2018 Big 12 Preview: Best Non-Conference Matchups

Last week, I completed our team preview series, looking in-depth at each Big 12 team and their outlook for this season. Check these out if you haven’t; they will be well worth your time. (I wrote over 30,000 words in total, so it will definitely take a bit of your time.)

We are now just one day away from the start of the season, and I wanted to examine what non-conference matchups we should most looking forward to. So, let’s examine the top couple of matchups for each Big 12 team. A couple things to consider–first, there are preseason conference tournaments where a potential matchup could be quite intriguing. I’ll look into some of these that we may see if we’re lucky. Second, the Big 12/SEC Challenge obviously consists of non-conference matchups, but it feels very different, especially considering the fact that it occurs in January. So none of those matchups will be included here; I’ll do a breakdown of that event once it rolls around in late January. This will essentially be a look at games that are played before conference play starts on December 29. Alright, let’s dive in.

Baylor Bears:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Saturday, December 2 vs. Wichita State
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Wichita State: 4th, Baylor: 19th
Current Kenpom Projection: Wichita State 72-71 Baylor
Assessment:
  Baylor has a really fun non-conference schedule, and this is the highlight. Baylor’s non-conference slate includes this game in Waco against Wichita State, an away game in Cincinnati against Xavier on November 28th, and the CBE Classic in Kansas City. They open the CBE Classic against Wisconsin and then will either play UCLA or Creighton in their 2nd matchup.

  Wichita State is apparently the 11th Big 12 team this season, as they have non-conference games against Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State. This will be a chance for Baylor to get a big resume win, as Wichita State will likely be a top-10 team all season.
•  Last season, Wichita State was the 9th best team in the country in Opponents OReb Rate, at 24.2%. Baylor was 3rd in the country at OReb Rate, at 39.8%. That could be where the game is decided.

Best Potential Matchup: Tuesday, November 21 in CBE Classic vs. UCLA
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Baylor: 19th, UCLA: 29th
Assessment:
• 
Baylor opens the CBE Classic against Wisconsin on Monday, November 20. Depending on the result there, they will face either Creighton or UCLA in their 2nd game. Facing UCLA would include a fun backcourt matchup of Manu Lecomte vs. highly-touted freshman Jaylen Hands.


Iowa State Cyclones:

Best Matchup: Friday, November 10 at Missouri
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Iowa State: 34th, Missouri: 81st
Current Kenpom Projection: Iowa State 76-72 Missouri
Assessment:
•  
Iowa State’s conference schedule is highlighted by this game, their annual matchup against in-state rival, Iowa, and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which will be played in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina due to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. That Puerto Rico field isn’t great, though, with the best teams in the field probably being a rebuilding Iowa State, a rebuilding South Carolina, and Boise State.

•  Playing at Missouri is a very fun opening night game, and it will be difficult. The crowd in Columbia will be rambunctious as hell, as the arrival of Michael Porter, Jr. has brought excitement to the previously struggling program for the first time in a long time. Facing Porter will be very difficult, he’s a 6’10” do-everything forward who can beat you inside or step out and hit jumpers from the perimeter. It will be a serious challenge for the Cyclones.
•  Kenpom has Iowa State projected to win by four, but take that with a grain of salt. Pomeroy has stated that his preseason projections are based off a variety of factors, but one of these is program success over the last few years. Iowa State and Missouri couldn’t have been more different in this factor recently. So Iowa State is probably a bit overvalued, considering all of their new guys, and Missouri is probably a bit undervalued, considering the arrival of Porter and head coach Cuonzo Martin.

Second Best Matchup: Thursday, December 7 vs. Iowa
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Iowa State: 34th, Iowa: 54th
Current Kenpom Projection: Iowa State 82-76 Iowa
Assessment:
•  
This will be another very fun edition of the Cy-Hawk game, this season in Ames. Non-conference rivalry games like these that are actually played on campuses in each team’s arenas are great, and they’re not happening nearly enough anymore. Last year, Iowa beat the Cyclones in Iowa City to end Iowa State’s 3-year winning streak. Iowa has a solid team this year, with a lot of young players returning. They’ll head into this game in Ames expecting to win. Hilton will be raucous.


