Posted February 24, 2014

Should Florida or Wichita State be the No. 1 team in the country?

Florida Gators, Wichita State
Wichita State

Wichita State, the only unbeaten in Division I,  has a pretty good case as the nation’s top team. (Peter G. Aiken/Getty)

One of the silliest things in college basketball is voting on a No. 1 team. The rankings won’t specifically influence NCAA tournament seeding. It won’t decide the national champion. While it isn’t exactly arbitrary, the criteria tend to be. Is it a snapshot of who’s playing best at the moment? Best overall body of work? A bit of A, a bit of B?

But votes are taken and votes are counted, and here we are wondering if two-loss Florida or undefeated Wichita State deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country this week. The Associated Press voters have spoken and selected the Gators – or at least 47 of them did Monday, with 14 picking the Shockers and four rebels selecting Arizona.

“I think on any given night,” Gators coach Billy Donovan told reporters on Monday, “there are a number of teams that could look like the No. 1 team in the country.”

So here’s the case for both sides – and an adjudication on the matter:

The Case for Florida

The Gators might have been the best team in the country even before Syracuse suffered its first loss. Florida dropped its only two games of the season by a combined seven points, including a defeat at the buzzer to Connecticut. Both were true road games, an Florida didn’t have a full roster for either. The Gators were working through suspensions and injuries to key players like Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith.

And now, they’ve won 19 in a row, including five top-50 wins. Florida is about as complete a team as anyone can imagine, ranking No. 9 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. Still, they are formidable beyond that. The Gators are fueled by seniors, but those seniors are edgy and relentless, disabused of the notion that they have proved anything. They might be the hardest team in the nation to beat because there are no apparent holes. And if there is a crack, a dogged veteran is the one fixing it.

The Case for Wichita State

The Shockers, you might have heard, have not lost a game this season. You also might have heard their detractors howl that they’ve played a suburban 8th grade CYO schedule. But it is preposterously difficult to play 29 games and not lose one of them. That was evident last Wednesday when Wichita State cruised to a road win while Syracuse tumbled from the ranks of the unbeatens after a home loss to Boston College, maybe the least accomplished major-conference team in the country.

And the consistency is thorough: Wichita State is No. 8 in the latest RPI rankings (Florida is No. 3) and the Shockers rank No. 16 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 13 in adjusted defensive efficiency. They have just two top-50 wins, but it merits mentioning that no one else has beaten Saint Louis at home or at all in the Atlantic 10. Wichita State plays bloodless basketball, and does so motivated by naysayers on a nightly basis. They’re a perfect team inherently unable to rest on laurels, because many sneer at the laurels.

So Who’s No. 1?

Wichita State looks as good and fearsome as anyone, that schedule be damned, but Florida rightly holds that top spot now. The Gators might as well be a born-again unbeaten, just as untouchable as the Shockers now that they have a full complement of talent at full health. Florida is playing the best now and has a body of work, all asterisks considered, to match that of the nation’s last undefeated team.

It is an incredible thing for Wichita State to win every night. But it’s been 19 games since Florida lost, too, and the Gators have been more dominant doing so, all things considered. Regardless, both teams ought to get exactly where they want to go – right into a No. 1 seed slot in the NCAA tournament brackets. How fascinating it would be to settle the debate after that.

9 comments
Texboy14
Texboy14

My point is, Florida is in the to 20 for the toughest schedule. Wichita St. had such a WEAK bracket. AND Florida is ranked #1 in the country because they're actually good and have plenty of big wins, and won against quite the number of teams to prove that they're good. Wichita St? Nah. They will go at the Sweet 16 AT THE MOST. Wichita St. Is such a weak team. Not only that, but they can't play anyone good. Florida will make it to the Elite 8 AT THE LEAST. Wichita St. is overrated, sucks, can't prove themselves, lousy, and HORRIBLE. They can play Florida, Syracuse, Duke, Kansas, Louisville, Creighton, Villanova, even KENTUCKY, and still get dominated!

Texboy14
Texboy14

Shockers won't make it anywhere in the tournament. Florida WILL go all the way. Shockers have NOT impressed me at all this season, since they played teams that nobody knows about, and nobody heard about. Florida will be crowned National Championship guaranteed!

Blinker
Blinker

I'm shocked that the Shockers are not ranked # 1. I mean, they beat Indiana State a few weeks ago and they play in the toughest conference in college basketball.  Come on!!!!!!

Chris8
Chris8

Who cares whose #1 one now?  It might kind of matter for seeding; but it really only matters once and that's at the end of the tournament, by which time it won't even be up for debate.

JRTENN
JRTENN

Some may wonder why Florida would be ranked ahead of team(s) that beat them, such as Arizona, but really, it's a case of not who's #1 now, but who's left stranding at the "end" of each basketball year. Being #1 just means Florida will lose sometime later.

555sexydrive
555sexydrive

@JRTENN When did Arizona beat Florida this year?  They lost to Connecticut and Wisconsin.

JRTENN
JRTENN

@555sexydrive @JRTENN Arizona Wildcats beat Florida either late 2013 or early 2014, yet the Arizona and Florida 2013-2014 schedules do not show the game...something not quite right here.