Wichita State No. 1. It’s not far away.
When the Associated Press basketball poll is released on Monday, some of the 65 writers and broadcasters will vote their belief that the Shockers are the nation’s best team.
Most will not and the Shockers (29-0) are likely to move up one spot to No. 2 in both the AP and the coaches polls. Florida (25-2) should move up one spot and take over the No. 1 ranking vacated by Syracuse (25-2) after losses to Boston College and Duke last week. Florida grabbed one first-place vote in the Feb. 17 poll and outpointed WSU 1,543-1,489.
However, the Shockers will receive first-place votes, perhaps for the first time since 1982, when they were ranked second for a week, or 1964, when WSU spent one week at No. 1.
The Shockers are the best team in the nation in the opinion of some.
“They get my No. 1 vote,” wrote John Feinstein, of National Public Radio and The Washington Post, in an e-mail. “Not their fault no one will play them non-conference.”
Sixteen voters ranked the Shockers second last week and they will likely move them to No. 1 on Monday.
Jerry Carino, who covers college basketball for Gannett New Jersey newspapers, will vote WSU No. 1 in part because of last season’s Final Four, reasoning that run proves the Shockers are tournament-tested.
“It’s incredibly hard to be unbeaten at this stage of the season, no matter who you are,” he wrote in a e-mail. “If you watch Wichita play, the team is damn good.”
Jim Benson covers Illinois State for the Pantagraph of Bloomington (Ill.) and watched the Shocker in person twice. He enthusiastically endorses WSU as No. 1.
“I really thought (WSU coach Gregg) Marshall made a great point the other day on the (Missouri Valley Conference) teleconference when he said Creighton is dominating the Big East, but Wichita State has to justify its 27-0 (at the time) record,” Benson wrote in an e-mail. “He was right on. The thing that amazes me about the perception of a couple talking heads regarding Wichita State is the Shockers went to the Final Four last year and almost beat Louisville, plus they have a key number of returners back from that squad. It's not like this is Indiana State or Missouri State or Illinois State and didn't have a recent Final Four on its resume.”
John Bohnenkamp, of the The Hawk Eye of Burlington, Iowa, also sees the Shockers each season. He ranked WSU No. 14 in the preseason poll, one of the highest spots of all voters.
“I think at this point in the season, still being undefeated, and the way they have played, they should be in that (No. 1) spot,’ he wrote. “I get the case for Florida, but right now I think Wichita State should be there.”
AP voters moved Florida past the Shockers in the Jan. 27 poll, moving the Gators from No. 6 to No. 3 and the Shockers from No. 5 to No. 4. Florida, which has won 19 straight games, stayed one spot ahead of the Shockers the past three weeks. In the mind of most voters, that isn’t likely to change.
They don’t see their vote as a knock on Wichita State. Thirty-seven voters listed WSU No. 3 last week and those who replied to e-mail queries will keep the Shockers behind Florida.
“When you look at Florida, and who it was missing during its two losses, plus the fact one of them ended with a buzzer-beater that followed a possible double-dribble, I think the Gators are deserving of the top spot,” wrote Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. “And Wichita State's run to the Final Four last season should lend credibility to this year's success.”
Florida is 12-2 against teams ranked in the top 100 of warrennolan.com’s power ranking (RPI), including wins over No. 1 Kansas, No. 38 Memphis and at No. 10 Kentucky. It lost 59-53 at Wisconsin in early November and 65-64 at Connecticut on Dec. 2. The Gators are ranked No. 3 in the RPI.
WSU, No. 8 in the RPI, is 6-0 against the top 100 with top wins at No. 12 Saint Louis and against No. 35 BYU in Kansas City.
“I have a lot of respect for Wichita State and certainly think they deserve to be considered for No. 1,” wrote David Borges of the New Haven (Conn.) Register. “However, I had Florida No. 2 last week and Wichita State No. 3, so I will have Florida No. 1 and WSU No. 2 this week. Essentially, I just think Florida is the better team. That said, had Florida lost this week to Auburn or Ole Miss, I would have voted Wichita State No. 1.”
Schedule questions will follow the Shockers as long as they play this season. WSU’s strength of schedule ranks No. 100, according to CBSSports.com’s profile. Florida is No. 22. When only non-conference games are considered, the gap narrows. WSU is No. 34 and Florida is No. 16.
“(WSU) certainly merits consideration for No. 1 being undefeated, but strength of the Missouri Valley Conference this season is working against them,” wrote Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun. “If Creighton were still in the league, it would be different, but I don't see a second quality team in the league pushing the Shockers.”
WSU plays at Bradley on Tuesday and finishes the regular season on Saturday against Missouri State at Koch Arena. Florida plays at Vanderbilt on Tuesday and gets LSU at home on Saturday. It finishes with a March 4 trip to South Carolina and a March 8 game against Kentucky at home.
No. 1 is not that far away. All the Shockers can do is keep winning games and votes.