Kansas Jayhawks:

Best Matchup: Tuesday, November 14 vs. Kentucky
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Kansas: 5th, Kentucky: 2nd
Current Kenpom Projection: Kentucky 80-78 Kansas
Assessment:
  The unofficial start to college basketball the last few years has been the Champions Classic. The season starting on a Friday night has always been a bit weird, so the Champions Classic on the following Tuesday always fits the sports calendar nicely. It also doesn’t hurt that the night always consists of Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan State.

  This year, Kansas will face off against Kentucky. Kentucky’s team is as young as it’s ever been, which is an amazing thing to say considering it generally always consists of 18 and 19-year olds. But this year, that’s really all they’ve got. There are no upperclassmen on this roster. Because of this, I expect Kansas to win this game, perhaps easily. But watching this amount of talent on the court this early in the season will be great.

Second Best Matchup: Saturday, December 2 vs. Syracuse
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Kansas: 5th, Syracuse: 68th
Current Kenpom Projection: Kansas 81-71 Syracuse
Assessment:
•  
The rest of Kansas’ non-conference schedule is alright, but there’s no matchups that are overwhelmingly great. They play Washington in Kansas City, Arizona State at home, Nebraska on the road in Lincoln, and Stanford in Sacramento. The Stanford matchup will be fun, because we’ll get to see Reid Travis battle Udoka Azubuike in the post, but none of those wow me. So I’ll say the 2nd best matchup is their neutral site game against Syracuse in Miami. Syracuse is down this year, but it’ll be fun to watch these teams play for only the 2nd time since the National Championship game that Kansas lost to Syracuse in 2003 (Kansas also lost to Syracuse in OT in the 2009 season). They always say revenge is a dish best served 14 years later, right?


Kansas State Wildcats:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Sunday, December 3 at Vanderbilt
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Kansas State: 38th, Vanderbilt: 39th
Current Kenpom Projection: Vanderbilt 73-70 Kansas State
Assessment:
  Kansas State’s non-conference slate last season was a bit underwhelming, and the same is true this year. Neutral site matchups against Arizona State and Tulsa are two of the best confirmed games on the schedule besides this matchup against Vanderbilt. This game in Nashville features two teams who should be very evenly matched. Kenpom has them just a spot apart in their preseason ratings, so expect a close one here.

  Vanderbilt shot it very well from 3 last season, ranking 61st in the country at 37.6% from 3. Kansas State’s defense last year was either quite unlucky or simply bad at defending 3-pointers last season, as teams shot 38.2% against them, which ranked 322nd nationally. Shockingly, shooting will be a key on December 3rd in Nashville.

Best Potential Matchup: Friday, November 24 in Las Vegas Invitational vs. Xavier
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Kansas State: 38th, Xavier: 26th
Assessment:
•  Kansas State’s non-conference tournament this season is the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend. They play Arizona State in their opener. If they can win, they will very likely play Xavier in the final, who plays George Washington in their opener. If they face Xavier, they’ll face a team returning Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura from an Elite 8 squad. Xavier should be very good this season; this would be a good test for Kansas State.

  An added bonus if this game happens–we will all be able to remember just how fun the Xavier/Kansas State Sweet 16 game in 2010 was. This was the peak Jordan Crawford, Jacob Pullen, and Gus Johnson all at the same time.


