.  The catalyst of their offensive attack falls on the shoulders of senior guards Denzel Mahoney (16.2 ppg, 42.1% 3PM) and Mitch Ballock (10.7 ppg, 38.6 3PM).  Marcus Zegarowski is the teams’ best distributor and is also a sniper from long range (13.8 ppg, 34.1% 3PM), and Christian Bishop is a 6-7 forward that is shooting the three-ball at a 50 percent clip.

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the team that has a roster of outside shooters is not exactly a team that also believes in relentless defense.  The Bluejays enter tonight’s game with the 249th overall three-point defense and are outside of the top 160 in forced turnover percentage and offensive rebounding. 

Teams also average about 17 seconds a possession when going against the Creighton defense (265th overall in college basketball), indicating that an open shot is not hard to come by when playing against the boys from Omaha.

St. John’s Players to Know

Mike Anderson is slowly rebuilding the Johnnies after the disastrous Chris Mullin regime, and while they struggle shooting the three (231st overall in NCAA), they have a stable of athletes that can shine in Anderson’s torrid style of basketball.

The main component of the Red Storm attack is sophomore guard and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Julian Champagnie.  Champagnie is averaging nearly 21 points a game with eight rebounds chipped in, and he’s been especially dependable from the free-throw line where he’s converted on nearly 87 percent of his free throws.

Junior tandem Vince Cole (12.5 ppg, 35.5% 3PM) and Greg Williams Jr. (12.1 ppg, 36.8% 3PM) give the Johnnies their best role players and threats from outside, while 6-10 junior Isaih Moore (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is Anderson’s most dependable rim protector down low.

As could be expected with Anderson’s frenetic style of basketball, St. John’s is downright miserable on defense when they are unable to force a turnover.  While the ’40 minutes of hell’ mantra does have St. John’s forcing turnovers on 25% of their opposition’s possessions (28th overall in NCAA), and the 8th best steal rate in the nation, when they do not force a turnover it typically ends in an easy bucket for the other side.

St. John’s boasts the 250th ranked three-point shooting defense and gives up a basket on 56% of their opponent’s possessions (285th in NCAA).  That could post a great number of challenges for a team that happens to be facing one of the best offensive teams in the country.  

Creighton – St. John’s Prediction & Best Bet

Everything about this matchup screams a prime bounce-back spot for the Bluejays.  Despite the two recent setbacks to Missouri and Marquette, Creighton still very much remains as one of the most dangerous teams in all of college basketball. 

St. John’s is gradually improving under Mike Anderson, but this is just a bad matchup for them all around.  I am taking Creighton to cover the spread and also sprinkling some on the over as, despite the eye-popping 157.5 number, I think that’s kind of low for these two teams.

Prediction: Creighton 87, St. John’s 78
Best Bet: Creighton -6.5; OVER 157.5

Omaha at Wyoming

Spread: Wyoming -10.5
Total: O/U 146.5
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET, N/A

For our final game on the Thursday betting card, we’re going a little off the beaten path for some quality Summit League vs. Mountain West action. 

Omaha (2-6 overall) plays its sixth-consecutive road game, and second game in as many nights, when they visit Wyoming (5-1 overall) in Laramie.

The Mavericks are coming off of a 91-49 blowout at the hands of Colorado last night and have dropped five of their last six games with their lone victory being a two-point win over SIU Edwardsville (331st overall KenPom). 

Meanwhile, Wyoming has been a pleasant surprise to date with a 5-1 record, but they have played the 306th overall schedule so that record is likely a bit misleading at this point in the season.  Nonetheless, they do get another favorable draw tonight with an Omaha team that doesn’t do much of anything well.

Omaha Players to Know

The Mavericks’ best player and leading scorer through the first eight games of the season are that of bench player Marlon Ruffin (11.8 ppg), with starters Matt Pile (9.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and Wanjang Tut (8.1 ppg) being Omaha’s best secondary players.  It’s rare to see the talent flipped to where their best bench player is outperforming every starter, but this is the Summit League and there are no rules here.

Wyoming Players to Know

Through the first six games of the season, the Cowboys boast a Top 50 program in both three-point shooting (46th overall) and shots inside the three-point stripe (48th overall), and they’ve shown a great ability to limit turnovers with the 18th best turnover rate in college basketball.

