Sun Feb 28 12:32am EST
Moments after his team's startlingly convincing 95-77 victory over Villanova on Saturday night, longtime Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim had the chance to weigh in on whether the Orange had done enough to ascend to the top of the polls.
"I vote and I have no idea," he chuckled.
Fortunately for the record 34,616 orange-clad Syracuse fans who chanted we're No. 1 throughout the final two minutes, their team's play was far more persuasive than their coach's words. Syracuse proved it should be No. 1 − both in the Big East and in the whole country after losses by top-ranked Kansas and second-ranked Kentucky earlier in the day.
If Kansas is still a slight national title favorite in my eyes, the Jayhawks are certainly no longer a clear-cut No. 1. Both Kansas (27-2) and Syracuse (27-2) have eight victories over NCAA tournament-bound teams, two respectable losses and a vice grip on first place in their respective elite conferences.
With resumes as similar as that, the tie goes to the team that gave the better last impression. Sorry, Kansas. That ain't you. A listless loss at Oklahoma State is largely inconsequential in the national title picture and could even serve as a teaching tool for the Jayhawks, but polls are a beauty contest and right now Syracuse is the prettiest contestant in the pageant.
A Syracuse team unranked in the preseason AP poll after losing stars Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf off last year's Sweet 16 team delivered perhaps the most complete performance we've seen from anyone this season. The Orange had six players in double figures and led Villanova by as many as 23 points, dismantling a team that could have tied them for first place in the Big East with a victory.
Kentucky dropped a game to a non-NCAA tournament team (South Carolina), its strength of schedule is considerably weaker than Syracuse and Kansas and it just hasn't played as well as the other top teams recently. And even though Purdue's marquee victories rival anyone in the nation and it will add another one if it can beat Michigan State on Sunday, the Boilers would still need more than one big win without Robbie Hummel to prove themselves worthy of No. 1.
What's best about the best part of this fierce debate over who's No. 1? Ultimately, it's irrelevant. Unlike college football, Syracuse, Kansas, Kentucky and all the rest can determine who the champion is on the court – not in a vote.