Oklahoma Sooners:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Friday, December 8th at USC
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Oklahoma: 21st, USC: 12th
Current Kenpom Projection: USC 79-75 Oklahoma
Assessment:
  Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule is really fun! And it’s very difficult, too, perhaps too difficult. It was tough to even pick the best matchup. Oklahoma’s slate includes this matchup against USC in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, a road game at Wichita State, a home game against Northwestern, the inaugural PK80 tournament in Portland. Oklahoma opens that tournament against Arkansas, could potentially face North Carolina in Game 2, and could face Michigan State, Oregon, or UConn in Game 3. There’s a good chance they will play six games in the non-conference against high-major opponents, and only one of them will be played in Norman.

  This is good and bad for the Sooners. The good thing is the opportunity is obviously there. If they can survive non-conference play with only 1-3 losses, it means they will have picked up some very impressive wins that will help them once Selection Sunday rolls around. The bad side of this is that playing tough, good teams means it’s totally reasonable to expect that they may lose. If they go 1-5 or 2-4 in these non-conference games, they could head into conference play at 6-5 or 7-4. Let’s say they go 9-9 in conference play and also lose their Big 12/SEC Challenge game, which will be a difficult road game at Alabama. Suddenly, Oklahoma would end the regular season with a 16-14 record, and it would be questionable if they would make the NCAA Tournament. So, these non-conference games will be huge for Oklahoma. 3-3 should be the worst-case scenario goal in those six big ones in order to feel comfortable headed into conference play.

Best Potential Matchups: November 24th/26 in PK80 Game 2 vs North Carolina and/or PK80 Game 3 vs. Michigan State
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Oklahoma: 21st, North Carolina: 13th, Michigan State: 10th
Assessment:
•  
The PK80 should be a lot of fun, and Oklahoma’s path to get some quality victories sets up nicely. If they can beat Arkansas, they’ll likely face a Joel Berry-less North Carolina team. That could look like a very nice resume win in March where the committee will likely forget or fail to consider beating a UNC team without Berry. If they can play Michigan State in their 3rd game, all the better. It would mean they’ve likely made the tournament’s title game and would have an opportunity for another huge win.


Oklahoma State Cowboys:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Saturday, December 9 vs. Wichita State
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Wichita State: 4th, Oklahoma State: 50th
Current Kenpom Projection: Wichita State 80-74 Oklahoma State
Assessment:
  Here’s another Big 12 team who faces Wichita State in their non-conference. Oklahoma State beat Wichita State last season by 17 points in Wichita and will get them at home this year. It will be a big opportunity for a low-expectation team to pick up a major win over what will likely be a top-10 team. Kenpom projects Wichita State at a 68% probability of winning this one.

  I hope Wichita State’s Markis McDuffie is healthy for this one. He’s battling a foot injury right now and is expected to be back sometime in December. Watching him and Jeffrey Carroll go at each other on the wing would be a fun little duel.

Second Best Matchup: Monday, November 20 in Legends Classic vs. Texas A&M
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Oklahoma State: 50th, Texas A&M: 15th
Current Kenpom Projection: Texas A&M 76-71
Assessment:
•  
The rest of Oklahoma State’s non-conference schedule is pretty ho-hum. They’ll face Florida State in a semi-away game in Miami on December 16. They’ve got Tulsa at home on December 19. The other big test will be opening against Texas A&M in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn on November 20. A&M will be a very difficult test, especially the prospect of facing their frontcourt. Tyler Davis is a great back-to-the-basket college center, and forward Robert Williams is an athletic freak who could be a lottery pick. The Cowboys will be expected to lose that one, but it’ll be a nice opportunity for Mike Boynton to see where his team is.

•  Their 2nd game in Brooklyn will be against either Penn State or Pittsburgh. Assuming the first night’s games go according to the odds, they’ll likely face Pittsburgh in the consolation game. In previous years, this would provide an opportunity for a nice resume win. Not exactly the case this year. Pittsburgh could very well be the worst high-major program this season. So instead of an opportunity for a nice win, it will be important for the Cowboys to avoid a bad loss if they face Pitt.