While Wyoming has certainly played a schedule full of cupcakes, they’ve made the most of it and are quietly one of the most efficient scoring units in all of college basketball, at least in these games against the bottom feeders of the college basketball world.

Wyoming is led by their trio of guards: Marcus Williams (18.3 ppg), Kenny Foster (15.8 ppg, 67% 3PM), and Hunter Maldonado (15.5 ppg).  Collectively, the Cowboys as a whole love to create open looks from the outside, with three key contributors shooting the ball from the perimeter at better than a 40 percent rate from downtown.

That does not bode well for an Omaha team that has been away from home for a while and does not defend the three-ball whatsoever.

Omaha – Wyoming Prediction & Best Bet

Typically, I would be hard-pressed to lay a double-digit line on a team that went 7-23 in the regular season a year ago, no matter who they may be playing.  But Omaha is in a very tough spot playing in their second game in as many nights in a place that’s hard enough to get a road win under normal circumstances, much less in the middle of a season being held during a pandemic.

Omaha only has one more non-conference game after this and then they can return to the comfort of playing Summit League teams at home.  Tonight, however, they will endure yet another blowout.  I will take Wyoming to cover the 10.5-point spread.

Prediction: Wyoming 84, Omaha 69
Best Bet: Wyoming -10.5

Tuesday College Hoops Best Bets: Back the Illini to Rebound

Well, Monday wasn’t the best way to kick off the college basketball betting week, as yours truly went 0-2 last evening thanks to Marquette shooting the ball like the entire team was on fire like a game of NBA Jam.

Fortunately, the college basketball gods have blessed us with another jam-packed schedule!  Here are the three games I’m eyeing the most this evening.   

#24 Clemson at Virginia Tech

Spread: VA Tech -2
Total: O/U 126.5
Time/TV: 6:30 PM ET, ACC Network

While Clemson faithful may be slightly more attentive to their football team, the basketball side of things has gone tremendously well to open up the 2020 season.  The Tigers currently sit at #24 in the AP Top 25 and have opened the season with a 5-0 record, covering in all five games of the early season.  Their most recent victory was a 64-56 defeat of Alabama, and the Tigers already have notched wins over the likes of Mississippi State, Purdue, and Maryland, giving Clemson a strong non-conference schedule before they jump feet first into ACC play.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech soared up to #15 in the AP Top 25 thanks in large part to their 81-73 overtime win over #3 Villanova back on November 28th, but last Tuesday they were devoured 75-55 by a rebuilding Penn State team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  They’ve since fallen completely out of the rankings and have spent the last week stewing over their poor performance.

Clemson Players to Watch

Unlike their football team, the Clemson basketball team is largely devoid of any star talent.  However, the Tigers present one of the deeper units in the ACC and boast the 2nd best defensive efficiency in all of college basketball.

Clemson is led by the team’s leading scorer, senior big man Aamir Simms (11.6 ppg, 20% 3PM).  No other Clemson player averages double-digits in scoring, but coach Brad Brownell loves to rotate players as a means to keep the defense coming in waves.  The Tigers feature eleven players in total that have logged 10 minutes or more in their first five games, and the team as a whole is holding their opponents to just over 51 points per game on sub 35% shooting. 

If the Hokies had issues with Penn State’s slow tempo and defensive approach, they could be in for a frustrating evening against one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball.  

Virginia Tech Players to Watch

Unlike their opponents tonight, the Hokies have a trio of players they lean on for most of their offensive production, and while Mike Young’s team will go to their bench, they’re nowhere near as deep as Clemson as a whole. 

However, thanks to the likes of Keve Aluma (15.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 42.9% 3PM) and the backcourt tandem of Tyrece Radford (11.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Nahiem Alleyne (11.0 ppg), the Hokies still have plenty of firepower to give any defense trouble, including one as proficient as Clemson’s.  

Clemson-VA Tech Prediction

Following a disappointing showing a week ago, the Hokies hope to bounce back on their home floor against a Clemson team they are 7-1 against in their last eight matchups in Blacksburg.  There’s been another constant in this series and that’s the under.  In the last five games played between Clemson and VA Tech in Blacksburg, the total has gone under in all five matchups.

