No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks and No. 16 Iowa State Cyclones, two teams whose seasons are progressing in different directions, highlight a big slate of ranked teams as they tip-off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU and WatchESPN on Wednesday.
Andrew Wiggins and the Big 12 title has sat firmly entrenched in Allen Fieldhouse for the past decade.and were picked as the big favorites to win the Big 12 in the preseason poll, with Iowa State hanging out in distant fourth place. The Jayhawks, of course, have
Iowa State's fourth-place finish was the highest preseason ranking for the Cyclones since 2000-01. To start out the year, the Cyclones looked like they should've been placed higher. Iowa State opened the season with 14-straight wins, knocking off the likes of Michigan, Baylor and Iowa in the process. They peaked at No. 8 in the AP Poll, the highest ranking since the 2000-01 season.
Then the meat of the Big 12 schedule hit. Iowa State dropped three straight against Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas before finally righting the ship against Kansas State.
Kansas' season has been the mirror opposite of Iowa State's. The Jayhawks opened the season with immense amounts of hype, but a pretty brutal non-conference slate to go with it. Kansas dropped games against Villanova, Colorado, Florida and then hit a low point against San Diego State, losing for the first time in 68 contests against non-conference opponents at home.
Then the Big 12 schedule hit. Kansas has rattled off six straight wins, climbed back into the upper echelons of the rankings and once against looks like a title contender.
If the last meeting between the two teams was any indication, Wednesday probably won't be the game Iowa State turns it around. The Cyclones haven't won at Allen Fieldhouse since 2005, and the games are rarely close with Iowa State losing by an average of 18 points. Last season, things finally got a bit closer with the Cyclones forcing and eventually falling in overtime.
The Cyclones turned in one of their worst performances against Kansas in a 77-70 loss earlier in January. It is tough to know if it was because of the Jayhawks' defense or if because it was just one of those nights for the entire Cyclones team. They shot a season worst 31 percent from the floor and were just 4-of-25 from three point range in the loss.
Aside from turnovers in the game, Kansas was stellar. Naadir Tharpe scored 23 points and Wiggins grabbed a season-high 19 rebounds. Iowa State, which has had many troubles with rebounding this year, were destroyed on the boards, 50-34. Kansas has turned it around since early season jitters and are now the No. 6 ranked team in offensive efficiency according to Kenpom. They were especially good in their last win over TCU, with Wiggins leading the way, scoring a season-high 27 points.
Everyone knew Arizona was going to be good, but did anyone guess this good? Arizona has its first 20-game winning streak in school history -- a streak that has established them as the best team in the nation. There are plenty of reasons for Arizona's success, but the team is rooted in a lockdown defense and unselfish, team play. Because of that, they will probably keep winning for a while.
The Wildcats have the third best defense according to Kenpom. Those that need hard statistics can look at opponents' field goal percentages and point totals. Opponents shoot 37 percent against Arizona to the tune of 56.7 points per game. That is the fourth best scoring defense in the country. On the offensive end, they take the extra pass to find the open shot. The Wildcats are shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and have an assist on approximately 58 percent of their field goals.
Arizona has won eight straight over Stanford, but Stanford is coming in riding a bit of a hot streak. The Cardinal have won four of their past five, including a win on the road against then No. 17 Oregon. Junior guard Chasson Randle averages 19.1 points per game, third best in the Pac-12.
The Syracuse Orange are one win away from matching their best start in school history when they take on Wake Forest on Wednesday. The program also started 20-0 in the 2011-12 season.
The famed Orange defense was the reason for win number 19. They held the Miami Hurricanes without a field goal for much of the end of the second half to come away with a 64-52 win. Four Syracuse players scored in double figures, led by C.J. Fair's 15 points.
Wake Forest is also looking to extend its own streak in the game. The Demon Deacons have won 12 consecutive home games, tied for the second-best start at home in 2007-08. Wake Forest's best home-start came in 2004-05 when they finished 16-0 at home. That run hasn't come against very good teams, however. Wake Forest beat then No. 19 North Carolina at home in the beginning of January.
The rest of the nationally televised games (all times in ET):
Penn State Nittany Lions @ No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network