Gonzaga Basketball

College Hoops on Sling: Which of This Season’s #1’s Will Be #1’s?

Gonzaga rose to the top of the polls today, almost by default, following a crazy week that saw 7 of the top 10 teams in the country – Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky, Florida State, UCLA, North Carolina and Oregon – post losses. As they have been for three weeks now, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the only undefeated team in college basketball, leaving voters feeling like they have little choice but to anoint them. With a month left in the season, which of the five #1s have the best chance of ending up with a #1 seed come the tournament? Let’s rank ‘em lowest to highest:

#21. Duke (16-5, 4-4 in ACC, 2-3 against ranked opponents)

The problems at Duke are well documented, and things have actually gotten worse in the past week, as they fell to NC State 84-82, and then barely survived 12-9 Wake Forest, 85-83. The loss to NC State so outraged Coach Krzyzewski that he called a team meeting at his home, where he’s recuperating from back surgery, to announce that his kids were banned from the locker room and were not allowed to wear Blue Devil gear until further notice, a punishment he’s reportedly handed down numerous times in his tenure at Duke. Coach K is expected to be out another two weeks, hopefully it won’t be too late to salvage the season. Luke Kennard at least got the message, scoring 34, including the game-winner against Wake. Even if Coach K could move his bed courtside and take the reins tonight, Duke’s got the toughest remaining schedule of this year’s #1s, with games against #20 Notre Dame, #9 Virginia, #15 Florida State, and #12 North Carolina twice. These guys have all the talent in the world, but they could be in trouble.

#8 Kentucky (17-4, 7-1 in SEC, 3-3 against ranked opponents)

Yes, the 3-3 record against ranked teams is not promising, but those were quality losses: to UCLA 97-92, to Louisville 73-70, and to Kansas 79-73 – that’s three teams that are currently ranked among the top 11, and the margin across the three losses was a total of 11 points, or about half as much as Baylor gave up to WV. They feature two of the best freshmen in the game, De’Aaron Fox (16-4-6) and Malik Monk (22 ppg), one of the more overlooked freshmen bigs in Edrice Adebayo (13-7), and talented sophomore Isaiah Briscoe (14-5-4). The knock against them is they’re maybe too young, and you have to knock them down a peg or two given that they lost twice last week. The ‘Cats look to have an easy go of it the rest of the way, with a pair of games against #24 Florida, and then a bunch of SEC also-rans.

#2 Baylor (20-1, 7-1 in Big 12, 5-1 against ranked opponents)

While their scoring differential of 14.2 isn’t flashy, they’ve compiled it playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, in one of the toughest conferences, and knocking down an impressive number of ranked foes. Six-foot-nine junior Johnathan Motley, who’s added about 30 pounds of muscle since first showing up on campus a few years back, recently went 32-20 in a win against Texas, and is averaging 16-10 on the season. Their only loss was to then-#10 West Virginia, 89-68, when the entire team seemed to be playing with freshly buttered hands, making 29 turnovers, the sixth-highest single game total in the country this season. Baylor will get another shot at West Virginia, and also has to face Kansas – twice.

#1. Gonzaga (22-0, 10-1 in WCC, 3-0 against ranked opponents)

When everybody else is losing, how do you not vote for the one team that isn’t? Yes, the Bulldogs are undefeated, and they’ve outscored foes by 23.8 ppg, they’re 5th in field goal percentage at 51.3%, 9th in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.54, and 5th in defensive rebounds with 30 per game. But they play in the West Coast Conference, which ranks 9th in winning percentage and has had only one other team worm their way into the top 25, Saint Mary’s, who peaked at #12 and now sit at #18. The Bulldogs are always dangerous, and will certainly make some noise come March, but they haven’t done nearly enough. Gonzaga has a pretty good chance to go 30-0, given that their only ranked opponent the rest of the way is, again, Saint Mary’s, whom they previously beat 79-56. If voters can’t resist an undefeated team, it’ll be hard for the committee to overlook this one. But if they lose one of these, they’re in for a hard fall.

