Unlike the un-American college football Bowl Championship Series that overly relies on polls, essentially rendering the sport irrelevant, college basketball's polls are relatively meaningless.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken seriously.
This week, 28 of the 30 the coaches who vote in the ESPN/USA Today poll, and 51 of 65 of the associated press members, voted Syracuse as their No. 1 team in the country. It's hard to imagine that a single one of those voters believes that Syracuse has the best team in the country or that the Orange have college basketball’s most impressive resume.
Being the best of the remaining unbeaten teams is not a reason to give a team your No.1 vote, especially when that team’s most impressive win is a 4-point home victory over No.13 Florida. The Orange haven’t left New York this season and their schedule ranks the 231st most challenging in the nation. Are neutral court wins over Stanford and Oklahoma and homecourt victories over Marshall and Virginia Tech what qualifies a team to be No. 1?
Ohio St (ranked 2nd in the AP Poll), Kentucky (3rd) and North Carolina (5th) clearly have better teams to this point and all three have faced tougher early-season challenges than Syracuse has. Kentucky has a win over UNC. Even fellow-unbeatens Indiana (18th) and Marquette (11th), which won at rival Wisconsin last week, have superiors wins on their resumes.
Winning on the road against a good team is harder to do in college basketball than in any other sport. Teams should be rewarded for winning tough road games, but they should not be punished for losing them as Kentucky did Saturday at Indiana. The Wildcats lost at the buzzer with two of their best players saddled with foul trouble for much of the contest. It was far from a shameful loss and – with Ohio State losing – it shouldn’t have knocked them from the No. 1 spot.
The Buckeyes fell to a top-16 team in Kansas on the road without Jared Sullinger, arguably college basketball’s best player. With a 22-point win over Duke and a 7-point victory over Florida already in hand, should the Buckeyes be punished for that 11-point loss by falling behind Syracuse in the polls? Of course not.
Thanks to an annual cushy pre-Big East schedule, the Orange have been 9-0 in each of the past four seasons. Syracuse is talented and experienced and one of the handful of teams with a shot at winning a national championship, but until it goes on the road and proves it can win a meaningful game, there is no case to be made that the Orange are the No. 1 team in the nation.