What a difference a few months have made for Florida.
In the preseason, the Gators were a Top 10 team rich on talent but dealing with numerous eligibility and injury issues that threatened to engulf their season.
Despite all the turmoil and stress placed on coach Billy Donovan's plate, though, Florida managed to close up shop on its regular season as the nation's top-ranked team. The Gators remain No. 1 for the third straight week in the latest Associated Press Top 25, even as questions about the validity of that ranking get louder.
Wichita State, the nation's lone undefeated team in men's college basketball, again has to settle for the proverbial silver medal. The Shockers, at 34-0, will have to hope Florida falls in the SEC tournament if they hope to finally reach the No. 1 pinnacle.
Beyond the nation's top two teams, the rest of the AP poll can nicely be described as inconsistent. Arizona seemed likely to stabilize at No. 3, but Villanova made a surprising leap from No. 6 as Arizona lost its first-place votes. Louisville comes in at No. 5, moving up six spots to round out the week of change across the nation.
Here is how the rest of the final regular-season AP poll shook out:
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes||Previous|
|2||Wichita State (15)||34-0||1574||2|
|8||San Diego State||27-3||1143||10|
The talk of college basketball remains the tussle—at least among voters—between Florida and Wichita State. While the No. 1 ranking will ultimately matter little come Selection Sunday, the two-loss Gators' ability to stay ahead of an undefeated Wichita State squad still rubs some the wrong way.
The Shockers, a Final Four team a season ago, became the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated after their 83-69 win over Indiana State on Sunday. Rapidly rising star Fred VanVleet scored 22 points, and the game was quintessential Wichita State. Attacking on both ends of the floor for all 40 minutes, Gregg Marshall's squad won easily despite second-half defensive breakdowns.
Draped in ill-fitting T-shirts, which incorrectly called Indiana State the conference champion, the Shockers couldn't have been less worried about the No. 1 ranking. They should have no issues being one of the four top seeds come Selection Sunday, and as VanVleet told reporters, that's all his teammates are thinking about:
You can debate what you want to debate. Facts are facts, truth is truth. We're not into debating how good or great we are or how bad somebody else. That's for barber shop talk and coffee table arguments. We're not into that stuff. If they feel that way, it's on them. And nobody that's arguing about it is on the selection committee.
Florida certainly has an understandable claim to the top spot. The Gators, who played a far more difficult schedule based on every conceivable metric, have won 23 straight since starting 6-2 and closed out their undefeated SEC slate with a win over Kentucky this weekend. Still, as the SEC continues to look the weakest out of the major conferences, there are some who have even derided Florida's schedule.
As USA Today's Dan Wolken pointed out, it's difficult to make college basketball fans happy nowadays:
Between the Wichita haters and those discounting Florida’s accomplishment, I guess people will just trash anything.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 8, 2014
Then again, there are plenty of fans elsewhere with legitimate reason for strife. Last week by itself may have proved the "anything can happen" mantra of March true by itself. Seventeen of the nation's Top 25 teams from the Week 18 poll suffered at least one loss, many of which came against unranked opponents.
Perhaps no team is more upset with itself than Virginia. The Cavaliers, on the precipice of a No. 1 seed after defeating Syracuse on March 1 to lock up their first regular-season ACC championship since 1981, again have work to do after their upset loss to Maryland on Sunday. Tony Bennett's team, which prides itself on slow pacing and elite defense, was torched consistently by dribble penetration from Dez Wells and Seth Allen.
Decidedly not a tournament team, Maryland harkened back to Virginia's early-season struggles. The Cavaliers have six losses on their resume, with failures against Green Bay and VCU—two good but not great mid-major teams—sticking out the most. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated thinks the Cavaliers may have played themselves out of a No. 1 spot:
Virginia won the ACC regular season but remember the imbalanced schedule. This is their 6th loss of the season. Hard to get a 1 seed.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 9, 2014
A similarly mixed feeling likely pervades Durham at the moment. Duke capped its regular season with a dominant win over rival North Carolina, a Saturday night showcase that showed off the best of what this team can offer. Jabari Parker went for a career-high 30 points, Rodney Hood continued nestling his way into the NBA lottery and not only a 59.6 field-goal percentage from the Tar Heels could ruin the good time.
The problem is Duke's victory came just a couple nights after it showed its worst traits in a loss to Wake Forest. The Blue Devils went 6-of-27 from three, turned the ball over 15 times and sent the Demon Deacons to the line 34 times. Considering the inconsistent nature of this team, it was hard to tell how Duke would respond.
It seems that loss woke up Mike Krzyzewski's squad—in particular Parker.
"No more freshman," Parker said to reporters of his classification after Saturday's win. "I don't like getting in that category anymore because my team needs me more than just an 18-year-old. They need somebody with experience through the whole game. ... It's time to grow up."
One might hope to see a similar quote soon from Andrew Wiggins, whose individual excellence wasn't able to propel his teammates in a frustrating loss to West Virginia on Saturday. Wiggins scored a career-high 41 points in the loss, which may leave Kansas scrambling to keep a No. 2 seed. The Jayhawks had long clinched their 10th straight Big 12 regular-season championship, but they've lost two of their last three games to unranked opponents and have eight losses overall.
West Virginia shot nearly 53 percent from the field and got to the line 40 times, as Kansas continues to miss Joel Embiid's presence in the middle.
Embiid sat out the last two games of the regular season with back issues, and his status for the Big 12 tournament remains in question. He flew to Los Angeles to receive a second opinion over the weekend, and coach Bill Self categorized the injury as "significant," per Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star.
"It's nothing where he won't be feeling great in four weeks with some rest," Self said. "But we don't have four weeks."
Saturday's loss drops Kansas back to No. 10. The Jayhawks are still probably a No. 2 seed at the moment thanks to their top-ranked strength of schedule, but they can't afford any big mistakes this week in Kansas City.
It also helps that the rest of the nation seems to be falling apart around them. Exemplifying that most this week is SMU, which drops seven spots to barely hang on at No. 25. Syracuse's loss to Georgia Tech last Tuesday dropped the former top-ranked team all the way to No. 11.
Louisville's surprising six-spot ascent is matched by No. 17 Oklahoma, which has won three straight going into the Big 12 tournament. No. 8 Michigan, which won the Big Ten by three games, also benefited from the failures of those around it by moving four spots in the right direction.
Finally moving out of the Top 25 this week are Iowa and Kentucky, two former Top 10 squads for whom this has been a long time coming. They are replaced by No. 23 VCU and No. 24 Ohio State.
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