So for the first time all season, we have a real debate about who should be No. 1 in the polls. We asked four of our writers to make the case for a team that has a legitimate claim to the top spot.
What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments section and let the debate begin.
Making the case for: Louisville (Myron Medcalf)
Louisville’s case for No. 1 is as strong as that of any team in consideration. If the Cardinals had faced Duke on Nov. 24 with Gorgui Dieng, who missed the matchup because of a wrist injury, they might be undefeated right now. Even without him, the Blue Devils didn’t secure the win over the Cards -- who’ve won 10 games in a row since -- until the final minutes of the game.
That’s Exhibit A for Louisville. But the Cardinals can make a case whether the criteria centers on résumé or sheer strength. They’re ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. And a roster anchored by Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Dieng is as potent as any in America. Their achievements include a 23-point victory over Missouri. And while they haven’t defeated any other current top-25 squads (wins over Kentucky and at Memphis are about it résumé-wise), we all know they could if given the opportunity.
Bottom line: They’re one of the nation’s most complete teams. And with one loss on their record -- one that came when they weren’t 100 percent versus a team that’s spent a chunk of season in the top slot -- the Cardinals look like a good fit for the new No. 1.
Making the case for: Indiana (Eamonn Brennan)
If you're strictly comparing résumés, then sure, you can make the case for others -- Duke in particular. Thus far, the Hoosiers' schedule doesn't stack up to really any of their elite companions save for (maybe) Michigan and Syracuse. Their nonconference schedule was never great to begin with, and it has only looked worse and worse as Georgetown has struggled and North Carolina has trended more and more toward missing the NCAA tournament.
IU's loss, a neutral-court defeat to Butler, is not as impressive (so to speak) as that of Duke, which lost to a good NC State team on the road with injuries to both Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry. But I do think you can make the case that Indiana is the nation's best team, or at least its most versatile -- unique among the nation's elite in its number of stars, its balance and its ability to score in bunches and defend all over the floor.
We saw that at Assembly Hall on Saturday in the last 10 minutes of the first half, in which the Hoosiers played the best basketball we've seen all season (and some of the best basketball you will ever see) in taking a 52-29 halftime lead over No. 8 Minnesota. IU still has plenty of kinks to work out, and if you're only interested in comparing CVs, you'd still probably take Duke. But if we're talking about the real-deal best team in the country? Indiana is chief among that discussion.
Making the case for: Kansas (Andy Katz)
Kansas hasn't played its best basketball of the season in recent games, but the Jayhawks have found a way to win at the end of regulation or in overtime. KU has made winning plays when it matters most, reeling off 13 straight wins -- a streak that includes an annihilation of Colorado, a victory at Ohio State (where Michigan couldn't win) and a triumph over a Temple team that Syracuse could not beat in New York City.
The Jayhawks are one of the top defensive teams in the country, especially on 2-point field goals. They are one of the most offensively efficient teams as well. Of all the one-loss teams that are in the discussion -- Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Arizona, Michigan, Syracuse, Gonzaga and Creighton -- the Jayhawks shouldn't take a backseat to any of them. It's why I've had Kansas No. 2 in my ESPN.com Power Rankings for several weeks now.
I know the arguments this week are valid for Duke based on the overall strength of schedule and that Louisville's only loss was short-handed to Duke or that Indiana lost to Butler at the buzzer in overtime. Still, KU has been on a roll since its only loss and certainly is a worthy candidate for No. 1.
Making the case for: Duke (Dana O'Neil)
Let’s preface this right off the top by saying this won’t happen. When the No. 1 team loses, it is never No. 1 in the next poll. So Duke could have lost to the 1980s Celtics or Lakers on a triple-overtime buzzer-beater in the dark, and the Blue Devils still would fall off the top perch.
But if people do throw a few votes Duke’s way, they shouldn’t be pelted with snowballs, spitballs, rubber balls or whatever else you might have handy. If you simply used that handy NCAA tournament tool, the blind résumé, here’s what you’d see about the Blue Devils:
RPI ranking: first. Strength of schedule: first. Record against top 25 in RPI: 2-1. Record against top 50: 5-1. Record against top 100: 8-1.
Wins over Minnesota, VCU, Louisville, Kentucky, Temple and Ohio State? That’s not only a No. 1 seed come March, that’s a very likely overall No. 1. Then factor in that the Blue Devils' lone loss came on the road against the RPI No. 10 without one of their starters (Kelly) -- and without another (Curry) in the final few minutes.
Look, Duke has about as much a chance of being ranked No. 1 in Monday’s polls as we have of seeing Mike Krzyzewski in pink braids, a tutu and heels. It won’t happen.