We flip the calendar from January to February this week, and a massive month awaits for teams all over Division I. After a thoroughly entertaining weekend that saw plenty of surprises ---- there will be opportunities for statement wins, résumé-boosting wins and, well, just-don't-mess-this-one-up wins.
As the headline of this piece suggests, the Big 12 continues to be head-and-shoulders above every conference, but that's not the only league worth monitoring as we near one month to go until conference tournament time. Behind No. 1 Purdue in the Big Ten standings is an unlikely candidate: Northwestern, which was picked 13th in the preseason poll. With No. 16 Xavier going down over the weekend, the top of the Big East is starting to bunch up, too. Even in a strange year for the ACC, North Carolina-Duke always delivers in some way, shape or form. Oh, and don't forget about the Mountain West, which would send four teams dancing if the NCAA Tournament began tomorrow.
It doesn't, of course. But it's getting closer.
This week's top games
No. 11 Baylor at No. 10 Texas (Monday, 9 p.m. on ESPN) -- Another Monday, another huge test for Baylor in the rugged Big 12. One week ago, the Bears in Waco. This week, they'll take their six-game winning streak to Austin for a duel with Texas.
Baylor's terrific offense -- No. 2 in the country in efficiency -- runs on an uber-talented backcourt, big men who hit the glass hard and terrific ball security. Over 43% of its shots in conference play have been 3-pointers, the highest rate in the league. Texas has Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer and Langston Love vs. Texas' Marcus Carr, Tyrese Hunter and Arterio Morris is worth the price of admission alone., though, and the Longhorns go nine deep. Plus, they've only lost once at home this season. The backcourt battle between Baylor's
No. 7 Kansas State at No. 8 Kansas (Tuesday, 8 p.m. on Big 12/ESPN+) -- This one doesn't need too much explaining. The last time these two teams played, Keyontae Johnson threw down a game-winning alley-oop in the Wildcats' to cap one of the best games of the season. With a whopping 67 combined free throws attempted, it was a battle befitting of the in-state rivalry.
The last time the Wildcats swept the Sunflower Showdown, however, was way back in 1983, and Jalen Wilson will have a big role in ensuring it stays that way. The junior has been as good as anyone in the sport not named Zach Edey with a career-high 38 points in the last meeting. Kansas State will have to do a better job guarding Wilson on the perimeter. Too many times, the Wildcats got caught sleeping against Wilson's off-ball movement or closed out poorly.
If Wilson's going to beat you with contested shots from deep, so be it. He's shooting under 35% from beyond the arc and went just 3 for 10 in the first meeting. But you can't give him open catch-and-shoot jumpers and allow direct drives to the rim.
No. 22 San Diego State at Nevada (Tuesday, 11 p.m. on CBS Sports Network) -- Two of the top teams in the Mountain West standings do battle in Reno, with Nevada looking to avenge its loss to San Diego State earlier in January. The Aztecs have wonderful balance with five players averaging at least eight points in conference play. The Aztecs have a terrific backcourt in Matt Bradley, Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler, with Adam Seiko coming off the bench (he had a career-high 25 points in an impressive win over Utah State last week). Nevada, though, hasn't lost at home this season and boasts standout wins over Boise State, Utah State and New Mexico -- three of the conference's top four teams -- at the Lawlor Events Center. Kenan Blackshear had 68 points over those three wins, and the Wolf Pack will need another big one from him Tuesday night.
No. 17 Providence at No. 16 Xavier (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. on FS1) -- This one will be a ton of fun, with both teams ranking top-20 nationally in offensive efficiency. They get it done in very different ways, though: Providence leads the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate in conference play; Xavier leads the way in 3-point percentage. Providence, meanwhile boasts the best 3-point defense in Big East play.
