We reverse the calendar from January to February this week and a huge month awaits teams across Division I. After a thoroughly enjoyable weekend which saw many surprises, especially in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, there will be opportunities for declaration wins, resume-boosting wins and, well, just-don’t-mistake-this-one-up wins.
As the title 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 approach a month before conference tournament time . Behind #1 Purdue in the Big Ten is an unlikely candidate: Northwestern, which was picked 13th in the preseason poll. With No. 16 Xavier dropping over the weekend, the top of the Big East is starting to regroup as well. Even in an odd year for the ACC, North Carolina-Duke always delivers in some way, shape or form. Oh, and don’t forget the Mountain West, which would have four teams dancing if the NCAA tournament started tomorrow.
Obviously not. But she is getting closer.
The best games of this week
No. 11 Baylor at No. 10 Texas (Monday, 9:00 p.m. on ESPN) — Another Monday, another huge test for Baylor in the rugged Big 12. A week ago, the Bears beat then no. 9 Kansas to Waco. This week they will take their six game hitting streak to Austin for a duel with Texas.
Baylor’s formidable offense, No. 2 in the country in efficiency, runs off a super-talented backcourt, hard-hitting long men on the glass, and outstanding ball safety. More than 43% of his conference shots have been from 3-point range, the highest rate in the league. Texas has its lethal offense in transition, though, and the Longhorns go deep nine. Additionally, they have only lost once at home this season. The backcourt battle between Baylor’s Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer and Langston Love against Texas’ Marcus Carr, Tyrese Hunter and Arterio Morris is worth the price of admission alone.
No. 7 Kansas State at No. 8 Kansas (Tues, 8 p.m. on Big 12/ESPN+) — This doesn’t need too much explanation. Last time these two teams played, Keyontae Johnson pitched a game-winning alley-oop in the Wildcats’ 83-82 overtime win to cap off one of the best games of the season. With as many as 67 combined free throws attempted, it was a battle worthy of the internal rivalry.
The last time the Wildcats swept the Sunflower Showdown, however, was way back in 1991, and Jalen Wilson will play a big role in ensuring it stays that way. The youngster was as good as anyone in the sport not named Zach Edey with 38 points in the last fight. Kansas State will have to do a better job protecting Wilson on the perimeter. Too many times, the Wildcats have been caught sleeping against Wilson’s off-the-ball movement or shut down badly.
If Wilson beats you with blocked shots from deep, so be it. He’s shooting under 35% from beyond the arc and was only 3-for-10 in his first fight. But you can’t give him catch-and-shoot open jumpers and allow direct drives to the rim.
No. 22 San Diego State in Nevada (Tues, 11 p.m. on CBS Sports Network) — Two of the best teams in the Mountain West league battle it out in Reno, with Nevada looking to avenge its loss to San Diego State in early January. The Aztecs have a great 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, however, has not lost at home this season and boasts stunning wins over Boise State, Utah State and New Mexico – three of the best four teams in the conference – at the Lawlor Events Center. Kenan Blackshear had 68 points in those three wins, and the Wolf Pack will need another big from him Tuesday night.
No. 17 Providence at No. 16 Xavier (Wednesday, 18:30 on FS1) — This will be a lot of fun, with both teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in offensive efficiency. They do it in very different ways, though: Providence leads the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage and free throw percentage in conference play; Xavier leads with 3-point percentage. Providence, meanwhile, boasts the best 3-point defense in the Big East game.
Keep an eye out for a fascinating battle of big men: Providence’s Bryce Hopkins, a transfer from Kentucky, 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, 9:00 p.m. on ESPN 2) — Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are top 40 teams nationally according to KenPom. They are also seventh and eighth respectively in the conference standings. That’s how good the Big 12 is. Grant Sherfield is coming off a 30-point blowout in the Sooners’ huge win over #2 Alabama. Expect a bedlam in the latest installment of the Bedlam series
VCU in St. Louis (Friday, 7 p.m. on ESPN2) — Chaifetz Arena is expected to be abuzz Friday night with the Rams visiting the Billikens in a showdown between the top two teams in a competitive Atlantic 10. VCU possesses the best defense in the conference and has the highest forced turnover percentage in the A10. However, slowing down the A10’s more efficient attack won’t be an easy task. The Billikens are one of the most experienced teams in the nation, with Division I assists for game leader Yuri Collins leading the way. Javonte Perkins is starting to find his rhythm after returning from a torn ACL and a nagging ankle injury. He scored in double figures in five consecutive games.
No. 1 Purdue at No. 21 Indiana (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. on ESPN) — After losing four of their first five Big Ten games, Indiana roared back with five straight wins, four in double digits. Purdue, on the other hand, has had no inconsistency issues. The Boilermakers have lost once this season — by one to Rutgers — and Zach Edey, who is averaging 22.1 PPG and 13 RPG, basically locked up the player of the year honors.
Edey’s development was remarkable. It has always been great. He hasn’t always been able to finish both hands, use good footwork and timing to create space, or have the touch to finish plays. He leads the country with 12 points per game in post up, and it starts with him getting great placement. His right hook is almost unstoppable, and if he plays too much there, he can go over his left shoulder. If you try to deny the ball, he will put you in the basket. He now faces an Indiana defense that is among the worst in post-up defense this season.
North Carolina at Duke (Saturday, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN) — The second of those two meetings (on March 4) is among the 10 games we look forward to in 2023, but even this first meeting should be pretty good. These legendary schedules have split their last 40 fights, 20-20.
Duke freshman Kyle Filipowski has been fantastic despite injuries and erratic performance around him. He is on track to be just the fourth ACC freshman to average at least 15 points and nine rebounds in the past 30 seasons, and the first since Marvin Bagley III in 2017-18. His battle with Armando Bacot below will be thrilling. Only three players have more double-doubles than Bacot this season.
Plus, he’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 on my early January roster, this is a brawl between the two best teams in the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs play fast and have one of the best offenses in the nation. The Gaels play slow and have one of the best defenses in the nation. Drew Timme is having another outstanding season, although this year’s Gonzaga squad isn’t Mark Few’s best. Saint Mary’s has four players averaging at least a dozen points — tied for the most of any team — in what may be manager Randy Bennett’s best group. For this it will be worth standing.
Three NBA Draft prospects to watch
Check out CBS Sports’ 2023 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings.
- It’s been a tough year for Villanova in Year 1 under Kyle Nepture following the retirement of Jay Wright, but Cam Whitmore is starting to show what makes him such an enticing prospect. The rugged forward scored 21 points in a narrow loss to No. 23 Providence over the weekend and hit in double figures in five of his last six games, shooting over 45% from 3 during that stretch. The Wildcats face tough tests this week at No. 14 Marquette and Creighton. Whitmore ranks fourth in our prospect rankings.
- Iowa is back on the good side of Jerry Palm’s Bracketology bubble, but the Hawkeyes have work to do to stay there. It starts against Northwestern and Illinois — both teams in the tournament currently — this week. Kris Murray has been on tears lately, with five games of at least 20 points in January, the most of any Big Ten player. He’s fifteenth in our prospects list.
- Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino is coming off a 24-point game that included six 3-pointers in a win over Ohio State. That came after he hadn’t made a single 3-pointer in his previous four games. Hood-Schifino leads the Hoosiers in assists, steals and turnovers, and he can run really hot and cold. Indiana will need him: The Hoosiers are at Maryland and at home against No. 1 Purdue this week. Hood-Schifino ranks 35th in our prospect ranking.