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  • Can No. 2 West Virginia remain undefeated in the Big 12? Will Oklahoma complete the sweep against TCU? Plus more picks and predictions for the rest of the weekend's top matchups.
By Michael Beller
January 12, 2018

The Big 12 takes center stage over the next few days, with the weekend’s two marquee games taking place in the conference. You’re going to want to park yourself in front of multiple TVs on Saturday afternoon—all four of the weekend’s games featuring two ranked teams tip off between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. ET.

Marquette at Butler

Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Friday’s lone noteworthy game pits a couple of Big East teams that could really use a win against one another. Butler has dropped three straight since beating Villanova, and while there’s no shame in losing to Xavier, Seton Hall and Creighton, no team in history has ever lost its way into the NCAA tournament. Marquette, meanwhile, is coming off an impressive home win over Seton Hall, and is starting to look like a strong second-tier team in the conference. Four of their five losses this season were to Purdue, Wichita State, Xavier and Villanova. The Golden Eagles are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, while the Bulldogs struggle defending shooters behind the arc. That could make the difference.

Marquette 81, Butler 76

Michigan at No. 4 Michigan State

Saturday, noon ET, Fox

So, we need to talk about the Spartans, huh? After ascending to the top of the polls, they got blown out by Ohio State in Columbus, and then needed overtime to squeak past Rutgers—Rutgers!—at home. Michigan is a disciplined team that understands its own strengths and weaknesses, and knows how to accentuate the former in every game. From a talent standpoint, these two teams aren’t close, but the same was true of Michigan State’s games with Ohio State and Rutgers, and that didn’t matter. At some point, we need to see Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson take over the way two likely lottery picks should, with consistency.

Michigan State 73, Michigan 61

No. 5 Purdue at Minnesota

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN2

This is all about Purdue, which has quickly turned into one of the best teams in the country. With Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson all playing around Isaac Haas, one of the few true centers in the country, the Boilermakers have developed a lethal offense built on three-point shooting, slashing and easy looks for the big man. Even if-and-when Haas gets into foul trouble, they can turn to 7’3” Matt Haarms behind him. This is a dangerous team that, in a season defined by parity, looks like one of the few squads we can confidently call a championship contender.

Purdue 83, Minnesota 72

Kansas State at No. 12 Kansas

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN

This season represents the greatest challenge to Kansas’s regular season reign in the Big 12 during the Bill Self era. With West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas Tech (which owns a win in Lawrence) all looking like possible Final Four teams, Kansas has its most significant challenge on its hands in the conference in more than a decade. That, coupled with the Jayhawks’ looming game at West Virginia on Monday, makes this matchup so intriguing. With that game on the horizon, Kansas cannot afford to drop a game at home to Kansas State. We’ve seen what happens to the Jayhawks offense when they aren’t hitting from distance, and Kansas State limits its opponents to 32.3% from three-point land. That’s the matchup within the matchup Kansas must win to protect its home floor and head into Monday’s huge game in Morgantown at 4-1 in the Big 12.

Kansas 80, Kansas State 68

No. 16 TCU at No. 9 Oklahoma

Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPNU

This is already the second time these teams will meet this season. In the first game, Trae Young led the Sooners back from a 10-point deficit with 10 minutes remaining to notch a 90-89 win in Fort Worth. Oklahoma sits at 3-1 in the Big 12, with its only loss to West Virginia. A sweep of TCU would go a long way to establishing the Sooners as one of the two or three best teams in arguably the country’s best conference. Short of a singular performance by Kenrich Williams, it’s hard to see Oklahoma falling short of that feat.

Oklahoma 90, TCU 81

No. 2 West Virginia at No. 8 Texas Tech

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN

One hour after TCU and Oklahoma tip-off, another monster game in the Big 12 gets underway. This is the best game of the weekend, with WVU undefeated in the Big 12 and the Red Raiders coming in with a 3-1 record in the conference. Texas Tech has the sixth-lowest turnover rate in the country, while West Virginia—thanks to its stifling press—forces teams to give the ball away at the 31st-highest rate. The big story, however, will be Esa Ahmad’s return to the Mountaineers lineup. That they’ve played this well without one of the team’s best offensive players speaks to the kind of squad Bob Huggins has in Morgantown this year. Given that Ahmad is a junior with a defined role on the team, it shouldn’t be hard to get him back in the flow of the offense.

