ESPN+ Week 13 guide: Big 12 takes center stage

Last week on ESPN+, Obi Toppin and the Atlantic 10 dominated the conversation, and two mid-major upsets — North Florida over Liberty and Southern Illinois over Northern Iowa — took center stage.

As we flip to the next seven days on ESPN’s streaming service, the Big 12 provides several quality matchups and a special battle in the SoCon cannot be overlooked.

In fact, Wednesday night could turn out to be one of the best slates on ESPN+ in a single day all season with a window that features a top-25 showdown, a TCU superstar and a rising A-10 squad looking to continue to build momentum.

1. No. 14 West Virginia Mountaineers at No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, Big 12 Now on ESPN+)

Two teams hoping to chase Baylor and Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings square off in what is expected to be a gritty battle in Lubbock.

The Mountaineers have been exceptionally strong at home, but somehow allowed 84 points to Kansas State and scored only 55 vs. Oklahoma State in their past two true road games. WVU’s lack of shot creators beyond Miles McBride has proved to be a major issue away from Morgantown, forcing Bob Huggins & Co. to rely on their defense and production on the offensive glass.

This matchup will likely be decided by whether the Red Raiders can limit the Mountaineers in the paint and if Davide Moretti and Jahmi’us Ramsey can take care of the ball against pressure. Either way, this should be a defense-oriented duel, giving viewers a treat.

2. Texas Longhorns at TCU Horned Frogs (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, Big 12 Now on ESPN+)

Texas continues to face immense pressure and desperation as Shaka Smart’s seat grows hotter with the Longhorns under .500 in the Big 12. While there are plenty of opportunities to earn Quad 1 wins for the remainder of the season, the Longhorns flopped after leading at halftime vs. Kansas and were blown out by Baylor and West Virginia.

Now Smart’s bunch has to shut down Desmond Bane. TCU’s senior guard has been a one-man wrecking crew, dropping 27 points in a win over Texas Tech last week, and has been extremely consistent.

Can the Longhorns record a monster road win and start to trend in the right direction? Or will the Horned Frogs continue to prove themselves as one of the conference’s elite?

3. UNC Greensboro Spartans at East Tennessee State Buccaneers (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)

In the first matchup, UNC Greensboro dominated the game in the opening half before ETSU’s depth wore down the Spartans to create a second-half comeback and a great road win.

Things don’t get easier for UNCG as it travels to Johnson City, Tennessee, for revenge.

Regardless of the location, these are two of the favorites — alongside Furman — to win the Southern Conference. They are also two of the better mid-majors in the country and potential NCAA tournament sleepers with their talent, experience and coaching. That alone makes this a must-see showdown.

4. Oklahoma Sooners at Kansas State Wildcats (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, Big 12 Now on ESPN+)

In their first conference game since the brawl vs. Kansas, the Wildcats look to play spoiler to Oklahoma’s potential rise in the Big 12 standings.

The Sooners have struggled with losses in three of their past five games. They have beaten Minnesota, Oregon State, Mississippi State and TCU this year, but have yet to record a true quality road win. While a victory at KSU won’t change that, they can ill afford to suffer a stain on their resume and need to turn things around before traveling to Texas Tech in early February.

Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek and Austin Reaves will have to break free from KSU’s swarming defense, but if OU can contain Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed, it could be a long night for the Wildcats.

5. Harvard Crimson at Princeton Tigers (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET)

Princeton is only 7-8, but the Tigers are 2-0 in the Ivy League and would have defeated Arizona State if not for a clutch 3. Meanwhile, Harvard is the heavy favorite to win the conference — even without Seth Towns — and has the skill and depth to do damage in March.

This is a chance to see if Princeton truly is in the same class as the top teams in the league. Yes, the Tigers topped Penn twice, but Harvard and Yale seem to be in a different category.

The Crimson are on an eight-game winning streak and will be on the tail end of a three-game road trip. That will make for an even more entertaining battle as Tommy Amaker’s bunch looks to build on its hot streak.

6. Davidson Wildcats at George Washington Colonials (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET)

As mentioned multiple times in this space, the Atlantic 10 is wide open beyond Dayton. Rhode Island, VCU and Richmond seem to be contenders for the second tier, but the conference tournament could be wild.

That opens the door for Davidson, a program that has vastly underachieved this season, but has NCAA tournament-level talent on paper. The Wildcats are unlikely to receive an at-large bid with their record and lack of chances moving forward, but they still possess A-10 preseason player of the year Jon Axel Gudmundsson and sharpshooter Kellan Grady.

Gudmundsson is the reason to tune in as he has started to look like his old self with 20-plus points in four of his past five. He and Grady will try to outduel George Washington’s Armel Potter.

7. Buffalo Bulls at Akron Zips (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)

If you have tuned in for any Akron games on ESPN+ this season, you can immediately tell this team is more than just a mid-major school. The Zips are a legitimate contender for the Big Dance and a potential sleeper if they reach the postseason.

Akron’s impressive second half vs. Ball State was overwhelming, its throttling of Northern Illinois on the road was splendid and its bounce-back against Miami (Ohio) after losing at home to Toledo showed the roster’s resilience.

Add the fact they’re playing a Buffalo team that has suddenly hit its stride with four wins in its past five games, and this game shouldn’t be missed with first place potentially on the line.

8. Missouri State Bears at Northern Iowa Panthers (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET)

Despite losing its first game of the new year last week at Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa is still considered the team to beat in the MVC. Behind AJ Green and a deep, disciplined roster, the Panthers will look to take down the Bears.

While catching UNI before March is necessary, Missouri State still presents a test. The Bears have disappointed in conference play but possess high-major transfer Lamont West and bucket-getter Keandre Cook. If USF transfer Tulio Da Silva is healthy, then the Bears pose an even bigger threat.

9. UMBC Retrievers at Stony Brook Seawolves (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)

Putting aside Stony Brook’s odd loss at home to Binghamton, the Seawolves are especially fun to watch thanks to their two leading scorers, Elijah Olaniyi and Chattanooga transfer Makale Foreman.

We’ll start with Olaniyi, who has bumped up his scoring average by seven points from last season. He dropped 28 in an impressive upset win on the road vs. Vermont and 30 in a blowout victory over Brown. Foreman has been special, scoring double digits in all but three games this season.

While the stars are the reason to tune in, UMBC’s consistent presence as a spoiler to conference title chasers in the past makes this an interesting America East matchup.

10. Quinnipiac Bobcats at Niagara Purple Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

With first and last place separated by just three games, there might not be a conference in the country with parity quite like the MAAC. Just look at Niagara. The Purple Eagles were picked ninth in the league’s preseason poll and dealt with the abrupt resignation of head coach Patrick Beilein weeks before the season opener. Now, former Duke guard and new coach Greg Paulus has led them to a 4-4 record in the MAAC despite nine losses before the new year.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats are desperately seeking consistency as they have dropped questionable affairs to Brown, Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson. Can Niagara continue its surprising campaign while QU searches for a massive win in its pursuit for its first MAAC title?

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