#4 Villanova (20-2, 7-2 in Big East, 5-1 against ranked opponents)

The defending national champs have again been the class of the Big East, and have notched wins against Purdue, Notre Dame, Creighton, Xavier and Virginia behind the leadership of senior guard Josh Hart, who’s played his way to the top of the Wooden Watch. Hart’s averaging 18.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 3.4 apg, along with 1.5 steals, while making 52.6% from the floor and 77.9% from the line. Ut he was off his game against Butler, hitting just 3 of 11 for 1 points, while his teammates failed to pick himi up, hitting just 16 of 40, as they lost 66-58. With 9 games to go, including Butler, Xavier and Creighton, ‘Nova’s road isn’t easy, but it’s manageable. They’re the defending champs, play in a competitive conference, have a solid record and a pretty smooth road to March that should earn them a first round game against a 16 seed.

Watch Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, Gonzaga, and Baylor fight for a #1 seed in this year’s March Madness by subscribing to Sling.

Monday

#21 Duke (16-5) vs #20 Notre Dame (17-5)
7pm ET on ESPN

Tuesday

#17 Maryland (19-2) vs Ohio State (13-9)
7pm ET on ESPN

Pitt (12-9) vs #12 North Carolina (19-4)
7pm ET on ESPN2

#22 Creighton (19-3) vs #16 Butler (18-4)
7pm ET on FS1

#7 West Virginia (17-4) vs Iowa State (13-7)
9pm ET on ESPN2

Georgia (13-8) vs #8 Kentucky (17-4)
9pm ET on ESPN

Wednesday

#4 Villanova (20-2) vs Providence (14-9)
7pm ET on FS1

#19 South Carolina (17-4) vs LSU (9-11)
9pm ET on SEC Network

#11 UCLA (19-3) vs Washington State (11-10
9pm ET on Pac-12 Network

#2 Baylor (20-1) vs #3 Kansas (19-2)
9pm ET on ESPN2

Thursday

Missouri (5-15) vs #24 Florida (16-5)
7pm ET on ESPN2

#5 Arizona (20-2) vs Oregon State (4-18)
9pm ET on ESPN2

Arizona State (10-12) vs #13 Oregon (19-3)
11pm ET on FS1

#1 Gonzaga (22-0) vs BYU (16-7)
11pm ET on ESPN2

#18 Saint Mary’s (19-2) vs Pacific (8-15)
11pm ET on ESPNU

Saturday

#23 Purdue (17-5) vs #17 Maryland (19-2)
Noon ET on ESPN

#9 Virginia (16-4) vs Syracuse (13-9)
Noon ET on ESPN2

Georgia (13-8) vs #19 South Carolina (17-4)
2pm ET on ESPN2

Iowa State (13-7) vs #3 Kansas (19-2)
2pm ET on ESPN

Kansas State (15-6) vs #2 Baylor (20-1)
3pm ET on ESPNews

Xavier (15-6) vs #22 Creighton (t19-3k)
3pm ET on FOX

#5 Arizona (20-2) vs #13 Oregon (19-3)
4pm ET on ESPN

Connecticut (10-11) vs #14 Cincinnati (19-2)
4pm ET on ESPN2

Oklahoma State (13-8) vs #7 West Virginia (17-4)
5pm ET on ESPNU

#20 Notre Dame (17-6) vs #12 North Carolina (19-4)
6pm ET on ESPN

#8 Kentucky (17-4) vs #24 Florida (16-5)
8:15pm ET on ESPN

#11 UCLA (19-3) vs Washington (9-12)
10:30pm ET on Pac-12 Network

Santa Clara (12-11) vs #1 Gonzaga (22-0)
11pm ET on ESPNU

Sunday

Clemson (12-8) vs #15 Florida State (18-4)
12:30pm ET on ESPNU

Watch college basketball on ESPN & ESPN2 by subscribing to Sling Orange; on ESPNU, ESPNEWS, and SEC Network by subscribing to Sling Orange + Sports Extra; on FOX and FS1 by subscribing to Sling Blue; on Pac-12 Network by subscribing to Sling Blue or Orange + Sports Extra.

All stats courtesy ESPN and College Basketball Reference.