In the span of two weeks, the Butler Bulldogs and the Wichita State Shockers have traversed a combined thirty-four spots in the Associated Press poll. Let's face it, voters didn't have a choice because the early season resumes both schools are building are more impressive than those of any other team in the country—including UCLA, Pitt, North Carolina, and Duke.
At the start of the season, Butler and Wichita State were merely two good mid-major schools allegedly lacking the talent and ability to hang with the BCS conference teams. Both schools tested that notion with their non-conference scheduling. Butler, who was picked in the preseason to finish sixth in the Horizon League, stepped up to the plate by knocking off Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga (a team North Carolina couldn't even contain). Wichita State, picked to finish third in the Valley, shoved the notion aside by visiting George Mason, LSU, and Syracuse and winning, winning, and winning. One question: How does a team that reached the sweet sixteen a year ago and returns four starters not get any love in the pre-season?
Needless to say, the two biggest stories of this young college basketball season are still being slighted in the polls. Had these two actually been ranked in the preseason top 25, both would probably be perched in the top 5 by now. But as it stands, Wichita State and Butler sit at tenth and fifteenth, respectively. However, anyone who has watched these two programs compete knows that is an obvious snub. It's also fine with the Shockers and Bulldogs, because they thrive by flying under the radar.
Without further ado, here's college basketball's real, unbiased top five:
#1 UCLA (6-0) — The Bruins are stacked top to bottom and tested their road savvy by beating Kentucky and Georgia Tech. While many BCS schools choose to invite equal competition to their own confines, the Bruins chose the Wichita State route and went on the road to face stiff competition. That will do nothing but help them come seeding time in March. Their average margin of victory against their four other opponents is a staggering 22.8. And Aaron Afflalo might be the best player west of the Mississippi. On Saturday, the Bruins have a date with upstart Texas A&M which should be a most entertaining match up.
#2 Wichita State (5-0) — That's right, I said it. Right now, the Shockers are the second best team in the country. The Shockers have already taken down half of last year's Final Four in their own houses. In beating LSU, the Shockers didn't even need their "A" game. Anyone who watched Wichita St. take the court against Syracuse had to notice that they were severely overmatched physically and athletically. They proceeded to use a 27-1 first half run to down the Orange by playing—get this—team basketball. Mark Turgeon is the hottest coaching commodity we've seen in a while. They won't get through the Valley unscathed—that conference is just too good—but you'll be able count their losses on one hand.
#3 Butler (8-0) — Let's face it. The Horizon League is not full of world-beaters. Knowing that, Butler committed to a highly competitive non-conference schedule. Up to this point, they've proved to be as good as any team in the country. The only reason they aren't above Wichita State in this poll is that their big wins were at neutral venues. Butler will probably finish with the best D-I record thanks to soft league competition, but no one will soon forget their improbably Preseason NIT run. Guard A.J. Graves might be the best player that nobody has heard of. They still have tough match ups against Purdue and the Valley's Indiana St. before conference play begins, but Butler will not fall off the radar.
#4 Texas A&M (6-0) — The most untested of the group, the Aggies have yet to be involved in anything resembling a close game. They have won their first six games by and average—an average—of 28.6 points. That kind of dominance simply can't go unnoticed. However, I'm hesitant to toot the Aggie horn too much, because Pacific has been their only legitimate competition. Tuesday night, they'll battle a good LSU team before heading to Pauley Pavilion on Saturday.
#5 Pittsburgh (8-0) — I know you're saying, "Finally a team from the east coast!" Truth is, there are a number of teams who I considered for this spot including Alabama, Washington and Missouri. Problem is, I like Aaron Gray too much. He's the seven-foot, pure post player that college basketball has been lacking. I may be young, but I'm an old school guy and love the concept of a true center. Along with their brutal Big East schedule, the Panthers still have to play at Wisconsin, at Oklahoma State, and host Dayton and Washington.
Will these rankings hold until tourney time? Of course not. But let me leave you with one collective prediction: Each one of these teams will reach the Sweet Sixteen this year. Team basketball wins in this day age, not just tossing the same colored threads on a bunch of McDonald's All-Americans.
These teams epitomize that reality.