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

No. 20 Texas Longhorns at Kansas Jayhawks Betting Preview

Saturday, December 12, 2020, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kansas, 3:30 p.m. ET

Longhorns at Jayhawks Betting Preview: Longhorns  (-29.5), Jayhawks (+29.5)

Longhorns

Texas paused football activities early in the week but still planned to play a game already pushed back by COVID-19 concerns.

The 20th-ranked Longhorns (6-3, 5-3 Big 12) shut down their operations after three players and two staff members who previously tested negative and traveled to Kansas State for a victory last week tested positive on Sunday. Still, travel plans for a game this Saturday at Kansas remained on schedule.

“Everything we are doing right now is merely precautionary,” Texas coach Tom Herman said, “and we are wanting to make sure with a couple of extra cases, extra positives, that we haven’t had, quite frankly, all year, that this is not a trend throughout the team but a couple of isolated incidents.”

The matchup against Kansas originally was scheduled for Nov. 21 but was rescheduled after issues surfaced when Kansas could not field enough defensive linemen to meet Big 12 protocols based on injuries and COVID-19 concerns.

Each team is coming off encouraging performances.

Texas blasted Kansas State 69-31 last week after being eliminated from the Big 12 title chase in a home defeat against Iowa State on Nov. 27. Bijan Robinson rushed nine times for 172 yards and three touchdowns to pace a Texas offense directed by quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

Nevertheless, last week’s performance did little to reduce the heat on Herman. Potential replacements have surfaced for the fourth-year coach, who stands 31-18, though multiple reports say prime target Urban Meyer is not interested because of health concerns. 

That could prompt Texas to retain Herman if donors aren’t eager to contribute to a $25 million buyout.

Herman has three years left on his contract and reportedly has been told his performance will be evaluated at the end of the season. Among Texas’ possible bowl destinations are the Alamo and Liberty.

Jayhawks

Kansas has lost all but eight of its past 100 conference games and is facing its third winless season in history. The Wildcats (0-9, 0-9 Big 12) already are assured of a sixth consecutive last-place finish in the Big 12.

Still, the Jayhawks are coming off their tightest outcome, a 16-13 loss at Texas Tech.

Gaining any effectiveness at quarterback, either from Miles Kendrick or Jalon Daniels, remains a dilemma for the Jayhawks.

Kendrick played the entire game at Texas Tech but passed for just 102 yards and could not capitalize on four takeaways provided by the defense. The Kansas offense managed just 214 total yards.

“We’ll look at this week of practice and competition and see how it goes,” coach Les Miles said. “(Kendrick) was very good last week (at practices). We’ll have to see if he continues that pace.”

For the season, Kendrick has completed 73 of 120 passes (60.8 percent) for 647 yards and six touchdowns with five interceptions. Daniels has completed only half of his 152 pass attempts for 718 yards and one touchdown against four interceptions.

The Jayhawks have averaged only 104.9 yards a game rushing with Velton Gardner accounting for just over half (54.2) of that total.

Longhorns at Jayhawks Betting Pick for December 12, 2020

Texas leads the series with Kansas 16-3 and has won the last three meetings. The Longhorns squeaked by the Jayhawks 50-48 last  year in Austin on Cameron Dicker’s 33-yard field goal as time expired. Sam Ehlinger was 31 of 44 passing for 399 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

Longhorns at Jayhawks Betting Pick:

Longhorns 52, Jayhawks 14

Longhorns at Jayhawks Best Bet for December 12, 2020

The Longhorns are coming of a 69-31 spanking of Kansas State, the second time this season they have topped the 60-point mark. They just missed that i a 59-3 rout of UTEP to open the season. Kansas’ season scoring high is 23 points, twice, in losses to Coastal Carolina and TCU.

Longhorns at Jayhawks Best Bet: OVER 61.5

Champions Classic Best Bets: Ride the Dukies and Rock Chalk to Victory

Arguably the best preseason college basketball event returns this evening, albeit in a slightly different setting than we’re accustomed to seeing thanks to the pandemic, when the Champions Classic tips off with a pair of matchups between Michigan State and Duke, and Kansas and Kentucky.

Typically, we’ve seen this showcase be the informal start of the new college basketball season with these four bluebloods meeting on a neutral court to test out their early preseason rankings.  This season, only Kansas and Kentucky will be playing on a neutral floor in Indianapolis with Michigan State meeting Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium with no fans or media in attendance.  That will make tonight’s matchups all the more interesting.

Speaking of those matchups, let’s dive right into tonight’s action and kick off the month of December with a pair of Best Bets for tonight’s Champions Classic. 

(8) Michigan State at (6) Duke

Game to be played without fans in attendance

Spread: Duke -3.5
Total: O/U 149.5
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

In the first matchup of the evening, 8th ranked Michigan State (2-0) travels to a Cameron Indoor Stadium to meet 6th ranked Duke (1-0).

The Spartans are coming off of an impressive 80-70 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate, as they at one point in the second half would lead by 22 points thanks to a 26-0 run that closed out the first half and spilled into the second half.  

The Spartans defense would lock down the Fighting Irish, keeping them scoreless for over nine minutes of game action.  They looked noticeably sharper in their second game of the season, following their season-opening victory over Eastern Michigan.