The Hokies enter tonight’s game with the 343rd overall tempo in the nation.  They play a slow, methodical brand of basketball and when they are not creating easy buckets from their defensive play, they can struggle mightily to put points on the scoreboard.  We got another reminder of this a week ago when the Hokies labored to a 55-point evening.

Conversely, Clemson also plays at a slow pace (312th overall) and defends like nobody else in the ACC outside of Virginia.  This has all the makings of another grind it out, defensive game and I could see either team coming out of this game with the win.  If I were to bet on a side to win, I would slightly favor Clemson, but I believe the under is a much better play tonight so I will go with that.

Prediction: Clemson 60, VA Tech 58
Best Bet:
UNDER 126.5

Minnesota at #13 Illinois

Spread: Illinois -8
Total: O/U 146.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2

Undefeated Minnesota faces its biggest test of the young season when they visit 13th ranked Illinois to kick off the Big Ten Conference schedule for both schools.

The Illini enter tonight’s game with a 4-2 record, with losses coming in the past two weeks to #2 Baylor and a surprising 81-78 upset at the hands of Missouri on Saturday.  Despite their recent setback, however, they remain as one of the bigger contenders in the supremely loaded Big Ten Conference.

Illinois’ opponent for their conference opener is none other than the 6-0 Minnesota Golden Gophers, but before you gravitate over to their sterling record know that Richard Pitino’s team has played such a cupcake schedule it should be sponsored by Betty Crocker. 

The Gophers have played the 258th strongest schedule to date this season and two of their six victories came at the expense of Loyola Marymount.  Minnesota’s best win to date was an 85-80 victory over ACC basement dweller Boston College, and their other victories came against Green Bay, North Dakota, and UMKC.  They’re not exactly entering tonight’s game with the most decorated resume.

Tonight will answer a lot of questions as to what team Pitino has at his disposal in what could be his make or break season with the Gophers.

Minnesota Players to Watch

The unquestioned leader of the Golden Gophers is that of junior guard Marcus Carr, and through the first six games of the season, Carr has looked terrific.  Carr is averaging just under 24 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range.  If the Gophers are to pull the upset tonight, Carr will be a big reason why.

Joining Carr in the backcourt is fellow junior sharpshooter Both Gach (15.3 ppg, 40% 3PM), and 7-footer Liam Robbins gives the Gophers an imposing rim protector down low.   Jamal Mashburn Jr. is the most notable freshman on the roster, but mainly because of his namesake and not for his play thus far.  

While the Gophers aren’t the most talented team in the conference, they certainly have enough to give the elite teams in the conference a run for their money. 

Illinois Players to Watch

The Illini feature one of the best inside-outside duos in the entire country thanks in large part to future NBA’er and Wooden Award candidate Ayo Dosunmu (24.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 41% 3PM) and big man Kofi Cockburn (14.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg).  They will be the focal point for Brad Underwood’s attack every night the Illini take the floor, and tonight’s matchup between Dosunmu and Marcus Carr is worth the price of admission on its own (though, thanks to COVID-19 the price of admission is a moot point).

Freshman guard Andre Curbelo is the Illini’s best option off the bench, while freshman Adam Miller is Brad Underwood’s second-best threat from outside as he’s connected on 38% of his three-point shots to start the new season.

Minnesota-Illinois Prediction

While the Gophers are indeed a perfect 6-0 on the season and have covered in all six games, they have feasted on the minnows of the college basketball pond.  Illinois is infinitely better than any of the teams Minnesota has faced to date, and they’re coming off of a frustrating loss to an inferior Missouri opponent just three days ago.

In recent history, Minnesota has struggled against NCAA Tournament caliber competition.  In their last nine games against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or higher, Minnesota is a paltry 1-6-2 ATS.

Marcus Carr will put some points on the scoreboard, but not enough to overcome one of the best duos in all of college basketball.  I like Illinois to bounce back with a double-digit victory and notch their first Big Ten win of the season.

Prediction: Illinois 80, Minnesota 67
Best Bet: Illinois -8

Kansas State at Iowa State

Spread: Iowa State -7.5
Total: O/U 136.5
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU

It wasn’t that long ago that Kansas State and Iowa State were among the consistent contenders for the Big 12 throne. 

Those days are very clearly in the past this season, however, as Kansas State looks to be one of the worst Power 5 basketball teams in the country, and Iowa State is not incredibly far behind them either.