TCU Horned Frogs:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Tuesday, December 5 vs. SMU
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: TCU: 14th, SMU: 24th
Current Kenpom Projection: TCU 73-68 SMU
Assessment:
  In Jamie Dixon’s first season, TCU’s non-conference schedule was lacking. The only quality team they played were SMU and Illinois State. The schedule this season is slightly better, but it’s still pretty meh. The highlight is an in-state matchup at home against SMU. SMU lost Semi Ojeleye and Sterling Brown off of last year’s team to graduation and the NBA, but talented guard Shake Milton is back. That will be the fun matchup here; seeing Milton battle Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher in the backcourt should make for a fun Tuesday in December.

Best Potential Matchup: Saturday, November 25 in Emerald Coast Classic vs. Maryland
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: TCU: 14th, Maryland: 41st
Assessment:
•  
Other highlights on the pre-conference schedule include two sneaky home games against Belmont and Yale. Yale will include a matchup against a very good PG in Makai Mason, who has already announced that he will be a graduate transfer to Baylor for the 2018-19 season due to the Ivy League’s redshirt rules. Mason was the star of the Yale team that beat Baylor in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and nearly defeated Duke.

  TCU also has a neutral site game against Nevada. Nevada is the mid-major version of Transfer U. They’ve got a lot of talented dudes who have left major conference programs to play in Reno; it should be a fun matchup.
  The Horned Frogs’ preseason tournament is the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida. If they can win their opener against New Mexico, it could lead to a matchup against Maryland. Maryland lost Melo Trimble off of last year’s team, but return three quality sophomores in Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter, and Anthony Cowan. Watching Justin Jackson battle against Kenrich Williams at the 4 could be very fun and could showcase Williams’ talents against a fellow potential NBA player.


Texas Longhorns:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Thursday, November 23 in PK80 vs. Butler
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Texas: 37th; Butler: 42nd
Current Kenpom Projection: Texas 73-72 Butler
Assessment:
  Texas is also in the PK80 tournament in Portland this season. The PK80 features 16 teams in two different brackets, and Texas will be in the “Motion Bracket”, whatever the hell that means. They will open against Butler, in a game featuring two evenly-matched teams. Butler is known for playing incredibly disciplined, fundamentally sound basketball. Texas is uhh… not known for that. They turned it over like crazy and took awful shots all season under Shaka Smart last year. The hope is incoming freshmen Matt Coleman and Mohamed Bamba will start to change the culture and playing style a bit. We’ll see a fun PG matchup in this one, as Matt Coleman will face off against Kamar Baldwin, who had a very good freshman season for Butler last year.

Best Potential Matchup: Friday, November 24 in PK80 vs. Duke
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Texas: 37th, Duke: 6th
Assessment:
• 
If Texas can beat Butler in the first game of the legendary and historically significant Motion Bracket, they’ll almost assuredly play Duke, who opens against Portland State. This would mean a matchup of two Top 5 recruits, in Mohamed Bamba and Marvin Bagley III. That’s fun! Seeing the #1 and #3 recruits in 247Sports recruiting rankings play in November is something we should all want to see.

  Regardless of what happens in their first two games of the world-renowned and illustrious Motion Bracket, their 3rd game should be fun. The other side of the bracket includes Florida, Stanford, Ohio State, and Gonzaga. Whomever they play out of that group should provide a nice chance for Texas to measure themselves against a quality, high-major team.
  As for the rest of their non-conference slate, Texas will face some good tests when they play at VCU on December 5th, home against Michigan on December 12th, and in Birmingham against Alabama on December 22nd. Currently, Collin Sexton has yet to be declared eligible by Alabama or the NCAA, but if he is by the 22nd of December, that would be another fun PG matchup between him and Matt Coleman.


