When Kentucky lost on Tuesday, we knew that there would be a new No. 1 in Monday’s poll. With another week without a loss behind them, Kansas, Villanova and Syracuse all can argue their claim to be on top. Even Kentucky could make a case as they still only have one loss and handled red-hot Vanderbilt with ease on Saturday.
While some experts believe that Syracuse should even leap Villanova, and the Wildcats should be no higher than No. 3, here is why Villanova should be ranked first:
1) Villanova is undefeated in the best conference in the country
While their schedule in conference gets harder in February, the fact that Villanova stands at 8-0 in the Big East can not be forgotten. This is the best conference in America, and that was confirmed when a mediocre UConn team beat Texas and a Georgetown team that is no better than third in the conference, destroyed Duke, the class of the ACC.
The Wildcats continue to win, regardless of who is on their schedule. Anyone who watched Syracuse-DePaul yesterday knows that every game in the Big East is a difficult one, and to be undefeated this long in conference is noteworthy.
2) Villanova has not lost at full-strength this season
The lone Wildcat loss this season took place when Mouphtaou Yarou and Reggie Redding were sidelined. Both players are key rotation players and Villanova no doubt would have fared better against Temple with even one of them. Of the three other teams with one-loss that sit atop the ranking, none of them dealt with missing players of this nature in their defeat.
3) The Wildcats’ loss is better than everyone else’s
Villanova lost on the road to Temple, who even with their loss to Charlotte on Wednesday is ranked No. 14 in the RPI. Kansas fell to a depleted Tennessee squad on the road that had just suspended their best player Tyler Smith. Tennessee is currently No. 26 in the RPI. Syracuse lost at home to Pittsburgh, currently ranked No. 17 in the RPI. While Pittsburgh beat Syracuse on the road, they did not win at Seton Hall.
None of these are necessarily bad losses, but of all the defeats, Villanova’s is most understandable.
4) Villanova is playing the best right now
Let me run down the impressive statistics Villanova has put up lately:
- The Wildcats have won ten straight games.
- The team has scored at least 81 points in eight of their last ten games.
- Villanova ranks third in the nation with a scoring average of 85.2 ppg.
- The Wildcats have won ten straight and 19 of 21 regular season Big East games dating back to last season.
- The team has won seven straight Big East road games dating back to last season.
The case is there for Villanova. Add in that Kansas had its shot and that ranking Syracuse ahead of Villanova when they are behind them in the Big East is a bit nonsensical and that case gets stronger. Now we wait until tomorrow.
Kentucky’s loss to Devan Downey and South Carolina last night means that if Villanova wins tonight against Notre Dame, it will be ranked at least as high as No. 2 in the country in next week’s poll. However, there is a distinct possibility that they will be at No. 1 on Monday, as well.
Kansas, currently ranked No. 2, is the favorite to assume the top ranking on Monday. However, the Jayhawks have one of their most difficult remaining games on Saturday, when they will travel to Manhattan to take on Kansas State.
The possibility is there, but what does it mean? Well, being ranked No. 1 in February is nothing compared to be ranked No. 1 in April, but the excitement and recognition of being on top of the polls is a thrill for every school (just look at all the coverage Kentucky got for being No. 1 for exactly two days).
The reality is that barring something really special, Villanova will lose again this season. The window is small this year, and it may be the team’s best chance to grab the top spot. Tonight is step one against Notre Dame, and that is most important, regardless of ranking.