Kansas State enters tonight’s Big 12 opener with a 2-4 record after they narrowly defeated UW-Milwaukee 76-75 on Friday, but they are 0-5 against the spread and managed to lose by 13 points at home to NAIA member Fort Hays State.

Meanwhile, Iowa State has only played three games to date this season, their most recent showing was a 105-77 thumping at the hands of #3 Iowa on Friday.  Their lone victory of the early season was an 80-63 defeat of Arkansas Pine Bluff (Ranked 350th overall by Ken Pomeroy), with their other loss coming at the hands of South Dakota State on their home floor.

Kansas State Players to Watch

Honestly, Kansas State is so bad we suggest probably just … not watching them.  But if you want a guy to look out for, Wildcats’ leading scorer Mike McGuirl (14.5 ppg, 42.9 3PM) is probably your best bet. 

Iowa State Players to Watch

Steve Prohm is very much on the hot season this season after posting sub 15-win campaigns in two of the last three Iowa State seasons.  The Cyclones were faced with the daunting task of replacing NBA lottery pick Tyrese Haliburton in the lineup and Prohm elected to hit the transfer portal particularly heavily to retool the roster.

With just three games under their belt, one of which coming against a legitimate National Championship contender, the talent has yet to truly gel.  Prohm has also already shown he will not be dipping too deep into his bench, as only two reserves average more than 10 minutes a game (George Conditt IV and Darlinstone Dunbar).

The Cyclones are paced by former Illinois and DePaul product Jalen Coleman-Lands (15.3 ppg, 41.7% 3PM) and former Troy product Javan Johnson (13.7 ppg), while 2019 Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton logs 35 minutes a game while averaging 14.7 points per contest.

Iowa State simply just needs more game action for their talent to come together.  A game against Kansas State could be just the tune-up the Cyclones need to get their season on track for the rest of the conference slate that’s forthcoming.

Kansas State-Iowa State Prediction

Kansas State is one of the worst teams in the country and while Iowa State will likely be at the bottom of the standings with them when the season draws to a close, the talent gaps between even the Cyclones and Wildcats are immense.

Bruce Weber is in for one long season, as Kansas State is only projected to win six games this season by Ken Pomeroy.  One of those six wins is not coming tonight.  Look for the Cyclones to cruise for most of the game before clinging on to the cover late.

Prediction: Iowa State 81, Kansas State 71
Best Bet: Iowa State -7.5

Big 12 College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

Before the 2019/20 college basketball season was canceled and March Madness was called off, the Big 12 was in a position to potentially have two #1 seeds in Baylor and Kansas and were considered as the conference most likely to field the eventual National Champion.

The conference is possibly even better this season.

The Big 12 currently features a whopping five teams in the Kenpom Top 10, with Baylor and Kansas once again considered strong favorites at a run at a spot in the Final Four. 

Top to bottom, there may not be a better conference in college basketball this season.  Here’s how the Big 12 shakes out and what you need to know about each school before the season begins.   

The Contenders

#2 Baylor (+165 to Win Big 12)

Before the cancellation of the 2019/20 season, the Baylor Bears were flying high and breaking a multitude of school records including a 23-game winning streak to propel them to the first #1 overall ranking in school history.

The Bears started to show some chinks in the armor at the end of the season, however, as they would drop three of their last five games to end the season including road losses to TCU and West Virginia.

Fortunately for Baylor supporters, the bulk of last season’s team is back including the top three scorers on the team in Wooden Award candidate Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell.  The Bears also return Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist Mark Vital, giving the Bears one of the more balanced teams in the nation.

While last season’s team had the potential to be special, this could be Scott Drew’s best group yet.  You will be hard-pressed to find a team in the country, much less the Big 12, that can match Baylor’s talent, depth, and experience the Bears will have on the floor at any given time.  They will be a team to watch all season long and have a real chance to replicate the success they had a season ago.  

#6 Kansas (+170 to Win Big 12)

While Baylor was enjoying the best season in school history, we’d be remiss not to mention that heading into the fateful Selection Sunday that never happened, Kansas was in the middle of playing some of its best basketball of the Bill Self era and was considered the prohibitive favorite to cut the nets down in Atlanta this past spring.

Before COVID wiped away March Madness, Kansas had emerged from a chaotic regular season as the best team in college basketball.  This was in large part due to the phenomenal inside-outside game from Devin Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. 

