Around the Top 25 MBB: Conference races begin to heat up in final weeks of regular season

No.21 UConn upsets no.10 Marquette with a score of 87-72 at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. on Feb. 7, 2023. This win against the top-ranked Big East Conference team brings the Huskies back on the national radar after several dissapointing losses last month.

As we approach March, the conference races are getting more interesting as regular season titles are up for grabs. Some of the best in the Big 12 are struggling, while Creighton is red-hot with an eight-game winning streak in the Big East. Let’s take a look at the best games, performances, and upcoming games in this edition of Around the Top 25. 

Best Games 

No. 21 UConn routs No. 10 Marquette, 87-72 

It’s difficult to sweep any Big East opponent, and that showed last Tuesday when UConn pulled away early on to get their best home win of the season. Jordan Hawkins had the hot hand once again for the Huskies, nailing five shots from long range and 20 points overall. Tristen Newton had a triple-double, but more on that later. 

No. 8 Virginia takes down No. 22 NC State, 63-50 

Despite a 19-point effort from NC State guard Terquavion Smith, Virginia earned a 13-point victory over the Wolfpack. Potential first-round pick Reece Beekman led the Cavaliers with 15 points and three steals, while the leading scorer ended up being East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner. The Hoos will travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals tonight. 

No. 12 Kansas State blows out No. 17 TCU, 82-61 

TCU missed the production that star guard Mike Miles Jr. would bring as the Horned Frogs fell to Kansas State in Manhattan. Markquis Nowell, one of the best guards in college basketball, led the way for the Wildcats with 18 points and seven assists. The Big 12 gets more interesting with every game. 

No. 18 Indiana defeats No. 24 Rutgers, 66-60 

Rutgers had a short second stint of being in the AP Poll after a six-point road loss to Indiana last Tuesday. Despite 29 combined points from Cliff Omoruyi and Cam Spencer, the Scarlet Knights were no match for Indiana star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who had 20 points, 18 rebounds and six assists. 

No. 14 Baylor holds on to beat No. 17 TCU, 72-68 

The Horned Frogs are trending in the wrong direction after the loss of Miles, losing at home for the third time this season. The Bears were led by guard Adam Flagler, who had 28 points and five three-pointers in the victory. TCU guard Damion Baugh nearly had a triple-double, with 16 points, ten assists, and seven boards. Even a near triple-double wasn’t enough for the Horned Frogs to pull away with a home win. 

No. 23 Creighton escapes No. 21 UConn, 56-53 

Creighton was red-hot coming into Saturday’s matchup against UConn, who’s looking for the season series sweep. Despite getting into foul trouble throughout the game, Bluejays guard Trey Alexander made difficult shot after another, finishing with 17 points. Hawkins also battled with foul trouble but didn’t produce in the same way Alexander did. Adama Sanogo outscored Ryan Kalkbrenner again, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Had Hawkins had his second foot behind the line, the Huskies would have forced overtime in Omaha. UConn will host Seton Hall on Saturday with hopes of getting back in the win column. 

Best Performances 

Tristen Newton, G, UConn (vs. Marquette: 12 pts, 12 ast, 10 reb) 

Newton recorded his second triple-double of the season last Tuesday, becoming the only player, men’s or women’s, in UConn history to have two triple-doubles in one season. The only one to have two triple-doubles in his UConn career is Shabazz Napier. That’s some good company for Newton to be in as he has found his game again. 

Zach Edey, C, Purdue (vs. Iowa: 14 pts, 14 reb, 5 blk) 

Edey’s best performance wasn’t a high-scoring one, but a strong game on the defensive end of the floor. Five blocks aren’t even a season-high for him, which shows how amazing the seven-foot-four center has been this season. 

Ąžuolas Tubelis, F, Arizona (at California: 23 pts, 14 reb, 4 stl) 

Tubelis continues to make his case for the Pac-12 Player of the Year, which is between him and UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. at this point. Every other game he’s recording a double-double if not every other game. Four steals is a career-high for the future All-American. 

Logan Johnson, G, Saint Mary’s (at Portland: 34 pts, 6 ast, 4 3pt) 

The star of the Gaels may be Aidan Mahaney, but Logan Johnson has been huge in recent games, recording back-to-back 30-point games. The fifth-year guard averages nearly 14 points per game, but this was his career-high. Johnson has scored in double-figures in the last nine games, showing signs of how he can be huge for Saint Mary’s as the West Coast Conference Tournament gets closer and closer. 

Jarkel Joiner, G, NC State (at Boston College: 26 pts, 6 ast, 5 stl, 5 3pt) 

The leader for the Wolfpack is Terquavion Smith, but Joiner was the one who led NC State to victory in a blowout win at Boston College. Five steals is a season-high for the fifth-year guard, averaging 1.3 steals per game this season. The Ole Miss transfer averages 16 points per game, the highest scoring average in his college career. 

Upcoming Games 

No. 1 Alabama at No. 10 Tennessee (7 p.m., ESPN2) 

The Crimson Tide are the AP No. 1 team for the first time since the early 2000s, and they seek to avenge the football team in Knoxville as they face Tennessee. It’s a battle between two of the best teams in the SEC, with Alabama putting its undefeated conference record on the line. The Tide has won the last three meetings against the Vols, looking for four straight tonight. 

No. 16 Xavier at No. 11 Marquette (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network) 

Xavier and Marquette will meet tonight in a rematch of the game in Cincinnati, where Xavier won about a month ago. Xavier is still without Zach Freemantle, but still has Souley Boum, Colby Jones, and Jack Nunge, who all are All-Big East caliber players. Marquette point guard Tyler Kolek looks to improve his case for Big East Player of the Year. Two of the top three teams in the conference are in Milwaukee tonight. 

No. 22 TCU at No. 19 Iowa State (9 p.m., ESPNU) 

Both teams have struggled lately in the Big 12, and it pains me to watch TCU play without Miles. The Cyclones have a top-10 defense in the country and they look to get back in the win column tonight. 

No. 19 Iowa State at No. 12 Kansas State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN) 

Iowa State and Kansas State are two surprises in college basketball, with both coaches up for Coach of the Year in the Big 12 and nationally. The Cyclones won the first meeting this season, but Nowell is seeking revenge as he leads the Wildcats as an All-American caliber guard. 

No. 9 Baylor at No. 5 Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN) 

Baylor currently has the best offense in the country according to KenPom, led by the guard trio of Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, and LJ Cryer. Baylor won the last matchup, with an all-around performance from Jalen Bridges. Jalen Wilson is one of the best players in college basketball, and he seeks revenge against the Bears in the second meeting of the season. 

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