When top-ranked Syracuse followed a stunning loss to Boston College on Wednesday with another another setback at Duke three nights later, it didn't just guarantee the Orange would cede the top spot in the polls on Monday.
It also raised the question of who would replace them.
Is it a Florida team that has won 19 straight games? Is it a Wichita State team that has yet to suffer a loss? Or is it an Arizona team that spent two months atop the polls and may have a better resumé than either the Gators or Shockers?
The most likely to ascend to No. 1 is Florida since the Gators have been second to Syracuse the past two weeks. Florida has not been No. 1 since the 2006-07 season when Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer led the Gators to their second of two straight national championships.
If voters are willing to look beyond last week's poll, however, they'll discover that Wichita State and Arizona both have intriguing arguments as well. Here's a side-by-side look at the resumés of all three contenders:
Five best wins: Kansas, at Kentucky, Memphis, at Tennessee, Missouri
Losses: at Wisconsin, at UConn
Case to be No. 1: Had Florida not endured a flurry of early-season injuries and suspensions, the Gators might be unbeaten today. They lost at Wisconsin by six on Nov. 12 despite playing without Scottie Wilbekin, Dorian Finney-Smith and Chris Walker. They lost at UConn on Dec. 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer beater despite playing without Walker and Kasey Hill and losing Wilbekin to an injury late in the game. Since then, Florida has parlayed a stifling defense and balanced offense into 19 straight wins and a stranglehold on first place in the SEC. The Gators struggled with both Auburn and Ole Miss this past week, but they've still won their 14 SEC games by an average of 11.4 points apiece.
Five best wins: at Saint Louis, BYU, Tennessee, Indiana State, at Indiana State
Case to be No. 1: Thanks to the return of three starters and a slew of key reserves from last year's Final Four team, Wichita State is showing signs it may be capable of a return trip. The Shockers are two victories away from completing the first unbeaten regular season since St. Joseph's achieved the same feat a decade ago. What has made Wichita State the most polarizing elite team in the nation is its modest strength of schedule, but the Shockers have beaten every team brave enough to schedule them. They're 17-0 against the RPI top 150. They have a road win over a Saint Louis team that just cracked the top 10 in the polls. And they've won their 16 Missouri Valley League games by an average of 14.8 points per game.
Five best wins: at San Diego State, Duke, Michigan, at UCLA, at Colorado
Losses: at Cal, at Arizona State
Case to be No. 1: If the criteria for the No. 1 ranking is simply who has accomplished the most so far this season, then Arizona has a strong case. The Wildcats boast four victories over RPI top 25 teams including Mountain West leader San Diego State, Big Ten leader Michigan and ACC contender Duke. They also have nine RPI top 50 victories, more than any team in the nation except Kansas, which has 11. What might prevent Arizona from ascending to No. 1 are questions about whether the Wildcats are the same team without Brandon Ashley, but the Pac-12 leaders have showed signs of late they're figuring out how to play without their third-leading scorer. They won at Utah on Wednesday even though the Utes had only lost once at home all season. Then they pummeled NCAA tournament-bound Colorado by 27 points on Saturday in Boulder.
- Sports & Recreation
- Wichita State