With Kansas dispatching Baylor and Oklahoma coming from behind to knock off Iowa State, college basketball will be greeted on Monday with a matchup between the top two teams in the country.
And it couldn’t come at a better time.
College football’s bowl season is basically over — we’re just waiting on our Clemson-Alabama national title game to cap what has been a miserable month of exhibition games — which means that, on the first Big Monday of the season, we’ll get what could very well end up being the best game of the year. The on-court product should match the pregame hype as well. Oklahoma is 52nd nationally in tempo, according to KenPom, and the second-best three-point shooting team in the country.
Kansas? They’re 51st and third, respectively.
And should I mention this game will take place in Phog Allen Fieldhouse?
This is just the 23rd time that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country will face off during the regular season and only the fifth time that it has happened since 2000. So yeah, this is kind of thing is rare.
But there’s more to it than that. You see, Kansas was No. 2 in the AP Poll this week, one spot behind No. 1 Michigan State and one place above No. 3 Oklahoma. Since Michigan State lost and is still without Denzel Valentine, it’s pretty safe to assume that the Spartans are going to fall, at least past the undefeated Sooners. But in the Coaches Poll, Oklahoma was No. 2 this week and Kansas was No. 3, meaning that, barring something weird happening, we’re looking at a situation where the No. 1 team in the AP Poll will be facing off with the No. 1 team in the Coaches Poll.
That hasn’t happened since Feb. 2007, when AP No. 1 Wisconsin lost to Coaches No. 1 Ohio State by one point.
So that’s a cool storyline.
As is the fact that, in March of 1990, No. 1 Oklahoma beat No. 2 Kansas in Kansas City.
But there’s so much more to this game than a couple of nuggets for sportswriters to reference when previewing the matchup.
Because Oklahoma is this year’s strongest contender to end the Kansas streak of 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles. A win in Phog Allen would be a huge step towards accomplishing that feat. Remember, the Big 12 is one of just two high-major conferences that play a true round-robin in league play. Everyone in the conference is getting a game at Kansas, which may very well be the toughest place in college basketball to get a win. This isn’t the kind of game that can make or break a season, not by any stretch of the imagination, but the impact of a Sooner win will be felt in March.
So yeah. I’m fired up for this game.
Kansas is currently favored by five.
You can probably guess who the top two teams in our top 25 are going to be. Here’s the other 23:
1. Kansas (12-1, LW: No. 3): I’m going with Kansas over the Sooners here simply because I think they’re the more complete team at this point in the season.
2. Oklahoma (12-0, LW: No. 4): If there’s a knock on the Sooners right now, it’s that they can be overly-reliant on the three-ball and they are not yet getting consistent play out of the four-spot.
3. Maryland (13-1, LW: No. 2): I don’t usually like dropping teams that win, but at this point I think it’s fair to say that Kansas and Oklahoma are more complete than the Terps. Depth in the back court, inconsistency from their big men and a habit of failing to show up for against lesser competition. Not an ideal combination.
4. Michigan State (14-1, LW: No. 1): With a loss under their belt, it’s now time to wait and see when — if? — Denzel Valentine can get himself back to 100 percent. If anything, we now know just how valuable of a player he is.
5. North Carolina (13-2, LW: No. 5): Joel Berry is starting to hit his stride, Brice Johnson is still playing like an all-ACC center, Marcus Paige still hasn’t really gotten into a rhythm yet and Kennedy Meeks is still dealing with an ailing knee. In other words, there’s reason to be bullish on a team that’s been less-than-dominant.
6. Virginia (12-1, LW: No. 7): The ‘Hoos continue to hum along, picking up wins over Oakland and Notre Dame last week, two teams that, in theory, should give the Pack-Line defense some trouble. I think it’s fair to say they’re flying a bit under the radar at this point.
7. Providence (14-1, LW: No. 12): Kris Dunn is healthy again, meaning that the Friars will enter Big East player with their National Player of the Year candidate playing like, well, the NPOY. Their come-from-behind win to beat Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse spoke volumes about this team.
8. Miami (12-1, LW: No. 8): I’m not ready to drop this team just yet, but the inconsistency is getting to be a bit frustrating. The good news? They’ve only dropped one game this season despite the fact that some of their best players don’t always show up every night. Good teams win games when they don’t play well.
9. Villanova (12-2, LW: No. 16): Villanova’s regression to the three-point mean began on New Year’s Eve, when they hit seven of their first nine threes in a 31-point win over Xavier. That said …
10. Xavier (13-1, LW: No. 6): … I think that the scoreline in that loss at Villanova said quite a bit more about Edmond Sumner’s importance than anything. His injury not only forced Xavier to play without their most irreplaceable player, but seeing their teammate get stretchered off the floor sapped them of any energy. Remember, they beat Butler by nearly 20 points 48 hours later.
11. Arizona (13-1, LW: No. 11)
12. SMU (13-0, LW: No. 13)
13. Kentucky (10-2, LW: No. 14)
14. Iowa State (11-2, LW: No. 15)
15. Duke (12-2, LW: No. 17)
16. Butler (11-3, LW: No. 9)
17. Purdue (13-2, LW: No. 10)
18. Texas A&M (11-2, LW: No. 18)
19. West Virginia (12-1, LW: No. 19)
20. Louisville (11-2, LW: No. 20)
21. Iowa (11-3, LW: UR)
22. South Carolina (13-0, LW: No. 23)
23. George Washington (12-2, LW: No. 25)
24. Cal (12-3, LW: UR)
25. Baylor (10-3, LW: No. 23)
DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Cincinnati, No. 24 UCLA
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 21 Iowa, No. 24 Cal