By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Basketball Writer
It will be a big week in the Big East.
The conference’s top four teams are within 1 1/2 games of each other with three weeks left in the regular season and two big games could help spread things out a bit.
The first is Tuesday, when No. 18 Creighton plays at No. 24 Providence.
At 11-3, the Bluejays (17-8) are a half-game behind Big East-leading Marquette. Creighton has won eight straight since losing to No. 16 Xavier and had one of the biggest jumps in this week’s AP Top 25, climbing five places after beating Seton Hall and No. 20 UConn.
The Friars (18-7) are 10-4 in Big East play, but dropped four spots in this week’s poll thanks to a road loss to St. John’s last Saturday.
Creighton won the first meeting 73-67 after blowing a 16-point lead, but that game was in Omaha. The Bluejays play St. John’s and Providence goes against Villanova on Saturday.
The following night, No. 11 Marquette (20-6, 12-3 Big East) faces a stiff test at No. 16 Xavier.
The Golden Eagles lost a chance to extend their conference lead with a 15-point loss to No. 20 UConn last week, but bounced back with a win over Georgetown.
The Musketeers (19-6, 11-3) are coming off a two-point loss to Butler that dropped them a spot in this week’s poll. Xavier won the first meeting 80-76 at home in a game that went back and forth most of the afternoon.
The Musketeers host DePaul on Saturday and Marquette doesn’t play again until facing Creighton next Tuesday.
BIG 12 BATTLES
The Big 12 race has an even larger gathering at the top in the hunt for the regular-season title, six teams all within two games of each other.
The marquee game this week will be No. 5 Kansas at No. 9 Baylor on Saturday.
The past two national champions met on Jan. 23 when the Jayhawks were struggling. Baylor won that game 75-69 in Waco to send Kansas to its first three-game losing streak in 20 seasons under coach Bill Self.
The Jayhawks (20-5) have won four of five since to remain in the Big 12 hunt at 8-4, with a game at Oklahoma on Tuesday.
Baylor (20-6) moved to 9-4 in conference play with a 79-67 win over West Virginia on Monday night, pulling the Bears into a tie at the top of the standings after No. 6 Texas lost 74-67 to Texas Tech.
No. 19 Iowa State (16-8, 7-5 Big 12) faces two ranked opponents this week, playing home games against No. 22 TCU on Wednesday and No. 12 Kansas State on Saturday.
The Cyclones beat the Horned Frogs 69-67 Jan. 7 in Fort Worth when Gabe Kalscheur hit a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left. Iowa State also has a road win over Kansas State, pulling out an 70-76 victory on Jan. 24.
Alabama is showing that it’s not just a football school.
The Crimson Tide moved to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 20 years in this week’s poll. With the football team earning a top ranking in the fall, Alabama is the first school to have its football and basketball teams ranked No. 1 in the same season since Ohio State in 2010-11.
The Crimson Tide face a tough first test in their return to No. 1, playing at No. 10 Tennessee on Wednesday.
The Vols will not only have the addition motivation of facing the country’s top-ranked team, they’re looking to get back on track after consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and Missouri.
Their matchup will be strength vs. strength.
Tennessee has the nation’s third-best scoring defense, allowing 56.3 points per game. Alabama scores 83.4 points per game, sixth nationally.
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