West Virginia 77, Texas Tech 76

No. 25 Creighton at No. 10 Xavier

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, Fox

Xavier will be happy to get back on its home floor after losing consecutive road games to Providence and Villanova. It won’t be an easy task, however, trying to slow down one of the fastest-paced offenses in the country. Xavier is one of the few teams with a chance of sticking with Creighton in a track meet, but they’ll still want to slow the game down just a bit, forcing the Bluejays to play more in the half court. Creighton is a hard team to beat when Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas get out in transition with consistency.

Xavier 84, Creighton 80

No. 18 Miami at No. 19 Clemson

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Clemson's unblemished ACC record is a thing of the past after the Tigers fell at North Carolina State on Thursday. This season still has the potential to be one of the best in program history, but it's worth noting that their three conference wins came against Boston College, Louisville and the same NC State team that beat them Thursday. Miami’s fifth-ranked defense in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency will be a real test for Clemson’s offense, which has scored just 1.02 points per possession in its three ACC games. Easy buckets for Elijah Thomas and Donte Grantham, the lifeblood of Clemson’s offense, could be hard to come by against Miami.

Miami 64, Clemson 62

Virginia Tech at Louisville

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

This is another one of those “bubble games, but in January” with two teams that figure to be in the middle of the ACC standings fighting for what will likely go down as an important win when the selection committee considers their cases in two months. One of Virginia Tech’s biggest strengths is its ruthless efficiency on twos, with five of its rotation players shooting at least 59.5% from inside the arc. One of Louisville’s greatest strengths is its two-point defense, where it ranks ninth in the country. These teams may not be powerhouses, but a strength-against-strength head-to-head should make for a fun matchup.

Louisville 72, Virginia Tech 70

Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images

No. 20 North Carolina at Notre Dame

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Irish are already going to be at a significant disadvantage playing this game without Bonzie Colson. If Matt Farrell is out, too, they’ll have a ton of trouble staying with the Tar Heels. With that said, North Carolina has been woefully inconsistent against the top teams they’ve played this year, with their best win coming at Tennessee. Notre Dame doesn’t have nearly the defense Virginia does, but the Irish can slow the pace down to about the same level, and we saw how much trouble that gave the Tar Heels. Still, without Colson, it’s hard to see Notre Dame generating enough offense in this one.

North Carolina 71, Notre Dame 64

Texas A&M at No. 24 Tennessee

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Injuries have killed the Aggies, who have kicked off SEC play by losing four straight games. The silver lining is that D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder were on the floor together for the first time in nearly a month in their last game, and they almost pulled off an upset at Kentucky, losing by one. It doesn’t get much easier with at trip to Tennessee, which beat Kentucky in Knoxville last weekend. The matchup between Hogg and Grant Williams will be one of the best individual showdowns of the weekend.

Tennessee 74, Texas A&M 70

Alabama at LSU

Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

We say the following a lot in this space, but only because its important. Every game between two potential bubble teams is significant, no matter if they happen on Jan. 13, Feb. 13 or March 3. This is one of those games. Interestingly, however, it’s LSU, and not Alabama, that is in better shape at this point of the season. The Crimson Tide were supposed to be part of the vanguard of the new-look SEC, but LSU has bullied its way into that group with wins over Texas A&M and Arkansas. Collin Sexton against Tremont Waters for the first time this season—get excited.

LSU 74, Alabama 69

San Diego State at Boise State

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2

If the Mountain West is going to get multiple teams in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2014-15 season, one of these two teams will have to join the favorite, Nevada. That makes their two meetings with one another crucial to both of their at-large chances. Both teams are defined by their defense, with Boise State ranking 15th in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency, and San Diego State ranking 20th. With Chandler Hutchison and Justinian Jessup, however, it’s the Broncos that pack more scoring punch.

Boise State 73, San Diego State 67

North Carolina State at No. 3 Virginia

Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU

It’s a relatively weak slate on Sunday, as Virginia is the only ranked team in action. Virginia is off to a roaring start in the ACC, sitting at 4-0 in the conference with a win over North Carolina. Things will remain light for the Cavaliers until the final week of January, when they meet Clemson and Duke. They should go into that week at 7-0 in ACC play, however, and with the conference lacking the volume of legitimate Final Four contenders it typically has, Virginia is equipped to join Duke as the only true powers in the league. North Carolina State won’t be much of an impediment on Sunday.

Virginia 75, North Carolina State 57

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