Five observations from the past week:
1. The No. 1 debate just got interesting. This is a point we’ll revisit in today’s Poll Thoughts, but it’s worth noting before the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls are released this afternoon: This is going to be a very interesting week at the No. 1 spot. Why? Voters typically reshuffle the rankings according to the strange, time-honored “Who lost most recently?” tradition. That means Ohio State -- which lost its first game of the season at Wisconsin on Saturday -- is likely to lose a spot or two at the top of the polls while Kansas and Texas are likely to gain a spot and become the new No. 1 and No. 2 (or No. 2 and No. 1).
Are both teams deserving of the No. 1 ranking in the country? Sure. KU’s only loss has come to Texas, and Texas has been steamrolling Big 12 foes for a month. Is either team any more deserving than Ohio State? That’s far more questionable. For one, OSU is still 24-1 itself, with its only loss coming on the road at a place where pretty much everyone loses. (As stats guru Ken Pomeroy tweeted Saturday, is there another team in the country that wins that game in Madison? Probably not.) Beating the No. 17 team in the nation on the road is very difficult. When that No. 17-ranked team happens to be Wisconsin, the task is infinitely tougher. The loss is just as “good” as KU’s’ home loss to Texas, and it’s certainly better than any of the games Texas lost before it morphed into the buzzsaw we’ve since since early January.
And if the polls do punish Ohio State -- and, yeah, they probably will -- then who will get the nod at No. 1? Kansas is the current No. 2, and if history is any indication, the Jayhawks will simply move up a spot by default. But what about Texas? The Longhorns are playing as well as any team in the nation. Will voters take notice and leapfrog the Longhorns into the No. 1 spot? Will Kansas hold on? Will Ohio State avoid an unfair downgrade? Does Pittsburgh -- coming off back-to-back road wins at West Virginia and Villanova -- even get a sniff? Are we forgetting that this is the best team in the best conference and the same group that beat Texas back in November? Are we worrying way too much about totally inconsequential top 25 rankings? As of now, I can only answer the last question. (Hint: yes.) But inconsequential or not, Monday’s poll dynamic promises to be curious. To say the least.
2. Jordan Taylor should be underrated no more. There’s something about the way Bo Ryan runs his program -- the slow pace, the grinding swing offense, the perennial lack of elite-level recruits -- that often seems to keep the Badgers out of the national college hoops spotlight. This season is no different. Wisconsin has two of the nation’s best players, players the average college hoops fan might not have been able to name before Saturday’s huge win over Ohio State. That needs to change. Jon Leuer has been one of the most quietly efficient players in college hoops all season, and Taylor had 27 points on 13 shots Saturday, including a 5-of-8 mark from 3. Taylor was almost single-handedly responsible for Wisconsin’s late comeback win over the Bucks and has spent much of the Big Ten season playing better than any player not named Jimmer Fredette, Jared Sullinger or Nolan Smith. Taylor’s a star. Leuer’s a star. Treat them accordingly.
3. Florida State will have to circle the wagons. If the tournament was seeded today, the Seminoles (18-7, 8-3 ACC) would be in. But the tournament isn’t being seeded today. It’s being seeded in a month, right around the time FSU’s best player -- forward Chris Singleton -- could be returning from the fracture he suffered in his foot in Florida State’s win over Virginia on Saturday. It almost seems certain FSU will take a couple of extra losses in the next month. The question is whether or not the Noles can avoid a late-season collapse and, if they don’t, how the committee -- which does consider injuries, team makeup, and relative results when selecting and seeding teams -- will treat a team that may or may not be getting its best player back in time for the tournament.
4. Kentucky still hasn’t solved the road. Here’s a fun fact about the Wildcats, courtesy of A Sea Of Blue’s Glenn Logan: Kentucky’s five SEC losses -- all of which have come on the road, the most recent of which was Saturday’s 81-77 loss at Vanderbilt -- have come by a total of 17 points. With a few breaks here and there, a few late buckets down the stretch, a few conversions instead of turnovers and, yes, a little luck, Kentucky could just as easily be 10-0 in the SEC. But we’re not talking horseshoes or hand grenades. We’re talking hoops. In college hoops, you’re judged based on how many of those close road games you win. For a variety of reasons -- “lack of experience” is the most frequently cited analysis regarding this freshman-heavy team -- Kentucky hasn’t gotten the job done.
There are positive and negative conclusions to draw. You could argue that this doesn’t matter; after all, there are no true road games in the NCAA tournament. On the other hand, you could argue that playing on the road is a pressure situation, and so are games in the tourney, and if you melt in one you’re likely to melt in the other. Plus, UK has done some pretty serious damage to its chances of landing a seed higher than No. 4 or 5. In other words, Kentucky is not nearly as bad as its record implies. But there are reasons to be concerned all the same.
5. The bubble remains as soft as ever. Yours truly spends quite a bit of his time on Bubble Watch each week -- it’s invaded and conquered my brain, basically -- and if there’s anything we learned about last week, it’s that this season’s bubble is remarkably soft. Joe Lunardi’s Friday Bracketology bore this out. So many of the 12-16 teams just barely in or out of Joe’s bracket appear to be mediocre at best; none of them “feel” like traditional tournament teams. Some of that has to do with the three extra tournament spots available this season. But just as much of it has to do with widespread mediocrity in the middle portions of the non-Big East power-six conferences. That sounds bad, but it really isn’t. After all, as long as your team isn’t completely out of the picture, you’ve got a chance. In other words: Embrace the softness! Wooo!