As we get deeper into the month of February, we get closer to experiencing the magic of March once again.
Conference tournaments will soon tip off on college basketball courts across the country with some teams looking to cement their status as NCAA Tournament contenders while others try to get off of the bubble.
Traditional blue blood Kansas has earned a spot in Contest General’s top 10 this week following a win over West Virginia. Bill Self’s Jayhawks earned a 77-69 win over the Mountaineers on Saturday, aided by 35 free throw attempts (WVU attempted just two), and they are now tied with Texas Tech atop the Big 12 standings after the Red Raiders fell at Baylor.
The Jayhawks are trying to extend their incredible streak of league titles to 14 years despite having three home losses in a season for the first time under Self and being anything but Self’s best team in Lawrence. Someway, somehow KU can still earn a top-two seed in the Big Dance for the ninth consecutive season.
Meanwhile in the ACC, Virginia is closing in on the league’s regular-season title as the Cavaliers have a three-game lead in the conference with four games left to play. Tony Bennett’s squad is poised to finish with the best ACC record for the third time in a five-year span. There is no doubt that the Cavaliers are going to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament—their resume is just too strong.
It has certainly been quite the year for UVA, which occupies the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 1982.
Let’s take a look at how Contest General stacks up the top 25 this week.
1. Virginia (24-2): The Cavaliers have 11 wins over KenPom top-50 squads, including victories over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Rhode Island. The Hoos bounced back nicely from their overtime loss to rival Virginia Tech and are poised to be a matchup nightmare in The Dance.
2. Michigan State (26-3): Tom Izzo and Co. will ride a 10-game winning streak into Tuesday’s tilt against Illinois after completing an historic comeback on Saturday to stun Northwestern on the road. Point guard Cassius Winston put on a clinic against the Wildcats, recording 17 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
3. Villanova (24-3): The Wildcats have claimed nine wins over KenPom top-50 squads, including a regular-season sweep of Xavier, which may be seeing its goal of a Big East regular-season title slipping away. ‘Nova comfortably beat the Musketeers in two battles this season (a 24-point home rout on January 10 and a 16-point road knockout over the weekend).
4. Xavier (24-4): The Musketeers have 10 wins over KenPom top-50 squads, and their only losses in their last 11 games have come against Villanova. But Chris Mack’s team, which made the Elite Eight last year and is shooting for its first Final Four in program history, was handled twice by the Wildcats. That’s disappointing.
5. Duke (22-5): Coach K’s Blue Devils have eight top-50 KenPom wins, and they claimed their third straight victory on Sunday with a triumph at Clemson. All three wins have come without superstar freshman Marvin Bagley III. The cupboard is never bare in Durham.
6. Texas Tech (22-5): The Red Raiders have accrued nine top-50 KenPom wins and are tied with Kansas for the Big 12 lead at 10-4. But the defensive-minded Red Raiders fell by 2 at Baylor on Saturday and lost star Keenan Evans to an unspecified toe injury.
7. Kansas (21-6): The Jayhawks have recorded 11 top-50 KenPom wins and are on a two-game winning streak after notching victories over Iowa State last Tuesday and West Virginia on Saturday.
8. Gonzaga (25-4): The Zags will ride a nine-game winning streak into Thursday’s game at San Diego. Their RPI ranking took a dip since last week because their wins came against Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, so it will be interesting to see how the Zags fit into the seeding equation next month.
9. Purdue (24-5): The Boilermakers had lost three straight games since starting 12-0 in the Big Ten. However, they were able to snag a 76-73 win over Penn State on Sunday despite not having Vince Edwards. They are 13-3 in the Big Ten, a game back of Michigan State.
10. Cincinnati (23-4): The Bearcats had their 16-game winning streak snapped last Thursday at Houston, and they dropped their second in a row on Sunday with a loss to Wichita State. They are 12-2 in the AAC, but they are 1-4 against top-50 KenPom teams—22-0 against everybody else. Mick Cronin’s team will look for redemption in a rematch with the Shockers on March 4.
11. North Carolina (21-7): The Tar Heels have notched 10 top-50 KenPom wins and have won five straight games since losing at Clemson. The reigning national champs are getting strong play from junior forward Luke Maye, who is performing at an All-American level.
12. Auburn (23-4): The Tigers sit alone atop the SEC at 11-3 in conference play. But they are coming off of an upset loss at South Carolina as well as a season-ending injury to shot-blocker Anfernee McLemore.
13. Clemson (20-6): Brad Brownell is enjoying a nice season after entering it on the hot seat as his Tigers have notched seven top-50 KenPom wins.
14. Wichita State (21-5): The Shockers snapped Cincinnati’s 39-game home winning streak on Sunday, and it was a marquee victory for a program that made the jump from the Missouri Valley to the AAC. Gregg Marshall continues to show why he is one of the best coaches in the nation.
15. Ohio State (22-7): Sitting at 13-3, the Buckeyes are one game back of Michigan State in the Big Ten standings. But they did not play well last week at Penn State and at Michigan as Keita Bates-Diop struggled.
16. West Virginia (19-8): The Mountaineers have nine top-50 KenPom wins and are one of only two teams to beat No. 1 Virginia.
17. Michigan (22-7): The Wolverines have a strong resume, including a double-digit victory at Michigan State. Michigan is coming off of a win over Ohio State, which rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat the Wolverines earlier in the season.
18. Arizona (21-6): The Wildcats are 11-3 in the Pac-12, and their road win at Arizona State gives them an advantage for the league title down the stretch. But Rawle Alkins needs to be more consistent.
19. Rhode Island (21-4): The Rams’ 16-game winning streak was snapped Friday at St. Bonaventure. URI, however, is still in control of the Atlantic 10 standings.
20. Tennessee (19-7): Rick Barnes’ squad has lost two of three and is two games behind Auburn in the SEC standings. Scoring has been an issue as of late, especially from downtown.
21. Nevada (23-5): The Wolf Pack’s only home loss came when their leading scorer (Caleb Martin) was sidelined, and they have a sweep of Boise State under their belt. They also have a win over Rhode Island on their resume.
22. Florida State (19-8): Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles own road wins over Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida.
23. Houston (21-5): The Cougars are coming off of a very big week that included a win over Cincinnati and a road victory over Temple.
24. Arizona State (19-7): The Sun Devils have four top-50 KenPom wins and own victories over Xavier, Kansas and Kansas State.
25. Kentucky (18-9): The Wildcats have five top-50 KenPom wins, and they snapped their four-game losing streak on Saturday with a win over Alabama.
On the outside looking in
*Saint Mary’s (25-4)
*Middle Tennessee (22-5)