Here are five schools you don’t want to see on your schedule in February.
Purdue started off 6-5, but the Boilermakers were better than the record showed. They lost against good teams, and the games were close. But Purdue hasn’t done much losing since then. It’s lost once since Dec. 16, compiling a 10-1 record since then with wins over Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State.
This isn’t just the Carsen Edwards show. And he’s incredible, to be clear. He’s averaging 24.5 points. But Edwards is only shooting 41 percent from the floor, and Purdue has the No. 3 offense in the country, per KenPom. This is a group effort.
Ryan Cline has emerged as a quality second option. He’s making 44.2 percent of his 3s on more than seven attempts her game, a sizable clip. Matt Haarms’ offense has improved, and while no one on the bench stands out, everyone is solid.
Nobody wants to play these guys right now. Especially in Mackey Arena.
The most obvious team to crack this list. Kentucky could snag a 1-seed come Selection Sunday, and that seemed far-fetched in mid-December. The Wildcats started off 7-2 but didn’t have any impressive wins.
The Wildcats are 11-1 since, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Kentucky has beaten North Carolina, Louisville, Auburn, Mississippi State, Kansas and Florida in that stretch. That’s four top-15 KenPom wins, which is crazy.
It took a while for Kentucky’s pieces to mesh, but they certainly have. Ashton Hagans is a two-way monster. Keldon Johnson is an all-around stud. There might not be a player in the country who’s improved as much during the season as P.J. Washington. These guys are really good.
Marquette got itself a defense, and it already had Markus Howard. Howard is averaging 25 points while shooting 43.3 percent from 3. He’s a threat to score from anywhere, and that makes life easier on his Marquette teammates.
Even so, defense is the biggest reason for the Golden Eagles’ surprise season. And that unit isn’t even elite; it ranks 37th. But Marquette ranked 182nd on that end last year. It improved drastically, so combine that with a special guard like Howard, and you’re going to win a ton of games.
The Golden Eagles are 8-1 in Big East play and are 16-1 in their last 17 games. That includes a current eight-game winning streak. The Big East is Marquette and the next team on this list, and then everyone else.
Remember when we were worried about Villanova? That feels like ages ago. The Wildcats have ripped off 10 straight wins since starting 8-4 and are looking like the team we expected coming into the season.
The question now is whether or not Villanova has the goods to win it all. There’s still reason to doubt that. Yes, Villanova’s 10-game win streak is impressive, but the Big East isn’t great this year. The Wildcats have some nice players (Eric Paschall has been particularly awesome lately) but nobody who scares you like Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo or Omari Spellman. Jay Wright has done a masterful coaching job, as usual.
Even if this team’s ceiling isn’t as high as last year’s, Villanova is not a team you want to see on the schedule right now. The Wildcats have the No. 7 offense in the nation and are bombing 3s at an efficient rate. Water is wet, and Villanova is good at basketball.
Could the team that finally ends Kansas’ Big 12 regular season title streak be… Baylor? That would have been a ridiculous question to ask coming into conference play. The Bears went 8-4 in the nonconference, with some ‘meh’ wins and some ugly losses. They weren’t a surefire tournament team.
But Baylor has been outstanding lately. It’s won six games in a row and is 6-2 in the Big 12, tied with Kansas State for the lead. The Bears have knocked off Iowa State, Texas Tech, Alabama, Oklahoma and TCU in the last month and are looking like a force right now.
Baylor is just pummeling foes on the offensive glass and plays as hard as anyone. The Bears are rebounding 38.4 percent of their own misses this season, which ranks fourth in the land. Mark Vital, who is 6-5, ranks seventh in the country in offensive rebounding rate. He’s a joy to watch.
Baylor plays Kansas in the last regular season game of the year. Circle that one on the calendar.