Its first day as the top-ranked team effectively became Kansas’s last. New rankings won’t come out until next Monday, but you can be assured that after Kansas St. thumped them last night, the Jayhawks (24-2) won’t be on top.Pollsters will crown Texas (22-3) king, provided it defeats Oklahoma St. and Nebraska this week. The Longhorns are next in line, having sat behind Ohio St. (24-1) and Kansas for the last three weeks. There’s also the off chance that – again, provided they win their two games this week – Duke (23-2), or the aforementioned Buckeyes regain the top position. Duke will have won six straight, including a win over North Carolina, and the Buckeyes lone defeat at the Kohl centre last weekend really wasn’t a bad loss.
But the best team in the country is Pittsburgh (23-2).
Only Notre Dame has equaled the Panthers six wins against RPI top-25 teams. Pittsburgh’s also 5-2 against then-ranked teams, and has four wins over teams currently in the top 15. And there’s no shame in its losses to Tennessee and Notre Dame. The Volunteers have knocked off four then-top-5 teams over the past two years, and as we noted above, the Irish have five other wins over the nation’s elite.
As strong as their resume is, the Panthers actual playing style is even more intimidating. Coach Jamie Dixon has carried on the bruising legacy forged by former head man Ben Howland; Pitt is one of the top rebounding teams in the country, plays at a methodical pace, defiantly seeks good looks inside rather than settling on jumpers, and consistently gets to the line for easy points. These are the trademarks of a battle-tested team, insusceptible to off-nights.
Long known for their defence, the Panthers are actually the fourth most efficient team in the country on offence this season, scoring 19.6 more points per 100 possessions than the average NCAA squad.
Best of all, Pittsburgh has learned to win without some of its key players. They’ve won at West Virginia and at No. 10 Villanova without junior starting point guard Ashton Gibbs (he should return from injury in the next week or so).
We’ll see how things play out this week, but if the top-5 holds court, pollsters would be wise to crown Pittsburgh No. 1.
We have a feeling they won’t be unseated as abruptly as Kansas just was.
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