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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Around the Country: Ranked matchups abound in Saturday’s slate

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Fans during Texas A&M’s game against Mississippi on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, at Reed Arena. (Ishika Samant/The Battalion)

No. 4 Houston at No. 8 Kansas

Saturday, Feb. 3 — Allen Fieldhouse — Lawrence, Kansas

3 p.m. on ESPN

Fresh off a 76-72 overtime victory over Texas on Jan. 29, the No. 4 Houston Cougars look to grab their third-straight road conference win of the year.

Coach Kelvin Sampson’s squad is one of the elite teams in the nation and comes into the matchup 19-2 with a 6-2 conference record. It’s led by senior guard Jamal Shead who scored 25 points against the Longhorns.

Shead is Houston’s second-leading scorer at 12.3 points a game, but he is also one of the best defensive players in the nation with 2.2 steals per game. Houston is also the best defensive team in the nation, as it holds opponents to an average of 52.9 points per game.

Senior G LJ Cryer leads the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game, but he has struggled the past two games. However, the Baylor transfer has been one of the best scorers throughout his career. If he can find his footing in this game, it could pose some challenges for the Jayhawks.

On the other hand, Kansas enters this game 17-4 and 5-3 in conference play. The silver lining for the Jayhawks is that all three of their conference losses have come away from home. They have also won every true-home game this year.

The Jayhawks are led by graduate G Kevin McCullar Jr. and senior center Hunter Dickinson. McCullar missed Kansas’ last game versus Oklahoma State due to a bruised knee, but he leads Kansas in scoring at 19.8 points per game. It’s assumed he’ll find a way to play in a top-10 conference matchup come Saturday.

Dickinson transferred to Lawrence after spending three years playing for Michigan. He averages 18.7 points a game on 59.2% shooting and 37.8% from 3. He also fills the stat sheet with 11.2 rebounds per game, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. The Cougars also don’t have the size to match his 7-foot-2 frame.

The Cougars struggle with consistency on the offensive end at times. They usually solve this with offensive rebounding and second-chance points, but Dickinson’s presence may be a problem for Sampson’s team. However, Houston’s defense should make some crucial stops throughout the game.

Prediction: Houston 72, Kansas 69

No. 7 Duke at No. 3 North Carolina

Saturday, Feb. 3 — Dean E. Smith Center — Chapel Hill, North Carolina

5:30 p.m. on ESPN

Saturday marks the 192nd all-time meeting between these two blue bloods in arguably college basketball’s top rivalry. Both programs are consistently elite each season, and this year is no different.

North Carolina and Duke have set themselves apart as the best teams in the ACC with records of 9-1 and 7-2, respectively, having both been bitten by the upset bug. The Blue Devils have fallen to both Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, while the Tar Heels dropped their first conference game this week with a loss to the Yellow Jackets.

Don’t let that distract you from how good these teams are, though. They’re used to the spotlight and can be expected to make plenty of noise in the NCAA Tournament come March. North Carolina boasts the ACC’s top scorer in senior G RJ Davis with 21.5 points per game, while graduate forward Armando Bacot is the conference’s No. 1 rebounder at 9.9 per game.

Duke’s answer to the Tar Heels’ duo is sophomore C Kyle Filipowski, a seven-footer ranking in the top seven of the ACC in points per game, rebounds and field goal percentage. His 17.5 points pace a group of five Blue Devils averaging 10 points or more per game.

Prediction: North Carolina 75, Duke 72

No. 12 Iowa State at No. 18 Baylor

Saturday, Feb. 3 — Foster Pavilion — Waco

7 p.m. on ESPN2

There’s never much time to sleep in the Big 12, as Baylor kicks off a four-game stretch against ranked teams in the country’s best conference. The Bears managed to stop the bleeding of a three-game losing skid this week, but return to the grind against an Iowa State team that has taken down the likes of Houston and Kansas.

The matchup presents an interesting dichotomy between the Bears’ Big 12-leading offense at 84.7 points and the conference’s second-best defense in the Cyclones at 61.8 points. Baylor’s freshman G Ja’Kobe Walter has lived up to his five-star status with a team-high 14.9 points per game. Senior G RayJ Dennis adds 13.2 points and 6.7 assists per game while sinking 49.1% of his shots.

Iowa State will be tasked with making Walter and Dennis uncomfortable with the ball, as three Cyclones rank in the Top 10 in the conference in steals. Sophomore G Tamin Lipsey leads the way with 3.1 steals and a team-leading 13.9 points per game. Junior G Keshon Gilbert is right behind at 13.7 points and 1.8 steals per contest.

Prediction: Baylor 68, Iowa State 64

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About the Contributors
Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a junior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
Eli Meschko
Eli Meschko, Sports Writer
Eli Meschko is a journalism senior from Boerne, Texas, and is minoring in communication and sports management. Eli has covered football, men's basketball, baseball, softball, hockey and track & field. Eli also writes for Dave Campbell's Texas Football as an intern. After graduation, Eli plans on pursuing a career in sports media or public relations.
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