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Bah Humbug, Number One

December 11, 2003 Columns No Comments

Who Needs a Number 1?

by Adam Shandler

It happened to UConn. It happened to Kansas. And it just happened to Florida. In a year where parity among the upper echelon teams seems to be a theme, being number one just ain’t what it used to be.

So why have a number one or a Top 25 at all? The latter has been addressed ad nauseum by my colleagues since Hoopville went online three years ago. We know why we have polls – because the media, coaches and the NCAA need some kind of barometer – a warehouse of the best teams, if you will – to assist them with the tournament selection process in March. For the fans, it adds a layer of excitement, as in “who can beat whom to be the best team”, at least for a week.

The cabal that weighs in on these Top 25s is made up usually of coaches and the media.

Yes, the media. Have you seen some of these people?

While a good portion of the media is now made up of former coaches and players, the same cannot be said for those who weren’t born again as athletes-turned-pontificators. In fact the only boxing out these guys do is at the free buffet line in the press room. If you’re a coach or player on a team yearning for respect, having your season judged by these people is almost a cruel state of existence.

And how do our media friends and colleagues choose Top 25 teams? How is UConn better than Maryland better than Louisville? The criteria is hardly Einsteinian. Heck, it’s not even Fisher Price. You look at tradition, the nucleus of returning players, strength of conference and of course, strength of schedule. Then it’s a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Choosing a number one should be the easiest part. The best team is the best team. It’s cut and dried. A hands-down procedure. But not this year.

In just four weeks of college basketball, Number One has become a carousel. It’s hardly a jinxed position, nothing like being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It just so happens that the best teams are more competitive this year. And while that’s bad for the Number One team in a given week, it’s great for college hoops.

So if there is going to be constant jockeying for Number One, why have a Number One at all? Number One should be something that’s earned over the long term, or at the end of the season when all the games are played. During the season have a 2 through 25 if you want. In the number one spot, just put a black silhouette of an animal mascot with a question mark over it in a nice boxed graphic. You can still have the excitement of a poll, and with raised suspense at that. Not only will there be a Road to the Final Four, but you can have a Road to Number One – the mother of all prizes in the mother of all college sports.

My solution will have its critics and I am well prepared to combat them. There are going to be seasons when one team is just head and shoulders above the rest. They’ll dominate, demonstrate and never will they abdicate. If my number one elimination solution is actually ratified (and it never will be, but it’s nice to dream) then fans of such a juggernaut team will moan and wail that their squad is being deprived of apex status during the regular season. But if that team is truly the best, they’ll win the NCAA title and justify their “Number One-edness”. If a team like this does not make good on its expectations, then keeping the number one spot open till April is a sensible solution.

As I am constantly reminded by followers, players and coaches of the games, it’s the teams that should decide who is best, not the arbitrary ruminations of the media and coaches.


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