Kansas has been the hottest team in the country, reeling off 18 straight wins since its season-opening loss to Indiana. The Jayhawks are up to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 and have positioned themselves for a 13th straight Big 12 title.
Next up is one of the most difficult stretches any team in the country will face this season.
Starting with Tuesday’s game against No. 18 West Virginia, the Jayhawks (18-1, 7-0 Big 12) will play three ranked teams in nine days, including the No. 4 team in the country.
“I still think there’s another gear we can go to. I still think there’s another big step,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I don’t think we’re all quite on the same page yet like championship caliber teams have to be in order to have success late. We’re not in a bad place by any means, but we’re in a place that I think there’s still improvement that can be made.”
The Jayhawks may need it.
Both games this week are in two of the toughest road environments in college basketball.
West Virginia is a difficult team to play anywhere with its suffocating defense, and the Mountaineers (15-4, 4-3) will be playing angry after losing to Oklahoma and Kansas State their past two games.
Then comes the biggest game not only this week, but one of the marquee matchups this season: a nonconference game Saturday at No. 4 Kentucky.
The Wildcats (17-2, 7-0 SEC) are long, athletic and their only losses are to Top 25 teams UCLA and Louisville. Kentucky lost point guard De’Aaron Fox to a foot injury against South Carolina on Saturday but still beat the Gamecocks 85-69. Fox’s status is unknown heading into Tuesday’s game against Tennessee.
Even without Fox, Kansas faces a stiff test at Rupp Arena, and after that, the Jayhawks face No. 5 Baylor (18-1, 6-1) in a Big 12 showdown on Feb. 1.
A tough week that will test one of the nation’s best teams.
If Kansas-Kentucky gets the top billing this week, Xavier and Cincinnati on Thursday could be right under it.
The Crosstown Shootout is one of the best rivalries in college basketball, held between teams separated by three miles.
The games are always intense and this year both teams will be ranked: Cincinnati at No. 19, Xavier at No. 24 .
The Bearcats (17-2, 7-0 AAC) have won 10 straight since losing to No. 11 Butler while the Musketeers (14-5, 4-3) bounced back from three straight losses by beating Georgetown 86-75 on Sunday.
“It’s one wild game sometimes,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
No. 12 Virginia has a difficult schedule of its own this week.
The defensive-minded Cavaliers (15-3, 5-2 ACC) have won four straight since a two-game losing streak but start this week Tuesday at No. 14 Notre Dame, which will be looking to end a nine-game losing streak to them. Virginia follows that with top-ranked Villanova on Saturday in Philadelphia. That defense will get tested in both games.
Another rivalry game is set for Wednesday, when No. 8 UCLA faces Southern California.
This one might have a bit of scoring in it.
The Bruins are second nationally averaging 93 points per game and while the Trojans score 15 fewer, UCLA’s defense has been shaky. The Bruins are 275th nationally and just gave up 96 points in a loss to No. 7 Arizona on Saturday.
FULTZ IN ARIZONA
Speaking of Arizona, the Wildcats will have an interesting match-up on Sunday, when they host Washington. The Huskies have struggled this season, but freshman Markelle Fultz has flourished.
One of the nation’s best players against one of the best defensive teams should be fun to watch.
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