The way that I see it, there are three teams that have a legitimate case to be made to be the No. 1 team in the country: Gonzaga, Kansas and Duke.
Let’s walk through the argument in support of each, starting with the Blue Devils.
Duke was the consensus No. 1 team in the country last week. We were talking about whether or not this team had the goods to go undefeated, and while that conversation was happening far too early in the calendar to make any rational sense, it was happening. Duke may have the two best players in the country on their roster and, with Tre Jones and Cam Reddish available, are the single-most difficult team to matchup with in the game.
This isn’t all theoretical, either. Duke beat Kentucky — a top ten team that entered the season ranked No. 2 nationally — by 34 points. They beat Auburn in a game where the Tigers never really challenged them. Their only loss on the season came against one of the three teams that we have in contention for the top spot in a two-point game where Duke had four shots in the final 30 seconds that could have forced overtime.
Are you telling me that Barrett’s inability to score (or make the right read) on the final possession is what definitively tells us that Gonzaga, and potentially Kansas, are better basketball teams?
Put another way, Duke would be favored by at least five points, give or take a few, on a neutral court against team in college basketball. That’s not the No. 1 team in the country?
The argument for Kansas is similarly strong. This was the preseason No. 1 team in the country, a team that everyone had ranked above both Gonzaga and Duke almost without question, and they have done absolutely nothing since the season started to convince us otherwise. They beat Michigan State, a top 10 team, in their season-opener. They followed that up with a couple of games where they struggled and still managed to put up double-digit wins over Vermont and Louisiana, both of whom could end up in the NCAA tournament. They played horribly for a half in the semifinals of the preseason NIT and beat Marquette by nine. They never looked right against Tennessee, a top five team, and still managed to beat the Volunteers in overtime.
The Jayhawks have the best resume of any of the three teams in contention for the top spot. As the preseason No. 1 team. That’s worth something.
But it’s not worth as much as what Gonzaga did last week, when they went into Maui and made a statement by knocking off Duke in the title game of the Maui Invitational.
The Zags don’t have a bad resume, per se. In addition to beating the team that Jay Williams seriously thought could beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, Gonzaga has wins over Texas A&M, Illinois and Arizona. The names make those wins sound more impressive than they probably are, but a win is a win is a win.
This goes beyond simply looking at a resume, however.
We knew the Zags would be good this season. What we didn’t know was whether or not they would be able to beat the best teams with Josh Perkins starting at the point, or what kind of impact Brandon Clarke would have, or if Killian Tillie’s absence would be a killer, or if Rui Hachimura actually made the leap like we all expected him to.
Well, we know the answer to those questions now.
And when you combine that with the fact that they just beat Duke, you get the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Power Rankings.
1. Gonzaga (6-0, Last Week: 3)
2. Kansas (5-0, 2)
3. Duke (5-1, 1)
4. Virginia (6-0, 6)
5. Tennessee (4-1, 5)
6. Michigan (6-0, 9)
7. Nevada (6-0, 7)
8. North Carolina (6-1, 4)
9. Auburn (5-1, 8)
10. Kansas State (6-0, 10)
11. Virginia Tech (5-0, 11)
12. Michigan State (5-1, 13)
13. Florida State (5-1, 12)
14. Kentucky (5-1, 16)
15. Oregon (4-1, 17)
16. Ohio State (6-0, 22)
17. N.C. State (6-0, 21)
18. Purdue (5-1, 25)
19. Texas Tech (6-0, UR)
20. Wisconsin (5-1, UR)
21. Iowa (5-0, 23)
22. Buffalo (5-0, 24)
23. Clemson (5-1, 20)
24. Arizona State (5-0, UR)
25. Mississippi State (4-1, 19)
New Additions: 19. Texas Tech, 20. Wisconsin, 24. Arizona State
Dropped Out: 15. UCLA, 18. LSU