With four undefeated teams teams losing for the first time this week (Duke, Wyoming, Arizona, Michigan), there will be some shuffling at the top of the polls when they are released Monday. Who will be the new No. 1? We take a look at the top contenders and some longshots below:
Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, coming into the week ranked No. 3 and getting decisive wins over South Florida and Seton Hall, are the most likely to move into the No. 1 spot when polls are released. The main argument against the 15-1 Cardinals, though, is that Louisville’s one loss of the season came to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a team also in the running to retain the No. 1 spot. But, in fairness, Louisville was without shot blocker Gorgui Dieng in its loss to Duke, who was sitting out with a wrist injury. Louisville has won 10 games in a row since the loss.
Of the four undefeated teams that lost this past week, Duke’s future is the most uncertain. The absence of Ryan Kelly played a role in the Blue Devils’ loss to No. 20 NC State on Saturday, but the timeline for his return is not clear. There have been reports that he could be out as little as two weeks, or perhaps as many as six. The Duke offense changes without him in the lineup because of his ability to spread the defense out and score the basketball, so are the Blue Devils really the nation’s best team if he can’t be on the floor for the foreseeable future?
Michigan is at a disadvantage having to play in the nation’s best conference, but missed out on an opportunity to be the undisputed No. 1 team in the country with its loss to Ohio State on Sunday. Despite that loss, Michigan will be dangerous because of its ability to shuffle in one of four legitimate scorers to carry the offensive load. Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Nik Stauskas can all be the centerpiece on any given night, which makes the Wolverines dangerous. Depth and youth continue to be concerns.
The Wildcats lost to a tough Oregon team on the road this week, putting them out of play for the No. 1 spot, but they are still likely the class of the Pac-12. With UCLA creeping up from behind, though, the Wildcats might be looking over their shoulder. Coach Sean Miller will continue to work through senior leader Mark Lyons, but much like Michigan, youth will continue to be an area of concern that only time can fix. The young interior of Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, and Brandon Ashley is talented, but efficiency and experience will come as Pac-12 play goes along.
Indiana looked like it was going to dominate No. 8 Minnesota on Saturday, but lost a large lead to make it interesting at the end. The Hoosiers still got the victory, but likely don’t have enough to jump four spots and grab the No. 1 ranking. Though it has long been the conventional wisdom that Cody Zeller is the most important part of this Indiana team, forward Victor Oladipo is quickly showing that he could be just as important. The junior is shooting an astounding 68 percent from the field on the year, including 8-of-10 FG for 20 points against Minnesota.
Ben McLemore saved Kansas with a bank-shot three-pointer against Iowa State this week to continue the Jayhawks’ 13-game winning streak. McLemore’s continued emergence, along with All-American numbers from center Jeff Withey, makes Kansas the runaway favorite in the Big 12, but likely not the No. 1 team in the land. That doesn’t mean Kansas can’t make noise in March, as it did last season in its run to the Final Four.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_