For 25 games, Syracuse held on despite facing increasingly insurmountable odds. But two straight losses later, the Orange are left to pick up the pieces as the Associated Press Top 25 gets thrown into a massive state of flux for Week 17.
In what will certainly be a controversial decision, Florida ascends to the No. 1 spot for the first time this season. The Gators, whose season has been mired in eligibility and injury issues, are undefeated in the SEC and have not lost a game since Dec. 2.
They would be a fine No. 1 if the team directly behind them, Wichita State, was not still undefeated. Every other team in the nation has at least two losses. Instead, despite receiving 14 first-place votes, Gregg Marshall's squad settles for a historic No. 2 ranking.
Rounding out the Top Five are Arizona, Syracuse and Kansas. Here is a look at how the entire Top 25 shook out:
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes|
|2||Wichita State (14)||29-0||1,549|
|13||San Diego State||23-3||886|
The discussion with these rankings obviously begins at the top spot, where Wichita State certainly has a right to feel it belongs at No. 1. The Shockers are two wins away from their first undefeated regular season in history and are the first 29-0 team since Illinois pulled off that feat in 2004-05. Guards Deron Williams and Dee Brown led that Fighting Illini squad, which spent most of the regular season looking down at the rest of college basketball.
It's safe to say the Shockers haven't and won't quite have the same experience. This roster boasts no future NBA All-Stars or lottery picks like Williams, who went No. 3 overall in 2005. Nor will anyone on the roster receive the collegiate accolades of Brown, who won the Sporting News College Player of the Year Award.
Cleanthony Early, a fine player, is as close as Wichita State has to an All-American or NBA prospect. What the Shockers lack in elite star power, though, they more than make up for with an unrelenting style that has fostered this historic run.
Many seem willing to write off this early stretch as a fluke. One can cite Wichita State's shaky strength of schedule—Ken Pomeroy's metrics rate it No. 120 in the nation—and say this group of players could never survive in a major conference.
That may be true, but as Marshall told Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton, the Shockers don't just dream of finishing the regular season undefeated—they dream of taking it all the way through April:
We can go all the way. When you get into the NCAA tournament, it takes a little luck, it takes good draw, good pairings, it takes playing well. If we play well, and we get the right draw, we can go as far as anyone else in country. You see Syracuse tonight lose to Boston College, and Arizona has lost to Arizona State, and Florida has lost a couple games, and we could easily lose Saturday. But we also have the ability to play deep in the tournament. I don’t set the odds, but I think the odds for us are as good as maybe two handfuls of teams to win the whole thing.
Wichita State certainly has its fair share of supporters. Longtime college basketball writer Chris Dortch was one of many who felt the Shockers deserved their moment to shine:
Realistically, it's hard to fault the contingent that isn't quite ready to give Wichita State its due. Pomeroy's advanced metrics, which take numerous efficiency statistics together in an algorithm to rank teams, has the Shockers No. 8. They're behind six-loss Kansas, six-loss Duke and even five-loss Virginia.
While it's unknown how many AP voters use Pomeroy on a regular basis (though all should), it's not egregious to have Florida sitting at No. 1. Billy Donovan has done a masterful job this season of managing talent, keeping the ship afloat when it looked like the Gators could sink and shepherding an excellent conference season.
As noted by ESPN Stats & Info, the last time Florida reached the pinnacle of college basketball, things ended well:
The Florida Gators are the #1 team in the men's AP Poll for the 1st time since February 12, 2007. They won the NCAA title that same season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 24, 2014
Florida is still rarely the most spectacular team on the floor. Each of its last six wins have come by 10 points or fewer. But whenever the Gators need a stop or need a bucket down the stretch, they've shown an increasing propensity to make it happen.
"All I can say is we're focused more (late in the game), we're more together and more connected," guard Michael Frazier II told reporters after Saturday's 75-71 win over Ole Miss. "That's something we pride ourselves on. We want to become stronger when the adversity becomes stronger."
That's a trait many ascribed to the nation's former No. 1, Syracuse—until it stopped being true. The Orange, so defined by their late-game heroics during their 25-0 start, saw the old regression to the mean bear come back to haunt them twice last week.
First, their undefeated streak went by the wayside in an ugly 62-59 overtime loss to lowly Boston College. Next came Duke. In what was one of the most fiercely competitive and highly anticipated games of the season, the Blue Devils and Orange battled down to the final seconds.
Or, to be more specific, right until the final 10 seconds.
That was the time on the clock when referees called C.J. Fair for a controversial charge on a game-tying field goal, Duke gained possession and Jim Boeheim went absolutely ballistic.
The Orange coach, flailing out to midcourt and spouting expletives, had to be restrained by assistant coaches and instantly received a double technical. While Syracuse still would have had a chance to make a comeback, Boeheim's theatrics all but sealed the deal for the Blue Devils.
"I just thought that was the worst call of the year, that's all," Boeheim told reporters after the game. "I hated to see the game decided on that call."
That call, along with the Orange's loss to Boston College, sees them drop to No. 4. Duke's victory, on the other hand, gave Mike Krzyzewski's squad more help surviving than ascending. The Blue Devils' loss to rival North Carolina last Thursday opened up a possible free fall had they dropped two straight. They instead wind up dropping just one spot to No. 6.
The Tar Heels are one of the hottest (and strangest) teams in college basketball. They've won nine straight games and have some of the best wins of any team in the nation. According to ESPN Stats & Info, North Carolina is the first team in history to defeat teams Nos. 1-4 in the preseason AP poll:
North Carolina: 1st team to beat each of the AP's preseason Top-4 teams since the AP first released a preseason poll (1961-62 season)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 21, 2014
After being the first team left out of the rankings last week, Roy Williams' squad ascends all the way to No. 19.
Also upwardly mobile is Michigan, which continued its tradition of being entirely unpredictable. The Wolverines dropped all the way to No. 20 after their loss to Wisconsin but vault right back up to No. 16 after completing their season sweep of rival Michigan State. Nik Stauskas scored 25 points, 21 of which came in the second half, as Michigan moved back into the top spot in the Big Ten.
Which team should be No. 1?
Arguably in the nation's best conference, it will be interesting to see how these teams fare in March. While the Big Ten lacks a Top 10 representative, one could easily argue that's only because they've beaten up on each other too much.
No. 9 Creighton, No. 10 Saint Louis and No. 13 San Diego State lead a surprisingly high number of nontraditional powers hanging above their counterparts.
The Aztecs were No. 6 in last week's rankings, but a loss at New Mexico sent them backward. Their loss of seven spots was the most of any team still in the Top 25, with three teams (Michigan State, Iowa and Texas) each dropping five. Louisville's four-spot jump to No. 7 matched Michigan as the biggest leap among teams inside the Top 25 last week.
Moving into the rankings are No. 19 North Carolina, No. 23 SMU and No. 25 New Mexico. They replace Connecticut, UCLA and Gonzaga.
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