If there’s anything that’s certain this year in college basketball, it’s that no one team has stood out above the rest as the best team in the nation.
Sure, Pittsburgh currently sits atop both polls, but it wasn’t unanimous. UConn and Oklahoma each received first-place votes this week as well.
In the preseason polls, North Carolina was the unanimous choice as the nation’s No. 1 team. Aside from one coach’s vote in week two for Connecticut, it remained that way in both polls for the first seven weeks until the Tar Heels lost a game.
For the next two weeks, Pittsburgh reigned supreme, earning all but two AP votes in both weeks and all but one coach’s vote the first week and two the second week.
Once the Panthers lost their first game, it was Wake Forest’s turn in the spotlight, although a handful of voters thought otherwise, choosing Duke with their No. 1 vote.
Thanks to a Wake Forest loss that same week, Duke moved into the top spot in the next poll, though Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma all earned first-place votes as well.
Wake Forest redeemed itself by beating the Blue Devils, however, and the following week saw UConn take a turn at the top of the ladder, with Oklahoma and North Carolina also receiving consideration.
The Huskies held strong for three weeks with the target on their backs, but following a loss to Pittsburgh last week, they lost the No. 1 ranking to the Panthers.
Now that Pittsburgh has come full circle after dropping to as low as No. 6 three weeks ago, the Panthers have proven just how difficult it is going to be to project a winner in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Through 15 weeks of the 2008-09 season, five teams have already claimed that crown for one of more weeks with Pittsburgh earning the distinction two different times.
By comparison, the 2007-08 season saw just three teams — North Carolina, Memphis and Tennessee — earn the No. 1 ranking prior to the NCAA Tournament.
Likewise, Duke and UConn were the only two teams to receive the No. 1 ranking prior to the NCAA Tournament in the 2005-06 season.
Not only is the top of the rankings in flux, the number of teams receiving votes is notably higher than at the same time last season. In last year’s week 15 poll, 36 teams received votes in the AP poll. This week, 45 teams received at least one vote in the AP poll.
One team not among those 45 after a loss Sunday is Wisconsin.
Yet, Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Badgers as a potential No. 11 seed in this week’s Bracketology update, giving Bo Ryan’s squad a rematch against Rick Barnes and Texas.
So what can we expect in the next two weeks leading into the conference tournaments?
First, given their remaining schedules, it seems unlikely that Pittsburgh or UConn will go without a loss the rest of the way. Therefore, it can be reasonably expected that another team, perhaps No. 3 Oklahoma, could lay claim to the No. 1 ranking before season’s end.
Second, another non-BCS school will find its way into the top 25.
Right now, Butler, Xavier and Gonzaga are the only three who fit the category of “mid-major” programs ranked in the top 25, but Utah, Dayton, Creighton and Utah State are just a handful of the teams knocking on the door receiving votes in this week’s AP poll.
Finally, one or more Big East teams will fall out of the top ten.
Pittsburgh, UConn, Louisville and Marquette are the four Big East schools in the top eight in this week’s poll. Unfortunately for them, however, they each still have to play one or more of the other three.
Pittsburgh plays Marquette and UConn at home to finish the season, for example. Marquette also plays UConn at home and Louisville on the road, giving them the toughest remaining schedule of the four.
As the lowest ranked team — Marquette is No. 8 — among the four they have the most to gain as well, but could fall fast if they struggle against the other three.
Whatever happens, it is shaping up to be an exciting finish to a roller coaster ride of a regular season for college basketball.