Both of these players have since departed to the next chapter of their careers in the NBA and now Bill Self and the Jayhawks are put in the rare spot of having a mini-reboot to their roster.

Of course, Kansas rebooting is far different than the rebooting that most college basketball programs do, and they will still have a roster chock-full of talent, but there will be a setback until the Jayhawks can figure out how to replace the production they just lost.

One way the Jayhawks plan to reload this season will come by playing a three-guard lineup, and on occasion even going with four-guard lineups on the floor.  Senior Marcus Garrett and junior Ochai Agbaji will be the focal point of the Kansas offense with five-star recruit Bryce Thompson also likely to log a lot of playing time for Self’s Jayhawks.

Self will look to replace the vacancy of Azubuike with forwards Silvio de Sousa and David McCormack.  You may recall hearing Silvio de Sousa’s name when it looked like he may channel his inner WWE and hit someone with a stool during a brawl with rival Kansas State last season. While that’s certainly one way to enforce the paint, Self will likely try to get de Sousa to try a more conventional method this season.

All in all, Kansas is going to still be a dangerous opponent to deal with.  We will find out a lot about where the team currently is when they play their season opener against powerhouse Gonzaga on November 26, but assuming we have a 2021 NCAA Tournament this season, Kansas figures to be one of the top seeds in the dance when it’s all said and done.  

The Dangerous Dark Horses

#15 West Virginia (+525 to Win Big 12)

The Mountaineers began the 2019/20 season like they were shot out of a cannon as Bob Huggins’ squad opened the season with an 11-1 record capped off by a 67-59 win over then #2 ranked Ohio State.

Then conference play began.

West Virginia would start conference play with a 6-3 record before the wheels would come off in February as the Mountaineers would go 1-6 that month and put themselves back in the bubble conversation before handing then 4th ranked Baylor a 12-point loss in the last game of the season that would have likely sealed their at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Now Huggins is back at it again with a roster he has said is his best since the 2010 West Virginia Final Four team.  He may not be wrong in that assessment.

While there are legitimate concerns about the Mountaineers’ offense and whether or not they can put up enough points to make a long run in March, there are no such concerns about West Virginia’s defense.  The Mountaineers return the tandem of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, giving Huggins two of the best rim protectors in the entire country.

Offensively, Huggins’ Eers play about in the manner that you’d expect a Bob Huggins team to look – ugly.  WVU was atrocious shooting the ball a season ago, going 26% from three-point range and an abysmal 62.9% from the free-throw line.  Both ranked dead last in the conference.   

If West Virginia is to be a better offensive team this season it will likely depend on guard Miles McBride emerging amongst a log jam of guards on the roster.  The sophomore guard is the teams’ best shooter by a significant margin, and there just aren’t a whole lot of shooters on this team.  The WVU defense is the real deal, however, and they could very well propel the Mountaineers from a dangerous Top 15 caliber team to a legitimate Final Four contender if they just get a little better offensive output this season.

#14 Texas Tech (+600 to Win Big 12)

Kevin Beard has quietly turned Lubbock, Texas into a fervent college basketball community. 

Despite losing their top two scorers (Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti) from last season’s team, Texas Tech had a home run of an offseason as they added three of the best transfers available in the transfer portal with Mac McClung (Georgetown), Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU), and Jamarius Burton (Wichita State) all coming over to join the Red Raiders.

Beard also pulled in a pair of top-50 recruits in Nimari Burnett and Micah Peavy, giving Texas Tech one of the deepest rosters in the Big 12.

Among the players returning to Lubbock this season, Beard will likely lean on the services of junior guard Kyler Edwards (11.4 ppg) the most as he looks to repair the Red Raiders backcourt.

This is a team that could start out of the gates somewhat slow before really picking up momentum as conference play gets going.  On paper, they are as deep as any in the country, if Beard can get the talent to gel this is another sleeper candidate for the Final Four.

#19 Texas (+690 to Win Big 12)

While schools like Baylor were surely yelling profanity at the sky when COVID-19 swept over the United States and canceled the best season in school history, Shaka Smart’s job security got a much-needed boost when the entire college sports landscape drastically changed.  Suddenly the Longhorns couldn’t afford to pay a lofty buyout to Shaka Smart and they had to essentially run it back when it looked like Smart was running out of time just weeks before.