Texas Tech Red Raiders:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Thursday, November 30 vs. Seton Hall
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Texas Tech: 33rd, Seton Hall: 28th
Current Kenpom Projection: Seton Hall 73-70 Texas Tech
Assessment:
  Texas Tech’s non-conference schedule last season was truly awful. The toughest opponent they played was Auburn, who was ranked 82nd in Kenpom at the end of the year. They had the worst non-conference strength of schedule in the country, according to Kenpom, ranking 351st out of 351 teams. Even if they finished strongly down the stretch in conference play, that non-conference schedule would have made it difficult for them to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

  This season? It’s gotten a bit better. The Red Raiders will play a home game against Nevada. Their preseason tournament is the Hall of Fame Tip Off in Connecticut, where they will open against Boston College and will face either La Salle or Northwestern in their 2nd game.
  The toughest test will essentially be a road game against Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden. Seton Hall is ranked 28th in Kenpom’s preseason ratings, slightly ahead of Texas Tech at 33. There will be a couple fun matchups here. The Seton Hall backcourt features ball-dominant guard Khadeen Carrington, who will matchup against Keenan Evans. And in Seton Hall’s frontcourt is forward Angel Delgado, who is a double-double machine who averaged 15 and 13 for the Pirates last season. That will be a great early season test for Zach Smith.

Best Potential Matchup: Sunday, November 19th in Hall of Fame Tip Off vs. Northwestern
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: Texas Tech: 33rd, Northwestern: 18th
Assessment:
•  
If things go according to the odds, Texas Tech should meet Northwestern in their second game of the Hall of Fame Tip Off. This would be another good test for the Red Raiders, far better than anything they faced in last season’s non-conference slate. Both should make the NCAA Tournament this season, and it actually seems like a hypothetical 7-10 matchup that you’d see in March.


West Virginia Mountaineers:

Best Confirmed Matchup: Friday, November 10 in Germany vs. Texas A&M
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: West Virginia: 7th, Texas A&M: 15th
Current Kenpom Projection: West Virginia 73-71 Texas A&M
Assessment:
  West Virginia opens the season tomorrow in Germany in the Armed Forces Classic against Texas A&M. The Mountaineers caught a bit of a break with this one, as Texas A&M has suspended star forward Robert Williams for the game, as well as guards JJ Caldwell, Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg. First, this means West Virginia could pick up a neutral-site win that would look very good in March, perhaps without the consideration by the committee that it was not a full-strength A&M team that West Virginia faced. Second, not facing Robert Williams when the alternative is facing Robert Williams will certainly make things easier. Third, when your opponent loses three quality guards and your preferred defensive plan is to press the shit out of them, well, that doesn’t suck. This game will also be a good test for Sagaba Konate. He’s making his first start at center for the Mountaineers, and he won’t face many better centers in college basketball than Tyler Davis.

Best Potential Matchup: Sunday, November 26 in Advocare Invitational Game 3 vs. Missouri
Preseason Kenpom Rankings: West Virginia: 7th, Missouri: 81st
Assessment:
•  
This season, West Virginia is playing in the Advocare Invitational. The field includes Missouri, St. John’s, Nebraska, and UCF among others. West Virginia opens against Marist and will likely face the winner of Nebraska and UCF. If they face UCF in Game 2, get ready scoreboards, because you may not reach 55. West Virginia was ranked 4th nationally in Adj. Defensive Efficiency last season and UCF was ranked 18th, and the Golden Knights also played an incredibly slow pace.

  The highlight of the tournament would be if West Virginia and Missouri are able to face off in the championship game. Seeing Michael Porter play against West Virginia’s press and intense ball pressure would be an absolute treat. I know I want to see if he can handle that kind of defense and physicality early in his career.
  The rest of West Virginia’s non-conference schedule is fairly mediocre. The highlights include a home game against Virginia on December 5th. Last season, the Mountaineers were able to defeat Virginia in Charlottesville, which was a hell of a game to watch. This year is the return matchup in Morgantown. They will also play a road game against Pittsburgh on December 9th that is probably one that Bob Huggins hoped would be a touch more difficult.

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