At this point in the college basketball season, the top teams are pretty well established and identified as potential top seeds for the postseason NCAA tournament in March. The polls are fairly good indicators of this consensus, as they generally have the same few teams pegged in the top spots.
According to a combination of the AP and USA Today polls and RPI rankings, the best teams to this point have been Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova and Syracuse. Closely following include Michigan State, Duke, West Virginia, Purdue, Georgetown and Kansas State.
Beyond these top 10, however, it's considerably more difficult to say which teams can best compete with the best competition. Here are a few teams to watch out for in the coming month.
(AP No. 6, ESPN/USA Today No. 6, RPI No. 19; 18-3, 4-2 Big XII)
Many fans would rank the Longhorns in the same flight with the aforementioned Top Ten. However, a home loss to AP No. 24 Baylor this past Saturday and a close win at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi earlier in the season prove that this team is not indomitable.
Rick Barnes' squad is 2-3 against current top-25 schools. With six Big XII road games still to play, including the end-of-season rematch against Baylor, seniors Damion James and Dexter Pittman will have to continue to carry the load to combat the inexperience of their young backcourt.
(AP No. 12, ESPN/USA Today No. 12, RPI No. 17; 21-2, 6-1 Mountain West)
The Cougars are undefeated at home this season. Their only two losses have come against Utah State (16-6, first place in the Western Athletic Conference) and league rival AP No. 23 New Mexico.
BYU can shoot the lights out. They rank in the top five nationally in field-goal shooting, free-throw shooting and three-point shooting. that can only help them come tournament time.
With junior point guard Jimmer Fredette pouring in 21 points per game and averaging five assists, this team could cement a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in March if they continue their stellar play into February.
(AP No. 15, ESPN/USA Today No. 15, RPI No. 15; 18-4, 6-1 Atlantic 10)
Despite losing 2009 All-A10 guard Dionte Christmas to the professional ranks, the Owls are still contending for the A-10 regular season title because of guards Ryan Brooks and Juan Fernandez (28 PPG and six APG combined) and big man Lavoy Allen, who's averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Temple boasts a victory over cross-town rival No. 3 Villanova and a plus-minus record of 8-2 (eight road wins, two home losses) among the accomplishments on their resume. With Xavier, Charlotte, Rhode Island and Dayton all gunning for the two-time defending A-10 champs, a three-peat will be very difficult.
(AP #16, ESPN/USA Today #16, RPI #14; 16-5, 6-3 Big Ten)
The Badgers are known for playing well at home. This season has been no different—all of their losses have come on the road.
They split their games with conference rivals AP No. 20 Ohio State and AP No. 10 Purdue and have played well considering their strength of schedule ranks 14th. If they can beat Michigan State in Madison and get past Michigan this Saturday, senior guard Trevon Hughes (16 PPG) and company have a good chance of running the table and setting themselves up in prime position for a #3 seed in March Madness.
(AP #23, ESPN/USA Today unranked, RPI #13; 20-3, 6-2 Mountain West)
If you had to guess which conference had two 20-win teams as of this past weekend, there's a good chance you would not have said the Mountain West.
The Lobos, who are neck and neck with BYU for the conference lead, have four players averaging double-digit points per game and enjoy a distinct home advantage because of the notoriously high decibel levels in University Arena (aka "The Pit").
If junior do-it-all Darington Hobson can maintain his balanced performance (15 PPG, eight RPG, four APG) through the coming month, his team might be primed to take down the Cougars in the conference championship even if they can't do so in Provo on February 27th.
(AP #21, ESPN/USA Today #23, RPI #9; 16-4, 5-1 SEC)
Led by senior guard Jermaine Beal (14 PPG), the Commodores have three other players that score more than 10 PPG. Their downfall is that the aren't very deep. With games against No. 14 Tennessee, No. 1 Kentucky and AP No. 18 Mississippi still to play (the latter two in a three-day span), the next month could tax this team to exhaustion.
If they can stay healthy and get through February at .500 or better, the 'Dores could still have a chance at the No. 2 seed in the SEC East. Meaning, they wouldn't have to face John Calipari's Wildcats until the SEC tournament championship. If they make it that far, they've got a great shot at a No. 3 seed in March.