• Can No. 3 Arizona spoil Arizona State’s perfect season? Can Trae Young and the Sooners take down TCU? Hop in and hold on tight—conference play kicks off with a bang this weekend.
By Michael Beller
December 29, 2017

There have already been a few conference games here and there this season, but conference play begins in earnest this weekend. For the next two months, we’ll be in the heart of the college basketball season, the portion of the year that most significantly shapes the 68-team NCAA tournament field. Hop in and hold on tight—it’s always a wild ride.

Louisville at No. 16 Kentucky

Friday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

This year’s matchup in the Bluegrass State just doesn’t have the same luster as its predecessors. Louisville has been unranked for most of the season, while Kentucky is still searching for an offensive identity, and is just 1-2 against power-conference foes. This could end up being a rock fight, with both teams much better defensively than they are offensively at this point of the season.

Kentucky 66, Louisville 60

No. 7 West Virginia at Oklahoma State

Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Jevon Carter has picked up his scoring for the Mountaineers with Esa Ahmad suspended, averaging 18.2 points per game on 44.7% from the floor, including 40.6% from three. Carter is also contributing 6.3 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 steals per game. The 6’2” senior guard has been one of the best players in the country this season and he’s going to be too much for Oklahoma State to handle on Friday.

West Virginia 77, Oklahoma State 67

No. 18 Baylor at No. 22 Texas Tech

Friday, 8 p.m. ET

The Big 12 season begins on Friday, and this is the second-best game on the conference’s weekend slate. It’s one of just three matchups of ranked teams all weekend (more on the other two later). Baylor will do what it can to bring the pace of play down, but a slow offense plays right to the strength of Texas Tech’s defense. It’s going to take a special scoring game from Manu Lecomte or Jo Lual-Acuil for the Bears to pull off the mini-upset in Lubbock.

Texas Tech 69, Baylor 61

No. 11 Kansas at Texas

Friday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Kansas and Texas kick off their Big 12 seasons on Friday in Austin. The game pits arguably the best offense in the conference against its best defense, and that’s where this game could be decided. The Jayhawks are 17th in the country with 115.7 points per 100 possessions, and their 41.5% three-point percentage is good for 14th in the country. The Longhorns, meanwhile, hold their opponents to 28.2% from distance, the 10th-lowest rate in the country.

Kansas 71, Texas 65

No. 19 Tennessee at Arkansas

Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network

If this is going to be the year for the SEC that we’ve been hearing about for so long, these two teams are going to have to play a big part. If Arkansas can get out and run, they could make the pace uncomfortable for a Tennessee team that is better in the half court. That could make the Volunteers offensive rebounding prowess a big story in this game. They rank 22nd in the country in offensive-rebounding rate, pulling down 35.9% of their misses. If they can bring that to bear, they can negate Arkansas’s ability to get up and down the floor.

Tennessee 77, Arkansas 74

No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 10 TCU

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

I’m not sure if anyone expected Oklahoma-TCU to be a headline-grabbing matchup at the start of the Big 12 season, but that’s exactly what it is. Trae Young has the Oklahoma offense playing at an exceptional level, ranking 14th in points per 100 possessions on the fifth-fastest pace in the country. That’s an incredible combination of efficiency and explosiveness that is nearly impossible to contain. The Horned Frogs are one of the few teams in the conference equipped to go basket-for-basket with the Sooners, making this the most anticipated game of the weekend.

TCU 88, Oklahoma 87

No. 24 Florida State at No. 4 Duke

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS

You’ll have to choose your TV setup wisely on Saturday, as the afternoon features two games with ranked match-ups tipping off at the same time. As will be the case for all of Duke’s opponents this season, the Seminoles need to find a way to at least slightly slow down, or keep pace with, the Blue Devils offensive machine. The Blue Devils defense opens doors to the latter, as we saw three weeks ago in a shocking loss to Boston College, but this is a matchup that sets up well for the Blue Devils.

Duke 86, Florida State 74

No. 5 Texas A&M at Alabama

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

On Saturday the Aggies will be without D.J. Hogg, who’s serving the second of a three-game suspension, and Admon Gilder, who’s out with a knee injury. That puts more of the scoring onus on Tyler Davis, Duane Wilson and freshman Savion Flagg, who has stepped into the starting lineup for Hogg. Even shorthanded, the Aggies should be able to handle Collin Sexton and the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa

Texas A&M 74, Alabama 67

No. 3 Arizona State at No. 17 Arizona

Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

That one of these teams is ranked third in the country is not a surprise. The identity of that third-ranked team, however, is. Will a trip to Tucson finally prove to be the end of Arizona State’s unbeaten season? The bet here is yes. The Wildcats have righted the ship after three straight losses around Thanksgiving, winning their last seven games, including an impressive three-point victory over Texas A&M. Tra Holder and Shannon Evans will be a handful for the Wildcats, but the can counteract that scoring with the efficiency of Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Dusan Ristic.

Arizona 82, Arizona State 79

Virginia Tech at Syracuse

Sunday, 6 p.m. ET

This might be the first game of the ACC season for these two teams, but it could also prove to be a big one. It’s not hard to envision a scenario in which both of these teams are on the bubble, making their meetings potentially critical to their at-large hopes. We tend to focus on bubble games later in the year, but the selection committee always stresses that it looks at the full body of work. A game in late December is just as important as one in early March, so scoring a win over a fellow bubble team is huge at any point of the season. The winner of this one could ultimately come away with one such win.

Syracuse 68, Virginia Tech 62

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