Keep an eye on a fascinating big man battle: Providence's Bryce Hopkins, a Kentucky transfer, leads the Big East in points per game in conference play and gets to the line at will. Xavier, meanwhile, boasts a pair of skilled bigs in Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Wednesday, 9 p.m. on ESPN 2) -- Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are top-40 teams nationally according to KenPom. They're also seventh and tied for eighth, respectively, in the conference standings. That's how good the Big 12 is. Grant Sherfield is coming off a 30-point explosion in the Sooners' huge win over No. 2 Alabama. Expect bedlam during the latest installment of the Bedlam Series
VCU at Saint Louis (Friday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2) -- Chaifetz Arena should be buzzing on Friday night with the Rams visiting the Billikens in a showdown between the top two teams in a competitive Atlantic 10. VCU owns the conference's best defense and has the A10's highest forced turnover percentage. However, slowing down the A10's most efficient offense will be no easy task. The Billikens are one of the nation's most experienced teams, with Division I assists per game leader Yuri Collins leading the way. Javonte Perkins is starting to find his groove after coming back from a torn ACL and a bothersome ankle injury. He's scored in double digits in five straight games.
No. 1 Purdue at No. 21 Indiana (Saturday, 4 p.m. on ESPN) -- After losing four of its first five Big Ten games, Indiana has come roaring back with five straight victories, four by double digits. Purdue, on the other hand, hasn't had any sort of inconsistency issues. The Boilermakers have one loss this season -- by one to Rutgers -- and Zach Edey, who averages 22.1 PPG and 13 RPG, has .
Edey's development has been remarkable. He's always been big. He hasn't always been able to finish both hands, use good footwork and timing to create space, or have the touch to finish off plays. He leads the country with 12 points per game on post ups, and it starts with him getting great positioning. His right-handed hook is nearly unstoppable, and if you overplay there, he can go over his left shoulder. If you try to deny the ball, he will stuff you in the basket. He now faces an Indiana defense that's among the worst in defending post-ups this season.
North Carolina at Duke (Saturday, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN) -- The second of these two matchups (on March 4) is among the , but this first meeting should be pretty good, too. These storied programs have split their last 40 meetings, 20-20.
Duke freshman Kyle Filipowski has been terrific despite injuries and uneven performances around him. He's on pace to be just the fourth ACC freshman to average at least 15 points and nine rebounds in the last 30 seasons, and the first since Marvin Bagley III in 2017-18. His battle with Armando Bacot down low will be a thrilling one. Only three players have more double-doubles than Bacot this season.
Plus, it's UNC-Duke. What more do I have to say?
No. 12 Gonzaga at No. 18 Saint Mary's (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN) -- Also featured in my early-January list, this is a brawl between the two best teams in the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs play fast and have one of the nation's best offenses. The Gaels play slow and have one of the nation's best defenses. Drew Timme is having yet another outstanding season, even if this year's Gonzaga team isn't Mark Few's best. Saint Mary's has four players averaging at least a dozen points -- tied for most of any team -- in what might be coach Randy Bennett's best group. This will be worth staying up for.
Three NBA Draft prospects to watch
- It's been a tough year for Villanova in Year 1 under Kyle Nepture after Jay Wright's retirement, but Cam Whitmore is starting to show what makes him such an enticing prospect. The strong-bodied small forward scored 21 points in a narrow loss to No. 23 Providence over the weekend and has scored in double digits in five of his last six games while shooting over 45% from 3 during that stretch. The Wildcats get tough tests at No. 14 Marquette and Creighton this week. Whitmore is fourth in our prospect rankings.
- Iowa is back on the good side of the bubble of Jerry Palm's Bracketology, but the Hawkeyes have work to do to stay there. That starts against Northwestern and Illinois -- both tournament teams currently -- this week. Kris Murray has been on a tear lately, with five games of at least 20 points in January, most of any Big Ten player. He's 15th in our prospect rankings.
- Indiana's Jalen Hood-Schifino is coming off a 24-point outing that included six 3-pointers in a win over Ohio State. That came after he hadn't made a single 3-pointer over his prior four games. Hood-Schifino leads the Hoosiers in assists, steals and turnovers, and he can run really hot and cold. Indiana will need him hot: The Hoosiers are at Maryland and home against No. 1 Purdue this week. Hood-Schifino is 35th in our prospect rankings.