College Basketball Expert Picks: Intrigue Abounds as Conference Play Begins

Who will win Kansas-West Virginia, Louisville-Florida State, Michigan-Michigan State and more to ring in 2020?
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A new calendar year (and decade!) is here, and our college basketball expert picks are back. Who will start 2020 on a high note? Our writers' picks are in for 15 of the biggest games through Sunday as conference play gets underway across the board.

Season-Long Standings

Pat Forde: 52-38
Molly Geary: 50-40
Max Meyer: 49-41
Michael Shapiro: 46-44
Jeremy Woo: 42-48

All times are Eastern.

Marquette at Creighton (Wed., 9 p.m., CBSSN) 

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Jeremy Woo picks Creighton: The initial part of January is a huge prove-it stretch for the Bluejays, who have a rising star in Marcus Zegarowski and have steadied the ship since San Diego State blew them out at the end of November. They have enough shooting to keep up with Marquette, and should be able to slow Markus Howard just enough to pull this out at home.

No. 4 Oregon at Colorado (Thurs., 9 p.m., ESPN2)

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Max Meyer picks Colorado: Boulder is one of the toughest places to play in the country given the altitude, and it’s usually a place where traveling Pac-12 teams stumble. Colorado has picked it up on offense after really struggling to start the season, as the Buffaloes have notched at least 1.08 points per possession in three straight games, including an overtime win over Dayton in Chicago. Colorado has done an excellent job limiting threes (32nd in three-point attempt rate) and defending twos (19th in two-point percentage allowed), and I think it can slow down Oregon’s potent offense at home.

Indiana at No. 15 Maryland (Sat., 12 p.m., FOX)

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Molly Geary picks Maryland: This is a sneaky early must-win game for the Big Ten contender-minded Terps, who have Ohio State and trips to Iowa and Wisconsin up next. Given that neither of these teams have shot the three ball well this season, the battle between standout big men Jalen Smith and Trayce Jackson-Davis could be key. The Terps' defense should give them an edge, but if they get off to their usual slow start an Indiana team hungry to rebound from a loss to Arkansas could make things interesting.

Creighton at No. 11 Butler (Sat., 12 p.m., FS1)

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Pat Forde picks Butler: Butler has continued to stack up quality wins, most recently beating Purdue before Christmas. The Bulldogs' last three wins have come with guard Kamar Baldwin only scoring a total of 10 points—a good sign for Butler that it can diversify its offensive load and still succeed. At 10-2 Creighton is also off to a good start but might not be able to get the stops necessary to win in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Oklahoma State at No. 22 Texas Tech (Sat., 12 p.m., ESPN2)

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Michael Shapiro picks Texas Tech: Chris Beard’s squad is hitting a groove with four consecutive victories, including a double-digit thrashing of Louisville on Dec. 10. Expect the Red Raiders’ hot streak to continue against Oklahoma State. Freshman guard Jahmi’us Ramsey is rolling toward an All-Big 12 selection, while junior Davide Moretti should see some progression from the field after a shaky start. Texas Tech should secure its first conference win of the season in Lubbock on Saturday. 

No. 18 Florida State at No. 7 Louisville (Sat., 2 p.m., ESPN2)

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Pat Forde picks Louisville: The Yum Center has been the Cardinals' happy place—they're 9-0 there this season with only one game decided by fewer than 15 points. But Texas Tech and Kentucky have both exposed some shortcomings in the Louisville offensive attack, and Florida State certainly has the defensive ability to do the same. Jordan Nwora needs to be more active without the ball now that defenses are focusing on him.

Virginia Tech at No. 19 Virginia (Sat., 2 p.m., ACC Extra)

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Jeremy Woo picks Virginia: Although its own offense can run dry in a hurry, unsurprisingly, Virginia hasn’t lost a game where it’s held an opponent under 60 points. At home, against the freshman-heavy Hokies, that trend should continue.

No. 10 Villanova at Marquette (Sat., 2 p.m., FOX)

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Pat Forde picks Villanova: Villanova flexed its muscle over the holidays, beating then-No. 1 Kansas and Xavier in consecutive games. Marquette star shooting guard Markus Howard has scored 88 points in his last three games, but the shots won't be as easy against 'Nova.

No. 23 Iowa at No. 21 Penn State (Sat., 2 p.m., BTN)

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Jeremy Woo picks Iowa: It seems like Iowa has begun to figure things out, with Luka Garza playing fulcrum on the block and a potent group of shooters stationed around him. Penn State has a better answer than most in Mike Watkins, but with this game being played in Philly and the Hawkeyes gathering steam, this is kind of a toss-up.

No. 16 West Virginia at No. 3 Kansas (Sat., 4 p.m., ESPN+)

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Michael Shapiro picks Kansas: Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers have surpassed expectations thus far in 2019-20, stealing perhaps the most impressive win of the season against Ohio State on Dec. 29. Replicating the effort in Kansas may prove more difficult. The Jayhawks remain strong inside, and guard Devon Dotson could win Big 12 Player of the Year as a sophomore. A West Virginia win would vault the Mountaineers into the top 10. But they’ll likely have to wait for their first Big 12 win this season.

No. 13 San Diego State at Utah State (Sat., 10 p.m., CBSSN)

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Michael Shapiro picks San Diego State: Saturday will mark a major test for the undefeated Aztecs as they face a Utah State squad that’s 8–0 at home in 2019-20. Can San Diego State escape Logan with a victory? Its defense should hold up away from home, entering the matchup with the nation’s No. 6 defensive rating. Expect a grind-it-out affair in the Mountain West, but Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn should score enough to give San Diego State an impressive road victory. 

VCU at George Mason (Sun., 12 p.m., NBCSN)

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Molly Geary picks George Mason: The Patriots were brought back to earth after an 11–1 start to the season, losing by 34 at TCU on Monday. But I still like this spot for George Mason, back at home for its A-10 opener against a VCU team that will be playing its third game in eight days. AJ Wilson has the nation's seventh-best block rate and could make things difficult for the Rams' Marcus Santos-Silva inside, and the Patriots could take advantage of second-chance opportunities on the boards.

No. 12 Michigan at No. 14 Michigan State (Sun., 1:30 p.m., CBS)

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Molly Geary picks Michigan State: Losing second-leading scorer Isaiah Livers to an indefinite injury makes this a tough one for the Wolverines. Michigan has been a live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three team this season—one of the reasons losing Livers' 50% perimeter shooting especially hurts. Assuming Cassius Winston is healthy after missing last weekend's game, Michigan State has the offensive firepower (No. 2 on KenPom in offensive efficiency) to keep up with its in-state rival even if the threes are falling.

Purdue at Illinois (Sun., 7 p.m., FS1)

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Molly Geary picks Illinois: The Illini are a tough team to peg, but they should be energized at home for this one. Illinois' frontcourt of Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili can provide an answer for Purdue's Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams, and sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu has been heating up of late. Look out for Sasha Stefanovic though, who is coming off a 7-for-10 performance from three and could be an X-factor if the Boilermakers are to win on the road.

USC at Washington (Sun., 10 p.m., FS1)

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Max Meyer picks Washington: USC has been an incredibly inconsistent team under Andy Enfield, and those struggles really come out on the road in conference play. Isaiah Stewart vs. Onyeka Okongwu down low should be a fascinating matchup, but I think fellow five-star freshman Jayden McDaniels is the X-factor in this one. McDaniels has a tantalizing skill set, but he still needs to figure out how to put it all together in these types of games. I love Washington’s length, and Mike Hopkins’s willingness to play more man defense and switch things up can certainly throw the Trojans for a loop.