For the past year, the conversation around conference realignment has been polarizing. While some believe there are benefits to the changing tide in college sports, most of the dialogue around realignment has been unfavorable.
There are teams, however, that because of realignment will earn opportunities to compete against top programs and prove they belong, too. That’s the positive.
Just ask the Big 12. Newcomers Houston, BYU and Cincinnati Bearcats are all in the top 30 on KenPom. And UCFthe fourth addition to the league this season, secured wins over Kansas and Texas in the past week.
They’re not alone. Florida Atlantic reached the Final Four in March, and now the Owls are in the mix to win the American Athletic Conference title in their first season in the league.
It’s happening in the non-Power 5 leagues, too. First-year head coach Chad Boudreau has led Western Illinois on a nine-game winning streak entering its matchup against Tennessee State on Saturday. Western Illinois could win the Ohio Valley Conference crown in its first year in the league.
A year from now, the real chaos will arrive when the Pac-12 breakup sends teams across the country. And the conversation about rivalries and tradition — and the impact of realignment on those principles — will persist. But realignment has enhanced the competitive value in college basketball, too.
All odds from ESPN BET.
UCF Knights vs. Texas Longhorns: Full Highlights
UCF Knights vs. Texas Longhorns: Full Highlights
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
This game is significant for the in-state rivals. An opening was created for Baylor in the Big 12 race when, last week, Houston lost back-to-back games and Kansas suffered a surprising loss at UCF. An undefeated Baylor squad ascended to the top of the league standings. But a 68-64 overtime loss at Kansas State on Tuesday demonstrated the challenges every team in America’s top league will face this season. Any stumble could be costly as Houston and Kansas try to climb back to the top of the standings.
For Texas, every game is a must-win right now. The Elite Eight squad from a year ago added potent scorer Max Abmas (17.8 PPG). But last week’s win at Cincinnati is the only top-50 KenPom win on the Longhorns’ résumé. Their NCAA tournament hopes — they are 59th in the NET rankings — are dwindling. With three losses in four games, Texas must start racking up quality wins to have even a slim chance to play its way onto the bubble.
Medcalf’s pick: Baylor, 77-70; Against the spread: Unavailable at time of publication
The highlights that Steven Ashworth is bringing to Creighton
Check out the highlights that should make fans excited about Steven Ashworth transferring to Creighton.
No. 18 Creighton (13-5, 4-3 Big East) at Seton Hall (13-5, 6-1 Big East)
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, FS1
When Shaheen Holloway earned his first head-coaching job at Saint Peter’s in 2018, he employed a philosophy that has since carried him to the top of the Big East standings as the second-year head coach at Seton Hall, which is tied with UConn for first place. All of Holloway’s teams have forced turnovers on nearly 20% of their opponents’ possessions. It’s a constant for his teams.
Well, Creighton is 10th in the conference with turnovers on 19% of its possessions in Big East play. Trey Alexander (16.3 PPG, 4.5 APG) has committed 16 turnovers in his past five games. But the Bluejays boast one of America’s top defensive units, too. And a Seton Hall team that struggles from the 3-point line (32.6%) and doesn’t have a real offensive identity beyond Kadary Richmond (16.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, 2.2 SPG) trying to make a play will have to solve that challenge.
Medcalf’s pick: Seton Hall, 72-69; Against the spread: Unavailable at time of publication
Tide rolls to win over Mizzou to remain unbeaten in SEC
Five players score in double figures to lead Alabama (12-5 overall, 4-0 in SEC) to a 93-75 triumph over visiting Missouri at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Dalton Knecht‘s breakout season continues. Last week, he was listed as a projected first-round pick in ESPN’s latest mock draft. He has earned it. Knecht, the Northern Colorado transfer, has averaged 34.3 PPG in Tennessee’s past three games. As he has emerged, Tennessee has made progress, too. Yes, this is arguably America’s best defensive team, but with Knecht’s hot hand, the Vols also have a star and playmaker who anchors an offense that has scored 80 points or more in 10 games.
However, Alabama has America’s best offensive attack (ranked first in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom). It’s a chaotic, breathtaking display that few teams have matched in college basketball. Mark Sears (19.6 PPG, 48% from beyond the arc) leads an Alabama team that shoots 3-pointers on half of its attempts and also makes nearly 40% of those shots. This is a classic battle between a great offensive team and a great defensive team. The winner will have the edge in a crowded race for the SEC championship.
Medcalf’s pick: Tennessee, 86-80; Against the spread: Unavailable at time of publication
Medcalf’s picks straight up: 25-13
Against the spread: 18-20