The same could not be said for the new-look Blue Devils in their season-opening tune-up against Coppin State.  While Duke did open the season with a 10-point victory, they were favored by 39.5-points and seemed to struggle on the defensive end of the floor, particularly in defending the perimeter where Coppin State would hit 10 three-point shots on the night. 

After leading by 17 at the break, the Devils would be outscored in the second half 43-36.  Not exactly what you’d like to see against a team that went 11-20 playing out of the MEAC a season ago.

Considering the very unorthodox offseason college basketball has experienced, however, a rusty start out of the gates in the season opener is not the worst thing in the world, nor was it a shock to see.  It goes without saying though that Duke will need to play significantly better this evening to avoid a rare home loss.

That unorthodox offseason will spill into the regular season, however, and we get our first real taste of that this evening when this game is played without any fans or media in attendance.  In a non-pandemic setting, this game would be on a neutral floor with two rowdy fan bases trading cheers and jeers, and if Michigan State ever came to Cameron Indoor for a basketball game, the energy from the crowd would be at a different level.

We’re not going to get that tonight, and we will see for the first time this season how well Duke can adjust to not having a boisterous crowd behind them to fuel their momentum. 

Fortunately for Duke, Coach K will once again have a loaded stable of freshmen to lean on not only tonight but throughout the season.  Five-star recruit Jalen Johnson appears to be the best of the bunch and may begin to emerge as the leader of the team, and DJ Steward could become the best sixth man in the country (24 points, 9 boards against Coppin State).  Sophomores Wendell Moore and Matthew Hurt are the elder statesmen of the starting five and will be counted on tonight to help the young freshmen in the scoring column.

Michigan State, on the other hand, boasts a very experienced group and looks to resume their standing as a Top 10 defensive unit, and their recent matchup against Notre Dame reiterated this even further. 

The Spartans starting five is equal parts talented and experienced.  Three juniors and one senior make up Izzo’s starting unit, with Marquette transfer Joey Hauser already off to a fast start with a pair of double-doubles to start his Michigan State career.  Joshua Langford and Aaron Henry give the Spartans a pair of dynamic scoring threats, and sophomore Rocket Watts looks to be the next great Tom Izzo point guard in the making.

This will be a phenomenal matchup and one where we will certainly miss the atmosphere from the Cameron Crazies.  Michigan State will once again be a strong contender in the Big Ten, but I believe Duke bounces back tonight and plays with a much sharper focus.  We’ve seen how teams start slow out of the gates across every sport making its return from the pandemic and I think Duke is not much different. 

Oddsmakers have this line sitting anywhere between 3 and 3.5 points tonight and I think that prediction is dead on.  I’m taking the Dukies to cover narrowly and to pass their first true test of the season.  I also like the over a lot tonight as well.

Prediction: Duke 78, Michigan State 74
Best Bet: Duke -3.5; OVER 149.5

(7) Kansas vs. (20) Kentucky

Game to be played at neutral court (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN)

Spread: Kansas -4.5
Total: O/U 143.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN

There probably isn’t a tougher team to play to open the season, especially a season with the dark clouds of a pandemic hanging above it, than #1 Gonzaga, but that’s exactly the fate that Kansas endured when they suffered a 102-90 loss at the hands of the top-ranked team in the country on Thanksgiving Day.

Kansas did rebound nicely the following day with a 94-72 blowout victory over St. Joseph’s with sophomore Christian Braun chipping in a 30-point, eight-rebound day for Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

Now the Jayhawks prepare for a date with 20th ranked Kentucky, coming off of their first loss of the season when they fell 76-64 to a dangerous Richmond team full of experience.

This isn’t a different script than we are accustomed to seeing from Kentucky, however.  Once again, John Calipari has a roster stacked to the brim with freshmen talent, and once again that young team is going through some early growing pains in the beginning stages of the season.  Remember, this is a Kentucky team that lost by 3 at home to Evansville early last season, so it does take a bit of time for Calipari’s teams to get their footing and for their young talent to gel as a cohesive unit.

That steep learning curve the young ‘Cats are on presently is not likely to remedy itself tonight.  Against the Spiders, Cal’s ‘Cats didn’t make a single three-point shot (0 for 10) and are back to struggling at the free-throw line, shooting just 62% from the charity stripe to begin the year.

While Kentucky does boast one of the best freshmen in college basketball, and a possible #1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft in BJ Boston (17.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), the Wildcats roster is still extremely young and trying to figure out who they are right now.

Kansas, on the other hand, already has a better idea of the type of team they can be thanks in large part to that brutal season opener.  Gonzaga is every bit as good as advertised and Kansas, to their credit, played very hard and erased an early double-digit deficit before simply tiring out down the stretch.  Kentucky is not Gonzaga, and Kansas should reap the benefits of a young team still growing on the fly.

Look for the Jayhawks to win, and to win a little comfortably tonight.  They defend better, they shoot better and are just overall the better team at this point in the season.

Don’t fret too much about Kentucky if they do lose tonight, however, as they will be their usual dangerous self as the season goes on.

Prediction: Kansas 81, Kentucky 70
Best Bet: Kansas -4.5

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