This is the make or break year in Austin for the Shaka Smart era, as the once highly coveted basketball coach has now gone five seasons without an NCAA Tournament victory, and has missed the tourney entirely in three of the last four seasons since Smart was named the Texas head coach in 2015.

Since taking over in Austin, Smart is a disappointing 90-81 overall.  Far from the expectations of competing for Big 12 championships year in and year out.  However, if there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the 43-year-old coach it’s that this could be the best Longhorns team Smart has had yet.

The Longhorns feature a very experienced backcourt with juniors Courtney Ramey (10.9 ppg), Andrew Jones (11.5 ppg), and senior Matt Coleman (12.7 ppg).   In the Texas frontcourt, Smart has the luxury of having five players above 6-9, including five-star recruit McDonald’s All-American Greg Brown (#9 overall). 

Brown’s addition could essentially save Shaka Smart’s job, as the highly touted recruit averaged a double-double during all four seasons in high school and is considered a future NBA lottery pick.  

Collectively, this roster is arguably the most talented in the conference, though you may hear from some residents in Lubbock who disagree. 

Nonetheless, this is it for Shaka Smart.  If he can’t get this team over the hump, he will likely be in the market for a new job next spring, but if he can get this team over the hump look out for the Longhorns.

Middle of the Pack

Oklahoma State (+2000 to Win Big 12)

Oklahoma State will draw a lot of attention if for no other reason than to watch Cade Cunningham, the presumptive #1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Cowboys will not be eligible for the 2021 NCAA Tournament after receiving a one-year postseason ban from the NCAA for their involvement in the Lamont Evans FBI saga, meaning we will not get to see the top recruit in the land play in March, but that doesn’t mean Oklahoma State can’t be a fun team to pay attention to throughout the regular season.

Joining Cunningham in the backcourt for the Cowboys will be junior Isaac Likekele (10.9 ppg) and Cal Baptist grad transfer Ferron Flavors Jr. (13.5 ppg).  Beyond these two guards, this is an extremely young Oklahoma State team with only one other upperclassman on the roster in junior walk-on Dee Mitchell.

If Oklahoma State’s appeal is successful and their postseason ban is overturned, the Cowboys merit paying close attention to, however, if the appeal is lost and they are indeed banned from the NCAA Tournament this is still a team that should finish in the top half of the conference and could have a lot of value as an underdog in the matchups against the Big 12 heavyweights.

Oklahoma (+2000 to Win Big 12)

Lon Kruger has led the Sooners to NCAA Tournament berths in six of the last seven seasons, not including the 2019-20 campaign in which Oklahoma was heading for another at-large spot in the dance.

The Sooners lose leading scorer Kristian Doolittle from last year’s team but return their second and third-leading scorers with seniors Austin Reaves (14.7 ppg) and Brady Manek (14.4 ppg).

This iteration of Oklahoma basketball will look different than it has in recent years when Buddy Hield and Trae Young were dropping 35-foot jumpers all over helpless Big 12 defenders, but they will be a dangerous foe for the top dogs to encounter and should once again be in the mix for another 20-win season and subsequent at-large bid.

The Long Shots

Iowa State (+8000 to Win Big 12)
TCU (+10000 to win Big 12)
Kansas State (+30000 to win Big 12)

Let’s just say each of these schools are in for a long season in this loaded conference.  There are very clear “haves” and “have nots” in the Big 12, and these are the have nots for the 2020/21 season. 

Iowa State was a very poor team a season ago and lost their best player Tyrese Haliburton to the NBA Draft. That doesn’t appear like it’s about to change, and Steve Prohm could be on his way out of Ames as a result.

TCU loses their best player Desmond Bane (graduation) and ushers in a new era under Jamie Dixon.  Expect there to be a lot of growing pains and for the Horned Frogs to be a non-factor for much of the season.

Kansas State loses Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra and returns no player that averaged more than seven points a game in 2019. Bruce Weber is another coach who can conceivably be on the ‘hot seat’ this season.

Outside of the occasional bet on one of these teams to cover a large point spread, just steer clear of these three schools as best as you can.

Big 12 Projected Order of Finish

  1. Baylor
  2. Texas Tech
  3. Kansas
  4. West Virginia
  5. Texas
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. TCU
  9. Iowa State
  10. Kansas State