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Daily Word: Is Kentucky turning a corner?

Each weekday, our college hoops experts discuss the biggest issues, trends and themes in college basketball.

1. Kentucky showed some signs of promise against Kansas during the weekend. Does that mean there's hope that things are turning around, or was it just one good game?

Andy Katz: Kentucky is fine. The Cats played at a high level and took the game into overtime in one of the most hostile environments in the country. Texas A&M might still win the SEC and is arguably the top team in the league. But finishing second, getting a decent seed and reaching the second weekend of the tournament would be a solid season for this crew.

Eamonn Brennan: If the Wildcats had entered Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday night playing bad basketball, I'd be more inclined to think the energy, atmosphere and opponent had them hyped up for a big game. Given their previous three, though -- which featured John Calipari's Derek Willis move and probably the best basketball of UK's season -- I'm more inclined to think they're heading in the right direction. They're an imperfect team in many ways. But they're not nearly as bad as the post-Auburn-loss narrative suggested.

Myron Medcalf: I agree with Andy and Eamonn. I'm more bullish on the Wildcats, too. We haven't witnessed a Kentucky team with such a sizable gap between its ceiling and worst-case scenario since the 2013 NIT squad. But the Wildcats spooked Kansas fans when they pushed the Jayhawks into overtime. The Wildcats would have toppled the bulk of ranked teams Saturday night. And whenever Tyler Ulis (34 assists, 10 turnovers in his past five games) is on the floor, Kentucky always has a chance.

2. Which team is better-equipped to challenge Oklahoma and Kansas for the Big 12 title: Iowa State or West Virginia? Or does neither have the firepower to remain in range?

Katz: West Virginia's loss to Florida is concerning. The suspension of Jonathan Holton has created a vacuum inside and on the boards for the Mountaineers. I'm leaning toward Iowa State right now with the play of Monte Morris this season. Still, I would say neither is likely to win the league based on remaining schedules.

Brennan: Iowa State has made the best case lately. The Mountaineers' defense is a terror, and I'm willing to throw out Saturday's crazy outlier of a loss at Florida because it's the first and only low-turnover, hot-shooting performance that any of WVU's opponents have mustered this season. Still, the whole reason that coach Bob Huggins presses so relentlessly is he knows his team can't shoot (and thus relies on quantity rather than quality). Meanwhile, the Cyclones have been the second-best offense (1.11 points per trip) and third-stingiest defense (1.05 allowed) in Big 12 play, a balance they've rarely had in past seasons and one that makes them a bit more adaptable when, for whatever reason, they aren't putting a bunch of points on the board.

Medcalf: You'll need star power to compete with Kansas and Oklahoma in the final weeks of the season. Georges Niang, Monte Morris and Jameel McKay have already proved that their Cyclones squad can handle the best in the league. So they get the slight edge against a West Virginia squad that needs Holton to fulfill its potential. But Iowa State isn't 100 percent healthy. That, along with a challenging final slate in league play, could be a challenge.

3. Michigan, which faces Indiana on Tuesday, is quietly 7-2 in the Big Ten and a game out of first place. How have the Wolverines done it?

Katz: Michigan has stayed true to its core. This team is making timely shots, defending and remaining confident. The Wolverines got bullied by Xavier and have recovered from that beatdown. They are winning with finesse. The ability to weather the injuries has been a credit to John Beilein's coaching and the team's cohesion.

Brennan: If we're going to qualify the Hoosiers' start to Big Ten play with caveats about their backloaded schedule, we should likewise note that six of Michigan's seven Big Ten wins have come against Illinois, Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rutgers and Penn State (again). The seventh was Maryland. That's legit, and, like Indiana's, Michigan's record isn't entirely owed to the calendar. Beilein's team is (surprise, surprise) one of the nation's best from long range, hoisting a 3 on 46.4 percent of field goal attempts, making 41.3 percent of them and getting 41.7 of its total points -- third-most in college hoops -- from beyond the arc. That's awfully tough to stop.

Medcalf: Eamonn is right. We can't ignore the schedule's role in Michigan's success. But the Wolverines have also staged this surprising start largely without Caris LeVert, a projected first-round pick. Their 3-point shooting and careful ballhandling (eighth nationally in turnover rate) are the biggest factors. But Beilein is also orchestrating one of his best coaching efforts. Mark Donnal has averaged double figures in the past three games. Derrick Walton Jr. is top-15 in Big Ten play in scoring, rebounding, free throw percentage, assists, steals and minutes played. All of that helps.