AP poll: College teams playing hot potato when it comes to claiming No. 1

2013-02-28T00:00:00Z AP poll: College teams playing hot potato when it comes to claiming No. 1The Associated Press The Associated Press
February 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

MINNEAPOLIS - The top spot in The Associated Press Top 25 is the last place any team wants to be this season.

When Indiana lost at Minnesota on Tuesday night, it was the seventh time this season that a No. 1 team has been defeated. That's the highest number since 2009-10, according to STATS. And this season isn't over yet.

Second-ranked Gonzaga is poised to rise to No. 1 in the next poll if the Bulldogs can get through the rest of the week unscathed. If that happens, Gonzaga would be the fifth team atop the poll this season. That would be the most since 2008-09.

"There's been almost a game of hot potato for the No. 1 ranking this season," Big Ten Network college basketball analyst Tom Dienhart said. "It's been a crazy year."

Some of the biggest names in the land have had their hands on that coveted ranking. The Hoosiers haven't been able to handle it. They've lost three times this season while ranked No. 1. Duke has gone down twice, and Michigan and Louisville have also ascended to the top spot only to be knocked off.

"Every year is wide open, but more so this year than ever," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, whose Golden Gophers were swarmed by their delirious fans on Tuesday night after their first win over a No. 1 team since 1989. "I don't think there's a dominant team you can look at like Kentucky last year."

Five of those Wildcats from last year's national championship team were drafted in June, including the top two picks in the draft. Coach John Calipari hasn't been able to replace his stars quite as quickly as he has in the past, and Kentucky has tumbled out of the rankings. Traditional powers North Carolina and UCLA are also unranked, which has created room for Miami, New Mexico and Saint Louis to creep into the Top 25.

Perhaps no team better illustrates this wild season than Smith's Gophers. They won 15 of their first 16 games to climb to No. 8 in the poll, then lost seven of the next 10 games in the powerful Big Ten to fall off the board.

It took a game against the Hoosiers to wake them up, and Trevor Mbakwe's 21 points and 12 rebounds helped get one of the oldest arenas in the country shaking as another No. 1 team bit the dust.

"I don't think there's a dominating player, and therefore it's more difficult to have a dominating team," ESPN analyst and former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "Playing on the road is really difficult when you don't have a player at the end of a game who can take over a game."

That should make for one heck of an NCAA tournament. Several analysts have estimated that there are at least 10 teams that will enter the field in the middle of March with a realistic chance to win the title.

After seeing the likes of Butler, VCU and George Mason make surprising runs to the Final Four in recent years, the wide-open nature of this year's college scene could make this the year a small school gets it done.

"Maybe one of these little guys can not only get there, but win it all," Dienhart said. "I wouldn't be shocked that this is one of those years."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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