At the Watercooler: Who's No. 1?
January, 20, 2013
By ESPN.com staff | ESPN.com
USA Today SportsBen McLemore's Kansas Jayhawks and Trey Burke's Michigan Wolverines have legitimate claims to be the nation's new No. 1 team.In light of No. 1 Louisville's loss to Syracuse on Saturday, Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf discuss who should be college basketball's new No. 1 team.
Myron: Good morning, Eamonn. This isn't the norm for the Watercooler. But this hasn't been a normal week for college basketball. I mean, I watched every meaningful game on Saturday, one of the best days for our sport in a long time, and I'm still not sure what I saw. Has a bit of a "Matrix" feel for me. Did Roosevelt Jones really do that, and where can I buy that Hinkle Magic? How did Wichita State miss every shot and still beat Creighton? And can we schedule a Louisville-Syracuse rematch ... to be played this afternoon? Wow!
Eamonn: Yeah, that was a pretty incredible Saturday. Usually, if we get one of those sorts of games, we freak out. Yesterday we had one of those games going on pretty much all day. And then, of course, it ended with Butler. Crazy stuff.
Myron: It was definitely crazy. At least we're not in the same situation that we were in last weekend. I think it's easy to identify the new No. 1 this weekend, now that Louisville has fallen. It's Michigan. Or maybe it's Duke. Then again, Kansas has been on a ridiculous run. Is Arizona in the mix? And Syracuse just knocked off the top team in the country on the road. ... On second thought, we should probably figure this out. Eamonn, who's No. 1?
Eamonn: If I said, "I don't know," that probably wouldn't make for a very good Watercooler, would it?
Myron: Probably not, but I understand.
Eamonn: Well, then I guess I better start with somebody. Hey -- what about Florida? The Gators absolutely demolished Missouri on Saturday. They're No. 1 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings; they have the best defense in the country and the second-best offense; they've outscored opponents by 0.42 points per possession thus far in SEC play (for comparison, Kentucky scored 0.26 when it went 16-0 in the SEC last season). I know, with the way the AP poll works, that Florida isn't going to be No. 1 this week. But they might be the best team in the country.
Myron: I like the idea of it. The Gators stomped Missouri. Laurence Bowers wouldn't have saved the Tigers. The Gators were in Beast Mode. But, as you've mentioned, the voters won't do it because they've lost twice. That's why I think the polls are too systematic. Should be the best team. That's why I'm going with Michigan, the No. 1 offense per Ken Pomeroy. A team that's guided by the best player in America: Trey Burke. A squad that bounced back from a road loss to a ranked Ohio State team by outplaying a top-10 Minnesota team on the road. If I had to pick, I'd go with the Wolverines. And cue the collective anger of Kansas fans around the world in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
Eamonn: Yeah. Kansas fans will not be pleased. And the good news for them is that there's a good chance they'll be No. 1 in the polls on Monday. They are, after all, the team that has lost least recently, and that counts for a lot when we're talking about poll position.
Which is not to say the Jayhawks don't have a real case, because they do. After all, save for the Michigan State game in Atlanta earlier this season (which was close anyway), they've handled everyone they've crossed paths with. Ben McLemore is an absolute stud, and Jeff Withey is arguably the defensive player of the year thus far. And while Texas is down this season, they really defend -- that was not an easy win on the road for the Jayhawks, but it was impressive to see them pull it out.
Myron: And that's the challenge. A handful of teams have strong arguments for No. 1. Kansas is definitely one of those squads.
I think it will be interesting to see what the voters do with Syracuse. Without James Southerland, the Orange went on the road and beat the No. 1 team in America. It wasn't pretty, but Jim Boeheim's squad did what it had to do. Syracuse certainly looked like a No. 1 candidate against Louisville. That defense down the stretch? The Cardinals were rattled on their home floor and committed costly turnovers in the final minute. Syracuse did that. But was that enough to sway voters?
Eamonn: I think anytime you beat No. 1 in its own building (and you have the record to warrant such consideration, obviously), you have to be right at the top of the list. Those games aren't easy to win, and Syracuse made a series of really heady plays down the stretch to seal the victory. Brandon Triche was a beast in the first half, and Michael Carter-Williams figured things out late. His steal and dunk was the play of the game until Butler did what Butler does.
But if I had to guess, I would guess voters will be unfairly unimpressed with Syracuse's "résumé." I think that would be a mistake, because we're not ranking résumés. But I've heard arguments that Duke should be No. 1 again based on the strength of its schedule. I find these arguments deeply confusing.
Myron: Yeah, it's a messy situation. I understand the SOS argument for Duke. But this isn't a complete Duke team. I can't give the Blue Devils that slot with Ryan Kelly sidelined. They weren't the same squad in last weekend's loss at NC State. I think that has to be taken into account. But what does Arizona have to do to get back into the conversation? Wins over San Diego State, Colorado, Miami and Florida. One road loss to an Oregon team that's better than most realized a few weeks ago. Do the Wildcats deserve the No. 1 slot?
Eamonn: I mean, you can make the same argument for any of these one-loss teams. On the strength of its résumé, sure, Arizona could be No. 1. I happen to think Arizona's just a shade more vulnerable than some of these other top teams, but you can't really knock its record like that. The problem is that I think you almost have to elect Kansas, Syracuse or (especially) Michigan first.
Let's be honest: It should be the Wolverines.
Myron: I think you're right. I'm going with Michigan.
Wait ... can I have 24 hours to decide?
Eamonn: I'll allow it.
Myron: Thanks, man.